Popular Science

fun in the time of fear

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THERE WAS A LOT WE DIDN’T know a year ago when we picked “Play” as the topic for this issue. We didn’t know that a pandemic would put much of the United States and the world on lockdown. We didn’t know the Olympics, one of the reasons we selected the theme, would be postponed. Heck, we didn’t know I’d be writing this letter, my first as PopSci’s editor-in-chief, let alone that I’d be typing in isolation in my apartment as the staff remotely stitched together a digital-only edition.

With everything turned upside down—and so quickly!—I started to worry that 96 pages of riddles and sports and fart jokes would seem tone-deaf in a time when life by necessity is serious and grim. And when the stakes are so very high. The longer I sat at home, unable to tap my normal sources of release (trivia nights and boxing classes), the truth emerged: We need fun now more than ever.

I’m not the only one who arrived at this conclusion. The PopSci team’s collective extracurri­culars—birding, baking, rock climbing, gardening, powerlifti­ng, roller derbying—are what clear out our noggins. They’re what help us work so hard to deliver topshelf science and tech journalism, like this merry geek-out on the hows and whys of recreation. We all needed to find work-arounds, like virtual yoga lessons and video chat happy hours, to refresh our gray matter and get to it.

Joy, no matter the source, is essential, and we’ve got the proof: Having fun helps us cope, which you’ll learn on page 58, where Sara Chodosh lays out why laughter is some freakin’ good medicine. It provides a guilt-free dopamine hit when we act out our primal instincts, as Erin Blakemore explains on page 20. It drives us to innovate, which you’ll see on page 60 in Bonnie Tsui’s look into how surfing has advanced by tapping discipline­s like physiology. It’s how we learn, grow, and share.

And in the time of COVID-19, play is, above all, an escape. So please consider this magazine a reprieve from months of scary headlines and social distancing. Lean back and enjoy—it’s okay.

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