Two Talented Boys: Peanuts & Hot Water!?

We’ve known this for years but it’s sometimes good to state it outright: The 1960s era had a blinding array of “stuff” going on. Not just the usual things most associated with the period. That’s not really a novel thought. All decades – certainly in the twentieth century – have a lot going on. All are consequential if one bothers to look and think. And it’s hard to pick a “most important century.” Unless you’re a 1960s partisan.

The reason we have to mention these things is because for a long time the 1960s, in particular, have had a cheering section like no other decade – in the popular imagination, on college campuses, and even in the “scholarly” literature. In fact, a principal of this Project is that discussions of the “the 1960s” actually crowd out everything except the classic “sex drugs and rock ‘n roll” kinds of themes in describing the era. And for most casual observers without a dog in the hunt, these classic themes have been enough. Certainly for most academics teaching courses on the 1960s to undergraduates, it’s been enough. In fact, for most of these, they don’t notice any thing’s missing. And the result has been that the era has a conceit about it like no other; a chauvinism that implies that if you consider anything but civil rights, Vietnam, feminism, or the Counterculture, you’re straying to issues less important, less attractive, less consequential, less worthy of attention.

This attitude has been in force for so long that the average person can’t name anything about the era of the 1960s but the psychedelic loud protesting things. And even those academics who indeed supposedly know the period well are not aware they’re leaving anything out by spouting the same themes over and over. They have no idea that they’ve – in current parlance – “cancelled” the great majority of people working, writing books, inventing, striving, raising families, going to church, and so much more. This project is dedicated to these because these people have bettered our lives in so many fields in so many ways.

A glance at this website will give you the idea of variety, and assure you the 1960s were more than the classic themes everyone knows. But let’s take two unrelated and interesting items for this month’s column: one that connects to the idea of The 1960sToday, yet is likely utterly unknown because hidden; the other, an item known to physicists or general science buffs with inquiring minds.


A FEW WEEKS AGO, SOMEONE DIED who few people would know if they passed him on the street. Dates aren’t everything but if they were, this man would fit perfectly into our 1960s Project because he did the (mostly unheralded and unknown) work in the years 1963 to 1972 that made him indirectly popular then, and immortalized today. His name was Louis G. Nanasi who we know by the stage name Peter Robbins – the child actor who was born in 1956 in Los Angeles, performed prodigiously from age eight to sixteen, quit acting, became briefly a disc jockey, worked intermittently in film and real estate after going to college, battled mental illness, had serious brushes with the law, and died in Oceanside, California by his own hand.

The young Robbins had film credits like Moment to Moment (1965), And Now Miguel (1966), and Blondie (1968) as well as television appearances on Rawhide (1964), The Munsters (1964), F Troop (1965), Get Smart (1968) and My Three Sons (1972). For sure, these paid the rent or mortgage and were transitory in the history of television and movies.

But throughout this time, he was busy creating and being the voice of the incomparable and immortal Peanuts character, Charlie Brown, as below:

A Boy Named Charlie Brown (television, 1963)
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Charlie Brown’s All Stars! (1966)
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)
You’re in Love, Charlie Brown (1967)
He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown (1968)
It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown (1969)
A Boy named Charlie Brown (feature-length movie, 1969)

Who knew? Not me. Did you?

This column mentions Robbins this month because he indeed fits well into our period. More important than this, he was unknown to people who actually lived through his time of production and contribution. Robbins had this idea of anonymity in common with the many thousands of people in other fields – from chemistry to finance to engineering – “unsung heroes” who enriched our lives quietly, without fanfare or celebration while civil rights, feminism, Vietnam, and LSD took the headlines.

Oh, he did that?!!!  Really?  You could say that about so many of the people in this Project which is full of surprises. This happened in the 1960s?  He founded this company then?  She wrote this in these years?  “I had no idea.” We get this all the time.  That’s what makes the Project so fun and good.

What makes it more than a passing fancy is that to take the accomplishments of these people away would profoundly change the world we experience and the lives we lead.

In Robbins’ case, he was literally “heard and not seen!” This is a simply a variation of the many contributors’ plight at the Project which crowded out by the loud psychedelic 1960s – regrettably.

OUR SECOND TOPIC TAKES PLACE A HALF A WORLD AWAY from anything having to do with Charlie Brown, and involves the reintroduction of an idea that has baffled scientists since the time of Aristotle. Completely counterintuitive. Completely crazy. Completely interesting.

It has to do with water and the time it takes to freeze at certain temperatures. Simple, right? Turns out, not so much. And we turn to the 1960s for a famous case.

1963 may be the year of NASA’s Gemini program or the “I Have a Dream speech.”  In that same year, though, a middle schooler in Tanzania named Erasto Mpemba noticed that the warm batch of ice cream he was making in cooking class froze before the colder batch. How? Why? That’s what Mpemba wondered.

Hottest water red line cools fastest !

A few years later when Mpemba was in high school – so the story goes – the headmaster invited a physicist from University College in the Tanzanian capital Dar Er Salaam to give a talk. Mpemba asked the visitor if he knew why a warm substance could freeze before a cold one as it did a few years before. He was ridiculed by his classmates for a question seemingly out of the blue but it made him famous.

The lecturer, Denis Osborne, was either intrigued by Mpemba’s query or was disappointed he had no satisfactory answer, because apparently he went back to his office, tested Mpemba’s idea, and confirmed the conundrum of the freezing water. And in 1969 he and the young Tanzanian published the problem and results for all the world to consider in an article called “Cool” in the peer-reviewed journal Physics Education. Thus was born in the 1960s what people call the Mpemba Effect today.

Mpemba & Osborne Reunited

This writer is knowledgable about many things but not physics. Some of the greatest minds have mentioned this hot-cold water freezing puzzle. Ancients in China and Greece. Sir Francis Bacon in 17th century Stuart England published studies n the paradox in Latin, as did Rene Descartes in Discourse on the Method a bit later. These are just a few of the better-known thinkers. There are no doubt many more and scientists are still at work for a definitive answer. Arguments over “convection” evaporation rates, and more “dissolved gases” in cold than warm water all may be contributing factors. Whatever the answer the “effect” is profound (see graph nearby), and has led to fun debates and a greater understanding of water dynamics. Wow.

But here we have two examples of people doing things utterly unknown. Peter Robbins is almost a metaphor for this Project, as we saw – being literally invisible, just a voice, but having an untold good impact with the joy he brought to millions, with this work living on beyond his recent death.

And a curious boy in East Africa, not complaining or protesting or centering his life on grievance, but bringing attention to something that interested him – in his country of Tanzania just two years independent from Great Britain in 1961. With this, he revived attention in an intriguing question in physics and fluid dynamics that probably sparked an interest in school children around the world, and the debate rages on.

We thank Robbins and Mpemba here for their different contributions, because the histories of the 1960s contain nothing they did, worked for, or loved. It’s time to correct this, which we’re doing everyday!

In March, we’re concerned with hearts and pigs – and another story of 1960s accomplishments that resonate today.

Mpemba Effect: Boiling Water to Make Ice!

Until next month,

February 9, 2022


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