Curiosity didn’t kill this cat

John Gushue
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I have a reputation for being a trivia buff, and that was in place well before the appearances I used to make on Crosstalk on CBC’s Radio Noon.

I was an early adopter of Trivial Pursuit (and played it like a blood sport, on occasion), cut my teeth on “Reach For The Top” (I went to Gonzaga, where we actually trained for those matches) and always look forward to an annual competition between local companies and employers that raises money for a St. John’s school.

“It must be nice to have a head full of useless knowledge” is one of the snippier things that’s been said to me over the years.

Well, instead of “useless,” I would call it general knowledge, and I’d go a little further, too. Being good at trivia, in my mind, means you’re good at paying attention. Details are important in life, and trivia is where the detail-minded can romp and play.

People confuse “trivia” with “trivial,” and to me they’re entirely different things. Trivial may mean meaningless, but trivia is exactly about meaning, and about learning and being curious.

This week, some sites I like for feeding this cat’s curiosity habit.

Mental Floss

This magazine comes to our house courtesy of a recurring gift subscription from my wife, but the website is a routine stop, too. Where else can you take an invigorating quiz, read up on a celebrity who just died, learn some ancient yet lurid details from mythology and have a chuckle about a funny fact or two? Right here. It’s obsessed with lists, embraces the high-minded and low-brow, and knows how to laugh at itself. The blogs are my starting point. Dive in.

Today I Found Out

How boring — and, yes, meaningless — life would be if we didn’t or couldn’t learn at least one new thing every day. Today I Found Out has that sense of wonder that comes from learning a new bit of knowledge, whether it’s Halloween lore or the morbid, murderous history of actor Woody Harrelson’s father.

Unnecessary Knowledge

One slice of human history — or natural history and such — is served up at a time, with a cartoon character as your guide. Want more? Tap the “generate” key on top, or just hit the R key. You’re welcome to submit your own, but the owners approve what the public gets to see.

Wise Geek

Who are the Generation Y kids?  How can warts be treated? What are those fava beans that Hannibal Lecter liked so much?  These are some of the questions that Wise Geek aims to answer, often to plain-as-day subject matter that some people may nonetheless need explained. The downside? It’s over-peppered with word ads, which is most annoying.

Junk Worth Knowing

Yes, I know I said only a few paragraphs ago that I discount those who sniff at trivia as being trivial. But I also nod with fellow trivia types who self-deprecatingly joke about the chase for random bits of information. That is, junk … worth knowing, as this site puts it. The sad thing? This site hasn’t been updated since early 2009. The good thing? There’s still a ton to read, and learn about.

List of misconceptions

Napoleon wasn’t that short, the Plymouth Rock Pilgrims didn’t wear buckles and steeple hats, and the Great Wall of China wasn’t visible during the moon landing. From Wikipedia, a list of other fallacies and misunderstandings that have continued to prevail. (And who doesn’t just love being the pedant at the dining table who constantly corrects others?)

Misconception Junction

Still need more? Here’s a site that focuses not just on gaining knowledge, but on correcting errors. Which, after all, is an essential part of the pedantic lifestyle!

Are there sites I should know about? Get in touch, and check out my blog for miscellaneous things I find during the course of the week.

John Gushue is an online editor with CBC News in St. John’s. Twitter: @johngushue.


Organizations: CBC News, Floss www.mentalfloss.comThis magazine, Plymouth Rock Pilgrims

Geographic location: China

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