No less thrillingly to some, scientists in Switzerland tied the final string of a knot that explains the most elementary workings of the universe: the "standard model" of physics. With the words, "I think we have it," they announced with virtual certainty they had found the so-called Higgs boson "God particle." It was an answer to one of the most basic but bedeviling questions imaginable: Where does mass come from?
At the London Olympics, Jamaican Usain Bolt proved himself the greatest sprinter of all-time, and Baltimore swimmer Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian. But for the Americans, victory in the medal table was driven by women —a reward, on the 40th anniversary of Title IX, for a broad-based culture of sports participation. The defining image: 16-year-old gymnast Gabby Douglas, suspended with seemingly impossible fluidity and grace at the apex of her jump from a balance beam, en route to the all-around gold medal.
British athletes also exceeded expectations, and after years of grumbling over costs and inconvenience, the hosts seemed actually to enjoy themselves. The opening ceremonies touched all the right notes, celebrating a multicultural nation sufficiently confident in its virtues of cleverness, artistry and humor to resist trying to outdo the Beijing extravaganza four years ago. From Mary Poppins to Monty Python, from a sky-diving queen to Mr. Bean, it was a palpable hit.
There were, as always, those who let us down. Lance Armstrong, the supposedly superhuman cyclist stripped of seven Tour de France titles, humiliated by a meticulous official report that painted him a cheat and a bully. Revered general and CIA director David Petraeus, taken down by an affair with a fawning biographer. Former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, carted off to prison for 30-to-60 years for child sex abuse.