Rounding up bits of trivia from the Jeopardy test…
1. The Thomas Edison of horticulturalists and dapper dandy, Luther Burbank developed more than 100 types of plums, plumcots, and pluots. He promoted racial harmony by creating the white blackberry; developed a spineless cactus used in cattle feed, and his eponymous Russet Burbank potato—a descendant of the Rough Purple Chili, Garnet Chili, and Early Rose varietals—is the gold standard for french fries and baking potatoes. Besides his legacy as a mad scientist of tuberous genetic engineering, he also changed the face of American intellectual property jurisprudence: legislation was passed in 1930 allowing plant varieties to be patented, based mostly on his work. Later, he was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame, which is a thing that exists. His last words were “I don’t feel good,” and a pedant such as myself might point out how this implies that the mechanism which allows him to feel is broken, not that he feels ill. But I won’t do that.
• • •
2. Another insufferable pedant who might point that out is Dominique Bouhours, a 17th-century French grammarian, whose last words were: “I am about to—or I am going to—die: either expression is correct.”
Some last words that involved intoxicants:
• “Codeine…bourbon.” – Tallulah Bankhead
• “I’ve had eighteen straight whiskeys, I think that’s the record.” – Dylan Thomas
Last words of those unfazed by the specter of death:
• “I’m bored with it all.” – Winston Churchill
• “Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.” – Karl Marx
And some that involved people caught by surprise:
• “Good-bye…why am I hemorrhaging?” – Boris Pasternak
• “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist…” – General John Sedgwick, Union Army
• “He who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the Holy Grail in the Castle Aaaaaaaaaaargh.” – Joseph of Aramathea
Bonus last words by someone else who popped up in the Jeopardy test: “Why do you weep? Did you think I was immortal?” – Louis XIV
• • •
3. The director of Jaws was slated to be Dick Richards, whose directorial debut was the decently regarded The Culpepper Cattle Company; he went on to direct a few more nondescript movies in the 70s and 80s before fading into obscurity. He was dropped from Jaws because he kept referring to the shark as a whale. That’s not a joke. Once Steven Spielberg was signed on, Odd Couple/Smothers Brothers writer Carl Gottlieb was hired to rewrite the script, and two of the three officially sanctioned Jaws sequels. Noted Hollywood script doctor John Milius, who wrote RED DAWN (currently being rebooted), Conan the Barbarian, and the “go ahead, make my day” line from Dirty Harry, and was perhaps aprocryphally the basis for Walter Sobchak, provided rewrites as well.
Before settling on Robert Shaw as drunken war veteran / scar relativist / shark lunch Quint, premiere 50s/60s Hollywood badasses Sterling Hayden and Lee Marvin were also considered for the role. I, for one, will always remember Lee Marvin’s triumphant, emotionally raw portrayal of the greenhorn beat cop, knocked senseless and imprisoned by a gorilla at large in Gorilla at Large (in all seriousness, I would love to see versions of Jaws with either of those guys playing Quint). Besides the movie’s well-known production issues with the fake sharks, Shaw himself proved problematic: he was often drunk, loathed Richard Dreyfuss, and fled to Canada to avoid tax problems multiple times.
• • •
4. Halite is the technical term for rock salt, and I only bring it up because one of the more notable halite-based geologic attractions is the Devil’s Golf Course in Death Valley. And I am really only bringing that up so I can point out that Devil’s Golf Course is the result of the drying/evaporation of LAKE MANLY. A smaller, 100 square-mile version of LAKE MANLY appeared in 2005 after flooding, allowing several people to actually canoe across Death Valley. Unfortunately, it was too deep for them to ford and they lost 3 oxen, 2 wagon tongues, and 444 bullets.
• • •
5. The eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 is thought to be the loudest sound in recorded history: it was heard up to 3,000 miles away, where it was thought to be cannon fire. The shockwave from the eruption ruptured the eardrums or nearby sailors, circled the globe seven times, and was still detectable FIVE DAYS later. The massive amounts of emitted sulfur caused almost immediate global cooling; the other assorted ash and volcano debris deposited 50 miles up into the atmosphere caused widespread and long-lasting optical effects, including exceptionally bright and vivid sunsets across the globe for months afterward.
Amateur meteorologists followed the path of the “smoke stream” across the sky, in what was the first identification of the jet stream. The pyroclastic flow—a mass of superheated stone and gas that usually rolls down the mountainside and spreads out—was so large and hot that it literally floated across TWENTY FIVE MILES of water on a cushion of steam before reaching the Sumatran coast. The explosion was estimated at 200 megatons, which is four times that of the largest ever nuclear device, the tastefully-named Tsar Bomba (so named to coincide with two other Russian “largests”: the Tsar Bell, a 225-ton bell that broke during casting (the broken piece alone is three times bigger than the largest bell ever hung for ringing), and the Tsar Cannon, the world’s largest cannon that fired 3-foot diameter shot weighing just under a ton).
• • •
6. In France, the patron saint of Haberdashers is Saint Louis IX; but in Belgium and most other places, it is Saint Nicholas. In London, The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers, the trade association of haberdashers, adopted Saint Catherine. The full name of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers is The Master and Four Wardens of the Fraternity of the Art or Mystery of Haberdashers in the City of London; it was formed in 1448 and has an awesome logo:
I too, wish to fully understand the mystery of haberdashing. Among other trade associations in London, there is still a Scrivener’s Association, Spectacle Makers Company, Pewterers, Tallow C(h)andlers, Girdlers, Poulters, Fruiterers, Makers of Playing Cards, Lightmongers, and Pattenmakers (wooden shoe makers). The full list is here.