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Topless Sunbathing, Pinball, and the Flu Outbreak

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

A woman sunbathing topless near a pool.
Ask and ye shall receive: Our 2012 Explainer Question of the Year

Photo by Hemera.

Why Do the Rich and Famous Always Sunbathe Topless? An answer to the Explainer’s 2012 Question of the Year,” by Daniel Engber. After weeks of sifting through questions from readers that we couldn’t quite get to in 2012, Engber gallantly unravels the (surprisingly meaty) association between high social class and the bare female breast. Hey, you asked!

Can This Man Save Pinball? An arcade entrepreneur has a plan to resuscitate the dying pastime—with a little help from the Wizard of Oz,” by Josh Levin. With this latest installment of the Doers” series, Levin dives deep into the world of Jack Guarnieri (aka “Jersey Jack”), pinball’s one-man hope for salvation in a gaming landscape dominated by Xbox and smartphone apps. Can a native Brooklynite crafting Oz-themed machines from scratch revive the arcade attraction from its poppy-like slumber?

About That Overpopulation Problem: Research suggests we may actually face a declining world population in the coming years,” by Jeff Wise. Counterintuitive as it may sound, scientists have started to wonder whether the phenomenon of “demographic transition”—a sea change from high birthrates and high deathrates to low birthrates and low deathrates—will leave our descendents peering over the lip of extinction.

Going Viral: Google searches for flu symptoms are at an all-time high. Is it time to panic?” by Will Oremus. Just how absolutely terrified should we be of this winter’s flu virus? While the Center of Disease Control serves up a chicken broth of soothing press releases, Oremus reveals that it’s working from data that’s already weeks old. Meanwhile, up-to-date Google Flu Search results suggest we may be facing the most widespread outbreak in decades.

This Is How You Write a Memoir: Rules for the much-maligned form,” by Katie Roiphe. Roiphe responds to the recent crusade against confessional writing—and some really bad confessional writing—by proposing a few best practices for the aspiring memoirist. To wit, it is acceptable to unfold the trials and tribulations of your recovery from illness/romantic rejection/reality TV addiction—just make sure you keep it interesting, self-critical, forthright, and entertaining. 

The Movie Club,” by Dana Stevens, Wesley Morris, Keith Phipps, and Stephanie Zacharek. Slate’s roundtable discussion of the year in movies returned this week to contemplate the seductive moral waverings of Zero Dark Thirty, the ecstasies of Matthew McConaughey, and why Jamie Foxx enacting gory revenge fantasies on Leonardo DiCaprio is somehow really fun to watch

George Saunders and Andy Ward: The Slate Book Review author-editor interview,” by George Saunders and Andy Ward. On the eve of the publication of his new collection, Tenth of December, Saunders chats with his longtime GQ and Random House editor about bear statues coming to life, “the kneejerk negative swerve” and the thermodynamics of fiction writing.  

The GOP’s Next Round of Hostage Negotiations: Republicans like their chances in the next fiscal crisis—as long as the details stay vague,” by David Weigel. Given the fiscal cliff imbroglio, do Republicans finally have the leverage they need to slash government spending? Weigel explains why the GOP has a shot at winning the next round of economic set-tos if it can stay quiet about which entitlements it wants to cut.

It’s a Laptop! It’s a Tablet! Do-it-all, transformer gizmos are the PC’s best hope against the rise of tablets. Uh-oh,” by Farhad Manjoo. Are PC’s dying? Or morphing into hybrid, all-in-one shapeshifters that will one day drive tablets into obsolescence? Factoring in price, convenience, and operating ease, Manjoo assesses the chances for survival of the new “transformer” PCs.

Keynes, Biden, and Dr. Evil on the $1 Trillion Coin: Slate readers’ best ideas for whose face should go on the platinum economy-saver,” by Dan Kois and Andrew Morgan. Check out reader-submitted designs for the $1 trillion platinum coin that Democrats suggest could save us all (And if the Fonz, the Charmin bear or Larry Summers riding a robot unicorn winds up on the official U.S. doubloon, remember you saw them here first!)