A Trivial 2019 Review

Dec 30, 2019

Among all the year in review articles that pop up each December, here's something a little different - four of my favorite trivia facts from this past year.

There is so much that I enjoy about working at WCRB, but one of my favorite aspects of the job is getting to scratch my nerdy itch with the daily trivia question, around 5:30pm on weekdays. Often the trivia is truly trivial. Sometimes it's amusing. But it's always something I look forward to sharing with listeners who are bravely battling their way through the worst traffic in the nation

Below are my favorite facts I learned this year through preparing the daily trivia.

MA License Plates

If your car was registered in Massachusetts after 1969, there is a secret code hidden in your license plate. Look at the final number on your plate, and then look at the month engraved on the upper left-hand side of you plate. Notice a correlation? Massachusetts is the only state to make use of a staggered registration system, where the final number on your plate correlates with the month that your registration expires. January is 1, April is 4, October is 0, etc.

Massachusetts License Plate

But Chris! What about November (11) and December (12)? I’m Glad you asked. November registrations are reserved for vanity plates (M0Z-4RT), and December registrations are reserved for motorcycles and commercial vehicles.

Why? It's so that law enforcement can more easily see if your registration is up to date. Instead of having to drive up close and read the little month sticker, police simply have to be able to see the last digit on your plate and color of your registration sticker. If they don’t line up, you get the lights.

How Short was Napoleon, anyway?

Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte by Jacques-Louis David (1811)

Turns out… not that short! In all likelihood, the French emperor was above average height for the time, standing about 5’7”. Beethoven, by comparison, was a very average 5’4”. So why the persistent stereotype that Bonaparte was short? Three reasons: Conversion, perspective, and name-calling. In the early 19th century, the French foot and the English foot were different lengths, with the French foot being larger. Therefore, while Napoleon was said to be 5’2” at his death, when converted to the English (American) system, that was actually equal to about 5’6”. No wonder Europe switched to the metric system.

Napoleon also made sure to surround himself with very tall soldiers, hand picking these giants for his Imperial Guard. Thus, simply by comparison, he looked small.

And finally, he had long had the nickname “the little corporal” because of his tendency to be nit-picky and micromanage military affairs, a trait which in all likelihood allowed him to achieve the heights he did (pun 100% intended).

Michelin Stars vs. Michelin Tires

Ever wondered if there was a relationship between Michelin, the tire company, and Michelin, the restaurant rating system? Neither had I! But this year I learned that they are in fact one and the same.

Micheline Guide from 1911
Credit Wikimedia Commons

In 1900 there were very few cars on the road. So if you happened to own a French automobile tire manufacturing company, like Édouard and André Michelin did, that also meant that very few people where buying your product. So, the brothers set about trying to boost car (and therefore tire) sales by creating the “Michelin Guide.” The guide was free, and provided useful information to nascent motorists, such as where mechanic shops were located throughout France, where you might spend the night, and (you guessed it!) where you might eat.

The restaurant guide proved to be the most popular feature of the Michelin guide, and after a few years, the authors began using a star system to rate restaurants. Now, contrary to what you might think, the star system isn’t directly related to food. Instead it relates to effort spent getting to the food: one star means "A very good restaurant in its category;" two stars means "excellent cooking, worth a detour;" and the coveted three stars means "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey."

Point ‘Nemo’ a.k.a. The Middle of Nowhere

You’ve heard of the North and South poles. Now, meet the oceanic pole of inaccessibility! Located 1,400 miles from the nearest landmass, the oceanic pole of inaccessibility, known more commonly as Point Nemo, is the point furthest from land anywhere on earth. In other words, this is as “middle of nowhere” as it gets, especially when you consider that Earth is about 70% water.

To put the remoteness of Point Nemo into perspective, let’s consider the International Space Station. The ISS orbits at about 220 miles above Earth, which is about the distance from Boston to New York City (if you take I-90 to I-84). This means that when the ISS sails over Point Nemo, it is six times closer to this pole of inaccessibility than that pole is to any other point on Earth!

Space and Point Nemo have another connection: because of its distance from land and people, space programs have long been crashing deactivated satellites there, as it’s the least likely place on Earth where anyone might get injured by space trash. Therefore, if you were to travel to Point Nemo right now, you would find a satellite graveyard (and perhaps some very bewildered fish).

Point 'Nemo', i.e. Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility
Credit Wikimedia Commons

I hope you enjoyed this year in trivia as much as I did. If you have suggestions for trivia topics, e-mail them to wcrb@wgbh.org with "trivia" in the subject line.

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