By Leslie Elman

April 5, 2021 20 min read

The word "subaru" in Japanese means "to unite" or "to cluster." Subaru is also the Japanese name for the constellation Pleiades, which is also called the "Seven Sisters." So why does the logo of automobile manufacturer Subaru have six stars instead of seven? Because only six of the stars in the constellation are readily visible to the naked eye. Most sky watchers, if they're patient, will eventually detect seven. Trained observers have counted dozens of stars in the cluster.

Back in 1906, Tom Kelly decided to build a house in the gold mining town of Rhyolite, Nevada. Because building materials were scarce but whiskey and beer bottles were readily available, Kelly collected thousands of them and mortared them together with adobe to make his house. By 1916, Rhyolite's gold boom was over, the town abandoned and the "bottle house" left to languish. Paramount Pictures restored it in the 1920s during the filming of "The Air Mail." Billie Dove, the movie's star, lived in it during filming.

The Gillingham-Stillman Method, devised in the 1930s, is still used to teach kids to read — especially kids with dyslexia. The multisensory approach is particularly effective for new readers who have trouble recognizing words by sight alone. It was developed by educational psychologist Anna Gillingham and teacher Bessie Stillman, whose own dyslexia had made it a challenge for her to learn to read.

Tyrian purple, named for the ancient city of Tyre, has been a "royal" color since it was used to dye the robes of Phoenician rulers in the 13th century B.C. Producing it was labor-intensive and anything but glamorous. It came from the mucus of murex snails, who were poked until they spewed it out or simply crushed to a smelly ooze. Thousands of snails were required to produce enough dye for a single garment.

Christchurch Transitional Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, is affectionately known as the "cardboard cathedral" because it is, in part, built from cardboard. Designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, it's a temporary replacement for the city's 19th-century cathedral, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 2011. Eight shipping containers form the building's base, Massive cardboard tubes support its peaked roof. And inside, there's seating for 700 parishioners. It was built to last for 50 years, time enough for the old cathedral to be restored.

Earthworms spend most of their time underground, but they're drawn to the surface during rain showers because it's easier for them to migrate over moist soil. This characteristic earthworm behavior has led seagulls to develop an unusual behavior of their own: Seagulls stamp their feet on the ground to imitate the sound of falling rain. This draws earthworms to the surface. And when the worms reveal themselves, the seagulls eat them.


1. In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were the seven daughters of what Titan?

A) Atlas

B) Helios

C) Prometheus

D) Selene

2. The 1999 single "Genie in a Bottle" was the first No. 1 hit for what artist?

A) Christina Aguilera

B) Bruno Mars

C) Rihanna

D) Britney Spears

3. Which railroad from the board game Monopoly was not a real-life railroad?

A) B&O

B) Pennsylvania

C) Reading

D) Short Line

4. Digitalis, made from the purple foxglove plant, is a medication mainly used to treat conditions related to what?

A) Eyes

B) Heart

C) Liver

D) Skin

5. From 1880 to 1884, the world's tallest building was the cathedral in what city?

A) Chartres, France

B) Cologne, Germany

C) Salzburg, Austria

D) Siena, Italy

6. Napoleon's continental blockade made it nearly impossible to buy coffee in France, so people drank a beverage made from what root instead?

A) Cassava

B) Celery

C) Chicory

D) Jicama


1) In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were the seven daughters of Atlas.

2) The 1999 single "Genie in a Bottle" was the first No. 1 hit for Christina Aguilera.

3) The Short Line railroad from the board game Monopoly wasn't a real railroad.

4) Digitalis, made from the purple foxglove plant, is a medication mainly used to treat conditions related to the heart.

5) At its completion in 1880, the cathedral in Cologne, Germany, was the world's tallest building. It was surpassed in 1884 by the Washington Monument.

6) Chicory coffee became a popular substitute for coffee during Napoleon's continental blockade of the early 1800s.


German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer didn't much care for people in general and women in particular. He was, however, a great fan of poodles and owned several of them throughout his adult life — all males, all named Atma (from the Sanskrit word for soul).

The spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), also known as the Andean bear, is the only surviving species of bear native to South America. Recognizable by patches of light-colored facial fur, which make them look like they're wearing eyeglasses, these bears live in high forests and grasslands around the Andes Mountains, including the protected land around the ancient sacred site of Machu Picchu in Peru.

Two separate operas about ice hockey have been performed by major opera companies. "Nagano," composed by Martin Smolka with a libretto by Jaroslav Dusek, centers around the Czech team's gold medal-winning performance at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. "Hockey Noir," a Canadian opera composed by Andre Ristic with a libretto by Cecil Castellucci, is a tale about a hockey team in the 1950s and was inspired by film noir.

Borneo is the third-largest island by area on Earth, after Greenland and New Guinea. It's big enough to be part of three different countries. The southern portion of the island is part of Indonesia. Most of the north — about one-third of the island — is part of Malaysia, except for the 2,200 square miles that comprise the independent monarchy of Brunei Darussalam, "the abode of peace."

Known for her paintings of the American southwest, Georgia O'Keeffe spent the last 40-plus years of her life at her home and studio in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Before that, she lived in New York City and traveled extensively, including a nine-week visit to Hawaii in 1939 to produce two paintings that would be used in ads for Dole pineapple. Those two paintings, "Crab's Claw Ginger, Hawaii" and "Pineapple Bud," are now in private collections.

Poet Louise Bennett-Coverley (1919-2006) holds a special place in Jamaica's literary heritage. She wrote in patois: colloquial spoken language that's rarely put into written form, let alone into formal poetry. Her work is all the more moving and evocative because of its authenticity. While the many honors she received during her lifetime mean she would have been properly addressed as the Right Honorable Dr. Louise Bennett-Coverley, she'll always be known to Jamaicans as Miss Lou.


1. The "Bruces' Philosophers Song" was the work of what comedy troupe?

A) Firesign Theatre

B) The Kids in the Hall

C) Monty Python


2. Peru's Yanacocha mine is among the world's top producers of what ore?

A) Copper

B) Gold

C) Nickel

D) Uranium

3. In the 1940s, Duke of Iron, Lord Invader and Macbeth the Great were men with what occupation?

A) Calypso singers

B) Circus performers

C) Professional wrestlers

D) Spies

4. The eastern half of New Guinea is the independent nation of Papua New Guinea; the western half is a province of what country?

A) Australia

B) China

C) Indonesia

D) Malaysia

5. In 1934, Georgia O'Keeffe was commissioned to paint (but did not complete) a mural for the ladies' room in what prominent building?

A) Art Institute of Chicago

B) Ford's Theatre

C) New Mexico State Capitol

D) Radio City Music Hall

6. The Rastafarian observance of Grounation Day celebrates what man's visit to Jamaica in 1966?

A) Steve Biko

B) Marcus Garvey

C) Martin Luther King Jr.

D) Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia


1) The "Bruces' Philosophers Song" was the work of Monty Python.

2) Peru's Yanacocha mine is among the world's top-producing gold mines.

3) Cecil Anderson, Rupert Grant and Patrick MacDonald, aka Duke of Iron, Lord Invader and Macbeth the Great, were calypso singers of the 1940s.

4) The western half of New Guinea is a province of Indonesia.

5) In 1934, Georgia O'Keeffe was commissioned to paint (but did not complete) a mural for the ladies' room of Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

6) The Rastafarian observance of Grounation Day celebrates Emperor Haile Selassie's visit to Jamaica in 1966.


When she wasn't drawing Peter Rabbit and her other beloved storybook characters, Beatrix Potter was drawing fungi and beetles. Her lifelong devotion to nature studies (she was a great fan of mushrooms) is one reason that her illustrations, while inevitably charming, are also quite accurate. True, rabbits don't wear jackets in the wild. On the other hand, it's said that when her publisher balked at the colors in her drawing of a frog, Potter brought the real thing to his office to prove her depiction was correct.

John S. Rock (1825-1866) packed a tremendous amount of achievement into his brief life. Denied admission to medical school because of his race, he became a dentist. Eventually, he graduated from medical school as well. Then he studied law, passed the bar in 1861 and worked for abolitionist causes throughout the Civil War. On Feb. 1, 1865, the day after Congress passed the 13th Amendment, he became the first African American admitted to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. He died the following year, at age 41.

Europaweg Skywalk spans 1,621 feet across the Grabengufer ravine in the Pennine Alps of Switzerland. Situated at 7,218 feet above sea level, at its highest point, the pedestrian bridge is 282 feet above the ground — about the same height as a 28-story building. Should you decide to traverse it, as many hikers have done since it opened in July 2017, you'll be walking single file, and because the bridge is just 25.6 inches wide, you'll have to turn sideways to make way for oncoming pedestrians.

Oysters aren't the only mollusks that produce pearls. Clams and mussels make them, too. The queen conch produces natural pearls in shades of pink and yellow. Abalone produces turquoise, green, rose and cream pearls. Cracking open an oyster to eat and finding a pearl within is a happy fantasy, but it's not likely to happen. Pearl oysters are not the same as the oysters we eat.

If a competitive bridge player racks up enough "masterpoints" by winning at sanctioned tournaments, he or she can attain the ranking of Life Master from the American Contract Bridge League. It's a goal that has been achieved by quite a few men and women — and by one comic strip dog. In 1997, the ACBL named Snoopy an honorary Life Master. He played a lot of bridge in the funny pages, and his creator, Charles M. Schulz, played a lot of bridge in real life.

A vug is a cavity that forms naturally inside a rock as the result of geological activity such as gasses being trapped when lava cools. Crystals will grow inside that space — quartz, beryl, topaz and agate among them — creating spectacular formations within the rock. Gemologists and amateur rockhounds are always on the lookout for vuggy rock.


1. In Egyptian mythology, frog-headed Heqet was the goddess of what?

A) Fertility and childbirth

B) Fire

C) Music

D) Night

2. Which of these was a segment of "Schoolhouse Rock"?

A) "One Is the Loneliest Number"

B) "Two of Hearts"

C) "Five, Six, Pick-Up Sticks"

D) "Naughty Number Nine"

3. Arthur Conan Doyle's story "The Final Problem" involves a fight to the death at what location?

A) Barengraben in Bern

B) Lake Geneva

C) Reichenbach Falls

D) Wildegg Castle

4. In which location would you use an Oyster Card to pay fares on trains and buses?

A) Hong Kong

B) London

C) Paris

D) Zagreb

5. A bridge across the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Longueuil, Quebec, is named for what explorer who charted the St. Lawrence?

A) Jacques Cartier

B) Samuel de Champlain

C) James Cook

D) Henry Hudson

6. Which colored gemstone is a variety of the mineral beryl?

A) Emerald

B) Lapis Lazuli

C) Ruby

D) Sapphire


1) In Egyptian mythology, frog-headed Heqet was the goddess of fertility and childbirth.

2) "Naughty Number Nine" was a segment of "Schoolhouse Rock."

3) Arthur Conan Doyle's story "The Final Problem" involves a fight to the death at Reichenbach Falls.

4) You'd use an Oyster Card to pay fares on trains and buses in London.

5) A bridge across the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Longueuil, Quebec, is named for Jacques Cartier, who charted the St. Lawrence.

6) Emerald is a variety of the mineral beryl.


Scrofula is a swelling of the lymph nodes related to tuberculosis. From the 12th century till as recently as the 19th century in England and France, it was known as "King's Evil," because people believed that a touch from the king could cure it. Weird but true: People clamored to see the reigning monarch hoping to be touched and healed. It's estimated that England's King Charles II touched more than 96,000 sufferers over the course of his 25-year reign, each of whom received a small coin medallion to signify they'd received the healing touch.

Among the many cultural treasures that Latvians hold dear, knitted mittens incorporating symbols from Latvian folklore might be the most charming. Traditionally, a Latvian bride's dowry would have included dozens of pairs of mittens to be given to her new family. Today, mittens still are given as tokens of affection and respect on important occasions. That's why, when NATO held a summit in Riga in 2006, Latvians knitted 4,500 pairs of mittens as gifts for the delegates.

The tale of J.K. Rowling's 12 rejections for the first book in her Harry Potter series is widely told, but Rowling's tally seems minimal compared with other writers' collections of rejections. Sylvia Plath, the esteemed poet and author, received nearly 50 rejections from Seventeen magazine alone before her first short story, "And Summer Will Not Come Again," was published there in 1950. Jack London collected some 600 rejection letters in his career. They're in the museum collection at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, California.

The best places on Earth for unobstructed, unadulterated views of the night sky are natural areas that are free of light pollution. The International Dark-Sky Association maintains a list of them — from Albanya in Northern Spain to Zselic National Landscape Protection Area in Hungary. Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico and Jordanelle, Kodachrome Basin and Rockport State Parks in Utah made the list earlier this year. They're worth staying up past your bedtime to see.

The landlocked West African country of Mali takes its name from the Bambara word for hippopotamus. That might sound odd until you consider that even though hippos look placid and sort of slow, they are strong and can be fast and fierce if threatened. Historically, the Mali Empire was among the more influential kingdoms in Africa with major centers of business and scholarship in Djenne and Timbuktu.

Porcupines are excellent tree climbers. With their waddling gait, they might not look agile, but they can shinny up a tree trunk, strip it of its bark and continue on to the upper branches, where they will feed on leaves or evergreen needles. Often, porcupines will nest in trees to be close to their food source and safe from predators, but their chubby bodies pose a functional dilemma: Not only do porcupines live in trees; they also tend to fall out of them.


1. Who ruled England, Scotland and Ireland as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth between the reigns of King Charles I and King Charles II?

A) Winston Churchill

B) Oliver Cromwell

C) Lady Jane Grey

D) William Pitt the Younger

2. Emmy-winning actor Donald Glover is also a Grammy-winning rapper performing under what name?

A) Chance the Rapper

B) Childish Gambino

C) Fetty Wap

D) Xzibit

3. "Six of One," "Across the Hall" and "Insomnia Cafe" were rejected titles for what long-running sitcom?

A) "Frasier"

B) "Friends"

C) "Girls"

D) "Will and Grace"

4. Who played Bruce Wayne/Batman in "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises"?

A) Ben Affleck

B) Christian Bale

C) George Clooney

D) Adam West

5. The nation formerly called Upper Volta is now known by what name, which translates to "land of honest men"?

A) Algeria

B) Burkina Faso

C) Namibia

D) Zimbabwe

6. The porcupine is used as a symbol for what organization?


B) Greenpeace

C) the Libertarian Party

D) Phi Beta Kappa


1) Oliver Cromwell ruled England, Scotland and Ireland as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth between the reigns of King Charles I and King Charles II.

2) Emmy-winning actor Donald Glover is the Grammy-winning rapper Childish Gambino.

3) "Six of One," "Across the Hall" and "Insomnia Cafe" were rejected titles for "Friends."

4) Christian Bale played Bruce Wayne/Batman in "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises."

5) The nation formerly called Upper Volta is now called Burkina Faso, which translates to "land of honest men."

6) The porcupine is a symbol for the Libertarian Party.

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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