How to ask questions: Leon Neyfakh on the skills involved in asking good questions. "There is, as yet, no field of 'question studies,'" but there are "a handful of thinkers making a career of taking a close look at how questions work, what our brains are doing when they put a question together, and how questions could drive learning, child development, innovation, business strategy, and creativity." They're finding that a question is "a unique instrument that we can get better at using if we try."
National security lessons from the octopus: J. Gabriel Boylan on Rafe Sagarin, a marine ecologist turned national security thinker who argues the octopus -- "a creature that is both agile and smart -- and whose power comes not just from its brain, but from its body’s ability to make its own decisions when it needs to" -- provides a good model for how big institutions can cope with complicated, unpredictable problems.
Down with chairs! Colin McSwiggen: "Chairs are evil. All of them. No designer has ever made a good chair, because it is impossible. Chairs are a health hazard, they’re morally troubling, and we’ve become dependent on them -- and it’s not clear that we’ll ever be free."
In search of the modern proverb: Ben Zimmer on the new Dictionary of Modern Proverbs from Yale University Press. One of the book's "great pleasures" is "seeing how successful sayings inspire clever or sarcastic elaborations, like graffiti writers scribbling responses to each other. The rueful expression 'Life’s a bitch,' for example, dates back to 1940 in the writing of Langston Hughes. But by 1982, it had spawned the fatalistic 'Life’s a bitch and then you die.'
Figure skating: more corrupt than ever: More great discoveries courtesy of Kevin Lewis -- including the fact that figure skating judges are growing more corrupt, despite efforts to curb corruption.
Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His last article for Ideas was about choosing Congress by lottery.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.