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Let the Games Begin!

After a year’s delay, the Tokyo Olympics officially open on July 23. To celebrate, we’re highlighting some interesting facts about the Games.
Was Nero one of the first Olympic cheaters?
Learn more about his tainted win in the four-horse chariot race and other unsportmanlike Olympians.
How do they keep the flame lit as the torch travels the world?
The lit torch journeys from Olympia, Greece, to the host city. Discover the extraordinary efforts to keep the flame from going out.
A gold medal in live pigeon shooting?
Read about some questionable sports that were once Olympic events.
And just how are sports chosen for the Olympics?
We look at the lengthy process to add events to the Games.
How many rings are in the Olympic flag?
Test your knowledge of the Games.


On July 25, 1917, Mata Hari was found guilty of spying for Germany during WWI. Several months later she was executed by a French firing squad. Although her name became synonymous for the seductive female spy, many believe she was actually a scapegoat. We take a closer look at her life and others who reportedly engaged in espionage.
From Exotic Dancer to Double Agent?
article / Politics, Law & Government
Encyclop?dia Britannica, Inc.
A Southern Belle and Other Famous Spies
List / World History
Brady-Handy Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (neg. no. LC BH 82 4864A)

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Botanize!, hosted by Melissa Petruzzello, is a podcast that will introduce you to some of the world’s most remarkable plants, fungi, and algae. These overlooked organisms have fascinating evolutionary stories to tell about survival, exploitation, adaptation, and general scrappiness, and every episode will pique your curiosity. From parasitic plants to kelp forests, Botanize! aims to showcase some of Earth’s finest nonanimal life-forms and their brilliant ecologies.
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So far there have been five notable mass extinctions on Earth. A growing number of scientists argue that we’re now in the midst of a sixth. Postcards from the 6th Mass Extinction is a podcast hosted by John P. Rafferty that attempts to personalize extinction, emphasizing the survival challenges that familiar forms of life currently face, while at the same time considering the pivotal roles they play in their own ecosystems.
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On This Day
Hear the stories that propelled us to the present day through insights that lend perspective to our world with a nod to our own humanity. Britannica media editor Kurt Heintz, together with Emily Goldstein and Meg Matthias, is on a mission to spotlight poignant and noteworthy events for every day of the year.

Mad Monarchs

Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany
Mad King Ludwig

This Bavarian king worked to strengthen the nascent German Empire, but his real passions were Wagner, the arts, and the construction of fairy-tale castles in the Alps.

Joan the Mad, detail of a portrait
Joan the Mad

The queen of Spain was reputed to have suffered from bouts of extreme melancholia. When she refused to be parted from her dead husband’s embalmed body, she was forcibly committed to a convent.

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Entertainment & Pop Culture Entertainment & Pop Culture
Entertainment and leisure activities have been a part of all cultures in one form or another since the ancient times, whether the activity in question involved participating in a dance performance, attending a Broadway show, going to a music festival, or watching a movie.
Geography & Travel Geography & Travel
Planet Earth contains some extraordinarily diverse environments, some of which are easily habitable and some not so much. In different areas of Earth, one might find sweltering deserts, dense tropical rainforests, or bone-chilling tundras. Each biome and habitat comes with its own selection of flora and fauna, and it may include physical features such as canyons, volcanoes, rivers, or caves. Human beings have built homes in many different environments, settling the area and organizing it into units such as cities, states, regions, and countries, each with its own points of interest. Shifting trends in human migration have resulted in a human geography that is profoundly different from that of centuries ago.
Health & Medicine Health & Medicine
The study of the human mind and body, how these function, and how they interact—not only with each other but also with their environment—has been of utmost importance in ensuring human well-being. Research on potential treatments and preventive medicine has expanded greatly with the development of modern medicine, and a network of disciplines, including such fields as genetics, psychology, and nutrition, aims to facilitate the betterment of our health.
Lifestyles & Social Issues Lifestyles & Social Issues
It's easy enough to agree that human beings all around the world have certain basic requirements that must be fulfilled in order to ensure their individual and collective well-being. History has shown us, however, that it's not so easy to form societies or communities that fulfill these requirements for all members. The fight over human and civil rights has persisted for hundreds of years and remains alive today, both within the borders of nations and on an international scale. It has led to large-scale social movements and reforms concerning issues such as suffrage, slavery, women's rights, racial discrimination, environmentalism, gay rights, and more.
Literature Literature
With the development of language, the human imagination has found a way to create and communicate through the written word. A literary work can transport us into a fictional, fantastic new world, describe a fleeting feeling, or simply give us a picture of the past through novels, poems, tragedies, epic works, and other genres. Through literature, communication becomes an art, and it can bridge and bond people and cultures of different languages and backgrounds.
Philosophy & Religion Philosophy & Religion
Humans have long pondered not only how we came to be but also why we came to be. The earliest Greek philosophers focused their attention upon the origin and nature of the physical world; later philosophers have theorized about the nature of knowledge, truth, good and evil, love, friendship, and much more. Thus, philosophy involves a methodical assessment of any and all aspects of human existence and experience. The realms of philosophy and religion have sometimes intersected in conducting inquiries such as these. As with philosophy, the study of religion underscores how humankind has long speculated about its origins. The possibility of a higher being (or beings) to which livings things owe their existence has long captived human thought. Many religions also offer their own views on the nature of good and evil, and they may prescribe guidelines and judgment on different kinds of human behavior.
Politics, Law & Government Politics, Law & Government
The world today is divided territorially into more than 190 countries, each of which possesses a national government that claims to exercise sovereignty and seeks to compel obedience to its will by its citizens. Governments can be classified in any number of ways. For example, they might be classified by the number of rulers, thus distinguishing government by one (as in a monarchy or a tyranny) from government by the few (in an aristocracy or oligarchy) and from government by the many (as in a democracy). Governments can also be classified by mode of succession; for example, ascension to governmental leadership may follow the rules of hereditary succession, or it may be determined through elections or by force. Governments also vary in terms of the laws and rules of conduct that each political entity follows.
Science Science
How can the sky be blue one day and stormy the next? Why do heavy objects tend to fall downwards when dropped? How are birds able to fly (and why can’t I do the same?)? Human beings have long been curious about the world in which we live, striving to identify connections among the phenomenons we witness and to understand how it all works. The field of science has developed over many centuries as a way of studying and understanding the world, beginning with the primitive stage of simply noting important regularities in nature and continuing through the rise of modern science. The modern-day sciences cover a vast range of fields, including biology, chemistry, meteorology, astronomy, physics, and much more.
Sports & Recreation Sports & Recreation
Physical contests and recreational games have long played a part in human society. In both team and solo sports, the human body has been pushed to its limits in the name of improving athletic performance and to break record upon record. The ancient Olympic Games are an early example of the contests in which humans have engaged to showcase physical prowess. In modern times, sports and games have evolved into a lucrative and competitive industry, while other leisure activities, such as card and video games, can be competitive or can just be a way to unwind or socialize.
Technology Technology
Humankind has long striven to improve its living conditions through the development of tools, instruments, and transportation and communications systems, all with the goal of making our lives easier, more productive and—why not—more fun, too! Thanks to human curiosity and technological research, many significant inventions have been made throughout history that in turn made a difference in our daily lives.
Visual Arts Visual Arts
These are the arts that meet the eye and evoke an emotion through an expression of skill and imagination. They include the most ancient forms, such as painting and drawing, and the arts that were born thanks to the development of technology, like sculpture, printmaking, photography, and installation art, the latter a combination of multiple creative expressions. Though beauty is in the eye of the beholder, different eras in art history have had their own principles to define beauty, from the richly ornamented taste of the Baroque to the simple, utilitarian style of the Prairie School.
World History World History
Does history really repeat itself, or can we learn from the mistakes of those who came before us? History provides a chronological, statistical, and cultural record of the events, people, and movements that have made an impact on humankind and the world at large throughout the ages. Investigating the causes and results of past events is critically important in gaining a full understanding and perspective of present-day issues.

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