That Time Again

King William’s College has released its annual General Knowledge Paper, “The World’s Most Difficult Quiz,” a school tradition since 1904. There are 18 sets of 10 questions, each set treating a particular theme; divining the themes is difficult and useful.

This year’s quiz bears the customary warning at the top: Scire ubi aliquid invenire possis ea demum maxima pars eruditionis est, “The greatest part of knowledge is knowing where to find something.” If past quizzes are any model, then search engines may lead you astray.

The answers will be on the school website at the end of January. Meanwhile MetaFilter is coordinating a spreadsheet of proposed answers (warning: spoilers).

Backwards and Forwards

The French acronym for NATO is OTAN (Organisation du traité de l’Atlantique nord).

11/08/2019 UPDATES:

Spanish yields the same acronym as French: Organizacion del Tratado Atlantico Norte. (Thanks, Marcial.)

The name of the standards organization ISO is not an acronym: “Because ‘International Organization for Standardization’ would have different acronyms in different languages (IOS in English, OIN in French), our founders decided to give it the short form ISO. ISO is derived from the Greek isos, meaning equal. Whatever the country, whatever the language, the short form of our name is always ISO.” (Thanks, John.)

Similarly, UTC doesn’t stand for anything. It was agreed as a common abbreviation by English speakers (who otherwise would use CUT, “coordinated universal time”) and French speakers (in place of TUC, temps universel coordonné). (Thanks, Scott.)

A Surprise First

https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=275931&picture=vatican-city-and-rome-skyline

The residents of Vatican City drink more wine per person than any other country, at least as of 2014 — 74 liters per year, or about 105 bottles, twice the amount drunk by the average person in France and three times that in the U.K.

The state’s tiny size — just 800 people — means that such figures are easily skewed, and Vatican residents tend to be old, male, and highly educated and to eat in large groups, all of which can contribute to higher wine consumption. (So does the use of ceremonial Communion wine.)

An overlooked additional factor: Wine sold in the Vatican supermarket is subject to a lower tax than in Italy — which attracts customers from the broader vicinity and may drive up the numbers.

Distant Neighbors

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Route-20-Sign-Kenmore-Square-December-8-2016.jpg
Images: Wikimedia Commons and Flickr

Newport, Ore., and Boston, Mass., contain signs directing motorists to one another, despite being more than 3,000 miles apart.

They’re at opposite ends of U.S. Route 20.

Likewise Sacramento, Calif., and Ocean City, Md., at either end of Route 50. Wilmington, N.C., used to reciprocate with Barstow, Calif., at the other end of Interstate 40, but gave up because the sign kept getting stolen.

A Handy Calendar

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Month_-_Knuckles_(en).svg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the 1890s, traveler Henry Attwell found that the residents of rural Holland used their hands to recall which months of the year have 31 days:

The knuckles of the hand represent months of thirty-one days, and the spaces between represent months of thirty days. Thus, the first knuckle is January (thirty-one), the first space February (twenty-eight or twenty-nine, the exception), the second knuckle March (thirty-one), the second space April (thirty), &c. The fourth knuckle, July (thirty-one), is followed by the first [of the other hand], August [thirty-one], and so on, until the third knuckle is reached a second time. This sequence of two knuckles corresponds with the only sequence of months (July and August) which have each thirty-one days.

“This memoria tecnica certainly gives a more ready result than the rhyme [‘Thirty Days Hath September’].”

(From Angus Trumble, The Finger: A Handbook, 2010.)

Fair Enough

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eighty-eight_Butterfly_(Diaethria_anna).JPG
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Butterflies in the genus Diaethria are commonly called “eighty-eights” because their wings bear a pattern that resembles the number 88 or 89.

The Australian ringneck parrot has four subspecies, one of which is known as the 28 parrot for its triple-noted call, which sounds like “twentee-eight.”

Misc

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mr._Peanut_balloon_lands_in_children%27s_park.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons
  • Mr. Peanut’s full name is Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe.
  • Michael J. Fox is 10 days younger than Lea Thompson and 3 years older than Crispin Glover.
  • Nebraska’s state slogan is “Honestly, it’s not for everyone.”
  • Eight-letter words typed with eight fingers: BIPLANES, CAPTIONS, ELAPSING, JACKPOTS, LIFESPAN, PANELIST.
  • “Memory can restore to life everything except smells.” — Nabokov

In a Word

https://www.flickr.com/photos/slgc/36564649132
Image: Flickr

belute
v. to cover with mud or dirt

lutose
adj. covered with mud

squage
v. to dirty with handling

Every regulation major league baseball, roughly 240,000 per season, is rubbed with “magic mud” from a single source, a tributary of the Delaware River. It’s harvested by a single man, 62-year-old Jim Bintliff, who keeps the precise location secret even from Major League Baseball.

“I know the mud,” he told Sports Illustrated. “I’m the only one on the planet who does.”

(Thanks, Peter.)