Weird Almanac Facts
Did you know that the average American ate 11 times as many avocados in 2011 than in 1970? V.I.P. Sarah Janssen, editor of The 2014 World Almanac, helps lead this game about strange-but-true facts.
Plus, catch Jonathan Coulton's rendition of Tom Lehrer's classic, tongue-twisting tour of the Periodic Table in "The Elements Song."
Heard in Episode 310: Fact Check Me Another
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
You're listening to ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR and WNYC. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, and with me is our one man house band, Jonathan Coulton and our puzzle guru, John Chaneski.
EISENBERG: But now let's welcome our very important puzzler, the editor of "The 2014 World Almanac," Sarah Janssen.
EISENBERG: Hi, Sarah. Welcome.
SARAH JANSSEN: Thanks for having me.
EISENBERG: My pleasure. So this book that you edit, it is, it's a masterpiece. It's over 1,000 pages, just filled - small font too, very small font.
JANSSEN: Very, very small font.
EISENBERG: There's a lot of there.
EISENBERG: So how do you recommend someone read "The World Almanac?" Do you think they should page through it, read through the whole thing front to back.
JANSSEN: I wouldn't recommend that. 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.
JANSSEN: I think it's more fun just to skim through, to pick it up and see what you might find in it.
EISENBERG: Right. So if I have a question I should turn to my Almanac.
JANSSEN: Well, absolutely. If you have a question on any topic. If you want to know what Khloe Kardashian's birthday is, believe it or not, it's in there.
EISENBERG: Oh, really? The little things that people like to know.
EISENBERG: All right. I get the idea that maybe that wasn't one of your top 10 awesome facts...
JANSSEN: We have...
EISENBERG: ...for you personally.
JANSSEN: We have at least 10 facts in there that I would put above that.
EISENBERG: At least 10.
JANSSEN: But we try to cover the whole world - and that includes celebrities, includes pop culture, it includes sports, any topic that you might have a question about.
EISENBERG: So you must have just from working on it, a lot of these facts rolling around in your head. Do you retain a lot of them?
JANSSEN: You don't retain as much as you want to...
JANSSEN: ...but you do retain more than sometimes you need to, I guess is a good answer for you. You will remember the oddest things at the oddest times, and it'll just pop into your head and you wonder why you're remembering that.
EISENBERG: All right. So do your friends treat you sort of like the, you know, a walking Google?
EISENBERG: Are they like ah I wonder - oh, let's ask Sarah. Do they do that?
JANSSEN: On occasion. But you don't really want to be the know it all in the room, I don't think, because then you don't get invited places.
EISENBERG: What? What?
EISENBERG: I'm so confused. So wait a second. You know a lot of stuff and you have social skills? Who are you, Sarah?
EISENBERG: OK. We're going to have you back later in the show for your own ASK ME ANOTHER challenge. But right now you're going to help us with a phone game. So - that's right, you don't have to live in Brooklyn to play on our show. Hello, caller, you're on ASK ME ANOTHER.
HAL BAKER: Hi. It's Hal Baker calling from Littleton, Massachusetts.
EISENBERG: Hello, Hal. Welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER. Now I know that you were active duty in the Navy for 12 years.
EISENBERG: Thank you so much for your service.
BAKER: Oh, thank you.
EISENBERG: So you would resort to trivia when you were bored?
BAKER: Yeah. Well, it started off in college, really and then it carried through when I went into the service. And then, of course, out on ships sometimes, you know, these are the days before satellite TV and before Skype and stuff like that, where you had movies on videotape over and over again...
EISENBERG: Oh, the videotape. Yeah.
BAKER: ...just after the 60 millimeter went away and he found out that there actually was an amount of time you can watch the "Holy Grail" in a row.
BAKER: About 32, I think was what it was.
EISENBERG: And so do you have a - would you say you have a specific area of expertise with your trivia?
BAKER: Then on more than 10, 15 years old.
BAKER: Broadway shows that are more than 30 years old.
BAKER: Most popular music that's more than 15 years old.
EISENBERG: I see a trend here, Hal. I see a trend.
BAKER: And then it would be TV.
EISENBERG: All right. It sounds like you know a lot.
EISENBERG: So let me tell you what we're going to play. This game is called Odd Facts From The World Almanac.
EISENBERG: So we...
EISENBERG: So here's what we did. It's going to be great. We randomly opened the "World Almanac" so we're going to ask you a question and we found out some surprising facts. So we're going to ask you a question about that fact, but we're going to give you multiple choices to choose from, and Sarah will tell you if you are right or wrong. And if you get a certain amount correct, Hal...
EISENBERG: ...I'm going to send you a prize.
EISENBERG: OK. So you're ready?
EISENBERG: Let's do this. Here's your first question. Which of these celebrities came in sixth place in the 2012 presidential election receiving 67,326 votes? Was it A, Bill O'Reilly? B, Ted Nugent? Or C, Roseanne Barr?
BAKER: God, I hate to say this, I think it was Ted Nugent.
JANSSEN: It was surprisingly not been Nung(ph). It was Roseanne Barr.
BAKER: Oh wow. Cool.
EISENBERG: It was Roseanne Barr.
JANSSEN: Yeah. She was, she ran under the Peace and Freedom Party.
BAKER: Oh wow.
JANSSEN: In some states she was actually on the ballot as an official nominee. It's true.
BAKER: Hopefully, zero for one.
EISENBERG: Yeah. Well, I mean...
EISENBERG: It turns out you got it wrong but the right answer made you feel that, so...
EISENBERG: Way back in 1984, so now were in the area of your expertise.
EISENBERG: The winning word in the Scripps National Spelling Bee was what? Was it A, beryllium? B, louche? Or C, quinoa?
BAKER: Well, it couldn't be quinoa because I doubt that was popular enough back then. So louche or beryllium.
EISENBERG: Interesting. Sarah?
JANSSEN: It was louche, actually.
EISENBERG: It was louche.
BAKER: Oh, man. Zero for two.
JANSSEN: I'm sorry to say.
BAKER: Holy Moly.
EISENBERG: Yeah. Holy Moly is right.
BAKER: I'm working hard here.
EISENBERG: Here we go.
BAKER: Oh, oh.
EISENBERG: Forty one million eight hundred eighty nine thousand four hundred and twenty one, that's the number of what in the United States? Is it the number of A, registered Republicans, B, agnostics, or C, Starbucks?
BAKER: Man, I think him going to go out with clean sweep and wus on everything here. I went to say registered Republicans.
EISENBERG: Mm-hmm. Sarah?
BAKER: Oh my goodness, it was agnostic, what's in it?
EISENBERG: I mean on the bright side, he's only one question away from a clean sweep.
BAKER: Oh, wow.
JANSSEN: Unfortunately, it's agnostic. But it's really close, the numbers are really close.
EISENBERG: The numbers are close, but it's agnostics by a hair. Isn't that crazy?
BAKER: I'm failing miserably.
BAKER: Well, you know what? If you're going to do something, do it big. So go ahead, bring the last one.
JONATHAN COULTON: Bring it on.
COULTON: Yeah. Absolutely.
BAKER: And I want you to just bring it on. I'm going to - and I'll (unintelligible) if I get it right.
EISENBERG: I like the way you play, Hal.
BAKER: Yeah. I'm a big fan of the show. Before I go down in flames, just want to let you know I love the show.
EISENBERG: Aw, thanks. You won a prize.
BAKER: Well, I managed to say it out loud.
EISENBERG: But we have one more question. It all could turn around right now, Hal.
EISENBERG: In 1970, the average American only ate .4 pounds of this produce a year? By 2011, the average American ate 11 times that amount - roughly 4.4 pounds. What is it? Is it A, avocados, B, bananas or C, strawberries?
EISENBERG: Hal, come on now.
EISENBERG: Think about it for a second.
BAKER: Sorry. Sorry. All right. 1970 the average American ate only how much?
EISENBERG: Point four pounds. And now they eat - well, as of 2011, the average American eats 11 times that, avocados, bananas - which we've already ruled out.
EISENBERG: And strawberries.
BAKER: All right. Avocados.
JANSSEN: Yes. Ding. Ding.
EISENBERG: Ding. Ding. Avocados. You've got.
BAKER: Oh, shucks. Oh well.
EISENBERG: Hal, congratulations. You've won.
EISENBERG: We're going to send you a signed copy of the 2014 "World Almanac." You deserve it.
BAKER: Oh, thank you very much. I am wicked pleased.
EISENBERG: You're welcome, Hal.
EISENBERG: Absolute pleasure.
BAKER: All right. Big cheers. Love you guys.
EISENBERG: See you later. And thank you so much, Sarah.
JANSSEN: Thank you.
EISENBERG: See you later on the show for your own challenge. Sarah Janssen, everybody.
EISENBERG: You hate pants? Lucky for you, now you can compete on ASK ME ANOTHER from the comfort of your pants free home. All you need to do is call your phone company, get a landline installed and we can make your trivia dreams come true. Just send an email to us at ASK ME ANOTHER@npr.org, and we promise not to ask what you're wearing.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE ELEMENTS")
COULTON: (Singing) There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium and hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium and nickel, neodymium, neptunium, germanium and iron, americium, ruthenium, uranium. Europium, zirconium, lutetium, vanadium and lanthanum and osmium and astatine and radium and gold and protactinium and indium and gallium and iodine and thorium and thulium and thallium. There's yttrium, ytterbium, actinium, rubidium and boron, gadolinium, niobium, iridium and strontium and silicon and silver and samarium and bismuth, bromine, lithium, beryllium, and barium.
(Singing) There's holmium and helium and hafnium and erbium and phosphorus and francium and fluorine and terbium and manganese and mercury, molybdenum, magnesium, dysprosium and scandium and cerium and cesium. And lead, praseodymium, and platinum, plutonium Palladium, promethium, potassium, polonium and tantalum, technetium, titanium, tellurium and cadmium and calcium.
(Singing) Sulfur, californium, and fermium, berkelium and also mendelevium, einsteinium, nobelium and argon, krypton, neon, radon, xenon, zinc, and rhodium and chlorine, carbon, cobalt, copper, tungsten, tin, and sodium.
Singing) These are the only ones of which the news has come to Harvard. There may be many others but they haven't been discovered.
COULTON: You know what? Close enough. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.