Columns Archives



list all columns


Mr. Smarty Pants Knows 1,050 results

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.

November 15, 2018


According to the book Texas Folk Medicine, by John Q. Anderson, an old folk remedy in Tarrant County for curing stuttering was to hit the patient in the mouth with the shank bone from a newly killed calf. In Navarro County, it was advised to never let babies see their image in a mirror before learning to talk, or you ran the risk of them growing up to stutter.

A Mexico City restaurant can't serve $27 tarantula tacos because the Mexican red rump tarantula is a protected species.

Some sculptures depict the person looking up and to the left. This is sometimes called a Lysippean gaze, named for the sculptor Lysippos, who did a sculpture of Alexander the Great with a similar look, supposedly looking off into the distance at the lands he was going to conquer.

Michelangelo depicted the forbidden fruit eaten by Adam and Eve as a fig, not an apple.

"Tear gas" is two words as a noun, one word as a verb, as in "He teargassed the crowd with tear gas."

November 8, 2018


Queen Victoria popularized freshwater pearls from Scotland's Tay River, but Scottish river pearls have been coveted since the time of Julius Caesar. Today it's illegal to gather pearls from the Tay and other Scottish rivers; the mussel that produces the Scottish pearl has had protected status since 1998.

According to Axios, fossil fuels accounted for 81% of the world's energy consumption in 1987. Thirty years later it's still 81%.

According to The New Yorker, termites practice trophallaxis – transferring feces, microbes, and plant matter among themselves mouth to mouth and mouth to anus. This allows a communal pooling of digestive capacity that can be passed from generation to generation. If scientists can crack their DNA, they could produce biofuels and drug precursors.

Larry Geller, who supplied Elvis Presley with books and reading materials, estimated the king of rock & roll read over 1,000 books about philosophy and esoteric and spiritual teachings.

Back in the 19th century, the Linguistic Society of Paris and Philological Society of London banned linguists from speculating about the origin of language because they found the speculation too ridiculous.

November 1, 2018


Vantablack is a color that absorbs 99.96% of light. It can turn any surface into what appears to be a fathomless black hole.

According to a recent report by the Brookings Institution, half the world is now middle class.

Some Chinese have a saying for those whom they love but who are being super terrible. They say, "I will kill you with tofu." For the ones they love but who are being real idiots, they say, "You're so stupid that you need to get tofu and kill yourself with it!" Or, "Go kill yourself with tofu!"

What did Frédéric Chopin and Hans Christian Andersen have in common? They were both afraid of being buried alive.

One thousand years after Claudius Ptolemy oriented maps to the north, the Catholic Church changed the orientation to the east, toward Jerusalem, and divided it into three sections associated with Noah's sons: Shem (representing Asia), Ham (representing Africa), and Japheth (representing Europe).

October 25, 2018


According to Bloomberg News, farmers in the U.S. Northeast dumped almost 145 million pounds of milk through July 2018, the most in at least a decade – including 23.6 million pounds that month alone. The reasons include tariffs, and changing tastes in our appetite for Greek yogurt.

In 2004, UT researchers invented a Halloween-based imaginary char­acter called the Candy Witch to see reactions from young children.

The Forbes Pigment Collection includes two tubes of Mummy Brown, which were made from the rendered gunk of the Egyptian dead. In addition to being used as paint, ingested mummy was believed to cure health issues. The fad ended in the mid-19th century when The Handbook of Young Artists and Amateurs in Oil Painting advised there was nothing to be gained from smearing canvases with mummy.

In 2016, for the first time, more than half of the American dead were cremated.

According to the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), between 100 million and 1 billion North American birds die annually after colliding with windows. You can report deaths at

October 18, 2018


According to Axios, the U.S. is the most expensive country in the world to give birth – average sticker price for childbirth in the U.S. is $32,093.

According to The New Yorker, compo – short for composition ornament – is a 19th century precursor of plastic, consisting of sawdust, hide glue, and whiting. It can be compounded and worked into molds, and used for ornamentation. The columns holding up the nine tiers of Bob Hope's 75th birthday cake were made from compo.

A bezoar, a stonelike mass found in the gastrointestinal and other sys­tems of certain animals, was once used as an antidote for various ailments.

Nearly half of all cell phone calls will be scams by 2019, according to First Orion, an Arkansas company that provides caller ID and call blocking technology. Spam accounted for 3.7% of all calls in 2017, then leaped to over 29% in 2018, and are projected to be 45% by early 2019.

Dairy Distillery in Ontario, Canada, makes a vodkalike beverage from a dairy waste product called milk permeate.

October 11, 2018


Andy Warhol collected cookie jars.

In 2014, 50% of 30-year-old Americans made more than their parents. In 1970, 92% of 30-year-olds made more than their parents, according to economist Raj Chetty.

An endangered Polynesian bird, the megapode, lays and incubates its eggs in ground warmed by volcanic heat. It's possible that dinosaurs did the same.

Benjamin Franklin, the first postmaster general, and George Washington appeared on the 5- and 10-cent stamps, respectively. National postage stamps debuted in 1847. Before that, the recipient paid the postage.

Over 3 million people died from alcohol consumption in 2016, a new WHO report finds; more than 75% were men.

October 4, 2018


According to Andrew Dent of Material ConneXion, 95% of every car that goes on the road in the U.S. gets recycled, and about 75% of it actually gets used again. That includes steel and aluminum, but also plastics from the fender and interiors, glass from the windows and windshield, and tires.

According to University of Colorado at Denver researchers, Uber and Lyft drivers travel 69 miles without a passenger, conservatively, for every 100 miles they travel with passengers.

According to Noreen Malone of Slate, talk show hosts always sit on the right side of the screen (stage left) because in the theory of stagecraft, a rightward placement telegraphs royalty. In Western culture, we read from left to right, and we watch theatre and TV that way, too. Our eyes end up on the right side of the screen.

Monkeys appeared in Africa more than 23 million years ago, and then in South America a few million years ago, but they never got to North America naturally.

Millennials are 40% more likely to overdraw their checking accounts if they use mobile payments, according to a financial literacy report from the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America.

September 27, 2018

The total surface area of lungs varies, but it's equal to roughly the same area as one side of a tennis court.

"The Book of Ephraim," the epic poem by James Merrill, was inspired by messages received through a Ouija board. "The Book of Ephraim" constituted the major part of the poet's seventh anthology, Divine Comedies, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1977.

William L. Murphy invented the Murphy bed so he could receive a female visitor in his studio flat without scandalizing the neighbors.

According to British researchers, some mammals – including ferrets, mice, dogs, and apes – have a bone inside their penis, called the baculum. The shape of this bone helps them have sex for extended periods of time. Ferret sex can last as long as three hours.

The terms under which the N.Y. Stock Exchange was formed are called the "Buttonwood Agreement" because they were signed under a buttonwood (sycamore) tree at 68 Wall Street in 1792.

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.

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
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10     NEXT    105 »
This content has not been formatted for this window size.
Please increase the size of your browser window, or revisit this page on a mobile device.
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle