Archive for the ‘Edutainment’ Category

Useless Facts

More Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.


— Tigers have striped skin as well as striped fur.

— The common land snail, familiar to many as an icky garden pest, typically hibernates through the winter months. If conditions require, however, snails can remain asleep for up to three years.

— The average adult human sheds between 30,000 and 40,000 skin cells per hour, or about one million skin cells per day.

Ping-pong is a trademarked term in most of the world, which is why the term table tennis is used in the Olympics and elsewhere. Over the years, the game also has been known as flim-flam, whiff-whaff, and pim-pam. Supposedly, British soldiers in India invented the game in the 1860s.


— The real name of Sting, the British musician, is Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner. He earned the nickname Sting early in his career when he performed in a yellow and black sweater, and a band-mate remarked that he looked like a bee.

— Change for a dollar can be made in 293 different ways.

— Most regulation golf balls in the U.S. have 336 dimples. British golf balls have 330 dimples. Some special types have as many as 500.

— Before he got into acting, Steve Buscemi was a New York City firefighter. After the 9/11 attack, he worked as a volunteer and helped NYFD dig through the rubble at Ground Zero. He also helped in the clean-up after Super Storm Sandy in 2012.


— The word with the highest score possible in Scrabble is oxyphenbutazone (a drug of some kind). The odds of getting to play this word are laughable, but if you did, and you covered three triple-word-score squares, it would be worth 1,778 points.

— Thomas Jefferson invented the swivel chair.

— Barbara Streisand is the only singer to have number-one-selling albums during the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. During those five decades, she had nine albums at the top of the Billboard charts.

— In 1860 and 1861, before telegraph service was available, the fastest mail service to and from California was the Pony Express. It was a private business delivering letters and small packages between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento.

The service used riders on horseback and 157 relay stations. Horses were changed every 10 miles, riders every 100 miles. They covered the 1,900 miles in 10 days.

Over its 19 months of operation, the company lost $30.00 on every letter it carried.


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Useless Facts

More Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.


— Beavers have transparent eyelids, which is convenient, since they spend so much time under water. They also have ear and nose valves that close automatically when they dive. A beaver can stay underwater for about four minutes.

— On an average day, the American people consume 18 acres of pizza.

— The Declaration of Independence was finalized on July 4, 1776. Thereupon, the original version was signed by John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, and Charles Thomson, the Secretary. A Philadelphia printer then made 500 copies, which were distributed to all members of the Continental Congress.

Somehow, the original document was lost, so the delegates were called back to Philadelphia. On August 2, 1776, they signed a new copy of the Declaration. This time, for reasons unknown, Secretary Thomson was not invited to sign.

— Orville Wright’s first successful airplane flight on December 17, 1903, covered a distance of 120 feet. The wingspan of a Boeing 747 is 196 feet.


— Almonds are members of the peach family.

— As a teen, British author Roald Dahl attended a fancy boarding school in England. While there, he and his fellow students often were used as taste-testers by the Cadbury chocolate company. Dahl said he dreamed of inventing a new chocolate bar that would “win the praise of Mr. Cadbury himself.” Dahl went on to write “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and he references chocolate in other books.

— This sentence uses every letter in the alphabet: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

— All breeds of dog have pink tongues except the Chow-Chow and the Shar-Pei. Their tongues, for unknown reasons, are blue-black.


— The average person fall asleep in seven minutes.

— Each time the Supreme Court is in session, white quill pens are placed on the tables of the opposing counsels. This tradition dates back to the early days of the Court. The pens are no longer used, of course, but they are treasured by the lawyers as souvenirs of their day in court.

— The only English words that end in -dous are hazardous, horrendous, stupendous, and tremendous.

— The Northern Cardinal is the official state bird of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia (Don’t bother counting. That’s 7 states), making it the state bird champion. Runner-up is the Western Meadowlark, state bird in Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming. (6 states.)



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Useless Facts

More Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.


— The full name of Barbie, the Mattel “fashion doll,” is Barbara Millicent Roberts, a fact established in a series of Barbie novels in the 1960s. Her parents are George and Margaret Roberts of Willows, Wisconsin. Barbie attended Willows High School.

— Mel Blanc, the legendary voice of Bugs Bunny, was allergic to carrots.

—  The names of the continents — Asia, Africa, America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia — all begin and end with the same letter. (Yes, North America and South America are separate continents, but lighten up, people.)

— The Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie were named after Bert the cop and Ernie the taxi driver in the 1946 film “It’s A Wonderful Life.”


— The soft drink 7 Up was introduced in 1929 as “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda.” (“Lithiated” because the drink contained a dose of the mood-stabilizing drug lithium citrate. Lithium was banned from soft drinks in 1948.) Early on, the company founder renamed his beverage 7 Up, but he never explained what 7 Up means, and he took the secret to his grave.

— The shortest complete sentence in English is “I am.”

— One of the traditions of the Navajo people, the Diné, is to throw a party when a baby laughs for the first time. The person who made the baby laugh must organize the party and cover the costs.

— American silver coins have ridges around the edges to prevent “coin clipping” (shaving off little bits of silver). The Mint doesn’t add ridges to pennies or nickels because those metals aren’t worth stealing.


— Maine is the only U.S. state whose name is just one syllable.

— In 1987, American Airlines eliminated one olive from each salad served in first class. The reduced cost of olives, plus the minute reduction in fuel consumption, reportedly saved the company $40,000 that  year.

— The largest shopping center in North America is the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada. The mall covers 5,300,000 square feet, about the size of 48 city blocks. It includes 800 stores, 100 restaurants, two hotels, an amusement park, an indoor lake, a miniature golf course, and an ice rink.

— The largest shopping center in the world is the Dubai Mall in the United Arab Emirates. It covers 12,100,000 square feet, the size of 50 football fields. It features 1,200 stores, 120 restaurants, an Olympic-size ice rink, an interactive playland for children, an amusement park, an aquarium, and a zoo.

Dubai Mall


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The Augusta Canal

This is my second post about Augusta, Georgia, which I visited in June on a lark. No need to read my earlier post first, but feel free.


When I think about how people lived in earlier times, I tend to judge them as primitive and unsophisticated. Not stupid, mind you, but simple and unrefined. Clueless compared to us cutting-edge modern folks.

And up to a point, they were. For example, to prevent disease, you have to understand the concept of pathogens. Good luck with that if you lived before people knew what pathogens are.

But sometimes, I run across evidence that people from days of yore were quite competent and shouldn’t be sold short. A case in point: the impressive feat, way back in the 1840s, of building the Augusta Canal.

A bit of background. In 1733, General James Oglethorpe founded Savannah, the first settlement in the new colony of Georgia. In 1736, Oglethorpe sent a contingent of troops up the Savannah River to build an outpost at the limit of upstream navigation.

The purpose was to establish a settlement where goods could be brought from towns to the north and west and shipped downriver to Savannah for export.

The limit of upstream navigation turned out to be 200 miles north of Savannah at the fall line, where the Piedmont Plateau drops down to the Coastal Plain. For centuries, native people used the ledges and shoals at the fall line to cross the Savannah River.

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(Later, the cities of  Macon, Columbus, and Milledgeville also were established at the fall line. Below them, the rivers are deep and smooth to the Atlantic or the Gulf. Above them is rocky, shallow water and a steady climb to the Appalachians.)

Oglethorpe’s expedition built an outpost on the west bank of the Savannah River about seven miles south of the fall line. The settlement was named in honor of Princess Augusta, the wife of the Prince of Wales.

And Oglethorpe’s plan worked splendidly. For the next hundred years, Augusta thrived as a trading and shipping center. Wagons rolled into town from across the region carrying tobacco, cotton, and other goods. The warehouses brimmed with product. Barges and steamboats transported a steady stream of cargo downriver to Savannah, where it was shipped to other markets.

But by the early 1800s, Augusta’s prosperity was waning. Various economic factors were taking their toll — the country’s westward expansion, the growth of the railroads, competition from other river towns.

Then in the 1840s, a man with a vision came forward. Henry H. Cumming, son of the city’s first mayor, proposed a plan to turn Augusta into a manufacturing center by building a canal from the fall line to Augusta.


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Henry H. Cumming

Because the canal would drop 52 feet in elevation by the time it reached Augusta, it could provide hydropower to operate mills and factories. Plus, it would be a transportation corridor and a source of drinking water.

Cumming hired a prestigious engineer to survey the route and draw up the plans, and the city fathers gave it their blessing. Construction on the Augusta Canal began in the spring of 1845.

The workers — hundreds of slaves, freedmen, and white laborers — dug the entire canal by hand.

This, mind you, was an era when the only tools available were pickaxes, shovels, and horse-drawn carts. There was no electric power, no heavy equipment. Steam power was in development, but it was not practical for a field project.

The canal was designed and built in three sections. Where each section ended, some of the water was allowed to flow downhill and back into the Savannah River. At those drops, the new factories would be built.

Despite constant engineering complications and a several legal battles over the route, the canal was completed and opened in July 1850.

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Painting of the headgates of the Augusta Canal at the fall line, 1850s.

But the project was only a limited success. The canal performed as expected, but it wasn’t large enough to power all the proposed factories and mills. The engineers had miscalculated.

Thus, after the understandable delay of the Civil War, a project to enlarge the canal got underway in 1872.

Again, battalions of workers were assembled. Some were local laborers, some were convicts from area prisons. Italian stonemasons and Chinese railroad workers were brought in. Steam-powered equipment was used in addition to picks and shovels.

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Expanding the Augusta Canal. Painting by Bernard Willingham, 1870s.

By 1875, the new and improved Augusta Canal was in operation. This time, the channel was 13 feet deep and 150 feet across.

Between the canal and the Savannah River, a towpath was built atop the levy so horses and oxen could pull the barges. The towpath ran from the canal headgates to downtown Augusta.

As envisioned, new factories soon arose along the canal banks. “Mill towns” materialized to house the factory workers and their families. The textile industry and other enterprises flourished in Augusta well into the 20th Century.

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Sibley Cotton Mill on the Augusta Canal, 1903.

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A flat-bottomed “Petersburg” boat on the canal in the 1890s.

As the decades passed, the canal generated electricity not only for the factories, but also for streetcars, streetlights, homes, and businesses.

But by the 1960s, inevitably, Augusta’s prosperity began to wane again. The canal was becoming antiquated. Truck transportation took business away. Electricity was cheaper from the new power plants on the Savannah River.

Meanwhile, the city began neglecting the canal and even considered draining parts of it. When Augusta demolished several abandoned factories during urban renewal projects, parts of the in-town portion of the canal were allowed to dry up.

In 1971, another Cumming stepped forward and woke up the city fathers in grand style. It was Joseph Cumming, great-grandson of Henry, who managed to get the Augusta Canal added to the National Register of Historic Places.

This action forced the city administration to change its viewpoint about the canal. “Save the Augusta Canal” bumper stickers became popular. Local citizens organized to stop the construction of a golf course near the canal headgates.

By the 1990s, Augusta also realized that the canal had superb recreational possibilities. Soon, a canal authority was chartered. The canal was cleaned up, and the flow of water was restored throughout its length.

In 1996, the canal was designated a National Heritage Area. One of the old factories was converted into a canal museum and visitor center.

Today, You can rent a canoe or kayak at the headgates, float as far downstream as you like, and take a shuttle back.

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You can walk, run, or cycle for miles on the towpath or other trails in the vicinity.

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The city now offers cruises along the canal aboard replicas of the old Petersburg flatboats. Appropriately, one of those flatboats is the Henry H. Cumming.

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Sibley Mill (left) and J. P. King Mill today. Both are vacant, but are owned and protected by the Canal Authority.

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One leg of the canal passes through this in-town courtyard as the water flows back to the Savannah River.

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A view of the canal from the towpath.

The Augusta Canal is now 166 years old — and doing pretty well for its age.


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Useless Facts

Another batch of Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.


— Ants comprise 15 percent of the animal biomass (volume of living matter) on the planet. In tropical areas such as the Amazon rainforest, ants account for 25 percent of the biomass. Ants exist everywhere except Iceland, Antarctica, and Greenland.

— The average life of an American one dollar bill is 18 months.

— Those $15 HDMI cables from the dollar store work exactly the same as the $200 premium HDMI cables you splurged on.

— The Atacama Desert in Peru lies in a valley between the Andes Mountains and the Chilean Coastal Range. With mountains blocking both sides, the valley rarely gets rain or fog. Some riverbeds in the Atacama have been dry for 120,000 years. Some Atacama weather stations have never recorded rain.

B0032P 0083

— People, dogs, mice, and other critters can survive just fine aboard a spaceship, and have. But birds cannot. Birds would starve during a spaceflight, because they have evolved to depend on gravity to swallow.

— In Russian, “brat” means “brother.”

— During a typical growing season, a large oak tree will expel 28,000 gallons of water into the atmosphere. The moisture is released in the form of water vapor through pores in the leaves.

— Domestic cats, those fearsome predators of suburbia, lack the genes that allow them to taste sweets. Sweetness signals the presence of carbohydrates, and cats, being exclusively carnivorous, have no use for carbs.


— The “YKK” on your zipper stands for “Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikigaisha” (Yoshida Industries Limited). Founded in 1934, YKK manufactures 90 percent of the world’s zippers. The YKK factory in Macon, Georgia, makes 7 million zippers per day.

— Buckingham Palace has over 600 rooms.

— The average person will grow 590 miles of hair during his or her lifetime. The average person sheds about 200 head hairs per day.

— According to studies, children laugh an average of 300 times per day, and adults laugh an average of 17 times per day. Adults, lighten up, okay?

Children laughing


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You can’t underestimate the impact of Dr. Seuss, the legendary writer and illustrator, on children’s literature and the literacy of generations of kids worldwide.

Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991) had no children of his own, but he spent his adult life writing children’s books that were enormously influential. They were respectful of children and, at the same time, playfully outrageous and fun.

Dr. Seuss books, still top-sellers today, continue to help youngsters learn to read by making them want to read.

During his career, Geisel earned two Academy Awards, two Emmies, a Peabody Award, and a Pulitzer Prize. The Pulitzer in 1984 was for his “contribution over nearly half a century to the education and enjoyment of America’s children and their parents.”

Geisel had been a cartoonist and an illustrator in the advertising business for 10 years when in 1937, he published his first book as Dr. Seuss: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.

20 publishers rejected Mulberry Street before Geisel got lucky and ran into a college chum who had just become an editor at Vanguard Press. Vanguard published the book. Sales were modest, but the book was highly praised by critics.

Through the 1940s and 1950s, Geisel published a series of books as Dr. Seuss. But the book that made him famous was The Cat in the Hat in 1957.

The backstory of The Cat in the Hat is a fascinating story in itself.

In 1954, author John Hersey wrote a story for Life Magazine that addressed why young students were so slow at learning to read. Hersey made two conclusions: first, that kids watched too much TV; and second, that the standard “Dick and Jane” and “See Spot Run” style readers were boring and uninspiring.

Hersey’s story caught the attention of William Spaulding, head of the education division of Houghton Mifflin. Spaulding was motivated to compile a list of 348 words that he believed all 6- and 7-year-olds should know.

Spaulding showed the list to Geisel and challenged him to write a children’s book using 225 words from the list — and only those words. “Write a story that first-graders can’t put down,” Spaulding told him.

Nine months later, Geisel completed The Cat in the Hat, which used 236 of the words on Spaulding’s list. Geisel said he tried, but could not meet, the goal of 225 words.

The Cat in the Hat was vintage Dr. Seuss in every respect. But its simplified vocabulary made it ideal for beginning readers. It quickly sold over a million copies.

So far, The Cat in the Hat has been published in 12 different languages, and umpteen million copies have been sold.

A few years after the success of The Cat in the Hat, editor Bennett Cerf at Random House approached Geisel with another challenge — this time accompanied by a wager.

Cerf bet Geisel $50 that he couldn’t write a children’s book using 50 or fewer distinct words.

Geisel responded with Green Eggs and Ham, which used precisely 50 different words.

Reportedly, Cerf never paid off the bet, but Geisel probably forgave him. The book became the top seller of Dr. Seuss’s career.

Being a “word nerd,” I find this kind of minutia truly fascinating. But I realize not everyone is wired like me.

If words aren’t your thing, you can stop reading now. Goodbye, and have a nice day.



1 — The 236 words used by Dr. Seuss in “The Cat in the Hat”

a, about, after, all, always, and, another, any, are, as, asked, at, away, back, bad, ball, be, bed, bent, bet, big, bit, bite, book, books, bow, box, bump, bumps, but, cake, call, came, can, cat, cold, come, could, cup, day, dear, deep, did, dish, do, dots, down, fall, fan, fast, fear, fell, find, fish, fly, for, fox, from, fun,

funny, game, games, gave, get, give, go, gone, good, got, gown, had, hall, hand, hands, has, hat, have, he, head, hear, her, here, high, him, his, hit, hold, home, hook, hop, hops, house, how, I, if, in, into, is, it, jump, jumps, kicks, kind, kinds, kite, kites, know, last, let, like, lit, little, look, looked, lot, lots, made, make,

man, mat, me, mess, milk, mind, mother, mother’s, my, near, net, new, no, not, nothing, now, of, oh, on, one, our, out, pack, pat, pick, picked, pink, play, playthings, plop, pot, put, rake, ran, red, rid, run, sad, said, sally, sank, sat, saw, say, see, shake, shame, she, shine, ship, shook, should, show, shut, sit, so, some, something, stand,

step, stop, string, strings, sun, sunny, tail, take, tall, tame, tell, that, the, their, them, then, there, these, they, thing, things, think, this, those, thump, thumps, tip, to, too, top, toy, trick, tricks, two, up, us, wall, want, was, way, we, well, went, were, wet, what, when, white, who, why, will, wish, with, wood, would, yes, yet, you, your.

(Interesting fact: “green,” “eggs,” and “ham” do not appear on the list.)

2 — The 50 words used Dr. Dr. Seuss in “Green Eggs and Ham”

a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.

(Interesting fact: “cat” and “hat” do not appear on the list.)



Geisel TS

Theodor Seuss Geisel


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Useless Facts

Okay, class, cut the chatter and listen up. It’s time for “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

Feel free to take notes. We may have a pop quiz later.


— No words in English rhyme with purple, orange, silver, or month.

— The ingredients of Excedrin Extra Strength, Excedrin Migraine, and Excedrin Menstrual Complete are exactly the same — 250mg acetaminophen, 250mg aspirin, 65mg caffeine. Ah, marketing.

— Children don’t have kneecaps. Those strong, bony kneecaps of yours didn’t fully form until your late teens or early 20s. Infant kneecaps (patellas) are made of soft, pliable cartilage to accommodate the years of growth ahead. At about age four, the cartilage slowly begins turning to bone.

— A flea can jump 160-200 times its own length. That’s like you jumping over the Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel Tower

— The eyeball of an ostrich is about the size of a billiard ball. Its brain is about the size of a ping-pong ball. The ostrich is no deep thinker, but it can see a long way.

— Elvis Aaron Presley had a twin brother, Jessie Garon Presley, who died at birth.

— When you cough, the cough leaves your mouth at 50-60 miles per hour. When you sneeze, the air is expelled at up to 100 mph.

— You are more likely to be killed by a falling coconut than by a marauding shark.


— When the city of Los Angeles was established in 1781, its formal name was El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles. Translation: The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels. In those days, Spanish settlements were either pueblos (civilian), presidios (military), or missions (religious).

— 111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321

— In 1859, a rich guy in Australia released 24 rabbits onto his property for hunting purposes. Six years later, the rabbit population of Australia was two million. By 1950, it was 600 million. A virus designed to kill rabbits was released in the 1990s, and it lowered the rabbit population to roughly 300 million, but the critters soon developed an immunity to the virus, so…

— Botanically, a strawberry isn’t a berry. It’s an “aggregate accessory fruit” (!!?) and a member of the rose family. Bananas, on the other hand, are officially classified as berries. Go figure.

Strawberry & banana


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