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May 4, 2014: Driving to the World’s Coldest Cities and Cracking the Humor Code

Life is hard in the world's coldest places. But the locals there need the cold winters for their livelihood. On the Pole of Cold Expedition, Felicity Aston drove 18,000 miles to visit cities where the thermometer regularly dips to -76F to learn how the locals survive. (photo by Dean Conger/National Geographic)
Life is hard in the world’s coldest places. But the locals there need the cold winters for their livelihood. On the Pole of Cold Expedition, Felicity Aston drove 18,000 miles to visit cities where the thermometer regularly dips to -76F to learn how the locals survive. (photo by Dean Conger/National Geographic)

Every week, embark with host Boyd Matson on an exploration of the latest discoveries and interviews with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, on National Geographic Weekend.

Please check listings near you to find the best way to listen to National Geographic Weekend on radio, or listen below!

Hour 1
- The winter of 2014 was long and cold in many parts of North America. But even the most frigid midwestern temperatures would be considered mild to Oymyakon, Russia’s 472 residents. One of the candidates for the “Coldest Town in the World,” Felicity Aston visited the Siberian hamlet in the middle of winter to learn how its residents deal with sustained temperatures of -76 degrees Fahrenheit. On her 18,000 mile “Pole of Cold” drive from London to Europe and Asia’s coldest places, Aston learned that the residents love winter, because it often provides them with their livelihood, it connects them with nearby towns by letting them drive over frozen lakes and rivers. She also gives tips on how to get a car to start when the mercury dips nearly 100 degrees below freezing.

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- Most skiing competitions involve an athlete flying down the mountain as fast as they possibly can. Once their downhill run is over, they will hop on a chair lift and be whisked back to the top of the mountain. At the beginning of March, Greg Hill outlined a ski challenge for himself that involved a small element of speeding down a mountain — but he spent the vast majority of his time skiing back up the mountain after his runs. The professional back country skier logged 328,000 vertical feet in the month of March, averaging 13,000 feet per day, which was enough to earn a rest day every week while still achieving his goal. Hill said one of the most taxing parts of the project was to stay mentally sharp enough to avoid triggering avalanches that could endanger himself and his team.

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- Pet owners remain devoted to their furry friends, feeding, exercising and caring for them every day; that is, until they drop them off at the kennel to go on vacation. Vincent Musi, photographer for the “Wild Obsession” article in the April 2014 National Geographic magazine notes that lion and tiger owners can’t drop their animals at kennels, so they’re often stuck at home constantly caring for an animal that can never be domesticated. Musi notes that this fixation creates a unique relationship with an animal strong enough to kill their caregivers on a whim. Musi also notes that the wild animals often have a difficult life after their owners are forced to give them up.

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- Comedy can be a fickle art. Jokes that have people loudly laughing in one context could offend another audiences’s sensibilities. In order to better understand the question of “What makes a joke funny?” Peter McGraw spent years understanding what makes people laugh. He tells Boyd that the best comedy to cross cultural and linguistic barriers tends to be physical, and shares one of his favorite jokes with Boyd. He and his colleague describe the art of jokes in their book, The Humor Code.

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National Geographic “Digital Nomad” Andrew Evans spends his life on the road, exploring the world’s best destinations. There are few people who visit more countries each year, and for that reason, there are few better people to share their travel tips. This week, he shared some of his 2013 highlights: the best hike, his favorite boat trip, and the best place to scuba dive.

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Hour 2
- In the days after an avalanche killed 16 Sherpas who were working in Mount Everest’s Khumbu Icefall, a group of photographers decided to do something about it. Aaron Huey and other photographers who have spent on Everest donated images that were sold and raised more than $300,000 to be distributed through the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation. Huey explains that the money will be used to give Sherpas better educational and vocational opportunities, and ultimately, safer working conditions, both on and off the dangerous Himalayan peaks.

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- Remote and isolated groups of people offer glimpses into a more culturally diverse past where populations created customs without the influence of interfering governments or technology like television. The Moso people, who live in southwestern China, offer a glimpse into a minority group where, for centuries, society revolved around matriarchs, rather than being run by a man, as is the case in most other societies around the world. National Geographic Young Explorer Ricky Qi is making a film “Under One Roof,” that portrays the Moso and also depicts their custom of “walking marriages” which is a type of non-binding serial monogamy, where men help raise the offspring of their sisters, rather than their own.

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- In March, the National Parks Service and National Geographic collaborated to host Bioblitz 2014 at San Francisco’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which is a series of parks clustered around the city and the San Francisco Bay. The event functions both as an active inventory where scientists are able to find and document every species of plant, animal, insect, water-living microbes, and even bacteria in all of the parks. Also, children are active participants in hopes of capturing their imagination and encouraging them to pursue studies in science. National Geographic Weekend producer Justin O’Neill learned just how children are able to help create viable scientific results.

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- Coal is one of the cheapest, but dirtiest, of fossil fuels used to create energy. The coal industry insists that they’re cleaning up their act, but in the meantime the United States alone pumps 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. Michelle Nijhuis asked the question “Can Coal Ever Be Clean?” in the April 2014 issue of National Geographic magazine. She discusses the environmental impacts of coal, from China’s obscured horizons and lung issues of the public, to a lethal cloud that descended on London in 1953 and killed 12,000 people.

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- In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd shares his conversation with 1996 Everest storm survivor Beck Weathers, who saw aspects of climbing the world’s tallest mountain akin to playing Russian roulette.

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