tuesday trivia roundup

Yet more trivial miscellany…

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1. Cranberry is a derivation of craneberry, a moniker bestowed by European settlers who saw a resemblance between the wiry vines of a cranberry plant and a crane’s neck. They may or may not have had scurvy induced brain rot or been suffering from mass ergot poisoning after their flour stores were infected with mold, but that is the story.

Ocean Spray, the fruit juice and cranberry king, is actually a co-op of more than 600 fruit growers. Technically, it was founded in 1930, but the story really goes back to the early 1900s and the non-cranberry-specific National Fruit Exchange. The NFE ended up a victim of its own success: the ever-expanding size led to oversupply, dwindling profits, and increased competition. Looking to expand from fresh fruit to canned cranberry sauce, a group of three growers seceded to from Cranberry Canners, Incorporated, which later became Ocean Spray. The entire enterprise was nearly scotched due to violations of monopoly and antitrust law, until a lawyer for BIG CRANBERRY discovered that, by some arcane loophole, agricultural co-ops are exempt from monopoly laws. So Ocean Spray got to stick around.

A grateful nation was introduced to cranberry juice cocktail and canned cranberry sauce, befitting the postwar obsession with convenience foods. And then, disaster: in 1959, nearly all cranberry crops were potentially tainted by the pesticide aminotriazole, befitting the postwar obsession with chemical annihilation of the insect menace. It was impossible to separate out potentially contaminated cranberries. Fresh cranberry sales in 1959 were reported as 0.

Cranberry prices collapsed, and Ocean Spray was in trouble. But the pesticide incident served up innovation and government bailouts in equal measure: growers were repaid for their lost crops, and price controls were enacted. Meanwhile, juice blends like cran-apple were released. Thus propped up, they expanded to grapefruits in the 1970s, and invented the craisin in 1993.

In closing: white cranberries are just cranberries harvested before ripe.

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2. To engage in more unobtrusive espionage, the CIA undertook Operation Acoustic Kitty in the 1960s. It was a fiendishly simple concept: implant a bug and transmitter in a common housecat, then let it roam near the unsuspecting target, collecting ear scratches and valuable information. However, there’s nary a cat alive that will heed the edicts of man, and their test cat was no different. After repeated insubordination, the cat underwent surgery to reduce its sense of hunger. But they left its innate sense of curiosity untouched, and, tragically, ’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 was also printed on the box for Dr. Mysterio’s Tapeworm Diet Pills throughout the 1930s. 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 and brominated vegetable oil. Brominated vegetable oil has a long and 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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