A Shotgun Blast of Trivia

– London, England, is farther north than Amatignak Island, Alaska

King Narmer, an Egyptian pharaoh who ruled in the 32nd century BC, is generally thought to be the oldest known historical figure. There are certainly mythological people (like Adam & Eve) who are older than Narmer, and there are fossils of early humanoids (like “Lucy”) who predate him by thousands of years… but Narmer is the first person we can actually date and know a bit about his story.

– If you took a piece of string and wrapped it around a basketball, then took another piece of string and “wrapped” it so that it hovered 1 inch above the first string, the second string would be 6.28″ longer than the first string. If then you took a string and wrapped it around the earth, then took a second string and “hovered it” an inch above the first string… it would also be 6.28″ longer than the first string.

– The largest countries, in terms of geographic size, are (in order): Russia, Canada, China, USA, Brazil, Australia, India and Argentina. The next country on the list? Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is also the world’s largest landlocked country, and is larger than Western Europe.

– The Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints wore black helmets for the 1969 pre-season. The only problem was that the Saints’ front office hadn’t run the new helmets by the NFL to see if they approved. The league objected to being left out of the loop, and thus put tremendous pressure on the team to change back to their original gold ones. When team ownership found that fans hated them, they quickly went back to the gold helmets we’re familiar with today.

1969 Saints helmet

Even MORE trivia!

As mentioned in this post, I have a ton of trivia items to share… so here’s today’s Amazing Trivia Bonanza:

– John Tyler (born March 29, 1790) was tenth president of the United States, holding the office from 1841–1845. Amazingly, Tyler has two living grandsons: Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr., (born 1924), and Harrison Ruffin Tyler (born 1928).

– One of the very last “Confederate widows” died in 2008. This one’s a bit of a trick, though: a girl named Maudie White Hopkins did the laundry and housekeeping chores for Civil War veteran William M. Cantrell. She was 19 and he was 86. Cantrell told Maudie that he would give her his land and house if she would marry and take care of him. Being one of ten children from a dirt-poor Ozark family, Maudie agreed. Cantrell, who enlisted in the Confederate Army at age 16 and served with the Virginia infantry, died in 1937 after the couple had been married for three years. Maudie lived on until August 17, 2008. Read more here.

– If you took a piece of paper .1 millimeter thick and folded it in half 100 times, the resulting stack of paper would be 13.4 billion light-years tall – almost as large as the entire observable universe! It sounds incredible, but it’s really basic math: .1mm (the height of the paper) * 2100 (the effect of doubling the height of the paper 100 times) / 1000 (to convert mm to m) / 9,460,536,000,000,000 (the number of meters in a light year) = 1026 meters, or  13.4 billion light years.

– William Moulton Marston was not only a psychologist, feminist theorist and inventor, he also wrote comic books, too! He’s mostly remembered for creating the systolic blood-pressure test, which detects deception and is still an important component of the modern polygraph machine. Oh, and he also created a comic book character known as Wonder Woman. Read more about him here.

Trivia Throwdown!

I have a giant “virtual stack” of trivia items I’ve been building up over the past few weeks. Here are three of them:

The Old Man of the Lake is a 30 foot tall tree stump that has been floating in Oregon’s Crater Lake since at least 1896. The stump, which has been bleached white over the years and can support a man’s weight, was first noted in print by geologist Joseph S. Diller, who wrote in 1902 that he’d seen the stump six years earlier. In 1938, a study of the stump was undertaken to see if it moved; the results were pretty spectacular: it does indeed move, and can do so very quickly. Boaters frequently note the position of the stump and relay it to other boaters for safety reasons.

– Every session of the British parliament is opened by the monarch, who travels from Buckingham Palace to the Houses of Parliament in a fine carriage. The House of Lords is assembled, and the monarch takes a seat on the throne. The House of Commons in then called to the chamber, and the monarch reads a speech which outlines the policies and goals of the current government. But what you might not know is that after the speech, a piece of legislation called the Outlawries Bill is introduced to the House of Commons. No member of the House orders the bill to be read, nor it is never printed, nor is any action taken on it. First used in 1727, the act of reading the bill is purely symbolic, to show the monarch that her (or his) speech cannot influence the business of the House. In other words, instead of running back to the House and arguing over what the monarch said, this bill reminds her (or him) that the House of Commons is independent.

– Mention the name Dallas Texans and most folks think of the AFL team that started in Dallas but later became the Kansas City Chiefs. Did you know that there was actually an NFL team called the Dallas Texans? And that they only lasted one season? And that they went 1-11? 

Continue reading “Trivia Throwdown!”

Sunday’s Random Stuff

– If you watch a lot of movies, you’ve probably noticed Morley cigarettes, a fake brand of smokes closely resembling Marlboro. What you might not know is how many movies and TV shows the fake smokes have appeared in: everything from Beverly Hills, 90210 and Burn Notice to The Twilight Zone and The X-Files. In fact, the earliest known use of “Morleys” was in that 1963 Twilight Zone episode, when William Shatner pulls out a Morley on a plane and begins to light it, only to be stopped by his wife, who points out that the “No Smoking” sign is still on. Check out Wikipedia’s exhaustive list of Morley appearances here.

– Remember the song “Purple People Eater”? It was a #1 hit in 1958 for character actor Sheb Wooley, and the song still appears on compilations of “goofy songs” (think Dr. Demento), children’s albums, and in the Minnesota area (the Minnesota Vikings colors are purple and white, and their defense was called the “Purple People Eaters” from the late 1960s to the late 1970s). But did you know that Wooley is also credited as the voice behind the infamous Wilhelm Scream, a sound effect used in hundreds (if not thousands) of movies and TV shows? Every Star Wars and Indiana Jones film features the Wilhelm Scream at least once, and the scream is also heard in episodes of Battlestar Galactica, Family Guy, Lost, Human Target, Community, CSI: NY, and the films Titanic, There’s Something About Mary, Spider Man, Reservoir Dogs, and more. Who knew?

– The “Havana Brown” breed of cat is also known as the “Swiss Mountain cat”… and it originated in Britain. I don’t get it.

– In 1974, a giant ship ostensibly owned by Howard Hughes headed out into the Pacific Ocean in what was publicly called a “deep sea mining experiment”. What the public didn’t know until later was that the whole thing was funded by the CIA, and the actual goal of the ship was to raise a sunken Soviet sub. Called “Project Azorian”, the mission was a mixed success. It failed to bring up the entire sub as planned, but parts were indeed salvaged (along with the bodies of six Soviet sailors, which the US forces buried at sea with full military honors). Although the project was supposed to be secret, Seymour Hersh of the New York Times and columnist Jack Anderson blew the lid off the (mis)adventure less than a year later. The whole story is back in the news because the CIA has just released an article about the project, which it had published in an internal publication back in 1985. The article seems to agree with the US Navy… who at the time felt that the whole thing was a giant waste of time and money.

– I don’t get this, either:

Gravy Special

Saturday’s Random Stuff

A lot of this stuff has been building up over the past few days, and much of it isn’t even news:

– English supermarket chain Waitrose recently unveiled a new “super deluxe” brand of toilet paper… that has cashmere in it!

– Contrary to popular belief, Henry VIII didn’t kill all (or even most) of his wives. He famously divorced Katherine of Aragon. He then executed Anne Boleyn on very flimsy grounds. Jane Seymour died shortly after giving birth to his only son. He annulled his marriage to Anne of Cleves, as he found her incredibly ugly. He executed Kathryn Howard (who, unlike Anne, really was having affairs with just about everyone behind his back). He was then survived by Katherine Parr. An easy way to remember the fates of his wives is the rhyme “Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived”.

– Gregorio Iniguez, general director of the Chilean Mint, has been fired after the mint produced thousands of 50 peso coins that had “Republica de Chiie” stamped on them. Misspelling your own country’s name is a pretty big blunder… but what’s more amazing is that it took authorities a year to notice the problem!

Continue reading “Saturday’s Random Stuff”

Random Facts Dump

I keep a text file on my desktop with random facts I pull from the Internet. I always figure I’ll use them later on this site. They’ve been building up for a while now, so let me go ahead and dump them here:

– The 2006 independent film Zyzzyx Road is the lowest grossing American film of all time. Starring Leo Grillo, Katherine Heigl and Tom Sizemore, it officially earned $30 at the box office. In reality it actually only earned $20, because Grillo refunded the $5 ticket price to makeup artist Sheila Moore and a friend.

– In the 1984 presidential election, Ronald Reagan won every state except Minnesota… and he only lost that state (Walter Mondale’s home) by 3,761 votes!

– The British band Madness’ first 20 singles all made the Top 20 in the UK charts. In fact, from 1980 to 1986, there was a Madness single in the British charts in 214 out of 312 possible weeks. That’s staggering.

– Songwriting credits for Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” were credited to “Vincent Ford”, a longtime friend of Marley’s and the owner of a soup kitchen. Marley’s act insured that his friend (and his soup kitchen) would be financially stable for life.

Continue reading “Random Facts Dump”

The Joy of Legalese

Have you ever wondered why certain legal terms come “packaged” in seemingly redundant pairs? For example, why is it “cease and desist”? Shouldn’t ceasing be good enough? Or how about “null and void”? Aren’t they basically the same thing?

The use of these odd phrases dates back to the Norman invasion of England. The conquering Normans spoke an early version of French, while the conquered Anglo-Saxons spoke an early form of English. All legal matters and courtroom proceedings were initially carried out in a mixture of French and Latin, which would be incomprehensible to the average Anglo-Saxon.

To prevent miscommunication, the British legal system thus become “bilingual”. So phrases like “breaking and entering” (English\French), “fit and proper” (English\French), “lands and tenements” (English\French) and “will and testament” (English\Latin) were born out of the necessity for two people speaking different languages to communicate.

In time, of course, these “legal couplets” became a style all on their own, and phrases like “let and hindrance” and “have and hold” came into the language, even though both words in each couplet are fully English.

Continue reading “The Joy of Legalese”

Those Crazy Italians!

Ever wonder why Italian-Americans pronounce mozzarella as “muzzarell”, prosciutto as “pro-SHOOT”, calzones as “cal-ZONEs” and pasta e fagioli as “pasta fasul”?

It seems that the “official” Italian dialect comes from Florence, where people do, in fact, pronounce prosciutto as “pro-SHOOT-toe” and pasta e fagioli as “PAH-stah eh faj-YOH-lee”. However, most of the Italians that migrated to the United States came from southern Italy, where the alternate pronounciations you often hear in The Sopranos and Martin Scorsese films are common.

This article from the New York Times is really worth the read and will further clear up the mystery.

Friday Fun: Countries Quiz

Quick: how many countries can you name in 5 minues? Take this quiz over at jetpunk.com to find out!

I took the quiz several times and averaged around 65 countries. As you can see from the little map that the site generates, I have a little work to do when it comes to Africa (dark green countries are the ones I successfully named; light green countries are the ones I missed):

Keep in mind that to name the countries, you have to spell them correctly as well. This is what tripped me up on a lot of the new “-stan” countries in Asia. I know Uzbekistan exists, but I have no idea of how to spell it (especially with a clock ticking down on me).

Try it out and tell me what YOUR score was!

Fun With: Airport Codes

If you’ve spent any time at all traveling, you’re probably familiar with three-letter “airport codes”. If you’ve ever been on a frequent-flyer message board, you know that airport codes are tossed around like so much jargon by road warriors. And if you’ve thought about it, you might have wondered why some airport codes are obvious – like CLT for Charlotte, NC or ATL for Atlanta, GA – while others don’t seem to make any sense at all. MCO for Orlando, FL? MSY for New Orleans? Why are some codes simple and others mysterious?

Well, it all has to do with history. These “oddball codes” generally fit into four categories:

Laziness: Before there were commercial airports, the National Weather Service (NWS) used a two-letter code for most US cities. By the 1930s, commercial aviation began to take off, and some bureaucrat noticed the need for airport codes in cities that didn’t already have an NWS weather station. So a three-letter airport code system was adopted, and many cities simply took their existing NWS code and put an X at the end… thus, Los Angeles is LAX, Portland, Oregon is PDX, and Phoenix, Arizona is PHX, and so on.

Changing names: Most of the “oddball” airport codes fall into this category. The airport at New Orleans, Louisiana, now known as “Louis Armstrong International Airport”, was called the “Moisant Stock Yards” for years, hence the MSY code. Another Louisiana example is Alexandra, where the airport is known as ESF, for Esler Field. Orlando International Airport stands on what used to be McCoy Air Force Base, hence MCO. The airport in Columbus, Ohio was known as Columbus Municipal Hangar, so CMH. And Chicago’s O’Hare airport changed names from Orchard Field (hence ORD) to O’Hare to commemorate a Chicago-born WWII flying ace.

Other codes got in the way: As a general rule, most TV and radio stations east of the Mississippi River begin their call signs with the letter W, while most cities west of the Mississippi use the letter K. What you might not know is that the U.S. Navy claimed all the “N” codes, Canada uses all the “Y” codes, “Q” was once used exclusively for international communication, and the FAA itself reserved “Z” for “special uses”. This means that W, K, N, Q, and Z were off limits as first letters for airport codes, and airports that wanted to use those letters had to think of something else. Norfolk, Virginia, for example, couldn’t begin their code with “N”, so the folks there dropped the “N” entirely to get ORF. Newark, New Jersey had to make do with EWR, while Wilmington, North Carolina came up with ILM. Newport News, Virginia skated around the issue by using a code named after the airport – Patrick Henry Field (PHF).

A combination of the above: Because Washington, DC couldn’t begin any airport codes with a “W”, they chose to use DCA for Washington National Airport. However, when Dulles Airport came along, it was initially given the code DIA (Dulles International Airport). But this was a nightmare for baggage handlers, since DCA and DIA are so similar, especially since luggage tags were handwritten at the time. So DIA became IAD, which is almost impossible to confuse with DCA.

Airport names come and go, but their codes are rarely changed. This is because travel industry folks become used to using a code, and because reprogramming every computer with a new airport code would be a giant pain. New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport is one of the few to have changed both names and codes. It was originally known as Idlewild Airport (IDL), but when the airport was renamed for the slain president, the airport code became JFK. The three-letter code system is so pressed for codes that IDL was retired and eventually reused: IDL is now the airport at Indianola, Mississippi.