Pros: Entertaining read for us overly-curious trivia buffs
Cons: Some entries stop a bit short
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Review copy courtesy of Alpha Books.
The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to More Not So Useless Facts was compiled by Dane Sherwood, Sandy Wood, and Kara Kovalchik. It isn’t a reference book in which to look up trivia—instead it’s more of a free-association of weird and wacky facts that you’re likely to find entertaining and/or useful.
For instance, the ‘potatoes’ entry details the truth behind sweet potatoes, the year that Mr. Potato Head gave up his pipe (and why), and how NBA star Anthony “Spud” Webb got his nickname.
In 1944, the H.W. Lay Company became one of the first snack food makers to advertise on television, with a cartoon character called Oscar, the Happy Potato. It was never explained how Oscar was happy to be sliced wafer-thin and deep-fried in a vat of boiling oil.
As you can see, the authors realize that since this isn’t a reference book, a dry recitation of facts isn’t in order. There’s plenty of tone, snark, and humor to add life to the brief sections.
There are so many fascinating tidbits of information in here that I think I drove my husband a bit batty last night reading parts of the book aloud to him (sorry, dear!). They range from modern points of law and pop-culture to very distant history.
Occasionally I found myself chafing a bit at the lack of information, when it seemed that the authors didn’t quite finish a thought. For example,
Many national flags are similar in design, but two pairs of them are indistinguishable to all but the trained eye.
While the entry goes on to explain how those two pairs of flags are the same, it doesn’t mention how the trained eye can distinguish them, which is like setting up the joke and failing to deliver on the punch line. Luckily, however, such instances are few and far between.
So if you’d like to know which extremely well-known advertising jingles Barry Manilow wrote (and are now stuck in my head for the day), why cats always head for the folks who aren’t cat people, or the absolutely hysterical real name of Spuds MacKenzie (Bud Lite’s mascot, who was actually quite female), grab a copy of More Not So Useless Facts. You’ll find out that product placement in TV shows has been around since at least 1955 (and which show it appeared in), how end-zone dances got started and progressed, and why a pony once took a ride in a White House elevator.
And if you’re the kind of person (like me) who just loves these esoteric bits of information, how could you not want to learn something like that?!