Amusing News Aliquots
Apr27

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week's science news, compiled by Bethany Halford and Lauren Wolf. MIT’s latest hack—that’s prank to all you landlubbers—might be the coolest yet. Students rigged the windows of a building to play Tetris. [PCWorld] With all the other stuff we’ve been sending into space, it’s about time someone sent a rubber chicken there. [CNET] Enormous bunny rabbits with big, pointy teeth once roamed the Earth. Were they looking for shrubbery? [NPR] Last year, Newscripts wrote about Forbes’ ranking of the 15 wealthiest characters of the fictional universe. But we had a bone to pick with its valuation of Smaug the dragon. Forbes now reconsiders the err of its not-nerdy-enough ways. [Forbes] Why every crematorium needs a metal detector. [Guardian] Seriously, what is up with kids these days? Teenagers are now drinking hand sanitizer for its alcohol content. [LA Times] From the Portlandia files: A retirement home for chickens. [NY Times] Moles beat archaeologists to buried British treasure....

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Disputing A Dragon’s Worth
Apr26

Disputing A Dragon’s Worth

In this week's print Newscripts, I wrote about Forbes.com's recent yearly ranking of the top 15 wealthiest fictional characters on page and screen. Smaug, everyone's favorite bone-crunching, treasure-hoarding dragon from "The Hobbit," came in seventh on the list, and Executive News Editor Michael Noer wrote a fun op/ed piece describing how the dragon's fortune was calculated. Noer hangs out his geek flag for all to see, making assumptions based on details from the book and using mathematical formulas to provide a minimum conservative estimate of Smaug's worth ($8.6 billion). I consulted C&EN's resident J. R. R. Tolkien expert and Web team member, Ty Finocchiaro, about whether Noer's calculations were sound. He had a bone or two to pick--Smaug's worth should be higher, he says--and I'm sharing his musings here, proving that the Newscripts gang can out-geek the best of geeks any day of the week: I applaud the playfulness of Mr. Noer's efforts to use logically sound formulas and scientific postulations to calculate a conservative base worth of a fictional dragon. (As opposed to all the real dragons that keep scorching my finely manicured lawn.) However I have a bone to pick with some of the proofs he has based his calculations on. Proofs that, if shifted even a few percentage points, would move ol' Smaug up to a solid third in the Forbes Fictional 15. Which is where he deserves to be, dang it! 1. The claim that 30% of the volume of Smaug's mound of treasure is air created by space between goblets, helmets, coins and bones. Dwarf bones are, for one thing, quite small! Not to mention the vast majority of the victims in Erebor would have been incinerated to dust during Smaug's assault, leaving no bones behind. Besides, a creature as meticulous as Smaug (who noticed a single cup missing from his pile in "The Hobbit") would never leave large amounts of his dinner crumbs in his beloved bed of glittering gold. Thirty percent seems a bit much to begin with, I'm more comfortable knocking this volume percentage down to 10%. This would boost the gold and silver coin value up $0.9 billion. 2. Making a case for only the diamonds encrusted in Smaug's belly. To focus on only the gems that formed Smaug's armored underbelly is pure folly. Undoubtably, there are gemstones in Smaug's hoard crafted by both Dwarf and Elven hand that reach back centuries to the First or Second Age. And these would number in the hundreds! Such gems of lesser hardness might not be useful in stopping a blade or bow, but they're certainly worth millions to a collector or covetous Noldorin Elf. Having valued Smaug's diamond studded belly...

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