tuesday trivia roundup

Another roundup of the trivial…

1. The name cranberry is a derivation of craneberry, a moniker bestowed by early European settlers who saw a resemblance between the wiry vines of the cranberry plant and the neck of a crane. Ocean Spray, king of cranberries and fruit juices, is actually a co-op of more than 600 fruit growers. It was founded in 1930 as a cranberry-specific collective of just three farmers, though that cooperative was preceded by the non-cranberry-specific National Fruit Exchange in the early 1900s. The NFE ended up a victim of its own success, as its ever-expanding size led to oversupply, dwindling profits, and increased competition. In part because of this, the three largest cranberry canners seceded and merged, formed Ocean Spray, and cornered more than 90% of the cranberry market. The entire enterprise was nearly scotched due to violations of monopoly and antitrust law, but a clever lawyer for Big Cranberry discovered that agricultural co-ops are exempt from monopoly laws, and Ocean Spray got to stick around.

Things went swimmingly for about twenty years, and a grateful nation was introduced to cranberry juice cocktail. In 1959, though, it was announced that nearly all cranberry crops were maybe-just-possibly tainted by a particularly nasty pesticide. Cranberry prices collapsed, and Ocean Spray was in trouble. Taking the advice of Wu-Tang Financial, they diversified: the pesticide incident precipitated the introduction of both juice blends (like cran-apple) and federal price controls. Thus propped up, they were able to expand to grapefruits in the 1970s, then invent the craisin in 1993. In closing: Wisconsin is responsible for more than 60% of US cranberry production, and white cranberries are just cranberries harvested prior to ripening.

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2. To engage in more unobtrusive espionage, the CIA undertook Operation Acoustic Kitty in the 1960s. Like all plans, this one was fiendishly simple in concept: simply implant a bug and transmitter in a common housecat, then let it roam near the unsuspecting target, collecting ear scratches and valuable information. Unfortunately, they discovered that their test cat, like all cats, heeded no man. After continued insubordination, they attempted surgery to reduce the cat’s sense of hunger. But they left its innate sense of curiosity untouched, and, ’twas curiosity that killed this cat: in the first live op, the feline spy was released near a couple of Soviet nationals, then almost immediately run over by a cab, presumably while Yakety Sax played in the background. Total cost: $20 million.

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3. Mountain Dew was first developed in the 1940s, taking its name from an old Irish slang term for moonshine, which featured prominently in a 19th-century drinking song:

Let grasses grow and waters flow / In a free and easy way / But give me enough of the rare old stuff / That’s made near Galway Bay / Come gougers all from Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim too / And we’ll give them the slip and we’ll take a sip / Of the rare ould Mountain Dew.

Mountain Dew’s original slogan was “it tickles your innards,” which could also apply to 1930s tapeworm weight-loss pills and jagged metal Krusty-O’s. There have been no fewer than 30 unique Mountain Dew varietals, including a “Mountain Dew Red” that was available only for a short time in 1988, and only in…Alabama, for some reason.

Two unique Dew-gredients are orange juice (for real), and brominated vegetable oil. Brominated vegetable oil has a long, checkered history of possibly deleterious consequences. In one case, a man who drank eight liters of ruby red squirt daily had his skin turn red and developed bromoderma (a skin condition caused by exposure to bromides); another guy experienced memory loss, tremors, and paralysis, until he stopped drinking soda and underwent dialysis. In some countries, brominated vegetable oil is not a legal food additive, but it’s unclear whether it actually has negative effects when consumed in anything approaching reasonable quantities.

Some of Mountain Dew’s primary competitors include Mello Yello (their chief claim to fame was sponsoring Nascar driver Cole Trickle in cinematic masterstroke Days of Thunder, which starred Nicole Kidman as a neurologist and Tom Cruise as a possibly brain-damaged NASCAR driver), Vault (Coke’s estimated 18th attempt to unseat Mountain Dew), and the vastly underrated Sun Drop (originally developed in the early 1930s and marketed as “Golden Cola”). In the mid-1990s, Coke again tried to wrest control of the citrus-based soda market by developing Surge, based on a popular Norwegian drink called Urge. Though it still has a cult following, Surge was killed off a few years later, and Mountain Dew still rules from its citrus-soda throne of skulls.

Here’s a list of generic citrus-type sodas, only three of which are fake: Citrus Drop, Citrus Pop, Heee Haw, Hillbilly Holler, Appalachian Potation, Kountry Mist, Mountain Breeze, Mountain Drops, Mountain Explosion, Mountain Frost, Mountain Fury, Mountain Goat, Mountain Holler, Mountain Lightning, Mountain Lion, Mountain Maze, Mountain Mellow, Mountain Mist, Mountain Moondrops, Mountain Roar, Mountain Rush, Mountain Splash, Mountain W, Mountain Yeller, Mountain Rush, Mt. Chill, Mt. Etna, Ramp, and Rocky Mist.

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4. The national flag of Angola features both a machete and a cog wheel. The national flag of Mozambique has an AK47. The national flag of Nepal is the only national flag that is not a quadrilateral. The national flag of Tuvalu has stars arranged in the geographically accurate locations of the nine islands comprising the nation.

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