leftovers trivia roundup

Rounding up some ephemera that fell through the cracks of past roundups. Cheese, caves, mold, chicken mines, zippers, and dolphin movies…

• • •

1. The zipper debuted to amazed onlookers at the 1893 World’s Fair (other debuts: Cream of Wheat, Juicy Fruit, squashed pennies, spray paint, and moving walkways). Then called a “clasp locker,” it was invented by Whitcomb Judson. An inventor by trade, Judson had spent the past decade developing improvements for pneumatic transit systems, none of which were adopted. He shifted focus to clothes fasteners, though perhaps thankfully he did not make pneumatic ones.

The clasp locker was intended for shoes, presumably freeing Americans once and for all from the tyranny of laces (the national bureau of labor estimates that lost productivity due to shoe tying accounts for more than $3.2 trillion lost dollars each year, putting it just behind “adding cream to coffee” as a drain on the economy) (Not really). “It must be obvious,” he claimed in his patent application, “that a shoe equipped with my device has all the advantages peculiar to a lace-shoe, while at the same time it is free from the annoyances hitherto incidental to lace-shoes on account of the lacing and unlacing required every time the shoes were put on or taken off the feet and on account of the lacing-strings coming untied.” The word “lace” has lost all meaning.


Twenty years later, Gideon Sundback made a few improvements to Judson’s design, and in 1923 BF Goodrich put the clasp locker in their galoshes, called them “Zippers” and the name stuck. Although, really, the whole galosh was a zipper, not just the fastener.

Side note: apparently BF Goodrich made galoshes? The company was started in 1869 when Benjamin Franklin Goodrich bought a small rubber company, and was paid by the city of Akron to move there in 1870. The University of Akron athletic teams—the Zips—are, therefore, named for galoshes. And while BF Goodrich was sold to Michelin and is now a brand of tires, the Goodrich corporation is now a heavy hitter in the aerospace industry.

Judson’s zipper-producing company started as the Universal Fastener Company, then became the Automatic Hook and Eye Company, then Hookless Fastener Company (after incorporating Sundback’s design), and finally—with a titular right turn—Talon. Talon is still around and still shilling zippers. But next time you’re eye level with someone’s crotch, take a good long look at their zipper. It will probably say YKK—that’s a Japanese zipper concern that controls roughly 50% of the world zipper market. In 2007, they were fined 150 million Euros as penalty for a zipper price-fixing scheme undertaken in cahoots with European zipper makers. Appeals are ongoing; high-stakes in the zipper market. Velcro, by the way dates to 1948.


2. Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, a commune of fewer than 1000 people in the Pyrenees, is famous for producing Roquefort cheese. If you think Roquefort is just some generic moldy cheese, you are very wrong. Unlike cheese-come-latelies like Danish Blue (1900s), Stilton (1700s), or Gorgonzola (1000s), Roquefort was mentioned by Pliny the Elder all the way back in 79 AD. Strict rules about what constitutes true “Roquefort” cheese are not the creation of modern bureaucracies: they were laid down by Charles VI in 1411. 1411!!!

So what makes Roquefort special? The Cambalou caves, and the indigenous mold found therein: penicillum roqueforti. Yes, that’s the same family of molds as penicillin proper; shepherds used to use the cheese topically, to prevent gangrene. The mold is said to have been discovered by a shepherd who left his sandwiches in a cave whilst bewitched by a beautiful woman, only to later discover them covered in mold. The mold was for centuries mass-produced pretty much replicating that: they’d leave bread loaves in the cave until they were sufficiently moldered, then grind them into a mold powder and put it in the cheese.

Cave full of Roquefort
Cave full of Roquefort

Modern rules dictating geographic restrictions on foods are strangely unflinching. Roquefort must be produced in Roquefort; Gorgonzola in Gorgonzola and a few other nearby locales; Stilton, though first sold in Stilton, now must come only from Derbyshire, Leicestershire, or Nottinghamshire to be legally called Stilton. When the Newcastle brewery moved across the river, it was no longer in the city of Newcastle upon Tyne, and, until a dispensation was issued, they would have been prevented from calling their own beer Newcastle Brown Ale. Real double-edged swords, those rules.


3. Blue Peacock (a/k/a Brown Bunny) was a standard-brand Cold War plan by the British to bury nuclear mines in Germany and detonate them in case of a Soviet invasion from the east. It was never implemented. When plans for Blue Peacock were declassified in 2004, one part describes a method for preventing the inner electronics from freezing during the winter: a chicken would be sealed inside and given a supply of food and water; the body heat would keep the electronics from being disabled by the cold. “Jenkins, that’s just crazy enough to work. What other ideas do you have?” “Uh, a blanket with armholes?” “Get back to work, Jenkins.”


4. From the writer and director of The Graduate, and starring Oscar winner George C. Scott, comes 1973’s smash box office bomb, The Day of the Dolphin. “Oh, so the dolphin is like a metaphor for—” No. The tagline: “Unwittingly, he trained a dolphin to kill the president of the United States.” I honestly admire how straightforward it is. Everything you need to know about the movie is right there. Scott and his real-life wife play a husband-and-wife team of dolphinologists, who are training dolphins to speak. When a shadowy cabal kidnaps the super-smart marine mammals, planning for one to place a mine on the President’s yacht, the scientists race to save the day.


The book it’s based on is supposedly a Cold War satire, though other reviews refer to it as nothing more than mass-market pablum. The movie, in any case, appears entirely earnest. And also prophetic? The military does use dolphins to locate mines, but not, so far as anyone knows, to assassinate foreign or domestic leaders.

Scott’s character is based on John C. Lilly (1915-2001) physician / psychoanalyst / dolphin researcher / guy who’s really into metaphysics. Lilly’s most famous, probably, for inventing the sensory deprivation tank. He palled around Tim Leary and was way into psychoactives (often combining them with sensory deprivation, a la Altered States). He spent years working with dolphins, describing their intelligence and trying to teach them a computer synthesized language.


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