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20 February

In the headlines

Joe Biden has made a surprise visit to Ukraine ahead of the anniversary of Russia’s invasion on Friday. In a meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky, the US President reaffirmed America’s “unflagging commitment” to Kyiv and pledged an additional $500m of military assistance. A body has been found in the River Wyre less than a mile from where dog walker Nicola Bulley disappeared three weeks ago. The 45-year-old’s partner, Paul Ansell, told Sky News he has “no words right now, just agony”. Researchers say a 2,000-year-old artefact initially catalogued as a darning tool is in fact a Roman dildo. Boffins reckon the six-and-a-half-inch wooden relic, smoothed at both ends, was either a sex toy or a pestle. “I have to confess,” says Newcastle lecturer Rob Collins, “part of me thinks it’s kind of self-evident that it is a penis.”


Photographer Peter Woitschikowski uses a microscope to capture striking images of everyday chemicals. He places the likes of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and vanillin (artificial vanilla essence) on glass lab plates, then heats them up or mixes them with water or alcohol. As the substances cool or dry, stunning crystals appear. It’s a delicate process, so much so that Woitschikowski works only at night when the vibrations from traffic aren’t as bad. “It’s a great experiment,” he tells National Geographic. “You don’t know what you’ll see when you begin.”

Inside politics

Just 31% of Democrats want Joe Biden to run for re-election in 2024, according to a new poll. But he looks set to go for it all the same, says David Graham in The Atlantic. The reason? Nothing motivates Biden more than keeping Donald Trump out of the White House, and he worries that no Democrat could “marshal the same coalition he led in 2020”. That creates what could be called a “Catch-24” for the party. Biden will run again unless some other “plausible alternative” emerges – but unless he rules himself out, “it’s impossible for any alternative to arise”.


A seemingly Spanish lager called Madrí Excepcional has gone from obscurity to being a top-five British beer brand in just over two years, says The Sunday Times, racking up sales worth more than £430m. The bottle’s bright red label depicts a “hipster-looking guy in a flat cap”, and its ads evoke what the brand calls “El Alma de Madrid”, or “The Soul of Madrid”. So pubgoers may be surprised to learn that their new favourite cerveza has absolutely nothing to do with Spain – it’s brewed in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, by the US booze giant Molson Coors. “Welcome to the biggest illusion in British brewing history.” ¡Salud! 🍻

Gone viral

“Pistachio is really having a moment right now,” says Eater. Not so much the nut itself, but the flavour, which is being added to everything from cocktails and desserts to scented candles. Instagram influencers pose with their Starbucks pistachio cold brews; TikTokers rave about Pistacchiosa, a rich Italian Nutella-like spread; New York’s DS & Durga has even created a pistachio perfume, which “combines the nutty aroma with notes of cardamom, toasted almond, and patchouli”. There’s just “something about pistachios that makes them seem fancier than other nuts”: more visually appealing than a pale cashew; “more pizazz than a boring peanut”.


Part of a nuclear bomb is buried in a field somewhere in North Carolina, says Jeremy Markovich on Substack. In January 1961, an American B-52 carrying two nukes crashed in the area. The first weapon deployed its parachute and safely came to rest against a tree; the second “slammed into the ground at 700 mph”. The army managed to locate and remove the main part of the weapon, but couldn’t find the so-called “secondary core”, a “torpedo-shaped piece of radioactive material”. Because it had no detonator and thus wasn’t in danger of going off, searchers just “left it there in the ground”. But just to be on the safe side, the farmer who owns the land is still forbidden from “digging any deeper than five feet”.


It’s the swankiest dish in London right now: Mount St Restaurant’s £96 lobster pie for two. Since the meal went viral on social media – mainly thanks to the arthropod’s head peeking out of the puff pastry crust – the Mayfair establishment has been getting through 140 lobsters a week. “It is, I discover, delicious, but also very rich,” says Harry Wallop in The Times, because the shellfish is enrobed in an indulgent creamy béchamel rather than standard stock. “I need a lie-down shortly after demolishing it.”


Quoted 20.2.23

“Interventions by [former] prime ministers should be like sex in a long and happy relationship: infrequent but always anticipated with glee.”

Former Tory party chairman Jake Berry