Trivia Bits – Week of May 29

May 29, 2017  
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The U.S. Military Academy Class of 1846 stands out as possibly the most poignant in West Point’s history. Those 59 classmates, who studied, trained and made friendships together at the academy, included 22 who achieved the rank of general during the American Civil War — 12 on the Union side and 10 on the Confederate. Among them were George B. McClellan, briefly general-in-chief of the Union Army; Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, who died at Chancellorsville; and George E. Pickett, who led the unsuccessful Confederate charge at Gettysburg.

Star-nosed moles can detect scents underwater — an ability that makes them unique among mammals. They do this by exhaling bubbles into the water, then re-inhaling them to sniff for insects, fish and other prey. Like most moles, star-nosed moles have poor eyesight. They compensate for this with a cluster of super-sensitive tentacles around their noses that allow them to detect even the slightest movement. That star-shaped cluster of tentacles also gave the star-nosed mole its name.

Cayenne pepper is named for Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana. The pepper itself originated someplace in South America, possibly French Guiana, possibly not. Never the most hospitable place to live, French Guiana is a French overseas department notorious as a penal colony for much of its history. Trivia buffs know it as the largest European Union territory outside Europe. It is also the European Space Agency’s main launch site, the second-busiest in the world after Cape Canaveral.

At the library, geology books are shelved in the 550s, sports in the 790s, French lit in the 840s. That’s the work of Melvil Dewey (1851-1931), who devised the Dewey Decimal system of library classification — the world’s most widely used library classification system. Dedicated to order and simplification, he also was an advocate for spelling reform. He shortened the original spelling of his first name from Melville to Melvil and, for a time, took to spelling his last name Dui.

Baauer’s 2013 dance song “Harlem Shake” is the most recent instrumental track to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Prior to that, it was Jan Hammer’s “Theme from Miami Vice,” which hit No. 1 in 1984. Why so long between instrumental chart toppers? It wasn’t always so. The 1970s had 10 of them, from the Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein” in 1973 to Herb Alpert’s “Rise” in 1979. And that doesn’t include Silver Convention’s 1975 hit “Fly, Robin, Fly” — not strictly an instrumental even though its lyrics contain a mere eight words.

The fabric pattern we call plaid in the United States is called tartan in Scotland, where a “plaid” is a length of tartan fabric that may be used as a blanket or (more often) worn as an accessory by men in full Highland dress. The plaid, in the same tartan pattern as the man’s kilt, is wrapped around the chest and over the shoulder, and then belted at the waist.


1. Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” was delivered on what occasion?
A) A campaign stop in Pennsylvania
B) Christmas
C) Dedication of a Union Army cemetery
D) Independence Day

2. White-nose syndrome is a deadly disease that affects what creatures in North America?
A) Bats
B) Bees
C) Cows
D) Pigs

3. “Papillon” is a French word meaning what?
A) Bell
B) Butterfly
C) Pepper
C) Prisoner

4. Thomas E. Dewey, Republican presidential candidate in 1944 and 1948, was the governor of what state?
A) Arkansas
B) New York
C) Ohio
D) Wisconsin

5. Which instrument represents the grandfather in the children’s symphony “Peter and the Wolf”?
A) Bassoon
B) Cello
C) Clarinet
D) Oboe

6. Illustrator Grace Drayton created the red-cheeked kids used for decades in ads for what product?
A) Alka-Seltzer
B) Campbell Soup
C) Mott’s Apple Juice
D) Oreo cookies


1) Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” was delivered at the dedication of a Union Army cemetery in November 1863.
2) White-nose syndrome is a deadly disease that affects bats in North America.
3) Papillon is the French word for butterfly.
4) Thomas E. Dewey, Republican presidential candidate in 1944 and 1948, was the governor of New York.
5) The bassoon represents the grandfather in “Peter and the Wolf.”
6) Grace Dayton illustrated children’s books and magazines, but perhaps is most famous for creating the Campbell Soup Kids.

Trivia Bits – Week of May 22

May 22, 2017  
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On May 22, 1960, a 9.5 magnitude earthquake occurred near Valdivia, Chile. It remains the largest magnitude earthquake ever recorded. Tsunamis resulting from the quake caused destruction and loss of life in Southern California, Hawaii and as far away as Japan and Alaska. Four years later came the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964. With a 9.2 magnitude, it’s the second-largest earthquake ever recorded.

For World Turtle Day, celebrated annually on May 23, let’s honor leatherback turtles — the world’s largest sea turtles. They may grow to be 8 feet long and weigh 2,000 pounds. They can dive deeper than 3,900 feet and remain submerged for 85 minutes, and their migration from nesting sites to feeding sites may take them from Indonesia to Portland, Oregon, thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean. All of this on a diet that consists mainly of jellyfish!

Concertos for violin, piano, cello, horns — most composers have those in their repertoires. But in 1954, English composer Ralph (pronounced Rafe) Vaughan Williams broke new ground by writing a concerto for the orchestra’s most stalwart member — the tuba. Its debut took place during the London Symphony Orchestra’s 50th anniversary Jubilee, with Philip Catelinet as the featured tuba soloist. This wasn’t the only time Vaughan Williams composed for an overlooked musical instrument. Two years earlier, he’d written “Romance in D-flat” for harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler.

Royal epithets tend to be complimentary. Take Catherine “the Great” of Russia or the Ottoman Emperor Suleiman I “the Magnificent” for example. Monarchs have been known as “the Brave,” “the Bold,” “the Pious” and even “the Handsome.” Less-beloved rulers have borne unflattering tags, from “the Bad” (William I of Sicily) to “the Crazy” (both Maria I of Portugal and Juana “la Loca” of Castile in Spain). Then there are those who defy categorization, like Ivaylo “the Cabbage,” a medieval peasant revolutionary who briefly reigned as the king of Bulgaria.

The most famous obelisk in America, the Washington Monument, was originally designed to have a flat top (which, technically, would have made it not an obelisk). That’s what architect Robert Mills (1781-1855) intended when he designed the monument in 1836. After waiting some 10 years for the groundbreaking, construction was further delayed numerous times for numerous reasons, including the Civil War. By the time the monument opened in 1885, 30 years after Mills’ death, the design had been altered to add a pyramid-shaped top capped with aluminum to serve as a lightning rod.

Daisies take their name from the Old English for “day’s eye,” because the flower opens its petals at dawn and closes them at dusk. According to folklore, daisies can predict whom you’ll marry, protect your home from lightning strikes and heal bruises. Some misguided folks even believed that puppies will stay little forever if you feed them daisies. (Do not do this!) For Victorians, daisies symbolized innocence and loyalty. In the United States 100 years ago, people decorated soldiers’ graves with daisy wreaths on Memorial Day. Some people still do.


1. Which well-known composer wrote the score for the 1974 disaster film “Earthquake”?
A) John Barry
B) Elmer Bernstein
C) Ennio Morricone
D) John Williams

2. “Fear the Turtle” is the unofficial slogan of what school’s sports teams?
A) Columbia University
B) University of Delaware
C) University of Maryland
D) Temple University

3. Which TV character had a best friend named Jenny Piccalo?
A) Joanie Cunningham
B) Kim Possible
C) D.J. Tanner
D) Laura Winslow

4. Charles the Great, better known as Charlemagne, was the son of which king?
A) Augustus II the Strong
B) Ethelred the Unready
C) Gorm the Old
D) Pepin the Short

5. Who was the ancient Egyptian god of the sun?
A) Anubis
B) Geb
C) Osiris
D) Ra

6. Juliette Gordon Low founded what organization in 1912?
A) Daughters of the American Revolution
B) Girl Scouts of the USA
C) Junior League
D) National Woman’s Party


1) “Star Wars” composer John Williams wrote the scores for the “big three” disaster movies of the 1970s: “The Poseidon Adventure,” “The Towering Inferno” and “Earthquake.
2) “Fear the Turtle” is the unofficial slogan of the University of Maryland Terrapins.
3) Jenny Piccalo was Joanie Cunningham’s best friend on “Happy Days.”
4) Pepin the Short, King of the Franks, was the father of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne.
5) Ra was the ancient Egyptian god of the sun.
6) Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts of the USA in 1912.


Trivia Bits – Week of May 15

May 15, 2017  
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In poetry, an anapest is a group of three syllables: two unstressed and one stressed. A poem written in anapestic tetrameter has four anapests in each line. (The prefix tetra means four.) It all sounds very fancy, until you realize that much of the poetry you loved best as a kid — and possibly still do! — was written in anapestic tetrameter. That includes most of Dr. Seuss as well as Clement Clark Moore’s “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” Read them aloud and you’ll see.

With a median age of about 15, the African nation of Niger has the youngest population of any country in the world. Uganda is a close second, and eight more African nations round out the top 10. By comparison, the world median age is around 30. The United States comes in with 40; Germany and Japan are nearly 47. Monaco has the world’s highest median age at an estimated 52.4.

In 1849, landscape artist James F. Wilkins made a 151-day journey from Missouri to California, keeping a diary and sketching throughout the trip. His route took him through southern Idaho past spectacular granite formations that were landmarks for westward bound emigrants. In his diary, Wilkins called the area “City of Rocks,” and the name stuck. Since 1988, it’s officially been known as City of Rocks National Reserve, part of the National Park System.

The oldest surviving globe of the world is the 1492 “Erdapfel” (earth apple), attributed to German merchant/geographer Martin Behaim. A close second is the Laon Globe made in France and dated 1493. They’re not the first globes ever made. In fact, Columbus probably brought a globe with him when he set sail for India in 1492. (Not that it did him much good.) What makes the Erdapfel and Laon Globe unusual, however, is that they were made before Columbus returned from his voyage. Thus they don’t depict the Americas.

The blackbird singing on the Beatles’ 1968 song “Blackbird” really is a blackbird. Paul McCartney recorded the song solo, playing an acoustic guitar. He wanted the recording to sound as if he were playing outdoors. So sound engineer Geoff Emerick added the birdsong from an Abbey Road Studios sound effects collection. The bird had been recorded by another sound engineer in his backyard a few years earlier.

Trench coats come to us from World War I, where they were worn by officers in the battle trenches. Their characteristic features had practical purposes: Epaulets displayed the officer’s rank; a back placket allowed water to run off the garment; front flaps provided cushioning against the butt of a rifle; gear was clipped to D rings on the belt. Resistant to “wind, wet and mud,” some trench coats also had a detachable fleece lining that could be used as an emergency blanket.


1. Dr. Seuss’s Thidwick was what type of creature?
A) Cat
B) Elephant
C) Lidwick
D) Moose

2. Dayton, Ohio, is named for Jonathan Dayton, who holds what distinction?
A) Aviation pioneer
B) Youngest Civil War general
C) First governor of Ohio
D) Youngest signer of the U.S. Constitution

3. Who carved the presidential portraits on Mount Rushmore?
A) Gutzon and Lincoln Borglum
B) Daniel Chester French
C) Henry Augustus Lukeman
D) John and Washington Roebling

4. What imaginary line runs through India, China, Mexico and the Bahamas at approximately 23.5 degrees north latitude?
A) Equator
B) International Date Line
C) Tropic of Cancer
D) Tropic of Capricorn

5. Suggested by reader Bob Sluis: What was Johnny Cash putting together in his 1976 song “One Piece at a Time”?
A) His broken heart
B) A Cadillac
C) A perfect woman
D) A railroad track

6. Which fictional detective is involved in the case of the Maltese Falcon?
A) Sherlock Holmes
B) Philip Marlowe
C) Hercule Poirot
D) Sam Spade


1) Thidwick was the “big-hearted moose” in a Dr. Seuss story.
2) Dayton, Ohio, is named for Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey, youngest signer of the U.S. Constitution.
3) Father and son Gutzon and Lincoln Borglum carved the images of the presidents in Mount Rushmore.
4) The Tropic of Cancer runs around the globe at approximately 23.5 degrees north latitude.
5) Johnny Cash was putting together a Cadillac in his 1976 song “One Piece at a Time.”
6) Dashiell Hammett’s detective Sam Spade is involved in the case of the Maltese Falcon.


Trivia Bits – Week of May 8

May 8, 2017  
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Helen Magill White was the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in the United States, receiving a doctorate in Greek from Boston University in 1877, the year she turned 24. By that time, she was already comfortable being an academic pioneer. She had been the only female student in her class at Boston Public Latin School and a member of the first graduating class at Swarthmore College.

The original 1858 plan for New York City’s Central Park included a dairy to provide fresh milk for children. At the time, the city was enduring what became known as the “Swill Milk” scandal, in which hundreds of children died after consuming tainted milk from cows fed on the solid byproducts of the city’s beer breweries. To alleviate the crisis and cultivate the family atmosphere they wanted for the park, designers Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead created a charming Victorian milk bar serving milk from dairy farms outside the city. In the 1870s, the building was converted to a restaurant. Today it’s a visitor center.

The 1950 film “All About Eve” holds an Academy Award record for the most actresses nominated for a single film. Bette Davis and Ann Baxter received nominations as best actress and Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter as best supporting actress. All of them lost, but their co-star George Sanders took home an Oscar as best supporting actor. Joseph L. Mankiewicz won for best director and best screenplay and the film won best picture.

Colombia is the world’s largest producer of emeralds, traditional birthstone for people born in May. Its Muzo mine has operated continuously since the 16th century, but the indigenous population worked with emeralds before Spanish conquistadors arrived to plunder it all. One example: the golden Crown of the Andes, made around 1660. It’s encrusted with 443 emeralds, including the 24-carat Atahualpa Emerald, reputedly stolen from Inca emperor Atahualpa when he was captured by Francisco Pizarro in 1532.

The Guam War Dog Memorial and War Dog Cemetery honors the canine members of the 2nd and 3rd War Dog platoons that lost their lives serving the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. The dogs worked as sentries, couriers and scouts, and they detected bombs, booby traps and enemy attackers during the liberation of Guam from Japanese occupation in 1944. Twenty-five dogs lost their lives in military service on Guam. The first was a Doberman pinscher named Kurt, who’s depicted in a statue atop the memorial.

The C. Herschel crater on the moon is named for astronomer Caroline Herschel, the first woman to discover a comet, the first to be paid for her astronomical work and the first to receive honorary induction into the Royal Astronomical Society of London. In her career, she found and tracked eight comets, prepared extensive star catalogs and contributed greatly to the body of knowledge in astronomy. For her work, she was honored with a gold medal from the king of Prussia, which she received in 1846 at age 96.


1. According to Greek mythology, Athens was named for Athena after she gave the city what gift?
A) Fire
B) Gold
C) An olive tree
D) Written language

2. A coffee shop called Central Perk features in which TV series?
A) “Frasier”
B) “Friends”
C) “Grey’s Anatomy”
D) “Seinfeld”

3. Who bought Bette Davis’s Oscars for “Jezebel” and “Dangerous” at auction, and donated them to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences?
A) Joan Crawford
B) Susan Sarandon
C) Steven Spielberg
D) Meryl Streep

4. Which unfortunate fictional character is in love with a girl called Esmeralda?
A) Don Quixote
B) Dracula
C) The Hunchback of Notre Dame
D) The Phantom of the Opera

5. Which breed of dog has won the most best in show titles at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show?
A) Doberman pinscher
B) German shepherd dog
C) Labrador retriever
D) Wire fox terrier

6. Moons of Uranus are named for what?
A) Ancient cities
B) Astronomers
C) Characters from Shakespeare and Alexander Pope
D) Children of the god Zeus


1) Athena became patron deity of Athens when she gave the city an olive tree.
2) Central Perk is a coffee shop in the series “Friends.”
3) Steven Spielberg bought Bette Davis’s Oscars for “Jezebel” and “Dangerous” at auction, and donated them to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
4) Quasimodo, the “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” is in love with Esmeralda.
5) Wire fox terriers have won best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show a total of 14 times, the most of any breed.
6) Moons of Uranus are named for characters from Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.


April 30

April 30, 2017  
Filed under Trivia Bits

Saturday, April 29

The recording that launched the audiobook industry was the 1952 Caedmon Records release of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Five Poems” read by the author Dylan Thomas. It wasn’t the first time a writer had recorded work for posterity. Most notably, Alfred Lord Tennyson recorded his epic “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by special request of Thomas Edison in 1890. Yet the Dylan Thomas recording marked a milestone in publishing history. More recordings of authors and poets reading their work followed, and a new publishing category was born.

What is depicted on the national flag of Wales?
A) Blue dolphin
B) Golden lion
C) Red dragon
D) White dove

Previous answer: Monrovia, capital of Liberia, is named for U.S. president James Monroe.

TRIVIA FANS: Leslie Elman is the author of “Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous and Totally Off the Wall Facts.” Contact her at

April 28

April 29, 2017  
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Friday, April 28

In response to a recent TriviaBit, Scott Harris, director of the James Monroe Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia, confirms that President James Monroe is depicted in the painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” even though Monroe wasn’t part of that expedition. He was with a detachment assigned to secure a crossroads along the army’s line of march to Trenton, and in that group was a local doctor named John Riker. “This was fortunate, because Monroe was severely wounded by a Hessian musket ball the next day and would have bled to death without Dr. Riker’s care,” Harris notes. “As it was, Monroe retained the bullet in his shoulder for the rest of his life.”

Which country’s capital city is named for U.S. president James Monroe?
A) Jamaica
B) Liberia
C) St. Kitts and Nevis
D) Togo

Previous answer: The almond-shaped amygdala is a part of the brain that governs emotion.

TRIVIA FANS: Leslie Elman is the author of “Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous and Totally Off the Wall Facts.” Contact her at


April 27

April 27, 2017  
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Thursday, April 27

Next time you’re snacking on almonds, say thanks to the honey bees that pollinate almond orchards. They’re virtually the only natural pollinators of almonds, which is why almond growers in California team up with beekeepers across the United States to transport bee colonies to the orchards for pollination. Without them, the trees wouldn’t produce almonds and we’d miss out on marzipan, granola, almond butter and all sorts of delicious things.

Where in your body would you find the almond-shaped amygdala?
A) Brain
B) Eye
C) Pancreas
D) Small Intestine

Previous answer: Michael Caine played the title character in the 1966 film “Alfie.”

TRIVIA FANS: Leslie Elman is the author of “Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous and Totally Off the Wall Facts.” Contact her at


April 26

April 26, 2017  
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Wednesday, April 26

In the 1972 film “Sleuth,” Laurence Olivier plays a crime novelist living in a stately home in England. On his mantelpiece is an Edgar Allan Poe award from the Mystery Writers of America. That statuette was no mere stage prop. It was the real Edgar awarded to playwright Anthony Shaffer in 1971 for the stage version of “Sleuth.” Presumably, it survived the film shoot unscathed. In 1973, it gained a companion, when Shaffer received a second Edgar for the film version of “Sleuth.”

Jude Law starred in a 2004 remake of “Alfie.” Who starred in the 1966 original?
A) Richard Burton
B) Michael Caine
C) Albert Finney
D) Peter O’Toole

Previous answer: Nancy Cartwright provides the voice of Bart Simpson.

TRIVIA FANS: Leslie Elman is the author of “Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous and Totally Off the Wall Facts.” Contact her at


April 25

April 25, 2017  
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Tuesday, April 25

Hank Azaria voices the most characters of any actor on “The Simpsons,” including Chief Wiggam, Moe Szyslak, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Dr. Nick Riviera and Comic Book Guy. He was just 22 years old when he joined the cast. On April 25, 2017, he turns 54.

Who voices the character of Bart Simpson?
A) Nancy Cartwright
B) Dan Castellaneta
C) Yeardley Smith
D) Tracey Ullman

Previous answer: Six-year-old Tricia Nixon named the Nixon family dog Checkers.

TRIVIA FANS: Leslie Elman is the author of “Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous and Totally Off the Wall Facts.” Contact her at


April 24

April 24, 2017  
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Monday, April 24

Chinese checkers is sort of like checkers, but it’s definitely not Chinese. It’s based on a game called Halma — from the Greek word for “jump” — devised in the 1880s by a Massachusetts surgeon named George Howard Monks and inspired by an older English game called Hoppity. Originally, Halma was played on a square board. The star-shaped board variation came from Germany, where the game is sometimes called Sternhalma (Star Halma). Naming it Chinese checkers was an American marketing concept from the 1920s intended to capitalize on people’s fascination with the “exotic East.”

In Richard Nixon’s famous “Checkers speech,” who did he credit with naming the Nixon family dog?
A) Dwight D. Eisenhower
B) Nixon’s wife, Pat
C) Nixon’s daughter, Tricia
D) Earl Warren

Previous answer: The Tibetan momo, Mongolian buuz and Chinese ha gow are types of dumpling.

TRIVIA FANS: Leslie Elman is the author of “Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous and Totally Off the Wall Facts.” Contact her at


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