Friday, May 20, 2022

Answer: Why... in New Orleans?

Yep... I was in New Orleans...  

... at a conference with just over 2,000 of my friends.  It was a wonderful time, right up until the last day when I felt pretty sick (felt like a bad head cold + muscular soreness).  I figured it was the flu, but out of an abundance of caution, I got a COVID RT test from the pharmacy and found that I was positive!  

I was a long way from home, so I stayed, isolated in a local hotel until it was okay for me to be out in polite company again.  It wasn't New Orleans fault--it's still a wonderful city--but too many people, too soon, in quarters that were a bit too close.  

But now we know.   

Before that happened, I had a couple of SRS questions that popped up for me this past week.  Can you help me figure them out?  

1. One of the great symbols of New Orleans are the steamboats that used to ply the river. They're wedding cakes on the water, full of color, decoration, and outsized components.  They don't use propellers, they use giant paddlewheels driven by large steam engines.  One of the most noticeable parts of a traditional steamboat are the smokestacks.  In this image of the riverboat "City of New Orleans," you can see that the top of the smokestack ends in an incredibly elaborate patterning at the very top.  Since you see this kind of thing on nearly all steamboat smokestacks, that made me wonder--is that patterning at the top purely decorative, or does it have some kind of function?  What can you find out? 


I did a search for: 

     [ steamboat smokestack decoration on top ] 

to start.  Note that I did NOT include any localization information (not Mississippi, nor New Orleans), trusting that the results I'd get would be already localized to the US.  (If you do this query in other countries, you might get very different results.  In such cases, you'd probably have to include some locale identification information.)  

In the results to this query, I found a great source, Riverlorian.com (by Jerry Hay, author of multiple books about US river lore and a guide aboard the American Queen and the Delta Queen Mississippi steamboats).  In this site, Hay writes that: 

"Steamboats had tall smokestacks. The boats originally had boilers fired by wood. Along with the smoke there would often be flaming embers coming up from the furnace and out of the top of the smokestack. Those embers could and did start fires when they landed on the top deck or cargo. Tall stacks would give the embers a better chance to burn out before reaching the deck. In addition, the top of the stacks were "fluted". Fluting consisted of wire or steel mesh and acted like a small fence that would break the embers into small pieces. Smaller embers were more likely to burn out faster than larger pieces. As fancier boats were built, the fluting became very ornamental and eventually came to be considered an essential decorative element of the smokestack. Those vessels with the fancy smokestacks and decorative flutes became known as high-falutin' boats." 

It's pretty clear that the design of these steamships was very fanciful, full of enough decoration to choke a horse.  In 1886, one of these steamships was described in The River Road Rambler as: 

The J. M. White... was 325 feet long with a public salon large enough, it was said, to hold three-hundred waltzing couples under ‘seven 16-burner gold-gilt chandeliers… made of fine brass, highly polished, and then… covered with pure gold.”  

There were also stained-glass windows, ample staterooms with full-size beds, and one of her two bridal chambers was paneled in mahogany and satinwood, the other in rosewood and satinwood... 

You get the idea.  Decoration for its own sake was happily accepted, but the decorative fluting atop the smokestacks also seemed to be primarily decorative.  The spark arrestors (such as they were) seem to have been simple "wire meshes"  (as Hays writes).  Meanwhile, other contemporary steamships, like the Multnomah (1851), which served in Washington state, had fairly elaborate spark arrestors.  

But here's the thing--spark arrestors, as seen on the Multnomah, were fairly well-developed technology.  By the time of the great Mississippi steamboats like the Natchez or the City of New Orleans, spark arrestors were well known gadgets.  In fast, the patent office had more than a dozen patents for improvements to spark arrestors filed before 1890.  Most involved a distinctive swelling in the stack to contain the arresting mechanism!  

US Patent for an "Improved Spark Arrestor" (1855) 


Two steamboats in Memphis, 1906--one with spark arrestors (left) and
one with only screen arrestors (right).
P/C Library of Congress.  

But spark arrestors are something else to maintain and are prone to getting deposits of creosote from the burning wood (and then catching on fire themselves).  

So the elaborate leaf-like structures seem to have evolved from the meshes built in to arrest sparks and embers.  But as far as I can tell, they don't actually do much to suppress anything.  (They do look very cool, however...)  


2. While New Orleans is a generally colorful place, three colors seem to dominate: purple, gold, and green.  Is this color scheme really a thing?  Or am I making a vast overgeneralization?  


I'm going to quote much of mateojose1's explanation (which is very well done).  

Mateojose1 writes (I've lightly edited it here): 

Search query #1:   [  new orleans purple gold green ]

Source: MardiGrasNewOrleans.com  tells us that these are the colors for New Orleans' Mardi Gras celebration, with each being said (in 1892) to represent three different virtues (gold = power, green = faith, purple = justice). The story goes that they were selected in 1872 to honor a Russian grand duke who was visiting. But, it's a story that doesn't quite fit the facts.

This site also tells another version of the story:  According to local historian Errol Flynn Laborde,  is this: The carnival king did say (in 1872, for the first rex parade) that those would be the three colors for Mardi Gras, but he never said why. At that point, Laborde asked why. And, after investigating, he concluded that the three had to do with how its organizers decided that the Rex parade needed a flag with three colors: Purple, for royalty ("rex" means "king"); gold, since heraldry needed a metal and gold was fit for a king; and green, since heraldry also needed a color, and since green went the best with purple and gold.

(Dan's comment:  Here are the details about Laborde--he's a long time journalist and editor focusing on local history and New Orleans culture.)  

Source: NOLA.com Retells the 1892 story of the three colors symbolize, and tells us that the three Mardi Gras colors are seen year-round throughout New Orleans.

Search query #2:    [ new orleans purple gold green origin  ]

Source: MyNewOrleans.com Another article written by Errol Laborde in 2020, which explains his findings in more detail. They date back to a proclamation by the 1872 carnival king, but it's unclear why he chose those three rather than some other choice, plus none of the other explanations can be verified. That, and the popular explanation for what they mean was debunked in 1971.

25 years later, Laborde and others who were researching were able to deduce why those three were selected. They were as follows:

* The carnival king needed a flag, which needed three colors (since the America, British, and French flags are all tri-colored). Red, white, and blue were dismissed, since they were colors for republics and revolution, which would not be appropriate for a king.

* Purple was likely chosen because it's long been connected with royalty.

* They also followed the rules of heraldry (which the people who organized the Rex event were likely familiar with), and those fields need both a metal (gold or silver [white]) and a color (black, green, purple, blue, and red). So, gold was chosen (since white was widely used), and green was chosen, since black didn't go so well with gold and purple.

Conclusion: The three colors represent Mardi Gras, and are based on what was chosen for it back in 1872 (the selection of which was related to heraldry), though a separate explanation was invented in 1892. Now, though, it's a matter of civic pride for the city, and for its Mardi Gras celebration.  

(Thanks, MateoJose1.)  

3.  There also seems to be an awful lot of fleur de lis in the decoration of New Orleans, you see them absolutely everywhere (including between the smokestacks above!):  Why?  



I started with the Wikipedia article by searching for [ fleur de lis wikipedia ] 

I found that the symbol is associated with European monarchs, but especially with the French monarchy. Oddly, its use in France seems to predate Christianity, as Roman coins from Gaul had a design that looked like it. It also appears in other countries, but it's most closely associated with France.

My next query is the obvious one:  [ fleur de lis new orleans ]

There are tons of results, but one that looked reliable is the paper of record for the city,  The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate which repeats the story of the fleur de lis as a French national symbol, but also tells us that in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it came to represent strength, determination in rebuilding the city, and defiance against the storm. 

Background:  As Jon pointed outin 1604 what is now eastern Canada was extensively populated by French people. Eventually the area became part of the British empire and around 1754 most of the 10,000 French were removed to other areas. By 1764 they were allowed to return under certain conditions: mostly so long as they would disperse themselves and swear loyalty to British Crown. These people became knows as the Acadians.  

Those returning to the Canadian Maritime provinces chose to settle in Baie Sainte-Marie in western Nova Scotia, Cheticamp on the western shore of Cape Breton Island, the Malpèque region of Prince Edward Island, and on the eastern and northern shores of New Brunswick as well as in the province of Quebec, particularly in the area of Yamachiche and L'Acadie.

Many Acadians from France and the American colonies settled in Louisiana during the Le Grand DĂ©rangement  eventually transforming the word "Acadian" into "Cajun," in the process creating a new French dialect and culture to the world. Along the way, they also brought their symbol of France with them.

The fleur de lis represents the city's French heritage. 


SearchResearch Lessons

This was a fun Challenge, exercising our ability to read multiple sources and find the answers we seek.  If there's a big lesson from this week it's this: 

1.  Read multiple sources for every answer you seek.  In all of the above research, we sought out multiple sources for every claim made.  We also checked the sources themselves (e.g. "who is Errol Labourde?") Some of these require close reading, an essential skill for the practical SearchResearcher!  


Search on!  

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Superb example of SearchResearch... in Algeria

 I have a wonderful video I want to recommend to you.  It's about what this mysterious circle of circles is... 



In this video from Vox, they explore the limits of what you can find by internet searching, and go beyond the limit when they realize that they'll have to visit this site in person.  It's not exactly around the corner: it's at 27.270161, 4.322245, which is, you'll quickly realize, in the middle of the formidable Algerian desert.  

The key question is: When / what / who made these circles in the (literal) middle of nowhere? 

I didn't expect to watch this entire video, but it is well worth the time.  In it, the researchers do all of the things you'd expect from a SearchResearch Challenge (finding original sources, locating experts, contacting them, etc).  It's a wonderfully produced video that lays out their research process step-by-step.  Check it out, and tell me if you're not pulled into the mystery after the first 30 seconds.  

Bravo, Vox!  Bravo!  

Vox's video: Who made these circles in the desert?  




Search on!  


Wednesday, May 11, 2022

SearchResearch Challenge (5/11/22): Why... in New Orleans?

 This past week I was in New Orleans... 

... that fabled city along a bend of the Mississippi, home to classic jazz, crawfish etouffee, po boy sandwiches, and a confluence of many cultures from around the world.  

It's a colorful place with a long and complicated history, and for this traveler, a nearly endless source of great SRS questions.  Here are two that popped up for me this past week.  Can you help me figure them out?  

1. One of the great symbols of New Orleans are the steamboats that used to ply the river. They're wedding cakes on the water, full of color, decoration, and outsized components.  They don't use propellers, they use giant paddlewheels driven by large steam engines.  One of the most noticeable parts of a traditional steamboat are the smokestacks.  In this image of the Natchez  riverboat "City of New Orleans," you can see that the top of the smokestack ends in an incredibly elaborate patterning at the very top.  Since you see this kind of thing on nearly all steamboat smokestacks, that made me wonder--is that patterning at the top purely decorative, or does it have some kind of function?  What can you find out? 



2. While New Orleans is a generally colorful place, three colors seem to dominate: purple, gold, and green.  Is this color scheme really a thing?  Or am I making a vast overgeneralization?  



3.  There also seems to be an awful lot of fleur de lis in the decoration of New Orleans, you see them absolutely everywhere (including between the smokestacks above!):  Why?  




As always, be sure to tell us what you found out.. and HOW you found out!  (Tell us your process and citations.  We want to learn from you.)   

Search on!  


Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Answer: Why water the astroturf?

 It's true!  

This IS a picture of the University of North Carolina very actively watering an artificial turf.  I took this pic one sunny afternoon not long before the field hockey team was about to take the field.  Of course, this struck me as nonsensical, but when you see things that seem truly odd, there's usually an explanation. That's this week's Challenge... 

Why?   

This week's Challenge: 

1. Why do they water the artificial grass before (and sometimes during) a game?  

In this case, when I was there I spotted the groundskeeper who was actually running the sprinkler and monitoring how well they were doing.  Being a curious sort of fellow, I walked over, struck up a conversation and asked "Why are you watering the artificial grass?"  His reply:  "We do it a couple of hours before the game to make sure the field hockey balls (or lacrosse balls) won't run quite as far when they hit the surface.  If it's dry, they move fast and run off the field too quickly... which is a hassle."  

So, his answer: To increase the drag on the ball.  He helpfully pointed out that on "hot days, we'll water the field during halftime for the same reason."  

That's probably correct, but naturally, I was interested if there was any other reason.  So I started my reading with: 

     [ field hockey water on surface ] 

and found several good results.  The UK's Express sports page says that "The artificial playing surface is actually watered on purpose before each hockey game in order to improve play. GreenFields, an artificial turf systems company, said: 'The pitch is fully irrigated with a layer of water which results in an extremely fast and professional game.'"  

Interesting.  That's not what the groundskeeper said.  He said the reason is to have the balls move more slowly.  

Greenfields goes on to say that "During a hockey match, an average of 6,000 litres of water is used to irrigate the pitch. This is enough drinking water for a 3-person household for 6.5 years!"  (That's enough water to cause this Californian to pause.)  They also go on to say that the reason for watering the field is to "lower the surface temperature" to something more like natural grass.  

Looking around at other results I find that Halloran and Yauch (an irrigation systems company) say that watering an artificial field can: 

a. lubricate the surface to reduce injuries; 

b. cools the surface to reduce rug burns; 

c. stabilize the surface to add to field life; 

d. keeps the surface moist to prevent the synthetic fibers from breaking.  

Similar arguments are made by the TigerTurf company (another artificial field provider).  

On the other hand, searching for: 

     [ water on artificial turf soccer ] 

leads me to several other articles that repeat the "cooling" story, but also to an article (ParksAndRecBusiness) pointing out that for the special case of field hockey, water on the astroturf provides "“Uniform ball bounce and a non-directional roll..."  

Sounds like the PRIMARY reason is for this extravagant field watering is to make the field cooler--that makes sense, especially in places like North Carolina, which can get mighty warm.  There's also probably a more consistent ball rolling behavior with water on the field, which might be slower, might be faster, but certainly more predictable.  

Lest you think this is only an issue in places with lots of water, what kind of water you use on an artificial field matters--it's supposed to be potable water.  So, in LA, the question comes up, does watering an artificial field use less water... or more... than natural grass.  I will leave this as an open question for rabid sports fans to answer.  

Where the stick hits the watery field...


2. In what other sports do they water the field before (and sometimes during) a game?  Why do they water those fields?  

I did a generic search by: 

     [ "spray * on * field" sports ] 

to find all mentions of spraying something (the first *) onto something followed by "field."  I added sports to the query to get rid of results talking about spraying on agricultural fields.    

And, I found what you'd expect: that they spray water on baseball infields (which are usually red clay, which gets mighty dusty), and they spray water for the same reason on horse-racing tracks.  Of course, I also found many articles about spray-painting logos onto artificial turf for both permanent markings (e.g. lines), but temporary markings (e.g., for visiting team logos).  

But the biggest surprise in these results was the observation that sometimes you need to spray artificial grass with weed killer!  This led me to do a special search on: 

     [ spray herbicide on artificial grass ] 

and discover that it's recommended to use a herbicide twice a year to control those pesky weeds that can even grow... on an artificial field.  


SearchResearch Lessons

It's often a really good idea to talk with people in the field when you've got a SearchResearch question.  This is especially true when they're engaged in the activity that's piqued your curiosity.  But as good as that is, there might be a deeper story to discover.  That's why I always: 

1.  Trust, but verify.  The conversation is often a great place to begin your SearchResearch.  But even people who are doing something might not have the full story.  Sometimes they do--but it's a great starting point.  (And who knows, you might make a friend.)  

Search on! 



P.S.  I'll be away for the next two weeks, heading off on an actual vacation.  You can guess that there will be more SearchResearch Challenges in the near future that draw upon what I see there.  Details when I return.  But don't take two weeks of quiet as me being MIA--it's just time for a bit of a break.  The Challenge will return on May 11.

 

Bula vinaka!  


Wednesday, April 13, 2022

SearchResearch Challenge (4/13/22): Why water the astroturf?

 I couldn't believe my eyes!  

As a native Californian, I'm sensitive to water use and I'm drawn to extravagant displays of water.  Waterfalls attract me, rivers and even creeks capture my attention. (And you know I love the sea.)  

So as you might expect, seeing large fountains of water being sprayed onto an athletic field in midday caused me to watch in admiration as these powerful jets rocketed vast quantities of water onto the field. 

But wait a second... That turf is remarkably green, smooth, and oh-so-perfect.  

Naturally, curiosity made me wonder about the reality of the grassy field.  As I was walking across campus, I had a few extra minutes, so I took a detour and wandered down to the field to see what was going on.  Much to my surprise, I found that it's an artificial field!  Can that be real? Are they really putting a LOT of water onto fake grass?  It didn't add up.  

The question here is obvious... Why water the astroturf?  

A big part of my curiosity engine is to keep asking about what it is I'm seeing. Does what I'm seeing make sense?  Why is the land like that?  Why are people standing in that line?  What's going on with the plants / animals / fish / water... 

As it turned out, a groundskeeper was monitoring the sprinklers, so I was able to walk over and chat with him for a few moments and ask him the question.  His answer surprised me--and perhaps it will surprise you as well.  

As a Californian, I'm still stunned that this university in North Carolina would put so much water onto a surface without any plants, but NC doesn't exist in a state of drought.  In fact, the day before this photo was taken, it was raining very, very hard--one of those hard, tropical rains--which only made the field watering seem weirder.  

This week's Challenge: 

1. Why do they water the artificial grass before (and sometimes during) a game?  

2. In what other sports do they water the field before (and sometimes during) a game?  Why do they water those fields?  

As usual, I'm curious in what you learn in your search... but I'm VERY interested in how you found the answer.  What was your SearchResearch process?  

But most of all... why on earth would you water artificial grass?

Search on!  

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Answer: Where is the oldest solar observatory in the Americas?

 Watching the sun... 



... is something that humans have done since we noticed that it traces out a pattern in the sky over the course of a year.  Of course, it's much easier to do this if you live on an open plain, where it's obvious that the sun sets and rises in a slightly different place each day.  As mentioned, Stonehenge is famously aligned with the solstices and seems to have been used as a large astronomical calculating device.  (Although how anyone in central England had enough clear and sunny days to make the calculations is actually beyond me.)  

But our curiosity also runs to solar observations made in the Americas.  What about the New World?  When did similar solar observations start here? 

That was the Challenge--can you find out? 

1.  When was the first observatory for sun-watching purposes created in the Americas?  Can you find out who made it?  Where is it?  And what happened to those people?  

I, like many of you, started with a simple, pointed query: 

     [ first solar observatory Americas ]


If you read those stories carefully, you'll find they all point back to an article published in Science (and VERY high reputation journal) Ghezzi, Ivan, and Clive Ruggles. "Chankillo: a 2300-year-old solar observatory in coastal Peru." Science 315.5816 (2007): 1239-1243.  (Link to full-text of the paper.) 

The observatory dates to the 4th century BCE, or about 2300 years ago.  It's 9 miles from the Pacific ocean on the eastern slope of a wide plain that gives a great 360 view of sunrises and sunsets.  It's a place without many trees, a place where you'll learn what the sun does every day of the year.  It's easy how one might come to view the sun as a god-figure.  We know that the Inca revered the sun and built astronomical temples (e.g., Machu Picchu), but learning about this site made me wonder about the relationship between the people who built Chankillo (the Casma/Sechin culture) and the Inca.  

In the above interview with NPR, the first author, Ivan Ghezzi said that: 
"We know that the Incas made powerful political statements based on the relationship between the sun and the king... The Inca claimed to be the offspring of the sun. But now we have a society that is 1,800 years before the Inca that is clearly using the sun as a way to make a political, social and ideological statement."
The Casma/Sechin culture is amazing--they began around 3200 BCE and stopped around 200 BCE.  There's not a lot of information about what followed the Casma/Sechin people; they seemed to be invaded by people from the mountains and just vanished into the mists of time as the Early Horizon (900 – 200 BCE) era ended... right around when Chankillo was built, and then abandoned.  

The Inca, meanwhile, date from 1438-1533, just under 100 years.  How is it possible that I didn't know about a pre-existing culture that lasted for 3 millenia?  I'm sure I'll be reading more about this remarkable culture in the weeks ahead.  (The Incas and Their Ancestor:  The Archaeology of Peru.  Michael Edward Moseley. 2001)

The Chankillo site itself is full of fascinating things.  You can even use Google Maps to get a look at the site from the satellite images.  The 13 pinnacles are arrayed on the back of a low ridge, looking like vertebrae that have been cut out of the stone:   

Closeup view of the observatory ridge.  P/C Google Maps

If you zoom out, you can see that there's evidence of a LOT of other buildings and sites all around the area. 

View from above.  P/C Google Maps

The chankillo ridge with 13 notches, looking towards the mountains in the east. 
P/C Google Maps

Most impressively, there's a large temple/fortress complex just to the west.  This is interpreted as being a temple with defensive capabilities--a suggestion that even 2300 years ago, battles were being fought in this part of Peru.  (There's some debate about whether these were actual battles or ritualized fights--whatever the actual interpretation, building this site was a lot of work in difficult environment.)  

Nearby fortified temple site (P/C Google Maps)

A great shot of the ridge.  P/C Wikimedia, by David Edgar (2013)

As Remmij pointed out, there's a GREAT video tour of the Chakillo site: If you're interested, check it out. 




One of my goals was to quickly get a sense of the surrounding literature about Chankillo.  My favorite way to do that is to find the most authoritative article (in this case, the original article in Science by Ghezzi and Ruggles), and then use Google Scholar to see what other works cite this paper.  That is, I did this--searched for the paper in Scholar, and... 


Which then gives me a list of other publications that cite this original work, usually extending it or giving new interpretations: 



I then just opened a bunch of these papers in parallel ("lateral browsing") and then scanned through them, picking out the ones that were interesting and/or relevant to my interests.  

SearchResearch Summary 


1.  When you're curious about something, take a look!  In this case, Google Maps (or other aerial image sources, as we've discussed) can be a great resource for furthering your curiosity.  

2.  Looking "around" a topic can be done by looking at other works that cite the work that's most like what you're interested in.  I tend to use the "Cited by" link in Google Scholar as a great way to look around.  This won't give you news accounts, but it does link you to some of the surrounding literature that can teach you a great deal.  (In my case, I'm going to start running down the mysterious Casma/Sechin culture!  



Search on! 

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

SearchResearch Challenge (3/30/22): Where is the oldest solar observatory in the Americas?

We all watch the sun... 


... sometimes with sunscreen, but nearly always at sunrise and sunset.  We notice when the days grow shorter or longer, and as we've seen in earlier SRS Challenges, it's an endless source of fascination for people, shadows, and the time of year.  

Since we've talked about the patterns that the sun makes in the sky, it got me to wondering, when did people first start keeping track and building observatories?  We know that Stonehenge, those marvelous circles of stone and ridges of earth in England, was built between 3000 and 1520 BCE.

What about the New World?  When did similar things start here? 

That's today's Challenge--can you find out? 

1.  When was the first observatory for sun-watching purposes created in the Americas?  Can you find out who made it?  Where is it?  And what happened to those people?  

This Challenge isn't hard, but when I found the answers, I was a bit surprised.  And naturally, once I started learning about these things, this led to further questions as I followed my curiosity a bit.  

I'm curious now: What else did you find interesting to seek out?  What did this Challenge prompt you to go learn about?  

Curious is as curious does.  Where does all this take you?  

Tell us your stories in the comments below. 

Happy observing! 

Search on! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Answer: Finding the connections?

 How is this like that? 

.

Seems to me that noticing how ideas, people, places, and words all link together is a fundamental to creative thought.  

Last week's Challenge was an example of this kind of connective thinking, one that I hope leads you to learning how to find your own fascinating connections.   

Backstory:  I was walking along a trail that follows the edge of an oceanside bluff in a place that has wind and weather that always comes from the same direction.  In this case, the winds always come out of the west, flows over the bluff, and then blows constantly on the trees and shrubs at the top of the cliff.  As you'd expect, this causes some pretty serious deformations in the way the trees grow.  The tree shown above was especially bent and pruned by the wind, as are most of the trees along this part of the coastline.  

That walk led to today's Search Challenge: 

1. If I want to learn more about such bent and deformed trees, what's the specialized search term that I'd want to use?  (Hint: There is a very specific term to describe such trees--that's what you seek.)  

Where do you start with such a Challenge?  In my case, I suspected that there would be a specialized term about such trees--and as we know, if you have a precise term for something you'd like to find, it makes your search (and your corresponding learning) that much simpler.   

My first search was: 

     [ tree bent over by wind ] 

and after scrubbing through the results (and NOT finding anything useful--just lots of information about how to straighten up bent trees), I tried a more direct route: 

     [ word for tree bent over by wind ] 

and--lo and behold--the first result was exactly what I was looking for.  


Of course, once I learned this, I did a few followup queries to make sure that I understood what krummholz really meant.  As the Wikipedia excerpt suggests, it has a connotation of being a tree at a subarctic or subalpine place.  But as I looked around, it's clear that the term is used more broadly to include all kinds of trees that are bent over, pruned, edited, or otherwise shape-shifted by wind and weather.  

2. What is the name of a musical instrument that sounds a lot like this specialized term?  (Hint: The word for the instrument shares a language of origin and the first 6 letters with the tree-term.  This is one of those "you'll know it when you see it" kinds of Challenges.)  

Now that we know the term krummholz, I did this : 

     [ krummholz musical instrument ] 



I'm not quite sure what I expected, but the spelling suggestion of "krummhorn" is great!  

When you look up krummhorn, it's quickly clear what the connection is: 



A krummhorn (also spelled crumhorn) is a bent wooden instrument.  "Krumm" is the German term for "bent," so it is literally a "bent horn."  Interestingly, from the Wikipedia entry we also learn that this term is still a part of English as heard in the term "crumpet" (a curved cake) and "crumpled" meaning a bent piece of material, as in "he crumpled the piece of paper..."  

"So", my wondering mind thinks, "is the crumhorn made from a bent piece of wood?  If so, how would they drill a curving hole?"  

A quick query solves that question:  

     [ how to make a krummhorn ] 

which leads to a fantastic video of the production of a krummhorn.  Answer:  The wood is initially a straight cylinder, which is drilled through, and then steamed and bent into the final curved shape.  It's worth watching this video to see how the krummhorn comes to be: 



What's remarkable is how quickly the tube is bent from straight to curved--just a few seconds!  

Regular Reader Mathlady had a slightly different approach to the Challenge--her query was [ krummh musical instrument ] which gave her this result: 



Notice that in this case the Google spelling corrector kicked in on the partial word "krummh"--when Google asks (in the red text above) "Did you mean:" that's a spelling correction.  Fortunately, the word krumm is a legitimate German word (meaning "bent"), and all of the results feature "krumm" (as in "krumm horn") the instrument we seek!  

My last query was to YouTube for krummhorn, which led me to this wonderful video showing what a krummhorn is, how it works, and how it sounds in a trio consort of krummhorns.  Worth a watch: 





SearchResearch Lessons 


1.  Pay attention to suggestions and spelling corrections!  When searching, as in horseshoes and hand grenades, close is often good enough.  If you watch the Google spelling corrections and the suggested searches, you can often recognize a better version of what you're searching for--keep a weather eye open to the nearby alternatives!  

2. Once you have an answer, play around a bit and learn some of the surrounding context.  We could have framed this Challenge as simply "what's the bendy tree called?" but then we wouldn't have noticed the connection to these wonderful Medieval instruments (or learned the German word for "curved").  There's no end of fascinating things to learn, and interest-driven learning is the best.  

Stay curious, my friends!  

Search on!