Start the Day on an Unusual Note

I have always been a trivia buff. This interest has had some professional usefulness. For almost a decade, I have written the questions for the annual middle-school and high-school scholastic bowls held at our campus. I wish that I could also say that some bit of trivia has inspired a scholarly article, even one that is not especially noteworthy. But it hasn’t.

Each day, I receive a news item from the website Mental Floss (and often more than one). Sometimes the items are of relatively little interest to me, but very often they are quite entertaining and even thought-provoking.

The following three items were distributed by the site on the same day, this past President’s Day.

If you agree with me that they are entertaining, you may want to go to the website [] and subscribe to the daily newsletter list, or even to the magazine. The site also includes a broad selection of trivia books and all sorts of other merchandise, from t-shirts to coffee mugs, slanted to the obsession with trivia.


President John Tyler’s Grandsons Are Still Alive

Jason English

Here’s the most amazing thing you’ll ever read about our 10th president: John Tyler was  born in 1790. He took office in 1841, after William Henry Harrison died. And he has two living grandchildren.

Not great-great-great-grandchildren. Their dad was Tyler’s son.


The Tyler men have a habit of having kids very late in life. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, one of President Tyler’s 15 kids, was born in 1853. He fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. in 1924, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928.

We placed a somewhat awkward call to the Charles City County History Center in Virginia last week to check in on the Tylers.

After we shared this fact on Twitter in 2012, Dan Amira interviewed Harrison Tyler for New York Magazine. Lyon Tyler spoke to the Daughters of the American Revolution a while back.


New Computer Program Sorts Real Jackson Pollock Paintings from Fakes

Nothing ruins an art museum visit faster than the one person who has to say, “my kid could have made this.” Now you can rebut that: No, your kid can’t do that and there’s a computer program to prove it.

Artist Jackson Pollock, famous for his drip paintings, had a unique, but unfortunately easily duplicated style. After all, Pollock used a large array of tools and machines like an electric mixer to make purposively random “strokes” of paint; gravity was as much to credit as the artist himself. With so many counterfeits floating around, even experts were getting befuddled over what was real and what was not.

Thankfully, technology is coming to the rescue: A computer program, detailed in the next issue of International Journal of Arts and Technology, uses the machine vision approach to analyze and identify authentic Pollocks with a 93 percent success rate.

Lawrence Technological University’s Lior Shamir created the program after becoming interested in the abstract paintings. The program analyzes scans of the work and looks for descriptors that are nearly exclusive to authentic paintings.

“The human perception of visual art is a complex cognitive task that involves different processing centers in the brain,” Shamir said. “The work of Jackson Pollock showed unique physiological and neurological human responses to Pollock’s drip paintings.”

This new breakthrough shows that while Pollock’s work is seemingly random, the art possesses certain unique gestures and textures. So you might want to think twice about trying to sell your child’s art to the MoMA.

If you would like to do some sleuthing yourself, Shamir’s software is available to the public, and can be found here.



Man Uses First Class Ticket to Eat for Free at the Airport. For a Year

Hannah Keyser

One man in China figured out the perfect—and harmless—scheme to score a free unch, day after day.

The unnamed man purchased a first-class, fully refundable ticket aboard Eastern China Airline that came with access to a VIP lounge at Xi’an International Airport, where flyers can enjoy a free meal. For almost a year, he came to the airport, enjoyed his free food, and then rescheduled his flight for the following day, only returning to enjoy another  complimentary meal.

Eventually, Eastern China Airlines officials noticed something strange—but only after the same ticket had been rebooked over 300 times, and the man had (presumably) enjoyed over 300 free meals. Although the officials confronted the man and he stopped his scheming ways, there wasn’t much they could do. In fact, in the end, he just returned the ticket for a full reimbursement.

A spokeswoman for the carrier called the man’s free-meal scheme a “rare act.” But unless they close the loophole, it seems likely to inspire copycats.

[h/t Fill The Silence]


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