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The Book of Answers: The New York Public Library Telephone Reference Service's Most Unusual and Entertaining Questions

The Book of Answers: The New York Public Library Telephone Reference Service's Most Unusual and Entertaining Questions

by Barbara Berliner, Melinda Corey, George Ochoa

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How many of these questions can you answer without calling the New York Public Library's Telephone Reference Service?
  • Who really designed the American flag?
  • How hot is the sun's surface?
  • How does quicksand work?
  • When was the Ark of the Covenant last seen?
  • Who sat at the Algonquin Round Table?
  • Where does the name "The Grateful Dead" come


How many of these questions can you answer without calling the New York Public Library's Telephone Reference Service?

  • Who really designed the American flag?
  • How hot is the sun's surface?
  • How does quicksand work?
  • When was the Ark of the Covenant last seen?
  • Who sat at the Algonquin Round Table?
  • Where does the name "The Grateful Dead" come from?
  • Why is Christmas abbreviated Xmas?
  • Can any creature besides humans get a sunburn?
  • How many muscles does it take to smile? To frown?
  • Why are rabbits' feet considered good luck?

You could, of course, do all the painstaking research yourself. Or you could pick up the phone and call the resourceful, erudite, quick-witted librarians of the New York Public Library's Telephone Reference Service, Tel Ref, for whom questions like these are all in a day's work. For the past twenty years, Tel Ref has met the information needs of a public as diverse as the subjects in the Library's catalog, and now they've compiled their most interesting, unusual, and most-often-asked queries into The Book of Answers - a delight for browsers, a treasure trove of fascinating information, and the perfect companion to The New York Public Library Desk Reference.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
What do NYPL librarians do with the most popular, peculiar, and humorous questions asked over a 20-year period? Find the answers, organize them into 27 subject areas, compile a 1300-term index, and publish it all in a book, of course. The result has enough whos, whens, wheres, whats, and whys to drive even the most dedicated trivia buff mad. (Who invented the brassiere? What is the longest recorded attack of hiccupping? Why are manholes round?) Although sources are not cited, the introductory material notes that each answer is based on documentation in the library's extensive collection. Use the New York Public Library Desk Refer ence ( LJ 7/89) as a primary reference source; purchase this for its entertainment value, or as a gift for the reference librarian who has everything.-- Stanley P. Hodge, Ball State Univ. Lib., Muncie, Ind.

Product Details

Prentice Hall Professional Technical Reference
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

American History

Who was the first American-born child of English settlers?

Virginia Dare, born in 1587 to English settlers of the "lost colony" of Roanoke Island. The entire colony disappeared; Dare's death date is unknown.

Did the pilgrims eat turkey at the first Thanksgiving celebration at Plymouth Rock?

At the three-day festivities celebrating survival through the winter, many foods were served, but turkey was not one of them. The menu included: venison, duck, goose, seafood, eels, white bread, corn bread, leeks, watercress and various other greens, wild plums, dried berries, and wine.

Is it true that Manhattan Island was bought from the Indians for $24?

What Peter Minuit gave the Manhattoe tribe was a package of trinkets and cloth valued at 60 guilders -- roughly equivalent to $24.

Who founded the city of Chicago?

A black man from Haiti named Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable (1745-1818). In 1772, Du Sable founded a settlement called Eschikagou on the north bank of the Chicago River. However, he was not officially recognized as the city's founder until 1968.

Who was the founder of Detroit?

Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, a French explorer and administrator, founded Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit in 1701. The Cadillac automobile is named for him.

Was Pittsburgh named after someone named Pitt? If so, what did he have to do with Pennsylvania?

Pittsburgh was named for William Pitt -- even though Pitt never set foot in Pennsylvania. Pitt's actions as a British war minister during the French and Indian War led to the city's founding. He committed money and troops to the war; hemapped out a strategy that included the capture of Fort Duquesne, located where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers combine to form the Ohio. After this French fort fell in November 1758, a British one was built -- Fort Pitt, or Pittsburgh. The city of Pittsburgh still stands on that spot.

What is the oldest existing hospital in America?

Bellevue, on New York City's East Side, is the oldest general hospital in North America. Plans for the hospital date back to 1736, although at that time the building was meant to be only a "Publick Workhouse and House of Correction" near City Hall (located on the site of present-day City Hall Park). In 1816, a larger space was needed and construction began at Belle Vue Farm, on the hospital's present site.

When were the first African slaves brought to the United States?

In 1619, a Dutch ship brought the first 20 slaves to the English colony of Virginia.

How many slaves were freed after the American Civil War?

About 4 million.

In total, how many Africans were brought to the United States as slaves?

Approximately 15 million.

How many Liberty Bells have there been?

Two. The first was cast in England in 1752 for the Pennsylvania State House, which later became Independence Hall. The second was cast in Philadelphia and inscribed, "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof" (Leviticus 25:10). The bell cracked on July 8, 1835, as it tolled the passing of Chief Justice John Marshall.

In the song "Yankee Doodle," why did Yankee Doodle stick a feather in his cap and call it macaroni?

The line refers not to the pasta but to the Macaroni Club, a mid-eighteenth-century English social club of dandyish young men who wanted to bring the influences of the Continent to bear on their home country. Thus the line was originally intended to discredit American revolutionaries.

Did Betsy Ross design the American flag?

No, it was designed by Francis Hopkinson, a naval flag designer, who was never reimbursed for his services by the U.S. government. And there is no record of Betsy Ross's commission to sew the flag.

In the American Revolution, how many men were required for a regiment in the Continental army?

In November 1775, the Continental Congress advised that a regiment have eight companies of 91 officers and men apiece, for a total of 728. The actual size of the regiments varied per state.

How many American casualties were suffered in the American Revolution?

Unofficial studies of field reports indicate that about 4,500 men died in battle and over 6,000 were wounded. Illness also took a large but indeterminate number. At Valley Forge, for example, illness claimed over 3,000 lives.

How many Americans fought for the British in the American Revolution?

Approximately 50,000 Americans were part of the Loyalist military support for the king. Few joined the British army and navy, but thousands served in provincial regiments under Loyalist officers. American Indians -- mainly in Canada, on the frontier, and in the South -- also fought for Britain.

How much was Benedict Arnold given to be a traitor?

Benedict Arnold (1741-1801) demanded £20,000 from the British but received only £6,315. In exchange, he revealed American battle plans, tried (but failed) to deliver West Point, and crossed over to the British army. Although Arnold was given 13,400 acres of land in Canada after the war, he lived the rest of his life in England.

When was the first U.S. census taken?

In 1790. It included six questions and recorded a population of 3,929,214 persons, of whom 3,172,006 were white and 757,208 were black. The white population was evenly divided between males and females -- 1,615,434 males, 1,556,572 females. Virginia was the most populous state, with 747,610 inhabitants.

When did the first strike in the United States take place?

In 1776, in New York, when members of the Journeymen Printers Union struck against their local shops.

Where and when was the greatest earthquake in American history?

It took place in Missouri on December 16, 1811, at about 2:00 P.M. It is estimated that the quake would have measured 8.7 on the Richter scale, compared with only 8.3 for the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. However, the Missouri area was sparsely populated in 1811, so the San Francisco quake took more lives and damaged more property.

How did American currency come to be called dollars and cents?

Dollar was the English spelling of the German Taler (a silver coin first issued in 1519). American colonists used the word dollar to describe the Spanish peso circulating from South America, and when it came time to devise a system of currency (in 1792), the United States government adopted the dollar as its basic monetary unit. The word cent meant one-hundredth of a dollar -- following the decimal system of coinage first proposed by Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816). Morris was a New York-born statesman who served as assistant to the superintendent of finance under the Articles of Confederation, from 1781 to 1785.

When did the motto In God We Trust start appearing on U.S. coins?

It has appeared on most American coins since about 1864. During the Civil War, rising popular religious sentiment prompted Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase to put the country's faith where its money was. Other slogans suggested were God Our Trust and God and Our Country. The motto is not required by law.

How many females have appeared on U.S. currency?

Aside from the female representations of Justice and Liberty, only three women have been so commemorated: Martha Washington, on the face of the 1886 and 1891 $1 silver certificates and on the reverse of the 1896 silver certificate; Pocahontas, on the back of the 1875 $20 bill; and women's suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony, on the 1979 $1 coin.

When was the U.S. Navy established?

An American "Continental Navy" was established by the Second Continental Congress on October 13, 1775. It was disbanded after the War of Ind

Meet the Author

Barbara Beruner has headed the New York Public Library's Telephone Reference Service since 1986. She and her staff of ten reference librarians are based in the Library's Mid-Manhattan Branch. Meunda Corey and George Ochoa are the authors of The Man in Lincoln's Nose: Funny, Profound, and Quotable Quotes of Screenwriters, Movie Stars, and Moguls and several other books. Ms. Corey is the coauthor of The Official Couch Potato Cookbook.

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