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Friday, December 22, 2017

What's Christmas like in Sweden?

One of the library’s book clubs was reading A Man Called Ove by Swedish author Fredrick Backman. Since it’s close to the holiday season, they were wondering how Ove and the other characters would be celebrating. We found the answer on Sweden’s official tourism website and in The Folklore of World Holidays by Margaret Read MacDonald, The World Encyclopedia of Christmas by Gerry Bowler, the Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year’s Celebrations by Tanya Gulevich, and a tongue-in-cheek article about Swedish Christmas traditions by Emma Löfgren for The Local.

The Christmas season begins with St. Lucia’s day on December 13. Families may celebrate by having one of their daughters get up early and serve coffee and baked goods while dressed in the traditional St. Lucia costume of a white dress, red sash, and a wreath on her head with seven lit candles. Towns and schools elect their own Lucias, and a national Lucia is chosen and announced on television.

Swedes celebrate many customs that Americans would be familiar with, such as setting up a Christmas tree and exchanging gifts. It used to be that the gift-giver would write a short verse about what the present contained, but this doesn’t seem to still be widely done. A tradition that has held is the Disney Christmas special, broadcast at 3:00 PM nationwide every year since 1959.

As everywhere, food is an important part of celebrations. A classic Christmas smorgasbord (or julbord) includes herring, sausage, ham, meatballs, rice pudding, and lutfisk, a dish made of lye-soaked dried fish.

Decorations vary from family to family, but often involve candles, Advent calendars, fresh flowers such as hyacinths, and the Christmas goat, or julbock, often made of straw. The julbock is thought to have originated with the goats that drew the Norse god Thor’s chariot. At one point, it was the julbock and not Santa Claus that delivered the gifts. Though Santa has taken over, the goat remains a part of the season. Since 1966, the town of Gävle has built an enormous straw goat at the beginning of Advent, but it’s an irresistible target for vandals and has been burned down nearly every year.

The Christmas season doesn’t officially end until St. Knut’s Day on January 13, at which point the tree is taken down and everything is put away until next year.

Our patrons can see Frederick Backman’s own take on the holidays in his recently published novella, The Deal of a Lifetime.

Friday, December 1, 2017

What’s the white powder on grapes? Is it a pesticide?

You may have noticed a whitish coating on certain fruits. It’s particularly visible on grapes, plums, and blueberries. It’s epicuticular wax, also known as “bloom,” a natural and harmless part of many plants. The coating protects the plants and seals in their moisture. It’s what makes water slide off fresh kale, and it gives blue spruce trees their distinctive color. You can also find in on certain succulents.

Fruit in the supermarket has often been artificially waxed to make it last longer and look more appealing, and because the process of picking and washing it stripped it of its natural protective coat. Sometimes, epicuticular wax from other plants is used. Carnauba wax (which can be found in everything from cosmetics to furniture polish) comes from a species of palm tree that grows in Brazil; the wax is harvested by beating the dried palm fronds. Other petroleum-, shellac-, vegetable-, or beeswax-based waxes may also be used.

According to Consumer Reports, there is concern that the wax coating may help trap pesticide residue. They recommend buying organic when possible and making sure to thoroughly wash produce. In an article from October of this year, Catherine Roberts suggested that soaking fruits and vegetables in a baking soda solution may be effective in removing some pesticides.

We got our information from ThoughtCo, Consumer Reports, The Atlantic, Succulent Identifier, Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center, The Demystified Vine, and The Botanist in the Kitchen. If you want to learn more, Aliza Green’s Field Guide to Produce and Melissa’s Great Book of Produce by Cathy Thomas both give tips on how to buy, store, and use fresh fruits and vegetables, while Richard Gianfrancesco’s How to Grow Food and Barbara Pleasant’s Homegrown Pantry explain how to grow your own.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Is there a difference between seltzer, sparkling water, mineral water, club soda, and tonic water?

One of our patrons bought club soda instead of seltzer and they wanted to know what the difference was. It turned out that they all taste about the same, except for tonic water, even though they come from slightly different sources. We found the answer in several sources, including Epicurious,, and Kitchn.

Sparkling water seems to be an umbrella term that encompasses any kind of carbonated water, but it’s usually used in reference to seltzer or mineral water.

Seltzer is plain water that’s been carbonated to give it fizz. It may also be flavored. LaCroix, Scweppe’s, and Canada Dry all sell seltzers. (On their website, LaCroix maintains that they’re a sparkling water and not a seltzer, alleging that sparkling water is sodium free and does not contain artificial flavor, but other sources did not note a difference.) The word “seltzer” comes from “Selters,” a German brand of mineral water that’s been around since the 17th century at least.

Sparkling mineral water, such as Perrier or San Pellegrino, comes from underground springs and contains naturally occurring minerals. It may be naturally carbonated by gases in the spring or carbon dioxide may have been added. Since it’s typically imported from Europe, it’s more expensive than seltzer, club soda, or tonic water.

Club soda is seltzer with added ingredients that make it taste more like a mineral water. It usually includes sodium bicarbonate (also known as baking soda), sodium citrate, and potassium sulfate.

Tonic water is the most dissimilar. (It’s also the only one that glows under a blacklight!) While other sparkling waters may or may not be flavored, tonic water is always flavored with quinine, a bitter-tasting compound found in the bark of the cinchona tree, and typically sweetened with sugar or corn syrup. Quinine was once used to treat and prevent malaria; the gin and tonic cocktail originated when British soldiers in India were attempting to make their anti-malarial more palatable.

For more interesting uses for sparkling water, Anton Nocito provides recipes for homemade soda and cocktails made with syrup and sparkling water in Make Your Own Soda, available for borrowing at the Newton Falls Public Library or as an ebook.

Friday, November 3, 2017

When did scarecrows first come about?

According to Thom Sokoloski and Jenny McCowan at, Cindy Murphy’s article for Grit and Lori Rotenberk’s article for Modern Farmer, scarecrows have been around as long as people have grown crops, but they haven’t always looked like the ones you might be familiar with. The early Egyptian scarecrows, constructed along the Nile River, didn't look like people at all. Egyptian farmers had a problem with wild quail, so they built wooden frames with nets and had people herd the quail into them. Famers in pre-feudal Japan sometimes used a scarecrow called a kakashi. A kakashi consists of old rags and other bad-smelling items mounted on a pole with bells and other noisemakers and set afire. The smell and smoke would keep birds away.

Ancient Greek and Roman scarecrows were more humanoid. They built statues of their fertility god in their gardens and fields to protect against birds and other thieves. In Britain during the Middle Ages, actual children would work in the fields as “crow-scarers,” knocking together blocks of wood to scare away the birds. Some Native American tribes and early settlers also employed the human bird-scarer technique. With population fluctuations and a need for more farmers to be working the field, this job was passed on from actual people to stuffed sacks gourds for heads, the precursors to scarecrows as we know them today.

Today, farmers can use high-tech gadgets to scare away birds, such as chemicals or ultrasonic waves, but the old-fashioned scarecrow is iconic. In America it is used as a symbol of the autumn, particularly of Halloween, and many towns have festivals celebrating scarecrows of all shapes and sizes. Scarecrows can be used to frighten and to entertain, but they will always be associated with the harvest.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Where do stinkbugs lay their eggs?

Now that fall’s here, stinkbugs are starting to appear inside again. A patron called asking about their lifecycle and reproduction, hoping to catch them before they hatched.

Brown marmorated stinkbugs only arrived in the U.S. in the late 1990s, but they’re a widespread pest now. We found a lot of information online, such as the Washington Post livechat with University of Maryland entomologist Michael Raupp, and pest control websites like and

Stinkbugs like to come inside to stay warm through the winter, but they don’t eat or reproduce until they go back outside in the springtime again. Once the weather gets warm and the days get longer (usually in April or May), you’ll see them appear again as they make their way outside to feed for a few weeks and then mate. A female will be ready to lay eggs as early as five days after mating, according to, and she can lay from 100 to 400 in her lifetime. (We found different figures – it probably depends on the climate of the state where she’s found. A stinkbug in warmer climes will be outside eating and reproducing longer.)

The stinkbugs will only lay their eggs on the underside of leaves. The eggs are barrel-shaped and about a millimeter in diameter. The female lays twenty to thirty at a time and they take four to seven days to hatch. It takes a little over a month for the baby bugs (or nymphs) to grow into full adults – they go through five stages (or instars) before they’re fully grown, each lasting about a week. When they first hatch, they don’t look much like the adult bug. First instar stinkbug nymphs are rounder, resembling ticks, and black and orange in color.

If you come across these eggs or nymphs underneath a leaf, you can scrape them off and drown them in soapy water. (This also works on the adult bugs and keeps them from releasing their smell.) Scientists in New York and Oregon, where the bugs cause a lot of agricultural damage, are experimenting with biological control in the form of samurai wasps. These tiny parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside stinkbug eggs, killing them before they can hatch.

If nothing else, you can take comfort in knowing that stinkbugs only live for about six to eight months, and the bugs bothering you this fall won’t be back next year – but their children might.

Friday, September 1, 2017

What makes tomatoes go from green to red?

We checked several of our gardening and food science books to no avail, although we did learn from Lynn Coulter’s Gardening with Heirloom Seeds that tomatoes, native to South America and members of the nightshade family, took a while to catch on among Europeans.

However, Brian McMahon at MentalFloss, Mandy Kendrick at Scientific American, and the University of Cambridge’s IntoBiology website all had the answer to our question. Chlorophyll makes the tomatoes green and, as they ripen, the chlorophyll begins to dissolve. Lycopene, a chemical in the tomato that has a red color, shows through as the chlorophyll dissolves. As this happens, the tomato will also become sweeter, softer, less acidic, and ready to eat.

Fruits produce a chemical called ethylene in certain conditions, including as they ripen, and other fruit will respond to it. According to Jeremy Dore at GrowVeg and McMahon at Mental Floss, a green tomato in a paper bag with a ripe banana will respond to the ethylene given off by the banana, and it will begin to ripen itself.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Did the eclipse have any effects on the wildlife?

Newton Falls wasn’t in the path of totality for the solar eclipse on Monday, August 21 (though it will be in 2024), so things didn’t go completely dark. The moon only covered about 80% of the sun. However, in parts of Georgia, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon, Kansas, Wyoming, Tennessee, and the Carolinas, the moon covered the entire sun and it briefly appeared to be night.

The moon is simply following its normal path, but when everything suddenly gets dark, some animals are confused into beginning their twilight rituals, according to John Dvorak in his book Mask of the Sun. Frogs and crickets may begin to sing. Chickens will roost, cows will head back to the barn, and bees will return to the hive. Plankton will rise toward the top of the water and trout will head toward the bottom, just as they do at twilight. Once the eclipse is over, the animals resume their normal daylight behavior. Dogs, cats, horses, and deer are among the animals that did not appear to notice the eclipse.

Friday, August 11, 2017

How do you treat a chigger bite? What causes it?

It turns out that there is no one creature called a chigger – the word actually refers to the larval stage of a trombiculid mite. The mites are usually reddish in color and are also known as red bugs, harvest mites, and berry bugs.

One of our patrons had heard that chiggers burrowed into the skin or laid eggs in the flesh. While this is true of certain parasites (ticks and botflies, respectively), it isn’t a problem with chiggers. What they’re actually doing is drilling tiny holes in the skin with their specialized mouthparts and injecting a fluid that breaks down skin cells and allows the chigger to digest them. The itchy red bump accompanying a chigger bite is the skin’s adverse reaction to all this abuse.

Often, several chiggers will bite at once, causing a rash of red welts. They typically bite in folds of skin or where clothing is tight against the body (like waistbands or the tops of socks). Wear insect or tick repellent to minimize the chance of bites. Healthline recommends trying not to brush against vegetation, but that may not be feasible. Since chiggers usually take about an hour to attach to the skin, showering after spending time in wooded areas might be enough to avoid bites. If you have been bitten, it can take anyway from one to three weeks for the bites to heal. While chiggers don’t carry diseases, the bites can get infected if they’re scratched too much. Keep them clean and relieve this itch with ice, hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion, or a baking soda and water paste.

We found our information on, and in The Complete Guide to Camping and Wilderness Survival by Vin T. Sparano. While it didn’t have anything on chiggers, Wilderness Medicine by William Forgey includes information on how to treat snake bites, stingray stings, and scorpion stings.

Friday, July 21, 2017

How long do fireflies live and where are they during the day?

One of our younger patrons wondered where fireflies spent most of their time, if she only saw them at night. The National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders told us that fireflies are nocturnal and enjoy moist places, with some living under bark, decaying plants, or other debris. The website added that they also like long grass: it hides them during the day, but at night, they can climb up and get a good vantage point to signal with their lights.

They mainly use their lights to attract mates, though the writers at hypothesize that they may also use them to warn away predators. Different species have different flashing patterns. Some female fireflies will mimic the patterns of other species to lure the males, which they will eat. However, some species of adult fireflies have not been observed eating at all – they likely only live long enough to lay eggs.

According to the basic lifecycle on, a firefly spends more of its life in the larva stage – about one to two years. The larvae are carnivorous, feeding on snails and worms, and also often light up. They spend three weeks as pupas before maturing into adult fireflies, which only live for about a month. If they’re successful, the fireflies lay eggs which take approximately three weeks to hatch.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Is there anything I can do for my cracking fingernails?

Although we are not dermatologists here at the library, we found some tips in the book A Complete Guide to Manicure and Pedicure by Leigh Toselli and the Globe and Mail article “Why do my fingernails peel and crack?” by Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe that our patron may be able to use.

Both sources suggest protecting nails from water and harsh chemicals – wearing gloves while cleaning and washing the dishes, for instance, and using a non-acetone nail polish remover when necessary. Commercial nail oils and strengthening formulas are available, but we cannot vouch for their efficacy.  Toseli also suggests using almond oil or even just a regular hand cream or lotion to keep nails moisturized.

According to Toseli and Wijayasinghe, calcium and vitamins A, D, and B12 are important for healthy nails. Calcium can be found in bitter greens, tofu, dairy, and nuts; vitamin A is in fish, liver, egg yolk, milk, and many vegetables; vitamin B12 is also in eggs and dairy, and vitamin D can be absorbed from a few minutes of sunlight or found in fish, liver, and milk.

Nails grow slowly, so it may take up to six months for them to show significant improvement. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Why are my plants rotting?

“I keep potted succulents indoors, and a few of them that I’ve had for years suddenly got mushy and rotted away. What’s wrong and how do I keep it from spreading?”

According to Succulents Simplified by Debra Lee Baldwin and The Idiot’s Guide to Succulents by Cassidy Tuttle, root rot is a common malady affecting succulents. Caused by overwatering, root rot causes the roots to have a mushy texture and is often fatal. If it’s the suspected culprit, our patron can try to remove the infected roots, let their plant dry out, and repot it in clean soil, but this may or may not save it.

If our patron does not believe that they have been overwatering their plants, or if the roots still seem healthy, diseases that could be causing the problem. We couldn’t get an exact diagnosis since the symptoms were so similar, but all of our sources suggested the same basic treatment: cut away the infected tissue if possible, and then repot the plant in new soil in a sterilized container, and throw away the old soil. It also would be a good idea to quarantine the plant to lower the risk of it infecting its fellows. If the disease hasn’t gotten into the roots, the prognosis is better, but it still may not be salvageable. 

Fortunately, we found that succulents are some of the easiest plants to propagate, so our patron may be able to produce a clone of their plant if healthy leaves remain. Though the method of propagation depends on the plant, many succulents will grow from leaves or cuttings.

Friday, June 16, 2017

How are essential oils made?

Aromatherapy and natural beauty have been popular recently, and so have essential oils, leading some of our patrons to wonder: where do they come from, exactly?

Essential oils come from different plants, and there are several methods of extracting them, according to Essential Oils: Natural Remedies which is published by Althea Press. The method used can depend on the plant. Citrus oils are cold-pressed, which means the rind is put in a press at 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ginger, frankincense, and myrrh are some of the oils typically extracted through CO2 distillation. There are two methods of CO2 distillation: cold and supercritical. Both involve passing carbon dioxide through the plant matter, but in cold distillation, the CO2 is cooled to between 35-55 degrees Fahrenheit, and in supercritical, it’s heated to 87 degrees Fahrenheit.

Steam distillation is a common method and involves passing steam through the plant to collect the oils and then condensing the steam and separating the oil from the water. The water left over from this process is called hydrosol and can be used in scents and beauty products.

Chemicals such as methylene chloride (which can also be used as a paint stripper, degreaser, and component in drinking bird toys and bubble lights, among other things) can be used in place of water or CO2. After the oil has been extracted, the remaining solvents are removed, but tiny traces may remain.

Finally, there’s the very old method of enfleurage. Plants (typically flowers, as suggested by the name) rest in a bath of warm fat or fatty oil. The fatty oil absorbs the essential oils from the flowers. Once it’s saturated, alcohol is added, which absorbs the essential oils from the fat or fatty oil and then evaporates, leaving only the essential oils behind. Like hydrosol, the fat remains scented and can be used in other products.

For more information on aromatherapy and essential oils, Complete Aromatherapy Handbook by Susanne Fischer-Rizzi and The Complete Illustrated Guide to Aromatherapy by Julia Lawless are both available at the Newton Falls Public Library for checkout.

Friday, May 26, 2017

How do I get a flag on my relative's grave for Memorial Day?

“I recently found out that one of my relatives fought in the Civil War. How do I make sure that he gets a flag on his grave for Memorial Day?”

Our patron’s relative was not buried in Newton Falls, but we were able to easily locate the rules and regulations for the cemetery where they were buried on the internet. The rules stated that the Memorial Day flags were property of the township and would be displayed for “a reasonable time.” We decided that our most straightforward option would be to contact the township directly, so we called the cemetery sexton, who had listed his phone number on the website, and he was able to solve the problem. We also could have called the local chapter of the American Legion.

According to Holiday Symbols and Customs, edited by Sue Ellen Thompson, Memorial Day, first called “Decoration Day,” originated as a day to honor Civil War soldiers. The first official observance was in Waterloo, New York on May 5, 1866, though other towns were decorating soldiers’ graves before then, including women in Columbus, Mississippi, who gathered on April 25, 1866 to decorate the graves of both the Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

The first nationwide Decoration Day was held by the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union Army veterans’ group, on May 30, 1868. As Union Army veterans were the first to mark the day, several southern states felt that it was only for them, so states instituted their own Confederate Memorial Days on different dates ranging from late  April to early June. This custom mostly ended after World War I, when the American Legion took over planning the holiday.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Do big cats like lions get hairballs?

One of our patrons has been dealing with his cat’s hairballs as the weather warms up and the cat sheds more of its winter coat. Since they groom themselves by licking their coats just like their domestic cousins, wildcats have this same undignified issue.

Hair typically passes through a cat’s digestive system without causing any issue, but sometimes it collects in a hairball which, if not vomited up, can cause an intestinal blockage that must be surgically removed. These troublesome hairballs have made it into the news at least twice in recent years – in 2013, CBS reported on a 4-pound hairball that was removed from a 400-pound tiger, and in 2015, there was an ABC news story about a 450-pound lion that needed a 3.8-pound hairball removed.

Grooming is important for cats, and not only because it keeps them clean. According to Wild Discovery Guide to Your Cat, grooming can regulate body temperature, with cats aligning the hair to better retain heat in cold weather and using saliva as a coolant when it’s hot out. Mutual grooming allows cats to exchange scents, and may help strengthen social bonds. Grooming also seems to serve as the cat equivalent of nail-biting, with cats using it to displace anxiety.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Have the same birds been nesting at my pond for years?

“A pair of mourning doves have nested at my pond every year for the past ten years. Are they the same birds?”

We looked in Noah Strycker’s The Thing with Feathers, Julie Zickerfoose’s The Bluebird Effect, and Ohio Bird Watching by Bill Thompson III and found that there’s no real way to be sure. The average lifespan of a wild mourning dove is a year and a half, but some have been known to live for ten years or longer. According to, the oldest dove was at least thirty years old when he was killed.

Mourning doves travel in flocks but tend to be monogamous during the breeding season. The male stays close to his mate while she forages, guarding her and showing off by inflating his crop to display the iridescent feathers on his neck. The pair can produce 2-6 clutches in a season. The female lays two eggs at a time, which both parents incubate for about two weeks. Once the young hatch, they will remain in the nest for two more weeks.

Birds that return to the same nesting place have a good chance of pairing up with the same mate, so it’s possible that our patron is seeing the same two birds, though their short lifespans make it unlikely. Mourning doves will sometimes reuse their own or other species’ nests, and that tendency may also be in play.

Friday, April 28, 2017

When did Macy's start having balloons in their Thanksgiving Day parade?

Though it can be hard to think about November with the spring weather we’ve been having, the question came up in one of our library book discussions. Brad Ricca, in his book Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster – the Creators of Superman, mentioned the Superman balloon in the 1939 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. One of our patrons wondered how long the big balloons had been part of the parade.

According to Kathleen Curtin and Sandra L. Oliver’s book Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie, Eliza Berman’s article on, and Kate Hogan’s article on, the first giant balloons appeared in 1927 – most famously, the cartoon character Felix the Cat.

The Macy’s parade began in 1924, but the custom of Thanksgiving parades in New York dates back to the 1780s, according to Curtin and Oliver. “Fantastical companies,” as they were called, were groups of working-class young men dressing in costume and carousing in the streets on Thanksgiving morning. The Macy’s parade itself may have originated with the company’s employees, immigrants who wanted to celebrate with a European-style parade including clowns, floats, and zoo animals.

In the parade’s early years, officials had no plans for deflating the balloons. They set them free and offered a reward if people could bring them back. This practice ended after a balloon nearly brought down a plane.

For more information, America’s Favorite Holidays by Bruce David Forbes and All around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life by Jack Santino are available for checkout at the Newton Falls Public Library, along with Melissa Sweet’s picture book biography of Tony Sarg, Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade.

Friday, April 7, 2017

How many people survived the Titanic sinking?

After a presentation by Carol Starre-Kmiecik, who told the story of the “unsinkable” Margaret “Molly” Brown, a famous Titanic survivor, one of our patrons was curious about how many other people had survived. Ms. Starr-Kmiecik remembered that around 1,500 had died, but no one could remember the number of survivors.

The answer was in Andrew Wilson’s book Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived. 705 people survived the sinking. Wilson tells some of their stories, from Jack Thayer, a seventeen year-old who jumped from the rail of the ship in its final moments and managed to swim to an overturned lifeboat, to Dorothy Gibson, an actress who went on to star in Saved from the Titanic, a silent film about the tragedy. 

The website provides lists of survivors that can be sorted by lifeboat. According to the site, there were twenty-three other people on Margaret Brown’s lifeboat – less than half its full capacity. These other passengers included several other people from first class and their maids, two crew members, an a third-class passenger. One of the women, Mrs. Elizabeth Rothschild, is said to have snuck her Pomeranian aboard and refused to board the rescuing Carpathian without it.

Friday, March 31, 2017

What's the conversion from avoirdupois to troy weight?

One of our patrons has a collection of silver, which, like all precious metals, is traditionally measured in troy weight. The standard weight used for almost everything else is called avoirdupois weight, from the Old French “avoir de peis,” which means “goods of weight,” and the two measurements are not equivalent. A troy ounce is a little larger than an avoirdupois ounce, but, because there are 16 ounces in an avoirdupois pound and only 12 in a troy pound, the troy pound is smaller.

In both units of measurement, the grain is the same: a little less than 65 milligrams (64.79891 to be exact). There are 437.5 grains in an avoirdupois ounce and 480 grains in a troy ounce. 1 troy ounce equals about 1.097 avoirdupois ounces (so, going the other way, 1 avoirdupois ounce equals about 0.911 troy ounces). 1 troy pound is about the same as 0.823 avoirdupois pounds. Reversed, that means that 1 avoirdupois pound equals 1.215 troy pounds.

Friday, March 24, 2017

What kind of ducks were on my pond?

“Can you tell me what kind of ducks were on my pond this morning? One was brown and the other one was darker but it had a big patch of white on its side. Both of them looked like they had white stripes on their beaks.”

We checked the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s waterbird identification guide and, while we weren’t able to precisely identify the ducks, we could narrow it down. Presumably, they were a male and female pair – the female is often drabber in color, so she was probably the brown duck.

They were not canvasbacks. While the female canvasback is brown and the male is black and rusty brown with a white body, they both have dark bills. The redhead is a possibility, but the colors don’t quite match up. Again, the female is brown and the male, like its name indicates, has a rusty red head and a black and grey body. Their bills are a lighter blue-grey, but they are black-tipped rather than white-striped. The lesser scaup also has a blue-grey black-tipped bill with a darker body and grey-white sides. The female is lighter in color but also has grey-white sides. Our patron’s birds could also be ring-necked ducks. Both the male and female ring-necked duck have white rings on their beaks. The female is brown with pale cheeks and the male is black with grey and white sides and a distinctive peaked head. All of these ducks are common across Ohio when they’re migrating.

If our patron happens to hear their ducks make sounds, they may be able to identify them that way. According to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, while the canvasback is usually quiet while it migrates, it can hoot and growl. The ring-necked duck also growls, hisses, and whistles. The redhead has a “low, nasal quack” and the male in spring makes “catlike” sounds. Finally, the scaup makes a sound that’s an onomatopoeia of its name.

EDIT: Sara from The Bridge, a Newton Falls newspaper, suggests that they may be mergansers, which are common across Ohio during their migration. 

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.