Nerd Stuff You Didn’t Know

trivia

I love trivia, and if it’s nerd trivia, I love it even more.  And if it’s nerd trivia that nerds don’t know, I love it even more than that.  For example, it’s a common nerd “fact” that the only animal not mentioned in the Bible is the cat.  Sorry!  There are tons of animals not mentioned in the Bible — including kangaroos, California Condors, Komodo Dragons and polar bears.  So with that in mind, here are three extraordinary nerd facts to astound your friends, win Pub Night Quizzes and generally make you smarter than your know-it-all brother-in-law.

If you’re over 30, you’ve probably read the legend of King Arthur.  If you’re under 30. you’ve seen the one of the crap movies.  Either way, you kinda know the story.  Somewhere in Britain, there was a sword stuck in a stone (no idea how it got there) and anybody who pulled it out became the King of Britain.  Simple — except nobody could.  Then one day a regular guy — sometimes an oaf, sometimes a churl, but usually a squire — accidently gives it a yank and OMG! out it comes.  He is proclaimed King Arthur, and with the sword, Excalibur, rules Britain wisely for many years.  (Until he screws up, but that’s a different story.)  The problem is the sword Arthur pulled out of the stone was not Excalibur.  Excalibur was actually given to Arthur by The Lady of the Lake after Arthur broke the original sword, Caliburn.  We’ve streamlined the legend because contemporary audiences don’t have a great attention span – hence all the crap movies.  Plus, in some versions of the original story, King Arthur also has a spear called Ron.

In Nepal, it’s legal to hunt the Yeti, (Abominable Snowman.)  All you have to do is apply for a permit, pay the fee (about $1,200) and you’re good to go.  However, you can’t kill the Yeti, and if you do manage to capture one, you have to turn it over to the Nepalese government.  So it’s not like you can come home and put on the brag about the head mounted on your wall.  (Ewwww!)  Apparently, however, there are official bumper stickers.

And my favourite:

Everything is this world has a regular name and a scientific name.  For example, humans are Homo sapiens, wolves are Canis lupus, apples are Malus domestica — and so on and so on.  Scientific names are usually Latin, mostly boring, sometimes fun (like Gaga germanotta – a fern named for Lady Gaga) and sometimes they’re just lazy like Gorilla gorilla, the scientific name for … gorillas.  Normally, when a new species is discovered, the scientific community goes into warp speed to name it.  (These days, it takes less than a year.)  However, there is one species that baffled science nerds for nearly 300 years – the giant tortoise.  These huge creatures were discovered by the Spanish in the early 1500s, but they didn’t get a scientific name until 1812 when August Friedrich Schweigger named them Testudo gigantean.  So why the three century delay?  Everybody knew they existed.  Well, it seems, giant tortoises are such good eatin’ that none of them ever survived the journey back to the universities of Europe.  They all became lunch!  According to every account, the giant tortoise was so delicious that even the most dedicated botanists and biologists couldn’t resist them.  Ships would literally stop in mid ocean so the sailors could finish eating their tortoises before they made harbour and had to share.  For generations, scientific expeditions would sail out to far-flung parts of the world and return with all manner of exotic species and … a bunch of empty giant tortoise shells … having consumed the contents.  I’m not making this up!  Even the mighty Charles Darwin, Lord High Poobah of animal studies, dined on giant tortoise on the way home from the Galapagos.  Thus, it took nearly 300 years for a few of them to avoid the frying pan long enough to get a scientific name.

These days, there are international laws that protect the giant tortoise from becoming an extinct item on the menu.  However, there is a heavy illegal trade for the tables of rich culinary connoisseurs with no conscience.  Meanwhile, if you want to taste the most delicious meat in the world, apparently, you can — there’s a very expensive synthetic version.  But be warned: you might like it a little too much.

Seperating the Facts from the Truth

One of the most amazing things about facts is how mutable they can be.  I’m not talking about changing the facts.  That’s impossible.  As John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of the facts and evidence.”  Nor am I talking about this stupid “truthiness” that’s garnered so many headlines since Stephen Colbert coined the word in 2005.  I don’t think many people realize that this is actually a comedic device invented for laughs and regardless of who or how many people take it seriously, it isn’t.  I’m talking about rearranging the facts to create a faux truth which is then widely accepted as not only a reasonable facsimile but an actual alternative, indistinguishable from — and equal to — truth itself.   It’s a sort of mutant truth, accepted and unquestioned, as if it were the real thing.  Here’s how it’s done.

Everybody knows that Britt Reid, the Green Hornet, is the son of Dan Reid.   This is a fact.  Dan Reid was named for his father Dan Reid (Senior, I guess?) who was a Texas Ranger.  Dan Reid pere, and six other Texas Rangers were on the trail of outlaw Barthalamo “Butch” Cavendish when they were ambushed.  In the ensuing battle, the Texas Rangers didn’t have a chance and they were all killed except one: John Reid, Dan Reid’s brother.  Even though he was badly wounded, John Reid survived, clinging to life until, luckily he was discovered by an itinerant Native American, named Tonto, who nursed him back to life.  When John Reid was healthy enough to saddle up again, he made a black mask out of his dead brother’s vest and spent the rest of his life as (It’s getting kind of clear here, isn’t it?) the Lone Ranger.  The Lone Ranger, therefore, is, in fact, the Green Hornet’s great uncle!  This is the indisputable truth.  And it’s why Michel Gondry should be taken out and horsewhipped for making that mockery called a movie, The Green Hornet in 2011.  He juggled the facts unmercifully, and a whole generation now believe his version of the story.  This is how the truth gets waylaid.  However, Gondry’s sins are for another time.  This is just an illustration of how the facts remain, even when sometimes the truth gets lost by sloppy scholarship or undisciplined directors.  Again, let me illustrate.

There is a widely held belief, purported by William S. Baring-Gould, that Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler had a love affair which produced a son who became, in later life, the great detective Nero Wolfe.  Stuff and nonsense!  Baring-Gould has taken a few isolated facts and woven them into a fiction that has gained enormous credibility.  However, even though many accept this as the truth, including many reputable writers, nothing could be further from it.  Let’s look at the facts — objectively.

It is well known that Irene Adler was the love (or as close as he could get) of Sherlock Holmes’ life.  He kept a portrait of her on his desk, and she was the only woman he ever spoke about with grudging admiration.  It is also well known that in May, 1891, Holmes and Professor Moriarty fought a life-and-death struggle on a ledge over the Reichenbach Falls, in Switzerland.  It was reported at the time that, locked in mortal combat, both adversaries slipped from the dizzying heights and plunged to their deaths.  Of course, we now know that, in fact, Holmes defeated Professor Moriarty but was unable to return to Watson because he was set upon by Moriarty’s henchmen.  However, for three years, Holmes was presumed dead; his whereabouts, unknown.

This is all factual information.  From it, we can conclude that Holmes must have been severely injured.  Otherwise, he would have simply rejoined Watson in the nearby town of Meiringen.  Therefore, we can also conclude that, because of his injuries, Holmes would have needed assistance to descend the mountain.  These are two reasonable deductions, worthy of Holmes himself.  The tricky part, however, is after recovering from his injuries, what would make Sherlock Holmes abandon his career as a detective for three years?  Nothing else had ever captured the soul of Sherlock Holmes – except, perhaps Irene Adler whom, we know, was living on the continent with her husband.  Therefore, it is more than reasonable to assume that it could only be Irene Adler, out hiking on a late spring vacation, who found Holmes and rescued him (not unlike Tonto.)  We can further make the case that (given their history) in his weakened state, Holmes succumbed to Ms. Adler’s considerable charms.  In short, as she nursed Sherlock Holmes back to health Irene Adler seduced him.  No other explanation is possible.

The result was a child; however, not, as some would claim, a boy, but a girl whom they named Monica (from the Greek monos which means “solitary or alone.”)  Obviously, in the early 1890s, this was a very delicate situation.  Clearly, a love affair and an illegitimate child would have folded up Irene Adler’s marriage like a cheap lawn chair.  Furthermore, Holmes was not really daddy material.  The child was given to a local Swiss couple named Delacroix, who changed her name to “Monique,” and raised her as their own.  Eventually, consumed by guilt, Holmes and Adler parted, never to see the child — or each other — again.

Monique Delacroix grew up totally unaware of her biological parents.  During the First World War, she met Andrew, a dashing British military officer.  They married in 1919, when he left the service and took employment as a Vickers’ armaments representative.  They had one child, born November 11th, 1920, whom they named “James,” after his paternal grandfather.  Unfortunately, Monique and her husband, in a weird stroke of irony, were both killed in a climbing accident, in the early 1930s.  Eleven year old James went to live with his father’s sister, Miss Charmian Bond.  James Bond completed his education in England and went on to a brilliant career in British government service.  Thus, when we examine the facts objectively, we find that Sherlock Holmes is not, in fact, the father of orchid detective Nero Wolfe, but, indeed, the maternal grandfather of James Bond, 007!

As we can see, it is easy to fall into the trap of alternative truth.  Even though the facts remain the same, sometimes they can be mismanaged, or perhaps unwittingly manipulated to produce, not a deliberate lie, but an untruth, all the same.  Michel Gondry and William S. Baring-Gould were not maliciously trying to deceive us; yet deceive us they did.  Therefore, it is always best, when faced with an acceptable truth, no matter how plausible, to return to the facts to make your own judgement call.