2014.03.19 New almanac chock full of odd facts and fun

Any reader of this space knows of my enjoyment of reference books, the more obscure, the better. Usually, I get them slightly used at various sales or from closeout stores. That accounts for my 2009 edition of The World Almanac and Book of Facts, which I picked up a couple of years later at a bargain price. When I discovered the Fayette library had the 2014 edition, hot off the press, I couldn’t resist checking it out and perusing a few items while they’re still fresh.

The first order of business is always trying to guess who is pictured on the cover. In 2009, recognizing Barack Obama and John McCain was easy. But who was that guy with the microphone? A check of the photo credits inside revealed him to be David Cook, 2008 “American Idol” winner. No wonder I didn’t recognize him.

I had about the same luck identifying the 2014 cover photos. On the front, Obama makes the cut again, this time accompanied by First Lady Michelle. There’s also tennis star Serena Williams. But who’s that young guy?

The photo credits identified him as Justin Timberlake. I’m familiar with him, of course, but did he do something recently to justify the front page? The Obamas and Serena Williams rate additional photos on the “Year in Pictures” feature inside. But no mention of why JT gets a cover photo.

One of my favorite sections of the almanac is the ranking of U.S. cities by population. It’s interesting to find which cities on the list are rising and falling in rank. Since 1950, the drop by some of our formerly largest cities is nothing short of amazing.

For example, Detroit, which was the country’s fifth largest city in 1950, is now  (according to 2012 population) ranked 18th. But that’s hardly worth mentioning compared to some other cities. Baltimore fell from sixth to 26th in that time frame, while Cleveland fell from seventh to 48th.

St. Louis, ranked as eighth biggest city in 1950, has fallen all the way to 58th. Pittsburgh fell from eleventh to 61st, Buffalo from 14th to 73rd, and Cincinnati from 17th to 65th.

Comparisons between some towns are hard to believe as well. Corpus Christi, Texas, for example, now ranks higher than Pittsburgh. Anchorage, Alaska, has a bigger population than Cincinnati. In fact, Cincinnati, at 65th place, is now only two spots higher than Toledo in the rankings. Toledo has lost about 20,000 in population since 1950, but Cincinnati has lost over 200,000 and now has only 12,000 more residents than Toledo. Buffalo edges Fort Wayne, Ind., on the list by less than 5,000 people.

Population increases by some towns are just as surprising. Phoenix, which didn’t make the top 50 in 1950, is now our sixth largest city. San Jose, Calif., and Austin, Texas, which also ranked outside 1950’s top 50, now rank as our 11th and 12th largest cities, respectively.

Austin is the biggest city without a major league sports franchise. I suppose population isn’t the only factor leagues and teams consider or the Cincinnati Reds might relocate to Anchorage or the Pittsburgh Steelers to Corpus Christi. Or how about the Buffalo Bills moving to Toledo? Toledo has a bigger population, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting.

 I also like to check out the list of U.S. daily newspapers, ranked by circulation. I guess people in some areas like to read newspapers and others just don’t seem to care because the size of the town often has no relation to the circulation of its newspaper. For instance, the Newark Star Ledger ranks 15th in circulation, even though Newark is 68th in population. The Cleveland Plain Dealer is 17th in circulation while Cleveland itself is 48th in population.

 In the most extreme example, the St. Petersburg Times ranks 16th in circulation, despite the Florida city coming in at a lowly 78th in population. The opposite is also sometimes true, with large cities having low newspaper numbers.

For example, San Antonio ranks seventh in population, but the city’s Express-News is a lowly 48th in circulation. San Jose and Austin rank 11th and 12th in population, but the local newspapers in both fail to make the top 50.

I’ve barely started and I’m out of space already. Come back another time—there’s nearly 1,000 pages of knowledge to go.