2006.10.11 Useless Knowledge from The Factoid File

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

In the course of writing this little communiqué, I often stumble across strange facts too good to ignore, but too limited to inspire an entire column. Not wanting to be wasteful, but not minding being lazy, I’ve carefully assembled (OK, thrown together) some of the best for your enjoyment.

For example, guess what the most requested food is among death row prisoners eating their last meal? The answer, supposedly, is french fries.

I’m guessing that’s because they are a great side dish for those soon to have no worries about fat, calories or sodium. No matter what the main choice is, fries go with it: Hamburgers and fries, electrocution and fries, lethal injection and fries, etc.

JUMPING back a bit in history, I recently read a weird explanation for the invention of window screens. The article in question claims they were conceived shortly after the end of the Civil War as a means of using up hair from all the horses killed during the conflict. After the huge supply of dead horses was exhausted, wire mesh then began to be used.

Even if that is true, what did they do with the rest of the horse?

HERE’S one to think about for a minute. What state has, per capita, the largest amount of strip clubs in the country? Give up? The answer is West Virginia. Insert your own joke here.

A COUPLE of odd facts from Field & Stream magazine. Number of deaths annually in the United States attributed to snakebites: 9 to 15. Average number of people who choke to death on a ball point pen: 100. Does that mean it’s safer to write with a snake than a pen?

HOW about a little trivia about our nation’s first ladies? First, the case of Margaret Taylor, wife of Zachary. A private woman, she spent most of her time in the family’s living quarters at the White House. She never sat for a painting, and even though photography was available by that time, no photos of her are known to exist. To this day, no one can say what she looked like.

Then there’s Ida McKinley, wife of William. She was prone to having seizures on a regular basis, along with several other health issues. The President had her seated next to him at state dinners. When she had a seizure, he would cover her face with his handkerchief until it passed, then go on with his conversation.

When he was assassinated, he was said to have blurted out the words, “My wife, be careful how you tell her!” Surprisingly, Ida McKinley maintained her composure through the funeral and never had another seizure the rest of her life.

AND then there’s news from the world of carrots. Carrots historically were white, yellow, green and even purple in color. The orange carrot we now eat today was developed by the Dutch during the 17th century.

The baby-cut, or mini-size already peeled carrots, are a much more recent development, first hitting retail shelves in 1989. Since that time, consumption of carrots in the United States has increased to about 11 pounds per person yearly, nearly four times the rate before the ready-to-eat variety entered the market.

THE world’s biggest book? “Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom” weighs 133 pounds and measures 5 feet by 7 feet. It is available by special order at $15,000 per copy.

QUICK, how many Great Lakes are there? No, the answer, according to some experts is four, since lakes Michigan and Huron are considered to be one giant lake, together over 40 percent bigger than Lake Superior (which now also probably needs a name change).

Those supporting this theory point out that Michigan and Huron are at the same elevation and are connected by the Mackinac Strait, also at the same elevation. Water flows in either direction through the strait, allowing what are two giant sections of the same lake to equalize. The strait is considered a narrowing of one giant lake, not the divider of two smaller ones.

Of course, because explorers hundreds of years ago didn’t realize this and gave separate names to the combined lake’s east and west sections, we can’t change history now, can we?

If you don’t think so, go talk to the rock in outer space formerly known as the planet Pluto.

   - Oct. 11, 2006

 

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