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Friday, March 3, 2017

Why is my ivy turning yellow?

This was actually a question from one of our librarians, who had received a potted ivy plant which she had been keeping by the library window. The plant was getting lots of sunlight, but the leaves were turning yellow. We checked The House Plant Encyclopedia by Ingrid Jantra and Ursula Krüger, What’s Wrong with My Houseplant? by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth, and Kristi Waterworth’s “Ivy Turning Yellow” article on to find out why.

According to Jantra and Krüger, ivy leaves may turn pale if they’re getting too much light, but, in general, yellow leaves are caused by too little light, a nutrient deficiency, or too much watering. Deardorff and Wadsworth agree. Evidently, it’s difficult to tell exactly what causes yellow leaves – they’re a symptom of some sort of problem, anything from fungus, insects, or a bacterial infection to the issues mentioned above. Waterworth adds that it may be something in the ivy’s environmental stressing it out. Dry air, high levels of salt in the soil (either from tap water or overfertilizing), or a draft can all make an ivy’s leaves go yellow.

Our librarian guessed that it may have been a draft, since her ivy sat in a cold window. She has since moved it and is waiting to see if its condition improves.

Friday, February 10, 2017

What are the rules of cribbage?

There are two games by the name of cribbage, one played with cards and one played with billiards. Our patron was referring to cribbage in the context of billiards, so we checked The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Billiards by Mike Shamos.

Cribbage in pool is evidently similar to cribbage in cards. While part of the card game is getting combinations that equal fifteen, the point of the pool game is score five “cribbages,” a cribbage in this sense meaning a pair of balls that add up to fifteen. A cribbage must be made either in the same shot or in two consecutive shots, and the fifteen ball can only be pocketed after all the two-ball cribbages (of which there are seven) are gone. At that point, the fifteen ball counts as the only remaining cribbage. When racking the balls before the game, the fifteen must be placed in the center of the third row, and no two of the three corner balls may form a cribbage.

According to Shamos, cribbage is also known as “fifteen points” or “pair pool.”

For more information, we also have David G. Alciatore’s The Illustrated Principles of Pool and Steve Mizerak’s Complete Book of Pool.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Who invented this arched bridge?

“I saw a documentary where the army used made an arched bridge out of notched logs, like big Lincoln Logs. They were able to take it apart and move it when they were finished. Who invented it? Could you find more information about it?”

We were unable to find the documentary that our patron was referring to, but searching “Lincoln log military bridge” in an online search engine brought up images of a small-scale model matching our patron’s description. The image was from a blog called Dick 'n Debbie's Travels. It was a picture the writers had taken on their visit to a museum exhibit on DaVinci machines.

Now that we knew DaVinci was the inventor, and that the bridge was quite a bit older than we originally thought, it was easier to find more information. DaVinci designed a number of bridges, including several that could be easily built “so as to escape or follow the enemy” (according to Leslie Geddes’ translation of his notes in their essay). The bridge that looks like it’s made from Lincoln Logs is particularly special because it’s self-supporting and does not require rope or nails to hold it together.

The bridge was likely designed for Cesare Borgia (an Italian nobleman who inspired Machiavelli’s
The Prince) while DaVinci was employed by him in 1502 and 1503.

For more information, World of Invention, edited by Kimberly A. McGrath, and two books titled simply Leonardo DaVinci, one by Ludwig Goldscheider and one by Jack Wasserman, are available at the Newton Falls Public Library.

Friday, January 20, 2017

How much force does it take to break a bone?

We couldn’t find any clear answers to this question, because a lot of factors need to be taken into account. Even though according to The Handy Anatomy Answer Book by Patricia Barnes-Svarney and Thomas E. Svarney, one cubic inch of bone can theoretically withstand the weight of around five pickup trucks, and is ounce-for-ounce stronger than reinforced concrete, most of us know someone who has broken a bone, because bone will still break on impact. Charles Q. Choi, writing for LiveScience, says that this is because force is generally delivered quickly, and David Biello, writing for Scientific American, adds that the angle of the force affects whether the bone will break, and what kind of fracture it will be.

On UC Santa Barbara’s Science Line, the writers explain that bones are designed to withstand certain types of stress – arm and leg bones, for instance, have curves to them. This makes them able to resist force from certain directions, but vulnerable from the others.

According to DK’s Human Body, a transverse fracture, where the bone breaks straight across the width, is usually caused by a direct or angled force, whereas a comminuted fracture, where the bone breaks into several fragments, is caused by direct impact. A greenstick fracture, where a bone bends and cracks but does not break all the way across, is most common in children, whose bones are still relatively flexible. As we age, our bones become more porous and fragile, and fractures become more likely.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Why does my cat drop his toys in his water dish?

Drowning toys in the water bowl isn’t uncommon behavior in cats, but we couldn’t find one definite explanation for it. Arnold Plotnick, a veterinarian blogging at, and S. Hartwell, a writer for, both offer some guesses.

Our patron’s cat may be trying to store the toy in a safe place. If the toy is a particular favorite or if they’ve just finished with it, they could be “putting it away” in their food-and-water area, which they may see as a safe and central part of their territory. Wild cats will take their prey back to their nest, and the indoor cat dropping its toy in its dish could be following the same instinct.

Some cats like to play in water. Hartwell relates stories of cats that liked to pat the water with their feet and then pop the bubbles or watch the ripples, or a cat that would drop catnip in the water and watch the leaves float around. Our patron’s cat could be playing at fishing, or they could just like the texture of the wet toy.

According to John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis in the books Cat Sense and The Trainable Cat, cats treat their toys like prey. They often like toys that resemble creatures they would hunt, and treat them differently depending on the size. They will be more cautious, for instance, with rat-sized toys, and tend to hold them at arm’s length rather than close in their front paws, as rats are more likely to fight back. Cats also tend to get bored with a toy unless they can damage it – a resilient toy that doesn’t show any sign of being “killed” indicates that it’s not really prey, or, if it is, that it’s too hard to subdue. As Bradshaw believes that cats think they are hunting when they play with toys, he would probably put the water-bowl behavior down to some kind of hunting instinct.

Friday, December 30, 2016

What does it mean that Mercury is retrograde?

One of our patrons heard someone blame their bad luck on Mercury being retrograde. They’d heard the expression before, but had never stopped to think about what it meant.

We found our answer in The Total Skywatcher’s Manual by Linda Shore, David Prosper, and Vivian White, Wonders of the Solar System by Brian Cox, and The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Amateur Astronomy by Michael E. Bakich. Retrograde motion is when a planet appears to move backyard in the sky, going from east to west. (The opposite – the normal, west-to-east movement -- is called prograde motion.) When a planet is  retrograde, it isn’t actually moving backwards. It has to do with that planet’s orbit around the sun relative to Earth’s. When Earth catches up to a planet and overtakes it, the other planet appears to move in the opposite direction, like when a fast car passes a slower one on the highway.

Susan Miller, writing for, explains what astrologists think about Mercury retrograde. Mercury is said to rule communication as well as formal contracts and agreements, and when it is in retrograde, it is in a “resting” state, so problems might arise in those areas. This is why some people don’t like making big decisions or signing contracts during Mercury retrograde periods. However, it’s also said to be a very intuitive period, and a good time to reflect on the past.

According to the 2017 edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Mercury will be retrograde from January 1-9, April 9-May 3, August 13-September 5, and December 3-23 in 2017.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Why do my air plants keep dying?

“I thought air plants were supposed to be low-maintenance, but mine keep dying. What am I doing wrong?”

Tillandsias, commonly known as air plants, are often marketed as needing no care. However, they are still living plants (part of the bromeliad family, which also includes pineapples), and, as such, they need light and water to survive. We have a copy of Air Plants: The Curious World of Tillandsias by Zenaida Sengo, which has good information on tillandsia care and gives some hints about what our patron may have been doing wrong.

Our patron’s plants may not have been getting enough water. Sengo recommends either misting them 3-7 times a week, dunking them in water for a few minutes 2-4 times a week or every 7-10 days, depending on the variety of plant, or submerging them for an hour or two each week. An under-watered plant with begin to brown and crisp up at the tips, or its leaves may curl in on themselves.

However, air plants are also prone to rot, so if they weren’t aired out properly, that may have been what did them in. Sengo recommends shaking the water out of tillandsias, and making sure to place them on top of rocks or branches as opposed to something that retains water like soil or moss. Also, while tillandsias look good in terrariums, gardeners need to be especially careful not to overwater them – air in terrariums doesn’t circulate well, so it takes longer for the plant to dry out.

A tillandsia that isn’t getting enough light may have discolored leaves, or it may show no signs of distress until a thorough watering causes it to abruptly fall apart. While the gardener may think that watering was the cause of death, the lack of light was the real problem, preventing the plant from performing its normal functions. Tillandsias need as much bright, indirect light as possible, and Sengo suggests a few hours of gentle direct sunlight as well, such as the morning light from an east-facing window.