Playing Trivial Pursuit

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Have you seen one of the emails (or perhaps a web page) listing "Strange Things You Probably Don't Know?" You have probably already clued into this: most of this trivia was apparently pulled out of someone's arse. In case you want to check that, let's examine a sample list:

A rat can last longer without water than a camel.

One way to evaluate these "facts" is specificity. What kind of rat? The longest that any camel can go without water that is claimed by any credible source is two weeks. Kangaroo rats can go without water indefinitely, converting what little water they need from the seeds and grasses that they eat. Water rats, however, certainly cannot go long without water. Under what circumstances? Either a rat or a camel, if eating food that contains more water, will need to drink less. If the food is too dry and the animal gets wounded, for instance, it will need to drink more water. What age of rat? An infant rat, even an infant kangaroo rat, cannot survive long without hydration, at least from mama's milk.

Another way to evaluate claims is whether they cite a source you can check out yourself. I got my information on kangaroo rats at Desert USA. My information on the needs of infant rats is from Rat & Mouse Gazette: it may not apply to infant kangaroo rats. My information on camels comes from a guide to Egypt:

The camel stores water in its blood stream, an interesting physiological process. The camel has developed, over the centuries, a unique water saving biology. Capable of losing forty percent of its body's weight before becoming distressed, it is able to go five to seven days before having to drink. The amount it drinks when water is available would cause severe problems in most animals, up to 21 gallons in about 10 minutes. If moisture-laden forage is available, a camel will not need as much water. The water it drinks can be too salty or brackish for other animals.

Your stomach has to produce a new layer of mucus every two weeks or it will digest itself. Typical of pseudoscience, this has an element of fact that allows the nonfactual portion to slip by. Mucus does protect the stomach lining from the stomach's own acids. The mucus is, however, perpetually secreted -- not produced once every two weeks. More detail.
The dot over the letter "i" is called a tittle. Yes. So is any small diacritic mark, such as an accent or a vowel mark. "Tittle" also means "the smallest bit; an iota." From
A raisin dropped in a glass of fresh champagne will bounce up and down continuously from the bottom of the glass to the top. You know what? I don't care enough about this to buy a bottle of champagne and a box of raisins to do the experiment. I'm going to have to take the Champagne Club's word for it: "Bouncing Raisin: If a raisin is dropped into a glass of champagne will repeatedly bounce up and down between the top and the bottom of the glass. " According to Notes taken from the wine-list by Marc: " Bubbles require a point on which to nucleate - usually a rough point on the surface of the glass. That is why bubbles always seem to be coming from one point on the glass - the point where there is an imperfection in the glass. So, introduction of a raisin will cause bubbles to rise from the raisin." A raisin will probably bob up and down in any carbonated beverage, though, as the raisin gains and loses air bubbles. Maybe I'll try it with a Coke. When I get some raisins.
A female ferret will die if it goes into heat and cannot find a mate. Sort of. The reality of this, according to the National Ferret Welfare Society, is that "Female ferrets come into season each spring and stay in season until mated. If allowed to stay in season, they develop a form of anaemia (aplastic anaemia) and can become very ill or even die."
A duck's quack doesn't echo. No one knows why. True or False? If you need to be told, see Snopes.
A 2 X 4 is really 1-1/2" by 3-1/2". Wow. I'm going to have to give them this one. As explained by a 52-year old science student:

What everyone calls a "two by four" is actually 1-1/2 inches thick by 3-1/2 inches wide. Decades ago a two by four was cut so that when dried and sold it actually did measure 2 inches by 4 inches, but such lumber was not finished, it was what is called "rough-cut." When builders demanded sticks with smooth faces, lumber mills started with actual 2 by 4s and sanded off a quarter-inch from each of the two faces and each of the two edges, and the result, of course, is a stick that measures 1-1/2 inches by 3-1/2 inches. These pieces of lumber are graded S4S, which means "surfaced four sides."

You literally cannot find an actual 2 by 4 at any lumber yard, so if you want to see one you'll need to examine older buildings. Here's what to look for: (1) It'll have a rough rather than smooth finish, and you'll probably be able to see the arcs made by the cuts of the circular saw; (2) the four corners formed at the intersection of an edge and a face are not slightly rounded off; and (3) it will actually measure out to -- guess what? -- 2 inches by 4 inches.

During the chariot scene in "Ben Hur," a small red car can be seen in the distance (and Heston's wearing a watch). According to another debunker, the bit about the red car is true, but it's "one of the gladiators", not named as Heston Himself, wearing the watch. According to someone who has apparently watched the movie frame by frame, the red car is "mythical." If you have the time and money and patience to check the chariot scene in Ben Hur frame by frame, you can find out for yourself.
On average, 12 newborns will be given to the wrong parents daily! That is one that is non-trivial — and the more important the item, the more documentation you expect. This has zipola. Relax, it's hot air.
Donald Duck comics were banned from Finland because he doesn't wear pants. Nope. From Snopes: "It's a legend we giddily love to believe -- Donald Duck was once banned in a foreign country because he didn't wear any pants and cavorted with an unmarried female duck! Somewhere out there are people who can get even more uptight and I'll show them pants . . . humorless about something as innocuous as children's comic books than Americans! Unfortunately, we Americans may have to retain the uptightness crown, because there's nothing to this tale."
Because metal was scarce, the Oscars given out during World War II were made of wood.
The only wooden Oscar ever given was in 1938, to Edgar Bergen, the famous ventriloquist. From the official Oscars website...
Oscar has changed his look on occasion. In the 1930s through the 50's, juvenile players received miniature replicas of the statuette; ventriloquist Edgar Bergen was presented with a wooden statuette with a movable mouth; and Walt Disney was honored with one full-size and seven miniature statuettes on behalf of his animated feature SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. In support of the World War II effort between 1942 and 1944, Oscars were made of plaster, to be traded in for golden statuettes after the war. Additionally, the base was raised and changed from marble to metal in 1945. And in 1949, Academy Award statuettes began to be numbered, starting with No. 501.
The number of possible ways of playing the first four moves per side in a game of chess is 318,979,564,000.
Somebody might actually care about this. I can't find a definitive answer for you.
  • George Steiner is quoted as saying, "There are more possible variants in a game at chess than it is calculated there are atoms in this sprawling universe. The number of possible legitimate ways of playing the first four moves on each side comes to 318,979,584,000. Playing one game a minute and never repeating it, the entire population of the globe would need two hundred and sixteen billion years to exhaust all conceivable ways of playing the first ten moves." George Steiner is supposed to be a genius.
  • According to another source (Harvard Magazine) "the first four moves can be played in 85 billion different ways" — that's 85,000,000,000.
  • According to, "Chess is infinite: There are 400 different positions after each player makes one move apiece. There are 72,084 positions after two moves apiece. There are 9+ million positions after three moves apiece. There are 288+ billion different possible positions after four moves apiece. There are more 40-move games on Level-1 than the number of electrons in our universe. There are more game-trees of Chess than the number of galaxies (100+ billion), and more openings, defences, gambits, etc. than the number of quarks in our universe! --Chesmayne"
There are no words in the dictionary that rhyme with orange, purple and silver. "Orange", yes. "Quicksilver" rhymes with "silver." Lots of words end with "ple" or the syllable sounding like "pull" -- including "pull."
The name Wendy was made up for the book Peter Pan. There was never a recorded Wendy before.
Authors do make up names. My name, Anitra, originated with Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt: it was a Norwegian playwright's idea of what an Arabic princess's name ought to sound like. But, although Barrie certainly popularized the name "Wendy," he did not originate it.
The very first bomb dropped by the Allies on Berlin in World War II killed the only elephant in the Berlin Zoo. I don't know. Evidently they are saying in Berlin that "One of the bombs even landed on the zoo and killed the only elephant there." They don't say it was the first bomb.
If one places a tiny amount of liquor on a scorpion, it will instantly go mad and sting itself to death. Evidently, if a scorpion is dying, it thrashes about with its stinger, and this gave some observers the idea that scorpions can sting themselves to death. It is unlikely, however, that one drop of liquor is enough to kill the beast. What is a "tiny amount"? What proof (percentage of alcohol) does the liquor have to be? Any offers to do the experiment?
Bruce Lee was so fast that they actually had to s-l-o-w film down so you could see his moves. I've heard this claim about Enter the Dragon. I don't know how to verify it.
The first CD pressed in the US was Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA." It sounds wrong at first. "Born in the USA" was released in 1984. The first CDs were already out in 1982. From BBC News : "After years in the planning stages the first CD players were put on the market in Japan in 1982 with Billy Joel's 52nd Street being the first available album." But "Bruce Springsteen's hugely successful Born in the USA was the first CD to be manufactured in the US." So this one is True.
The original name for butterfly was flutterby.
[Middle English butterflye, from Old English butorfloge : butor, butere, butter; see butter + floge, fly; see fly2.]

Word History: Is a butterfly named for the color of its excrement or because it was thought to steal butter? It is hard to imagine that anyone ever noticed the color of butterfly excrement or believed the insect capable of such theft. The first suggestion rests on the fact that an early Dutch name for the butterfly was boterschijte. The second is based on an old belief that the butterfly was really a larcenous witch in disguise.
The phrase "rule of thumb" is derived from an old English law which stated that you couldn't beat your wife with anything wider than your thumb. This is so old that I already knew it was wrong! See Cecil's Straight Dope. Also
The first product Motorola started to develop was a record player for automobiles. At that time, the most known player on the market was Victrola, so the called themselves Motorola. Not according to Wikipedia. "The company started as Galvin Manufacturing Corporation in 1928. The name of the company was changed to Motorola in 1947, but the word had been used as a trademark since the 1930s. Founder Paul Galvin came up with the name Motorola when his company started manufacturing car radios (a number of early companies making phonographs, radios, and other audio equipment in the early 20th century used the suffix "-ola", the most famous being Victrola; there was also the film editing device called a Moviola)."
Roses may not be red, but violets are indeed violet. Just as there are all sorts of colors of rose, not just rosy ones, there are also all sorts of colors of violets.
By raising your legs slowly and lying on your back, you cannot sink into quicksand. Relax in any position, and you will float; "quicksand" is more dense than the human body. (You probably do want to float face-up.) [ Academic explanation ] [ Mythbuster's experiment ]
Celery has negative calories. It takes more calories to eat a piece of celery than the celery has in it to begin with. Celery does have negative calories, for human beings, because it takes humans more energy to digest the celery than the human digestive system can get out of it. (Snopes) The amount of energy your metabolism takes to digest celery varies among individuals, however; a friend of mine could drink gravy like Homer Simpson and stayed skinny, because of a metabolic disorder, while some of the rest of us moan that if we look sideways at a Milky Way we gain ten pounds. (Jill Irvin, Staff, Food and Nutrition, Ohio State University) Whatever your metabolism, you are not likely to lose much weight from celery. But it's healthier than brownies with ice cream! (iVillage)
Charlie Chaplin once won third prize in a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest.
If they'd stuck with "he lost" they'd have scored True. From Snopes:
Chaplin did indeed fare poorly in a Chaplin look-alike contest, but the competition took place in a San Francisco theater. His final standing is not recorded, although it was noted that he "failed even to make the finals."
Chewing gum while peeling onions will keep you from crying.
From the Kids FAQ:
When you cut into an onion, a powerful acid sprays up into the air. If your eyes are in the way of the spray (which is likely if you are cutting onions), the acid, while not damaging to your skin, will cause your eyes to sting. Immediately, your lacrimal glands or tear glands, go into overdrive. Your eyes start to tear, and tears continue in excess until they've successfully gotten rid of the irritation.
The only way to stop your eyes from being irritated by the onion acid is to decrease the amount of onion acid that gets to them. Chewing gum will not affect this. Some things that will help:
  • Cut both ends off the onion and run it under cold water for a few moments — or even leave it soaking in cold water for a bit. This drains some of the acidic juice out of the onion.
  • Have a powerful fan going to blow most of the onion-spray away from your eyes.
  • Wear goggles.
  • Have somebody else cut the onions, and leave the room.
Sherlock Holmes NEVER said, "Elementary, my dear Watson." They got one! They missed: Captain Kirk never said "Beam me up, Scotty." Rick from Casablanca never said, "Play it again, Sam." Hamlet never said, " Alas poor Yorick. I knew him well."
An old law in Bellingham, Washington, made it illegal for a woman to take more than three steps backwards while dancing!

There are a lot of strange laws on the books. You can claim about anything, and we'll believe some legislature passed it. This one, though, has contradictory versions. One says, "An old law in Bellingham, Washington, made it illegal for a woman to take anything other than backwards steps while dancing."

It is possible that all of this is a garbled "telephone" version of the original story:
Around 1913 local dance instructor H.O. Morrison was arrested at the Armory for doing a “four-step” dance move, when a city ordinance limited people to a “three-step.”
The glue on Israeli postage is certified kosher.
Empathy for religious concerns is shown by the research into kosher paper and glue for Israeli postage stamps, as do the concerns showed over the use of what might be considered graven images on stamps. This remains a concern for some religious communities today. In some cases, only the graves of renowned religious leaders are illustrated on stamps. In other cases, such as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, no stamp was issued at all, at the family's request.

So, what does it mean that the glue on American stamps is vegetarian? :-)

The Guinness Book of Records holds the record for being the book most often stolen from public libraries. says, " Guinness themselves listed that in their 1978 edition, although I think perhaps it might have changed since then."
Astronauts are not allowed to eat beans before they go into space because passing wind in a spacesuit damages them. Passing wind in a spacesuit would be very unpleasant for the astronaut; the spacesuit better be able to take it, it's designed to take a whole lot worse. If NASA did have to do fart control, it would have to control a lot more than bean intake.
Bats always turn left when exiting a cave. According to davethecave, "...the bats thing is wrong too. I often see bats emerging in opposite directions."