This just in
July 15, 2014

In true 21st-century comedian style, Brooks Wheelan announced his departure from Saturday Night Live on Monday night with a Twitter joke that's turning heads:

The shakeup isn't exactly surprising given the recent turnover in the SNL cast. In the last two seasons, SNL has lost the likes of Kristin Wiig, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, and Seth Meyers, and executive producer Lorne Michaels admitted the series would be entering a "rebuilding" period.

Wheelan's firing is the first casting change to be announced since the end of SNL's 39th season back in May — but considering Michaels' comments, it seems likely that it won't be the last. SNL added eight new cast members before last season, each of whom enjoyed varying degrees of prominence and success on the show. To figure out who else might be on the chopping block, Vulture analyzed the impact of each of the eight newbies, taking into account number of sketch appearances and how integral the cast member was in those appearances.

As you can see, Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett are the clear winners, and Vulture foresaw Wheelan's demise even back in May. According to their research, John Milhiser seems to be next in line for a trip to the boss' office — but we'll just have to wait and see what other news comes out in the coming months. To make your own guesses in the meantime, read the rest of Vulture's analysis here. Kimberly Alters

the science of food
11:40 a.m. ET

You might think that it doesn't get much better than some smoked, fatty brisket from Texas. You would be wrong according to Kit Parker, an engineer at Harvard who thinks even the best barbeque has a long way to go before it reaches perfection.

Parker and his team are experimenting with a new smoker that they say will create optimal conditions for slow-cooking meat, according to the BBC. The device, which features an hourglass figure and a ceramic body, is supposedly superior to the much-vaunted Big Green Egg.

Their device has a few interesting features, in addition to its hourglass figure. It generates turbulence around the meat, so smoke is constantly bombarding it, a process that may impart more flavor. It can be controlled at a distance with the phone app, which will also send updates throughout the smoking process to salivating friends. And it has attracted interest from companies looking to get into the smoker business. [BBC]

The result? The BBC says the brisket was "black as tar on the outside and soft as butter on the inside" — nothing less than "divine."  Ryu Spaeth

Saving ObamaCare
11:03 a.m. ET
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court will once again issue a do-or-die judgment on ObamaCare, based on a legal challenge that supporters of the law say is nothing less than absurd. The plaintiffs argue, based on an ambiguous sentence in the doorstop legislation, that Congress did not intend for the federal government to provide health care subsidies to residents of states that decline to create marketplace exchanges for insurance plans — a position that would undermine the very intent of the law.

Now, the actual drafters of the law, including prominent Republicans like former Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, have told The New York Times that Congress never intended to withhold the subsidies, saying the four ambiguous words in the sentence in question were likely an innocent mistake:

"It was never part of our conversations at any point," said Ms. Snowe, who voted against the final version of the Senate bill. "Why would we have wanted to deny people subsidies? It was not their fault if their state did not set up an exchange." The four words, she said, were perhaps "inadvertent language," adding, "I don't know how else to explain it." [The New York Times]

Whether that will affect the thinking of the justices remains to be seen. Ryu Spaeth

This just in
10:23 a.m. ET
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

A heat wave in India has killed more than 700 people in less than a week.

Over the past few days, 550 people have died in Andhra Pradesh, a southeastern state, alone. In the state of Telangana, another 215 people have died. Bhubaneswar, the capital of the state of Odisha, has marked a 10-year high of 45 degrees Celsius, or about 113 degrees.

Officials say the heat wave is thanks to winds bringing dry heat from Pakistan's Sindh province into India. The India Meteorological Department expects the heat wave to continue for at least another two days, and it could be a week before India gets any rain.

The heat wave is worst for the poor and homeless, as well as construction workers completing outdoor projects, CNN reports. And only a third of India's population has electricity, so turning on the air conditioning isn't an option for most people. Meghan DeMaria

Conspiracy theories
9:54 a.m. ET

On Monday night, 17-year-old reality TV star (and apparent conspiracy theorist) Kylie Jenner tweeted a typo-ridden meme about airplane condensation trails. It's worth quoting the post in full:

For the record: No, Kylie Jenner, you do not need to be afraid of "chemtrails" — the term commonly used by conspiracy theorists to refer to the condensation trails that come from planes.

Condensation trails, or "contrails," are a byproduct of airplanes — formed naturally when the warm air that comes from a plane's engine mixes with the cold temperatures of the upper atmosphere. Conspiracy theorists argue that the government is using contrails as a cover to spread chemicals across the country, with a wide array of alleged effects (most commonly, controlling the weather and making people sick).

None of this has any basis in reality, but if you'd like some reassurance, here's a document from the Environmental Protection Agency explaining why contrails "pose no threat to public health." Here's a similar document from the Air Force. If you'd rather not take a federal agency at its word, Gawker's independent weather blog The Vane is one of many sources — including scientific journals, universities, and and major media organizations — to feature a thorough, scientific debunking of the conspiracy theory. You can read it here.

The one caveat, cited by many who have investigated the conspiracy theory, including the EPA: contrails may contribute to human-induced climate change. So Kylie, if you're really worried about it, maybe cut down on all that private plane travel? Scott Meslow

2016 Watch
9:50 a.m. ET
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Joining the already overcrowded pool of Republican presidential contenders, former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) will announce his 2016 bid in New Hampshire on Thursday, Politico reports.

Pataki remains resolute despite barely scratching the surface of national polls and facing longshot odds of being one of the top 10 contenders invited to participate in the first August GOP debate. "It will be a very stiff climb up a very steep mountain, but that hasn't stopped me in the past," he said in a Monday interview with the New York Post.

The former three-term governor added that he's a Republican in the Teddy Roosevelt vein because he understands conservatism is about more than economic policy; it's also about "preserving and enhancing the outdoors," he said.  Stephanie Talmadge

9:24 a.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

In an interview Tuesday on CBS This Morning, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) defended his opposition to the renewal of the Patriot Act, which resulted in a filibuster last Wednesday.

"I'm just asking for two amendments and a simple majority vote," Paul said on the show, referring to his support for ending the NSA's bulk data collection. "I think sometimes my party gets all caught up in the Second Amendment, which is fine, but we don't protect the Fourth Amendment enough. I think neither party ends up protecting the Fourth Amendment enough, which is the right to privacy." Paul added that with too much power, the government is subject to "systemic bias" in its surveillance.

Paul also laughed off rumors about tension between him and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), saying that they "keep it very civil," though they are "on opposite sides" of the NSA debate. Meghan DeMaria

now available
8:27 a.m. ET

Are you "ready for Hillary?" And if you are, how far are you willing to go to show it?

Hillary Clinton's new web store for her presidential campaign includes items like the "everyday pantsuit tee," which offers to bring "a whole new meaning to casual Friday." The red shirt, which the site boasts is made in the U.S.A., features Clinton's campaign logo and a printed necklace to accompany the faux suit jacket.

If pantsuit tees aren't really your style, the web store is also offering a pillow cross-stitched with the phrase "A woman's place is in the White House," as well as a tank top featuring Clinton's campaign logo. But as entertaining as Clinton's web store is, it's hard to top the Rand Paul web store's "Don't drone me, bro" T-shirt. Meghan DeMaria

See More Speed Reads