LESLIE'S TRIVIABITS - WEEKLY

By Leslie Elman

March 1, 2021 24 min read

The first female host of the Academy Awards ceremony was Agnes Moorehead, who co-hosted with Dick Powell in 1948. By that time, she'd been nominated for two best supporting actress Oscars and would receive two more nominations. That was long before she became known to TV audiences as Samantha's flamboyant mom, Endora, on "Bewitched."

The National Football League has limited-edition commemorative coins minted for the coin toss at the start of the Super Bowl. For regular-season games, however, it's typically up to the head referee to choose the coin that will be flipped before the start of play. One veteran official used the same Eisenhower silver dollar for every coin toss throughout his career. When he retired, he had that coin framed.

In 1919, Field Marshall Jan Smuts of South Africa signed the Treaty of Versailles, which marked the end of World War I. In 1945, as prime minister of South Africa, Smuts signed the Paris Peace Treaty, marking the end of World War II. He's the only person whose signature appears on both documents. He's also the only person to have signed both the charter for the League of Nations in 1918 and the charter for the United Nations in 1945.

Swiss figure skater Denise Biellmann won both the European and the World championships and was the first woman to execute a triple Lutz jump in competition. She retired from amateur competition in 1981 at age 18, yet her legacy continues. A standing spin in which the skater reaches back over her shoulder to grasp one boot and extend it above her head was Denise Biellmann's signature move. It's now known as the Biellmann spin.

New Year celebrations on the island of Bali start with two days of noisy parades and parties followed by Nyepi, the day of silence, when everyone literally "unplugs" to free themselves from sensory distractions for 24 hours. No cars, no TV, no radio, no phones ... Observant Hindus won't even use electricity or light candles. If you were in a plane flying over Bali, the island would be completely dark and undetectable. You couldn't land if you wanted to: during Nyepi, even the airport shuts down.

John Kessel, author of the Jane Austen-Mary Shelley mash-up novel "Pride and Prometheus," tells us that the first movie version of "Frankenstein" was a 16-minute silent made in 1910 by Thomas Edison's studios. Though Edison was famous for applying electricity to innumerable practical uses, the monster in this film was brought to life not by lightning but by cooking it in a fiery cauldron within a sealed chamber.

TRIVIA

1. Chris Partridge from "The Partridge Family" and Becky Conner from "Roseanne" have what in common?

A) Oldest kids in their sitcom families

B) Drummers in their family band

C) Role played by identical twins

D) Role played by two unrelated performers

2. In the Highland Games event called the caber toss, what type of object is the caber?

A) Boulder

B) Cement block

C) Coin

D) Tree trunk

3. Who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations before he was elected president of the United States?

A) George H.W. Bush

B) Jimmy Carter

C) Gerald Ford

D) Harry Truman

4. Written in 1965 while the author was in prison, "Soul on Ice" is what man's memoir?

A) Muhammad Ali

B) Johnny Cash

C) Eldridge Cleaver

D) Malcolm X

5. According to Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence," where are the words of the prophets written?

A) On the back of my hand

B) In books no one has read, on the shelves in my head

C) On a street where angels live

D) On the subway walls and tenement halls

6. In Mary Shelley's novel "Frankenstein," what is Dr. Frankenstein's first name?

A) Alphonse

B) Igor

C) Victor

D) Werner

ANSWERS

1) Like the role of Darrin Stephens on "Bewitched," Chris on "The Partridge Family" and Becky on "Roseanne" were played by two different actors during each sitcom's run.

2) In the Highland Games event called the caber toss, the caber is a pole made from the trunk of a tree.

3) Before he was elected president of the United States, George H.W. Bush served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

4) Published in 1968, Eldridge Cleaver's memoir, "Soul on Ice" was written in 1965, while he was serving time in prison.

5) According to Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence," the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls.

6) In Mary Shelley's novel, Dr. Frankenstein's first name is Victor.

WEEK OF MAR. 8

The Grevy's zebra is named for Jules Grevy, a former president of France who received one in 1882 as a diplomatic gift from King Menelik II of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). A representative from the Paris museum of natural history noticed this zebra was different from other known zebras — taller, with narrower stripes and a distinctive white belly. He gave it the scientific name Equus grevyi in Grevy's honor. King Menelik presented Grevy's zebras to England's Queen Victoria and President Theodore Roosevelt as well.

The first woman to compete in a NASCAR race was Sara Christian, who drove a Ford owned by her husband Frank at Charlotte Speedway on June 19, 1949. At the end of the 1949 season, Sara Christian was ranked 13th overall, racing in six of the eight NASCAR events, including the July 10 race at Daytona Beach, where the field also included Ethel Mobley and Louise Smith — the first NASCAR race that included three female drivers.

In 1769, Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Austrian composer and friend of Mozart, composed "Concerto for Alto Trombone," one of a rare few classical pieces written to feature the trombone. He also composed for the mandola (a lower-pitched sibling of the mandolin) and for the jaw harp, but he was far from a novelty composer. He was an esteemed teacher of music theory whose pupils included Mozart's son, Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, and a young Ludwig van Beethoven.

Washington Irving's tale of Rip Van Winkle, who fell asleep in the Catskill Mountains and woke up 20 years later to find he'd missed the Revolutionary War, has its roots in the much older tale of the "Seven Sleepers" of Ephesus. That story says that in the third century, seven Christian friends hid in a cave to save themselves from persecution, fell asleep and awoke, miraculously, hundreds of years later. There's a similar story in surah 18 of the Quran, in which faithful Muslim friends take refuge in a cave and fall asleep for 309 years.

On Mercury, the planet closest to the sun, the sunny-side temperature typically hits 800 degrees Fahrenheit. But little Mercury is a planet of extremes. With no atmosphere to retain heat, temperatures on the dark side of the planet plunge to -290 degrees. At the poles, which remain perpetually in shadow, space probes have found evidence of water ice.

In 1816, crossing Dublin's River Liffey involved a precarious ride on a leaky ferry for which passengers paid a ha'penny (half-penny) fare. In the name of improvement, city alderman William Walsh — who owned the ferry — proposed replacing it with a cast iron pedestrian bridge across the river. Then he convinced the city to give him a 100-year lease on the bridge and he charged pedestrians a ha'penny toll to cross it. Though its official name is the Liffey Bridge and pedestrians today cross it for free, most folks know it as the Ha'penny Bridge.

TRIVIA

1. Who provided the voice of Marty the zebra in the "Madagascar" film franchise?

A) Martin Lawrence

B) Chris Rock

C) Jada Pinkett Smith

D) Ben Stiller

2. From 1952 to today, which company has won the most NASCAR Manufacturers Championships?

A) Chevrolet

B) Chrysler

C) Ford

D) Pontiac

3. New Orleans musician Troy Andrews is better known by what stage name?

A) Kid Creole

B) Trombone Shorty

C) Doctor John

D) Macklemore

4. Which creature transmits trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, to humans?

A) Bat

B) Cobra

C) Rat

D) Tsetse fly

5. Introduced in 1914, the Mercury Man is the official trademark of what company?

A) AT&T

B) Cunard

C) FTD

D) Western Union

6. A recognized form of the card game bridge is named for what U.S. city?

A) Albuquerque

B) Boston

C) Chicago

D) Sacramento

ANSWERS

1) Chris Rock provided the voice of Marty the zebra in the "Madagascar" film franchise.

2) From 1952 to today, Chevrolet has won the most NASCAR Manufacturers Championships.

3) New Orleans musician Troy Andrews is better known as Trombone Shorty.

4) Tsetse flies transmit trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, to humans.

5) The Mercury Man is the official trademark of Florists' Transworld Delivery, better known as FTD.

6) Chicago is a recognized form of the card game bridge.

WEEK OF MAR. 15

Shortly after George Washington took office as president in 1789, his nephew, Bushrod, asked to be appointed as the federal attorney for Virginia. Washington said no. He wanted to make sure that no one could accuse him of favoritism or corruption in choosing the people who would join his government, and, family member or not, if Bushrod wasn't the most qualified person for the job, he wasn't going to get it. Bushrod remained a lawyer in Virginia, building his reputation, and in 1798, President John Adams named him to fill a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

As if sight and sound weren't enough, movie producers in the 1950s experimented with pumping fragrance into the theater to match the action in a film. Walter Reade Jr. introduced AromaRama in 1959 with a film about China called "Behind the Great Wall," treating the audience to myriad scents including oranges and incense. Shortly after, Michael Todd Jr. introduced Smell-o-Vision, which gave audiences olfactory clues to help solve a murder in the 1960 film "Scent of Mystery."

In honor of the United Nations' World Poetry Day, celebrated on Mar. 21, we salute Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet who, in 1913, became the first non-European to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. He's also the only person to have written and composed the national anthems of two countries. His 1911 song "Jana Gana Mana" ("the leader of people's minds") is India's national anthem, and his 1905 song "Amar Sonar Bangla" ("my golden Bengal") is the national anthem of Bangladesh.

Guglielmo Marconi is the father of modern radio, sending the first transatlantic radio communication — from England to Canada — in 1901. Thirty years after that, at the request of Pope Pius XI, Marconi established the first radio transmission facility at the Vatican. Radio Vaticana still broadcasts today, via land, satellite and internet, in 39 languages.

Sailfish can travel at speeds of more than 68 miles per hour. Their huge dorsal "sail" fin makes them easy to recognize, but when they're swimming at high speed that fin is tucked down into a "fin groove" to make sailfish more aerodynamic. When they're excited — or exhausted — sailfish change color, going from blue to black to dull brown depending on their mood.

There's just one woman inductee in the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, and that's Effa Manley, co-owner of the Newark Eagles. Under her stewardship, the team was the Negro League Champion in 1946, led by future Hall of Famers Larry Doby and Monte Irvin. The following year, Doby's contract was purchased by the Cleveland Indians. Two years after that, Irvin joined the New York Giants.

TRIVIA

1. Who was the first chief justice of the United States Supreme Court?

A) John Adams

B) Alexander Hamilton

C) John Jay

D) Earl Warren

2. Which director incorporated scratch-and-sniff Odorama technology in the theatrical release of his 1980 film, "Polyester"?

A) Jim Jarmusch

B) Stanley Kubrick

C) Spike Lee

D) John Waters

3. Played during the medal ceremonies for a lot of Olympic speed skating events, "Het Wilhelmus" (or "Wilhelmus van Nassouwe") is the national anthem of what country?

A) Japan

B) The Netherlands

C) Norway

D) South Korea

4. More than 18 million people follow @Pontifex, the Twitter handle of what individual?

A) Cardi B

B) Tom Brady

C) Pope Francis

D) Jean-Luc Ponty

5. The biggest-selling hit on the U.K. charts in 1983 was "Karma Chameleon" by what band?

A) Culture Club

B) Simple Minds

C) Tears for Fears

D) Wham!

6. Major League Baseball's first female general manager is Kim Ng, the GM of which team?

A) Miami Marlins

B) Minnesota Twins

C) San Francisco Giants

D) Washington Nationals

ANSWERS

1) John Jay was the first chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.

2) John Waters incorporated scratch-and-sniff Odorama technology in the theatrical release of his 1980 film, "Polyester."

3) "Het Wilhelmus" (or "Wilhelmus van Nassouwe") is the national anthem of the Netherlands.

4) More than 18 million people follow @Pontifex, the Twitter handle of Pope Francis.

5) The biggest-selling hit on the U.K. charts in 1983 was "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club.

6) Major League Baseball's first female general manager is Kim Ng of the Miami Marlins.

WEEK OF MAR. 22

When you think of the sounds of the '60s, think of Earle Hagen, the man who composed the theme music for "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "That Girl," "The Mod Squad" and "I Spy." (He won an Emmy for "I Spy.") He also composed the jazz standard "Harlem Nocturne," later used as the theme for TV's "Mike Hammer." But perhaps his most beloved composition is the theme for "The Andy Griffith Show." That's Earl Hagen whistling the song. His 11-year-old son provided the finger snapping.

"La Bayadere" ("The Temple Dancer") is one of the world's best-known classical ballets, despite the fact that most of the world was denied even a glimpse of it for the first 85-plus years of its existence. Performed for the first time in 1877 at the Bolshoi Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, and revived in Russia in 1941, it didn't have a "Western" premiere until the Leningrad Kirov Ballet performed the second act (called "Kingdom of the Shades") in Paris in 1961. The complete ballet was performed in the west for the first time in 1980.

There have been several instances of animals being nominated to run for political office, and more than once, a critter has been elected or appointed to a position of governance. Outranking them all, however, are the legendary dog kings of Scandinavia — legendary in that they probably didn't exist. Nevertheless, folklore of Denmark, Norway and Sweden contains more than one tale of a noble hound being appointed or anointed to rule over a conquered population.

Scholars have determined that March 25 marks the start of the journey to the afterlife described in Dante Alighieri's 14th-century literary masterwork, "The Divine Comedy." That is why March 25 has been officially designated Dante Day in Italy, celebrating the poet whom many consider to be the "father" of the Italian language.

The first published mention of the Easter Bunny is generally considered to be a 1682 satirical text from the University of Heidelberg in Germany. Written by Johannes Richier under the guidance of Georg Franck von Franckenau — a noted scientist with a sense of humor — it concerned "De ovis paschalibus" (Latin for "Easter eggs"). In the guise of providing medical advice, the paper cautions children against making themselves sick from eating too many of the brightly colored eggs hidden by the Easter bunny.

The Eiffel Tower was constructed for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, or World's Fair, in Paris and expected to stand for 20 years or so. The artistic community of the day considered it an eyesore. It was, however, the tallest building in the world, and that counted for something. It became a laboratory for experiments in meteorology, astronomy and physics. In 1909, plans to dismantle the Eiffel Tower were canceled when people realized it was more valuable as a radio tower than as scrap metal.

TRIVIA

1. The Canary Islands are an autonomous community that is part of what larger nation?

A) Algeria

B) Australia

C) Brazil

D) Spain

2. A dessert named for the great ballerina Anna Pavlova consists of what?

A) Chocolate cake with almonds and ice cream

B) Meringue crust with fruit and whipped cream

C) Sponge cake with hazelnut cream

D) Puff pastry with strawberries

3. Queen Elizabeth II, Stephen King and former California Gov. Jerry Brown are notable owners of what breed of dog?

A) Afghan hound

B) Corgi

C) Irish setter

D) St. Bernard

4. In music, the term "adagio" instructs musicians to play how?

A) Fast

B) Loud

C) Slowly

D) Softly

5. The Economist magazine measures purchasing power parity of various world currencies by comparing the cost of what item in countries around the world?

A) Pint of Guinness

B) McDonald's Big Mac

C) Cup of Starbucks coffee

D) Milky Way candy bar

6. A restaurant on the Eiffel Tower's second floor is named for what forward-thinking French novelist?

A) Colette

B) Victor Hugo

C) Marcel Proust

D) Jules Verne

ANSWERS

1) The Canary Islands area an autonomous community that is part of Spain.

2) The dessert called a pavlova has a meringue crust filled with fruit and whipped cream.

3) Queen Elizabeth II, Stephen King and former California Gov. Jerry Brown are notable corgi owners.

4) In music, the term "adagio" instructs musicians to play slowly.

5) The Economist Big Mac Index measures purchasing power parity by comparing the cost of a McDonald's Big Mac in countries around the world.

6) A restaurant on the Eiffel Tower's second floor is named for the forward-thinking French novelist Jules Verne.

WEEK OF MAR. 29

Franz Joseph Haydn was a prolific composer and musical prankster. Most people know his Symphony No. 94, the "Surprise" symphony, with soothing music punctuated by loud bursts to wake drowsy audiences. His Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 33 No. 2, the "Joke," is filled with extended pauses intended to trick the audience into applauding before the end. And then there's his Symphony No. 47 in G major, known as the "Palindrome" because the music of the third movement is the same played forward or backward.

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Florence Griffith-Joyner was as renowned for her glamorous style as she was for her achievements on the track. (What other sprinter would crush her competition to dust while wearing a one-legged bodysuit?) When she designed uniforms for the NBA Indiana Pacers, there was no doubt they'd make a statement. The team wore the "Flo-Jo" uniforms — V-neck jersey and long shorts with a stacked triangle design — from 1990 to 1997.

As you can guess from their name, sea snakes live in saltwater environments. Yet they need fresh water to drink if they hope to survive. So, they wait for rainy days, when rainwater pools on the surface of the sea, and they drink their fill. Then they slowly dehydrate and remain that way until the rain falls again.

The puckery sensation you have when drinking tea or red wine is caused by tannins, natural chemicals that act as preservatives and pesticides in growing plants. In your mouth, they bind with proteins in your saliva to make your mouth go dry. Grapes are loaded with tannins; so are pomegranates and some nuts and spices. Oak contains tannins as well, which is one reason wine is stored in oak barrels.

In Guam's Apra Harbor, shipwrecks from World War I and World War II lie side by side on the sea floor. The first is the SMS Cormoran II, a German cruiser that had been in Guam for more than two years before the United States entered World War I. Rather than surrender his ship, as circumstances demanded, the German captain scuttled it on Apr. 7, 1917. The other is the Japanese freighter Tokai Maru, torpedoed and sunk by the U.S. submarine Snapper on Aug. 27, 1943, so close to the remains of the Cormoran that the two are touching.

The fragrant peony flowers in your garden likely have roots that reach all the way back to the ancient imperial city of Luoyang in China's Henan Province. Luoyang has been known for its peonies since the days of the powerful empress Wu Zetian, who ruled from 690 to 705. Today, it's home to the Luoyang National Peony Garden, with more than a million peony trees of some 1,200 varieties, including one that's estimated to be 1,600 years old.

TRIVIA

1. Qaanaaq (a geographical palindrome) is the northernmost town in what place?

A) Alaska

B) Canada

C) Greenland

D) Russia

2. Menswear designer Alexander Julian incorporated what pattern into the University of North Carolina men's basketball uniforms in the 1990s?

A) Argyle

B) Chevron

C) Houndstooth

D) Zebra stripes

3. What did poet Carl Sandburg say "comes on little cat feet"?

A) Dew

B) Fog

C) Rain

D) Snow

4. The Charter Oak is depicted on the reverse side of which U.S. state quarter, issued in 1999?

A) Alabama

B) Connecticut

C) Delaware

D) Massachusetts

5. NUMA, the National Underwater and Marine Agency, is a maritime heritage preservation organization founded by what author?

A) Rick Campbell

B) Tom Clancy

C) Clive Cussler

D) Frederick Forsyth

6. Which flower takes its name from the Greek word for "rainbow"?

A) Crocus

B) Daffodil

C) Iris

D) Petunia

ANSWERS

1) Qaanaaq is the northernmost town in Greenland.

2) Menswear designer Alexander Julian incorporated argyle into the University of North Carolina men's basketball uniforms in the 1990s.

3) Poet Carl Sandburg said the fog "comes on little cat feet" in his poem, "Fog."

4) The Charter Oak is depicted on the reverse side of the Connecticut U.S. state quarter, issued in 1999.

5) NUMA, the National Underwater and Marine Agency, is a nonprofit maritime heritage preservation organization founded by Clive Cussler.

6) The iris takes its name from the Greek word for "rainbow."

TRIVIA FANS: Leslie Elman is the author of "Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous and Totally Off the Wall Facts." Contact her at [email protected]

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