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Garth Sundem is a Science, Math and general Geek Culture writer, TED speaker, and author of books including Brain Trust: 93 Top Scientists Dish the Lab-Tested Secrets of Surfing, Dating, Dieting... Read More »


First, I'm afraid I fell victim to one of the classic blunders—the most famous of which is never get in involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well known is this: probability is not additive (as a couple astute Times readers have now pointed out--before going further, you might want to read my Frankie the Fixer puzzle in the left sidebar of THIS PAGE).

Did you get visit here after quickly vanquishing my puzzles in this morning's New York Times Science section? If so, you're likely ready for a new challenge.

Below are the puzzles the Times cut — because they're too darn tricky or perhaps because the first gently pokes fun at the sacred cow that is Mariano Rivera. But they're certainly not too tricky for you, gentle reader.

No, no, if  you've made it this far, they're right up your alley. 
What happens when you die? What's right and wrong? What's the purpose of life? Aaaaarrghhh! Chill out, God has the answers. And the religious part of your brain knows it.

The anterior cingulated cortex is the human home of anxiety. And it's increasingly chill in people with religious conviction. In fact this anxiety center is quieter in people with any strong convictions that answer big questions, including conservative political ideologies. (Lest ye nail this author to the cross of liberal media bias, this is not necessarily a bad thing: it seems that many people could benefit from a chill pill shoved into their brain's anxiety center.)
Imagine you're navigating a three-dimensional maze. Believe it or not, in this situation, both men and women think. Only, women think with the distinctly human right prefrontal cortex, while men use the rat-brain navigational instincts of their left hippocampus (according to fMRI studies). Basically, what this means is that while men efficiently snuffle around the corridors, rationally and analytically memorizing each branching path, women look at the map. And if the map is unclear, they ask directions (not to reinforce a pop stereotype, or anything).
In my post about the somewhat wretched dating website, I wrote about researchers' determination that all humans value the same standards of beauty.

Really, no matter if you're hot or plain, you recognize a set standard of hotness—your self-image is subject to your creative delusions, but there's an inviolable piece of humanity that knows the truth about others. And so the obvious question is what about poultry? Specifically, are turkeys turned on by hot models?

Today, of all days, I'm sure you can see the importance of this research.
We know the mouth is a useful orifice for venting our feelings: if we're "hot," speaking our anger can help us "cool off". And so the bigger the mouth, the better the cooling, right? Actually, yes.

When our brain gets hot, we cool it through the mouth, and the best way to cool through the mouth is by yawning.

Researchers showed this by cooking parakeets.

Okay, they stopped short of actually cooking them, but they found that when temperature increased, the parakeet yawn rate doubled (there was no description of researchers' yawn rates).