Category Archives: Trivia

The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2018

catkins-bookshelf-literatureThe Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (BLFC), established in 1982 by English Professor Scott Rice at San Jose State University, recognizes the worst opening sentence (also known as an “incipit”) for a novel. The name of the quasi-literary contest honors Edward George Bulwer Lytton, author of a very obscure 1830 Victorian novel, Paul Clifford, with a very famous opening sentence: “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” 

Each year, contest receives more than 10,000 entries from all over the world — proving that there is no shortage of wretched writers vying for acclaim. The contest now has several subcategories, including adventure, crime, romance, and detective fiction. The winner gets bragging rights for writing the worst sentence of the year and a modest financial award of $150 — presumably for writing lessons.

The winner of the 2018 BLFC was Tanya Menezes of San Jose, California:
Cassie smiled as she clenched John’s hand on the edge of an abandoned pier while the sun set gracefully over the water, and as the final rays of light disappeared into a star-filled sky she knew that there was only one thing left to do to finish off this wonderful evening, which was to throw his severed appendage into the ocean’s depths so it could never be found again — and maybe get some custard after.

The runner up was submitted by Shelley Siddall of West Kelowna, Canada:
Dreaded Pirate Larry was somewhat worried, as he looked down at his boot, where his first mate was stretched out, making whooshing sounds, attempting to blow him over, that despite having the fastest ship, the most eye patches, and the prettiest parrots, his crew may need a few lessons on the difference between literal and figurative, as evidenced by the rest of the crew applying ice to the timbers.

The winner in the category of Crime/Detective was Dave Agans of Wilton, New Hampshire:
He glanced at his unsuspecting guests, his slight smile hiding his hateful mood, his calm eyes hiding his evil intentions, and his smooth skin hiding his tensed muscles, skeletal structure, and internal organs.

The winner in the category of Vile Puns was Peter Bjorkman of Rocklin, California (again!):
As Sheriff (and choral conductor) Patrick “Pitch-Perfect” McHenry assessed his perfectly mediocre chorus upon the saloon stage (sopranos that could only sing melody, serviceable altos, screechy tenors, and basses dropping the pitch by more than a quarter step), a wrinkled scowl protruded from under his pristine Stetson and he growled, “I don’t like your tone” at his “okay” chorale.

Read related posts: The Worst Sentence Ever Written
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2014
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2015
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2016
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2017
The Best Sentences in English Literature

Best Books for Word Lovers
Best Books for Writers
Most Famous Quotations in British Literature

For futher reading:
Dark and Stormy Rides Again by Scott Rice, Penguin Books (1996)

Daily Rituals of Writers: Herman Melville

atkins-bookshelf-literatureAmerican novelist Herman Melville (1819-1891), best known for writing Moby-Dick (or The Whale), wrote six to eight hours a day. It took Melville 18 months to write Moby-Dick. In September 1850, Melville had purchased a 160-acre farm, located in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, from his father-in-law for $3,000. In this remote, bucolic setting, he learned how to balance writing with farm life. In a letter (dated December 1850) to a friend, Melville wrote: “I rise at eight — thereabouts — and go to my barn [where I feed my horse]… Then, pay a visit to my cow [and feed her]…. My own breakfast over, I go to my work-room and light my fire — then spread my manuscript on the table… take one business squint at it, and fall to with a will. At 2:30 PM I hear a preconcerted knock at my door, which (by request) continues till I rise and go to the door, which serves to wean me effectively from my writing, however interested I may be.” He goes on to describe how he spent most evenings: feeding the horse and cow, eating dinner, and taking his sisters and mother on a sleigh ride to the nearby village. When he returned home he spent time “skimming over some large-printed book” since he was too tired to read.

Incidentally, students of American literature know that Melville’s magnum opus, Moby-Dick, about man’s epic struggle with evil was a commercial failure when it was first published in 1851. The 600-page book sold only 3,215 copies in America; he earned about $1,259. Melville died in 1891, and it took about 100 years, specifically the 1919 centennial of his birth, for literary critics and scholars to discover his works. This critical reassessment of his work (known as the “Melville Revival) finally established Melville in the pantheon of America’s greatest writers and recognized Moby-Dick as a classic of American literature and certainly one of the Great American Novels. Today, a first edition of Moby-Dick is worth more than $60,000 and the novel has sold millions of copies.

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Read related posts: Daily Rituals of Writers: Truman Capote
Daily Rituals of Writers: William Faulkner
Daily Rituals of Writers: Isaac Asimov
What Would Famous Authors Order at Starbucks

The Daily Word Quotas of Famous Authors
Random Fascinating Facts About Authors
Words Invented by Famous Authors
Moby Dick by the Numbers

For further reading: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey (2013)

The Weirdest Museums in the World

alex atkins bookshelf triviaJames Halperin, a professional rare coin dealer and the founder of Heritage Auctions, the world’s largest collectibles auctioneer, believes collecting is a basic human instinct that has been intensified by centuries of natural selection: “Those of our ancient ancestors who managed to accumulate scare objects may have been more prone to survive long enough to bear offspring.” That is to say, acquisition of rare items led to wealth that allowed someone to have and care for more children. In short, it is one of humanity’s innate idiosyncrasies or compulsions to collect shit. And this is where museums — particularly museums of weird or offbeat collections — come in: they validate the collection and bestow some level of honor (genius, eccentric, or madman?) on the collector or collectors. In some respects, it is high culture hoarding — and it attracts those with enough curiosity and the willingness to fork over the sometimes pricey admissions to peer into the rarefied collector’s world. For example, you can visit the Iceland Phallological Museum that has the world’s largest collection of pricks, second only to the U.S. Congress. Imagine what items are for sale at the gift shop — Sigmund Freud would have a field day. Or you can visit the entertaining (or creepy, depending on your experience) Clown Hall of Fame and Research that has the world’s largest collection of clowns, second only to the U.S. Congress and the White House. Without further ado, here are some of the weirdest or most offbeat museums in the world. Don’t delay — plan your trip today!

Tap Water Museum – Beijing, China

Dog Collar Museum – Kent, England

British Lawnmower Museum – Merseyside, England)

The Bread Museum – Ulm Germany

Garden Gnome Museum –  Grafenroda, Germany

Platinarium (bodies, sans skin, that have been preserved in creative positions) – Guben, Germany

Avanos Hair Museum – Avanos, Turkey

Iceland Phallological Museum (penises and phallic symbol) – Reykjavik, Iceland

Mummy Museum – Guanajuato, Mexico

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum – Ikeda-shi, Japan

Siriraj Medical Museum (museum of Death) – Bangkok; Thailand

Sulabh International Museum of Toilets – New Delhi, India

The Kunstkamera (contains collection of human fetuses with grotesque mutations) – St. Petersburg, Russia

Torture Museum – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Museum of Bad Art – Dedham, Massachusetts

Kansas Barbed Wire Museum – La Crosse, Kansas

Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum – Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Clown Hall of Fame and Research Center – Baraboo, Wisconsin

Museum of Sex – New York City, New York

Vent Haven Museum – Fort Mitchell, Kentucky

International Cryptozoology Museum (life size art sculptures of famous monsters) – Portland, Maine

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Why Do People Collect Things?
Words for Collectors
Words for Collectors 2
Classification of Book Collectors
Why Do We Collect Things?

For further reading: Offbeat Museums: A Guided Tour of America’s Weirdest and Wackiest Museums by Saul Rubin

What is the Happiest Country in the World?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureEvery few years Gallup conducts a world poll (known as the Gallup World Poll) of more than 150 countries (and the immigrants of 117 countries) that represent more than 98% of the world’s population. The poll uses the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale to evaluate well-being. The scale consists of the following statements and questions: 1. Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top. 2. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. 3. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? 4. On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now?

Recently, the United Nations used this data (from 215-2017) to develop its World Happiness Report 2018. The results are fascinating. Ironically for a country that has “the pursuit of happiness” enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, consumes more than 220 Happy Meals each year, and spends more than $11 billion on self-help — happiness is not easily attainable in America. It is humbling and sobering to know that the United States does not make it in the top ten. Norway, Denmark, and Iceland are the happiest countries on earth whose population — including immigrants — truly embrace the philosophy of “don’t worry, be happy.” Interestingly, the top ten countries have been held by the same countries for the past two years. The report notes: “All the top countries tend to have high values for all six of the key variables that have been found to support well-being: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.” On the other side of the scale are the unhappiest countries on earth: Tanzania, Burundi, and Central Africa Republic.

The report concludes with three emerging global health problems that threaten happiness: obesity, the opioid crisis, and depression. Of great concern is that these particular problems have been growing faster in the United States than any other country. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2016 more than 16.2 million adults in America reported at least one major depressive episode (accounting for 6.7% of all adults in the U.S.).

The Happiest Countries in the World (Country followed by Cantril score)

1. Norway (7.537)
2. Denmark (7.522)
3. Iceland (7.504)
4. Switzerland (7.494)
5. Finland (7.469)
6. Netherlands (7.377)
7. Canada (7.316)
8. New Zealand (7.314)
9. Australia (7.284)
10. Sweden (7.284)
11. Israel (7.213)
12. Costa Rica (7.079)
13. Austria (7.006)
14. United States (6.993)
15. Ireland (6.977)

The Unhappiest Countries in the World

Yemen (3.593)
South Sudan (3.591)
Liberia (3.533)
Guinea (3.507)
Togo (3.495)
Rwanda (3.471)
Syria (3.462)
Tanzania (3.349)
Burundi (2.905)
Central African Republic (2.693)

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For further reading: The Weight of the World’s Population
How Old is the Universe?

For further reading:

What is a Ditloid?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsA ditloid is a curious and clever puzzle — something that would have greatly amused Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter. Specifically, a ditloid is a word game in which a phrase, term, title, quotation, proverb, or fact must be deduced from numbers and abbreviations in the clue. For example (answers in parenthesis):
60 = S. in a M. (60 seconds in a minute)
99 = B. of B. on the W. (99 bottles of beer on the wall)
7 = A. of M. (7 Ages of Man).
You get the idea. 
The word game was named after the following puzzle: 1=D. it L. o I. D. (1 Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich), by the Daily Express, a London newspaper. This word game is also referred to as a “linguistic equation” or “numerical phrase.” 

The most famous ditloids — indeed, the ditloids that launched a thousand ditloids — were created by puzzle master extraordinaire Will Shortz, former editor of Games magazine and current crossword puzzle editor for The New York Times, puzzle master on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, and author of more than 100 books on puzzles. (Incidentally, he is an avid puzzle book collector, owning more than  20,000 puzzle books and magazines). Shortz introduced the word game, which he initially called an “Equation Analysis Test” , in the May-June 1981 issue of Game magazine. Since this was the time before the birth of the Internet, the puzzle was circulated the old fashioned way; Shortz elaborates: “Some anonymous person had retyped the puzzle from Games (word for word, except for my byline), photocopied it, and passed it along. This page was then rephotocopied ad infinitum, like a chain letter, and circulated around the country. Games readers who hadn’t seen the original even started sending it back to Games as something the magazine ought to consider publishing!” Interestingly, this “photocopied” list still gets forwarded, albeit as an image file in chain emails.

Shortz’s inspiration for the word puzzle came from Morgan Worthy’s AHA! A Puzzle Approach to Creative Thinking, published in 1975. Worthy introduced the Formula Analysis Test that had a slightly different construction: M. + M. + N.H. + V. + C. + R.I. = N.E. (Maine + Massachusetts + New Hampshire + Vermont + Connecticut + Rhode Island = New England) and 1 B. in the H. = 2 in the B. (A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush). Worthy, in turn, was inspired by obscene graffiti in a college bathroom; Worthy explains in his book, “I first became interested in aha! thinking ten years ago while a graduate student at the University of Florida. Part of the graffiti in the men’s room of the psychology building was a cryptic formula someone had written in large letters on the wall. I was intrigued by this little puzzle and, of course, had occasion to be reminded of it from time to time. Finally, one day, the answer (yes, obscene) suddenly came to me. It happened that I was studying creativity at the time and I realized that my response to solving the graffiti puzzle was very like the ‘aha! effect’ about which I had been reading… I constructed a test of times similar in principle to the one I found on the rest room wall.” In order to develop his Formula Analysis Test, Worthy followed this criteria: the puzzles do not require special information or a large vocabulary, the puzzles cannot be solved by step-by-step process, and each puzzle is relatively easy in that it is short and contains few items. Based on research by Worth, scores on solving these type of tests are not correlated significantly with I.Q. scores, but rather validated tests that measure creative thinking.

Without further ado, here are the original 24 word puzzles, the Equation Analysis Test, created by Shortz. Give it a shot, and see how many you can solve. The answers will be presented in this post in a few days. And no cheating (using Google to solve the equations). Remember, solving the puzzles is not about being smart, but rather, about being creative. So clear your mind, put some music on, chill, and let the letters and numbers speak to you… and be sure to share this with your friends, to see how they do.

1 = W. on a U.
3 = B.M. (S.H.T.R.!)
4 = Q. in a G.
5 = D. in a Z.C.
7 = W. of the A.W.
8 = S. on a S.S.
9 = P. in the S.S.
11 = P. on a F.T.
12 = S. of the Z.
13 = S. on the A.F.
18 = H. on a G.C.
24 = H. in a D.
26 = L. of the A.
29 = D. in F. in a L.Y.
32 = D.F. at which W.F.
40 = D. and N. of the G.F.
54 = C. in a D. (with the J.)
57 = H.V.
64 = S. on a C.
88 = P.K.
90 = D. in a R.A.
200 = D. for P.G. in M.
1,000 = W. that a P. is W.
1,001 = A.N.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Words for Superior Persons
Rare Anatomy Words

Words Oddities: Fun with Vowels
What Rhymes with Orange

Words that Sound Naughty But Are Not
An Alphabet of Rare Words

For further reading: Aha! A Puzzle Approach to Creative Thinking by Morgan Worthy
Will Shortz’s Best Brain Busters by Will Shortz


1 = Wheel on a Unicycle
3 = Blind Mice (See How They Run!)
4 = Quarts in a Gallon
5 = Digits in a Zipcode
7 = Wonders of the Ancient World
8 = Sides on a Stop Sign
9 = Planets in the Solar System
11 = Players on a Football Team
12 = Signs of the Zodiac
13 = Stripes on the American Flag
18 = Holes on a Golf Course
24 = Hours in a Day
26 = Letters of the Alphabet
29 = Days in February in a Leap Year
32 = Degrees Fahrenheit at which Water Freezes
40 = Days and Nights of the Great Flood
54 = Cards in a Deck (with the Jokers)
57 = Heinz Varieties
64 = Squares on a Checkerboard (or Chessboard)
88 = Piano Keys
90 = Degrees in a Right Angle
200 = Dollars for Passing Go in Monopoly
1,000 = Words that a Picture is Worth
1,001 = Arabian Nights


The Fourth of July by the Numbers

alex atkins bookshelf triviaEach year as Americans celebrate their country’s independence on July 4, few realize it is the anniversary of perhaps one of the most remarkable coincidences in history: the death of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams who died a few hours apart on July 4, 1826  — on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. But there are many other interesting numbers related to the 4th of July:

7-2-76: The day the Continental Congress voted for independence from Great Britain. John Adams imagined how the day should be celebrated. In a letter to his wife, he wrote: “[July 2] will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival; [it should include] Pomp and Parade… Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.”

7-4-76: The day the Continental Congress officially approved the Declaration of Independence

2.5: Number of years that occurred between the Boston Tea Party and the signing of the Declaration of Independence

13: Number of colonies represented by delegates who signed

56: Number of signers

70: Age of the oldest signer, Benjamin Franklin (70)

26: Age of the youngest signer, Edward Rutledge (26)

8: Number of signers that were born in Great Britain or Ireland

1: Number of signers who recanted, Richard Stockton (while held prisoner by the British)

1781: The year in which Massachusetts became the first state to make the 4th of July a state holiday

1870: Congress declared July 4th a federal holiday

1941: Congress declared July 4th a federal legal (i.e., paid) holiday

66%: Percentage of Americans who display an American flag

63%: Percentage of Americans who attend a fireworks show

26%: Percentage who light their own fireworks

14,000: Number of 4th of July fireworks shows across the country

80%: Percentage of Americans who attend a barbecue or picnic

150 Million: Number of hot dogs consumed on 4th of July

30%: Percentage of hot dogs that come from Iowa

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Jefferson and Adams Die on July 4, 1826
A Republic If You Can Keep It
Is the United States a Democracy or a Republic?

For further reading:

The 15 Components of Emotional Intelligence

alex atkins bookshelf educationOver decades of study, psychologists have discovered that human beings have many types of intelligence. In 1983 psychologist Howard Gardner proposed eight, but conceded that there might be as many as ten.* One of these intelligences is emotional intelligence. Emotions, of course, are central to human existence. As the famous Roman writer Publilius Syrus (85-43 BC) advised in the Sententiae, “Rule your feelings, lest your feelings rule you.” The concept of emotional intelligence (EI) was introduced as early as 1964 by Michael Beldoch in his paper “Sensitivity to expression of emotional meaning in three modes of communication.” However, the term was popularized by psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer in their influential paper, “Emotional Intelligence” (1990) as well as science journalist’s Daniel Gorman’s best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence (1995). Salovey and Mayer define emotional intelligence this way: “[Emotional intelligence is] a set of skills hypothesized to contribute to the accurate appraisal and expression of emotion in oneself and in others, the effective regulation of emotion in self and others, and the use of feelings to motivate, plan, and achieve in one’s life.”

As popular as the term is, there are some disagreements about exactly which components make up emotional intelligence (EI). In his concise, but informative book 50 Ideas You Really Need to Know: Psychology, Adrian Furnham elaborates: “There is no agreement about what features, factors, abilities, or skills form part of EI. As more and more tests of, and books about, EI appear on the market, the situation gets worse rather than better… A central unresolved question is what are the facets or components of EI?” To that end, Furnham provides a very helpful table of the 15 common components found in salient models of emotional intelligence.

Adaptability: flexible and willing to adapt to new conditions

Assertiveness: forthright and willing to stand up for your rights

Emotion expression: capable of communicating your feelings to others

Emotion management: capable of influencing the feelings of others

Emotion perception: clear and your own and other people’s feelings

Emotion regulation: capable of controlling your emotions

Low Impulsiveness: reflective and less likely to give into your urges

Relationship skills: capable of having personal relationships that are fulfilling

Self-esteem: feeling successful and self-confident

Self-motivation: Being driven and unlikely to give up in the ace of adversity

Social competence: having good networking and social skills

Stress management: capable of withstanding and managing stress

Trait empathy: capable of taking the perspective of another person

Trait happiness: being cheerful and feeling satisfied with your life

Trait optimism: being likely to look at the positive aspects of life

So now that we understand the many facets of emotional intelligence, we can discuss the next issue: emotional intelligence in the workplace; more specifically, how do different generations differ in terms of emotional intelligence? The research-minded folks at Talentsmart shed some light in a fascinating article titled Great Divide: The Generational Gap in Emotional Intelligence. The researchers observe what many have experienced in the business world: “For the first time in history, organizations find their offices occupied by employees spanning four generations — Generation Y (18-29), Generation X, Baby Boomers (42-60), and Traditionalists. While the generational gap can create a healthy marriage of fresh perspective and deep wisdom, we’ve all seen it give way to significant culture clash.” Baby boomers, for example, are used to planned face-to-face meetings, overtime, and occasional work on the weekends. However, Generation Y are used to interacting with others via text and email and are very protective of their personal time. Not surprisingly, the researchers found a huge difference between Generation Y and Baby Boomers, particularly with the facet of self-management: specifically, Generation Y are not good at self management.

So why do Generation Y employees lag in self-management skills? The researchers conclude: “It could be that coming of age with too many video games, instantaneous Internet gratification, and adoring parents have created a generation of self-indulgent young workers who can’t help but wear their emotions on their sleeves in tense situations. However, a deeper look reveals another explanation. Even within the same generation, older people have better EQ skills than younger — despite sharing the same generational influences. Self-management appears to increase with age. Experience and maturity facilitate the mastery of one’s emotions. Generation Years just haven’t had as much time to practice and perfect their skill at managing their emotions.” This opens the door to an important opportunity: to have HR experts help  improve the EI of Generation Y employees. The researchers echo what many CEOs and management experts have been promulgating for several years now: “They not only can do it; they must do it.”

*Gardiner proposed these ten intelligences: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, existential, and moral. On the other hand, in his book, Practical Intelligence: the Art and Science of Common Sense, Karl Albrecht, a management consultant, introduces “practical” or commons sense intelligence; he believes that there are six intelligences: abstract, social, practical, emotional, aesthetic, and kinesthetic.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Why Are Millennials so Difficult to Manage?
What Makes a Great Mentor?
What Makes a Great Teacher?
Great Teachers Inspire

For further reading: Social Encounters edited by Michael Argyle
Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner
50 Ideas You Really Need to Know: Psychology by Adrian Furnham

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