What Do You Call Anti-Trivia?


As long-time readers know, on Fridays — like, you know, today — I do a week-in-review type of thing. Today, I’ll get there, but I want to share a non-story first.

When I’m asked to describe Now I Know, I typically say something like “each weekday [except Fridays, I guess?], I share a fun fact and the story behind it.” That’s probably not quite right, though; the story, not the fact, is the fun part. Every once in a while I’ll come across a fact without a fun story. Here’s an example.

You’ve almost certainly heard the song “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire. If not, you can click that link, but it may get stuck in your head all day. The song starts with these lyrics:

Do you remember, 21st night of September?
Love was changing the mind of pretenders
While chasing the clouds away

I’m an insatiably curious type, so of course, I wanted to know: did something important happen on the night of September 21st, in some unnamed year (presumably before 1978 unless Earth, Wind & Fire also had a time machine). And the answer is… well, not a very fun answer. Here’s what songwriter Allee Willis confessed to NPR in 2014

“We went through all the dates: ‘Do you remember the first, the second, the third, the fourth … ‘ and the one that just felt the best was the 21st,” Willis explains. “I constantly have people coming up to me and they get so excited to know what the significance was. And there is no significance beyond it just sang better than any of the other dates. So … sorry!”

My first reaction to this was disappointment. But my nearly-immediate next reaction was “hey, I wonder if there’s a book idea here?” Just to be clear: I don’t think there is a book idea, and no, I haven’t written another book. But I wondered if there was one. There are probably lots of examples like this, but I don’t really know what to call the category. Disappointing Trivia? Anti-Trivia? Now I Know, the Boring Edition? 

In any event, these are the types of roadblocks I often run into when writing Now I Know. Most curious things have an explanation, I’ve found, but many explanations are just plain boring.

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: Frosty, The Snowman Reaction: The title here isn’t as good as I had hoped. I was trying to say that the reaction to the snowman was a frosty one… oh well. And yes, the original Frosty has a button nose, not a carrot nose, and I should have known that.

Tuesday: Profit That’s Easy as Pie: How to sell yourself pizza and make yourself a little richer in the process.

Wednesday: How to Lick a Killer Serve: My whole family plays a lot of tennis, and only one of us knew this story before I discovered it. I’ll consider that a win. 

Thursday: Fordite: The cool looking stones that aren’t stones. 

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “54 years ago, a computer programmer fixed a massive bug — and created an existential crisis” (Inverse, 8 minutes, December 2021). This is why we have a blinking cursor on our computer screens. (As above, most curious things have an explanation, but many explanations are just plain boring. This one, joyously, is not boring.)

2) “Hook, Line, and Sinker” (Boston Magazine, 9 minutes, August 2015). The subhead: “Maine treasure hunter Greg Brooks found the world’s richest shipwreck off the coast of Cape Cod. Or at least that’s what he told investors.” I really love a good scam story.

3) “Uprooted to Brooklyn, and Nourished by Cricket” (New York Times, 11 minutes, October 2016). Cricket comes to America, courtesy of immigrants from Bangladesh.

Have a great weekend!