February Tidbits

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• The German “smotzen” means “to make dirty” and gives us the word “smut” which now refers not only to the moldy mildew that ruins crops, but also to unsavory items. The word “smudge” also springs from this source.

• The word “mushroom” comes from the French word “mousseron” meaning moss.

• The word “fungus” comes from the Greek word (which comes from the Latin word) “sphongos” meaning “sponge.”

• The Old Norse word “mold” referred to dirt or soil.

• The Greek word “khitn” meaning mollusk, gives us the word “chitin” which is something with an impenetrable shell like a mollusk.

• The Latin “spora” meaning “to sow” gives us “spore.”

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• Fritz Haber was born to a Jewish family in Germany in 1868. He excelled at chemistry, and wrote two textbooks about it. In 1898, he became a professor of chemistry. Along the way, he converted to Christianity and served in the German army, collecting honors.

• Haber discovered how to take nitrogen from the air and put it into soil. Nitrogen is essential for plant growth. The atmosphere is 78% nitrogen but plants can’t absorb it from the air. The only way to get nitrogen into dirt naturally is through lightning strikes, by growing legumes,

and by processing nitrates found in bat guano and bird poop. At the time, Germany was importing all their nitrates from South America.

• Haber found that by using heat, pressure, and a catalyst, he could turn atmospheric nitrogen and hydrogen into ammonia. Plants can easily convert ammonia to nitrates. Haber’s brother-in-law, also a chemist, figured out how to do this on an industrial scale. It’s called the Haber-Bosch process and it’s still used today. This discovery, dubbed “bread from the air,” is considered one of the most important technological advances of the 20th century. Haber’s breakthrough enabled mass production of fertilizers and led to a massive increase crops. It sustains the food base for half the world’s population today.

• In 1911, the first ammonia plant was built in Germany, producing over 30 tons of fixed nitrogen per day by 1913. Haber’s discovery helped Germany during WWI by increasing crop yields, especially when embargos halted the flow of nitrates from South America.

• Nitrates are also used to make explosives from gunpowder to bombs. To help his home country, Haber put his mind to producing better explosives. What he discovered changed the course of warfare.


flies arrive, they find a yummy oily substance which they eat. It also sticks to their feet. It’s packed with spores, which are then widely distributed as the fly flies around.


• Some species of tropical orchids perfectly mimic the smell, shape, and color of mushrooms in order to attract mushroomloving flies to do their pollination.

• A type of fungi that lives in dung will “throw” its spore-laden cap. On a rainy day, the fungus absorbs water, swelling in size, and increasing the pressure in a stalk that ends in a cap. When it reaches maximum pressure, the cap of the stalk pops off, landing up to 18 feet (5.5 m) away. It lands on a piece of grass, where it

• By tweaking the Haber-Bosch process, he was able to turn out massive amounts of poisonous chlorine gas. He figured out how to transport the gas first in canisters and then inside bombs that could be launched

• He was in attendance when it was first tried at Ypres, Belgium, in April of 1915. Thousands of steel cylinders containing chlorine gas had been transported to German positions. Haber calculated the best delivery system was the prevailing winds in Belgium—strong enough to carry the gas away from the German troops, but not so strong they would dissipate the gas. The Germans released more than 168 tons of chlorine gas from nearly 6,000 canisters at sunrise on April 22. A sickly cloud drifted toward the French trenches. The cloud settled over some 10,000 troops. More than half died by asphyxiation within minutes. Chlorine was used again at the Second Battle of Ypres where around 67,000 allied troops died. The next day, Haber’s wife committed suicide in protest.

• Haber was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1918 amid much controversy because, although he had saved many lives by producing fertilizer in large amounts, he had also launched the world into chemical warfare. Haber defended himself, saying that he thought his invention would hasten the end of the war, and by pointing out that soldiers die equally tragic deaths whether they’re killed by a knight’s lance, a musket ball, or a cloud of gas.

• He was crushed that Germany lost the war, and became despondent when Nazis began their terrible rise, targeting Jews, including Haber himself. When asked to fire all of his Jewish employees, he resigned his position in protest and fled to England. He died of heart failure in 1934 at the age of 65.

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• On Feb. 10, 1535, notwithstanding the winter chill and in a form of protest that was, unsurprisingly, ridiculed by both Protestants and Catholics, a small group of Anabaptists ran stark naked through the streets of Amsterdam, shouting that they "had been sent from God to communicate the naked truth to the godless."

• On Feb. 9, 1861, Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens were respectively elected to six-year terms as the Provisional President and Provisional Vice President of the Confederate States of America, after running without opposition.

• On Feb. 11, 1916, American feminist and anarchist Emma Goldman was arrested and imprisoned for violating the Comstock Act just before she was scheduled to deliver a public lecture on birth control, which she argued was essential to women's social, economic and sexual freedom.

• On Feb. 6, 1952, England's King George VI passed away, making his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, Queen Elizabeth II. The sovereign received the news from her husband, Prince Philip, while on a trip to Kenya, which was immediately cut short as she prepared to assume her new role.

• On Feb. 7, 1964, the music world would never be quite the same after the Beatles arrived in New York for their first visit to the U.S., where thousands of near-hysterical fans waited to greet them at Kennedy Airport. During their appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," they whipped up an even greater frenzy, with 73 million viewers watching on their TVs at home.

• On Feb. 8, 2008, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the electric chair, which was the only execution method used in that state, represented a violation of human dignity and was consequently unconstitutional, adding that electrocution "has proven itself to be a dinosaur more befitting the laboratory of Baron Frankenstein than the death chamber."

• On Feb. 12, 2014, in Bowling Green, Kentucky, a sinkhole estimated at about 30 feet deep and 40 feet wide opened

under the National Corvette Museum, swallowing eight of the rare sports cars. The building suffered no structural damage and remained open, and though damaged, the vehicles were returned to display and remain a popular attraction.

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ACROSS 1 Choir voice 5 Right angle 8 Dallas team, to fans 12 Check 13 Sheep call 14 Out of the storm 15 Rub with an emery board, perhaps 17 Speck 18 Author Fleming 19 T-shirt fabric 21 Primitive 24 Spartan queen 25 Hamilton-Burr showdown 26 Criticize again and again 30 Nabokov novel 31 Two-tone cookies 32 Ms. Thurman 33 Road marker 35 Help a crook 36 Temporary calm 37 Steinway product 38 “With any luck” 41 Fragrant tree 42 2004 on a cornerstone 43 Color akin to turquoise 48 French river 49 Wildebeest 50 Cold War initials 51 Getz of jazz 52 Kenny G’s instrument 53 Litigates DOWN 1 “Bow-wow!” 2 Island garland 3 Up to 4 “Anna Christie” playwright 5 Black, in verse 6 Murphy’s -7 Guinevere’s lover 8 Rum cocktail 9 Oodles 10 Presidential power 11 Penn or Astin 16 Calendar box 20 Praiseful pieces 21 Dutch cheese 22 German car name 23 Authentic 24 “The Sound of Music” teenager 26 Drags out 27 Hefty horn 28 Portent 29 Peacekeeping org. 31 Piece of work 34 Football team 35 Boeing rival 37 Chart format 38 Med. plan options 39 Skip 40 Tower city 41 Change 44 -- pickle 45 Baton Rouge sch. 46 Exploit 47 Hosp. parts

1. MUSIC: Which band sang the theme song to TV's "Friends"?

2. ANATOMY: What is the only bone in the human body that isn't attached to another bone nearby?

3. LITERATURE: What is the setting for the "Anne of Green Gables" novel series?

4. TELEVISION: Who plays the lead role in the sitcom "Mr. Mayor"?

5. GEOGRAPHY: Where are the Spanish Steps located?

6. HISTORY: How long did the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, orbit the planet?

7. AD SLOGANS: Which restaurant chain advises customers to "eat fresh"?

8. SCIENCE: What is the only form of energy that can be seen with the human eye?

9. ANIMAL KINGDOM: With which animal do humans share 98.8% of their DNA?

10. MOVIES: Which movie features the famous line, "I see dead people"?



seals themselves to the vegetation using a type of slime that dries and glues them in place. At some point, the grass with the spore will be eaten by a passing creature. The spore-filled cap flows through the digestive track unharmed, and lands in a fresh new pile of dung far away from the parent colony.

• In a similar method, a type of fungus that grows on dung forms a small oil-filled chamber similar to a lens. The oil is packed with spores. The fungus pressurizes this chamber to about the same pressure as a truck tire. When the chamber finally bursts, it squirts the spore-filled goo up to ten feet away – always in the direction of the greatest amount of light. The goopy blob hopefully lands on a blade of grass, where it stays glued in place until eaten by a deer, cow, horse, or sheep and carried away.

• Many species of fungus spread their spores by storing them in a cup-like structure where the wind picks them up like blowing out a candle and carries them away.

• One fungus uses water for dispersal. The spore packets are shaped like tiny flasks. The thick end of the flasks is embedded in small pits in tree bark, with only the neck of the flask peeking out. When it rains, the flask swells in size, the neck sticks out farther, and it begins oozing spores. Rain drops carry the spores downward.


• The ambrosia beetle lives at the base of trees and feeds exclusively on the ambrosia fungus. It trundles

about the forest floor, and when it finds that fungus, it brings spores back to its home tree and plants the spores there, cultivating its own garden of the fungus so it always has something to eat. It collects the spores in a little “basket” on its exoskeleton. A rival species of beetle also lives in the tree, and steals the ambrosia fungus. This species is unable to cultivate its own garden because it has no “basket.” The relationship


Page 4 Issue 1308 • JANUARY 30TH, 2023 Tidbits of The Mid-Columbia To Advertise Call 509-734-1186

benefits both the beetle and the fungus, but harms the tree. The ambrosia beetle is native to South East Asia and made its way to the U.S. in packing material, bringing the fungus with it. The fungus has spread across the eastern U.S., causing a disease known as “laurel wilt” that kills members of the laurel family.

• The bird’s nest fungus sits on decaying wood and produces tiny packets of spores that look like little eggs, sitting inside upturned cups that look like nests. Each “nest” is only a third of an inch long, and contains about ten “eggs.” When a raindrop hits the nest, one or more of the egglike spore packets travels with the rainwater as it drops to the forest floor, trailing a sticky filament. The filament wraps around a twig or leaf on the forest floor, anchoring the spore packet in place. The weather eventually wears away the surface of the packet, releasing the spores to the wind.


• A fungus known as “smut” that affects corn can produce about 25 billion spores for each

ear of corn. The fungus that causes stem rust in wheat generates about 10 billion spores per acre of wheat.

• One type of wood decay fungus produces spores at the rate of 350,000 per second for up to six months per year, for up to ten years before dying of old age.


• In completely still air, a spore will descend at the rate of 7 feet (2 m) per minute. However, due to their

tiny size, they can be lofted on the wind where they can stay airborne for long periods of time, travelling great distances.

• One researcher did an experiment on spore dispersal, releasing harmless spores on the first floor of his office building just to track their movement. Within five minutes, the spores

had wafted to the 4th floor, and five minutes after that they were falling to the floor of the 4th floor at the rate of thousands per square yard. Air samples taken at Arctic stations show a huge number of spores in spite of being thousands of miles away from the nearest source.

• One research station on the edge of Paris in 1879 measured the spore count of the atmosphere at different times and conditions using sticky slides exposed to air currents. It was found that the airborne load of fungus spores decreased greatly during heavy rain but rebounded up to tenfold after the rain.

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• During World War II, the Lay-ZBoy company had to stop producing recliners because of the war effort. Instead, they used their production facility to mass produce (we hope much more comfortable) seats for tanks and other military vehicles.

• Champagne was originally a holy wine.

• The only people guaranteed to get Super Bowl rings, regardless of a game's outcome, are the referees, though their rings aren't nearly as large or valuable as that of the players.

• In the 1880’s, a railroad signalman named James Edwin Wide taught a South African baboon to perform his job by recognizing the whistles that indicated a train was about to change tracks. Dubbed "Signalman Jack," the animal performed his duties so well that not only was he formally hired at a salary of 20 cents per day and half a bottle of beer per week, he carried on for nine years until his death from tuberculosis in 1890.


• The International Space Station often hosts a number of trays attached to the exterior of the spacecraft.

Inside the trays are various substances: bacteria, algae, fungi, tardigrades, and so on. They are there to see if they can survive exposure to the harsh conditions and cosmic rays of space. So far, the best survival rate has been found in lichens.

• Lichens are a symbiotic relationship between algae and fungus. A German botanist coined the term “symbiosis” in 1877 specifically to describe the partnership involved in lichens.

• With lichens, algae provide energy produced through photosynthesis, while the fungus breaks down the minerals of the rock that the lichen is attached to, providing nutrition.

• Lichens cover about 8% of the land area of the planet, more than is covered by tropical rainforests. They cling to all sorts of surfaces ranging from roofs, gravestones, and fences to cliffs, trees, and the surface of deserts.

• There are over 20,000 species of lichens worldwide. In the Arctic, there are about 2,000 species of lichen. Even in Antarctic, there are about 400 species. The slowest growing plant on the planet may be a lichen on rocks in the Arctic where it gets colder than -90 F (-68 C) in the winter. Lichen one inch in diameter may be 1,000 years old.

• Trees were not around for 90% of Earth's history.

• Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury's overbite resulted from four extra teeth in his upper jaw. He refused to have them removed, however, for fear the surgery would affect his voice and vocal range.

• In the 2015 film "Jurassic World," Chris Pratt's character carries a stainless Marlin 1895 -- the only firearm on Marlin's website that's rated for a T-Rex.

• Two churches in Vrontados, Greece, have a particularly unconventional way of marking the Easter holiday: They fire rockets at each other! While they used to use cannons, those were outlawed. The tradition has been carried out for at least four centuries.


Thought for the Day: "The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depths it has its pearls too."

--Vincent Van Gogh

(c) 2023 King Features Synd., Inc.

• A single common English Oak tree growing in a temperate climate was found to be supporting 324 different species of lichen.

• Lichens deteriorate surfaces by prying small cracks apart by the force of their growth, and by secreting acids that dissolve solid rock to be digested. When lichens die, they decompose and provide the first bits of soil in harsh ecosystems. Lichens turn inanimate minerals into a form that other creatures can use.

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Instead of seeds, mushrooms produce spores, which are almost as fine as smoke. Most fungal spores are single cells. Mushrooms also reproduce by sending out their thread-like “roots” called mycelium, but that method is very limited, whereas spores can spread very far, very fast. Come along with Tidbits as we consider spores! t HE

The spores of mushrooms are made of chitin, which is the hardest naturally-made substance on earth. Chitin also forms the exoskeletons of insects and crustaceans, the beaks of the octopus and squid, and the tongue of mollusks. Researchers speculate that mushroom spores may be capable of surviving space travel.

• Spores have thick walls, preventing them from drying out. Their typically dark coloration protects them from the damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun. Their exteriors tend to be spikey, making it easy for numbers of them to clump together.


• One type of stinkhorn mushroom in Australia emits an odor that attracts flies. When the (CONTINUED ON PAGE 2)

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