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Dublin: 10 °C Sunday 20 October, 2019

Sitdown Sunday: The village struck by a mysterious sleeping sickness

The very best of the week’s writing from around the web.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1. The secret Cold War maps

shutterstock_129602879 Source: Shutterstock/RTimages

History buffs will love this in-depth piece about Russia’s Cold War mapmakers, who made hugely detailed maps that contained information essential to anyone planning an occupation.

(Wired, approx 26 mins reading time)

The Soviet maps of US and European cities have details that aren’t on domestic maps made around the same time, things like the precise width of roads, the load-bearing capacity of bridges, and the types of factories. They’re the kinds of things that would come in handy if you’re planning a tank invasion. Or an occupation.

2. The sleeping sickness

shutterstock_90169753 Source: Shutterstock/Sabphoto

Since 2010, a strange sleeping sickness has been affecting residents of a little village in Kazakhstan. Sarah Topol spent a week there, and reported back about what she saw.

(Buzzfeed, approx 40 mins reading time)

Over the long weekend, three college-age kids and five adults fell ill with the same symptoms. First they would slur their words, as if they were drunk. They would see double, and start swaying, then they would fall asleep and snore heavily. They could be roused, speak, go to the bathroom, even eat food, but then they would fall back asleep. They stayed in this state for days.

3. 2 +2 =5

shutterstock_172115972 Source: Shutterstock/R. MACKAY PHOTOGRAPHY, LLC

Meet Terry Tao, a child prodigy who grew up to be one of the world’s best mathematicians.

(New York Times, approx 24 mins reading time)

‘‘When I was growing up, I knew I wanted to be a mathematician, but I had no idea what that entailed,’’ he said in a lilting Australian accent. ‘‘I sort of imagined a committee would hand me problems to solve or something.’’ But it turned out that the work of real mathematicians bears little resemblance to the manipulations and memorization of the math student.

4. How hot chicken became hot

Food-Hot Fried Chicken Source: AP/Press Association Images

Rachel L Martin looks at something which seems innocuous – hot crispy chicken slathered in hot sauce – and how it tells us a lot about race relations in Nashville.

(Bitter Southerner, approx 35 mins reading time)

For almost 70 years, hot chicken was made and sold primarily in Nashville’s black neighborhoods. I started to suspect the story of hot chicken could tell me something powerful about race relations in Nashville, especially as the city tries to figure out what it will be in the future.

5. The disastrous overthrow

UN General Assembly Gambia Source: AP/Press Association Images

One of Africa’s most interesting dictators, Al Hadji Yahya Jammeh, was the subject of recent attempted coup. But the people who attempted the action were amateurish and didn’t even possess enough weapons. What drove them?

(The Guardian, approx 42 mins reading time)

The alleged coup plotters were middle-aged immigrants, who had made good lives for themselves in America over the course of decades, with careers, wives, children, savings, suburban houses, citizenship – the whole archetypal dream. They only visited the Gambia occasionally, if at all, and they had little connection to politics in their homeland. What could have possessed them to risk everything in a foolhardy attempt to topple one of the world’s strangest dictators?

6. The illusionist

shutterstock_166911155 Source: Shutterstock/Syda Productions

Al Seckel was an optical illusionist who held parties for celebrities. And like his tricks, everything in his life wasn’t what it seemed.

(Tablet Mag, approx 37 mins reading time)

But when you linger for a few moments with Seckel’s stories, they begin, after the initial gasp of wonder, to warp and bleed and swirl. As with optical illusions, something that Seckel has become a famous collector of, the trick is to stare long enough, past the point where you think you know what you are seeing. And maybe, if you are lucky, you will be satisfied that you’ve found something like the truth.


Scotland Landscape GVs Source: Yui Mok

Tom Bissell journeys to Loch Ness to see what he can find there.

(VQR Online, approx 43 mins reading time)

We go the edge of our lay-by and look down onto Loch Ness. The water moves in a glittery, sidewinder way. Below us the impossibly black water has a severe, pebbled surface. Farther out it is as smooth as sheet metal. There is something about this water. It seems thicker than normal water. The shapes it makes, the manner in which it reflects sunlight: it is as though it holds the light for a second or two longer than it should.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday >

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