Tue07292014

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How "trivia" equals "three streets"

The word “trivia” derives from the Latin tri + via, which translates as “three streets.” As a major public service in Roman times at the intersection of three streets, a kiosk displayed information for travelers. Apparently the announcements were often so useless that citizens ignored them entirely, thus they were truly bits of trivia.

•Â In colonial times, cutouts of a moon and a star were used on outhouses to designate the gender of the intended user. Originally, the moon cutout was for women and the star for men. But men’s outhouses were such a mess that men preferred using the women’s outhouses, and eventually the use of stars was phased out.

•Â Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, had six fingers on one hand, which she covered with a special glove to hide the deformity. She also had three breasts.

•Â During World War I, because of their acute hearing, parrots were kept on the Eiffel Tower to warn of approaching aircraft. The birds heard the planes long before human ears.

•Â Tests conducted by the University of Michigan concluded that while a dog’s memory lasts no more than five minutes, a cat’s lasts as long as 16 hours, exceeding even that of monkeys and orangutans.

•Â During World War II, before he portrayed U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon on “Gunsmoke,” actor James Arness was the first American soldier to jump off his boat at the Anzio beachhead. His commanding officer ordered him to do so, because at 6 feet, 8 inches, Arness was the tallest man in his company, and the water’s depth required testing as a safety precaution.

•Â Men can have 8 million genetically different sperm, and women a like number of egg types. Together they can produce 64 billion children with no genetic duplicates.

•Â The huddle formation used by football teams originated at Gallaudet University, a Washington, D.C., liberal arts college for deaf people. The purpose was to prevent others schools from reading their sign-language plays.

•Â The world’s first electric traffic-light signal was installed 82 years ago in Cleveland, Ohio, at the intersection of Euclid Avenue and East 105th Street.

•Â The study of lightning-induced pathology is keraunopathology, and the fear of lightning is astraphobia.

•Â The United States today contains more than 100,000 mounds, earthworks and fortifications that were built thousands of years ago by prehistoric people who remain unknown.

•Â A popular Samoan dish is baked bat. First the bat is torched to de-hair it, then it is cleaned and baked or fried with salt, pepper and onions.

•Â Humans are susceptible to a disease called “laughing sickness.” People stricken with this disease literally laugh themselves to death. The disease is known in only one place in the world, among the Kuru tribe of New Guinea.

Sam Wein is an author and former Los Altos resident.

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