We’ve all been there: the conversation is going nicely, everyone around the table is having a great time when all of a sudden nobody has anything left to say. Horrifying. And once that awful, uncomfortable quietness sets in, how can one mere mortal get things moving again?
Good thing facts are like polar bears: they’re damn good at breaking the ice. Here are some assorted bits of trivia… keep ’em ready for your next awkward silence.
42. Do I Need a Passport?
Anyone who shared a room with siblings knows the drama that can come from splitting a bedroom in half. What happens when something bridges the gap?
But national borders are a bit more clear-cut—at least, they’re supposed to be…
The Haskell Library & Opera House is located in both Canada and the United States. It’s stuck right on the border, sandwiched between Quebec and Vermont. The border actually cuts straight through sections of the Queen Anne-style building. For instance, you can enter the library in the United States… but the all books are in Canada. Not to mention, the opera stage is on the Vermont side, while the audience section is in Quebec.
41. Tomorrow’s Just… Two Days Away?
Like knowing what country you’re in, figuring out what day it is tomorrow should be a pretty simple task…
But there was an unusual quirk to the end of 2011 for the island nation of Samoa. They essentially skipped December 30, going from the 29th and 31st. They did this to accommodate a change of time zone—as the country decided to move west of the International Date Line. For more than a century, Samoa was east of the International Date Line due to its close trade links to the United States, but recently Australia and New Zealand have become more valuable economic partners. The time change brings it closer to these two nations. Prior to the change, Samoa was nearly a full day behind Auckland, New Zealand; now it’s one hour ahead. Not that it’s a competition or anything.
40. Slow n Steady
Pluto orbits the sun only once every 248 years. In fact, since it was discovered as a planet (193o) and downgraded from planet to dwarf-planet (2006) is hasn’t even made a single pass. The good news is though, by the time Pluto makes it around next time, it might actually be a planet again!
39. Keeping Up With the Griffeys
On August 31, 1990, Ken Griffey Sr. and his son Ken Griffey Jr. became the first father-son teammates in professional baseball history when they both appeared in the lineup for the Seattle Mariners. The feat was actually replicated eleven years later, when Tim Raines and his son Tim Raines Jr. shared the outfield for the Baltimore Orioles in a game on October 4, 2001.
38. There Goes the Neighborhood
Wilmer McLean had an unexpectedly involved role in the American Civil War. The war’s first battle—the First Battle of Bull Run—took place on the grounds of his plantation, which was serving as a Confederate headquarters. Over the course of the war, McLean would eventually move to Appomattox. It was in McLean’s home where Robert E. Lee formally surrendered to the Union. The press reported McLean saying, “The war began in my front yard and ended in my parlor.”
37. Oscar Who?
Oscar Hammerstein is the only person named Oscar to win an Academy Award or ‘Oscar’. Hammerstein wwon two Best Original Song awards in the 1940s.
36. Do Schools Teach Them All?
Zimbabwe holds the Guinness World Record for most official languages. The Southern African nation has 16 official languages: Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda, and Xhosa.
Now imagine creating a road sign that everyone in Zimbabwe can read.
35. Ho Chi Minh’s Decade Abroad
Decades before he became the first Prime Minister and President of Vietnam and an important figure for communist North Vietnam against the southern Vietnamese and the Americans in the Vietnam War, Ho Chi Minh worked menial jobs in the United States from about 1912 to 1918. He claimed to be a baker at the Parker House Hotel in Boston and a line manager for General Motors.
34. It’s a Hell of a …State?
In terms of population, New York City is the largest city in the United States. With a population of over 8.5 million people, it actually has more people than 40 entire states of the USA.
33. I’ll Trade You a Sportscaster for a Cartoon Rabbit
The trading of employee contracts usually happens between sports teams, not the networks that air sports. However, in 2006, ABC allowed legendary sports broadcaster Al Michaels to be released from his contract and sign with rival network NBC to head their Sunday Night Football program. In exchange, ABC received the rights to air various sports broadcasts, but more notably they also received the rights to the animated character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Walt Disney originally developed Oswald before he created Mickey Mouse, but he was distributed by Universal Pictures, which would eventually be under the same conglomerate as NBC. Thus, it was a homecoming of sorts for Oswald, as ABC’s parent company is Disney.
32. A Burial Place Fit for a King
The remains of 15th century English monarch Richard III were found in a parking lot in the city of Leicester in 2012. Extensive examination of the skeletal remains involving carbon dating and DNA testing confirmed that they were indeed of the former King of England and he was (finally) formally buried in the Leicester Cathedral in 2015.
31. Twice in a Lifetime
When the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016, they broke an incredible 108-year championship drought. Fans were finally allowed to sigh a breath of relief as their beloved baseball team won the Fall Classic for the first time since 1908 and for the first time in their lifetimes. There is one exception, however, as lifelong Cubs fan Hazel Nilson was actually around for that 1908 triumph. She was born a few months before the victory on the North Side of Chicago where the Cubs play their home games, making her the only “witness” to both victories.
30. An Actual Chuck Norris Fact
Noted actor, martial artist, and meme subject Chuck Norris is the creator of his own martial art called the Chuck Norris System or Chun Kuk Do. The hybrid martial art is based on the Korean martial art Tang Soo Do, which Norris was introduced to during his time in the military.
29. The Two-Sport Superstar
For most athletes representing your country in a World Cup event is the pinnacle of their sporting career. And then there’s Ellyse Perry, who has represented her native Australia in two different World Cups in two different sports. She has appeared in both the FIFA Women’s World Cup for soccer and the ICC Women’s World Cup in cricket, winning the latter competition in 2013.
28. That’s a Mouthful
In 1781, the 44 original settlers of Los Angeles named their new town El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúnculas. That translates to “The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of Porciúncula” Porciúncula is what the Los Angeles River was named at the time.
27. Missing Letters?
The base Italian alphabet only has 21 letters and generally excludes the letter J, K, X, W, and Y. There are exceptions in the case for loan words from other languages or words adopted from regional languages within Italy, such as the Turin-based soccer club Juventus, which is derived from the local Piedmontese dialect.
26. A Fateful Fear
Many people credit Thomas Edision for inventing the incandescent light bulb. But fewer people know that his motivation for the “brilliant” device may have been his fear of darkness. As they say, necessity is truly the mother of invention!
25. A Penny and a Half for Your Thoughts
Since 2016, it costs 1.5 cents to make a 1 cent penny coin in the United States. It remains to be seen if the US follows the lead of Australia and Canada and removes the penny from circulation.
24. The Mighty Amazon
The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. The rainforest covers such a large swath of South American land that it would fit the islands of Great Britain and Ireland 17 times.
23. The Granny in Granny Smith
Maria Ann Smith oversaw an apple orchard in the New South Wales colony of Australia in the mid-19th century. When she accidentally discarded the seeds of a varietal of crab apple on a compost heap, she gave birth to a new variety of apple. This new variety would be named after the elderly Smith and the Granny Smith would become a treasured treat for apple and pie lovers around the world (this writer included).
22. A Near-Worldwide Phenomenon
Coca-Cola is maybe the most ubiquitous brand in the world. However, there are two countries where you won’t be able to find that familiar beverage with the red label: Cuba and North Korea.
21. Definitely and Relatively Old
The Great Pyramids built by the Ancient Egyptians in Giza are amazingly still around today, nearly 4,500 years after they were built. In fact, while they were being constructed in the sandy desert terrain of the Giza Plateau, the woolly mammoth—an animal we often associate with prehistory or the Ice Age—was still roaming the Earth on an island in the Arctic Ocean.
20. John Tyler’s Grandsons
President John Tyler was born in 1790. He was the tenth President of the United States, serving from 1841 to 1845 and he died in 1862. And yet, quite amazingly, he still has two living grandsons! This makes John Tyler the earliest-born president with living grandchildren.
19. Sleeping With an Artistic Masterpiece
For a brief time, Leonardo da Vinci’s painting the Mona Lisa was hung in Napoleon Bonaparte’s bedroom in the Tuileries Palace during his reign as the First Consul of France.
18. The Truly Unique Sound of 1972
The Temptations’ 1972 single “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. What was strange about that song is that it only uses one chord throughout its duration. Interestingly, 1972 also saw another hit single with a single chord—Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut”, which hit number 8 on the Hot 100.
17. Sometimes Y
The word “facetious” contains all five vowels in alphabetical order. And if you insist on counting the letter “y” as a vowel, then the word “facetiously” contains all the six vowels in alphabetical order.
16. What Were the Words Again?
If you are a citizen of Spain, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo or San Marino, you might be relieved to find out that you will never be embarrassed by forgetting the words to your national anthem the next time you’re at a sporting event. None of the national anthems of those four countries have lyrics.
15. Two National Anthems, One Writer
As for national anthems that do have lyrics, Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore penned both “Jana Gana Mana” and “Amar Sonar Bangla”—the national anthems of India and Bangladesh, respectively. He is also thought to have inspired the national anthem of fellow South Asian country Sri Lanka.
14. Disney World and Cell Phones
Every year, the employees of Disney World’s Lost and Found collect more than 6,000 cell phones. I guess holding a phone, a balloon, your kid’s hand, a churro and having a MagicBand on your wrist might be one too many things to hold onto.
13. Tight Landing
Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin encountered some trouble when piloting the lunar module towards the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Many engine alarms went off and there was concern that they would run out of fuel and be forced into aborting the mission. Thankfully, the Eagle had landed with 25 seconds worth of fuel left.
12. MTV’s First Music Video
The first music video to air on MTV during its 1981 launch was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles. If taken literally, it makes sense, but it was an interesting choice considering that the title and lyrics allude to uncertainties and concerns with contemporary trends in technology and media, such as the music video.
11. A Golden Ticket
Peter Ostrum starred as Charlie Bucket in the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This would be the 13-year-old’s film debut. It would also turn out to be his last and only film role, as Ostrum would decide against a full-time acting career. Instead, Ostrum became a veterinarian.
10. En Garde
Maryland is the home state of baseball Hall of Famers Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken Jr., Olympian swimming legends Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, and basketball superstar Kevin Durant. So it is a little surprising that the state sport is, of all things, the popular medieval pastime of jousting.
4. That was Quick
At around 45 minutes, the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896 between Britain and the Zanzibar Sultanate is considered to be the shortest war ever recorded.
8. Beautiful Hong Kong
We often think of Hong Kong as a densely populated urban center filled with busy streets and tall buildings. But actually, 70 percent of the territory is rural land that is largely protected by conservation groups.
7. Twice in a Lifetime
The brightly lit Halley’s Comet is only visible to the people of Earth about every 76 years. Interestingly, the comet appeared in the year Mark Twain was born in (1835) and the year he passed away (1910).
6. A Queen in a Treehouse
Kenya’s Treetops Hotel is essentially a large treehouse in a national park. And it was in this unique environment where Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II, as her stay in the hotel coincided with the passing of her father, King George VI.
5. What a Coincidence
In the 1970s, actor Anthony Hopkins was cast in the cinematic adaptation of George Feifer’s book The Girl From Petrovka. Wanting to familiarize himself with the source material, Hopkins searched bookstores all over London for a copy but none of them seemed to carry it. Serendipitously, he did find a used and annotated copy on a park bench. It turns out that the book Hopkins found was actually Feifer’s own personal copy that he had lent to a friend.
4. A “White Christmas” in April
As Saigon was about to fall in April 1975 during the end of the Vietnam War, the local American embassy instructed US citizens and vulnerable South Vietnamese that they would play a coded evacuation signal over Armed Forces Radio. The code was “The temperature in Saigon is 105 degrees and rising” and then the playing of “White Christmas”. Once Bing Crosby’s voice hit the airwaves, American helicopters and buses arrived at prearranged pickup points.
3. Stanley Cup as Baptismal Font
In the summer of 2017, Josh Archibald of the reigning NHL Champions the Pittsburgh Penguins used his day with the Stanley Cup to use it as a baptismal font to baptize his son Brecken. Brecken, however, wasn’t the first person to be initiated into the world with Lord Stanley’s mug. During his day with the Cup in 2008, Tomas Holstrom let his cousin baptize his daughter.
2. “What Are These Red Round Things?”
Despite their current associations with Italian cuisines and other southern European culinary traditions, tomatoes are actually native to the New World. Following the Columbian expeditions, tomatoes would be introduced to Europe, however, many Europeans thought they were poisonous. They would only become accepted around the late 19th century, around the time the Pizza Margherita was invented in Naples.
1. Talk About Bad Luck
Japanese engineer Tsutsomo Yamaguchi happened to be in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the time of their respective atomic bombings during World War II. Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on business, when American forces dropped the Little Boy atomic bomb on the city center. He sustained burns, temporary blindness, and ruptured eardrums in the blast. Afterward, he returned to his hometown of Nagasaki, only to be witness to the dropping of the Fat Man atomic bomb. Yamaguchi is the only person recognized by the government of Japan to have survived both atomic attacks.
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