Trivial pursuits

I find trivia and useless facts a wonderful way to procrastinate. I especially find nonsense information compelling when I am avoiding doing something useful. Of course, my useless research could come in handy if I’m ever chosen as a guest on a television game show. Since I’m not likely to seek such an invitation, the chances of that happening are virtually zero. The world is full of sources of trivia and the internet is an especially rich treasure trove of nonessential knowledge and is a wonderful avoidance tool. One has to wonder about the lives of those who build entire web sites around useless and trivial information.

Did you know that dollar bills are made of cotton and linen, that America once issued a 5-cent bill, a quarter has 119 grooves on its circumference and a dime has one less? I haven’t counted them myself. Procrastination, even for me, has limits. I was surprised to learn that it costs more to buy a new car today than it cost Christopher Columbus to equip and undertake three voyages to and from the New World. Having bought a used car a few years ago that cost three times the price of the new car we bought in 1972, I knew the cost of transportation had experienced a dramatic increase. I just wasn’t aware that it had increased that much in a mere 500 years.

Apparently the number 57 on the Heinz ketchup bottle represents the number of pickle types the company once had. Any child will recognize that label since the average first grader can recognize more than 200 company logos.

I can’t think of any reason I might need to know that cabbage is 91 percent water unless I’m dehydrating it. Obviously it will take a lot less room when dried up. The fact that a hard boiled egg will spin and a raw egg will not might be useful. The bit I ran across about honey being the only food that doesn’t spoil is one I already knew. I have raised bees in the past and know that in order for honey to ferment, you have to add water. I did not know that the Swedes drank more coffee per capita than any other nationality. I would have bet on Norwegians for that distinction.

I did not know that it was illegal to hunt camels in Arizona. I think that might be because most of them are domesticated and are someone’s private property. I’ll bet camel hunting would be illegal in North Dakota as well, but perhaps there isn’t a law specifically banning it.

I could have figured out that the human heart beats 100,000 times a day if I had needed to know that.

The people at the “Guinness Book of World Records” have made big business out of cataloging useless information and records. In 1951, the managing director of the Guinness Brewery had an argument in a bar about whether the golden plover or the grouse was the fastest game bird in Europe. No one knew the answer. He decided to publish a reference book which would settle similar bar room disagreements. The book is said to be the best-selling copyrighted series of all time. The “Guinness Book of World Records” is now published by the same company as owns “Ripley’s Believe it or Not.”

According Guinness, the woman with the longest hair lives in China and has hair that is nearly 18.5 feet long. She must also have record setting shampoo bills. The woman with the longest fingernails lives in California. Her nails are each between 29 and 31.5 inches long. I wonder how she brushes her teeth? Does she do the dishes? Does she do anything but manicure her nails?

Of course everyone should know, just in case you’re ever called by the producers of a game show, that the world record for the most airplane sick bags is held by a man from the Netherlands. He has 5,180 from 1003 different airlines. Are there are other collectors of sick bags who are attempting to overturn his record? The book doesn’t say why he collects them. That story might be even more interesting than the record itself.

I doubt the people at the “Guinness Book” really care if their book is used to avoid work or to ignore writers’ block, or if it is still used as a reference to settle bar room brawls. The book holds records of its own. It is the best-selling copyrighted book series of all time.  It is also one of the most frequently stolen books from public libraries in the United States.

Copyright © 2013 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains