A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
April Fool’s Day is one of our unofficial holidays, like St. Patrick’s Day and Mother’s Day. The origins of the holiday are obscured by history although it is mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392.) Recently, however, an early reference to April “fools” was discovered in the archives of the ruined abbey of Saint Bartholomew in Newcastle. The National Trust is currently translating what is believed to be the original manuscripts of the Norse saga Sven Spiser Sin Frokost. The parchments, of course, are incomplete, but one section tells of a maiden named Margrathe who is visited by Norse raiders, led by a northern Dane called Svendalcus. They threaten her with rape and murder, but she tells them if they leave her unmolested, she will cook them a glorious meal of a wonderful fish. Margrathe, somehow manages to lure Svendalcus into the forest where she kills him, chops him into bite-size pieces, makes a stew and feeds him to his men. The chronicler then has a little bit of medieval fun, calling the Vikings “April Fools” because they can’t tell the difference between fish (fisk, in ancient Norse) and people (folk.) There is some speculation that this may also be the earliest reference to those hideous British traditions: the pun and the practical joke. Seriously, scholars have determined there is a connection between Sven Spiser Sin Frokost and the French version of April Fools called Poisson d’Avril through the Norse conquest of the French coast known as Normandy. Either way, the translation, although still incomplete, is available online at the National Trust.
In honour of the day, I’ve collected a few questions that are prankish in their subtlety. Try to answer as many as you can without using Google. Good luck!
On October 4th, 1957 the Soviet Union invented the Space Age when they launched Sputnik I into orbit. Sputnik was shaped like a lopsided basketball. It was approximately 60 cm (2 feet) in diameter and weighed about 84 kilograms (185 lbs.) In space, of course, it was weightless. Sputnik stayed in orbit around the Earth for three months and burned up completely when it re-entered the atmosphere. Since then various countries have launched just about 8,000 objects into space — everything from tiny communication satellites to huge sections of the International Space Station. Currently, what is the Earth’s largest satellite?
How long was the 100 Years War?
It’s generally accepted that an antique is an object which is at least 100 years old and represents a different time period. After that, there’s really no limit. Antiques can be as small as a set of Louis XIV thimbles or as large as the Bayeux Tapestries. Their prices fluctuate wildly and are entirely dictated by current taste and public demand. For example, King Tutankhamen’s solid gold coffin, which weights approximately 110 kilograms (240 lbs.) is worth around 5 and a half million dollars as a golden object, but as Tut’s Tomb, its actual value is priceless. So, strictly in terms of size (and not price) what is the largest antique ever sold?
Americans honour their past presidents. They build them libraries and give them museums. They put them on stamps and on money. They carve their faces into mountains. They bury them with pomp and ceremony and their graves become national shrines. But how many US Presidents are not buried in America? Can you name them?
Speaking of presidents, who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?
Ty Cobb was one of the greatest baseball players of all time. “The Georgia Peach,” as he was called, played 22 seasons with the Detroit Tigers. He set 90 major league records. He had 4,191 major league hits, a record that lasted until 1985 when it was finally broken by (disgraced) Cincinnati Reds outfielder Pete Rose. Cobb still holds the record for the highest career batting average and most career batting titles. However, unlike Babe Ruth, Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle and many, many other great players of the game, no team has ever retired Ty Cobb’s number. Why?
You’re standing on the south side of a river — with a tiger, a goat and a bale of hay. Your mission is to get all three safely across to the north side of the river. The current is too strong to swim. You have a boat but it can only carry you and one other item. If you leave the tiger unattended with the goat he will eat him; similarly, if you leave the goat unattended with the bale of hay, he will eat that. How do you accomplish your mission? (Here’s a hint: don’t think outside the boat.)
It’s spring, and the fashion houses of Paris, New York and Milan are about to unveil their new spring clothing lines. Yves St Laurent, Gucci, DKNY and everybody else on the planet are introducing the new must-have what-to-wear fashions for women all over the world. At every retail outlet from Mumbai to Maine, last year’s styles are going on sale to make room for the new stuff. With all this going on, who is the largest designer and manufacturer of female apparel in the world? (Here’s a hint: it’s not WalMart.)
Jimmy’s father has five sons named Ten, Twenty, Thirty, Forty and … What’s the fifth son’s name?
Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to circumnavigate the globe. His expedition set out in 1519, and the voyage took 3 years. Sir Francis Drake was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. He left England in 1577, and it also took him 3 years. Two hundred years later, Captain James Cook was the greatest navigator and explorer of his age. In all, he led three expeditions to circumnavigate the globe — in 1766, 1772 and 1776, but which one didn’t he finish?
What normal attribute of the human body makes the vast majority of people on Earth better than average?
Finally, which of these is a practical joke?
(Look for the answers next week in “All the Answers”)