Archive | Knowledge RSS feed for this section

What is a Reuben sandwich?

19 Apr

Hands up who’s heard of a Reuben sandwich?

No one? Well me neither. At least not until today.

I was in a local deli when the owners mentioned they would be serving it as their signature sanga for winter.

Now I assumed it was just a name they had given to a creation from their kitchen, but it turns out it’s a specific set of ingredients served on rye bread. They are corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian or Thousand Island dressing.

Admittedly, there are a few variations. And more than one person is credited with inventing the sandwich. But all of them hail from America, which has already done more than enough for international culinary relations with the likes of Krispy Kreme, massive pretzels and Dippin’ Dots.

Here’s a recipe for the sandwich.

Who invented knock-knock jokes?

13 Apr

As I’ve explained before, my brain works in very strange ways, so I draw inspiration for my daily knowledge hunt from all sorts of stimulants. Purely legal ones, though, I must point out – from TV shows and books to song lyrics and even gossip websites.

But even I can’t explain today’s train of thought. It seemed like one minute I was trying to find out who invented gnome gnapping and the next I was mired in the world of comedy. Or should I say ‘comedy’ (air quotes intended), since my attention was focused on knock knock jokes.

As anyone who’s been in a school playground would know, knock knock jokes offer one of our earliest introductions to the world of joke telling. Just take this gem I remember from my own youth…

Knock knock
Who’s there?
Ken
Ken who?
Ken I come in, it’s hot out here

Bet you’re clutching your sides now aren’t you?

Anyway, I decided to find out if the internets knew who invented the genre. And while there’s several theories, the strongest says it was William Shakespeare.

Apparently it all draws from that Scottish play. As Shakespeare examiner Khara House explains

“In Macbeth’s second act, Shakespeare uses a hung-over porter to satirically examine Elizabethan culture through a series of knock-knock jokes the porter states in a monologue. While the porter uses the common “Knock knock! Who’s there?” pattern, twice he uses the phrase as “Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there?”

So there you have it. The man who created such classic characters as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliette also planted the seeds that eventually grew into the inspiration for any C-grade stand-up comic coming to a stage near you.

Who would have thought?

Now let’s have one more to finish.

Knock knock
Who’s there?
Lettuce
Lettuce who?
Lettuce in

Is the Vatican City really the world’s smallest country?

12 Apr

When I first visited Europe in my early twenties, I did so as part of an 18-35 consignment that crammed approximately 712 countries into two days.

Now I may be exaggerating slightly here, but it really was like a Cliffs Notes tour of the continent. Get in and out of each country fast, buy a tacky souvenir and don’t learn much about the culture, history and people. Of course this lack of insight could also have been because we were inhaling our own body weight in schnapps every day! But I digress.

On this tour – where our trip song was the Friends theme – we did get to visit a few places that had long been on my bucket list. And one of them was the Vatican. Not because I’m overly religious, but because I thought there would be something awe-inspiring about the heart of Catholicism. Even if the Sistine Chapel was smaller than I expected and the gypsies outside more sly.

Anyway, I got to thinking about that trip went I was sorting through travel memorabilia and found a bottle of holy water I’d bought from the Vatican, along with rosary beads. And it reminded me I’d always been curious about whether it actually is the world’s smallest country. The answer is – yes. All 0.2sqm of it!

As the Vatican City State’s official website explains …

“Vatican City State was founded following the signing of the Lateran Pacts between the Holy See and Italy on February 11, 1929. These were ratified on June 7th 1929. Its nature as a sovereign State distinct from the Holy See is universally recognized under international law.”

Here’s some other cool facts I discovered:

  • The population of Vatican City is about 800 people, more than 450 of whom have Vatican citizenship.
  • About half of the Vatican’s citizens do not live inside Vatican City. Because of their occupations (mostly as diplomatic personnel), they live in different countries around the world.
  • Vatican City has its own flag and anthem.
  • Its official hymn – chosen on October 16, 1949 by Pope Pius XII – is  Charles Gounod’s Pontifical March.
  • Cars registered in the Vatican Automobile Register have one of two sets of initials – SCV, for vehicles belonging to the Vatican City State and Departments of the Holy See; CV for vehicles that are the property of Vatican citizens and individuals. The international abbreviation is V.
  • Vatican City mints its own coins and issues its own stamps.
  • It has a full complement of services – from a pharmacy and television centre to a telephone service and philatelic and numismatic office.

You can read more about Vatican City here.

BTW, for the record, the top three list of the world’s smallest countries is rounded out by Monaco in Europe (0.7sqm) and Nauru in the Pacific (8.5sqm)

Where does the phrase ‘sick as a dog’ come from?

11 Apr

I cope with being sick the way Paris Hilton ‘acts’. So poorly you almost have to see it to believe it.

I’m just not meant to come down with ailments that confine me to bed for the best part of a week. I’d much rather be hit with a mild sporting injury instead – as long as it’s somewhere G-rated I can show off in public to get sympathy.

Anyway, as is often the case, today’s health and wellbeing inspired today’s post. So I decided to discover why we say we are ‘sick as a dog’. And if you’ve just eaten brunch you might want to check back later for the answer as it’s pretty gross.

Basically the description dates back to at least the 17th Century and refers to the tendency of dogs to eat almost anything they can get their paws on, even stuff they shouldn’t. Which of course often results in them vomiting the material right back up again.

And since vomiting is so closely aligned with human illnesses, the obvious parallels gave birth to the phrase.

Charming, no?

Where is Springfield on The Simpsons?

10 Apr

I have written about The Simpsons on this blog before. And there’s a good reason I’m doing it again today and will probably do it again before the year is out.

It’s simply that I love the show. Especially villains such as Sideshow Bob and Mr Burns, who has quite the flair for releasing the hounds.

Anyway, one of the biggest mysteries around the long-running series has always been the location of Springfield. Smart alecs will no doubt say ‘near Shelbyville’ but no one has ever known what real-life state it calls home.

However I had heard tell that creator Matt Groening had finally been pinned down, so I headed online to see if he had come clean. And indeed he had.

The tell-all was in this Q&A interview with Smithsonian magazine…

OK, why do the Simpsons live in a town called Springfield? Isn’t that a little generic? 

Springfield was named after Springfield, Oregon. The only reason is that when I was a kid, the TV show Father Knows Best took place in the town of Springfield, and I was thrilled because I imagined it was the town next to Portland, my hometown. When I grew up, I realised it was just a fictitious name. I also figured out Springfield was one of the most common names for a city in the US. In anticipation of the success of the show, I thought, “This will be cool; everyone will think it’s their Springfield.” And they do.

Or at least they did.

The interview also goes on to reveal such gems as how he came up with the name Bart, how his family feels about the Simpson family being named for them and what he really thinks of LA.

Deefinitely worth a read.

What is an albatross in golf?

9 Apr

There was big news in the golfing world this week when a player called Louis Oosthuizen pulled off something called an albatross in the US Masters.

Now this would have impressed me far more if 1) I knew what it was 2) I knew who he was and 3) I was even remotely interested in golf.

But since this blog project is all about expanding my knowledge base this year I decided to rectify at least the first question.

And the answer is – an albatross is a three under par score on an individual hole, with par being the number of shots a player is expected/allowed to sink the ball in the hole. Other golfing measures include birdie for one under par, eagle for two under par and bogey for one over par.

You can read more about the history and naming of golfing conventions at the USGA Museum, but here’s a starting point from the site’s FAQ

How did the terms birdie and eagle come into golf?
The term birdie originated in the United States in 1899. HB Martin’s Fifty Years of American Golf contains an account of a foursomes match played at the Atlantic City (N.J.) CC. One of the players, Ab Smith relates, “My ball… came to rest within six inches of the cup. I said ’That was a bird of a shot… I suggest that when one of us plays a hole in one under par he receives double compensation.’ The other two agreed and we began right away, just as soon as the next one came, to call it a birdie.” In 19th-century American slang, ’bird’ referred to anyone or anything excellent or wonderful. By analogy with birdie, the term eagle soon thereafter became common to refer to a score one better than a bird. Also by analogy, the term albatross stands for double eagle — an even bigger eagle!

So there you have it, apparently golf is all about the birds. Insert Tiger Woods joke here.

Who invented Post-Its?

8 Apr

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion was on TV the other day. And while I didn’t see the whole movie, I did tune in just in time to catch my favourite bit.

It’s where Romy tries to take credit for inventing Post-Its, only to have her lie brutally undone by an acerbic Heather Mooney (Janeane Garofalo), who reveals they were really created by a guy called Art Fry from 3M.

It’s a cringe inducing catch-out, and the recriminations from the popular girls Romy is trying to impress are brutal. But it did inspire me to find out his story. The answers lay in MIT’s Inventor of the Week archives.

Turns out it all began with a colleague called Spencer Silver, a senior chemist in the company’s research labs, who had created a high-quality, low-tack adhesive that was strong enough to hold papers together but weak enough to let them pull apart without tearing. He freely shared his invention with colleagues but none could come up with a marketable way to sell the product. Until it came to Art’s attention. MIT takes up the story…

“Fry sang in his church choir and was frustrated by the fact that, when he stood and opened his hymnal to sing, the paper bookmarks he used to mark the songs on the program would slip out of sight or even on to the floor. In a moment of insight that has become legendary in the realm of contemporary invention, Fry, musing during a rather boring sermon, realised Silver’s reusable adhesive would provide his bookmarks with precisely the temporary anchoring he required.”

And thus the seed was sewn, resulting five years later in the official release of Post-its.

And for the record, the reason they were first created in yellow is because the original testing/playing around was done on some scrap paper, which just happened to be yellow, and the colour struck a chord.

And now, let’s watch the magic moment …

Who plays Ted’s kids on How I Met Your Mother?

7 Apr

I mainly started watching How I Met Your Mother because it stars Willow from Buffy, aka Alyson Hannigan. But it only took about two episodes for me to fall in love with the show itself. I can’t articulate why, as Ted has to be one of the most annoying people on the planet, but love it I do.

Anyway, as regular viewers will know, the show is told in flashback form by Future Ted, whose voice is provided by Bob Saget, aka the dad in Full House.

However I had never really been interested in knowing who plays Future Ted’s kids, until I suddenly realised the girl looked familiar.

So I IMBDed her and discovered there’s a good reason why, as she’s done a bunch of TV, from The Young and The Restless, which I certainly never watched when I should have been studying at uni, to Desperate Housewives.

But where I really knew her from was two movies – action flick Kiss-Ass, where she played superhero girlfriend Katie Deauxma, and Hot Tub Time Machine, where she played Jenny.

As for the son, I’m sorry to say I didn’t recognise him from anywhere. But his name is David Henrie and he’s done a bunch of stuff too, including TV shows Judging Amy, NCIS, Cold Case and Wizards of Waverly Place.

Now we just need to know their names on the show. And that of their mother. Just please don’t let it be Victoria!

How do you make Easter eggs?

6 Apr

I have the feeling I was the Easter Bunny in a previous life.

I mean just look at how much we have in common. It likes chocolate. I like chocolate. It works one day of the year. I would like to do so. It puts eggs in my nephews’ easter baskets. I steal liberate them when they aren’t looking.

The similarities are uncanny.

Then there’s my ongoing work to have the bogness that is candy Easter eggs outlawed. And my commitment to inhaling my own body weight in chocolate. Clearly, my passion for the cause knows no bounds.

But this year I thought I might expand my repertoire even further and have a go at actually making the eggs I eat. And while I don’t rule out superseding this well-intentioned plan with some urgent napping/catching up on Castle episodes, I did get as far as finding a few recipes on the Nestle website. Here they are…

CARAMEL NUT EASTER EGGS

Ingredients
Makes 20
• 395g can Nestle sweetened condensed milk
• 60g butter, chopped
• 2 tsp golden syrup
• 1/2 cup (70g) chopped toasted peanuts
• 1 1/4 cups (185g) Nestle dark melts, melted
• 20g copha (white vegetable shortening), melted
• 1/2 cup (75g) Nestle milk melts, melted

Method
Combine condensed milk, butter and golden syrup in a medium saucepan over medium heat; bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, simmer, stirring constantly for 8-10 minutes or until golden. Stir in peanuts and cool. Roll heaped teaspoonfuls of mixture into egg shapes, refrigerate until firm. Coat eggs with combined dark melts and copha; place on wire rack until set. Place melted milk melts in a small sturdy plastic bag and cut a very fine hole in the corner to drizzle and decorate eggs as desired.

BUNNY TRUFFLES

Ingredients
Makes 35
• 3/4 cup (190ml) Nestle sweetened condensed milk
• 60g butter
• 1 egg, lightly beaten
• 1 tsp vanilla
• 250g packet sweet biscuits, crushed
• 1 cup (80g) desiccated coconut
• 100g Plaistowe premium dark chocolate, melted
• Silver cachous
• Nestle white choc bits
• Coloured sprinkles
• Desiccated coconut, extra, for decorating

Method
Place condensed milk and butter in pan, stir over low heat until butter has melted; remove from heat, stir in egg and vanilla. Transfer to a medium bowl with biscuit crumbs, coconut and dark chocolate. Mix well; refrigerate 30 minutes. Shape different amounts of mixture into tear drop shapes to form a family of bunnies, place on foil lined tray. Refrigerate until just firm. Using scissors, snip at an angle, the pointed end of bunnies to form ears. Decorate bunnies with silver cachous for eyes, choc bits for tail and coloured sprinkles for whiskers. If desired, sprinkle bunnies with coconut. Refrigerate bunnies until ready to serve.

Anyway, I should point out that I wasn’t paid for this blog as Nestle doesn’t even know I’ve written it. I just knew they had good recipes that would be easy to follow. You can get other Easter goodie ideas at their website.

What is the record for the greatest gathering of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fans?

5 Apr

Sometimes my blog entries don’t begin with a question. They begin with a headline that inspires me to learn more. And so it was today.

The headline in question read like this . . .

COWABUNGA! LARGEST TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES GATHERING WORLD RECORD SMASHED IN MINNESOTA

Naturally, as a child of the TMNT-obsessed eighties, I had to know more. And it turned out to be a successful Guinness World Record attempt. Which made me feel slightly less self-conscious about my own pop-culture obsessions, which have ranged, and still range, from Buffy and Harry Potter to The Hunger Games and trashy monster movies.

Anyway, the date of the attempt was March 20 this year and the instigator was American TV station Nickelodeon, which is apparently relaunching the franchise with a new animated series. So to celebrate, the powers that be set out to beat the previous best record effort that gathered together 786 people dressed as one of the four heroes in a half shell.

They pulled it off at the famous Mall of America, where 836 people  – ranging from Girl Scouts to seniors – gathered dressed as, and to party with, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael. And while some were issued with a TMNT T-shirt and mask, still others were able to bring a home-made costume.

Of course they were.

Read more about the effort here.