Monday, August 29, 2011

17 Worst Habits for Your Heart

Posted On 5:03 AM by anagnalems | 0 comments

Everyone wants to have a healthy heart. Still, cardiovascular disease affects more than 1 in 3 adults in the United States.

The good news is that some simple, everyday habits can make a big difference in your ability to live a healthy lifestyle.

Here are the 17 worst habits for your heart, and how to avoid them.

Watching TV
Sitting for hours on end increases your risk of heart attack and stroke, even if you exercise regularly.
“Intermittent exercise doesn’t compensate for the time you sit,” says Harmony R. Reynolds, MD, associate director of the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City.
Why? The lack of movement may affect blood levels of fats and sugars.
Dr. Reynolds advises walking around periodically and, if you’re at work, standing up to talk on the phone.

Leaving hostility and depression unchecked
Are you feeling stressed, hostile, or depressed? It can take a toll on your heart.
While everyone feels this way some of the time, how you handle these emotions can affect your heart health.
 “Those likely to internalize stress are in greater danger; research has shown a benefit to laughter and social support,” Dr. Reynolds says.
“And it’s helpful to be able to go to someone and talk about your problems.”

Ignoring the snoring
More than a minor annoyance, snoring can be a sign of something more serious: obstructive sleep apnea. This disorder, marked by breathing that is interrupted during sleep, can cause blood pressure to skyrocket.
More than 18 million Americans adults have sleep apnea, which increases the risk of heart disease. People who are overweight or obese are at higher risk for sleep apnea, but slim people can have it too.
If you snore and often wake up feeling tired, talk with your doctor; there are easy ways to screen for apnea, says Robert Ostfeld, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City.

Not flossing
While the exact reason is unknown, there is a strong link between gum disease and heart disease, Dr. Ostfeld says.
If you don’t floss, sticky, bacteria-laden plaque build up over time, which can lead to gum disease. One theory is that these bacteria trigger inflammation in the body.
“Inflammation promotes all aspects of atherosclerosis,” Dr. Ostfeld says. Treating gum disease can improve blood vessel function.

Withdrawing from the world
It’s no secret that on some days, other human beings can seem annoying, irritating, and just plain difficult to get along with.
However, it makes sense to strengthen your connections to the ones you actually like. People with stronger connections to family, friends, and society in general tend to live longer, healthier lives.
Everyone needs alone time, but you should still reach out to others and keep in touch whenever you can.

You’re either all or nothing
Call it the Weekend Warrior Syndrome.
“I see so many people in their 40s and 50s dive into exercising with good intentions, hurt themselves, and then stop exercising all together,” says Judith S. Hochman, MD, director of the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center at NYU’s Langone Medical Center.
With exercise, it’s wise to aim for slow and steady. “It’s more important to have a regular exercise commitment,” says Dr. Reynolds. “Be in it for the long game.”

Drinking (too much) alcohol
Sure, studies suggest a small amount of alcohol may be good for your heart. Alas, too many over-imbibe.
Excess alcohol is linked to a greater risk of high blood pressure, high levels of blood fats, and heart failure. In addition, the extra calories can lead to weight gain, a threat to heart health.
If you drink, stick to no more than two drinks per day for men, and no more than one a day for women. (One drink means a 12-ounce beer or 4-ounce glass of wine).

Being overweight is a major risk factor for heart disease, and 72% of men and 64% of women in the U.S are overweight or obese.
Try to eat less, avoid oversize portions, and replace sugary drinks with water.
Dr. Reynolds and Dr. Hochman also suggest cutting portion sizes for high-calorie carbohydrates (think refined pastas and breads) and watching out for foods labeled “low-fat,” which are often high in calories.

Assuming you’re not at risk
Cardiovascular disease—including stroke, heart disease, and heart failure—claims more lives in the United States than any other illness, including cancer.
“Don’t assume you’re not at risk,” says Dr. Ostfeld.
High blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight, and smoking are all risk factors that should be kept in check.

Eating red meat
It’s best to think of red meat as an occasional treat rather than the foundation of a daily diet. Red meat is high in saturated fat, and there’s also evidence that processed meat, such as bacon and hot dogs, increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer. Ideally, less than 10% of your diet should come from animals and animal products, Dr. Ostfeld advises.
Can’t part with the beef? Choose a lean cut of red meat and limit your intake. “People have to know that if you want a steak a few times a month, it’s OK,” Dr. Hochman says. “It’s what you’re eating three times a day that’s the issue. Be in it for the long haul. Eat a balanced diet.”

Being a health procrastinator
Check in with an MD so that you know your numbers for cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
If these are elevated, you’re at risk for silent killers like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
One thought: The lifetime risk of developing hypertension, or high blood pressure, for adults in their mid-50s is approximately 90%, even with those who never had a problem before. “The general point is that just because you didn’t have it at 24 doesn’t mean you don’t have it at 54,” Dr. Ostfeld says.

Smoking or living with a smoker
Sure, you’ve heard it a million times before: Don’t smoke. But it bears repeating.
“Smoking is a total disaster for your heart,” says Dr. Ostfeld. Smoking promotes blood clots, which can block blood flow to the heart, and contributes to plaque buildup in the arteries.
It’s also a smart bomb aimed at everyone around you, Dr. Ostfeld says. In fact, about 46,000 nonsmokers who live with a smoker die from heart disease each year because of secondhand smoke.

Stopping or skipping meds
Let’s be honest: Taking pills is a pain. There can be side effects. And it’s easy to forget your meds, especially if you feel fine.
“High blood pressure is called the silent killer because you don’t feel it,” Dr. Ostfeld says. “Saying you feel fine is not a justification for stopping these pills.”
There are 30 types of high blood pressure medications, so there are choices if one isn’t working, Dr. Hochman says. “If one medication doesn’t work, we can try something else.”

Avoiding fruits and vegetables
“The most heart-healthy diet is a plant-based diet,” Dr. Ostfeld says. That means loading up on fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and protein, and keeping junk food to a minimum. In fact, new federal dietary guidelines recommend that half of each meal should be composed of fruits and vegetables.
Research has found that people who eat more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day had about 20% lower risk of heart disease and stroke than people who ate less than three servings per day.

Ignoring physical symptoms
If you used to walk up three flights of stairs without a problem, but suddenly you’re short of breath after one flight or have chest pressure, it’s time to call your doctor—now. Never assume it’s because you’re out of shape.
Doctors say “time is muscle,” meaning the quicker you get treatment for possible trouble, the less likely you are to have permanent damage to your heart muscle.
“It’s better for it to be much ado about nothing than sitting on a heart attack for six hours,” which is not uncommon, Dr. Ostfeld says.

Being a salty snacker
The more salt you consume, the higher your blood pressure rises. One in three American adults has high blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke, kidney failure, and heart attack.
“Steer clear of packaged junk food, read the labels for sodium content, and stick to the outer portions of the supermarket, which is where the fruits, vegetables, and (unsalted) nuts are,” Dr. Ostfeld says.
Most of us should keep sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams a day. If you have high blood pressure or are over 50, cut back to 1,500 milligrams.

Eating empty calories
Foods high in sugar, fat, and oil deliver calories, but very few—if any—nutrients your body can use.
Studies have shown that a diet full of empty calories increases the risk of obesity and diabetes.
Look for foods dense in nutrients, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans and peas, and unsalted nuts and seeds. Lean meats and poultry, along with fat-free and low-fat milk, are good choices as well.


Beyoncé Confirms Pregnancy On VMA Red Carpet

Posted On 4:00 AM by anagnalems | 1 comments

After years of denying endless pregnancy rumors, Beyoncé finally has some good news to share.
The "Single Ladies" singer is pregnant.

Beyoncé held her belly as she arrived at the Video Music Awards Sunday wearing a long, red dress, quite the opposite of her normal midriff-baring stage costumes.

When addressing photographers on the red carpet, Beyoncé said, "I have a surprise!" People reported.
Beyoncé's rep later confirmed the news to the magazine. "I'm happy to say it's true," the rep said, according to People.

Beyoncé also acknowledged that she was with child during her performance of "Love On Top." During the intro of the song she said she wanted the audience to "feel the love that's growing inside of me." And after she finished singing the song, she dropped her microphone, popped open her purple sequined tuxedo jacket, poked out her stomach, then rubbed it and smiled. Onlookers, Jay-Z and Kanye jumped up and down in excitement

In a June interview special on "Piers Morgan Tonight," Beyoncé said she looked forward to parenthood.
"I always said I would have a baby at 30," said the singer whose 30th birthday is September 4.
Apparently, Beyoncé's husband Jay-Z has also had children on his mind. He and Kanye rapped about fatherhood on "New Day" from their new album, "Watch The Throne."


Irene: Wet, deadly and expensive, but no monster

Posted On 3:58 AM by anagnalems | 0 comments

NEW YORK (AP) — The storm that had been Hurricane Irene crossed into Canada overnight but wasn't yet through with the U.S., where flood waters threatened Vermont towns and New Yorkers feared a commuting nightmare as their transit system, shut down ahead of the storm, was slowly restored.

The storm left millions without power across much of the Eastern Seaboard, left more than 20 dead and forced airlines to cancel about 9,000 flights. It never became the big-city nightmare forecasters and public officials had warned about, but it still had the ability to surprise.

Many of the worst effects arose from rains that fell inland, not the highly anticipated storm surge along the coasts. Residents of Pennsylvania and New Jersey nervously watched waters rise as hours' worth of rain funneled into rivers and creeks. Normally narrow ribbons of water turned into raging torrents in Vermont and upstate New York late Sunday, tumbling with tree limbs, cars and parts of bridges.

"This is not over," President Barack Obama said from the Rose Garden.

Hundreds of Vermonters were told to leave their homes after Irene dumped several inches of rain on the landlocked state. Video posted on Facebook showed a 141-year-old covered bridge in Rockingham swept away by the roiling, muddy Williams River. In another video, an empty car somersaulted down a river in Bennington.

"It's pretty fierce. I've never seen anything like it," said Michelle Guevin, who spoke from a Brattleboro restaurant after leaving her home in nearby Newfane. She said the fast-moving Rock River was washing out the road to her house.

Green Mountain Power decided against flooding Montpelier, the capital, to save the earthen Marshfield Dam, about 20 miles up the Winooski River to the northeast. Water levels had stabilized Monday morning but engineers were continuing to monitor the situation, said spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure.

Residents of 350 households were asked to leave as a precaution.

Nearly 5 million homes and businesses lost power at some point during the storm. Lights started to come back on for many on Sunday, though it was expected to take days for electricity to be fully restored.
Only about 50,000 power customers in New York City went dark, but people there had something else to worry about: getting to work Monday.

The metropolitan area's transit system, shut down because of weather for the first time in its history, was taking many hours to get back on line. Limited bus service began Sunday and New York subway service was to be partially restored at 6 a.m. Monday, but riders were warned to expect long lines and long waits.

Commuter rail service to Long Island and New Jersey was being partially restored, but the Metro-North Railroad to Westchester County and Connecticut was suspended because of flooding and mudslides.
Airports in New York and around the Northeast were reopening to a backlog of hundreds of thousands of passengers whose flights were canceled over the weekend.

Some of New York's yellow cabs were up to their wheel wells in water, and water rushed over a marina near the New York Mercantile Exchange, where gold and oil are traded. But the New York flooding was not extensive from Irene, whose eye passed over Coney Island and Central Park.

The New York Stock Exchange said it would be open for business on Monday, and the Sept. 11 memorial at the World Trade Center site didn't lose a single tree.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended his decision to order 370,000 residents to evacuate their homes in low-lying areas, saying it was impossible to know just how powerful the storm would be. "We were just unwilling to risk the life of a single New Yorker," he said.

Irene had at one time been a major hurricane, with winds higher than 110 mph as it headed toward the U.S. It was a tropical storm with 65 mph winds by the time it hit New York. It lost the characteristics of a tropical storm and had slowed to 50 mph by the time it reached Canada.

Chris Fogarty, director of the Canadian Hurricane Centre, warned of flooding and wind damage in eastern Canada and said the heaviest rainfall was expected in Quebec, where about 250,000 homes were without power.

At least 21 people died in the U.S., most of them when trees crashed through roofs or onto cars. One Vermont woman was swept away and feared drowned in the Deerfield River.
Officials worked to repair hundreds of damaged roads, and power companies picked through uprooted trees and reconnected lines.

One private estimate put damage along the coast at $7 billion, far from any record for a natural disaster.
Twenty homes on Long Island Sound in Connecticut were destroyed by churning surf. The torrential rain chased hundreds of people in upstate New York from their homes and closed 137 miles of the state's main highway.

Authorities in and around Easton, Pa., kept a close eye on the rising Delaware River. The National Weather Service forecast the river to crest there at 30 feet, well above normal flood stage.

In the South, authorities still were not sure how much damage had been done but expressed relief that it wasn't worse.

"Thank God it weakened a little bit," said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who toured a hard-hit Richmond neighborhood where large, old-growth trees uprooted and crushed houses and automobiles.

In Norfolk, Va., where storm surges got within inches of breaking a record, most of the water had receded by Sunday. There was isolated flooding and downed trees, but nowhere near the damage officials predicted.
"We can't believe a hurricane came through here," city spokeswoman Lori Crouch said.

In North Carolina, where six people were killed, the infrastructure losses included the only road to the seven villages on Hatteras Island.

"Overall, the destruction is not as severe as I was worried it might be, but there is still lots and lots of destruction and people's lives are turned upside down," Gov. Beverly Perdue said in Kill Devil Hills.

In an early estimate, consulting firm Kinetic Analysis Corp. figured total losses from the storm at $7 billion, with insured losses of $2 billion to $3 billion. The storm will take a bite out of Labor Day tourist business from the Outer Banks to the Jersey Shore to Cape Cod.

Irene was the first hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States since 2008, and came almost six years to the day after Katrina ravaged New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

100-Year-Olds Just as Unhealthy as the Rest of Us

Posted On 9:00 AM by anagnalems | 0 comments

Centenarians may have a great deal of wisdom to share, but this apparently does not include advice on how to live to age 100.

Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have found that many very old people — age 95 and older — could be poster children for bad health behavior with their smoking, drinking, poor diet, obesity and lack of exercise.

The very old are, in fact, no more virtuous than the general population when it comes to shunning bad health habits, leaving researchers to conclude that their genes are mostly responsible for their remarkable longevity.

But before you fall off the wagon and start tossing down doughnuts for breakfast just because your Aunt Edna just turned 102, remember that genetics is a game of chance. What didn't kill Aunt Edna still could kill you prematurely, the researchers cautioned.

The chosen few
The study, appearing Aug. 3 in the online edition of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, followed the lives of 477 Ashkenazi Jews between the ages of 95 and 112. They were enrolled in Einstein College's Longevity Genes Project, an ongoing study that seeks to understand why centenarians live as long as they do. About 1 in 4,400 Americans lives to age 100, according to 2010 census data.

A research team led by Nir Barzilai compared these old folks with a group of people representing the general public, captured in a snapshot of health habits collected in the 1970s. The people in this control group were born around the same time as the 95-and-above study group, but they have since died.

The living, old people in the study were remarkably ordinary in their lifestyles, Barzilai said. By and large, they weren't vegetarians, vitamin-pill-poppers or health freaks. Their profiles nearly matched that of the control group in terms of the percentage who were overweight, exercised (or didn't exercise), or smoked. One woman, at age 107, smoked for over 90 years.

Whatever killed the control group — cardiovascular disease, cancer and other diseases clearly associated with lifestyle choices — somehow didn't kill them. "Their genes protected them," Barzilai said.

Put down that doughnut

Barzilai said that it would be wrong to forego health advice with the assumption that your genes will determine how long you will live. For the general population, there is a preponderance of evidence that diet and exercise can postpone or ward off chronic disease and extend life. Many studies on Seventh Day Adventists — with their limited consumption of alcohol, tobacco and meat — attribute upward of 10 extra years of life as a result of lifestyle choices.

Note also that those people now age 100 lived in an era when obesity was nearly nonexistent and when daily exercise such as walking down streets or up a few flights of steps was more common. Barzilai said anyone can benefit from exercise at any age, even these indestructible old people pushing and exceeding triple digits.

The big picture for the Longevity Genes Project is to identify those genes keeping folks alive for so long and then use them as targets for drug development. For example, most people treated successfully for heart disease ultimately die well before their 90s from yet another age-related disease. This is because we "never change the aging process" with our treatments and cures, Barzilai said.

That is, we can't turn everyone into centenarians by curing one disease at a time.

"Aging is the major risk factor," Barzilai said. If researchers can figure out which genes work to slow aging and make ordinary people more resilient to chronic disease, we all will have a much better chance of reaching our 100th birthday — and have enough breath to blow out the candles.


6 Head Pains You Should Never Ignore

Posted On 8:56 AM by anagnalems | 0 comments

Remember in the good old days, when doctors made house calls? Yeah, I don’t either. But it sounds awesome: No waiting rooms. No cranky receptionists. No parade of nurses, residents, and other strangers poking you. Just you and your doctor, in the privacy of your own home.

We have the next best thing here at Men’s Health: dozens of the nation’s top doctors on speed dial. Cardiologists, neurologists, dermatologists, dentists . . . you name it. They don’t make house calls, but they will talk to us from the privacy of our own phone.

One of our most prolific top docs is T.E. Holt, M.D., a physician at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. We editors write from the patient’s perpective, but Dr. Holt writes from the doctor’s perspective. And he’s always insightful, whether he’s revealing keywords you can say to get a doctor’s attention or explaining how to spot a physician who doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Recently, Dr. Holt wrote about one of the most common ailments in the world: the headache. If you're like most people, you've probably heard of the three major types of headaches:

1. Tension headache: This is your garden-variety headache, with diffuse pain wrapping across the top of your head. These headaches often result from stress or lack of sleep. They're not usually disabling, typically fade overnight, and can be easily relieved with ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin.

2. Migraine headache: Migraines tend to hit one side of the head, and can last from several hours to several days. They’re usually marked by a sensitivity to sound and light. When a migraine strikes, you can manage it with Advil Migraine or Motrin Migraine Pain (both ibuprofen medications) or Excedrin Migraine (a combination of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine).

3. Cluster headache: This one is an excruciating attack that explodes behind one eye, reaches a crescendo after about an hour, and then vanishes—only to return in a day or so. This goes on for a few weeks, and then stops for months. Numerous drugs target clusters, including some of the migraine meds.

The good news about these headaches, says Dr. Holt, is that they're all completely harmless. But not every aching head is a simple headache. Here are six that could be a sign of something serious—and potentially deadly. Watch out for . . .

The Thunderclap Headache
If head pain hits you like a bolt out of nowhere, intensifying in a few minutes into the worst headache you've ever had, call 911. The list of causes for this kind of headache isn't long (aneurysm, stroke, meningitis) but almost everything on it can be very quickly fatal, says Dr. Holt.

The Exercise Headache
If your headache comes on quickly and furiously with violent physical exertion, see a doctor right away. Chances are, the cause is benign, says Dr. Holt. But it also could be a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

The Headache that Spreads to Your Neck
Benign headaches stay in your head, says Dr. Holt. Headaches that don't can be meningitis or a hemorrhage. So yes, call 911, especially if you have a fever, are just getting over a bacterial infection, have a rash, or can't think clearly.

The Headache that Won't End
A headache that comes and goes for days—with a low-grade fever, visual disturbances, and aching in one or both of your temples—often signals an inflammation of the arteries that can leave you blind if not treated. See your doctor right away, says Dr. Holt.

The Contagious Headache
Your family is all home on a cold, rainy Saturday. As the day goes on you develop a headache that grows steadily worse. If anyone else has the same headache, move everyone outdoors immediately. There's a malfunction in your heating system and it's spewing carbon monoxide. Once you're out of the house, call the fire department. Your headache should clear up in a few hours.

The Headache that Wakes You Up
You should also be concerned if your headache has been worsening for weeks, says Dr. Holt, or if it’s present every morning when you wake up. This is the classic pattern for a slowly expanding mass. It may not warrant a 911 call, but you should see your doctor and schedule an MRI right away.


Debris From Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster Found in Texas

Posted On 8:52 AM by anagnalems | 0 comments

A piece of debris from NASA's space shuttle Columbia has been discovered in Texas, eight years after the 2003 disaster that destroyed the spacecraft and killed its seven-astronaut crew during re-entry, NASA officials confirmed today (Aug. 2).

The debris was discovered last week in eastern Texas. It is a round aluminum power reactant storage and distribution tank from Columbia, which disintegrated over Texas as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere near the end of a 16-day science mission.

The tank was discovered in an exposed area of Lake Nacogdoches, in Nacogdoches, Texas, about 160 miles northeast of Houston. 

"The only reason it's exposed is because there's a drought going on and the tank was under the lake," Lisa Malone, a NASA spokeswoman at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, told "The tank itself is full of mud."

Nacogdoches police informed NASA of the find and sent pictures for identification. NASA engineers who work on the shuttle's power reactant storage and distribution systems were able to confirm the piece belonged to Columbia. 

"One of the guys had been here more than 30 years and recognized it, and said, 'That’s one of the tanks,'" Malone said.

The piece was one of 16 tanks on the shuttle that stored supercold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. The spherical tank, about 40 inches (1 meter) in diameter, will eventually be shipped back to Kennedy Space Center, where NASA stores all the collected debris from Columbia in a climate controlled area in the giant Vehicle Assembly Building.

"We're working the plans and details out right now as to how we would get it shipped back here," Malone said. "We do want to collect the debris items and keep them in one place."

To date, about 38-40 percent of the Columbia orbiter's wreckage has been recovered. The remainder was either burned up during reentry or is still where it landed in Texas and Louisiana.

"From time to time throughout the year we do get phone calls and emails from people about items they think are debris," Malone said.

The 2003 disaster was traced back to a hole that was punched into one of Columbia's wings by a piece of debris from its fuel tank during launch, according to the findings of a review board that investigated the accident. The hole rendered the orbiter unable to withstand the intense heat of re-entry, causing the vehicle to disintegrate.

Discoveries of debris from the wreck can still serve to reopen old wounds.
"It always makes you think about the accident and Columbia and the crew of course," Malone said. "It always does serve as a reminder."

Columbia was carrying commander Rick Husband, pilot William McCool, mission specialists Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, and Laurel Clark, payload commander Michael Anderson, and payload specialist Ilan Ramon, who was Israel's first astronaut.

Following the catastrophe, NASA upgraded equipment and processes to protect against a similar failure. All post-Columbia shuttles flew with external tanks that had been redesigned to diminish the amount of debris from their insulating foam that fell off during liftoff.

As a further precaution, recent crews conducted thorough inspections of their orbiters' heat shields once in orbit to make sure they hadn't sustained any damage that would endanger them during landing.

The Columbia accident was the second disaster in the history of the 30-year space shuttle program. It followed the 1986 destruction of the shuttle Challenger and its crew. Exceptionally cold weather at Challenger's Florida launch site that day caused a failure in an O-ring seal on one of the shuttle's solid rocket boosters that ultimately pulled apart the vehicle.

Last month NASA retired its remaining three space shuttle orbiters. The shuttle Atlantis landed July 21 to finish the 135th and final mission of the shuttle program. Now Atlantis and its siblings Discovery and Endeavour will be retired to museums, while NASA embarks on a new program to build vehicles for deep space exploration.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Crop circle creation theory: physics, not aliens

Posted On 1:06 AM by anagnalems | 0 comments

Those otherworldly crop circles may not have been caused by aliens after all. Instead, think physics: A study in Physics World points to the possibility that the patterns could be caused by Earth-bound microwaves, lasers, and GPS. Maybe.

Formations in fields have been documented more than 10,000 times in the late 20th century. They have been credited to everything from paranormal activity to human hijinks to the weather--and in some cases, even wallabies (more on that later).

Further fueling the mystery is that the farmland designs are done in secret, usually in the dark--and often by jokers who want to make it seem like Martians were at work. It wasn't until 1991 that the first pranksters admitted to have created at least some of the crop circles as a UFO hoax. What's confounded scientists is trying to explain just how the art is done without any marks left by the makers, all typically in just one night.

The question led researcher Richard Taylor of the University of Oregon to rule out at least some traditional explanations of the tools involved in creating the circles. Taylor contends that in the modern age, planks and ropes (to flatten plants) and even bar stools to jump from one area to another undetected, are just too cumbersome to produce results in the comparatively brief period of their creative incubation.

Instead,  he argued that latter-day crop-circle auteurs use high-tech gadgets such as GPS monitors to place the shapes and magnetrons (tubes that use electricity and magnetism to generate intense heat) to cause the crop stalks to fall over at high speed.

Can any of this speculation be proven? Not really--at least not until a certified crop-circle fabricator steps forward to claim responsibility and reveal the various tricks of the trade. But as Matin Durrani, editor of Physics World, put it, at least Taylor gives us an explanation that doesn't hinge on the hadiwork of alien life forms. Taylor "is merely trying to act like any good scientist--examining the evidence for the design and construction of crop circles without getting carried away by the side-show of UFOs, hoaxes, and aliens," Durrani writes.

Fair enough. Still, some crop circles have a fairly reasonable explanation. The Harry Potter "maize maze" was designed by a York, England, farmer, not little green men.

Meanwhile, some formations in Australian poppy fields have been blamed on wallabies. Yes, those kangaroo-like animals apparently eat the legally grown opiate, become "high as a kite," and hop around to create their own circle work.

But all the speculation over the origins of these works of art designed for the aerial viewer shouldn't obscure the central nature of their achievement: They are, in a word, crop-tastic.


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