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Archive for the ‘Edutainment’ Category

Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● In thickness, the earth’s atmosphere is roughly proportional to the skin of an apple.

● The 1985 movie “Back to the Future” was turned down by several Hollywood studios before Universal bought the rights. Disney rejected it specifically because of the scene in which Marty kisses his mother.

● More Samoans live in Los Angeles than in American Samoa.

● In Italian, the word fettuccine means “little ribbons.” Linguini means “little tongues.” Vermicelli means “little worms.” Rotini means “little wheels.” Spaghetti means “strings.” And penne means “pens” (for their resemblance to ink pens).

● Inside the word therein are nine other words, all in proper order without rearranging the letters: the, there, he, in, rein, her, here, ere, and herein. Numerous other words are lurking inside therein if you rearrange the letters — e.g., tree, tin, hit, nit.

● Ketchup originated in China in the 1600s as a condiment made of pickled fish and assorted spices — but no tomatoes. When ketchup reached England in the 1700s, the primary ingredients were mushrooms, shallots, and assorted spices — but still no tomatoes.

A tomato-based version of ketchup finally appeared in the early 1800s. For a time, it was pitched in the U.S. as a cure for rheumatism, jaundice, indigestion. scurvy, and more. It was even sold in pill form. The claims grew steadily more ridiculous until the 1850s, when the medicinal ketchup market collapsed, and ketchup settled down to being solely a condiment again.

● Queen Elizabeth II is said to be an excellent mimic, and she sometimes entertains the family by doing impressions of politicians she has met over the years.

● The world’s smallest known bird is the bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae), a native of Cuba. On average, males are 2.2 inches long and weigh .07 ounces. Females are slightly larger and heavier.

● When President Harry Truman was born, his parents couldn’t decide whether his middle name should be Solomon, to honor one grandfather, or Shipp, to honor the other. They finally went with a middle name of just “S” to honor both.

● Psychiatrists and psychologists recognize three levels of mental retardation: severe, moderate, and mild. The severely retarded (called idiots until the 1960s) have IQs between 0 and 25. The moderately retarded (formerly called imbeciles) have IQs between 26 and 50. The mildly retarded (formerly morons) have IQs between 51 and 79. If you score an 80, you’re good to go.

● In 24 hours, a single bacterium in a Petri dish can multiply to one billion.

● Vanilla was first cultivated in Central America in the 1400s. Growing the pods is labor-intensive and costly (only saffron is a more expensive spice), so 95 percent of commercial vanilla is artificially made from the chemical lignin. The world’s leading producer of real vanilla is the island nation of Madagascar.

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In 1880, the renowned French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was commissioned to create a pair of mighty bronze doors to serve as the entrance to a proposed Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. The museum’s backers wanted the doors to be majestic and dramatic, inasmuch as grandiloquence was in vogue at the time.

Rodin was certainly the right guy in that department, and he delivered. For the project, he chose the theme The Gates of Hell, based on Dante’s epic poem The Inferno. Here is one of Rodin’s early small-scale models.

The centerpiece of the scene, as you see, is a seated nude male, envisioned by Rodin as Dante pondering his poem. The figure was to be centered on the lintel above the doors.

Unfortunately, the project eventually fizzled. The museum was never built, and the doors were temporarily forgotten, although they were highly regarded and were cast some years after Rodin’s death.

But Rodin was a resourceful dude, and he cast and sold many of the figures in the scene individually, most notably the seated male figure that became known as The Thinker.

Initially, Rodin called the figure The Poet, meaning Dante Alighieri. But workers in Rodin’s foundry began referring to the figure as The Thinker. They said the pose reminded them of Michelangelo’s statue at the tomb of Lorenzo de Medici — a work known as Il Pensieroso, which in Italian means the pensive or thoughtful one.

This is Michelangelo’s Il Pensieroso:

To look at the statue, you would think Lorenzo (1492-1519) was quite a grand fellow. He was, indeed, a member of the illustrious Medici family, and his grandfather was known as Lorenzo the Magnificent.

But young Lorenzo was just a ne’er-do-well who died at age 26, “worn out by disease and excess.”

Still, Lorenzo was a Medici, and the family ruled Italy at the time, and they were patrons of Michelangelo, Botticelli, and other luminaries of the artistic world. Lorenzo was a loser, but to the family, his tomb deserved a proper marble statue.

Michelangelo was given the project, and he portrayed Lorenzo as a mighty warrior in battle gear reflecting on unspecified weighty matters. Europeans were big on pondering in those days.

But back to Rodin and The Thinker. Rodin knew that he had hit the jackpot with The Poet/The Thinker. Over the years, he produced a succession of castings in various sizes, some of bronze and some of painted plaster. He preferred the figure to be oversized and elevated, so the viewer looked up at it.

Also, the name The Thinker soon became so popular that Rodin finally adopted it.

Art experts say The Thinker expresses the mental effort and anguish of creativity. Rodin agreed.

“What makes my Thinker think,” he wrote, “is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes.”

I’ll buy that.

Ten versions of The Thinker were cast in Rodin’s lifetime. Today, 28 large bronze castings are located in museums and public places around the world.

The figure below, cast in 1906, is located in front of the Rodin Museum in Paris. The wording Le Penseur on the base is French for “the thinker.”

Now, in order to write this post, I did the usual Googling to get the details right. But I already knew the general story. Specifically, I schooled myself on the subject in 1960 when I graduated from high school, and my uncle Allan sent me a pair of Thinker bookends.

These days, the bookends are in use in a bookcase dedicated to my outdoorsy and travel books.

As you can observe, Allan’s bookends bear only a superficial resemblance to Rodin’s original. The manufacturer got the pose right, more or less, but the style is totally different, and the craftsmanship is… lacking.

Maybe it’s the hair, but the figure looks like John F. Kennedy, if Kennedy had been Asian.

Anyway, it was obvious back in 1960 that the bookends were of the El Cheapo variety. I remember digging up a photo of Rodin’s Thinker and being surprised at how bad the bookends really were.

I also ended up digging a bit into the backstory. I had to go to the library to do it, mind you, since this happened in olden times — Before Google.

In case you are wondering, I did appreciate Allan’s thoughtfulness, and I harbored no ill thoughts regarding the El Cheapo angle. As evidence of that, consider that the bookends have been in use in my home for 60 years and counting.

They do their job, and they make me smile. Thanks, Allan.

———

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Tomato Literacy

My mom once observed that a bad tomato is better than no tomato at all. Mom’s love of tomatoes in any form, but especially fresh tomatoes, was epic.

I like a nice, juicy tomato, too, but I don’t eat the things regularly. Most store-bought tomatoes are awful, and growing my own is too much trouble. Unlike Mom, I believe no tomato at all is better than a bad tomato.

The tomato is an oddity. It’s a berry of the plant Solanum lycopsicum, botanically classified as a fruit, but used as a vegetable.

In case your tomato literacy is lacking, allow me to do some enlightening.

Tomatoes are among the 2,700 species of the nightshade family of flowering plants. Nightshades range from vines to shrubs to trees to ornamentals to a number of food crops — among the latter being tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers.

All nightshades contain alkaloid compounds in varying amounts, manifesting in the form of poisons, stimulants, psychotropic drugs, and medicines. Fortunately, all nightshade food crops contain only trace amounts of alkaloids and are harmless.

That fact, however, did not prevent many Europeans and Americans in olden times from coming to the erroneous conclusion that tomatoes are poisonous. A few hundred years ago, most people believed eating a tomato meant certain death.

Tomatoes originated in Central and South America among the Incas and Aztecs, and Spain introduced tomatoes to Europe in the 1500s. By the time they became known in England, the myth of the poison tomato already had taken hold.

One reason was an influential book by English botanist John Gerard (1545-1612). In the book, Gerard made the scholarly declaration that, yes, eating a tomato will kill you instantly.

As you probably know, science wasn’t very scientific back then — largely a mixture of guesswork, mysticism, and sometimes a dash of religion. But folks at the time didn’t know that. Thus, when the great scientist Gerard said eating a tomato would kill you, most people believed it.

Eventually, of course, the truth came out. The myth was exposed, and slowly, tomatoes were welcomed into society.

A story is told that in 1820, a distinguished citizen of Salem, New Jersey, Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson, played an important role in changing America’s mind about tomatoes.

The story is unsubstantiated, as well as suspiciously apocryphal, but it makes the point with great panache.

The following account is from “The Story of Robert Gibbon Johnson and the Tomato” as preserved by the Salem County Historical Society.

———

Col. Johnson announced that he would eat a tomato, also called the wolf peach, Jerusalem apple or love apple, on the steps of the county courthouse at noon. That morning, in 1820, about 2,000 people were jammed into the town square. The spectators began to hoot and jeer.

Then, 15 minutes later, Col. Johnson emerged from his mansion and headed up Market Street towards the Courthouse. The crowd cheered. The fireman’s band struck up a lively tune.

He was a very impressive-looking man as he walked along the street. He was dressed in his usual black suit with white ruffles, black shoes and gloves, tricorn hat, and cane.

At the Courthouse steps he spoke to the crowd about the history of the tomato. He picked a choice one from a basket on the steps and held it up so that it glistened in the sun.

“To help dispel the tall tales, the fantastic fables that you have been hearing and to prove to you that it is not poisonous I am going to eat one right now.”

There was not a sound as the Col. dramatically brought the tomato to his lips and took a bite.

A woman in the crowd screamed and fainted but no one paid her any attention; they were all watching Col. Johnson as he took one bite after another.

He raised both his arms, and again bit into one and then the other. The crowd cheered and the firemen’s band blared a song.

“He’s done it!” they shouted. “He’s still alive!”

———

Prior to the event, Johnson’s doctor predicted that “the foolish colonel will foam and froth at the mouth and double over with appendicitis from all the oxalic acid.”

Most of the onlookers, it was said, fully expected Colonel Johnson to drop dead on the spot. Wagers, in fact, were placed on the exact moment of his demise.

And, although the reports are unconfirmed, there was talk that Colonel Johnson himself collected handsomely on a series of side bets.

Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson (1771-1850), soldier, statesman, judge, horticulturalist, historian, and gentleman farmer.

———

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The star Betelgeuse, a red supergiant in the constellation Orion, is 767 million miles in diameter. For scale, Jupiter and Saturn are 480 million miles and 890 million miles from the sun, respectively.

● When Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) was 12, his father died, leaving the family destitute. Young Samuel dropped out of school and took a job. He received no further formal schooling.

● In its natural state, with no artificial coloring, butter is white.

● The funeral scene of the 1981 movie Gandhi employed over 300,000 extras, easily a record.

● If the Borough of Brooklyn were independent of New York City, it would be the third largest city in the United States, following the rest of NYC and Los Angeles.

● When Charles Dickens was writing A Christmas Carol, before he settled on the name of the character Tiny Tim, he tried and rejected the names Small Sam, Little Larry, and Puny Pete.

● In 1967, the International Olympic Committee adopted strict anti-doping regulations. The first participant to be disqualified for drug use was Swedish pentathlete Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

The Swedish team was surging in the pentathlon competition, and Liljenwall was nervous. With the pistol event coming up, he reportedly drank two beers to calm his nerves. He scored well, and Sweden won a Bronze medal, but it was forfeited after Liljenwall failed his drug test.

● The floating dot over the lowercase letters i and j is called a tittle.

● The African continent consists of 28 percent wilderness. North America consists of 38 percent wilderness.

● Since 1996, Australia’s banknotes have been made of a plastic polymer instead of a paper or cotton fiber like most currency. The polymer is cheaper, stronger, and more durable, and it can incorporate added layers of security protections, both visible and machine-readable.

● Alligators can’t move backwards.

● On the flag of the South African nation of Lesotho is the likeness of a mokorotlo, a traditional hat woven from a local grass. Mokorotlos are worn by court officials and are displayed in homes to protect against danger and evil.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● Sharks belong to a subclass of fish (along with sawfish, skates, and rays) whose skeletons are made of cartilage, not bone. Cartilage, the stuff your earlobes and nose are made of, is lighter and more flexible than bone. Exception: a shark’s teeth, like yours, are made of calcified dentin.

● The longest highway in America is U.S. Route 6, which runs 3,199 miles from Provincetown, Massachusetts, to Bishop, California.

● Brigham Young had 27 wives.

● In the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s dog Toto was played by a female Cairn Terrier named Terry. (The dog’s weekly salary was $125. Most of the Munchkins were paid from $50 to $100 per week.) After the huge success of the film, Terry’s name officially was changed to Toto. She appeared in 13 films.

● The favorite alcoholic beverage of Queen Victoria, who reigned over the United Kingdom from 1837 until her death in 1901, was a mixture of single malt Scotch whisky and claret.

● In making the 1969 film The Wild Bunch, director Sam Peckinpah’s production team expended some 90,000 rounds of blank cartridges. This is said to be more ammunition than was used in the entire Mexican Revolution.

● On February 9, 1964, evangelist Billy Graham broke his long-time rule against watching TV on Sunday by watching the first appearance by the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.

● Symbolically, drawing a circle around the earth at the equator creates the northern and southern hemispheres. Likewise, drawing a circle around the prime meridian creates the eastern and western hemispheres. Africa is the only continent with land in all four hemispheres.

● The London Underground, the city’s rapid transit system, has a station below Buckingham Palace that could evacuate the royal family in an emergency.

● The aboriginal people of Australia developed two types of throwing sticks for hunting: boomerangs, which are aerodynamically designed to return to the thrower, and kylies, which are non-returning. Typically, boomerangs were used to frighten game birds into taking flight into nets, and kylies were used to hit and bring down targets.

● In badminton, the shuttlecock can reach speeds of nearly 200 MPH.

● In 1958, In anticipation of Hawaii and Alaska becoming states, a high school teacher in Lancaster, Ohio, asked his students to design a new 50-star flag. The design submitted by 17-year-old Robert Heft (1941-2009) earned a B-. The teacher said it lacked originality.

Nevertheless, Heft sent the design to his congressman, and in 1960, it was chosen out of 1,500 submissions as the official new U.S. flag. The teacher retroactively raised Heft’s B- to an A.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

In 52 BC, a Roman army invaded present-day France and defeated the Parisii, a Celtic tribe living along the River Seine. There, the Romans established the city of Lutetia (Latin for “place near a swamp”). Lutetia remained under Roman rule until 476 AD, when the Franks invaded and kicked out the Romans. Lutetia was renamed Paris for the previous occupants.

During the first moon landing in 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin were on the surface for 21 hours. During that time, they snacked on peaches, sugar cookies, bacon, coffee, and grapefruit-pineapple juice.

Xanthophobia is the fear of the color yellow or the word yellow. It’s a genuine phobia that can develop after a traumatic experience involving something yellow. (Being hit by a school bus maybe?) Symptoms can include fear, anxiety, panic, etc.

Worldwide, some 340 dog breeds are recognized (although the haughty AKC only recognizes 167). About 20 breeds have evolved webbed toes, primarily as an aid when swimming. Among them: the Newfoundland, Portuguese Water Dog, Weimaraner, and Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

Dachsunds are not swimmers, but they also have webbed feet. Originally, they were bred for hunting small game, and the webbing allows them to shovel dirt more efficiently when pursuing, say, a badger in its den.

Webbed toes

The English language is known for giving curious and unexpected names to groups of animals: a pride of lions, a gaggle of geese, a murder of crows, a prickle of porcupines. FYI, a group of rats (eewwww) is called a mischief.

An animal described as crepuscular is one that is most active around twilight. Bats, for example.

Technically, the holiday Cinco de Mayo, commemorates a battle on May 5, 1862, in which 2,000 Mexican irregulars defeated an invading army of 5,000 French troops. It is a minor holiday in Mexico, but the U.S. has made it a day to party, the excuse being to celebrate Mexican heritage.

The spider with the venom most toxic to humans is the male Sydney Funnel-Web Spider (Atrax robustus), found around Sydney in eastern Australia. The venom of the female is nasty, but less toxic. The spiders are aggressive and will attempt to bite you multiple times.

Atrax robustus

When a song or an advertising jingle is stuck in your head, you are said to have an “earworm.”

A luthier is a craftsman who builds stringed instruments, whether plucked or played with a bow. The word luthier comes from luth, which is French for lute.

Wind speeds around the globe are increasing, most likely due to climate change. The increase is so significant that experts say the output of the world’s wind turbines is expected to climb by as much as one-third.

The wombat is the only animal whose scat is cube-shaped instead of round. The anus of the Australian marsupial is round, but the animal has developed the ability to control its muscles and poop in the form of square pellets.

This ability seems to have evolved because wombats use piles of scat to mark territory, and, whereas round scat rolls away, cubes stay put.

Wombat pellets

 

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Hi-Yo, Silver!

In the 1940s and 1950s, veteran announcer Fred Foy introduced the Lone Ranger on radio and TV thusly:

Hi-Yo, Silver!

A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty ‘Hi-Yo, Silver!’ The Lone Ranger!

With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early Western United States. Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice!

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear! From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!”

Americans were introduced to the Lone Ranger, Tonto, and their valiant steeds Silver and Scout in the early 1930s. Today, the Lone Ranger is considered ancient history — just some do-gooder cowboy from yesteryear. More often than not, he is now a source of humor mixed with ridicule, à la Colonel Sanders.

That’s a shame. The Lone Ranger is an appealing character and a man, albeit fictional, of admirable integrity.

The Lone Ranger was created for radio in 1933 by writer Fran Striker and producer George Trendle. The program first aired on radio station WXYZ in Detroit. Within a few years, it was being carried on over 400 radio stations across the country.

Striker and Trendle gave the Lone Ranger a compelling backstory. He is a Texan named Reid, first name originally not given. He is the only survivor of a group of six Texas Rangers, one of them Reid’s older brother Daniel, who were ambushed by outlaws.

Tonto finds the wounded Reid and helps him recover. Thereafter, wearing a black mask made from his late brother’s vest, Reid roams the west as the Lone Ranger, helping those in need and fighting evil and injustice.

The Lone Ranger is a man of impeccable character who follows a strict moral code. He never shoots to kill. He doesn’t drink, smoke, or womanize. His grammar and pronunciation are always precise. He is an intelligent version of Dudley Do-Right, minus the humor.

From 1949 until 1957, a popular TV version of the radio show was aired starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels.

Six Lone Ranger movies have been made, the first in 1956, the most recent in 2013. A comic strip, various comic books, and 18 novels also have been published.

The Lone Ranger has given us some wonderful cultural tropes — Fred Foy’s dramatic introduction. The cry of “Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!” Silver bullets left as calling cards. The theme music from the William Tell Overture. A bystander inevitably asking, “Who was that masked man?”

LR&T

And then there is “kemosabe,” as Tonto calls his masked companion. Usually, the term is described as meaning “faithful friend” or “trusty scout.”

The meaning has generated jokes, too. In one, kemosabe means the rear end of a horse. In another, it means “meathead.”

Maybe the meaning is cloudy, but there is evidence of the word’s origin. Jim Jewell, who directed the radio show from 1933 until 1939, said the name came from a boys’ camp in Michigan, Kamp Kee-Mo-Sah-Bee, founded by Jewell’s father-in-law.

The father-in-law is believed to have taken the name from a 1912 book on Indian lore by one of the founders of the Boy Scouts. In the book, the term kee-mo-sah-bee is said to mean “scout runner.”

The term may have come from the Minnesota Ojibwe word giimoozaabi, which means “he who peeks” or maybe “sneaks.”

One last anecdote before I allow the Lone Ranger to ride into the sunset…

After the TV series ended in 1957, actor Clayton Moore began a 40-year career of making public appearances as the Lone Ranger, masked and in costume.

In 1979, TV producer Jack Wrather, who had obtained the legal rights to the Lone Ranger, was preparing to release the film “The Legend of the Lone Ranger,” in which Moore did not appear.

Convinced that Moore’s public appearances would hurt the film at the box office, Wrather obtained a court order that blocked Moore from appearing in public as the Lone Ranger.

Moore counter-sued, and he continued making public appearances wearing Foster Grant sunglasses instead of the black mask.

Moore C

The lawsuit was a disaster for Wrather. Public opinion overwhelmingly was with Moore. Wrather became “the man who sued the mask off the Lone Ranger.” When Wrather’s movie came out in 1981, it lost money and, for good measure, was panned by critics.

In late 1984, Wrather was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Soon thereafter, he lifted the restraining order, freeing Moore to resume his appearances as the Lone Ranger. Two months later, Wrather died.

Wrather’s final gesture to Moore was noble and generous. It was worthy of the Lone Ranger himself.

 

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

The “#” symbol aka hashtag, pound sign, crosshatch, number sign officially is called an octothorpe. The word probably was invented in the late 1960s at Bell Labs when they added the symbol to telephone keypads and needed a word to describe it. Note: an octothorpe has eight protruding lines, and octo means eight.

The 2019-20 brush fires in Australia burned an area of about 63,000 square miles, roughly the size of Florida. Smoke from the fires reached Argentina, which is 6,000 miles away.

When the Titanic sank in 1912, 12 dogs were aboard. Two Pomeranians and a Pekingese survived in lifeboats, but the other nine dogs were lost.

The Sargasso Sea, a region of the eastern Atlantic Ocean, is the only body of water in the world with no land boundaries. It is bordered by four ocean currents: the Gulf Stream, the Canary Current, the North Atlantic Current, and the North Atlantic Equatorial Current.

The Sargasso is named for its abundance of sargassum, a rich brown seaweed that is important to marine life. The Sargasso Sea is known for its exceptionally clear water and deep blue color.

Sargasso

The population of New Delhi, the capitol of India, is 28.5 million. The city’s air is so polluted that breathing it is the equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day. In 2018, of the 10 cities in the world with the worst air pollution, nine were in India.

In the periodic table of the elements, the symbol for silver is Ag, which comes from argentum, the Latin word for silver.

Right now, Greenland’s ice sheet is melting seven times faster than in the 1990s.

The blue whale is believed to be the largest animal that ever lived. An adult is about 100 feet long and weighs almost 200 tons. Its tongue weighs as much as an elephant.

Blue whale

The nuclear meltdown in 2011 at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan means the area will be lethal and mostly unusable for a few lifetimes. Meanwhile, the resourceful Japanese plan to build wind farms and solar arrays there.

70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water, and 97 percent of that water is seawater. Of the paltry three percent that is fresh water, 69 percent of that is locked up in glaciers and ice caps.

● “Plyboo” is a brand of plywood made of bamboo.

Pringles potato “crisps” and the Pringles container were designed and patented in the 1960s by organic chemist Fredric Baur. He had been hired by Proctor & Gamble to develop a new kind of potato chip because of consumer complaints about bagged chips being broken, stale, and greasy.

Baur died in 2008. As stipulated in his will, he was cremated, and a portion of his ashes was interred in a Pringles can.

Pringles

 

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

In the 1970s, Sweden sold 1,000 Volvo automobiles to North Korea for 200 million krona. Sweden delivered the cars, but North Korea didn’t pay up. Since then, twice a year, Sweden has sent Pyongyang a bill for the money. In today’s U.S. dollars, the tab is about $22 million.

Boxing became an Olympic sport at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis. A total of 18 boxers competed. All 18 were from America, so we won all the medals.

The verb abscond means to depart quickly and secretly. The verb squattle means to duck into hiding. The word perambulate means to wander about. With its usual panache, the English language combined those three words into absquatulate, which means to leave abruptly in order to save yourself. Think of an overthrown dictator fleeing to a friendly country.

Absquatulate originated in the 1830s as part of a whimsical fad of making up playful words that sound impressive and vaguely Latin. Discombobulate, which means to totally confuse someone, also came from that era.

The crater formed by the impact of a meteorite is called an astrobleme.

Astrobleme

Butterflies have taste receptors on their feet, which means they can land on a plant and check it out for nectar at the same time.

If you were an astronaut in space and you cried, the tears would not fall because there is no gravity. Instead, the fluid simply would pool up on your eyeballs.

A pizzly is a cross between a polar bear and a grizzly bear. The hybrid also is called (groan) a grolar bear.

The smallest known mammal in the world is the bumblebee bat, a native of Thailand and Myanmar. Adult bats are a little over an inch long and weigh half an ounce.

Bumblebee bat

The Empire State Building has its own ZIP code. 10118.

The pineapple plant originated in South America. We associate it with Hawaii because of the success of the Dole Pineapple Plantation on Oahu. The plantation opened in 1901 and grew to become the world’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables.

The popular French-Canadian dish poutine consists of French fries topped with cheese curds and brown gravy.

Vanilla ice cream is made with milk and cream, plus the manufacturers’ chemicals of choice. French vanilla ice cream also includes egg yolks, which make the product creamier and add a yellowish hue.

French vanilla

 

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

The Star Wars character Yoda was introduced in The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Originally, George Lucas named the character Buffy, which horrified Leigh Brackett, the screenwriter. She convinced Lucas to go with Minch Yoda, which soon was shortened to Yoda.

The Turkish city of Istanbul straddles the Bosporus, the strait separating Europe and Asia. Two-thirds of Istanbul is in Europe, one-third is in Asia. With a population of 15 million, it is Europe’s largest city and the world’s fourth-largest.

In 2005, Bill Nye, the Science Guy, obtained a patent for an improved ballet slipper. His design features added support around the toes and along the outsole to reduce pressure on the feet, which lessens pain and helps prevent injuries.

Grapevines differ according to variety, soil type, and planting location. But on average, a vine produces about 40 clusters of 100 grapes each. The rule of thumb: the yield of one vine is about ten 450ml bottles of wine. Ergo, it takes about 400 grapes to make a bottle of wine.

Grapes

The National Basketball Association was founded in 1946 as the Basketball Association of America. It became the NBA in 1949 after merging with the rival National Basketball League.

In 1954, the league introduced the 24-second shot clock to stop the strategy of stalling. In 1976, the NBA merged with the pesky American Basketball Association, and in 1979, the league adopted the ABA’s three-point field goal to “open up” the game further.

Every summer, a beauty pageant for goats is held in the Lithuanian city of Ramygala, which adopted the goat as its symbol in the 16th century. The pageant does not include a talent competition; the winner is chosen strictly based on good looks.

In 1921, Albert Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of “the law of the photoelectric effect.” What is that? Well, when light above a certain frequency hits a thing, energy is transferred from the light to the thing, and particles are emitted.

Einstein explained how it works: the light interacts with photons, causing electrons (called photoelectrons in this case) to be shed. Einstein was the first to identify the photon as an elementary particle.

In 2002, English artist Andy Brown created a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II consisting of over 1,000 teabags, new and used, sewn onto burlap.

Queen E

Prohibition was established in the United States when the Volstead Act was enacted in 1920. The act was repealed in 1933 when Congress legalized the sale of 3.2 percent alcohol. When President Roosevelt signed the repeal, he reportedly said, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”

English businessman John Cadbury founded the chocolate company Cadbury’s in 1824. His son Richard took over the company in 1861 and was the first to sell chocolates in a box. Specifically, the boxes were adorned with roses and cupids for Valentine’s Day.

Fashion icon Ralph Lauren, the son of immigrants from Belarus, was born Ralph Lifshitz. He changed his last name while attending high school in the Bronx, in an attempt to stop the constant teasing and bullying.

Halley’s Comet swings close to the earth (relatively) every 75 years. Records of its passing go back to 240 BC, but nobody knew it was the same comet until 1705, when English astronomer Edward Halley figured it out. The comet’s most recent appearance was in 1986. Unless events conspire to prevent it, the comet will return in 2061.

Halley's

 

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