Dubious Knowledge (Book One)

Doubtful Facts, Twisted History, and Other Humorosities

If you like learning with a lively dose of laughter, you’ll love this hilarious book full of fishy facts, twisted history, and general “Dubious Knowledge” from humor columnist Dan Van Oss.

Collected from the best of his weekly “Dubious Knowledge Institute” humor column, these 25 side-splitting features will keep you laughing as you learn. Evoking the style of classic humor columnists such as Dave Barry and Gene Weingarten, Dan expertly melds fact and fiction into a zany mixture of learning and laughter.

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15 Mildly Accurate Facts About Chocolate

THE LURE OF CHOCOLATE has drawn mankind for centuries down its smooth, brown river of enticement, over its sweet, cocoa-flavored falls where, for a split second, we pause to bask in its incomparable flavor, just before smashing on its sharp, calorie-laden rocks below. Advertisers entice us with exciting, made up words such as “chocoriffic” or “choctacular” or “chocsational” or “stupen-dyna-choco-lossal,” some of which I, of course, made up, but which greedy advertisers will now probably steal. So, what is the appeal that this simple substance, when combined with loads of sugar and nuts and caramel and whatever nougat is, has for us? Here are some dubious facts to hopefully distract you because I don’t really have an answer for that one.

Chocolate Facts

  • Mozart referenced chocolate in his opera Cosi Fan Tutte (“What a Windy Tush”) in 1790, when Despina, the maid, steals a Three Musketeers bar from her mistress.
  • A recent study showed that when women crave food, they desire chocolate, but when men crave food, they desire women.
  • In 1890, Robert Strohecker, an American shop owner, created a five-foot-tall chocolate bunny as an Easter promotion for his drug store, after apparently sampling too much of his own product at one sitting.
  • Hollow chocolate bunnies are a by-product of World War II rationing. So, thanks again, Hitler.
  • The Aztec emperor Montezuma drank 50 golden cups of hot chocolate every day. It was thick, dyed red, and flavored with chili peppers, and so gave rise to the phrase “Montezuma’s Revenge.”
  • Chocolate syrup was used for blood in the famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. In an interesting coincidence, blood was used for the lake of chocolate scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
  • In 1896, Leonard Hershfield invented the “Tootsie Roll,” named after his daughter, Roll Hershfield.
  • In 1930, Franklin Mars invented the Snickers Bar, named after his lifelong battle with hidden, laughing voices that constantly whispered he was no good.
  • People who love chocolate are humorously considered “chocoholics.” Those with extreme cravings join “chocoholics anonymous,” where they receive “chocotherapy” on chocolate couches from solid chocolate psychiatrists wearing chocolate bunny costumes while inhaling tanks of pure chocolate air.
  • John Cadbury, an English Quaker, began roasting and grinding chocolate beans to sell in his tea and coffee shop in 1824. Consequently, his tea and coffee were really terrible.
  • As determined by Federal Standards of Identity, which is an actual thing with real employees, real chocolate must contain chocolate liquor. “White chocolate” has none, and probably got its job because its parents were rich and connected.
  • The botanical name of the chocolate plant is Theobramba cacao, which is, coincidentally, the same sound effect your lower intestine will make after eating an entire bag of M&Ms.
  • Count Chocula is neither a real count nor made of chocolate. He is actually a viscount and made of carob.
  • The inventor of the chocolate-chip cookie sold his idea to Nestle Toll House for a lifetime supply of chocolate. The inventor of biscotti, appropriately, died in poverty.
  • A lethal dose of chocolate for humans is about 22 pounds, which explains why the CIA sent a 22-pound chocolate bar to Saddam Hussein every year.

Horsing Around with Derby Days

THE HINT OF SPRING IS IN THE AIR, the tulips are blooming, and, unless you are a member of Congress, your taxes are done. That means it’s time for that historic springtime tradition featuring humongous hats, the Kentucky Derby. Much like the sport of curling in the Winter Olympics, except without the excessive boredom, this is our infrequent chance to see tiny men coerce large animals around a dirt track. But the spectacle that is the Derby is more than just the race; it is the culmination of the two-week-long Kentucky Derby Festival, a party celebrating all that is horse racing in America, which I assume to mean, mostly, gambling. Plus mint juleps; don’t forget those.

The most exciting two minutes in sports

The race is one and a quarter miles, about the distance I’ve run the entire past decade, and is held at the world famous Churchill Downs, so named because Winston Churchill bombed it during World War II. Or a guy named Winston got bombed there during two World Wars; I’m not sure. The race features colts (male horses) or geldings (male horses who no longer need to worry about creating more male horses). Fillies (attractive women in western movies) have their own race called the Kentucky Oaks, which they seem to be fine with, as the National Organization for Women does not include horses at this time. Derby horses are usually three years old, as the two year olds think everything is “mine!” and four year olds are too busy getting prepped for pony preschool. The race is coined “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports,” a name it took from Arm Wrestling in 1959. It is also called “The Run for the Roses,” as “Prance” and “Trot” for the roses seemed a little too horse-ish. A large drape of 564 red roses, one for each of the million dollars lost by the last-ditch losers who bet on the 52-1 horse, is placed on the neck of the winner. The Kentucky Derby is the first leg of the Triple Crown; the other two legs being the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness. The fourth leg is presumed missing, possibly stolen by a disgruntled jockey, giving the whole series kind of a wobbly feel in my opinion. Sir Barton became the first Triple Crown winner in 1919; I’m not sure what place his horse came in.

Derby facts

  • The race was begun in 1875 by Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, who, despite having a famous name, still got beat up at recess. It has been run continuously since, although I imagine if the weather is really bad in the winter they take a break so the horses can come inside for some hot chocolate with those little marshmallows.
  • The first race was run on May 17, 1875, in front of 10,000 spectators, most of whom were just there hoping to see a horse crash, and included a field of 15 three-year-old horses. A second, less popular race of 3 fifteen-year-old horses was also run, some of who are still finishing.
  • The fastest time posted in the Derby was 1 minute, 59 2/5 seconds in 1973, when Secretariat handily beat Proletariat and Judas Iscariot In A Chariot for first place.
  • The Derby also has the largest purse of any of the modern stakes races – an immense, rose-patterned Vera Bradley bag kept securely in a vault on the grounds.
  • The mint julep, a drink consisting of bourbon, mint, and sugar syrup, is the traditional drink of the race, and can also be used as a cough expectorant or aftershave in a pinch.
  • Women attending the race traditionally wear large, elaborate hats, which are used to hide the fact that they are drinking so many mint juleps. Men wear whatever they want, because, well, they’re men.
  • Another tradition is the playing of “My Old Kentucky Home” by Stephen Foster, although he’s getting pretty old now and it’s getting kind of embarrassing when he can’t hit the high notes.

So, if you’re ever in Kentucky in the springtime, make sure you plan to experience our nation’s “Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports,” unless, of course, there’s an arm-wrestling tournament going on at the same time.

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