Thursday, May 21, 2009

Filling the Mental Data Banks

When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not. ~ Mark Twain

Over the years, I have amassed a huge collection of information, much of it utterly useless but most of it interesting. Some people find this fascinating; the Wife doesn't, but she's gotten used to it. Besides it's helpful having me around when she's doing crossword puzzles.

For some reason, odd facts stick with me, maybe because they're fun. For example, I can instantly recall the name of the Lone Ranger's nephew's horse. Of course, that doesn't come up in conversation much, but when it does, by golly, I'm ready.

Some facts I picked up as part of the educational process. When something was interesting, it stuck. Otherwise, it was memorized for the test and quickly forgotten, which explains why I can remember more about physics than accounting, even though I got much better grades in accounting (I said the information stuck, not that I understood it).

A lot of facts, though, I picked up from cartoons, particularly Rocky and Bullwinkle. Now, in this day and age of brain-dead potty humor that passes for cartoons, the idea of actually learning things from a cartoon may seem odd, but believe me, the guys who wrote these cartoons loved to put in all manner good information. In particular, Peabody and Sherman's trips in the Wayback machine were actually fact-filled. They were also pun filled. In fact, the worst pun in the history of cartoons (and quite possibly anywhere else) occurs in an episode about World War 1. Peabody is telling Sherman about a master plan the Germans (or the English, I forget which) had to save the population in case of an invasion that involved the use of a gigantic lighter-than-aircraft: One nation in dirigible.

These days, having lost such an invaluable source of knowledge, I have to rely on other sources. There's the Internet, of course, but just browsing around for information is such a hit-and-miss proposition, and accuracy is always suspect, like the infamous Highway 69 fiasco. A few years ago though, my co-worker Bud put me on to the Uncle Johns Bathroom Readers. These books, of which there are many, are collections of very short articles (perfect for reading during quality time spent in the porcelain palace) that cover just about every topic under the sun. As if that isn't enough, each page has a tidbit at the bottom like "Kodak founder George Eastman hated having his picture taken." Or this: "Lemon Pledge has more lemons than CountryTime Lemonade."

Right now, pride of place in the Gog john [har-har], is Uncle John's Monumental Bathroom Reader Thanks to the intense researches of the Bathroom Reader's Institute (BRI), I have been enriched with all manner of oddball facts to dazzle anyone who will stand still long enough to listen. To wit, I have learned:

  • The ingredients of toothpaste, and the fact that brushing with plain water would be almost as effective;
  • A plethora of folk cures, such as rubbing a live frog on your face will get rid of freckles;
  • That two companies are authorized to make and sell the Swiss Army Knife (one sells the 'original" while the other sells the "genuine");
  • That Thomas Watson, Alexamder Graham Bell's trusty assistant, invented the phone booth to use in his boarding house, because the landlady complained of the noise he made shouting into those old phones in order to be heard.
In fact, on the very same page as Watson's invention of the phone booth, is the origin of the slot machine. In 1910, the Mills Novelty Company was marketing a new brand of gum that came in three flavors: cherry, orange, and plum. They devleoped a vending machine, which was the first slot machine, with wheels that turned when a coin was deposited and a lever pulled. What kind of gum you got depended on what came up on the wheels (cherries, organes, plums, or some combination). Just to make things interesting, they added lemons and bars to the wheels. If you got three lemons, you got no gum (hence today's term of a "lemon" being a bad product). On the other hand, 3 bars got you extra gum. To this day, the same symbols are used on traditional slots.

As a little bonus, I learned something else, which was not mentioned in the Uncle John's article: the origin of the name of a 1960's bubble-gum band. The name of Mills Novelty Company's gum was 1910 Fruit Gum. The band that gave us such forgettable hits as "Simon Says" and "1-2-3 Red Light" was called the 1910 Fruit Gum Company. Like Mycroft Holmes, I have this uncanny ability to bring disparate facts together to form a cohesive whole. Of course, this is obvious to any regular readers of this blog or my other one, or it would be if there were any regular readers of these blogs.

Oh well, time to stop whining. The Wife is working a crossword puzzle and needs to know who was the third baseman in the Cubs infield of Tinkers, Evers, and Chance.

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