All About Curling

Olympic week is almost over already! Hope you've learned some new stuff. :)

Since the Olympics are being held in Canada this year, it would be a shame to not learn something about Curling! I've been especially curious about it considering that at least one of the NBC affiliates has been airing every Curling match this Olympics!

How does Curling work?

Short Answer:

Two teams of four people take turns sliding granite stones down an icy lane towards a target painted on the path. Points are scored when a team gets one or more of these stones closer to the target than the other team's stones. Not only can the initial thrower of the stone make it slide in an arched path, but the other team members can alter the path and speed of the stone by sweeping the ice around it.

Each team slides eight of these stones, and once both teams have thrown all of their stones, it marks the end of a match. A game consists of 8-10 matches. Whichever team has the most points at the end of the game wins.

Like boccie ball on ice. :)

The Details:


1. Stone: A thick polished granite disc weighing between 38 and 44 pounds, with a handle on top.
2. Running Surface: The part of the stone that makes contact with the ice. It's a narrow (0.25-0.5") ring (5" in diameter) attached to the bottom of the stone.
3. Curling Broom/Brush: Brush used to sweep the ice in the path of the thrown stone. Modern ones are made of fabric, or hog- or horse-hair bristles.
4. Off Foot: Shoes that have a Teflon sole, so they slide along the ice.
5. Hack Foot/Gripper Shoe: A non-sliding shoe, typically with a rubbery surface over the entirety or portions of the sole.

6. Curling Sheet: The iced lane.
7. House: The target, consisting of three concentric circles. There is one target on each end of the curling sheet.
8. Backboard: The extreme ends of the curling sheet.
9. Centre Line: Line drawn along the center of the lane, which goes through the center of the house.
10. Tee Line: A line perpendicular to the centre line that also goes through the center of the house. Each tee line is 16-feet away from each backboard.
11. Button: The absolute center of the house, at the intersection of the centre and tee lines.
12. Hog Line: A line 37-feet away from and parallel to each backboard.
13. Hacks: Two fixed, rubber-lined holes by each backboard. They give the thrower something to push off of when throwing the stones.

14. Throw/Delivery: To slide the stone down the curling sheet.
15. Skip: Teammate who determines the weight, turn, and line of the stone and communicates it to the sweepers.
16. Weight: The velocity of the sliding stone.
17. Turn: The rotation of the sliding stone.
18. Line: The direction of the throw, not taking into account the turn.
19. Thrower: The teammate who throws the stone.
20. Sweeper: The teammate/s who brush the ice in the stone's path to change its trajectory.

21. Draw: A throw that's just intended to get the stone close to the house.
22. Take-Out: When a stone knocks an opponent's stone out of the house.
23. Guard/Block: When a team places a stone in the path of the house.
24. Tap: When a stone hits another stone.
25. Burning A Stone: An infraction that occurs when the stone is accidentally touched by the sweepers, either with their broom or a body part.

26. Hammer: The advantage of being the team to throw the "last stone", usually determined by either a coin toss or a "draw-to-the-button" throw-off.
27. End: When both teams have played all of their stones.


1. The first thing to do before the stone is thrown is to clean the running surface, so nothing can accidentally alter the stone's path.

2. The thrower delivers the stone from the hack. Due to the thrower's preference, s/he can choose to release the stone at any point (even if the thrower is still sliding with it), and to turn it however many degrees s/he wants. The thrower must release the stone, however, before s/he reaches the hog line.

3. The skip tells the sweepers what to do; brushing the ice can either make the stone travel farther or change the stones turn. The skip typically yell the line to the sweepers, and the sweepers communicate the weight back to the skip. The skip can be a thrower, a sweeper, or just a watcher.

4. Any teammate (besides the thrower) can sweep their team's stone until it reaches the tee line. After that, only one teammate may sweep (usually the skip), and one of the members of the opposing team can sweep that stone, too.

5. Each player on both teams throws the stones twice until the End is achieved. The teams take turns throwing the stones.

6. After both teams have thrown all of their stones, the team with the stone closest to the button wins that End. That team gets a point for every stone of theirs in the house that is closer to the button than the closest stone from the opposing team. After 8-10 Ends, whoever has the most points win.

The women of Sweden won the Gold in Curling at the 2010 Olympics

It may sound simple, but it's actually a game of intense strategy. Just the sweeping alone requires all sorts of strategy: from when to start sweeping, to the position of the sweepers, to the pressure and speed of the sweeping, and on and on.

Hope I helped clear it up for anyone interested. I definitely want to try it out sometime!

*There are many more curling terms in the Glossary of Curling!


Why Is A Biathlon Skiing & Shooting?

Anyone else wonder how the biathlon came to include just cross-country skiing and precision target shooting? Does that seem a little random?

Luckily biathlon.net answers those questions for us! The gist:

- The biathlon evolved from hunting and winter warfare.
- Hunting on skis began in ancient Rome, Greece, and China, as early as 400 BC.
- There have been historical writings about warriors on skis dated to the early first century AD. By the 1800s, many skiing regiments were active in Europe and Asia.

- Norway began regular shooting and skiing competitions in 1776.
- Germany began a similar competition called Military Patrol in 1902.
- Military Patrol was a demonstration sport in a handful of Olympic games before being incorporated as an official Olympic winter sport, called "the Biathlon", in 1960 in Squaw Valley, CA, USA.
- Women's Biathlon premiered at the 1992 Olympic Winter Games.

- The skiing distances, targets, and penalties have changed throughout the years, and are different for each biathlon event.
Here are the rules for the 2010 Olympic individual men's biathlon event:
  • Men cross-country ski 20 km (~12.5 miles) over 5 laps, with their guns on their backs.
  • They have to shoot 5 targets in between each lap, for a total of 4 times. They take turns shooting from a prone (on their belly) position to a standing position from lap to lap. The targets are 50 m away, and the target is about the size of a golf ball for the prone position and a grapefruit for the standing position.
  • For each missed target, a penalty of 1 minute is added to their skiing time.
  • Whoever completes the biathlon in the shortest amount of time wins.
- In the 2010 Winter Games, there are 10 different biathlon events, including individual, relay, sprint, pursuit, and mass start for each men and women.

Alright, I suppose it makes more sense now! I can see how it really pushes athletes because they not only have to have speed and endurance to complete the cross-country skiing portion, but also the control and precision for the target shooting. Cool.

Norway's Tora Berger won the gold for the women's individual biathlon at the 2010 Olympics.


Women's Ski Jump

As we learned on Monday, there is no women's ski jumping event in the Olympics. How is that possible?

According to a July, 2009, NPR story, a British Columbia Supreme Court justice ruled that allowing a men's ski jump event but not a women's constitutes discrimination. Unfortunately, the Canadian courts don't make the decisions about Olympic events, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) does.

The IOC claims that gender has nothing to do with their decision not to include women's ski jump. They state that it's entirely technical. The NPR article says:
Those technical issues include the number of women ski jumping at an elite level and the number of countries competing in the sport. IOC officials have argued that too few women and countries compete to justify Olympic competition.
Apparently there aren't that many male ski jumpers either, but the sport is always included because of tradition (it is one of the oldest Winter Game sports).

Ironically, prior to the 2010 games, the world record holder for the ski jump was a woman! She's an American named Lindsey Van, and beat the record for any woman OR man. She even achieved that record on the exact same hill in Vancouver that the ski jump events are held on this year.

Olympians are still going to fight for the women's ski jump in the 2014 games, but we'll have to just wait and see.


Figure Skating vs. Ice Dancing

What's the difference between the Olympic sports of Pairs Figure Skating and Pairs Ice Dancing?


Pairs Figure Skating:

- It's inspired by singles skating, with "two skating as one".
- It became an Olympic Metal Sport in 1908.
- Couples can skate as far away from each other as they want, but their side-by-side skating should be in unison and in close proximity.
- Throw-jumps (where the man assists the lady in a jump) and side-by-side jumps (toe loops, salchows, lutzes, loops, flips, and axels) are incorporated.
- Lifts are categorized by the way the man initially lifts the lady over his head. They can include hip lifts, press lifts, axel lasso lifts, carry lifts, and twist lifts.
- Spins involve the two skaters holding each other while spinning around a common axis.
- The music may not contain sung lyrics.

- There are 2 components to the competition:
1. Short Program (skaters complete a list of required elements using their own choreography)
2. Long Program (skaters choose their own elements, each worth various point values, and perform them using their own choreography)

China's Xue & Hongbo, 2010 Olympic Gold Pairs Skating winners

Ice Dancing:

- It's inspired by ballroom dancing.
- It became an Olympic Metal Sport in 1976.
- Couples are not supposed to separate by more than 2 arm lengths.
- Throws and full jumps are not allowed. "Half" jumps are permitted.
- Lifts can be unique, but may not involve the man extending his hands above his head.
- Spins should be performed as a team, in a dance hold.
- The music may contain sung lyrics.

- There are 3 components to the competition:
1. Compulsory Dance (all the couples perform the same standard steps and holds)
2. Original Dance (skaters must perform to music with a designated tempo, but can choose their own choreography)
3. Free Dance (skaters choose their own tempos, themes, and choreography, but there are required elements such as step sequences, lifts, and spins)

Canada's Virtue & Moir, 2010 Olympic Gold Ice Dancing winners

Hope that helped clarify! :)

Bonus fact for Michigan fans:
A Detroiter [an illegal pair skating move] is performed by the man lifting the lady over his head, holding her parallel to the ice while he is in a two-foot spin. The hold is the most dangerous part of the spin because the man is supporting the lady only by her legs. This move is also performed in more dramatic and dangerous fashion with a one-handed hold.


Winter Olympic Events

It's Olympic Week here on Stuff I Just Learned!

We're starting off the series with some event trivia:

-- The 2010 Winter Olympics include 86 events within 15 different disciplines. (source)

-- Speed skating, figure skating, ice hockey, ski jumping, cross-country skiing, and Nordic combined (ski jumping & cross-country) have been competed at every Winter Olympics since the games began in 1924. (source)

-- Before 1924, figure skating and ice hockey were part of the Summer Olympics. (source)

-- The only Winter Game to be discontinued was Special Figures figure skating, which was a part of the 1908 Olympics. Special Figures involved tracing certain patterns on the ice with one skate. (source)

-- There have been a number of events that have been demonstrated (for entertainment) at various Winter Olympics, but have never been part of the official competition. These include:

a. Bandy (like field hockey on ice)
b. Ice Stock Sport (like curling with ice stocks instead of stones)
c. Military Patrol (the predecessor to the biathlon)
d. Ski Ballet (a choreographed routine of flips and jumps)
e. Dogsled Racing
f. Speed Skiing (skiing as quickly as possible - up to 125 mph! - on a straight slope)
g. Winter Pentathlon (cross-country skiing, shooting, downhill skiing, fencing, & horseback riding)

-- There were several events proposed to be a part of the 2010 Winter Games, but were turned down by the International Olympic Committee. These included:

a. Biathlon Mixed Relay
b. Mixed Doubles Curling
c. Team Alpine Skiing
d. Team Bobsled and Skeleton
e. Team Luge
f. Women's Ski Jumping (this was the most controversial, going all the way to the Supreme Court of British Columbia!)

-- One new event did get approved by the IOC and is premiering at the 2010 Winter Games: Ski-Cross. It's a four-skier race along a course with turns, banks, and jumps. (source)



Where Did "Ostracize" Originate?

When the ancient Greeks wanted to banish someone, they would vote by writing the potentially banished person's name on pieces of pottery called "ostrakons".

And that's how we get the word:

Ostracize: verb, to exclude from a group by common consent.



Taco Bell Beginnings

I, like most people I know, have enjoyed eating Taco Bell my entire life. However, it wasn't until the founder, Glen Bell, passed away on January 17th that I realized how it got its name. I think it's the logo that threw me. :)
It doesn't imply that "Bell" is a name, does it?

Here are some other things I've learned about Taco Bell:

- Bell's first business was a hot dog stand, called Bell's Drive-In in San Bernardino.

- Bell sold that stand in 1952, with dreams of starting a different kind of food service business. He originally wanted the next stand to sell hot dogs and hamburgers, but ironically the McDonalds brothers had just opened a place like that in the same town! He decided to change the menu to taco items, since he was dissatisfied with how long it took most taco take-out restaurants to make their meals.

- He ended up opening another hot dog stand on a busy main street, but this time included coney dogs with a unique homemade sauce (which later turned out to be his taco sauce). He spent his time researching taco-making processes, and tried to come up with quicker ways to fry the shells. He also experimented with what to stuff them with, and in what proportions.

- He sold his first taco for 19 cents out of a side window of his hot dog stand. People liked them so much, he opened another stand in Barstow, but this one also served milkshakes (since the ice cream company was willing to finance Bell's stand in return!). To run the Barstow stand, Bell hired a guy named Ed Hackbarth, who later founded a Taco Bell competitor, Del Taco.

- In 1954, Bell opened three stands devoted solely to tacos, called Taco Tia stands. He sold them to his business partner in 1956 to further develop his methods and food in Los Angeles.

- In order to finance his new El Taco stands, he teamed up with four members of the LA Rams who loved his Taco Tias. By 1958, there were plans for opening many more El Taco stands; and some were hits, and others closed within a few months.

- In 1962, Bell decided once again to sell the El Taco stands to his partners and he opened his first Taco Bell in Downey. One Taco Bell rather quickly turned into six all located in that area of California. In 1964, a former LA policeman bought the first franchise, and it became a goldmine. Word got out, and within a few years, there were over 100 Taco Bells.

- Glen Bell owned all of Taco Bell's units until 1978, when he sold all 868 of them to PepsiCo, inc. Now there are over 6000 locations worldwide.

I know I owe Glen Bell a big "thank you" for all of his hard work in pioneering his fast food tacos! Rest in peace, Mr. Bell.

(facts from the Taco Bell official website)


Kick A** And Take Names

"I am going to kick ass and take names!"

You may have heard that phrase when someone is extremely confident that they are going to get someone else to do something. Where did it come from?

I actually found the answer from a Word Reference message board. I know forums aren't super reliable for factual information, but this one (from firefoxbrand) seems legit.

It's a phrase used by the Navy's military police, the Shore Patrol. It's the Shore Patrol's job to control the behavior and crimes of the Naval personnel when the Fleet is in town.

When a sailor causes trouble of some kind (like gets in a fist fight, for example), sometimes the Shore Patrol will deal with it quietly. However, in cases where the sailor doesn't stop their defiance, the Shore Patrol will write up the infraction and it will go on the sailor's permanent record. This is a much bigger deal, as the sailor could be discharged as a result.

So, as I understand it, "kicking ass and taking names" means that the Shore Patrol not only "took care of" the crime, but "wrote up" the offense, too.


Selling Your Eggs

My coworker and I were brain-storming how to make some extra cash this summer. Of course, selling our eggs came up. :) I looked up what a woman has to go through in order for someone to harvest her eggs. It's a pretty involved process, actually, which is probably one reason it brings in tens of thousands of dollars!

Here's the overview, with help from New York's Department of Health:

1. Eligibility
- Woman must be between 21 and 35.
- Some programs prefer women who have already had children.

2. Selection
- Woman applies or interviews for a program. Her height, looks, athletic ability, intelligence, etc., can be evaluated.
- Program staff go through the emotional and physical outcomes of donating, so that the woman knows what to expect.
- She has a psychological evaluation.
- She has a thorough physical exam, and fills out a questionnaire about general health, drinking and smoking habits, etc.
- She gives blood, urine, and cell samples to test for diseases, infections, and viruses.
- She gives an exhaustive medical history of herself and her family, and gives another blood sample to look for genetic diseases.

3. Preparation
- Woman first takes one (or more) weeks of medicine to stop her normal ovarian functioning. Side effects can include hot flashes, sleep problems, vision problems, headaches, etc.
- She begins ten-ish days of injections of fertility drugs to mature more eggs than normal. Side effects can include mood swings, fluid retention, etc., and in some cases, Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, which can cause a variety of side effects from abdominal pain to kidney failure.
- During the injection cycle, the woman must have frequent blood tests and ultrasounds to monitor how her body is responding.

4. Procedure
- When the doctor determines the "time is right", the woman receives one last injection of another drug to prepare the eggs to be harvested.
- She undergoes a short (30 minutes usually) minor surgical procedure, where a thin needle retrieves the eggs from her ovaries.

5. Recovery
- Woman typically only stays in the hospital a few hours after the surgery. She may need a couple of days of restricted activity afterwards.
- It's normal for her to feel "let down" after the intense process ends.
- Some programs require her to come back for a couple of follow-up appointments or meet with a counselor.

Overall, egg donation seems to come with a lot of inherent risks, but if all goes well and the woman doesn't have any infections, she should recover fully and still be able to have kids of her own. Also, whereas the entire process usually takes less than a month, it apparently is completely time-consuming during those weeks!

Maybe there are easier ways to make some fast cash? :)


Why Do Birds Sing?

I don't think that bird is saying what you think he is!

I saw a play this weekend and one of the characters had a line saying something like, "Birds don't sing for practice; they sing because they are happy or sad." I wondered, "Really?"

According to Highlights magazine, bird sing to communicate different messages to each other. Usually the male is chirper, and he can sing to:
- claim property.
- attract a mate of the same kind.
- warn other birds to stay away from his family.

Birds only seem to sing to others of their own breed, because that is their only real competition. A sparrow, for example, won't try to steal the mate of a cardinal.

Sometimes birds can also use their singing to identify themselves:
Two scientists who studied white-throated sparrows found that these birds can even tell the difference between songs of individual birds of their own kind. White-throated sparrows have songs that seem to say “I’m your neighbor” or “I’m a stranger” or “I’m your neighbor to the west.” Other kinds of birds could tell neighbors from strangers by their songs, too.
So, there you go. They communicate a lot, but it doesn't seem like "happiness" or "sadness" is their motivation. But I guess the line in the play would have had a much different emotional impact if it read, "Birds don't sing for practice; they sing to claim territory or attract a mate!" :)


Cat Scratch Fever

The other day, I was playing with my friends' cat and she scratched me across the lip. As I tried to stop the bleeding, the phrase "cat scratch fever" entered my mind and I had no idea what it meant.

For an answer, I looked to my favorite disease controlling center- the, uh, Centers For Disease Control:
Cat scratch disease (CSD) is a bacterial disease caused by Bartonella henselae. Most people with CSD have been bitten or scratched by a cat and developed a mild infection at the point of injury. Lymph nodes, especially those around the head, neck, and upper limbs, become swollen. Additionally, a person with CSD may experience fever, headache, fatigue, and a poor appetite. Rare complications of B. henselae infection are bacillary angiomatosis and Parinaud's oculolandular syndrome.
It's typically cured by antibiotics and is really only dangerous for people with a compromised immune system.

Hmmm. Not as exciting and/or as crazy as I thought it would be. It's no taxoplasmosis... but then again, nothing really is thankfully. :) At least it's not worth being too concerned over!


Lady Gaga's Old Job

Before Lady Gaga became a household name singing her own songs, she used to be a songwriter for other artists.

She wrote "Elevator" for the Pussycat Dolls, for instance. What fascinated me more, however, was that she wrote at least one song for Britney Spears, "Quicksand"... and she's rumored to have written for Christina Aguilera, Chris Brown, and New Kids on The Block!

I guess it just goes to show how versatile her writing abilities are!

Yes, they may both be pop stars, but with fairly different styles I'd say!


Robber? Thief? Burglar?

Did you guys know that there is a difference between a thief, a robber, and a burglar? (And that isn't the first line of a cheesy joke!) I've been using them interchangeably, and therefore mistakenly!

From Merriam-Webster:

Theft: an unlawful taking of property

Robbery: taking of property from a person by violence or threat

Burglary: the entering of a property with the intent to commit a crime

See the difference? A robber takes your wallet from you; a burglar breaks into your home; and they are both thieves if they successfully take something.

Hopefully you won't have to use any of these words in your personal life anytime, but in case you do, at least you'll be using the correct term!


How Does A Bill Become A Law?

I wouldn't say that I confidently understand exactly how our government works. I could always learn more!

With all of the buzz about the new Health Care Bill, I realized I needed a refresher course on how a bill becomes a law. Actually, the clearest description I found comes from our friends at Schoolhouse Rock!

Watch and learn. :)

And here are the lyrics:

Boy: Woof! You sure gotta climb a lot of steps to get to this Capitol Building here in Washington. But I wonder who that sad little scrap of paper is?
I'm just a bill.
Yes, I'm only a bill.
And I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill.
Well, it's a long, long journey
To the capital city.
It's a long, long wait
While I'm sitting in committee,
But I know I'll be a law someday
At least I hope and pray that I will,
But today I am still just a bill.

Boy: Gee, Bill, you certainly have a lot of patience and courage.
Bill: Well I got this far. When I started, I wasn't even a bill, I was just an idea. Some folks back home decided they wanted a law passed, so they called their local Congressman and he said, "You're right, there oughta be a law." Then he sat down and wrote me out and introduced me to Congress. And I became a bill, and I'll remain a bill until they decide to make me a law.
I'm just a bill
Yes I'm only a bill,
And I got as far as Capitol Hill.
Well, now I'm stuck in committee
And I'll sit here and wait
While a few key Congressmen discuss and debate
Whether they should let me be a law.
How I hope and pray that they will,
But today I am still just a bill.

Boy: Listen to those congressmen arguing! Is all that discussion and debate about you?
Bill: Yeah, I'm one of the lucky ones. Most bills never even get this far. I hope they decide to report on me favourably, otherwise I may die.
Boy: Die?
Bill: Yeah, die in committee. Oooh, but it looks like I'm gonna live! Now I go to the House of Representatives, and they vote on me.
Boy: If they vote yes, what happens?
Bill: Then I go to the Senate and the whole thing starts all over again.
Boy: Oh no!
Bill: Oh yes!
I'm just a bill
Yes, I'm only a bill
And if they vote for me on Capitol Hill
Well, then I'm off to the White House
Where I'll wait in a line
With a lot of other bills
For the president to sign
And if he signs me, then I'll be a law.
How I hope and pray that he will,
But today I am still just a bill.

Boy: You mean even if the whole Congress says you should be a law, the president can still say no?
Bill: Yes, that's called a veto. If the President vetoes me, I have to go back to Congress and they vote on me again, and by that time you're so old...
Boy: By that time it's very unlikely that you'll become a law. It's not easy to become a law, is it?
Bill: No!
But how I hope and I pray that I will,
But today I am still just a bill.

Congressman: He signed you, Bill! Now you're a law!
Bill: Oh yes!!!

Brilliant! I guess it seems like it'll be a while before we have these major changes in America's health care system... if it changes at all!


M&M Colors

Hey friends! Sorry for my absence from the interwebs lately. I have been learning a ton; I just haven't had a ton of time! So, back to business!

Recently I was at a baby shower and won a huge jar of Peanut M&M's. As I happily stared at the colorful deliciousness, I recalled a childhood memory. My brother and I used to share bags of M&Ms, picking out one at a time to eat. The color M&M we got was important, because we'd use them to play an imaginary game of baseball! Did anyone else ever do this?

Here is what each color was symbolic of:

dark brown - strike
tan - single
yellow - double
orange - triple
green - home run

We'd each get to keep eating M&M's until we got 3 strikes, then it was the other one's turn. When we reached the end of the bag, the game would be over, and whoever had scored the most "runs" won.

All that to say: the colors are different now! Long gone is the tan (it disappeared in 1995); red has been reintroduced (they were only removed from 1976 to 1987 because of a scare with Red Dye #2); and blue was added (the public voted it in in 1995).

With six colors now, my brother and I will have to come up with another baseball action. Grand slam? Ball? Automatic 3 outs? Stolen base? Double play? Rain delay?

Does the Mars corporation know how changing colors affects us? :)

In case you would like to know more about M&M color changes through time, here's a handy chart via Wikipedia: