Previous: Toxic Shock Syndrome: Way Beyond Tampons
Next: A New Thing on SciShow! Join Us!



View count:116,678
Last sync:2023-11-25 07:15
Alexis Stempien, one of SciShow’s script editors, faces off against Hank as they try to answer science questions about some fantastical topics!

Hosted by: Michael Aranda

Head to for hand selected artifacts of the universe!
Support SciShow by becoming a patron on Patreon:
Dooblydoo thanks go to the following Patreon supporters: Lazarus G, Sam Lutfi, D.A. Noe, الخليفي سلطان, Piya Shedden, KatieMarie Magnone, Scott Satovsky Jr, Charles Southerland, Patrick D. Ashmore, charles george, Kevin Bealer, Chris Peters
Looking for SciShow elsewhere on the internet?
Devil’s Gardens

Will ‘o the Wisps'-the-wisp

Smell of the Sea


Aged Rum



 (00:00) to (02:00)


Michael: Welcome to SciShow Quiz Show, the only quiz show on SciShow.  I'm your host, Michael Aranda, and today we have Alexis Stempien, script editor extraordinaire for SciShow and intrepid consumer of questionable cinnamon bread, all the way here from Michigan.

Alexis: That's--wow, that was lovely, thanks, Christie.

Hank: I've probably eaten some questionable cinnamon bread in my life.  I wouldn't put it past me.  But I didn't Tweet about it.  

A: It was very good.  I didn't die!  

H: I feel like you just stole somebody's cinnamon bread.

A: I mean, okay, I was the only car in the parking lot.  

H: And they just left it there.

A: I couldn't blame them at that point.

H: We're gonna have to share the Tweets now.

M: I don't know this story.  So, Alexis will be facing off against Hank Green, who might or might not think eating said bread was doing a sneaky.  

H: Oh yeah, that's what we call doing crimes in America.  When you commit a crime, you've done a sneaky.  

M: Yes.  That is what I've said since I was a wee lad.  

H: Convince all of your friends from other countries that we call it doing a sneaky and then it will become true.  

M: Alexis has actually written several of these quiz shows, so even though Hank has spent more time in the ring, she might have the upper hand here.  

H: But you didn't write this one.

A: No.  No.

H: That's good.

A: I feel excited Christie wrote this one.  I have high expectations.

H: Okay.

M: Each of you begin with 1000 SciShow bucks.  Answer a question correctly, that number goes up.  Answer incorrectly, that number goes down.  Our contestants will be battling for intangible bragging rights but also some very tangible prizes which will go to two Patrons on Patreon that we've selected at random.  Alexis, you're competing on behalf of Horace Seymore.  

A: Hi, Horace.

M: Hank, you're playing for Sebastian Mayer.

H: I'll do my best, Sebastian.  

M: Whoever emerges from the last round with the most points will win their Patron some slick gear.

Stefan: Okay, let me tell you about all the prizes we got going on here today.  Horace and Sebastian, you both know it's going to come down to whose contestant can rock 'em and sock 'em and earn enough points to have more than the other contestant, because that's how games work. 

 (02:00) to (04:00)

Now, everyone's gonna get the signed answer cards from the final round, but only the winner can receive the 'I Won SciShow Quiz Show' pin and some secret SciShow swag from  There can be only one!  But of course, there can be only one loser today, too, and that very special person is going to get the 'I Lost SciShow Quiz Show' pin and should definitely not feel bad.  That pin is great.  That pin is great!  Okay, everybody, let's play ball.

M: Alright, it's time for our first round: fairytales, which is all about some super but not so supernatural phenomena.

H: Okay.

M: Five years ago, Hank explained the non-fairy explanations behind some phenomena attributed to fairies, but there are lots of weird things also attributed to spirits or sprites of some kind.  For example, if you happen to be stumbling through the Amazon, you might suddenly find yourself in an eerie grove with only one type of tree, the Huitillo tree.  The largest of these odd homogenous patches extends over 1300 square meters and is thought to have stood for 800 years.  Locally, they're known as (?~3:01) gardens, or Devil's gardens, after the supernatural eco-warriors said to cultivate them.  In 2005, a team of researchers discovered a scientific explanation for these groves, so the question is, how do they form?  The trees emit a toxic chemical that kills off competing species, ants weed out other species, radioactive mineral deposits kill other species, or herbivores clear the area, which then allows the fastest growing tree to take over?  

H: I'm not--I'm gonna go with A, A, the poison.

M: I'm afraid that is incorrect.

H: I should have known that.  It was too easy.  It was too obvious.  What else could it be?  I--no--the rest of those are very strange.

A: D? 

H: Which was?

A: Herbivores?

M: Unfortunately, that is also incorrect.  

A: Oh, sad day.

M: The correct answer is it's the ants.  

H: Oh God.  That was gonna be my last guess.

A: Yeah.

H: I was gonna go with radioactive mineral deposits after that.  That seemed awesome.

O: The Huitillo groves are created and maintained by lemon ants, which make their nests inside Huitillo trees by inducing the trees to make tumor-like growths called galls, which the ants tunnel through.

 (04:00) to (06:00)

Invasive as that sounds, the plants ultimately benefit, because the ants savagely defend the trees they call home.  Each colony can have thousands of queens, so a single colony can number in the millions, and millions of teeny venomous ants can be quite a force to be reckoned with.  If something dares to nibble at the huitillo tree, the ants attack mercilessly.  They also weed the area around their hosts by injecting seedlings with their formic acid venom.  That means the host trees don't really have to compete with other species for space, water, or nutrients, and when new huitillo seedlings grow large enough, the ants colonize them, too, creating new queens to oversee their added real estate.  In fact, it's thought the only reason this mutualism doesn't take over the whole forest is that big plant eaters find the dense groves of tasty huitillo irresistible.  The ants are too small to defend their turf against a large crowd, so their trees get eaten if the grove gets too big.

M: Okay, if you ever end up in a dark, spooky swamp or cemetery, especially on a still, warm night when a storm is on the way, you might see what English folklore calls 'will o' the wisps', mystical blue-ish lights that seem to flicker and drift over the marsh.  According to legend, they're lanters carried by goblin-like creatures whose goal is to lead travelers astray.  If you investigate the source, the light suddenly disappears as you near, living you alone and lost, but scientists think they know what is actually to blame for these strange sights.  Is it spontaneous combustion, bioluminescent fungi, fireflies, or ball lightning?  

A: Lightning?

H: Ball lightning?

M: Incorrect, I'm afraid.

A: Oh.  I was like, I think I know what it is, but it's probably not that.

H: Uh, I'm gonna go with the uh, spontaneous combustion.

M: That's the one.  

A: Whoa!

M: Hank is correct.

A: It's never spontaneous combustion!  

M: What's that thing from House?  It's never lupus.  

H&A: Yeah.

H: It's the SciShow version of it's never lupus.  

 (06:00) to (08:00)

O: The idea that will-o-the-wisps comes from spontaneous combustion was proposed a long time ago, but it seemed so unlikely that for centuries, other explanations have been offered instead, but none of them quite fit, which left the implausible idea that will-o-the-wisps were actual fires, and in the late 20th century, scientists finally demonstrated how they could ignite.  When soil has limited oxygen, bacteria can produce gases like methane, hydrogen sulfide, phosphine, and diphosphane as they break down all the dead stuff.  Methane, AKA natural gas, burns blue and diphosphane ignites when it comes in contact with air, so it's thought the right mix of these gases is what causes the spontaneous blue fires.  It's like a little gas stove floating in the air.  There is another hypothesis that the light comes from gases like phosphine reacting with air instead of straight up combustion, but either way, conditions have to be just right for the perfect mix of gases to be produced, which explains where and when will-o-the-wisps tend to happen.  Cemeteries and swamps contain lots of decaying matter and on warm, still nights, especially when a storm is approaching, low atmospheric pressure and high humidity increases the seepage of gas from the ground.  The wisps disappear when you approach, either because they were short-lived to begin with, or because your arrival caused just enough air movement to disperse the gas, not because some evil spirit is trying to lead you into the deep, dark swamp alone.  Probably.

M: That brings us to the end of round one, let's see how our contestants are doing.  Alexis, you've got 800 points.

A: That's okay.

M: Hank, you're hanging in there at 1100.

A: Alright, I'm not gonna go negative.  That's my whole goal.

M: Is it possible to go negative in this game?

H: Uh, yeah.  I think so?  I think--yeah.  I think so.

M: Let's try it next time.  

H: I'll try it this time.

M: So round two is all about pirate science.

A: Wow.  

H: Hmm.  I didn't think there was that.  

A: No.

M: Are ye ready?

H: Aye, matey.

M: Because the next set of questions delves into all sorts of science that a good pirate should know, like what's a pirate's favorite coding language?  

 (08:00) to (10:00)

You might be tempted to say R, but everyone knows a pirate's first love is the C.  

H: Oh, that's terrible.

M: Eh?  Eh?  Who wrote this script?  Speaking of the sea, even landlubbers who have been anywhere near the ocean can tell that there's a certain smell to it.  That crisp, almost unpleasant odor is enough to make any pirate feel right at home, and it's not just sailors that are attracted to the scent.  Lots of marine creatures like seals and seabirds use the smell of the ocean to navigate.  One of the most pungent scent compounds in this marine bouquet can help them hone in on good hunting grounds because it's produced by algae.  What is this essential seaside smell?  Ozone, sodium bicarbonate, dimethyl sulfide, carbon dioxide?

H: Oh boy.  Oh, I know some of those things don't smell much, so I'm gonna go with the one that definitely smells, dimethyl sulfide.

M: That is correct!

H: Heeyyy!

A: Nice.

O: If you've ever thought the ocean smelled like cabbage, stinky cheese, or your own farts, congrats.  You know the smell of dimethyl sulfide well.  This compound, a sulfur atom sandwiched between two carbons, can also be produced by some bacteria, like ones in our digestive tracts and ones that are associated with strong cheeses, or when you heat certain foods like cabbage, but a lot is made as a byproduct of metabolism by certain species of algae.  So really, the smell of the sea is the smell of highly productive ocean waters.  Lots of algae draws the animals that eat it and the animals that eat them.  So to a seal or a seabird, dimethyl sulfide basically smells like a buffet.  

M: Our next question is all about nausea.  To be a good pirate, you have to be comfortable on a boat.

H: Yeah, I'm not.

M: It would be pretty hard to make your living at sea if you're constantly donating your half-digested lunch to the fish.  So if you were thinking of joining a pirate crew, it'd be good to know whether you're one of those people who struggles with seasickness.  If you've never been on a boat, though, you might have no clue.

 (10:00) to (12:00)

Luckily, scientists have studied seasickness over the years and discovered several traits that suggest whether you'll struggle to get your sealegs.  Which of the following traits might be helpful for a prospective pirate, since it's associated with a lower likelihood of experiencing sea sickness: being female, being out of shape, having a history of motion sickness, or being 10-20 years old?

A: What was C?  

H: Just gonna let you...

M: Having a history of motion sickness.

A: Okay.  It's probably not it, but I'm gonna go with C.

H: Makes it less likely that you will get seasick?  

M: Eh.

A: That's okay.  That's okay.  (?~10:37)

H: Okay.  I guess I'll go with being 10-20 years old.  I feel like younger people are always like, doing the loop-de-loops at the fair.

M: That's also incorrect.

H: Ahhhh.

M: The correct answer is being out of shape.

H: Hey, well, I am out of shape.  Why do I not like the ocean?  

O: It's not too surprising that your past history with motion sickness is the easiest and most reliable way to predict whether you'll get sick on your voyage at sea, because sea sickness is really just a kind of motion sickness, but weirdly enough, your level of aerobic fitness is a pretty good indicator, too.  Research shows that people who are in shape report higher levels of motion sickness.  This isn't just a random correlation.  Studies have found that getting into better shape can actually make motion sickness worse and it's not clear why that is.  Fitness can affect hormone levels and the reactivity of your nervous system, so it may have something to do with that.  On the other hand, several studies have drawn a connection between things like the rigidness of your stance when standing still and the likelihood that you'll get seasick.  So it may be more about your muscles.  Either way, there's a lot more of the mystery to unravel before we can predict, prevent, or treat seasickness perfectly.

M: Any pirate knows the key to good rum is a lengthy aging process.  Freshly distilled sugars might have that alcoholic punch, but they have none of the fine taste of booze that sat for 20 years in an oak barrel which allows the compounds from the sugars to interact with the ones from the wooden container to create richer flavors.

 (12:00) to (14:00)

A young distiller in California has found a way to shortcut the booze aging process, claiming he can make a double decade aged rum in about six days.  How does he do it: oxygen injections to speed up oxidation, harsh lights and heat to speed up chemical reactions, sonic blasts with bass frequencies to speed molecular breakdown, much smaller containers to increase the wood-to-booze ratio?  

A: I'm gonna go with C.  

H: The bass noises?

A: The bass.

M: Incorrect.

A: Oh man!

H: That's what I was gonna go for!

A: I felt so confident!

H: I feel like we talked about that in a SciShow episode recently.

A: Yeah!

H: They were like, playing Skrillex to the wine or something.  This is not fair at all.  I should have gone first.  Um, uh, well, all the rest of them I don't like.  

A: They're all wrong.

M: I'm sorry.  

H: The oxygen injection.  

M: Unfortunately, that is also incorrect.

H: Oh come on, is it re--is it heat and light?

M: It is heat and light--

H: No way!

M: --to speed up the chemical reaction.  

H: Oh God.

A: Bad day.

M: Shiver me timbers.

O: Big booze-makers have tried just about everything to age alcohols faster, because time really is money, but from sonic blasts to extra wood chips in smaller containers, nothing really worked well until a distiller named Brian Davis decided to tackle the problem.  After having a lab determine the components of 33 year aged rum, he realized he needed to speed up two chemical processes, extraction and esterification.  Extraction is just the technical term for how flavor compounds from the wood get into the booze and he thought about several ways to speed that up, but the aha moment came when he was looking at boards from an outside deck that had been aged by sunlight.  His special still uses high intensity light to speed up the chemical reactions involved in aging, and therefore the extraction process.  That just left esterification, where key compounds in the wood join with those in the booze itself to make medium and long chain compounds called esters.

 (14:00) to (16:00)

They're what give a well-aged rum its sweet, floral, and nutty notes.  Normally, these molecular bonds take years to happen on their own, but Davis' machine uses controlled heating to make them form much more quickly.  No one's done independent scientific studies yet, but so far, booze critics seem to think his process works, at least for rums and whiskeys.  

M: Okay, so Hank is sitting at 1100, Alexis, you've got 600.

A: Sorry, boys.

M: Alright, then, it comes down to this.  This final question.  You're gonna make some bets.  You can bet any or all of your points on your knowledge of balloons.  While our contestants are figuring out how many SciShow bucks they're gonna bet, we're gonna show you this advertisement that'll make you feel lighter than air.

Okay, we're back.  You ready?

H: I'm ready.

A: Sure.  

M: If you want to make your voice entertainingly duck-like, all you need is a balloon filled with some helium.

A: Oh.

H: Okay.

A: I was almost very excited.

H: It's like, yeah, tell me more.  

M: You actually even did this once in a SciShow episode, way back when you still had your, uhm, world-famous goatee.  

H: Nooo, oh my God.  

M: But the question is, why does helium make your voice higher?  Helium relaxes your vocal folds, making them larger, helium irritates your vocal folds causing them to swell, helium's low density allows sound to move faster, the lack of oxygen causes muscles in your larynx to tense up, tightening your vocal folds?

A: I feel like I should know this.   Probably means that I don't.  

H: Yeah, it pro--I feel like, the fact that I feel like I know this means I don't.  

M: You guys ready?

H: Yup.

A: Sure.

M: Reveal your answers.  

H: We guessed the same thing.

A: Oh!

M: You're both correct.

A&H: Heeeyy!!

O: The answer is C, helium's low density allows sound to move faster.  Your squeaky helium voice has everything to do with the innate properties of the gas.  

 (16:00) to (18:00)

When you talk, thin mucus-y flaps in your voice box called vocal folds or vocal chords vibrate.  The rate of this vibration creates waves of sound that are amplified in your vocal tract.  Changing things like the size or tension of these flaps can change your voice, but helium doesn't do that.  It's basically inert, so your cells don't react to it.  Instead, the vocal change all comes down to simple physics.  Because the helium gas molecules are so much smaller and lighter than the oxygen and nitrogen that make up the majority of regular air, sound waves can travel more quickly through them, almost three times as fast.  Those faster waves resonate differently in your vocal tract.  Ultimately, that means that a vocal tract filled with helium amplifies higher frequency sound waves, transforming your voice into that of a chipmunk.

M: I think that's--that's quite a large score you got there.

H: I tried to go negative.  

M: How do you go negative?

H: I bet more points than I have.

M: That's against the rules.

H: No one has ever said that.  That rule has never been laid down.  

M: And what game have you ever played where you can bet more points than you have?  I think Hank is disqualified.

H: Um, capitalism.  I took out a loan from the SciShow Buck bank.  I'm going into debt, but it worked out for me and for Sebastian.  I remembered Horace.  

A: My buddy.

M: Well, uh, with that, I guess Hank is our winner.  

A: I got one right, though.  

H: You did.

A: I can leave proud of myself.  

M: Thank you for watching this episode of SciShow Quiz Show.  If you want to see more of both Alexis and Hank's work, just keep coming back to watch more videos and if you haven't yet, you should definitely read Hank's novel, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.  

H: It's available now.