By Leslie Elman

November 4, 2019 19 min read

Akira Kurosawa, legendary director of "Rashomon" and "Seven Samurai" (which inspired the western classic "The Magnificent Seven"), was a baseball fan. In fact, his 1949 noir film "Stray Dog" has a pivotal scene at a baseball game between the Yomiuri Giants and the Nankai Hawks — the top two pro teams in Japan in 1948. As a boy, Kurosawa pitched and played shortstop. "My liking for baseball is deep-rooted," he once wrote, "apparently I've been watching it since babyhood."

The first licensed commercial radio station in the United States, KDKA in Pittsburgh, officially began broadcasting on Nov. 2, 1920. That wasn't a randomly selected date. It was Election Day, and the evening marked the first broadcast of presidential election results. Republican Warren G. Harding defeated Democrat James M. Cox. When Harding took the oath of office on Mar. 4, 1921, he became the first U.S. president whose inaugural address was broadcast live on the radio.

The sperm whale is easy to identify because of its enormous square head. That head contains the largest brain of any creature on Earth. A sperm whale's brain weighs about 17 pounds. By comparison, the human brain typically weighs about 3 pounds.

On Nov. 10, 1766, William Franklin, colonial governor of New Jersey (and son of Benjamin Franklin) signed the charter establishing Queen's College, which would become the foundation of Rutgers University. Its original purpose was training young men to enter the ministry of the Dutch Reformed Church.

One of the more recognizable monuments at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point is a ring of 13 iron links, each more than 2 feet long and weighing about 100 pounds. They were part of a 1,500-foot-long chain that stretched across the Hudson River — supported by log rafts — as a barrier to British ships during the Revolutionary War. After the war, the chain was dismantled. Some of the links, including the ones at West Point, were saved. The rest were melted down.

Two common interests unite classical composer Sergei Prokofiev with Robert Fitzgerald Diggs and Gary Grice, aka RZA and GZA of Wu-Tang Clan. One is music; the other is chess. Prokofiev played against grandmasters and other classical music giants including composer Maurice Ravel. RZA and GZA play chess competitively, and their music often contains chess references. The long list of chess-playing music stars includes Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Willie Nelson, Sting and Bob Dylan. The band Phish is so into chess that the members have played matches with the audience during concerts.


1. Nintendo was founded in 1889 to manufacture what type of product?

A) Automobiles

B) Beer

C) Playing cards

D) Power tools

2. Which soap opera ran for 72 seasons, starting on the radio in 1937 and moving to TV in 1952?

A) "All My Children"

B) "Days of Our Lives"

C) "The Guiding Light"

D) "One Life to Live"

3. Before they had a show of their own, Pinky and the Brain appeared in recurring segments on what animated series?

A) "Animaniacs"

B) "Captain Planet and the Planeteers"

C) "DuckTales"

D) "Tiny Toon Adventures"

4. New Brunswick is one of Canada's three Maritime Provinces. What are the other two?

A) Alberta and Manitoba

B) Ontario and Nova Scotia

C) Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island

D) Nunavut and Yukon

5. Who is the only U.S. president to have graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis?

A) Jimmy Carter

B) Grover Cleveland

C) James K. Polk

D) Woodrow Wilson

6. Reader Phil Schwimmer asks, "How many possibilities are there for a chess player's first move?"

A) 8

B) 12

C) 16

D) 20


1) Nintendo originally made and sold playing cards.

2) "The Guiding Light" ran for 72 years, first on radio and then on TV. It was canceled in 2009.

3) Pinky and the Brain were recurring characters on "Animaniacs."

4) New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are Canada's Maritime Provinces.

5) President Jimmy Carter was a member of the U.S. Naval Academy class of 1947.

6) There are 20 possible first moves for a chess player: 16 pawn moves and four knight moves.


Whether American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) are born male or female depends on the temperature where the eggs incubate before they hatch. Below 86 degrees Fahrenheit, they'll all be female. Above 91.2 degrees, they'll be male. At temperatures in between, the hatchlings will be a mix of males and females. Biologists call this phenomenon temperature-dependent sex determination, and it's not unusual in egg-bearing reptiles including turtles.

In Nov. 1898, Harper's Bazaar magazine recommended turtleneck sweaters for the active woman "who makes up her mind to keep up her bicycle-riding as regularly as possible," even when "the winds are growing keen and the frost is in the air." English writer-actor Noel Coward often gets credit for popularizing turtlenecks as casual menswear in the 1920s, and the classic New York department store Best & Co. declared them a women's fashion must-have for fall in 1924.

Kolyma Highway extends about 1,260 miles between Nizhny Bestyakh and Magadan in Russia's desolate, brutally cold Far East region. The route was intended to give access to the gold mines in Magadan, but working on its construction was equivalent to a death sentence for the prisoners from the Stalinist Gulag labor camps, who built it using hand implements. Hundreds of thousands who died there were buried beside the road or in the roadbed itself, which is why Kolyma Highway is also known as the Road of Bones.

Cranberry growers don't judge a berry only by its color. They use the bounce test. Small pockets of air inside the berries make them bounce. Ripe, firm berries will bounce on a wooden surface. Rotten berries fall flat. The air pockets also make cranberries float in water, which is helpful during harvesting in cranberry bogs.

The Pacific island nation of Nauru has a total area of about 8 square miles — about one-tenth the area of Toledo, Ohio — and a population that hovers around 10,500. It's so small it doesn't have an official capital city. It also doesn't have its own currency — it uses the Australian dollar. But it has its own airline and its own distinct language. It also has another national distinction: Thanks to a generally unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle, Nauru has the world's highest obesity rate per capita.

"The Sorcerer's Apprentice" is the best-known work by French composer Paul Dukas. (Remember the multiplying broomsticks in Walt Disney's 1940 classic "Fantasia"?) His other compositions include the opera "Ariane et Barbe-bleue" ("Ariadne and Bluebeard") and a piece called "Villanelle" written especially for the French horn. Only 13 of his works were published in his lifetime, and just one more was published after his death. A highly regarded teacher and music critic, Dukas was such a perfectionist that he destroyed the rest of his manuscripts, rather than have them published for posterity.


1. Which tennis hall-of-famer was nicknamed "The Crocodile"?

A) Rene Lacoste

B) Ivan Lendl

C) Suzanne Lenglen

D) Fred Perry

2. Developed by David Bushnell, the Turtle was what type of device for military use?

A) Combat helmet

B) Cooking pot

C) Submarine

D) Tank

3. Which Pacific port city in Russia has a name that means "Ruler of the East"?

A) Arkhangelsk

B) Novosibirsk

C) Sochi

D) Vladivostok

4. How do cranberries grow?

A) On bushes

B) On trees

C) Underground

D) On vines

5. What's depicted on the reverse of the Australian $1 coin?

A) Five kangaroos

B) Sydney Opera House

C) Three koalas

D) Uluru

6. Reader Peter Clark asks, "What is Paul McCartney's real first name?"

A) James

B) John

C) Michael

D) Richard


1) French tennis champion Rene Lacoste was nicknamed "The Crocodile."

2) The Turtle, a submarine used during the American Revolution, was invented by David Bushnell.

3) Vladivostok means "ruler of the East."

4) Cranberries grow on vines.

5) Five kangaroos are depicted on the reverse of the Australian $1 coin.

6) Paul McCartney was born James Paul McCartney on June 18, 1942.


The Caribbean island nation of Dominica is the only country with a parrot on its national flag. Specifically, it's a Sisserou parrot, an endangered species found only in the rainforests of Dominica. The flag was designed in 1978 when Dominica became independent from the United Kingdom. At the time, the purple-breasted parrot had its back to the flagpole. Ten years later, the parrot was turned to face the flagpole, which is how it stands today.

During her 66-day journey aboard the Mayflower in 1620, Elizabeth Hopkins gave birth to a son. She named the baby Oceanus, which seems appropriate for a baby born at sea. Shortly after the pilgrims arrived in New England, Susanna White gave birth to a son she named Peregrine, from the Latin for traveler.

Telling males from females in a group of pilgrim geese is easy to do. Males are born with yellow- to silver-gray feathers and orange bills. As adults, they're pure white. Females are born with gray feathers and brown bills that turn orange as the bird matures. Adult females are gray with a sprinkling of white around the eyes. What's harder to determine is where pilgrim geese come from. Popular legend says they arrived with the pilgrims from England, but it's more likely pilgrim geese were developed by an American poultry breeder in the 1930s.

In a historical account from Pliny the Elder, Cleopatra bets Marc Antony that she can serve the most expensive meal imaginable. When he agrees to the wager, she presents a huge banquet. Then, for dessert, she orders a cup of vinegar into which she drops one of her priceless pearl earrings. The pearl dissolves, and she drinks the vinegar, thereby winning the bet. Pearls are made of calcium carbonate, the active ingredient in Rolaids and Tums. So, if that ancient story is true, Cleopatra washed down her feast with the world's most expensive antacid.

Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison once remarked on the dearth of monuments commemorating the lives of enslaved people in the United States. Not even a "bench by the road," she said. And that was the impetus for the Toni Morrison Society Bench By the Road Project, which places black steel memorial benches at sites of significance in black American history. The first was installed in 2008 at Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, the landing point for nearly half the captured Africans who were sold into slavery in the United States.

At the first modern Olympic games in Athens in 1896, Germany's Carl Schuhmann competed in four separate disciplines: gymnastics, athletics, weightlifting and Greco-Roman wrestling. He went home with four top prizes, three in gymnastics and one in wrestling. His career in competitive gymnastics continued right up to the 1936 Berlin games, where, at age 66, he took part in a gymnastics exhibition.


1. Doctor Dolittle's parrot shares what name with a Pacific Island location?

A) Caroline

B) Marshall

C) Polynesia

D) Yap

2. Which ship attempted to sail with the Mayflower to the New World in 1620?

A) Mary Rose

B) Speedwell

C) Susan Constant

D) Valiant

3. The Franklin, the Reeve and the Miller are pilgrim characters in what written work?

A) "The Canterbury Tales"

B) "The Mayflower Compact"

C) "Perceval, the Story of the Grail"

D) "The Pilgrim's Progress"

4. Grand Ole Opry star Minnie Pearl wore a straw hat with what dangling from the brim?

A) Fruit

B) Guitar picks

C) A price tag

D) Ribbons

5. Ratified in December 1865, which amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery?

A) 13th

B) 15th

C) 18th

D) 21st

6. Which novelist was named an "Outstanding American" by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame?

A) Ernest Hemingway

B) John Irving

C) Joyce Carol Oates

D) John Updike


1) Doctor Dolittle owned a parrot named Polynesia.

2) The Speedwell set sail with the Mayflower to the New World in 1620 but had to turn back for repairs.

3) The Franklin, the Reeve and the Miller are characters in "The Canterbury Tales."

4) Minnie Pearl's famous straw hat had a $1.98 price tag dangling from the brim.

5) The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude.

6) Novelist and wrestling coach John Irving was named an "Outstanding American" by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.


Epidemiology is the study of the spread and control of diseases. Digital epidemiology involves studying the spread and control of diseases by tracking people's online behavior. Every time you tweet about your flu symptoms or do a Google search for chickenpox, you could be helping medical researchers pinpoint outbreaks of infectious diseases around the world. If an ailment is a trending topic in your area, expect a digital epidemiologist to be keeping tabs on it.

Panama and Papua New Guinea are nearly 9,500 miles apart geographically yet side by side at the United Nations General Assembly, where member states are seated by country name in English alphabetical order. Each year, one member nation is chosen randomly to occupy the first seat in the first row. The rest of the delegates then take their seats accordingly. At the most recent session, Ghana had the first seat, followed by Greece, Grenada, Guatemala and so on. Germany, the U.N. member state that precedes Ghana alphabetically, occupied the last seat in the room.

Released Nov. 30, 1982, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" earned every superlative known to the music industry including eight Grammys and a 33x platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America, meaning it has sold more than 33 million copies in the United States alone. Worldwide sales are more than 100 million. Seven of the original album's nine songs were released as singles. Trivia fiends will know that the other two songs are "Baby Be Mine" and "The Lady in My Life," both written by Rod Temperton, who also wrote the album's title track.

NASA estimates that up to 100 tons of interplanetary material drift down from space to Earth's surface every single day. Most of it is harmless space dust. Larger objects are a different story. And if they're giant chunks of space debris, then they pose a potential threat to our planet. That's why NASA's Near Earth Object Observation Program — part of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office — keeps track of potentially hazardous objects (they call them PHOs) that could conceivably strike Earth.

French artist Georges Seurat is known for his technique of applying individual dots of paint to a canvas to create an overall color effect. (He called it chromoluminarism. It's also known as pointillism, from the French word for dot.) It took him two years, 1884 to 1886, to complete his most famous work, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." Three years later, he added thousands more dots to create a border around the central image of picnickers in a park beside the Seine River. By some estimates, Seurat applied about 6.4 million dots and dashes of color to the finished 81 3/4-by-121 1/4- inch canvas.

Pyruvic acid gives onions their sharp flavor. It's also what makes your eyes water when you chop onions. Sweet onion varieties, such as Vidalia and Walla Walla, have a lower pyruvic acid concentration than standard yellow onions, which is why chopping them is less likely to make you cry.


1. Epidemic parotitis is the medical name for what illness that affects the parotid salivary glands?

A) Measles

B) Mumps

C) Scarlet fever

D) Tetanus

2. Which of these countries was NOT an original member state of the United Nations in 1945?

A) Colombia

B) France

C) Iraq

D) Switzerland

3. Which thriller writer created the character of Jason Bourne?

A) Lee Child

B) Robert Ludlum

C) Helen MacInnes

D) Martin Cruz Smith

4. Dwarf planet Ceres and asteroid Vesta are large objects in the asteroid belt between which two planets?

A) Mars and Jupiter

B) Mercury and Venus

C) Saturn and Uranus

D) Venus and Earth

5. Who or what did George H.W. Bush refer to as "a thousand points of light"?

A) Colleges

B) Community organizations

C) Doctors

D) Soldiers

6. All acids contain which chemical element?

A) Arsenic

B) Chlorine

C) Hydrogen

D) Nitrogen


1) Epidemic parotitis is the medical name for mumps.

2) Switzerland was not an original member state of the United Nations. It joined the U.N. in 2002.

3) Robert Ludlum created the character Jason Bourne.

4) Dwarf planet Ceres and asteroid Vesta are large objects in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

5) George H.W. Bush called community volunteer organizations "a thousand points of light."

6) All acids contain the element hydrogen.

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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