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Mr. Smarty Pants Knows is a weekly humor/trivia column by R.U. Steinberg that has appeared weekly in The Austin Chronicle since September 1988.

September 20, 2018

A weasel word is a term for words and phrases like "researchers believe" and "most people think," which seem to make arguments appear specific or meaningful even though they are ambiguous and vague.

Today, Americans stick to the first verse of "The Star-Spangled Banner," but the poem contains four stanzas. The third is contentious to some: "No refuge could save the hireling and slave/ From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave." Most agree that Francis Scott Key was referring to the Colonial Marines, a battalion of runaway slaves who fought alongside the British in the War of 1812.

In medieval England, swans were valuable articles of trade and by law belonged to the Crown except those marked by other official swan owners during the annual swan upping (or census). Royal swan uppers wore scarlet coats. For health reasons, the swan census is still conducted in England each July.

In Detroit, Greek salad includes beets, and in the Tampa Bay area, it often includes potato salad.

Want to drive drunk in Japan? First offense will land you up to 5 years in prison and $10,000 in fines.

Mr. Smarty Pants Knows has appeared weekly in The Austin Chronicle since Sept. 23, 1988. When I started with the paper in 1982, I had no idea this would be my legacy, but here it is 30 years later and I'm still loving it!

Many thanks...

· Nick and Louis for running and keeping the column
· All the Chronicle staff for their support
· E.G. who drew the wonderful logo
· My family and friends for their encouragement
· My readers and folks who send in factoids

You all are what keeps me going!

September 13, 2018

France's Louis XV invented the manner for people to be seated in order to have conversation: seated in armchairs.

During the time of poet Su Tung-Po (1037-1101), it was taboo to mention one's father's or grandfather's first names in writing.

Birds sense changes in barometric pressure, and some pick up low-frequency sounds we don't hear. This warns them to evacuate.

According to Michael Greshko in National Geographic, if you could float above the plane of the solar system, you'd notice that more than 99.9% of the objects whirling around the sun orbit counter-clockwise. But bizarrely, at least 95 asteroids drive against our solar system's traffic flow.

According to a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, the idea that 98.6 degrees is normal body temperature is based on a flawed study from 1868. Researchers found an average normal temperature in adults is 97.7 degrees measured with an oral thermometer. And a temperature of 99 degrees first thing in the morning is a fever, while the same temperature at 4pm can be normal.

September 6, 2018

LBJ (along with Lady Bird and Lynda Bird) attended the first Kerrville Folk Festival in 1972 expressly to hear Texas guitarist Mance Lipscomb.

On May 11, 1971, Mariano Martinez served the first prefab frozen margarita after adapting a soft-serve ice cream machine.

The 1966 single, "See You in September," by the Happenings, included the lyrics "Summer vacation/ Is taking you away" and "Will I see you in September/ Or lose you to a summer love?" The song peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard charts on August 27.

According to Axios, millennials now constitute almost a quarter of the population and are the largest generation participating in the workforce. But their median salaries are lower than the prior generation of 30-year-olds, and the financial burdens they carry are heavier, limiting how much their lifestyle can mirror that of their parents.

The artificial sweetener erythritol is fatal to fruit flies.

August 30, 2018

Long before the founding of Rome, the Etruscans measured time by something called the saeculum. A saeculum meant the period of time from the moment that something happened (for example the founding of a city) until the point in time that all people who had lived at the first moment had died. At that point a new saeculum would start.

James Madison was a full foot shorter than Abraham Lincoln, who was 6 feet, 4 inches tall. The average height of U.S. presidents has been 5 feet, 10 inches.

During the 19th century, for the first time, the word "boo" was attributed to something said by ghosts, as well as a word used for jeering.

Corvids (ravens, crows, jays, and other bird species) have a remarkable memory and employ complex social reasoning, crafts, and tools. They are very social birds who have the ability to identify individuals, form alliances and nurture relationships.

During a slump, the late Jim Fregosi gave his baseball bat a cortisone shot to make it well.

August 23, 2018

According to Daily Mail, Sir Patrick Stewart took up drumming lessons at age 74. According to BBC, he ordered his first single slice of pizza at 72. He's now 78.

A fauteuil is an armchair with open panes between the arms and the seat.

According to Ars Technica, only about 0.02% of diamonds are blue, and the color comes from boron. The boron likely got into them through seafloor plates and hydrothermal reactions with seawater. Therefore, the diamonds' color is – coincidentally but truthfully – an oceanic blue.

Circling around the esophagus, the giant squid's brain is shaped like a donut – and weighs about as much as one, too. Since every meal passes through the squid's brain, a large bite of food could actually damage it.

According to Peter Frampton, for 55 million streams of "Baby I Love Your Way," he got paid $1,700.

August 16, 2018

The late Jackie Gleason built a spaceship-like mansion that reflected his belief in UFOs and the paranormal. In fact, he built a series of spaceship houses. His former UFO-shaped house in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., is currently up for sale: $12 million.

According to, birds can eat rice without exploding, and therefore it is not dangerous to throw rice at weddings.

A moldy fig is a jazz enthusiast who thinks Duke Ellington was a sellout.

According to Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser, Google and its products such as YouTube and Waze combined accounted for more than 34% of all of the time spent on digital media in June 2018.

Pinchbeck is an alloy made to simulate the look of gold. It was invented in the 18th century by London clockmaker Christopher Pinchbeck, and is typically composed of copper and zinc, in ratios of 89% copper to 11% zinc or 93% copper to 7% zinc.

August 9, 2018

Some say Archytas of Tarentum (428-350BC) invented the screw thread. But it was Sir Joseph Whitworth who in 1841 proposed the angle of thread flanks be standardized to 55 degrees and number of threads per inch should be standardized for various diameters. Meanwhile, in 1864, William Sellers helped establish the U.S. standard of thread flanks at 60 degrees.

A billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away every year in the U.S., according to several sellers of nonplastic toothbrushes.

The song "We've Only Just Begun," made popular by the Carpenters, started off as a jingle for California's Crocker-Citizens National Bank. Songwriters Paul Williams and Roger Nichols were given a slogan and told the commercial would feature a couple getting married. See

Blue diamonds come from ocean floor that is pushed to the edge of Earth's core.

Albert Einstein hated socks and it annoyed him that his socks would form holes because of his big toes.

August 2, 2018

The area on a sock around the ankle from where a pattern may run up the side of the leg is known as the clock.

Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) do not yawn as they are conscious breathers.

Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, who tracked down Bonnie and Clyde, was in 51 other gun battles, was injured by bullets 23 times, and was shot and left for dead twice. With his pistol, he once shot 100 butter dishes thrown into the air consecutively. He was left-handed.

The artificial sweetener erythritol is fatal to fruit flies.

Woodrow Wilson and Mark Twain played miniature golf (known as crazy golf in some locales) in Bermuda. Wilson was there recuperating due to the temporary loss of sight in his left eye. When the first motor cars arrived on the island, the pair gave up the game to instead petition the Bermuda legislature to ban motorized vehicles.

July 26, 2018

Edinburgh is home to the first organized municipal fire brigade in the world. It was formed in 1824, following a series of disastrous fires. It is believed many early fire fighters had beards and mustaches because they soaked them in water for use as a smoke filter in effect.

Saddam Hussein used an Arabic version of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" as his campaign theme.

The term costume jewelry dates back to the early 20th century. It reflects the use of the word "costume" to refer to what is now called an "outfit."

According to biologist Menno Schilthuizen, the DNA of Manhattan mice no longer matches that of their Brooklyn counterparts. Mice that frequent Central Park in Manhattan have evolved to favor genes that help them handle higher-fat diets, like the bits of pizza and nachos and cheese fries that we leave for them.

Sylvan Goldman invented the grocery cart in Oklahoma City in 1937.

July 19, 2018

According to Axios, the world's fastest-growing economy is Ethiopia even though it is one of the globe's poorest nations.

The plural of mongoose is mongooses, but occasionally is mongeese.

Aquavit is a distilled Scandinavian spirit that originated in the 15th century. It is distilled from grain and potatoes and is flavored with a variety of herbs. According to the European Union, the main spice should be caraway or dill. Linie brand aquavit is aged in ships that sail to Australia and back, crossing the equator twice.

Barbra Streisand's 1967 recipe for nutty chocolate sauce calls for crushed walnuts or toasted almonds – but not both.

According to Popular Mechanics, three of the U.S. military's oldest pieces of gear are the M2 heavy machine gun, KC-135 Stratotanker, and B-52H bomber. The M2 dates back to World War I when General John "Blackjack" Pershing requested a heavy machine gun for use in trench warfare.

The above is information that Mr. Smarty Pants read in a book, magazine, or newspaper; heard on the radio; saw on television; or overheard at a party. Got facts? Write to Mr. Smarty Pants. Why not visit
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