The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary

The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary was a fanciful plant from Central Asia that grew lambs as its fruit. The stalks bent down to allow the lambs to graze nearby, and when the lambs ran out of food, the plant would die and the lambs could be harvested. The plant is described in a much-embellished 14th-century travelogue attributed to Englishman John Mandeville. Though the story of a wool-bearing plant was used to explain the existence of cotton, what other actual plant inspired this legend? Discuss
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Cyanide Poisoning

There are numerous cyanide compounds, and, whether inhaled or ingested, most are deadly. Some occur naturally in almonds and in fruit seeds and pits. Cyanide deprives body tissues of oxygen, and symptoms of poisoning include bitter almond-scented breath, dizziness, convulsions, and collapse. Though antidotes exist, cyanide can kill within minutes, making it a historically notable murder weapon. What might explain why Rasputin survived after eating cyanide-laced cakes and wine? Discuss
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Yuan Chonghuan

A famed military commander of the Ming Dynasty in the final years before it was toppled by the Manchurians, Yuan Chonghuan excelled in the use of artillery and brilliantly incorporated Western tactics into his battles. Despite being vastly outnumbered in the 1626 Battle of Ningyuan, his forces defeated those of Manchurian general Nurhaci. Still, rumors that he had collaborated with the enemy spread after he repelled an attack on Beijing in 1629, and he was executed. Who was behind the rumors?
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Sandboarding is a sport similar to snowboarding, except that instead of sliding down the side of a snowy mountain, participants slide down sand dunes—some of which can be hundreds of feet high. For practical reasons, it is most prevalent in desert or coastal regions, and several sandboarding competitions and championships are held around the world. One significant drawback to boarding on sand instead of snow is that, unlike on mountains, dune riders do not have what convenience? Discuss
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Mani was the Iranian founder of Manichaeism, a once-widespread but now-extinct religion that centered on the struggle between good and evil. Inspired by visions of an angel, Mani saw himself as the last in a line of prophets that included Adam, Buddha, Zoroaster, and Jesus. His preaching was tolerated until Persian king Bahram I’s reign in the late 3rd century, during which time Mani was imprisoned. Though little is reliably known about his life, by many accounts he died in what gruesome way? Discuss
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