The photos of this elusive little jewel of a bird too many years to compile, and you’ll never see anything like them.

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The Skinny On…

Articles about the science behind everyday curiosities, first featured on

Why You Never See Baby Pigeons
Sonic Booms
Truck Tailgating
Why Asparagus Makes Your Pee Stink
Why We Can’t Tell What Time It Is
Traffic That Stops for No Reason
Why We Fear Nuclear Power, Not Peanut Butter
Tongue Rolling
Itty Bitty Life Forms
Sewing Up Baseballs
Strange Sneezing Situations
The Evil Eye
Why Ice Cubes Shrink In the Freezer
Why Toilet Bowl Water Twirls Clockwise
Why Teflon Sticks to the Pan
Lunacy and the Full Moon
Sunscreen Testing
Where Fruit Flies Come From
Smelly Sports Clothing
Why Beans Give You Gas
Latin Names for Living Things
The Color of Snow
Pizza and Thirst
Why There’s No Channel 1 on a TV
Falling Asleep Twitches
Deaf People’s Inner Voice
The Ocean in a Seashell

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Finding Your Inner Viking: An Introduction to Iceland’s Quirky Customs

I started wondering about the Icelandic temperament when Einar Gustavsson advised me to eat trout smoked in burning horse manure. As a tourism official whose job is to convince Americans to visit Iceland, he did not tell me about the rotten duck eggs, or “hard-fish.” But he couldn’t restrain himself on the subject of the smoked fish.

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Mad, Mad, Madagascar

If candles had been on the menu, I would have ordered a couple. But the waiter brought them anyway, and I was grateful for their feeble effect in the dark envelope of my room. Madagascar had shown me enough beautiful and sad things for one day.

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Clubbing in Zolotitsa: a Junket

Sometimes a tour-operator with a new itinerary tests it out on writers. If the writers come back alive, that’s a good start. If they write nice things about trip, then you’re cooking. In the early 1990s, Escape Magazine (RIP) sent me on a junket to Russia’s White Sea, where some good-hearted folks were trying to convert the local economy from seal-clubbing to seal-watching. I wrote up this report for Escape, but I guess the editors considered the prospects for the tour package to be unpromising. The story never saw the light of day. I imagine the men of Zolotitsa continue to bash white seal pups on the head to this day.

Chorlotte, a German journalist, didn’t speak much English, but when she mustered the courage, it was worth listening. A solid, fifty-something woman, she stood in the silver arctic light of what passed for the kitchen of our guest-house, brushing her teeth with suspicious water dipped from a dented bucket. Charlotte leaned over the sink, which emptied into the unspeakable three-hole loo downstairs, spat carefully, and raised her chin.

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