Thursday, September 12, 2013

Conversation Stoppers

As a follow-up to last week’s encomium of random information, below are a dozen tidbits I either learned or rediscovered (i.e., once knew but long since had forgotten) in the past week. Are any of them useful? Yes, I’ve already brought conversations to a complete halt with a couple of them, evoking puzzled frowns instead. Depending on the conversation, that can be a good thing.

When he fell ill at age 81, circus magnate PT Barnum paid a New York newspaper to print his obituary in advance so he could enjoy it. “This way to the egress,” indeed.

Victoria Woodhull is well known as a suffragist, as a successful stock broker (protégé of Cornelius Vanderbilt), as an advocate of free love, and for her 1872 candidacy for President of the United States. Less well known are her background as a psychic (her parents were fortune tellers), her interest in eugenics, and the $5000 prize she offered for the first transatlantic flight.

Cows are milked from the right side because most people are right-handed, and your right hand has more room that way. Cows initially don’t care, but as they grow accustomed to being milked on the right, they get upset and will kick if you switch sides. With mechanical milkers, it’s a moot point.

Bubonic plague-infected California squirrels have been in the news lately, but African gerbils are known to carry it too. I haven’t encountered any African gerbils lately, but I’ll file that info away just in case.

The symbolism of a handshake is to show that your weapon-hand is weapon-free. Like pitchers in baseball, leftie ambushers would seem to have an advantage with this custom. The ever-practical ancient Romans thought of this. They opted for the dual arm-clasp instead.

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch gets no respect. Of course, he’d probably like that. He is to sadomasochism what Roebuck is to Sears Roebuck. The Marquis de Sade gets all the glory. Masoch was an Austrian novelist, in case you’ve forgotten. I did. Ever read one of his books? Me neither.

According to the Britannica, Hollywood was founded by a prohibitionist named Horace Wilcox “who envisioned it a community based on his sober religious principles.” Best laid plans and all that… At least he didn’t found Las Vegas. That really would have been embarrassing. Las Vegas was founded in 1905 by Mormons.

Clocks run clockwise because they copy the faces of sundials, on which shadows (in the northern hemisphere) move in this way.

Exchange from the Marx brothers movie Duck Soup:
Mrs. Teasdale: This is a gala day for you.
Rufus (Groucho Marx): Well, a gal a day is enough for me. I don’t think I could handle any more.
Jahangir, the fourth Mogul Emperor (ruled 1605 to 1627), disagreed with Groucho. He had 300 wives, 5000 mistresses, and 1000 young men to serve his erotic needs. Presumably his 12,000 elephants, 10,000 oxen, 2000 camels, 3,000 deer, 4,000 dogs, 100 lions, 500 buffalo, and 10,000 pigeons were just working animals and pets.

You can express the number “1” by using all ten digits: 148/296 + 35/70 = 1. Three Dog Night sang One is the Loneliest Number back in the 70s. Maybe they were wrong

Heroin was derived from opium by Felix Hoffman, a chemist for Bayer. Between 1898 and 1910, Bayer sold heroin as a cure for morphine addiction and as a cough suppressant. Well, it did get people’s minds off morphine. Did it suppress coughs? Who cares?   

Several companies make animal crackers, but the classic product with the stringed box that you can hang as a tree ornament is Barnum’s Animal Crackers. It was introduced in 1902 by Nabisco and is still in production. The animals change from time to time for marketing reasons. There have been 37 in all. The current list: bear, camel, crocodile, elephant, giraffe, monkey, horse, lion, seal, tiger, and zebra.

Melanie Safka Animal Crackers


  1. Your barrage of facts reminded me of the film "Quiz Show" directed by Robert Redford. Rewatched that movie a week or two ago and it still held up really well. Good casting and an intriguing story (one that still resonates today with "reality TV").

    Came out the same year as "Forrest Gump", "Pulp Fiction" and "The Shawshank Redemption", so it kind of gets lost in the mists of time. But back then I was watching everything I could see... and thus it remains in my brain.

    Also the same year was my favorite Tim Burton film "Ed Wood". That movie gets put on once a year around these parts. Everything about it works. The musical score, by Howard Shore is a million miles from his huge orchestral masterpiece that is "Lord of the Rings". But he nails the sound and feel of those old 1950s Horror/sci-fi flicks. He even uses a Theremin.

    And there sir is my barrage of random facts... well not so random. :)

    1. Ed Wood is a fun flick, and Martin Landau is great as Bela Lugosi.

      Quiz Show, based on the real 1950s scandal, is also good. How quaint it seems that a little TV chicanery would dismay a nation and evoke the interest of Congressional watchdogs -- and that such a fox-guarding-the-hen-house moment didn't cause widespread laughter.