For example–February 21: In 1912, on this day, Teddy Roosevelt coined the political phrase “hat in the ring,” so Ken Jennings fires off a series of “ring” questions. What two NFL quarterbacks have four Super Bowl rings each?* What rings are divided by the Cassini Division?** Also on this date, in 1981, the “goth” music scene was born in London, so here’s a quiz on black-clad icons like Darth Vader, Johnny Cash, and Zorro. Do you know the secret identities of Ivanhoe’s Black Knight*** or Men in Black’s Agent M****?
In this ultimate book for trivia buffs and other assorted know-it-alls, the 365 entries feature “This Day in History” factoids, trivia quizzes, and questions categorized by Jennings as “Easy,” “Hard,” and “Yeah, Good Luck.” Topics cover every subject under the sun, from paleontology to mixology, sports feats to Bach suites, medieval popes to daytime soaps. This addictive gathering of facts, oddities, devilishly clever quizzes, and other flights of fancy will make each day a fun and intriguing new challenge.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
It seemed like it was going to be so easy.
I spent most of 2005 submerged in the world of trivia nuts, writing my book Brainiac. I was (and still am) writing a weekly “Tuesday Trivia” e- mail quiz for visitors to my website. As a result, I was seeing trivia everywhere I looked. While driving by the Olive Garden restaurant by the mall: hmm, the Olive Garden logo is a fruit that’s not an olive. While looking at a fistful of change at the grocery store: hmm, two different state quarters have George Washington on their “tails” side as well as on the “heads.” While my wife was in labor: hmm, childbirth contractions are measured in units named for the capital of Uruguay. “Um, sorry, honey, my mind was elsewhere. Go ahead and push now.”
I needed to get all this trivia out of my system, cleanse myself of all the clutter. The book you now hold in your hands would, I thought, be my trivia enema. (In fact, Ken Jennings’s Trivia Enema was its original working title, before wiser heads prevailed.)
I pictured a 365- day trivia almanac, stuffed to the gills with odd historical facts from every day of the year, each tied to a related trivia quiz. What could be easier, in a world packed with exotic little factoids? It would be like gaily skipping through an alpine meadow, picking whatever wildflowers of trivia happened to catch my eye. A fact here, a question there, and pretty soon I’d have a book, right?
As it turned out, a better title for the book might have been Ken Jennings’s Trivia Aversion Therapy. Math was never my strong suit in school, but it turns out that twenty or thirty trivia questions for each day of the calendar year runs to about nine thousand questions in total.
Nine thousand. That’s two whole boxes of Trivial Pursuit. That’s most of a season of Jeopardy! As far as I can tell, this is the biggest single assembly of trivia questions ever published in this country, in any form. And writing nine thousand trivia questions comes with challenges beyond mere volume, it turns out. In case you have professional curiosity, or just want to feel my pain (Ken Jennings’s Trivia Pity Party!) here are a few of the difficulties inherent in writing an über- trivia book of this scale.
Over easy or hard- boiled? My favorite trivia questions aren’t simple fact retrieval. They involve a little bit of work—forehead furrowing, lip chewing, tossing the question around with friends and family—before the sudden flash of insight that produces the answer. “Who’s the only U.S. president with a four- syllable surname?” is probably not the kind of question you can answer off the top of your head, but it’s not annoyingly esoteric either. But a book of nine thousand brain- straining questions like that might be, well, a little exhausting. So I’ve sprinkled in some of the easy, quick- response kind of questions (“What country’s national carrier is Qantas Airways?”) as well as—I’ll admit—a few maddeningly abstruse ones that just happen to have interesting answers (“Dolbear’s Law relates air temperature to the speed of what?”). So don’t flip to the answer section too quickly—given a moment’s thought, you may surprise yourself with how much you actually know.
The generation gap. A 15- year- old trivia buff and a 65- year- old trivia buff are going to have different ideas of what pop culture and what oncecurrent events constitute fair game for quizzing. To someone of exactly the right age, the sentence “Bill Laimbeer played one of the Sleestaks on Land of the Lost” will elicit a smile of happy recognition. To anyone else, it will only elicit a puzzled “Bill Laim- who played one of the what- staks on Land of the what now?” I’ve tried to avoid the hopeless minutiae of any generation, even—as tempting as it seemed—my own Gen- X childhood. But rest assured that, no matter what your age, you’ll probably feel too old for some of the questions herein and too young for others.
Equal time. Quiz show and board game questions are produced by staffs of dozens of diverse writers, but this book all poured out of one head: mine. So I’m terrified that the questions will reflect my own personal preferences and prejudices. Are there too few NASCAR questions? Too much breakfast cereal? What if there’s twice as much Beatles as Elvis or more CSI: NY than CSI: Miami? What if there are two questions on the SinoJapanese War and only one on the Russo- Japanese War? Aaaargh!
Hakuna errata. Finally, there’s accuracy. I’ve been over this book with a fine- toothed comb, and so have many other trivia gurus of my acquaintance, but I know from experience that we couldn’t have caught every possible error in a book this size. Trivia is an odd field: the very best finds are the odd and nearly unbelievable facts, and those are also the ones most likely to have been misreported or exaggerated or, sometimes, simply made up. Also, times change—this book may have been current when I finished it in the summer of 2007, but I can’t vouch for all its facts if you’re reading it in some remainder bin of the far- flung future of 2009 or beyond. If you spot goofs or have other comments or questions, drop me a line via Ken- Jennings.com so we can fix ’em in any future editions.
I hope you enjoy this endlessly overstuffed clown car of trivia (Ken Jennings’s Trivia Clown Car?). Trivia, I’ve always thought, has the wonderful side effect of making knowledge seem fun, or even sexy. It can bring back fond memories, or spark new interests, or inspire marvel at the wonderful strangeness of the world around us. Maybe some of the facts in the nine- thousand- odd questions that follow will do something like that for you. But even if these quizzes just provide a momentary rainy day diversion—well, there’s nothing trivial about that, either
You know, I just searched the manuscript one final time for the letters “TK” (a publishing- speak placeholder abbreviation for “To Come”) and immediately got back a great list of legitimate trivia answers with the letters “tk” in them: Dick Butkus, OutKast, Kamchatka, the Atkins Diet, Latka Gravas. And my first thought, even after eight grueling months of question writing, was, “Wow, what a great idea for a quiz! I wonder if I can squeeze it in somewhere.”
So much for getting the trivia jones out of my system. Maybe there’s still more TK.