The Case for Minutiae


Boomer Blog - Shirley Scott



I have been on a trivia tear this week, kindled by a fascinating YouTube tidbit from a cross stitch tutorial: the English name of each season contains exactly six letters! Add a Jeopardy! reference to Romans who lopped off their thumbs to avoid conscription into the army – well, I was off to the minutiae races!

Some small-minded individuals dismiss the value of the nitty-gritty of life. Uncertain about the size of my own mind, I nonetheless find connections in life’s most obscure details. As an American embroiderer, I will experience no spacing problems when stitching summer and winter, spring and autumn. But what are my French cohorts to do with such dissimilarly-spelled seasons as l’été and le printemps? Therein lies an example of the relationship between trivia and global understanding!

Continuing with the subject of spelling, be advised that Alaska is the only state typed on just one line of QWERTY – remember that nugget of info the next time Mississippi or Ohio need to be spelled out. From that geographical connection to a mathematical one: forty is the only number spelled in alphabetical order, and one is the only number spelled in reverse alphabetical order. And factoid alert: four is the only number that contains its own number of letters. Good stuff, right?

Another amazing fact in math concerns the making of change. Far too many folks these days know just one method: push the cash register button. On the contrary, there are 293 ways to make change for a dollar. Seems to me, lots of math could be taught and learned from just such a school project!

Returning to my earlier historical allusion concerning thumbless Romans unable to wield swords, I found a related situation in the UDC in 1968. Charles Schulz sent our favorite cartoon beagle to Petaluma, California, the Wrist-Wrestling Capital. Alas, a dejected and rejected Snoopy arrived home without his coveted championship, disqualified as he had been for his lack of thumbs.

As for human anatomy, allow me to pose this question: Where is Cavity Sam’s glabella located? Players of Operation have perhaps been unaware that the patient upon whom they perform tweezer surgery is nicknamed Cavity Sam. And each of us has a glabella, excepting anyone with a unibrow. The glabella is the space between our eyebrows.

A couple anatomical notes from the animal kingdom: chameleons, the quick-change reptiles, have the fastest tongues of all creatures. And those tongues are twice the length of the animals. If humans were similarly constructed, our tongues would be ten to twelve feet long! By the way, the very dark color of a giraffe’s tongue serves as sort of a built-in sunscreen.

I find also that little-known information adds a richness, a satisfying context to the humdrum of daily existence. Until I happened upon a history of candy, I had no idea that when Mars introduced the Three Musketeers bar in 1932, it echoed the Dumas novel by consisting of three sections: vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate. Restrictions and rising costs during WW2, however, reduced the confection to its chocolate-only form we are still eating today.

It is also fun to know that in 1978, after best buds Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield found starting a bagel business too expensive, they enrolled in a five-dollar correspondence course from Penn State University. The founders of Ben & Jerry’s shared the textbook on ice cream making, read Small Business Administration brochures, and set up shop. Baskin-Robbins educated themselves similarly, as did the Good Humor folks. All of us can follow suit at the home of the Nittany Lions, although the current fee is $150.

Labor no longer under the false assumption that the Hydrox cookie is the off-brand of the better-known OREO. In 1912 Nabisco created its chocolate sandwich cookie to imitate the other chocolate sandwich cookie introduced in 1908 by Sunshine Biscuits. The Hydrox cookie is a little less sweet and a little crispier than the other, most popular cookie on the planet. But we trivia collectors do enjoy the occasional scandal: In 2018 Hydrox manufacturers filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against the parent company of OREOs charging the latter with hiding the former from customers on store shelves!

Most Boomers remember John Cameron Swayze reminding us that even when challenged by jackhammers, cliff diving, and the like – Timex watches “take the licking and keep on ticking.” But who also knows that the first-ever TV commercial appeared on July 1, 1941 to advertise Bulova watches? The ten-second spot featured the face of a watch superimposed on a map of the U.S. with this voiceover: “America runs on Bulova watches.” Of course, nowadays we run on Dunkin’!

Sports is all about minutiae. Pittsburgh is the only major city in which all professional teams compete under the same colors. The Steelers, the Pirates, and the Penguins share the colors of black and gold, found on the coat-of-arms of William Pitt, for whom the Pennsylvania city is named. How ’bout that, sports fans?

I am running out of space to further enlighten readers with minutiae that make our 365 trips around the sun each year more enjoyable – or at least a bit more interesting: Shouldn’t we all know that 1 in every 75,000 people suffers from koumpounophobia, a fear of buttons? How many of us know that cows have best friends and that sex therapist Dr. Ruth…

Boomer Blog

Shirley Scott

Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.

Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.