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The Legend Of The Music Tree

Ellen Ruppel Shell | Smithsonian | 1st April 2022

Luthiers have long been obsessed with the wood of a single mahogany tree, felled in a remote rainforest in Belize, left to lie for 18 years, and eventually exported for sale. It has a rare "quilted grain" pattern, likely as a result of environmental stress. Although studies have failed to find anything objectively different about the sound of instruments created from its wood, its myth remains strong (5,221 words)

From Ancient Oaks To Walking Yews

Tony Hall | Guardian | 30th April 2022

Survey of Britain's rarest trees, written by someone rejoicing in the esoteric title of "head of temperate arboretum collections at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew". Knowing how to read the trees unlocks past landscapes. Oaks were used in times past to mark boundaries; thus an isolated yet ancient specimen on a suburban street can signal the extent of a vanished royal hunting forest (1,942 words)

The Riddle Of The Mountain

Edmund Richardson | Inference Review | 4th May 2022

Thriller about the decryption of cuneiform script in the 19C. Even after the breakthrough provided by the Rosetta Stone, cuneiform remained near-impossible to read. The multilingual Behistun Inscription, a 15 metre high carving in western Iran, offered a chance to crack the code. The only problem? It is chiselled into a cliff, requiring the translator to cling to the rock while deciphering (4,912 words)

Devouring The Heart Of Portugal

Alan Bellows | Damn Interesting | 4th May 2022

In which a 1920s Portuguese fraudster buys some official-looking notepaper, counterfeits orders to the British printers of Portugal's banknotes, takes delivery of $200 million in perfect new notes, sets up a private bank, buys shares in Portugal's central bank ... and that is just for starters. With guest appearances by a German spy, an Angolan mining tycoon, and a Lord Mayor of London (8,900 words)

When Animals Shed Their Wings

Richard Dawkins | Quillette | 5th May 2022

Who would not want wings? Who would not want to fly? And yet there must be a downside to wings, since some animals genetically equipped to grow them, such as worker ants, do not do so. Only the queen ant grows wings; and, having mated, she rips them off. The explanation may be that flying consumes lots of energy — energy which a body can use instead to grow bigger and stronger (1,600 words)

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