Can Opera Singers Really Shatter Glass?

iStock/track5
iStock/track5

Saturday morning cartoons would have us believe that anyone in a dress and Viking helmet can shatter wine glasses, monocles and even the opera house chandelier with one powerful high note. Is this one of those skills that only cartoon characters possess, or can we mortals do it too?

The physics seem pretty straightforward. Every object has a resonant frequency "“ the frequency at which it naturally vibrates. Finding the resonant frequency of a wine glass, which is especially resonant because it's tubular and hollow, is easy. Running a wet finger around the rim and making it "sing" or simply tapping the glass will cause it to vibrate at its resonant frequency (which varies from glass to glass) and push out waves of air pressure. Our ears and brain interpret these waves as sound, with the pitch of the sound determined by the frequency of the waves.

If you've got a good ear or the appropriate computer program, you can find out what that note is and match the pitch of your voice to the to the glass's resonant frequency. Singing that tone will get the air around the glass, and then the glass itself, vibrating. And if you can sing loud enough and long enough, the glass will basically vibrate itself to death.

Loud and long are important for glassware destruction. The volume of a sound is related to the amplitude of the sound wave and the extent that it displaces air. The louder the tone, the harder you're pushing air at the glass. Sustaining the note allows the vibrations to build up enough to cause the glass to fracture. Plain old luck also factors in, since the size and location of microscopic defects in glasses vary and some glasses can withstand more tonal punishment than others.

In 2005, the guys on MythBusters brought us the first recorded and confirmed proof that an unamplified voice can break glass. Rock singer and vocal coach Jamie Vendera had the right frequency (556 Hz) and, after 20 attempts, worked up the volume (105 decibels) needed to needed to shatter a glass. (Here's a link to the MythBusters segment.)

And here's a Popular Science video that has a wonderful strobe-light lit shot of the glass shucking and jiving to the resonant frequency.

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Why Do We Eat Pumpkin Pie at Thanksgiving?

gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images
gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images

While it’s possible—even probable—that pumpkins were served at the 1621 harvest festival that’s now considered the predecessor to Thanksgiving, attendees definitely didn’t dine on pumpkin pie (there was no butter or wheat flour to make crust).

The earliest known recipes for pumpkin pie actually come from 17th-century Europe. Pumpkins, like potatoes and tomatoes, were first introduced to Europe in the Columbian Exchange, but Europeans were more comfortable cooking with pumpkins because they were similar to their native gourds.

By the 18th century, however, Europeans on the whole lost interest in pumpkin pie. According to HowStuffWorks, Europeans began to prefer apple, pear, and quince pies, which they perceived as more sophisticated. But at the same time pumpkin pie was losing favor in Europe, it was gaining true staple status in America.

In 1796, Amelia Simmons published American Cookery, the first cookbook written and published in the New World colonies. Simmons included two recipes for “pompkin pudding” cooked in pastry crust. Simmons’s recipes call for “stewed and strained” pumpkin, combined with a mixture of nutmeg, allspice, and ginger (yes, it seems our pumpkin spice obsession dates back to at least the 1500s).

But how did pumpkin pie become so irrevocably tied with the Thanksgiving holiday? That has everything to do with Sarah Josepha Hale, a New Hampshire-born writer and editor who is often called the “Godmother of Thanksgiving.” In her 1827 abolitionist novel Northwood, Hale described a Thanksgiving meal complete with “fried chicken floating in gravy,” broiled ham, wheat bread, cranberry sauce, and—of course—pumpkin pie. For more than 30 years, Hale advocated for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday, writing regular editorials and sending letters to five American presidents. Thanksgiving was a symbol for unity in an increasingly divided country, she argued [PDF].

Abraham Lincoln eventually declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 (to near-immediate outcry from Southerners, who viewed the holiday as an attempt to enforce Yankee values). Southern governors reluctantly complied with the presidential proclamation, but cooks in the South developed their own unique regional traditions. In the South, sweet potato pie quickly became more popular than New England’s pumpkin pie (mostly because sweet potatoes were easier to come by than pumpkins). Now, pumpkin pie reigns supreme as the most popular holiday pie across most of the United States, although the Northeast prefers apple and the South is split between apple and pecan, another Southern staple.

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What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?

iStock
iStock

For carbohydrate lovers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal quite like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say stuffing, though. They say dressing. In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. Dressing seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while stuffing is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it filling, which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If stuffing stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to HuffPost, it may have been because Southerners considered the word stuffing impolite, and therefore never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

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