The Fun Factoid Festival

Here is another instalment of Trivia quiz-worthy titbits, followed by some ‘Did you know..?’ facts you can add to your EQ (educational quotient). The world is full of wonders and provides great fodder for dinner table conversations and a spark for lagging first date get-to-know-each other chats.

The national flag of Nepal has a very odd shape and it is the only one in the world to buck the conventional rectangular or square contour. In fact, it’s the only one in the world with a double-pennon, a combination of two single pennons. The choice of colours was the only nod to convention. The grouping of white, red and blue is very popular, appearing on a majority of the world’s country flags. The upper triangle includes a white stylized moon; the lower has a white sun.

The biggest swimming pool in the world, one of pharaohnic proportions with a length of 1.013 km and containing 250.000 m3 (or 250 million litres, the equivalent of 80 Olympic sized swimming pools), is in Algarrobo in Chile. It parallels the beach at San Alfonso del Mar and opened for public pleasure in December 2016 at a cost of 2 billion USD to build. That awesome natatorium was captured by EyeSkyDrone. You can view it in all its splendour on YouTube.

The most expensive book in the world is the 16th century, 72 page Codex Leicester, better known as the Da Vinci Codex as it contains a collection of scientific writings and theories by Leonardo Da Vinci on astronomy, the properties of water, rocks, and fossils; air, and celestial light. It was bought at auction in 1994 by Bill Gates for a cool USD 30.8 million. The codex was scanned into digital image files and made available to museums and exhibitions around the world.

A codex is technically an ancient manuscript text in book form, usually written on papyrus, vellum or paper. Many codices have survived like the Florentine Codex, a 16th-century ethnographic research study in Mesoamerica, the Dresden Codex, a 13th C manuscript on Mayan civilisation, the Leningrad Codex, an 11th C manuscript of the Hebrew bible, and so on.

Not all codices are old or ponderous tomes of intellectual weight or content; some are delightfully entertaining like the Codex Seraphinianus, created by Italian architect Luigi Serafini and published in 1981. It is an otherworldly, surreal, bizarre and phantasmagorical encyclopaedia created by an overheated imagination, on topics like science, art, flora & fauna. The illustrations are a mindboggling amalgamation of style from iconoclastic artists like Hieronymus Bosch, Da Vinci, Escher and Dali. All written in a made-up language no-one can decipher.

Animal House – Did you know that the biggest bee in the world is found in Maluku? It was discovered by British entomologist Alfred Wallace and is known as Wallace’s giant bee. Wingtip to wingtip it is the size of a large chicken egg and sports pliers-like jaws. It is also elusive and difficult to find; hence it had not been spotted for 40 years. But it is not extinct as early this year conservationists were able to photograph it in the forests of northern Maluku.

Another giant specimen of its species is the Malabar Squirrel, found in the forests of south, central and eastern India. From nose to tail end this rodent measures a cool 91 cm (36 inches) thanks to its long plume tail. To boot, it has a gorgeous rainbow coloured coat. Though not extinct, its numbers are declining due to habitat destruction caused by deforestation.

The Red Panda is another type of endearing animal. Except this one is on the endangered list as their habitat is shrinking due to deforestation and they are hunted for their distinctive thick russet pelts. They are the sole survivors from the family of Ailuridae, raccoon-type mammals now all extinct. Much smaller than the better known giant pandas-to which they are not related – they are about the size of a big domestic cat and they live mostly in the Eastern Himalayas. Losing this breed would be a taxonomical disaster for the world as it would totally wipe out an entire family of species.

Have you seen a peccary lately? Though resembling a pig and sometimes referred to as Barbados pig, they are apparently not in the same family. Peccaries are New World animals, strictly found in South and Central America and some Caribbean islands like Barbados and Trinidad. They are feral, very aggressive in nature and have a strong, musky odour. Archaeologists have discovered peccaries are probably descended from European pigs left behind by Spanish or Portuguese sailors of the 16th century as a source of food for future visits.

A bit of science – Eminent scientists say that the North magnetic pole is decidedly shifting towards Siberia due to liquid iron or magnetite sloshing around within the planet’s outer core. No, the geographic or true North pole does not move but the magnetic North pole-the one indicated by your compass -does and it moves either right or left of the true North. The difference between true and magnetic north is called magnetic declination and it varies depending on the position of the observer and changes over time. That shifting is due to Earth’s physical structure and the way it spins. Earth’s inner core is solid iron surrounded by a molten outer core. The Earth itself spins on its axis. The inner core spins as well, and it spins at a different rate than the outer core. This creates a dynamo effect, or convections and currents within the core. This is what creates the Earth’s magnetic field.

Those of you who have lived in Bali over the last 10 years and have seen the sun setting further to the north, as observed from the same spot at the same time of year, may well wonder if that phenomenon is tied to this radical shift of the magnetic pole. UK physicist Stephen Hawkings, who is buried close to Isaac Newton in Westminster Abbey, has the formula for his most influential theory engraved on his tombstone. It is called the Hawking radiation concept and it explains how energy and even matter could escape the immense gravitational pull of a black hole. This concept transformed our understanding of physics and was a giant step at bridging the gap between quantum physics and relativity.

By Iness Wynn

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