Thursday, March 13, 2008

Q 8 Connect Abbott and Costello, Dustin Hoffman, and the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Answer : "Who's on first". The famous play on words by Abbott and Costello where Who was the name of the first base, What was the name of the second base, etc has been translated into many languages and is still a standard joke, as well as the basis of works on epistemology. A disc recording of the Abbot and Costello routine was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956. The line was also successfully used by Dustin Hoffman who played the role of an autist in the film "Rain Man".

Background trivia: The routine was born out of turn of the century burlesque sketches, with references to Watt Street, etc

Additional trivia: The complete list :

* First Base: Who
* Second Base: What
* Third base: I Don't Know
* Left field: Why
* Center Field: Because
* Pitcher: Tomorrow
* Catcher: Today
* Shortstop: I Don't Give a Darn! (at other times the phrase was stated as "I Don't Care" or "I Don't Give a Damn")

References : The Wikipedia article on Who's on First.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Q 7 Which venues of social interactions in the Hudson Valley arose out of the Dutch practice of making elevated buildings as protection from North Sea?

Answer: The urban stoop - a small staircase that leads to a small porch outside an apartment housing from the street. The stoop has been thought to play a large role in social interaction between neighbors, as well as in crime watch by locals.

Background trivia : The word stoop originates from the Dutch word "stoep" - which means pavement. The word "stoep" as stoop can be found in British literature, as in :

1926: To my surprise there was a house close beside me, a fairly large house with a broad stoep and many windows. — Arthur Conan Doyle, ‘The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier’

Additional Trivia: Specific words have been derived from the word "stoop" in American English. These include "stoop ball" - a street sport mimicking baseball without the role of a batter. Another such word is the derogatory "stoopid" - used to refer to people who sit and while away time on stoops. (Interestingly, in Kolkata, people who frequent stairs or porches facing the street - which are known as "rock"s or "rowack"s - are referred to as "rockbaaj" - also in derogatory usage)

References :

The wikipedia article on stoops

Mario Maffi, New York City: An Outsider's Inside View

The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs

Arthur Conan Doyle, ‘The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier’

BOY KILLED BY AUTOMOBILE.; Walter Purdy Was Bouncing "Stoop" Ball and Backed in Front of the Car. May 12, 1909, Wednesday. New York Times.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Q 6 If it is A R D V in France ( A L E F during the French Revolution) , and A K D B in Germany, what is it in the United Kingdom ?

Answer : It is A K Q J. The playing card sequence for the high cards. In France, during the revolution, R D V changed to Liberty, Equality, and Fratenity.

Background trivia : Originally, the cards were merely numbered, and numbers higher than X were common, but graphics of royals were usually associated with the top cards, often specific cards with specific royal personages (King of Clubs was usually Alexander the Great). Further, the kings were always the top card in early (pre-15th century) card games.

Additional trivia : The standard international card game tournaments are based on the 4 suit 52 card Anglo American French style. Other variants almost always involve four suits, though the total number of cards may change (36 in parts of Central Europe), or the symbols for the suits (acorns, bells, hearts and leaves in parts of Germany).

Transformational cards are cards where the enumerated suit symbols are naturally integrated into a picture by the graphic designer. Reversible cards can be traced back to 1745 to a French card maker in Agen. The joker was inserted into the deck in America, with its roots in the game of Euchre. The two jokers in a pack are usually asymmetric, and are called Big and Little Jokers.

Reference :

Wikipedia article on playing cards

International Playing Card Society page on the history of cards

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Q 5 If the USA replaced the lower typeface with the upper typeface, what are we talking about ?

A : These are typefaces for highway signage. The top typeface, Clearview Highway, will slowly replace the bottom one, Highway Gothic across Interstates in the US, according to the Federal Highway Adminstration approval in 2004.

Background trivia: Highway Gothic was created by the Public Roads Administration during WWII. Draft versions of this typeface was first used in 1942 for the Pentagon Road Network. The aim of the signage was legibility at high speeds.

Clearview was developed at the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute in 1992 based on several considerations like legibility under glare and at speed, and compactness.

Additional trivia Other famous signage typefaces include :


References :

Yaffa, Joshua. The Road to Clarity. New York Times Magazine. August 11, 2007

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Q 4 If the normal distribution is referred to as the "Gaussian" in most parts of the world, what is it referred to as in France?

The Laplacian. Gauss used the distribution in around 1809 to analyze astronomical data, but Laplace used it to analyze error terms as early as 1783. The French, of course, have stuck to their champion.

Background trivia: In fact, the distribution was formulated by De Moivre in his 1756 edition of "The Doctrine of Chance".

Additional trivia: Well, what about the Laplacian density function. What do the French call that? The French call it the doubly exponential distribution - on the basis of having exponential fade-off on both sides of the distribution. Dont ask me what the French call e to the e to the something distributions !

[ Illustration of the Central Limit Theorem, March 22, 2005]

[ The Normal Distribution, March 22, 2005]

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Q 3 To whom is the prize for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest awarded ?

A challenge to entrants to compose the worst possible opening sentence to a hypothetical novel. The entire novel need not be written, just the introductory line. a la Edward Bulwer-Lytton's opening lines to Paul Clifford (1830), "It was a dark and stormy night ...".

This competition is sponsored by the San Jose State University, and has been open to the public since 1983.

Additional trivia: The winner from 1985 :

The countdown had stalled at T minus 69 seconds when Desiree,the first female ape to go up in space, winked at me slyly and pouted her thick, rubbery lips unmistakably - the first of many such advances during what would prove to be the longest, and most memorable, space voyage of my career.
- Martha Simpson, Glastonbury, Connecticut.


[ The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, January 25, 2005 ]

[ Scott Rice (compiled), Son of "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night", 1986, Viking Penguin Inc. ]

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Q 2 What is common to "A Miracle on 34th Street", the world's largest department store, and the NY Santa Claus Parade?

Macy's. The world's largest departmental store occupies the entire block between 34th and 35th Street on Broadway.

The movie "A Miracle on 34th Street" - a christmas staple in the US, was roughly centred on the story of Santa Claus being hired as Santa Claus at Macy's.

The Thanksgiving Day Parade sponsored by Macy's is the NY Santa Clause Parade - much loved by New Yorkers.

Additional Trivia: The theme of the Thanksgiving Parade and the christmas shop window of Macy's for 2004 has the theme of "A Miracle on 34th Street".

References: [, Post Time]

Q 1 If it is called "Táng rén jiē" ( "The street of the Tang people") in Mandarin, what is it called in English ?

The answer is : "Chinatown" (Mandarin) . In other Chinese languages, the words are slightly different. "Tang" refers to the Tang dynasty - under whom the Cantonese (who a comprise fair share of the immigrants) first came under imperial control.

Background trivia: One thing I have always wondered about is: why are there "China Town"s and "Little Italy"s, but hardly any representative communities of other countries? My guess was that Chinese and Italian immigration happened in "spikes". And hence these strangers in a strange land flocked together, creating communities.

However, a better guess seems that initially Chinatowns were formed because of strict land ownership laws, which forbade the Chinese to own urban and upscale property.

Additional trivia: The cheapest form of transport between NYC and Boston is the "China Town bus" connecting the vibrant China Town communities of both cities! A $20 round trip.

Open Question: In India, are there any China Towns beside Tangra, in Kolkata? If so, where?

References: [ , Post time]
[, Post time]

INTRO What ho, and suchlike

Trivia questions will be posted here, with answers, if possible. Open questions could also be posted.

All answers would be accompanied by a formal reference: which could be a publication with year of publishing and publisher's name; or a public web URL of good standing with a time stamp ( best if the site keeps a public history of the URL ).

Lack of reference has taken credibility away from quizmasters in India. All open quizzes should end with a link to a website / handout of references.