Oh Wait, Now I’m in Trouble


I thought I had one more day left in the March Pairwise Brackety Contest Thing and I was getting all ready to work on acetylcholinesterase versus a topic I hadn’t picked yet. I was sure about the acetylcholinesterase, though. I bet you know why, too. It’s because it does such great stuff with neurotransmission. And also I swear I read somewhere that there’s this neat medical mystery where the body produces a lot of acetylcholinesterase. More than you’d think. Like, I don’t know how much acetylcholinesterase you figure the body makes in a day, but more than that. And it gets rid of it too, and the thing I remember reading said we aren’t sure exactly how the body makes and disposes of so much of the stuff. Only maybe it wasn’t acetylcholinesterase, but some other neurotransmitter instead? Or neurotransmitter-related chemical? Anyway I can’t find it and I can’t think of how to go searching for it without DuckDuckGo concluding there’s something wrong with me. And I thought bringing it up as a pairwise contest was my best bet to have someone tell me what I was talking about and whether whatever I read this in was even the slightest bit correct. And now that chance is lost, at least until next March. Too bad!

March Pairwise Brackety Contest Thing: The Last Quartet: Trivia vs $20,090


Trivia

The Case For: Is no better way to know what company Hi from Hi and Lois works for.

The Case Against: Really aren’t any bars or restaurants hosting trivia nights that have a deep enough menu to support going back for a whole season.

$20,090

The Case For: You don’t know anyone whose life wouldn’t be considerably improved for years if they got an unexpected twenty thousand and ninety dollars, like, today.

The Case Against: Still, just think how much even better twenty thousand, one hundred and fifteen dollars would be.

Statistics Saturday: Some More Winter Olympics Trivia


  • For several months the 1956 Winter Olympics were scheduled to be held in Santo Domingo until someone asked why Avery Brundage’s geography whiz of a grand-nephew kept giggling.
  • If this were 1988? You could get a laugh anywhere, anytime, out of anyone, just talking about the “luge”. Just the idea of the sport was the most funniest thing anyone could imagine. By 1992, the moment had passed. Sorry if you missed it.
  • Although they’re formally named the “Winter Olympics”, in the southern hemisphere where the seasons are opposite they’re known as the “Winter”.
  • They didn’t originally plan to have the 1976 Games in Innsbruck, it’s just everyone assumed that’s where the Games would be and everyone had bought their plane tickets before anyone checked where they were supposed to be held (Santo Domingo).
  • Fictional nation with the greatest number of gold medals in the Winter Olympics? Freedonia. Greatest number of medals, period? Klopstokia.
  • Sports never played in the Winter Olympics include ice baseball, snow basketball, sleet football, frost hockey, and slush rugby.
  • Like you could pretend you’re trying to think of the name of “luge” and then say your brain keeps on wanting you to say “luge” and that isn’t even a word, and if it’s 1988, you’re beloved for your sense of humor.
  • Oh yeah and if this were 1994? It would be crazy funny for David Letterman to have his Mom asking Olympics athletes questions, and that’s why to this day we have the talk show comedy genre of “somebody’s relative does a halting, insecure interview that would be painfully embarrassing to watch if you weren’t at least 75% sure the relative was in on and liked the joke”.
  • Luge, though. Luge.
  • Olympic events added for Richie Rich include $ledding, bob$leigh, $peed $kating, and ¢ro$$-¢ountry $kiing.
  • They are figuring to sneak in an extra Winter Olympics in Innsbruck next year, just to stay in practice.
  • Happy luge, everybody! We probably missed it for this year, though.

Reference: Expository Sciences, Editors Terry Shinn, Richard Whitley.

Statistics Saturday: Some Winter Olympics Trivia


  • Since 1984 the official mascot of the Winter Olympics has been Groo the Wanderer and nobody knows why.
  • They wanted to organize some winter events for the Stockholm Olympics of 1912 but couldn’t find a good place to hold them.
  • Each gold medal is initially struck in stainless steel and then touched by King Midas.
  • The typical Winter Olympics athlete will consume over twelve pounds of vegetables in their lifetime.
  • The first Winter Games were named in 1925 when the International Winter Olympics Committee woke up in the middle of the night remembering that’s what they meant to do last year and sent Chamonix, France, an exciting letter.
  • The correct answer to any trivia question about any Winter Olympics up to those of 1960? Sonja Henie.
  • Each silver medal is initially struck in stainless steel and then touched by King Midas’s decent but not really ready eldest son.
  • Ice skating was originally in the Winter Games as Ice Kating — that is, putting on a performance of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate — until a typesetting error in the program for the 1952 Games changed things forever. (Not Olympics-related, but a similar mishap with the event of rotating episodes of Mrs Columbo gave us roller skating!)
  • Each bronze medal is initially struck in stainless steel and then touched by King Midas’s brother who, you know, he’s trying, he means well, he just doesn’t get it.
  • The first ski jump was put in place because the event course had to get over State Road 832 somehow.
  • There is a 288-way tie among all the countries and special teams for greatest number of copper medals won at the Winter Games, with zero each.
  • Taking the most Winter Olympics gold medals through to 2022? Carmen Sandiego.

Reference: Expository Sciences, Editors Terry Shinn, Richard Whitley.

Some Unwise Resolutions


I can think of nothing more useful to see us into 2020 than this good advice to see us into 2019. Good luck, all of you.


To allow a web site to send notifications. Something’s gotten into web sites recently that they want to notify you of things. There’s no good reason for that. The only legitimate thing a web site might want to send you is a notice that they have something for you to look at. But you knew that. What more can it have to tell you? So any attempt to notify you of things is a bluff. The site might start out with things of actual slight interest, like “there is no English word for [ and here a big blank space exists ]”, or “The Wrinkle In Time movie was one of the fifty highest-grossing motion pictures of 2018”, or, “there was a Wrinkle In Time movie in 2018”.

After about four days they’ll run out of stuff to talk about. “Bobby London was the only Popeye comic strip artist born after the character Popeye was created.” You’ll get ever-more-marginal items, like, “you mean about the same thing if you say `that’s nothing to laugh at’ or `that’s nothing to sneeze at’ but if you mix up laughing and sneezing in other contexts it’s awkward”. Carry on another two weeks and it’ll be asking things like, “remember that jingle for Bon-Bons candy in the 80s? If you don’t, here it is!” Two weeks after that the web site notifications author will have run out entirely of content and will just be sending you their fanfic from high school. Maybe their poetry. And then they’ll ask you to have opinions and to be honest and then where are you going to be?

To not be eaten by a bear. This is a traditional resolution, dating back to the days when people had good reason to worry about bears getting into them. Its earliest known appearance in a pamphlet published during the English Civil War, where it was taken to be some kind of satire about the Cavaliers or some fool thing because everything was back then. The flaw with this as a resolution is obvious to even the most basic trainee genie: even if you manage to avoid being eaten by a bear there’s nothing keeping you from being eaten by that other bear who’s also hanging around. And trying to tighten it up by resolving “to not be eaten by every bear”? Then if every bear that ever existed except one were to dine on and using you, your resolution would be satisfied, while you would not be. The resolution needs a lot of logical tightening-up before it’ll do what you want.

To reach inbox zero. Never, never attempt this. Just attempting will leave you becalmed in a world of feeling guilty about not answering that friend who sent that sweet just-thinking-of-you note two Februaries ago. And if you succeed? If you reach inbox zero you die for keeps. Whereas if you die with a decent heap of miscellaneous e-mails? Your ghost continues to walk the earth, trying to sort e-mails into their key categories:

  • Things which may be deleted.
  • Things which belong in an archive where they will never be read.
  • Things which are the pants vendor at the outlet mall near the city where you used to live six years ago hoping to reestablish some kind of relationship with you.
  • Things which need an answer.

As things stand I’ve got, like, forty years after my death sorting all this out and I’m going to use all that time.

To not grow taller. Most of us adopt this resolution without thinking about it. We start out growing just fine and after maybe two decades of life just let it taper out. And it’s understandable. By the time we’ve reached our early twenties we’re usually large enough for most of the good amusement park rides. Growing any bigger yet would upset the delicate ecosystem of our wardrobe. And who needs the bother? So it’s natural we all drift to about the same decision.

But! It’s a different thing when you resolve not to grow any taller, no matter what. That’s just closing off potential adventure. And yeah, you reach a point in life where adventure is too much work. You get more into activities like sitting and having knee pain. If someone came to you right this minute and asked you to be eighty feet tall and maybe tromping around downtown if the National Guard promised to be ineffective against you, would you say yes? Why not?

To label all the wires behind the home entertainment system. The only reason to do this is to learn how many of the wires in that tangle connect to nothing on either end, but you can’t remove them because if you do there’s no picture, no sound, and a local news anchor comes over to slap your wrists. There are 32 such.

A particularly cryptic message from the Dream World


I don’t know why it was important that my night be spent being shown untrue trivia about Fran Drescher’s beloved 90s sitcom The Nanny, but there we are. I would like to bring you some of this trivia, but all I remember is “The premise developed very slowly: she [ I assume Fran Drescher ] didn’t even become The Nanny until Season 14”.

Statistics Saturday: Ten Most Amazing Facts Of The Week


  • Despite the name no so-called “universal remote” has ever in fact been remote from the universe.
  • No United States president has ever been born in the future.
  • The 100 pleats in a chef’s hat represent the 100 times that the guy who bought the hat-pleating mechanism insisted on showing this was too a good purchase and would pay for itself in time.
  • In the Star Trek episode “Court Martial” Spock discusses what would happen “if I let go of a hammer on a planet that has a positive gravity”, implying there are enough zero- and negative-gravity planets around he needs to shut talk about them down before it even starts.
  • There must always exist at least one breadbox that cannot be put inside another breadbox. However, if the universe were infinitely large, we could not count on this being true.
  • No episode of the 1980s animated series of The Smurfs establishes that Gargamel knows of the Snorks.
  • Those coworkers whose names you aren’t sure you have yet, and it’s too awkward now to ask about? Sara and Mike. If there’s a third, it’s Darryl or maybe Darren. Go confident on the “Darr” part and underplay the second syllable and you’ll get away with it.
  • D is known as “the sunshine vitamin” because it was first discovered by spectral analysis of the sun. It would not be seen on Earth for nearly a generation after its detection.
  • Not only could they make Blazing Saddles today, they did, which is where everybody was all day and why they’re all tuckered out. You should have come over and helped, you’d have had a great time. Maybe you can catch them next month when they hope to make Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One.
  • Despite every advance in the technology to write songs, they are likely to be outnumbered by unwritten songs through 2024 at the soonest.

Reference: A Diplomatic History Of Europe Since The Congress Of Vienna, René Albrecht-Carié.

Statistics Saturday: Some Amazing Facts about February


  • Though February has had more leap days than any other month, it has yet to have a leap second.
  • One-sixth of all the months with men walking on the Moon were February.
  • Each February contains between eight and ten percent the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B-12.
  • No United States President has died in February since 1924.
  • February in the north temperate zone has the same specific gravity as honey.
  • A Broadway musical comedy based on February opened in the Broadhurst Theater on the 14th of May, 1951. It closed after 40 performances. Music by Sammy Fain, book by E Y ‘Yip’ Harburg and Fred Saidy.
  • February has the worst home-field advantage (422-398 over the last ten years) but the smallest visiting-team disadvantage (49.39% winning average over all recorded seasons) of any of the major-league months.
  • Though April remains the cruelest month, February is the month most likely to bring up a slightly shameful in-joke at a moment it will embarrass you.
  • Februaries that start on Sunday (or, on European calendars, Monday) are the best months of all according to bookish, nerdy seven-year-olds who believe they know The Rules that everything should follow to be neat and orderly. EXCEPT FEBRUARIES DURING LEAP YEAR.
  • Famous February births include: Jack Benny, orange (the color), Saturn’s moon Mimas, the Renaissance, sneezing, orange (the fruit), and Barry Bostwick.

Reference: Marking Time: The Epic Quest to Invent the Perfect Calendar, Duncan Steel. Which is not even the ONLY BOOK I HAVE about calendars written by a guy named “Duncan”.

Statistics Saturday: 10 Trivia Answers That Are All Paul Blart, Mall Cop


  1. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  2. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  3. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  4. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  5. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  6. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  7. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  8. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  9. Paul Blart, Mall Cop
  10. Paul Blart, Mall Cop

Fun fact: one time Trivia Night at the local bar was about something I knew I knew nothing about, so I warned everybody at the table that I was just going to offer “Paul Blart, Mall Cop” for every question. The first couple times they chuckled at the bit, but this faded out after like the third question. Nevertheless, I carried on, and you know? By about the ninth time? It started to change. My commitment to the bit paid off: before the end of the night everyone agreed this had the structure of a joke and was slightly amusing, they guessed, in its way.

Reference: The Footnote: A Curious History, Anthony Grafton.

Statistics Saturday: Some Trivia Answers, For My Dad


So my Dad thought this thing in his local paper where two people compete to give trivia answers was great and I should do that. I agree. So here we go.

  1. Olives
  2. The Ulna
  3. There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight
  4. Gimbels
  5. Painted rice crackers
  6. Vercingetorix
  7. Oatmeal
  8. North Dakota in the year 1822
  9. Planetary-gear transmission
  10. Kenny Loggins

Reference: Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution, Ronin Ro.

Statistics Saturday: Fifteen Questions ‘Cleveland’ Is A Incorrect Answer To


  • What is the capital of Ohio?
  • What was, historically, the capital of the Ohio Territory?
  • What is the largest city to border a Great Lake?
  • Where’s the Cedar Point amusement park?
  • How are you today?
  • Did you know psoriasis can get into your ear? How does that make sense?
  • Are the Kinks getting back together?
  • What makes our new Terms of Service so all-fired different from the old Terms of Service that it was worth sending you a new Terms of Service to pretend to read?
  • Is there going to be weather tomorrow?
  • What’s the seat of Hamilton County, Ohio?
  • Back in the early 20th century when there were “traction companies” running trolley cars all along city and even suburban streets it’s … like … they were transmitting electric power for cars along overhead lines, right? It’s not like they were running gigantic ropes and pulleys dragging things through town? Because that couldn’t possibly work, but “traction” seems like a weird name for “streetcar electric power”, right?
  • Where was Case Western Reserve University originally located?
  • Which United States Vice-President swore his oath of office in Cuba?
  • What’s the name of your Chicago cover band?
  • Yes, but did you like the movie?

Reference: Science From Your Airplane Window, Elizabeth A Wood. “Cleveland” was the name of your friend from college that you never really lost touch with but never talk to either’s Chicago cover band.

The trivial reason I’m running late today


I got to reading some trivia about Incredibles 2 and came to this remarkable revelation:

This movie and The Incredibles (2004) were released in the same year of the death of a voice actor of one of the iconic characters in Beauty and the Beast (1991). The Incredibles (2004) was released in the same year of the death of Jerry Orbach, and this movie was released in the same year of the death of David Ogden Stiers. Both Incredibles films were also released the same year of the death of a member of the heavy metal band Pantera. Incredibles was released the same year Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell was murdered and Incredibles 2 was released the same year Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul died of a heart attack

So who doesn’t need to lie down and rest a while after having trivia like that sitting on their head?

Some Unwise Resolutions


To allow a web site to send notifications. Something’s gotten into web sites recently that they want to notify you of things. There’s no good reason for that. The only legitimate thing a web site might want to send you is a notice that they have something for you to look at. But you knew that. What more can it have to tell you? So any attempt to notify you of things is a bluff. The site might start out with things of actual slight interest, like “there is no English word for [ and here a big blank space exists ]”, or “The Wrinkle In Time movie was one of the fifty highest-grossing motion pictures of 2018”, or, “there was a Wrinkle In Time movie in 2018”.

After about four days they’ll run out of stuff to talk about. “Bobby London was the only Popeye comic strip artist born after the character Popeye was created.” You’ll get ever-more-marginal items, like, “you mean about the same thing if you say `that’s nothing to laugh at’ or `that’s nothing to sneeze at’ but if you mix up laughing and sneezing in other contexts it’s awkward”. Carry on another two weeks and it’ll be asking things like, “remember that jingle for Bon-Bons candy in the 80s? If you don’t, here it is!” Two weeks after that the web site notifications author will have run out entirely of content and will just be sending you their fanfic from high school. Maybe their poetry. And then they’ll ask you to have opinions and to be honest and then where are you going to be?

To not be eaten by a bear. This is a traditional resolution, dating back to the days when people had good reason to worry about bears getting into them. Its earliest known appearance in a pamphlet published during the English Civil War, where it was taken to be some kind of satire about the Cavaliers or some fool thing because everything was back then. The flaw with this as a resolution is obvious to even the most basic trainee genie: even if you manage to avoid being eaten by a bear there’s nothing keeping you from being eaten by that other bear who’s also hanging around. And trying to tighten it up by resolving “to not be eaten by every bear”? Then if every bear that ever existed except one were to dine on and using you, your resolution would be satisfied, while you would not be. The resolution needs a lot of logical tightening-up before it’ll do what you want.

To reach inbox zero. Never, never attempt this. Just attempting will leave you becalmed in a world of feeling guilty about not answering that friend who sent that sweet just-thinking-of-you note two Februaries ago. And if you succeed? If you reach inbox zero you die for keeps. Whereas if you die with a decent heap of miscellaneous e-mails? Your ghost continues to walk the earth, trying to sort e-mails into their key categories:

  • Things which may be deleted.
  • Things which belong in an archive where they will never be read.
  • Things which are the pants vendor at the outlet mall near the city where you used to live six years ago hoping to reestablish some kind of relationship with you.
  • Things which need an answer.

As things stand I’ve got, like, forty years after my death sorting all this out and I’m going to use all that time.

To not grow taller. Most of us adopt this resolution without thinking about it. We start out growing just fine and after maybe two decades of life just let it taper out. And it’s understandable. By the time we’ve reached our early twenties we’re usually large enough for most of the good amusement park rides. Growing any bigger yet would upset the delicate ecosystem of our wardrobe. And who needs the bother? So it’s natural we all drift to about the same decision.

But! It’s a different thing when you resolve not to grow any taller, no matter what. That’s just closing off potential adventure. And yeah, you reach a point in life where adventure is too much work. You get more into activities like sitting and having knee pain. If someone came to you right this minute and asked you to be eighty feet tall and maybe tromping around downtown if the National Guard promised to be ineffective against you, would you say yes? Why not?

To label all the wires behind the home entertainment system. The only reason to do this is to learn how many of the wires in that tangle connect to nothing on either end, but you can’t remove them because if you do there’s no picture, no sound, and a local news anchor comes over to slap your wrists. There are 32 such.

How To Remember A Fact


Remembering things used to be an essential skill. But these days it’s only really needed by podcasters who are recording in front of a convention audience a live episode where they discuss whether Star Trek V was a bad movie or not. Everyone else can mostly just look stuff up or decide that they don’t need to remember a thing after all. In the old days, you needed a certain kind of person who could tell you, oh, what the code words were to trigger Shipwreck’s hypnotically suppressed memory of a formula to make water explode in that one episode of G.I.Joe where he wakes up seven years in the future. Today, we have Google to tell us whether water ought to be exploding. It ought not.

But it remains a fun hobby, among a certain kind of person, to have things that they just remember. And there are different kinds of things to remember. There are things that you are expected to do or to not do. I don’t mean to talk about that, even though it seems like that covers everything possible. That breaks down quickly when I ask if you’ve ever written a note to yourself so that you potholder. I repeat the admonition to your confused face. Then we get into a debate about whether ‘to pothold’ is a verb and, if it isn’t, then is ‘potholdest’ a comparative? In the confusion I can sneak out undetected.

But I don’t. I want to discuss remembering facts. Any literate, well-informed person could encounter nearly 96 facts worth remembering by their age and decaying range of knee mobility. But how to keep them available? How to keep them from turning into this, a typical remembered fact:

By the time he was 42(? 44? 32?) years old, Ludwig von (van? van der?) Beethoven had been part of over (nearly? under?) 120 (20? 220?) without once [ something ] except for the ~one time(s?) in [ Bonn / Vienna / ^W with E T A Hoffman ].

Reference: Harpo Speaks!, Harpo Marx and Rowland Barber.

There are two good ways to ensure you will never forget a fact. The first we know from that time you were in fourth grade, and were prepared to give the most thoroughly awesome presentation on “water” that your science class had ever seen. And you even had real actual cubes of ice stored in the thermos bottle to show off alongside some water you got from the one water fountain in school that didn’t just dribble a tiny trickle of warm, indistinctly smelly water down the spout. And how you began by declaring how aitch-two-oh was the technical name that scientists gave the water “molly-cah-loo-la-lee”. And how since that day you have known the generally agreed-upon pronunciation of “molecule” with the thoroughness that somehow everyone else in your class knew because why would they laugh so much? And you know it with such thoroughness that you feel jabs of embarrassment whenever you see the word “molecule” in print, or hear someone talking about molecules, or you make use of a molecule of something.

So tying a fact to embarrassment lets you remember it easily. Indeed, oppressively, to the point that you cannot possibly forget even facts you wish to. This is what makes mnemonics work. Bind a fact you wish to know to something too dumb to let anyone know you know. Once you’ve composed:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Sulfuric acid is
Formula aitch-two-ess-oh-four

The terror that someone will learn about the meter of that last line will ensure you’ll never mistakenly put roses in your heap of “things which are blue”.

You don’t need to use embarrassment to commit facts to memory, no. But the second way to sear a fact into your eternally-present memory is to tie it to shame. And, you know, look around your country. Whichever country you’re in right now. There’s enough you’re ashamed of as is. We don’t need to add to that heap of shame by trying to use it to remember which chemical element is abbreviated Ci. It is cinnamon. You’re looking at a “periodic table” of spices. Stick to embarrassment.

Shipwreck’s hypnotic activation phrase was “frogs in winter”. I’m not going to try to convince you Star Trek V was good, but I will insist William Shatner’s directing was solid. If you find your water starting to explode try smothering the blast with the good, stern look your fourth-grade science teacher gave the class after she finished smirking. That’ll help.

Statistics Saturday: Trivia Night Questions, By Kind


Questions Everyone Else Knew The Correct Answer To; Questions Everyone Else Knew The Correct Answer To But I Knew The Wrong Answer For; That One Question I Knew, But C'mon, It Was About Grover Cleveland, And I'm From New Jersey, How Could I Miss That?; "Questions Nobody Had Any Idea About; Tigers Pitchers
And yet they think I’m the indispensable one on the team.

Reference: A History of Physics in its Elementary Branches (Through 1925): Including the Evolution of Physical Laboratories, Florian Cajori.

Oh Yes, Something Remarkable About Summer


OK, so here’s something I should have mentioned last week. You know how they talk about the solstice being the official start of summer? This is as opposed to the unofficial start of summer, which is when you have the first argument about whether to put the window air conditioner in the bedroom. (People with central air never unofficially start summer. They just live in a year-round haze of air that smells like the inside of a regional claims-adjustment facility.) OK, but did you know which office is in charge of starting summer? I bet you figured it was the National Weather Service, or at least someone in the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Maybe NASA. Possibly someone affiliated with the Census. But you’d figured wrong! Bet you didn’t see the paragraph taking that turn, did you?

The responsible agency (in the United States) is the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, a part of the Federal Communications Commission whose purpose is to provide for emergency communications networks using registered volunteer ham radio operators. “And what the heck,” Congress said, when drafting the enabling legislation for the service. “They can set the start of summer, too.” Mind, they haven’t spent a great deal of time working on the start-of-summer problem. They set the official start during a 1954 meeting, and haven’t revisited the decision yet. Now and then someone suggests revisiting it, but then everybody gets to arguing about ham radio equipment, keeping them out of trouble. Other countries have different offices, and thus, different seasons. Great Britain, for example, has summer officially set by the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead, and they’ve chosen their start of summer as “eight days after the last American tourists give up and leave”.

Anyway, the important thing to remember is that ICE is a criminal organization that should be disbanded and all its members jailed. Enjoy the summer, where applicable!

Some Astounding Facts About Summer


  • The mean time from the summer solstice to autumn equinox is nearly a day longer than the mean time from the spring equinox to the summer solstice, and both are three days longer than the mean time from the autumn equinox to the winter solstice, and that’s nearly a full day longer than the time from the winter solstice to the vernal equinox. And what the flipping heck, Earth’s orbit? What are you doing with stuff like that? How can it be longer from spring to summer than from summer to fall? Longer from spring to fall than from fall to spring? Does this work in the southern hemisphere too? I’m getting dizzy thinking about this and I have to go lie down a while now.
  • The only common word in the English language that ends in s-e-d-e is “supersede” There are eighteen imaginary English words that do, too, among the most popular of which are “blockosede”, “snorsede”, “fluorosede”, and “logosede”. This has nothing to do with summer but I’m still working on that whole length-of-the-seasons thing. I feel like I must have written that astounding fact down wrong.
  • The sun appears to rise higher and higher in the sky until the summer solstice, which is triggered by the sun’s ever-greater fear of heights. Then it start sneaking down again until the winter solstice. That happens when the sun is as low in the sky as it can get without triggering its fear of heightlessness. “Wait, you’re being irrational,” the Sun’s friends tell it. “You get way lower than that around sunrise and sunset.” This causes the Sun to glare at its friends and insist they aren’t even trying to understand.
  • No, no, I went back and checked the book and that’s what it said about the lengths of the seasons. I just … sheesh, I don’t know, you know?
  • In the original Star Trek series episode And The Children Shall Lead, someone says “chocolate wobble and pistachio” and not a single person knows what exactly that’s supposed to mean. From context it’s got to be some kind of dessert but what’s a dessert wobble besides some joke about tripping when you’re carrying your turtle brownie over to the table?
  • Because of the differences between land distribution in the northern and the southern hemispheres … yes, yes, I know that thing above didn’t have anything to do with summer. I just needed to fill in something while getting another reference on this lengths-of-the-seasons thing. Look, they were talking about ice cream in that Star Trek episode, that’s mostly a summer thing, right? I mean apart from the peppermint ice cream we only get at Christmas because it feels so Christmas-y. That’s got to be the opposite for the southern hemisphere, right? Where summer-to-fall is shorter in Australia than winter-to-spring is? It couldn’t work any other way, right?
  • Although the solstice is the longest day of the year, the latest sunset may happen some other day, including in early July or even the middle of February, owing to the tilt of the Earth’s axis and the analemma of time and what your latitude happens to be and oh this is even more crazypants than the length-of-seasons thing and I can just not right now.
  • Ah, right, here we go. The Ancient Athenians tried to start their new year with the summer solstice. They also tried to start their months with the New Moon. So there was this nasty stretch near the start of any year where they were trying to get the moon to hurry up to new-ness, or fall back to its last new state. Given the state of cosmological engineering at the time all they could do is try to toss people up and get them to push the moon in its orbit some. This resulted in lots of Ancient Athenians being tossed from the top of a really tall hill and plummeting right back down. (Don’t worry about them. They were much younger Ancients in those days, and could take it.) The year started as it was figuring to anyway. There’s a lesson in this but once again, heck if I know what it is.
  • No, no, the book still says that stuff about the season lengths. I don’t know.

In Which I Must Ponder What Kevin Kubusheskie’s Singing Voice Is Like, Again


The host of 80s/90s Trivia asked, “Which child star of You Can’t Do That On Television would go on to be a major international music star?”

And I said, “How do we know any of them might not yet do it?”

I didn’t get the two points, but they’re hoping to get me in finals for the International Slightly Viral Meme Contest for April, motivational/inspirational-quotes division. It’s a long shot for for such an offhand quip but that’s all right. December 2017’s winner for Mot/Insp was itself a long shot, and it’s all about long shots like that winning the International Slightly Viral Meme Contests.

How To Know It All


Hi. I’m a know-it-all. I’m aware this might surprise you, since most of you faintly like me. You don’t like me enough to help me move a couch into a new apartment, I mean. You like me enough that you don’t particularly want to slug me. If you do it will be from a sense of civic duty. You might feel some pride. But it’s the pride of voting in the boring elections about whether to extend the municipality’s participation in the regional 9-1-1 service agreement for two years. This is the most socially welcome a know-it-all can hope to be. I decided long ago I wanted to be able to move in both know-it-all and likable-person communities. And now I’d like to share with you, the non-know-it-all, some secrets in how to be a know-it-all.

To set out being a know-it-all might seem intimidating. Even the name suggests you ought to know a bunch of facts about a bunch of things. This common misconception keeps millions of prospective know-it-alls from fledging. There are two things you need to do to be a know-it-all. The first to spot some commonly-agreed upon fact or amusing bit of trivia. Let’s see how you do with this sample. Which of these are commonly-agreed-upon facts or amusing bits of trivia?

  1. There’s a leap year every four years.
  2. North Dakota was the 39th state admitted to the United States.
  3. Stop, drop, and roll.
  4. No spider is ever more than three light-years away from you.

The correct answer is to be already writing a comment about how no, centennial years are not generally leap years in the Gregorian scheme of things. And that’s not even starting on the we-could-make-this-legitimate dispute about whether President President P Presidentson signed North Dakota’s or South Dakota’s statehood papers first. Because what makes a know-it-all is the second thing you need to do. Explain how, if you are being precise, some true thing can be argued in the right lights to be imperfectly true, which is the same as false.

So to know-it-all, recognize statements that nobody feels any need to dispute. Then dispute them. Be polite about it: start out by saying how “You know” or “It’s a common misconception” or “To be precise”. Follow up with anything. It doesn’t have to be correct. Just plunge in with the confidence of a white guy talking on the Internet. Bludgeon your conversational opponent into submission. Eventually, they slug you, and you’ve won.

The biggest danger, besides to your face, is if there’s another know-it-all ready to jump in the conversation. You might need several layers of technical points before your opponent gives up. That’s all right. There’s only a couple topics that know-it-alls really specialize in. One of the great ones is David Rice Atchison, who often hits trivia lists as having been Acting President for one day in 1821. The incoming President wouldn’t take the Oath of Office on a Sunday, and so the office devolved upon the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. But wait, you say. Yes, the President’s term had expired, but so had the Congress’s, and so Atchison wasn’t the President Pro Tempore of anything. My counter: ah, but until 1890 the Senate customarily chose a President Pro Tempore only when the Vice-President was absent from Washington City or on the final day of a Congressional session. Thus they believed they were choosing a potential successor in case of a vacancy between sessions. Fine, you might answer, but then Atchison never swore the Oath of Office and therefore did not act as President. I retaliate: granted the Oath of Office might be necessary to exercise the powers of the presidency. But Atchison’s accession is covered by his oath as a member of Congress to uphold the laws of the nation. And those laws would include the Succession Act of 1792 then in effect.

At this point, I should explain, we are furious in our debate. There’s people trying to pull us apart. People are emerging from their houses to see what all the excitement is. People shouting about offices “devolving” upon people is pretty exciting stuff even in these troubled times.

You’ve got more nitpicking to deploy. If taking the Oath of Office isn’t necessary to merely be President then the actual President took office at noon on the 4th of March regardless of whether he was sworn in. There was no vacancy for Atchison to fill. I answer. Before the 20th Amendment there was no constitutional specification to when a non-acting President’s term of office began. Stymied? You can ask how Atchison, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, could be an Officer of the the United States, which the Constitution specifies as the only people eligible for the succession. And then I point out David Rice Atchison was 13 years old in 1821. Not all of 1821, but in March of it anyway. The question of whether he was President for one day was about the time in 1849 that the new President didn’t want to take the Oath of Office on a Sunday. And then you slug me.

And I win.

I can’t tell you why you’d want to be a know-it-all. All I know it’s the best.

Statistics Saturday: Some Obscure Football Rules


  1. After three overtimes the game will be settled by a fifteen-word spelling bee.
  2. A regulation field is 120 yards in length, 53 and 1/3d yards in width, and 1.16 light-seconds in height, extending six feet, two inches below the surface of the ground.
  3. Any kind of zebra, whether talking or not, is specifically prohibited from playing in the Super Bowl.
  4. Team uniforms are not allowed to be chroma-key green.
  5. The zebra’s also prohibited from the Pro Bowl, Conference Championships, and the Divisional Rounds.
  6. No licking the ball after the two-minute warning.
  7. Yes, a zebra is allowed to play in the wild-card round, but only as a field goal kicker.
  8. All players must exist in no fewer than three dimensions of space and one of time.
  9. If by some chance the offensive team gets to a 7th Down that’s automatically one point.
  10. It’s a 20-yard penalty and loss of possession for four or more players on the offensive team to blep their tongues out simultaneously while behind the line of scrimmage.
  11. No player is allowed to wear his helmet either backwards or on either foot during the game. (However, this rule has never been enforced at the professional level.)
  12. It’s prohibited to use the player’s bench as a workbench for light carpentry projects.

Source: The Kaiser’s Merchant Ships in World War I, William Lowell Putnam.

And a Christmas Thought I Forgot To Have Like Two Weeks Ago


I really should’ve had this thought the 15th but I lost the slip of paper its inspiration was written on. My love and I went to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. It’s a grand, wonderful place. It’s a huge building, the kind you could host a good-sized flea market in, and it’s filled with Christmas decorations (plus some bits for other holidays). If you ever need a variety of guinea pig ornaments this is the place to go. If you ever need to fill a tree with different peacock ornaments, this is the place to go. I’m not saying a large tree filled with unique peacocks. But still, a tree of any size with only peacock ornaments is amazing.

They pass out a little trivia card about how big the place is and how much Christmas it merchandises and how many people it employs and how far away they advertise and everything. (They advertise all over Michigan, including Florida.) Here’s the one that would have been great to think about like two weeks ago:

Movie star John Wayne ordered a Santa suit from Bronner’s by telephone on December 15, 1976.

I don’t fault them clinging to a celebrity encounter from four-plus decades ago; I’m still telling people about that pizza party I attended alongside Don “Father Guido Sarducci” Novello in 1995. And I absolutely love this piece of trivia because the claim is both exact and vague. What were the machinations of Fate which caused John Wayne to wake one day and say, “I’m movie star John Wayne! Today, the 15th of December, 1976, I want a Santa suit! I should phone Bronner’s in Frankenmuth, Michigan, to order one”? I assume this is a direct quote. How could the Hollywood-area costume and holiday shops be out of Santa suits already? Or was he just in Michigan for something, maybe poking around Bay City to see if he had to do anything about it, and realized he was Santa suit-less? Did he know someone at Bronner’s who could get him a discount? If so, how much? So those are the exciting thoughts racing around me and I’m just sorry I didn’t schedule them for the 15th when they would have been kind of timely-ish.

Bronner’s doesn’t give out enough trivia for me, but I don’t blame you for thinking Broner’s gives me too much trivia.

Do I Know Too Much About The XFL?


My love argues that I know a startling amount about the XFL, the short-lived attempt by pro wrestling to create something that was like football but would be cheaper for NBC to air back in 2001. Do I? Let me share with you what I do know about the XFL:

  1. They tried some weird kind of scramble for the ball instead of doing a kickoff to start the halves.
  2. They made the sports reporters sit in the open weather instead of in a press booth so that … I don’t know, the fans wouldn’t think the reporters were more comfortable than they were? Some kind of Stupid Populist thing anyway.
  3. The game tried taking away a bunch of rules about player safety that they had to reinstate after it turned out players got hurt a lot.
  4. Not really sure about this, but I’m guessing some pro wrestling participant said something really racist while doing cheerleader-type commentary during a broadcast.
  5. There was something Movie Mafia about the New York/New Jersey team name?
  6. There was that guy with “He Hate Me” as his uniform’s “name”.

My question to you: do I, in fact, know too many things about the XFL?

(Yes. Yes, I do. I know at least four things too many about the XFL.)

Statistics Saturday: Some Answers


  • North Dakota in the year 1822.
  • Myoglobin.
  • It has none.
  • The square root of two raised to the square root of two power.
  • Cuckoo clocks.
  • Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann.
  • The Hartford Whalers.
  • SS Ideal-X.
  • Hexagons.
  • Polymerization.
  • The pathetic fallacy.
  • Saw the board into two halves; combine the two halves to make a whole, and then climb out through the [w]hole.
  • Pointillism.
  • 95 percent.
  • Dormer windows.
  • Walk The Moon.
  • James Irwin.
  • Violincello.
  • Doyenne, D-o-y-e-n-n-e. Doyenne.
  • Had you considered the village barber might be a woman?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped three points today, owing to traders getting all sulky when I told them that while I appreciated their idea about an imaginary HGTV show talled Tiny McMansions, there was no way I could build that up to one of my big-size weekly essays and I wasn’t going to try. Lisa went off fuming and saying she was going to put together a pilot episode.

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On This Date: March 25


March 25th is the 90th day of the year or so. Something like that. Good grief, is the year that little done? It feels like more. Anyway there are some six days remaining in the month unless we find a stray Tuesday that rolled under the couch? Something like that.

1409 — Opening of the Council of Pisa following the belated discovery of the can opener. In resolving the Western Schism between the popes in Rome and Avignon the council settles on the innovative approach of declaring everyone who passes by the front door, including four stray cats and a flock of pigeons, to be Pope. The problem is left unsettled but it is still a major holiday in Rock Dove Orthodox Catholicism.

1584 — Sir Walter Raleigh receives a patent to colonize Virginia, catching him off-guard. “I thought I’d get a copyright or maybe a service mark on Virginia, but you know, I’ll make do with what I have,” he says in a telephone interview by Bob Newhart. Unfortunately unsettled trade conditions and unstable capitalization foil his efforts to make money in the manufacture and trade of Virginias, and by 1792 he admits it isn’t working out nearly like he figured. Today only the prototype Virginia and one late-run production model Virginia still remain, preserved in a special museum-grade display with inert gas.

1802 — By the terms of the Treaty of Amiens, France and England resolve to stop fighting and never go to war ever again for all time except for this one more time for last licks, that’s fair, right? Sure it is.

1821 — Traditional start of the Greek War of Independence, which actually began over a month before, but they say it’s this for symbolically important reasons, and that isn’t even me making a whimsical joke but just how things are really done if Wikipedia isn’t fibbing me.

1894 — Coxey’s Army begins its march on Washington to establish that unemployment is a failure of society to provide for its citizens and not the result of personal immorality among the jobless. Oh lord we’re not living up to the moral standards of the 19th century, what are we even doing?

1950 — 25th anniversary of March 25, 1925.

1979 — Delivery of the first fully-functional space shuttle, Columbia, to the Kennedy Space Center, although the vehicle is not launched for over two years owing to the keys being locked inside and nobody knowing how to get them out without breaking a window open. They ultimately have to wait for the completion of the space shuttle Discovery and hope the keys for that fit the first, and they do, with a little jiggling around. Discovery’s first launch is delayed while the space program finds a Two Guys that will grind out a duplicate set of keys. “Look, we just want to be sure someone else can open the trunk, all right?” explains Kennedy Space Center director Richard G Smith, reminding us how there used to be a whole different key for the trunks and why was that exactly? The past is weird, that’s all.

1995 — Establishment of WikiWikiWeb, the first user-editable web site, opens an innovative new way that people who read way too much of The Straight Dope as kids can argue about David Rice Atchison in the Talk page.

2000 — 50th anniversary of the 25th anniversary or March 25, 1925.

2017 — I’m like one day ahead of deadline.

Born On This Day:

Religious troublemaker John Calvin (maybe?), Army marcher Jacob Coxey (like a one in 365 chance), Vulcan inventor D C Fontana (Star Trek if I got lucky), probably some European royalty with a name like John IV or Jacob III or Katerina The Rather So (here I’m just playing the odds). You know what, let’s say Howard Cosell too, just so there’s a name that anyone can recognize if they’re not like four months younger than me.

Died On This Day:

Do we need this installment? It’s so depressing.

Special Observances:

This is the earliest day on which Seward’s Day can fall. Seward’s Day is the day when Alaskans observe William Seward. It should not be confused with Alaska Day, but I bet it is all the time and is fed up with it. It is observed as Wright Brothers Day by confused aviation enthusiasts. Until 1752 it was the start of the New Year in England, Wales, Ireland, and the American Colonies, which raises disturbing implications about just how many days there were between March 27, 1751 and March 22, 1751. Don’t stare to hard into that one. You won’t like what you find.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell five points today as everyone was busy watching the trailer for the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 and torn between bits that made them figure this was going to be as good as they needed it to be and bits that made them figure it was going to be off in all those ways that non-hardcore-fans can’t understand. The mood on the floor is described as “hope mixed with a sense that, really, the children of the original Mads is the fullest re-thinking done? But there’s a lot of people who know what they’re doing and maybe the Ready Player One guy can be harnessed to a good cause?”

125

On Richard Thompson


I first saw Richard Thompson’s cartoons as the occasional illustrations in Joel Achenbach’s Why Things Are books. They were these complicated, scribbly, not-exactly-attractive but still compelling sketches to go along with Achenbach’s Cecil-Adams-esque essays. But Achenbach went on to other things, and I didn’t pay attention to the artist, who went on to other things himself. Mostly that was illustrating for Washington Post features which, since I didn’t live in or near Washington, I’d never see.

Last decade he started the comic strip Cul de Sac, which just everybody I knew who cared about comic strips got to praising. My natural contrariness and memories of past times I was burned left me skeptical. But as sometimes happens everyone was right. It was a fantastic comic strip. The art was no less … weird, honestly. It took time to warm up to it. But it’s … well, here. Let me put up a link that always goes to today’s rerun of the comic strip. I’ll say this confidently: the art is funny to look at. It’s expressive. Every face is showing an emotion, a clear and strongly-drawn one. The stuff that isn’t the focus of the panel’s action is drawn funny too. The more you study the lines the more you realize it’s tricky to draw like that.

Cul de Sac was, by 2010, ready to be the savior of the comics page. The strip just had everything. Expressive artwork. Characters who, by being so outrageously implausible, become intimate familiars. Dialogue that’s logical yet surreal. The small-kid perspective by which everything in the world is a bit magical. And hyperbole. It isn’t enough that one kid’s mother is scrapbooking everything he does. It’s that she has twenty-eight (or something) scrapbooks just for the current month. Tall tales are part of the foundation of the American humorous voice, and Thompson captured that perfectly.

And then just as Cul de Sac was escaping from the notice of comic strip fans into the wider world, where it might be spoken of with the delighted reverence we use for Calvin and Hobbes or Peanuts, it was struck down. Thompson suffered from Parkinson’s disease, and had reached the point he couldn’t do the strip anymore. The comics page has been the poorer since then. There are many fine comics out there, but I haven’t seen anything that shows the apparently-easy genius that Cul de Sac did, or the promise of it.

Thompson died late last month, complications from Parkinson’s disease.

Gocomics.com reruns his Cul de Sac comics as well as the Richard’s Poor Almanac feature, which if I understand right was mostly quarter- or full-page features for Washington Post Sundays. Those haven’t got the recurring characters of Cul de Sac, but they have got the same vibrant imagination and sharp attention to detail. I recommend both comics. There’s things you’ll be sorry you missed. They will likely include jokes about restaurants.

Me Week: Stuck in Ancient Greece


I love learning stuff. I always have. The world’s full of astounding things and who among us has been astounded too much? Occasionally, learning something fires my imagination in strange ways.

In November 2013, this led me to write Also, Heidegger Was A Shingle Weaver, as my love let me in on the absolutely unsecret point that Socrates had a job. And not an esoteric sort of job, rather, but the sort of job that any of us might have. Well, any of our fathers might have, since I’m from Generation X, and we don’t have jobs because Baby Boomers can’t afford to retire and Millennials oh just don’t get us started.

Learning stuff pays dividends, too, in the form of filling the hungry web pages that need stuff written. In trying to add factual precision to a throwaway line in that Heidegger piece, I found something that surprised my love. Turns out Socrates held political office, possibly just the once in his life, and we both felt more in touch with the cosmic all for knowing this, and then, well, you know how it is when you learn stuff.

And then the day after that I got to wonder about: Ancient Greece. What the heck, guys? You should have been doing better. Fount of Western Civilization and all that but they had some real impulse-control problems. Just saying.

Me Week: What Philosophers Give Me


My love is a professional philosopher. This has encouraged me to pay more attention to philosophers. It’s a group of people I mostly know because a lot of philosophers were also mathematicians. For a long stretch there they were also lawyers and priests, but that’s just what you did if it was the middle ages and you didn’t want to be a serf, a boatman, or a miller.

Back in September 2013, we got to talking about Pythagoras, who’s renowned for being a cult leader that might have done something in mathematics or philosophy or both. It’s hard to say. But in Pythagoras and the Golden Middle-Ish I was enchanted by something I hadn’t heard about Pythagoras before. Yes, it’s got Olympics content, because of course, Pythagoras. You would.

If that hasn’t satisfied your interest in philosophers, here’s a little pop quiz you can take. No fair cheating!

Me Week: Facing The Fun Fact Of It All


I need to get myself a little more ahead of deadline than I can get just by writing something fresh every day. So I’m going to take most of this week and talk about one of my favorite writers: me. I’ve long been an influence on me, and have tried to let myself mould my writings into better forms. It’s not easy. There’s a lot of ways that I want to be funny and not all of them are exactly compatible.

One of my other big influences is Ian Shoales, stage persona of Merle Kessler. Now and then I write something that’s quite directly in his style of social commentary mixed with absurdity. I don’t run as absurd as he does, but then, I only intermittently get a good comment going.

So here I’d like to point to a January 2015 piece I wrote, very much in the Ian Shoales style. It’s titled The Fun Fact Of It All, and it’s inspired by a Peanuts page-a-day calendar, as will happen. I think it came across with some juicy ideas about facts and it maybe needs two drafts to really catch what I want. I was fibbing about Mrs Furey in this piece; she wasn’t, in truth, so careful about the nonsense of a potentially false fact. But it works well to have a character putting forth that point.

Nothing To Do With Grand Strategy Games, Really


Sorry, I’d like to say something funny about a grand strategy game, or something that’s going on around town. But I’ve been too busy kicking myself over a really lousy performance on my part at restaurant trivia night last night. Also that it’s possible to train fish to spit at certain people’s faces, which solves so many problems! But mostly that the satellite navigator thinks the word is pronounced “rester-aunt”, like, your mother’s sister who can be counted on to nap. I suppose I just don’t understand the modern world.

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