Ask and ye shall receive. Multiple choice is better.

We all have questions about the world. These days, in most cases, it is pretty simple to find answers about our physical world and surroundings. We merely have to press our hands into our pockets, extract our phones, and summons the likes of “Siri” or “Hey Google.”

But there was a time when things weren’t that easy-peasy. If we had a burning question about this place where humans dwell, we had to make a noted and intentional quest to gather the information.

How tall, in inches, is the Empire State Building? Now, we can know this in seconds. But before, we’d have to ask around, or check an encyclopedia and know some mathematical conversions. Or, perhaps we went to the library. Yes. Many of us went to the glorious library. And this was confirmed, when some people who work for the New York Public Library, recently found a little box filled with “question” requests from the 1940s and beyond. They kept track of the queries that came to the library desk.

Here are a few that caught my attention.

In 1944, someone walked up to the Reference Desk and asked if it was possible to keep an octopus in a private home. Well, the answer is yes, but it would require a lot of work. And a good lid, as an octopus of any variety is a good escape artist. But it makes me wonder, exactly, who in 1944 wanted to know. Were they considering this as their next pet? Or had they won one in a poker game the night before, and now it was back home in the bathtub?

And another, of interest. How much did Napoleon’s brain weigh? Someone in 1945 wanted to know. Again, did this question come up the night before over dinner? Or did they get in a bar brawl, and someone called the guy “Napoleon Brain?” Unfortunately, there wasn’t an answer for this person. They didn’t weigh Napoleon’s brain at the autopsy. However, they did find that he was nearly bald from giving his hair away to family and friends as keepsakes.

What is the life cycle of an eyebrow hair? Asking for a friend, in 1948. Apparently there are three phases in the life of an eyebrow hair. First, is the Anagen (growth), then Catagen (resting or intermediate), and finally Telogen (shedding). I find this interesting, because mine seem to want to grow smack dab in the middle, hence the proposition of the UniBrow. And therein comes the plucking intervention. And beyond all of this, in case you need more hair FAQs. Depending on the person, we have about 250 to 500 hairs per eyebrow. And it shows.

One more for the road. What kind of apple did Eve eat? (1956)
Ahhh, boogers. The Bible fails to identify the type of fruit that Adam and Eve were snacking on. This was mainly because, whoever wrote the story was not there at the actual event. That would have been awkward, anyhow, given that Adam and Eve were completely nakers. Anyway, since the writer wasn’t there, we have no real facts, other than their imagination’s glowings. No apple is mentioned. They only say that the fruit was “seeded.” Which could be just about anything from a lemon, to a watermelon, given that all fruits are seeded. I’m sticking with the Forbidden Prickly Pear.

So there you have it. The world of information, at our fingertips. But the old-school style involved slightly more work. Oh. And, by the way. The answer is 17,448 inches for the Empire State Building. Hey Google.


“I’m not dumb. I just have a command of thoroughly useless information.”
― Bill Watterson


“Information is not knowledge.”
― Albert Einstein


“What a culture we live in, we are swimming in an ocean of information, and drowning in ignorance.”
― Richard Paul Evans, A Step of Faith