Category Archives: Trivia

Most Expensive Watch Sold at Auction

alex atkins bookshelf triviaImagine purchasing a Rolex Daytona watch in 1968 for about $200, and then 49 years later, selling it for $17,752,500! That’s a return on investment of whopping 8,876,200%! Impossible, you say? Not if the watch was owned by one of the most famous actors (1960-80s), race car drivers, and philanthropists (Newman’s Own). And not if the watch,  known as the “Paul Newman Daytona,” became the Holy Grail of watch collectors — and really wealthy ones. In an interview, Geoff Hess who is a vintage Rolex collector expressed how valuable this watch has become: “Many people are saying this is the greatest watch on the planet. This watch transcends watch collecting, it transcends the watch community. This watch appeals to people way beyond the watch world. I don’t recall a watch that has roots and ties in so many [collecting] communities, and it’s an incredibly potent mix. It, of course, attracts those who love and admire motor sports and cars, it also appeals to people who love Hollywood memorabilia. It’s also a piece of Americana, so it appeals to the American history community.”

The Rolex Cosmography Daytona Reference 6239 watch was produced by Rolex from 1964 to 1976. (The Daytona has actually been produced in three separate series: Series One, from 1963 to 1980s; Series Two, from 1988 to 2000; and Series Three, from 200o on.) It sports watch was named after the famous Daytona racetrack in Florida. The watch features a whimsical, art deco style white face with three smaller black sub dials; it was the first wristwatch with the tachometer scale engraved on a stainless steel bezel. The watch case is silver paired with a black leather band. The watch was a gift to Newman from his wife Joanne. On the back of the case, she had the following words inscribed: “DRIVE CAREFULLY ME.” The watch became known as the Paul Newman Daytona because in just about every photo during the 1980s, Newman was wearing the watch.

In 1984, Newman gave the watch to James Cox, who was a boyfriend of Nell Newman, Newman’s daughter. Recently, Cox turned to Phillips auction house in New York to sell the watch. The watch came up for auction on October 26, 2017, and within 12 minutes of fierce bidding (only 32 bidders were allowed), a telephone bidder won  the bid. The watch was sold for $15.5 million plus the buyer’s premium of 12.5%, bringing the total price to $17,752,500. In the process, the sale of the Paul Newman watch set a new record for highest price paid for a wristwatch at auction. The previous record was $11,136,642 for a Patek Philippe reference 1518 timepiece sold in a Geneva auction on November 12, 2016.

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The Unwritten Rules of the Internet

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesBack in 2002, there were about 569 million internet users (9.1% of the world’s population). In a decade that number shot up to an astounding 2.27 billion (33% of the world’s population). With that many people using the internet, and since human beings are creatures of habit, what sort of behaviors or patterns emerge with respect to digital dialogue? Excellent question. If you have spent enough time reading posts in the comments section and FAQs these patterns of behavior will emerge. Eventually, because they are so self-evident, these behaviors acquire a specific name, entering the lexicon of “unwritten rules” or “unwritten laws.” They join the classics, like Parkinson’s Law (work expands to fill the time available for its completion) or Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong will go wrong). Here are some of the most common unwritten rules of the internet:

Armstrong’s Law: When discussions between Americans and non Americans about a variety of topics, where America is not the greatest at said topic, the likelihood of the American arbitrarily bringing up the U.S. moon landings increases dramatically. (Named after astronaut Neil Armstrong, first man to set foot on the moon.)

Cunningham’s Law: the best way to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question — it’s to post the wrong answer. (Attributed to Ward Cunningham)

Godwin’s Law: As an online discussion grows longer, eventually someone will make a comparison involving Hitler or his deeds. (Coined by Mike Godwin)

Muphry’s Law: If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written. (And no, this is not a typo: Murphy is misspelled deliberately). (Coined by John Bangsund).

Poe’s Law: Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won’t mistake for the genuine article. (Coined by Nathan Poe)

Streisand Effect: an attempt to remove or censor information on the internet has the unintended consequence of bringing more attention to that information. (Named after Barbara Streisand who was trying to suppress aerial photos of her house in Malibu in 2003).

Wadsworth Constant: The first 30% of any video can be skipped because it contains no worthwhile or interesting information. (Coined by a Reddit editor named Wadsworth.)

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Epithets of Famous People

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAn epithet, from the Greek word epithetos (meaning “added” or “attributed”), is a nickname that is added to a person’s name (eg, Ivan IV Vasilyevich is known as Ivan the Terrible) or an attribution of specific qualities to a person’s name (eg, André René Roussimoff is known as Andre the Giant). Some epithets become so established that they are more well known than the actual persons they refer to (eg, most people know of Alexander the Great, but don’t know his real name, Alexander III of Macedon). Here is a list of some famous people and their epithets.

Adele: British Queen of Soul

Alexander III of Macedon: Alexander the Great

Muhammed Ali: The Greatest or The Greatest of All Time

Louis Armstrong: The King of Jazz Trumpet

Chuck Berry: King of Rock and Roll

Tony Blair: Teflon Tony

James Brown: Godfather of Soul

Jerry Brown: Governor Moonbeam

Al Capone: Scarface

Wilt Chamberlain: Wilt the Stilt

Winston Churchill: British Bulldog

Bill Clinton: Slick Willie or Bubba

William Frederick Cody: Buffalo Bill

Bob Dylan: King of Folk

Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Soul

Henry Louis Gehrig: The Iron Horse

Andrew Jackson: Old Hickory

Michael Jackson: King of Pop

Michael Jordan: Air Jordan

Abraham Lincoln: Honest Abe

Charles Lindbergh: The Lone Eagle

Madonna: Queen of Pop

Benito Mussolini: Il Duce (Italian for “The Chief” or “The Leader”)

Richard Nixon: Tricky Dick

Annie Oakley: Little Miss Sure Shot

Elvis Presley: King of Rock and Roll

Prince: The Artist or The Purple One

Ronald Reagan: The Gipper or The Great Communicator

Rihanna: Caribbean Queen

André René Roussimoff: Andre the Giant

Bruce Springsteen: The Boss

Taylor Swift: Country-Pop Princess

Mother Teresa: Saint of the Gutters

Margaret Thatcher: The Iron Lady

Usher: King of R&B

Ivan IV Vasilyevich: Ivan the Terrible

John Wayne: The Duke

Neil Young: Godfather of Grunge

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For further reading: Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: Colloquialisms, and Catch-Phrases, Solecisms and Catachresis, Nicknames, and Vulgarisms by Eric Partridge
Baseball Nicknames: A Dictionary of Origins and Meaning by James Skipper
A Dictionary of Epithets and Terms of Address by Leslie Dunkling


The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2017

catkins-bookshelf-literatureThe Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (BLFC), established in 1982 by English Professor Scott Rice at San Jose State University, recognizes the worst opening sentence (also known as an “incipit”) for a novel. The name of the quasi-literary contest honors Edward George Bulwer Lytton, author of a very obscure 1830 Victorian novel, Paul Clifford, with a very famous opening sentence: “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” 

Each year, contest receives more than 10,000 entries from all over the world — proving that there is no shortage of wretched writers vying for acclaim. The contest now has several subcategories, including adventure, crime, romance, and detective fiction. The winner gets bragging rights for writing the worst sentence of the year and a modest financial award of $150 — presumably for writing lessons.

The winner of the 2017 BLFC was Kat Russo of Loveland, Colorado:
The elven city of Losstii faced towering sea cliffs and abutted rolling hills that in the summer were covered with blankets of flowers and in the winter were covered with blankets, because the elves wanted to keep the flowers warm and didn’t know much at all about gardening.

The runner up was submitted by Tony Buccella of Allegany, New York:
Although in the rusty tackle-box of his mind he yearned to be a #3 buck-tail spinner, Bob knew deep down he must accept his cruel fate as a bottom bouncer rig, forever destined to scrape the muddy bottom of the river of life.

The winner in the category of Crime/Detective was Doug Self of Brunswick, Maine:
Detective Sam Steel stood at the crime scene staring puzzled at the chalk outline of Ms. Mulgrave’s body which was really just a stick figure with a dress, curly hair, boobs, and a smiley face because the police chalk guy had the day off.

The winner in the category of Vile Puns was Peter Bjorkman of Rocklin, California:
Pablo wrapped his arms around his dying hermano—the drone strike intended for cartel kingpin Miguel “El Jefe” Guzman had landed off-course, disintegrating Pablo’s casa—and as his fraternal soulmate’s life ebbed in his clutches, Pablo wailed heavenward, “He ain’t Jefe . . . he’s my brother!”

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For futher reading:
Dark and Stormy Rides Again by Scott Rice, Penguin Books (1996)

Would a Million Monkeys on a Million Typewriters Produce the Works of Shakespeare?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaIn 1928, British astrophysicist Arthur Eddington presented a classical illustration of chance in his book, The Nature of the Physical World: “If I let my fingers wander idly over the keys of a typewriter it might happen that my screed made an intelligible sentence. If an army of monkeys were strumming on typewriters they might write all the books in the British Museum. The chance of their doing so is decidedly more favourable than the chance of the molecules returning to one half of the vessel.” In the 1939 essay, “The Total Library,” Jorge Luis Borges relates a variant of this concept: “a half-dozen monkeys provide with typewriters would, in a few eternities, produce all the books in the British Museum.” Over time, the quotation morphed into a more alliterative, memorable phrase invoking the Bard: “a million monkeys typing on a million typewriters to produce the complete works of William Shakespeare.” Huzzah! It is now known as the Infinite Monkey Theorem which states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time would eventually type the complete works of Shakespeare. The probability, however, is very small: mathematicians have calculated to be one in 15 billion.

Such a theoretical discussion of probability begs the discussion of a real-world experiment. What would happen if you gave a half-dozen monkeys their own typewriters? Would they type anything of literary value? Glad you asked. In 2003, researchers at the University of Plymouth received a grant from the Arts Council to study that very question. The researchers placed specially modified computer keyboards in the enclosure of six monkeys, specifically Celebes crested macaques, at the Paignton Zoo (Devon, England) for a month. Vicky Melfi, a biologist at Paignton zoo, explained that the macaques (named Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe, and Rowan) were ideal animals to test the Infinite Monkey Theorem. “They are very intentional, deliberate and very dexterous, so they do want to interact with stuff you give them. They would sit on the computer and some of the younger ones would press the keys.” The researchers did not reward the monkeys for typing because they did not want them to become fixated on typing to the exclusion of other natural behavior. So what literary work did these budding writers produce?

The six monkeys produced only five pages of text between them. Alas, there was no iambic pentameter prose here; the pages were very monotonous, filled with the letter S. Near the end, they added some variation, adding the letters A, J, L, and M. There was nothing in the text that came close to being an English word. Perhaps they were writing the story of a hissing snake. Nevertheless, when they got bored of typing, they simply sat on the keyboards and defecated on them. This is, of course, nothing new — a mercurial author who is displeased with his manuscript and trashes it — in this case, literally shits on it! S’wounds!

We end this discussion of the Infinite Monkey Theorem, with computer scientist Robert Wilensky’ observation: “We’ve heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know that is not true.” Touché!

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Poets Ranked by Beard Weight

alex atkins bookshelf booksPoets Ranked by Beard Weight, a leaflet privately published in England in 1913 by Upton Uxbridge Underwood (1881-1937), is a classic of Edwardian esoterica. Like his other works focused on pogonology (the study of beards), The Language of the Beard and Whiskers of the World, Poets Ranked by Bear Weight is extremely rare and consequently prized by bibliophiles — whether bearded or clean-shaven. Underwood, who wore a hideous variation of the Hulihee (think of the Wolverine’s beard, with long extensions at the base of the jaw that look like tusks made of hair), developed the Underwood Pogonometric Index (UPI) that ranges from 6 (very, very weak beard) to 60 (a perfect beard). Underwood believed that the beard made the bard, that is to say, there was a direct correlation between personal appearance and artistic proficiency. The higher the score, the more “poetic gravity” that the particular poet possessed. 

Underwood believed that a beard possessed an “odylic” (or “od”) force that was conveyed through a human by means of a nervous fluid, which in turn imbues the poet’s beard with “noetic emanations” and an “ectoplasmic aura.” Further, Underwood believed that the od force generated magnetic waves that could be measured by special laboratory equipment. Undoubtedly, if Underwood were alive today, he would be a perfect candidate for Scientology. The readings gave rise to his UPI scale; the average bearded individual had a score of 10-24. 

Here are the poets, ranked by beard weight (poet’s name, type of beard, followed by beard weight according to the UPI scale):

Walt Whitman (Hibernator): 22

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Dutch elongated): 24

Sir Walter Raleigh (Van Dyck): 27

Henry David Thoreau (Wandering Jim): 29

Lord Alfred Tennyson (Maltese): 33

James Russell Lowell (Queen’s Brigade): 34

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Italian False Goatee): 38

John Greenleaf Whittier (Full Velutinous): 38

Edwin Markham (Box): 39

Sidney Lanier (Spade): 41

John Burroughs (Claus-esque): 43

William Cullen Bryant (Van Winkle): 43

William Ernest Henley (Spatulate Imperial): 47

Joaquin Miller (Forked Elongated): 51

Samuel Morse (Garibaldi Elongated): 58

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For further reading: Poets Ranked by Beard Weight (The Commemorative Edition) by Upton Uxbridge Underwood

How Filthy is Your Money?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaHow often do you handle money, specifically paper currency? Do you typically wash your hands after you handle it? Read on and you just might be reaching for a bottle of hand sanitizer at the very sight of money. And you will certainly feel pity for the bank teller that has to handle cash all day long. Consider that paper currency, made of 75% cotton and 25% linen, stays in circulation for 5 to 15 years. Imagine wearing a pair of jeans or shirt that long and never washing it. Gross! Let’s take a look at just how filthy money is…

Biologist Julia Maritz and her intrepid colleagues from the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology at New York University wanted to find out just how filthy paper currency is. Their study, “Filthy lucre: A metagenomic pilot study of microbes found on circulating currency in New York City” was published on PLOS One on April 6, 2017. The researchers swapped circulating $1 bills (since they have the highest volume and shortest lifespan of all currencies) from New York City bank in the winter and summer of 2013. They utilized metagenomic sequencing to profile the microbes found on the paper currency’s surface. “So what did they find?” you ask. You may not want to know. The researchers identified more than 397 bacterial species, including the following:

Bacteria from the skin
Propionibacterium acnes
Staphylococcus epidermis

Bacteria from the mouth
Micrococcus luteus
Streptococcus oralis
Rothia (R. mucilaginosa, dentocariosa)

Bacteria from the mouth or stomach
Veillonella parvula

Bacteria from the vagina
Corynebacterium aurimucosum
Gardnerella vaginalis
Xanthomonas campestris

Opportunistic pathogen
Acinetobacter baumannii

Bacteria associated with dairy production and fermentation
Lactococcus lactis
Streptococcus thermopiles

If that isn’t enough to make you heave, Jonathan Oyler and his colleagues at the National Institute of Health published a study in 1996 that found traces of cocaine in 79% of $1 bills from cities across the United States. Other studies have identified the presence of Escherichia coli (E. coli), salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureus. Are you completely disgusted by now?

One thing is for sure — you’ll think twice the next time someone asks: “what’s in your wallet?”

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