10:37am

Thu February 27, 2014
Ask Me Another

Sarah Janssen: It's In The Book

If you're in need of a one-stop shop for facts, like the world's fastest roller coaster (Formula Rossa in Abu Dhabi) or the winning word at the 1984 Scripps National Spelling Bee (luge), Sarah Janssen would recommend consulting The 2014 World Almanac and Book of Facts (which spent 8 weeks on the NPR Paperback Nonfiction Bestseller List).

As the almanac's editor, Janssen makes sure the hefty 1,000+ page reference book contains answers to questions on every topic, from pop culture, to celebrities, to sports. Janssen's duties also include adding new material to the almanac every year.

"A rash of Nutella thefts. It's the crime wave that's sweeping the globe," Janssen said when Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg asked about some of the odd news stories that made it into the book this year. "It happened in Germany, ...in New York City at Columbia University, people were stealing it from the dining hall to the tune of $1000 a week."

While there isn't a section in The World Almanac devoted to the worldwide thefts of other condiments, we stumbled upon some other weird information that seemed too good to be true. So in an Ask Me Another Challenge, we gave Janssen a set of article titles, and asked her to determine which ones were fake (Worst National Flags), and which ones were actually in the almanac (Underwater Vehicular Tunnels in North America).


Interview Highlights

On how to read the almanac

I wouldn't recommend [reading it front to back]. You know, I think a lot of people have actually tried and failed to do that, mostly because they fell asleep while trying to do that. I think it's more fun just to skim through, to pick it up, and see what you might find in it.

On how to fact-check a book of facts

It is a huge process, actually. We still spend a ton of money on fact-checkers every year. And what the fact-checkers do is make sure that they're verifying every single number, every single decimal point, even every single use of bold font, because sometimes...that chat changes the definition of things, so it's a huge investment every year, and something that, you know, a lot of places don't have those resources anymore and we still spend a lot of money on it, because we think it's really important.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

Please welcome back are very important puzzler, editor of the "2014 World Almanac," Sarah Janssen.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: All right. Sarah, so I imagine every year yet add new facts, new articles to the "World Almanac." What are some ones that were added this year?

SARAH JANSSEN: Oh, we added a ton of stuff this year. We added a new article on marriage in the United States, which is obviously going redefinition in a lot of places. So that was an interesting thing to put together. We added a great new feature...

EISENBERG: Like polyamorous? That's OK now? It's that kind of thing?

JANSSEN: Well, you know what? I don't think the Bureau of Vital Statistics collects those data yet, but maybe we'll get there eventually.

EISENBERG: OK.

JANSSEN: More about same-sex marriage and, of course, traditional or heterosexual marriage as it is.

EISENBERG: Right. Nice.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: What about the like there's also like odd news or, you know, like your weirder news stories?

JANSSEN: Yeah. That's kind of the fun stuff to put together because it basically means anything that we want to read on the Internet during the day is sort of work, it's research.

EISENBERG: Yes.

JANSSEN: So we found some great stories this year. We found a rash of Nutella thefts. We found...

EISENBERG: What?

JANSSEN: ...a rash of Nutella thefts. It's...

EISENBERG: Where did that happen?

JANSSEN: The crime wave that sweeping the globe. It happened in Germany. Here in New York City at Columbia University. People were stealing it from the dining hall to the tune of $1,000 a week...

EISENBERG: Wow.

(LAUGHTER)

JANSSEN: ...and then selling it.

EISENBERG: People love their Nutella. Well, I don't know. There might be a whole black market for Nutella. Good to know. Good to know. I like that. So who - so if your book of facts, who fact check - how do you fact check a book of facts? I mean that seems almost ridiculous.

JANSSEN: It is a huge process, actually. We still spend a ton of money on fact checkers every year. And what the fact checkers do is make sure that there verifies every single number, every single decimal point, even every single use of bold font because sometimes things are, that changes the definition of things. So it's a huge investment every year. And it's something that, you know, a lot of places don't have those resources anymore and we still spend a lot of money on it because we think it's really important.

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah. It is important. Good for you. I'm happy about that. Sarah, we've actually read the "Almanac" from front to back. And let me tell you, there's some really weird information in there. So we've decided we're going to use that for this game. We are going to read you some of the titles from your own book. And you have to tell us is that a real entry from the "World Almanac" or is it fake? All right? If you get enough right, Rick Munn of Rockledge, Florida will a special ASK ME ANOTHER prize.

JANSSEN: All right.

EISENBERG: Are you ready?

JANSSEN: I am ready.

EISENBERG: OK. Is this real or fake? Some notable explosions since 1920.

JANSSEN: That one's real.

EISENBERG: It's real.

(LAUGHTER)

JANSSEN: Yeah.

EISENBERG: Yes. Do you remember any notable ones?

JANSSEN: There were a lot of notable explosions on that list. There's probably 50 different entries on that list.

EISENBERG: There's a lot, huh? There's also notable shipwrecks.

JANSSEN: Notable shipwrecks. Notable oil spills.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Notable. I feel bad for the oil spill that just didn't make.

JANSSEN: Yeah. You got a spill a lot of oil to make on that list.

EISENBERG: You could spill a lot of oil.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: All right. Real or fake? Record-breaking roller coasters.

JANSSEN: That is a real entry. Yeah.

EISENBERG: Reel. That is correct. And you know any of these facts? I have a couple of them but, you know, I default to you.

JANSSEN: I know some of them. I don't know all of them. I know that one of the world's fastest is in New Jersey.

EISENBERG: Did you know anything about the Formula Rossa in Abu Dhabi?

(LAUGHTER)

JANSSEN: That is the world's fastest, is it not?

EISENBERG: It is. I know, 149 miles per hour.

JONATHAN COULTON: That's too fast. That's not safe.

EISENBERG: I know.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: That doesn't sound like fun at all.

COULTON: I won't allow it. I won't allow it.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Sandwich nicknames by region.

JANSSEN: I wish that were in the "World Almanac."

(LAUGHTER)

JANSSEN: You have to give me this list later so I can put it on ideas for next year.

EISENBERG: You're right, that one's fake but we thought it was a good idea to, you know, is it a grinder submarine, you know, so you can use it when you travel across the city that you are in to the different neighborhoods.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: World capture of fish crustaceans and mollusks from 2002 to 11.

JANSSEN: That is in there. Yes. Absolutely.

EISENBERG: That is real. That is - let me tell you, what a reach.

COULTON: Yeah. Gripping.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: It's gripping. And we are not - we're not doing great. We're only fourth on the list, U.S.

JANSSEN: You know, we like our oysters a lot but were not catching enough of them, apparently.

EISENBERG: Really? We got to work harder?

JANSSEN: I think we do

EISENBERG: Cities with the most unsolved murders.

JANSSEN: That's another good one but it's not in there yet.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Oh, you're right. It's fake. But I like thinking about that.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: You know, if you're moving and you're just like oh, I don't want to go somewhere with the most unsolved murders.

COULTON: Yeah. If I'm going to get murdered at least I want it solved.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: I want people to know.

COULTON: Yeah.

EISENBERG: I feel like, Honolulu? Ah. All right.

COULTON: You need closure. You need closure.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Worst national flags.

(LAUGHTER)

JANSSEN: That is most certainly not in the "World Almanac."

EISENBERG: No that is not. "World Almanac" takes no position on national flags.

(LAUGHTER)

JANSSEN: But there are a lot of bad ones. You had a good...

COULTON: Mozambique has an AK-47 on their flag. Come on, guys. Really.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN CHANESKI: No that's not cool.

COULTON: No.

EISENBERG: Busiest Amtrak stations 2012.

JANSSEN: That is in the "World Almanac."

EISENBERG: That is in the "World Almanac." Again, New York topped the list, everybody with nine million riders.

JANSSEN: Penn Station.

EISENBERG: See. I needed to know that.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: All right. I feel like you would know the "World Almanac." You actually have this job. Now I believe you.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: You got them all right.

JANSSEN: It's not just something I break out at parties.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Yeah. I know. You did - you nailed it. So thank you so much for playing, Sarah.

JANSSEN: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: We are going to give Sarah an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's cube, because I know that she would love that for her desk. Let's hear it one more time for our VIP, "World Almanac" editor Sarah Janssen.

(APPLAUSE)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALPHABET OF NATIONS")

COULTON: (Singing) Algeria, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Dominica, Egypt, France, the Gambia Hungary, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Libya and Mongolia. Norway, Oman, Pakistan Qatar, Russia, Suriname Turkey, Uruguay, Vietnam West Xylophone, Yemen, Zimbabwe. Algeria, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Dominica, Egypt, France, The Gambia Hungary, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Libya and Mongolia Norway, Oman, Pakistan Qatar, Russia, Suriname Turkey, Uruguay, Vietnam West Xylophone, Yemen, Zimbabwe.

(Singing) Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Canada. Australia, Belgium, Chad, Afghanistan, Brunei, China, Denmark, Ecuador, Fiji, Guatemala. Algeria, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Dominica, Egypt, France, the Gambia Hungary, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Libya, and Mongolia Norway, Oman, Pakistan Qatar, Russia, Suriname Turkey, Uruguay, Vietnam West Xylophone, Yemen, Zimbabwe.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Jonathan Coulton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.