Encyclopedia wiz shares Hawaii tidbits
Upon completion of the Encyclopedia Memmingerica (a work in progress), you will find the following salient facts about A.J. Jacobs:
» He's an editor and writer at Esquire Magazine.
» He read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and wrote a book about the experience called "The Know-It-All (One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World)."
» Despite reading the entire encyclopedia, the best he could do on the TV game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" was to win $1,000.
» The answer to the $32,000 question that tripped him up was "red blood cells." (What component of blood is also known as erythrocyte?)
» While millions of important facts are to be gleaned from the Encyclopedia Britannica, A.J. tended to have the more bizarre ones stick in his brain, for example, elephant copulation lasts 20 seconds, French philosopher Rene Descartes adored cross-eyed women and Edgar Allen Poe married his 13-year-old first cousin.
» A.J. is the kind of guy I've got to meet.
My daughter gave me a copy of A.J.'s book for Christmas, and I devoured it. It is part-memoir and part horn o' plenty, this horn being filled with amazing facts -- like, the urine of humans and Dalmatian dogs are strangely similar.
Its sole Hawaii reference was this:
"Ukulele: The Hawaiian ukulele is adapted from the Portuguese machada and is quite unsuited to indigenous musical forms. In other words, Don Ho's 'Tiny Bubbles' is not an ancient Pacific island chant. Disillusioning."
That's pretty funny. And I wish I'd thought of it. So not only did I want to meet this guy A.J., I wanted to find out what other facts and insights he found in the encyclopedia about Hawaii.
I figured the chance of me actually getting in contact with an editor of Esquire was slim, but I gave it a shot. I sent an e-mail to an address I found on the Internet. Just so A.J. wouldn't think I was some kook or weirdo, I introduced myself as "the biggest newspaper humor columnist in the Pacific, weighing in at about 250 pounds."
Since I knew he was fond of the fact that many famous people in history have married their cousins, I pointed out a fact from the evolving Encyclopedia Memmingerica that not only were the parents of French impressionist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec first cousins, but their parents were first cousins. And that might be why the Toulouse-Lautrec family in old photos looks like a circus act.
Amazingly, A.J. wrote back the next day. "I loved your note! That Toulouse-Lautrec fact is excellent." So I'm glad I went with that fact instead of, say, something about Hawaiian geckos being parthenogenic (females don't need to have sex to lay fertilized eggs).
A.J. searched his notes from his reading of the Encyclopedia Britannica and sent me the following Hawaii tidbits:
» "Iiwi: The word with the highest percentage of I's in the entire encyclopedia -- an impressive 75 percent. It's a Hawaiian songbird."
» "Hawaiian missionaries banned surfing in the 19th century because it encouraged the intermingling of the sexes. You saw 'Blue Crush' -- you know what I'm talking about."
» "Francisco de Paula Marin -- a horticultural experimenter who introduced many plant species to the Hawaiian islands, including peaches and oranges. He was also known for refusing to share his bountiful crops with friends. So the Hawaiian corruption of his name -- Manini --is slang for 'miserly.'"
» "Mauna Loa, Earth's largest volcano, is pretty big. But it ain't no Olympus Mons, which is Mars' biggest volcano, which is twice as high (88,000 feet)."
Excellent! Now if the encyclopedia would just include the Hawaiian word i'i, which I think is a type of seal, Hawaii would claim a word with 100 percent I's.
It's also kind of fitting that "Manini," the name of the tightwad Spanish horticulturist who introduced so many alien species to Hawaii, also became the name of a little fish much consumed by Hawaiian royalty.
So, thanks for the info, A.J. If "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" ever includes Hawaii trivia, we'll all be ready. In the meantime, the Encyclopedia Memmingerica -- like its author -- continues to expand. Did you know that Korean dictator Syngman Rhee, Charles Lindberg, Nobel Prize winner Georg von Bekesy and Ferdinand Marcos all died in Hawaii? That might not be as interesting as how long it takes an elephant to copulate, but it's good to know.
, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org