Inverse Daily

2 giant problems could join forces to help save the world

Climate change. Global debt. Coming together like never before.

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Straight out of the Computing Center of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Tetris hit American shores today in 1988. Developed four years earlier by Alexey Pajitnov, the game was originally designed for the Soviet Electronika 60 and had caught on in a huge way. Based on his childhood solve of geometric shapes and puzzles, Pajitnov eventually recruited a 16-year-old Vadim Gerasimov to upgrade to a modern IBM.

The legal story of Tetris coming to the United States from the Soviet Union is a long and complex one, but here's one simple fact: when Americans met the blocks, they were here to stay.

Our question of the week: Covid changed everyone and everything. Should it change the way we mourn? Do you support the idea of a national day of remembrance for Covid-19 victims? How should the first anniversary of Covid be noted? Respond on our Google Form and we'll publish our favorite answers next week!

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for January 29, 2021. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox.

Ancient drip — Radiocarbon dating reveals what Biblical kings would have worn 

“King Solomon made for himself the carriage; he made it of wood from Lebanon. Its posts he made of silver, its base of gold. Its seat was upholstered with purple, its interior inlaid with love.” (Song of Songs 3:9-10)

That's what it says in the Old Testament, but what do we really know about what people in Biblical times wore? We're starting to learn a lot a whole lot more.

Scientists may have just found physical evidence of King Solomon in 3,000-year-old pieces of purple wool.

Using radiocarbon dating and a special chemical analysis technique, a team of researchers from Israel has identified three textile samples from approximately 1000 BCE in the Timna Valley region of Israel that were dyed “true purple” using special salt-water mollusks found in the Mediterranean.

This shade of purple, which would have been time and labor-intensive to create, would have likely been worn by social and religious elites, including Biblical kings.

What they're saying: “This is the first piece of textile ever found from the time of David and Solomon that is dyed with the prestigious purple dye.” —Dr. Naama Sukenik, curator of organic finds at the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Let's get biblical, biblical

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Hold the door — Physics study reveals one life-saving reason to take the stairs

If you look at the idea of “elevators” in the right light, they're absolutely magical. A box that transports you through a void into a completely different space? That's incredible. But if you look at elevators through a more regular light, they seem like the last place anyone would want to be.

Cramped, old elevators can be rough rides at the best of times, but in the time of Covid-19, they have become especially worrisome. Would you want to go into an elevator with three or four strangers these days? Me neither.

Air filtration and ventilation are the gold standards of good pandemic hygiene because of their ability to effectively disperse and even sanitize infectious aerosol droplets which spread Covid-19. But in a new study published Tuesday in the journal Physics of Fluids, a research duo has discovered that these safety precautions may actually make elevators even more dangerous.

What they're saying: “Our results show that installing an air purifier may increase the droplet spread.” —Dimitris Drikakis, professor of engineering and medical science at the University of Nicosia.

Elevate with care

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Family heirloom — Thumb study reveals why one ancient human had the upper hand over another

Humans are a relatively young species. If the entire history of Earth was seen as a 24-hour time period, then humans would only appear a little under two minutes before midnight. We're incredibly new to the planet, but that doesn't mean we don't have a past. Before modern Homo sapiens took over, Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) roamed the planet.

Scientists have discovered many shared attributes between our species and our ancient peers — a material culture and similar biological development, for example. We were so similar, in fact, that our species also intermixed, and some populations of modern humans carry genes which appear to have come down from Neanderthals.

But there are differences between modern humans and Neanderthals, and these may be the key to understanding why our species thrived while theirs did not.

A new study published Thursday in Scientific Reports sheds further light on these ancient humans, revealing a critical distinction to do with how humans and Neanderthals used tools.

What they're saying: “Neanderthals as a group were quite variable and recent humans as a group were quite variable.” —Ameline Bardo, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Kent, to Inverse.

There's more to Neanderthals thank you think

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Coming soon ...

Just as scientists predicted decades ago, climate change has steadily grown worse and worse over time. And now, with a leadership change in the United States, the world is looking to Joe Biden for leadership on a problem too big to ignore. How will his administration shape the future of humanity? Can Biden find a way to thread the needle between the economy and emissions?

Coming soon on Inverse, a look at how President Biden might handle the climate crisis in the midst of, well, everything else.

The sound of music — Talking naked mole rats mimic one of humanity's worst traits

“Strange” is a subjective term, of course. What's normal to one species is completely bizarre to another. But we here at Inverse feel pretty secure when we say that the naked mole-rat is a strange critter, to say the least. This blind, cold-blooded mammal burrows underground in a network of subterranean tunnels — ruled by a domineering queen overlord — rarely making its way to the surface.

Plus, its bizarre lack of body hair or fur, scrunchy skin, and minuscule ears gives the rodent a slightly off-putting appearance, though it's still earned some fans among niche pet lovers.

But more so than its appearance, researchers say we should be paying attention to the naked mole-rat's unique sounds.

New research published in the journal Science studies the chirping behavior of naked mole-rats, finding that each colony uses acoustic sounds to communicate social information in a specific dialect. The first such discovery in a rodent.

That's super weird, right? But here's where it gets weirder: naked mole-rats could help us understand where human language comes from.

What they're saying: “Within their own colony...the rodents work together harmoniously. Each one knows its rank and the tasks it has to perform — and usually accomplishes them reliable.” —Gary Lewin, head of the Molecular Physiology of Somatic Sensation Lab at the Max Delbrueck Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association.

Naked mole-rats...they're just like us?

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Combination station — Combining 2 global crises could save the global environment

Our world is in trouble, it's safe to say. Throw a rock, hit a global crisis. They can start to feel overwhelming when you look at them one by one, but then you remember that they don't exist as individual problems. They often interact with each other. At times, this can feel overwhelming. But what if these problems could help solve each other?

Climate change is a huge, well-documented problem that threatens our species survival, and in particular, people living in regions without significant infrastructure or on islands. Then there is the worldwide debt crisis, which the World Bank says, for some countries, is so massive, it constitutes a “red alert,” and may ultimately lead to global economic collapse.

One problem is rooted in carbon dioxide emissions; the other, in finance. But a new paper published Thursday in Science argues these two can be solved hand-in-hand, and it all starts with China.

What they're saying: The “entire world would benefit” from this idea —Anthony Rowley, an Asian financial expert who focuses on Chinese debt, to Inverse.

Could debt swaps provide a global win-win?

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And that's the Daily! If you're looking for more, make sure to check out the best alien dystopia movie on Netflix.

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