Category Archives: Trivia

Andy Warhol was a Hoarder

alex atkins bookshelf triviaAndy Warhol (1928-1987) who began his career as a commercial illustrator became one of the most recognized artists of the 20th century. Beginning in the 1960s, Warhol established himself as a leader of the pop art movement; he is best known for his paintings of the Campbell’s Soup Cans and Coca-Cola bottles. Warhol also cultivated an entourage of underground celebrities that collaborated on art films and socialized at some of New York’s most notable nightclubs, like the infamous Studio 54. It is within this electric and eclectic milieu of celebrity, art, cinema, music, and partying, that Warhol gave us his most memorable quote: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

Although Warhol was always in the spotlight for so many things as previously mentioned, there is one aspect of his life that hid in the shadows: Warhol was a hoarder. The Andy Warhol Museum, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, houses important Warhol art in addition to all the crap he collected over several decades — including 610 Time Capsules, containing more than 300,000 items contained in  569 cardboard boxes, 40 filing cabinets, and one large trunk. The museum politely refers to this as Warhol’s “possession obsession.” Claudia Kalb, author of Andy Warhol was a Hoarder, elaborate: “[Warhol] was an accumulator of epic proportions. The man loved to shop, and he did whenever and wherever he could — five-and-dime stores, antique stores, high-end galleries… the artist crammed his Manhattan home with so much stuff — pearl necklaces, Miss Piggy memorabilia, Bakelite bracelets, Lichenstein drawings — that ‘you had to climb over things’ to get around, one visitor told New York magazine after his death… By his own admission, the artist had trouble getting rid of anything… [He stashed] everyday items that he swept off his desk: lunch receipts, ticket stubs, doctors’ bills, letter, postage stamps.” Warhol would have his assistants fill up cardboard boxes and once they were filled they were shipped off to storage.”

Kalb continues: “A tireless shopper, Warhol hit every kind of marketplace — flea markets, antique dealers, galleries, Saks Fifth Avenue. One of his favorite targets was Lamston’s, the old Manhattan variety store, where he’d buy a 30-cent shopping bag and see how much he could cram in. At home, he’d lay out the contents on his bed and rub the prices off with Comet. ‘Then, the minute you’ve put all the stuff away,’ he wrote, ‘you want to go shopping again.” Said, like a true, compulsive hoarder.

“So why did Warhol become a hoarder?” you ask. Excellent question. Warhol had a difficult childhood, straight out of a Dickens novel. His family grew up poor, struggling through the Depression. On top of that, Warhol lost his father, a coalminer, when he was only 13 years old. Warhol was a sickly child (he was diagnosed with Sydenham’s chorea, a nervous system disease), shy, and socially isolated. One of his favorite pastimes was to lose himself in movies, comic books, drawing, and celebrity magazines. He enjoyed making scrapbooks out of newspaper and magazine clippings of celebrities. He picked this up from his mother who was artistic — she was a talented illustrator and made handicrafts out of crete paper and tin cans. (She passed away in 1972, when Warhol was 44). Warhol’s hoarding began when he was in his early 20s. Like most hoarders, Warhol developed strong emotional attachment to things and used this as a way to relieve the anxiety he was experiencing in his life — a coping mechanism that worked well for him as a child, trying to deal with the trauma of his sickness, isolation, and poverty. But of course, the paradox of hoarding is that although accumulating things relieves anxiety, it also produces anxiety. As Gregory Jantz notes in his article “The Psychology Behind Hoarding” for Psychology Today: “The more hoarders accumulate, the more insulated they feel from the world and its dangers. Of course, the more they accumulate, the more isolated they become from the world, including family and friends. Even the thought of discarding or cleaning out hoarded items produces extreme feelings of panic and discomfort.”

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For further reading: Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities by Claudia Kalb

How Did O. Henry Get His Pen Name?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaAmerican short story writer O. Henry was born William Sidney Porter (1862-1910). Incidentally, in 1898, Porter changed the spelling of his middle name from Sidney to Sydney. His short stories feature colorful characters, skillful unfolding of plot, realistic and witty dialogue, and often with a distinctive surprise plot twist ending (often referred to as the “O. Henry twist”). He was a prolific writer, having written more than 600 short stories, published in 13 separate collections of short stories. In the early 1900s, Porter was one of the most widely read and admired storytellers in the country. Two of his best-known short stories are the “The Last Leaf” and the holiday classic “The Gift of the Magi.”

Many people often wonder how Porter came up with the pen name “O. Henry” that seems to have no connection with his birth name, his place of birth (Greensboro, North Carolina), or his professions (pharmacist, bank teller, bookkeeper, and journalist). During his writing career, Porter used many pen names, including James L. Bliss, T.B. Down, Howard Clark, Olivier Henry, O. Henry, and S.H. Peters. Porter used the pseudonym for the first time in December 1899 for the short story entitled “Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking.” There are several accounts on the internet that attribute the pen name to individuals he met during his prison term in the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio. (He was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling funds from a bank where he worked as a bank teller and bookkeeper; he served only three, being released early for good behavior — and writing really great short stories). Another common fallacy is that he was named after a candy bar (read below). Yet another story claims that he derived the pen name from the name of a girlfriend’s cat. There is no evidence for any of these explanations.

In an interview with The New York Times in 1909 ( entitled “O. Henry on Himself, Life, and Other Things”), Porter gave this definitive account:
It was during these New Orleans days that I adopted my pen name of O. Henry. I said to a friend: “I’m going to send out some stuff. I don’t know if it amounts to much, so I want to get a literary alias. Help me pick out a good one.” He suggested that we get a newspaper and pick a name from the first list of notables that we found in it. In the society columns we found the account of a fashionable ball. “Here we have our notables,” said he. We looked down the list and my eye lighted on the name Henry, “That’ll do for a last name,” said I. “Now for a first name. I want something short. None of your three-syllable names for me.” “Why don’t you use a plain initial letter, then?” asked my friend. “Good,” said I, “O is about the easiest letter written, and O it is.”…. “A newspaper once wrote and asked me what the O stands for. I replied, ‘O stands for Olivier, the French for Oliver.’ And several of my stories accordingly appeared in that paper under the name Olivier Henry.”

Despite some accounts on the internet, O. Henry was not named after the Oh Henry! candy bar introduced by the Williamson Candy Company of Chicago in 1920. Nor was the Oh Henry! candy bar named after the author. According to Nestle, this is the official story of the naming of the chocolate candy bar: “Way back when, there was a little candy shop owned by George Williamson. A young fellow by the name of Henry who visited this shop on a regular basis became friendly with the young girls working there. They were soon asking favors of him, clamoring Oh Henry, will you do this?, and Oh Henry, will you do that? So often did Mr. Williamson hear the girls beseeching poor young Henry for help, that when he needed a name for a new candy bar, he called it OH HENRY! and filed a trademark application the following year.” Now that would have made a wonderful O. Henry short story, don’t you think?

The O. Henry Award, established in 1918, is an annual American award given to short stories of exceptional merit was named after the author. The award, presented by the Society of Arts and Sciences, promotes the art of the short story. His love of language and wordplay was the inspiration for the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships established in 1978 that celebrates the often-maligned but wickedly funny pun. Punsters from around the globe travel to the O. Henry Museum in Austin, Texas each May to compete in the Punniest of Show, PunSlingers, and Most Viable Punster competitions.

One of the most common questions that librarians and booksellers hear is: “where can I find O. Henry? Is it organized under O or H?” The proper alphabetization of O. Henry is under “H” not “O” — remember the name is not spelled “O’Henry” but rather “O. Henry” as in Olivier Henry. Still, many bookstores stock O. Henry’s books in the “O” section of fiction. Oh Henry!

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How Do We Spend Our Time During a Lifetime?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaTo paraphrase John Lennon’s famous lyric from “Beautiful Boy”: Life is what happens to you while you are busy doing routine or mundane tasks. Considering that the average lifespan of a person is 78 years, ever wonder how many of those years are devoted to real living — pursuing your dreams? Using statistics from the World Bank and the Bureau of Statistics, the clever folks at Daily Infographic have created an infographic showing us exactly how we spend our time during a lifetime — and it isn’t pretty. One could argue that most of our time is squandered — we spend most of our time sleeping (about one third of one’s life!), working, and watching television and playing video games. Ultimately, the “life” that Lennon is referring to accounts for only 9 years out of 78 years (11.5%) — not much time to find true fulfillment and happiness. To borrow from Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, one of protagonists from the popular film The Shawshank Redemption: you better “get busy living or get busy dying.”

Here is the breakdown of how much the average American spends on various activities during his or her lifetime of 78 years:

Sleeping: 28.3 years
Working: 10.5 years
Television, video games, social networking: 9 years
Doing chores: 6 years
Eating and drinking: 4 years
Education: 3.5 years
Grooming: 2.5 years
Shopping: 2.5 years
Child care: 1.5 years
Commuting: 1.3 years
Living to accomplish personal goals: 9 years

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What Do You Call a Word with Capitals in the Middle?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsBack in elementary school, we all learned the basics rules of orthography — the conventions of writing English that deal with spelling, punctuation, hyphenation, and capitalization. One of the first lessons is the difference between uppercase (the formal term is majuscules) and lowercase letters (minuscules). Incidentally, these terms come to us from the world of metal movable type used by letterpress printing introduced by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid 1400s. When setting movable type, typographers stored the majuscules in a shallow wooden case that was located above the wooden case that held the minuscules. But returning to the subject of capitalization, we also learned about the types of capitalization or case styles, such as sentence case, title case, all caps (or all uppercase), small caps, all lowercase, and mixed case (discussed below).

At some point, corporate America realized that tinkering around with capitalization — moving capitalized letters inside the word — created some memorable company and trademark product names. The audacity! Some of the earliest of these type of unconventionally capitalized words were introduced by pioneering companies in the early to mid 1900s: DryIce Corporation (1925); CinemaScope (1953); AstroTurf (1967). It took several decades for the geniuses in the advertising industry to realize the power of the clever capitalization of words — especially since they were running out of traditional names plucked out of dictionaries. Beginning in the 1980s and culminating in the 20o0s, high-tech companies began introducing unusual company and trademarked product names at a rapid pace (i.e., QuarkXPress, iMac, iPhone, eBay, FedEx, NeXT, PlayStation, YouTube). They certainly didn’t teach us about this use of capitals in grammar school — inviting the question: “so what do you call a word that has capitals in the middle?”

Capital question. The formal orthographical term is medial capital (or plural, medial capitals) or bicapitalization — defined as a capital letter occurring in the middle or inside of the word. Interestingly, medial capitals have many synonyms, considered informal terms: bicaps (shortened form bicapitalization), CamelCase, embedded caps, InterCaps (shortened form of internal capitalization, introduced in 1990s by Ave Rappoport), midcaps (shortened form of middle capitals). In 2005, lexicographer Charles Harrington Elster proposed the term CorpoNym for company or brand names with medial capitals (eg, ExxonMobil, HarperCollins, ConAgra).

CamelCase comes from the world of programming. In his book, The Wikipedia Revolution, Andrew Lih describes how early programmers struggled with CamelCase in the early days of developing pages for Wikipedia. The term, named after the humps of capital letters similar to those of a Bactrian camel, was introduced by Newton Love in 1995. He wrote on USENET: “With the advent of programming languages having these sorts of constructs, the humpiness of the style made me call it HumpyCase at first, before I settled on CamelCase.” And you can bet that programmers, with a penchant for developing clever jargon have MANY synonyms for CamelCase, including: BumpyCaps, BumpyCase, NerdCaps, CapWords, compoundNames, Embedded Caps, HumpintheMiddle word, HumpBack notation, InterCapping, mixedCase, Pascal case, Smalltalk case, WikiWord, WikiCase, and ProperCase.

Mixed case or mixed capitalization (also known as StUdLyCaPs or just studlycaps) is distinct from intermediate capitals because capitalization is completely random or follows a simple rule (eg, only vowels are capitalized; every other letter is capitalized). Passwords that contain random uppercase and lowercase letters are example of mixed case words.


For further reading: The Wikipedia Revolution by Andre Lih
What in the Word?: Wordplay, Word Lore, and Answers to the Peskiest Questions About Language by Charles Harrington Elster

Who is the Fastest Texter in the World?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaIn the context of text messaging, being all thumbs is not a bad thing. Just ask Marcel Fernandes Filho, a 17-year-old from Brazil, who broke the Guinness World Record for Faster Texter on April 25, 2014. Using a Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone with the keyboard app Fleksy, Filho typed a 160-character message in just 18.19 seconds — an astounding 8.79 characters per second! When you convert that to words per minute (where five characters equals one word), his record translates to a very impressive 105.6 words per minute! Those are some fast thumbs!

The record for fastest texter was previously held by Gaurav Sharma, a 15-year-old from Seattle, who typed the same 160-character text message in 18.44 seconds in January 2014. (Incidentally the message that the record holders typed was: “The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human.”)

To put Filho’s amazing texting speed in perspective, here is how long it would take him to text some of the longest novels in the world:

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (1,267,069 words): 199.9 hours

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (561,304 words): 88.6 hours

Les Miserable by Victor Hugo (530,982 words): 83.8 hours

Ulysses by James Joyce (265,222 words): 41.8 hours

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (206,052 words): 32.5 hours

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (47,094): 7.4 hours

As impressive as Filho’s texting speed is, it pales in comparison to the world’s fastest typist. By using ten fingers, as opposed to only two thumbs, Stella Pajunas-Garnand from Chicago typed a jaw dropping 216 words per minute — twice the speed of the fastest texter, and about four times faster than the average typist (average typing speed is about 50 words per minute). Garnand set her record back in 1946 using an IBM electric typewriter (remember those clunky beasts?).

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Weird Wikipedia Articles

alex atkins bookshelf triviaWikipedia is no ordinary encyclopedia. Each month, more than 500 million unique visitors visit Wikipedia to read its more than 40 million articles written in more than 250 languages. The English version grows at a rate of 800 new articles each day. Compared to any written reference work, Wikipedia’s breadth is simply astonishing. But if you spend enough time browsing through this massive encyclopedia, you will come across some rather unusual or weird articles. Wikipedia even has a page that lists all of their “unusual articles” with this note: “There are over five million articles in the English Wikipedia. These are the ones that Wikipedians have identified as being a bit unusual. These articles are verifiable, valuable contributions to the encyclopedia, but are a bit odd, whimsical, or something you would not expect to find in Encyclopedia Britannica. We should take special care to meet the highest standards of an encyclopedia with these articles lest they make Wikipedia appear idiosyncratic.” Here are some of the weirdest articles on Wikipedia:

Algoe, New York (a fictional town)

Antiqua-Fraktur dispute (a typographical dispute in Germany in late 1800s)

Argelico “Argel” Fucks  (real name of a retired Brazilian soccer player)

Death by coconut (falling coconuts that kill people)

Dord (a ghost word; i.e., a meaningless word included in a dictionary by mistake)

Euthanasia coaster (a steel roller coaster designed to kill its passengers)

David Charles Hahm (radioactive Boy Scout)

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? (a theological and philosophical debate) 

Hubert Blaine Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff, Sr. (longest surname in the world)

Hypoalgesic effect of swearing (swearing helps reduce sensation of pain)

People who have lived in airports (six people who have lived in airports for more than a month)

Project Steve (a list of over 1,300 scientists named “Steve” that support evolution)

Robert Shields (left a diary that recorded his life, written in five minute intervals)

Sex in space (the challenges of humans having sex in space)

Spite house (similar to a spite fence, a house built to annoy neighbors)

Toilet paper orientation (over vs. under)

Toilet-related injuries and death (people have died while using the Valsalva maneuver, the forceful attempt to expel feces from the rectum during a bowel movement)

Vladimir Demikhov (surgically created the first two-headed dog)

Waffle House Index (an informal metric used by FEMA to determine effect of a storm and scale of assistance required for disaster recovery)

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What is the Most Expensive Coin in the World?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaBefore the advent of credit cards, debit cards, and bitcoin, there was time when currency and coins were king. And if you are lucky enough to inherit a coin collection, you should immediately check to see if you own the most expensive coin in the world — the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar. What is is worth? That coin sold for more than $10 million ($10,016,875 to be precise) at auction in January 2013. Now that’s serious coin, my friend!

So what makes the Flowing Hair dollar so valuable? The Flowing Hair is extremely rare, of course; it was the first dollar coin issued by the national mint of the United States federal government (the Philadelphia Mint). Some numismatists (coin collectors) believe that the coin was touched by George Washington. Although the dollar coin was authorized by the Coinage Act of 1792, the silver coin was not produced until 1794; a second production was authorized in 1795.

The Flowing Hair dollar coin, based on the Spanish dollar, was designed by engraver Robert Scot. On the front (obverse), the coin features a bust of Liberty facing right, with long flowing hair falling on her neck. The reverse of the coin features an eagle with elevated wings, surrounded by a wreath. The coin measures 39 to 40mm in diameter and weighs 26.96 grams. Only 1,758 Flowing Hair dollar coins were produced during an initial production (October 1794) and an additional 3,810 coins in May 1795. In October of 1795, the rather stoic bust of Liberty was replaced by a more refined, feminine bust of Liberty designed by artist Gilbert Stuart based on what is believed to be a profile of socialite Ann Willing Bingham; this coin is referred to as the Draped Bust dollar coin. The Draped Bust silver dollar has sold at auction between $2.3 and $4.12 million. A rare 1804 Draped Bust dollar (1 of 8) sold at auction by Stack’s Bowers Galleries and Sotheby’s on April 1, 2017 fetched $3.3 million. It was a coin from a five-part sale of a coin collection, consisting of 650 coins, belonging to Mack and Brent Pogue (two Dallas real estate developers), that netted a total of $106.7 million. The father and son coin collectors sold the collection because “the thrill of the chase” had passed, and they wanted to focus their attention on other matters.

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