[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]

From Quizzism and Its Key. Quirks and Quibbles from Queer Quarters. A Mélange of Questions in Literature, Science, History, Biography, Mythology, Philology, Geography, etc. etc. With Their Answers, by Albert P. Southwick, A. M.; New England Publishing Company, Boston; 1886; pp. 3-21.



Part I

1. Where is the “Valley of Death”?

In the Island of Java. It is simply the crater of an extinct volcano, half a mile in circumference, filled with carbonic-acid gas, which continually emanates from fissures in the bottom of the valley. The gas being invisible, and entirely irrespirable, every living thing that descends below the margin of the valley is instantly suffocated; and, as the same fate awaits any one that may go to the rescue, the ground is covered with the bones of numerous animals, and even men, that have approached the precincts. A desert valley in Southern California bears the same name.

This depression, which is situated east of the highest ranges of the Sierra Nevada (the Telescope), is watered by the Amargoza River. It is about forty miles wide, a hundred miles in length, and its center is, in winter, a salt marsh, whose surface is two hundred and eighty feet below the sea level.

2. What city stands on twenty-six islands?

Ghent, Belgium. The islands are connected with each other by eighty bridges. The city has three hundred streets, and thirty public squares. It is noted for being the birthplace of Charles V. and John of Gaunt, “time-honored Lancaster” and the scene of the “Pacification of Ghent” (November 8, 1576,) several insurrections, sieges, and 4 executions. It is associated with American history by that “foolish treaty” made there, December 24, 1814, terminating the second war between England and the United States.

3. What city is built upon piles driven into the ground?

Amsterdam, Holland. It is intersected by numerous canals crossed by nearly three hundred bridges. The city resembles Venice in the intermixture of land and water, though it is considerably larger. The canals divide the city, which is about ten miles in circumference, into ninety islands.

4. Where is Venice built?

On eighty islets, which are connected by nearly four hundred bridges. Canals serve for streets and gondolas for carriages. The bridges generally are steep, but with easy steps. The circumference of the city is about eight miles. Venice joined the Lombard league against the German Emperor, and, in 1177, gained a great victory in defence of Pope Alexander III., over the fleet headed by Otho, son of Frederic Barbarossa. In gratitude for this victory the Pope gave the Doge Ziani a ring, and instituted the ceremony of "marrying the Adriatic."

5. Who was the first martyr to American liberty?

On February 22, 1770, a mob, principally boys, attacked the house of Mr. Richardson, Boston, owing to his having attempted to remove the mark set against the house of one Lille, who had contravened the non-importation law. Richardson fired upon the mob and killed Christopher Snider, a boy eleven years of age, who was recorded in the public prints as "the first martyr to American liberty."


6. What is the location of St. Petersburg?

It is built chiefly on a peninsula, on the left bank of the Neva, and on two adjoining islands. The river is crossed by one stone bridge, and by several floating bridges, which are removed in winter, when the ice serves as a highway.

7. When and where was a convention held in a barn, and the Bible adopted as a constitution?

At Quinipiac, Connecticut, April 13, 1638, by the settlers, who afterwards laid the foundation of a city and called it New Haven.

8. Who said, “Show me a man’s handwriting, and I will tell you his character”?

William Shenstone, the poet, literary idler, and landscape gardener, born in 1714, in Shropshire, England, where his father owned the small estate of Leasowes; wrote Pastoral Ballad and The Schoolmistress. He died in 1763.

9. On what famous occasion were these memorable words used: “A shrubbery, that Shenstone might have envied, blooms around him”?

In the trial of Aaron Burr (1756-1836) for treason. By William Wirt (1772-1834), in his defence of Blannerhassett, at Richmond, Virginia, in 1807.

10. Who first used in Western Asia the Indian figures 1, 2, 3, etc., commonly called the Arabic numerals?

Mohammed Ben Musa, who lived about A. D. 900. He is the earliest Arabian writer on algebra, or the solution of problems by means of letters.


11. Who was the “original Mrs. Partington”?

A respectable old lady, who lived at Sidmouth, in Devonshire, England. Her cottage was on the beach, and during an awful storm (in November, 1824, when some fifty or sixty ships were wrecked at Plymouth), the sea rose to such a height as every now and then to invade the old lady’s residence; in fact, almost every wave dashed in at the door. Mrs. Partington, with such help as she could command, with mops and brooms, as fast as the water entered the house, mopped it out again; until at length the waves had the mastery, and the dame was compelled to retire to an upper story. The first allusion to the circumstance was made by Sydney Smith, in a speech on the Reform Bill, in which he compared the Conservative opposition to the bill to be like the opposition of "Dame Partington and her mop, who endeavored to mop out the waves of the Atlantic."

12. What was the origin of the superstition concerning the number 13?

In London, during the twenty years 1660-79, the general death-rate was 80 per 1,000 living, or 1 in 12½. It is probable that the belief arose about this time, as it would be a correct statement of the probabilities if all classes were proportionally represented. This calculation, by means of a false interpretation, has given rise to the prejudice against “thirteen at dinner” and a supposition that the danger will be avoided by inviting a greater number of guests, which can only have the effect of augmenting the probability of the event so much apprehended. By some it is supposed that the superstition owes its origin to the number that sat down to the Lord’s table just previous to His crucifixion. There have been a number of societies formed of thirteen 7 members, to disprove this “popular fallacy,” one of which held its thirty-fifth annual dinner recently, in New York City, with ranks unbroken.


“Seven cities fought for Homer dead
  Through which Homer living begged his bread.”

What were the seven cities?

Chios, Athens, Rhodes, Colophon, Argos, Smyrna, Salamis. They can be easily remembered by the word "carcass" which the initials give. Thomas Heywood, who died in 1649, wrote: —

“Seven cities warred for Homer being dead;
  Who living had no roofe to shrowd his head”;

and to Thomas Seward (1708-1790) is accredited the lines: —

“Seven wealthy towns contend for Homer dead
  Through which the living Homer begged his bread.”

14. What was the name of the sailor with Columbus who first saw the “New World”?

It was first descried by a mariner on board the Pinta, named Rodrigo de Triana, at two o’clock in the morning. October 12, 1492.

15. What was the “Santa Maria”?

The only one of the three vessels that had a deck: on board of this ship Columbus hoisted his flag. The Pinta was commanded by Martin Alonzo Pinzon, and the Niña by Vicente Yanez Pinzon.

16. Whom did Columbus marry?

While at Lisbon (1484) he was accustomed to attend religious service at the chapel of the convent of All Saints. In this convent were certain ladies of rank, either resident 8 as boarders, or in some religious capacity. With one of these, Columbus became acquainted. She was Doña Felipa, daughter of Bartolomeo Monis de Perestrello, an Italian cavalier, lately deceased, who had been one of the most distinguished navigators under Prince Henry, and had colonized and governed the Island of Porto Santo. The acquaintance soon ripened into attachment, and ended in marriage. It appears to have been a match of mere affection, as the lady was destitute of fortune. There were two sons born, Diego and Fernando.

17. What part of United States territory was most recently acquired?

The Island of San Juan, near Vancouver’s Island, was evacuated by England at the close of November, 1873. The Emperor of Germany, acting as arbitrator, decided the question of ownership in favor of the United States. The settlement was agreed upon at the Geneva Congress.

18. When and what was the first telegraphic message sent?

In May, 1844, by Samuel Finley Breese Morse, LL. D. The message transmitted by him from Washington to Baltimore, at the suggestions of Miss Annie Ellsworth, was the expressive scripture, “What hath God wrought!”

19. What mistake has Longfellow made in his Hymn of the Moravian Nuns of Bethlehem?

In the last two lines the poem reads: —

“The warrior took that banner proud,
  And it was his martial cloak and shroud.”

Now, it is true that the Moravian Sisters at Bethlehem, 9 Pennsylvania, in 1778, presented a small but elaborately wrought banner to Count Pulaski, but it is not true that it “was his martial cloak and shroud.” Count Pulaski was mortally wounded while at the head of the French and American cavalry at the siege of Savannah, October 9, 1779, and he died on board the United States brig Wasp, on the 11th, and was buried beneath the waters of the Savannah River. The original banner was rescued by a lieutenant and carried to Baltimore where it is now carefully kept in a glass case by the Maryland Historical Society, and may be seen by any one visiting their rooms, at the corner of Saratoga and St. Paul Streets. Lafayette laid the corner-stone of the Pulaski Monument, in 1824, erected by the people of Georgia.

20. What was Pulaski’s Banner?

It is said that the banner was of crimson silk, but no crimson tint now remains, having faded to a dingy brown. The green-shaded yellow silk wreaths and letters are better preserved. In size it is about a foot and two-thirds square, or less than a third of a square yard. The inscription on one side is a monogram U. S., surrounded by the Latin motto “Unita virtus forcior” — should be “fortior” — implying that “united valor is stronger,” and on the other side, an Eye in an equilateral triangle, encircled by thirteen stars, with the words “Non alius regit” (“No other one rules”). This precious oriflamme was unfurled to the breeze on the occasion of Lafayette’s visit to Baltimore in 1824.

21. What was known as the “Bay of St. Mary”?

Between 1528 and 1540, a Spanish navigator discovered the Chesapeake, which was marked on Spanish maps as the Bay of St. Mary. The entrance was described by 10 Oviedo as between 36°, 40´ and 37°, and two rivers were described as tributaries. If, as is probable, they were the York and the James, the former was called “Salt River” and the latter the river of the “Holy Ghost.”

22. What is meant by “carat weight”

The art of cutting and polishing diamonds was unknown till 1456, when it was discovered by Louis Berquen, of Bruges. In speaking of the size of diamonds the term carat is used. This is the name of a bean, which was used in its dried state by the natives of Africa in weighing gold, and in India in weighing diamonds. Though the bean is not used for this purpose now, the name is retained, and the carat is nearly four grains Troy.

23. What is “fool’s gold”?

Bisulphide of iron, commonly known as iron pyrites.

24. To what is the term “bort” applied?

Diamonds that can not be worked are sold under the name of bort, for various uses. Splinters of bort are made into fine drills for drilling artificial teeth and gems of various kinds.

25. Why are bricks red?

Bricks and common pottery-ware owe their red color to the iron naturally contained in the clay of which they are formed, the iron, by the action of heat, being converted into the red oxide of iron. Some varieties of clay, like that found near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, contain little or no iron, and the bricks made from it are consequently of light-yellow color.


26. How could a slave in Brazil gain his freedom?

At present they are undergoing a gradual process of emancipation; but, formerly, the negro who was so fortunate as to find a diamond weighing seventeen and one-half carats, gained a boon which is above the price of gems — the boon of liberty.

27. Where is the famous Stone Mountain?

In De Kalb County, Georgia. It is a huge mass of granite rising almost perpendicularly several hundred feet above the surrounding country.

28. What is the difference between stalactites and stalagmites?

Water charged with carbonate of lime and carbonic acid falls in drops from the roof and sides of the cavern; but each drop, before falling, remains suspended for a time, during which it loses, by evaporation, both water and carbonic-acid gas, and its solvent power being thus diminished, a minute portion of solid carbonate of lime is deposited. The same drop also deposits another minute portion of calcareous matter on the spot upon which it falls, and as the drops collect on nearly the same spot for a long period of time, a dependent mass like an icicle is formed from the roof of the cavern — the stalactite; while another incrustation gradually rises up from the floor beneath — the stalagmite. In the process of time the two may meet, and thus form a continuous column.

29. What is the weight of the largest lump of gold?

The largest lump that has yet been obtained was from California. It furnished one hundred and nine pounds and 12 four ounces of pure gold. The first piece of gold found in California weighed fifty cents and the second five dollars. Since that time one nugget worth $43,000, two $21,000, one $10,000, two $8,000, one $6,000, four $5,000, twelve worth from $2,000 to $4,000, and eighteen from $1,000 to $3,000, have been found and recorded in the history of the State. In addition to the above, numberless nuggets worth from $100 to $500 are mentioned in the annals of California gold-mining during the past twenty years. The first two referred to were exchanged for bread, and all trace of them was lost. The finder of one of the $8,000 pieces became insane the following day, and was confined in the hospital at Stockton.

30. Who is the possessor of the largest diamond?

The heirs of the Great Mogul. It weighed, originally, 900 carats, or 2,769 grains, but it was reduced by cutting to 861 grains. It is of the size of half a hen’s egg, and is in that form. The Pitt or Regent Diamond weights 419 grains. The famous Koh-i-noor (“mountain of light”) weighed, originally, 186 carats, but was reduced one third by recutting.

31. How can the common error of mistaking limestone for gypsum be avoided?

By simply testing the substance with acid. A drop will occasion an effervescence, showing that it is carbonate, and not sulphate, of lime, the acid taking the lime to itself, and setting free the carbonic-acid gas.

32. What are the “three vitriols”?

The green vitriol (sulphate of iron), the blue (sulphate of copper), and the white (sulphate of zinc). 13

33. Where is there a Lake of Pitch?

In the Island of Trinidad. It is about a mile and a half in circumference, and while the asphaltum near the shores is sufficiently hard at most seasons to sustain men and quadrupeds, it grows soft and warm as you go toward the center, and there it is in a boiling state.

34. What is the meaning of “Amethyst”?

“A preservative from intoxication”; and was given it from a belief of the ancient Persians, that wine drunk from goblets made of this mineral lost its inebriating properties.

35. When were Indians scalped by white men?

On February 20, 1725, a party of New Hampshire volunteers, while hunting for Indians, discovered a party of ten encamped for the night around a fire. Advancing cautiously at midnight, the enemy were found asleep and the whole number shot. They were marching from Canada well furnished with new guns and ammunition, and a number of spare blankets, moccasins, and snowshoes, for the accommodation of the prisoners they expected to take, and were within two miles of the frontier. The party entered Dover in triumph, with the ten scalps stretched on hoops and elevated on poles; they received a bounty of £100 for each scalp, at Boston, out of the Public treasury.

36. What is the history of the “Orloff Diamond?”

This precious stone, purchased for the Empress Catharine II. of Russia (died November 7, 1796), is about the size of a pigeon’s egg, and weighs 195 carats. It is said to have formed the eye of a famous idol in a temple of Brahma at Pondicherry. A French deserter robbed the pagoda of this 14 valuable stone. After passing through the hands of various purchasers, it came into the possession of a Greek merchant, who received for it from the Empress $450,000, an annuity of $20,000, and a title of nobility.

Another story is that it belonged to Nadir Shah of Persia, and, after his murder, came into the possession of an Armenian merchant who brought it to Amsterdam; afterwards it was sold, in 1772, to Count Orloff for the Empress Catherine.

37. What period of American history was called the “era of good feeling”?

During the administration of President Monroe and more especially while serving his first term from 1817 to 1821. The phrase was also “common parlance” in 1875-76.

38. What Queen of England twice set a price on the head of her brother?

“Good” Queen Anne (1664-1714). Her brother was known as James, the Chevalier St. George.

39. Do fishes sing?

Naturalists have generally accepted Cuvier’s view, that the existence of fishes is a silent, emotionless, and joyless one, but recent observations tend to show that many fishes emit vocal sounds.

40. What fishes build nests?

The Sticklebacks. The species of stickleback are all natives of fresh water with one or two exceptions. They are found in the Ottawa River, while the marine species have lately been discovered among the weeds of the Sargasso Sea.


41. Where are climbing fishes found?

The Anabas scandens, the climbing perch of India, quits the water and wanders over banks, for a considerable distance, and is said even to climb trees and bushes.

42. Where may be seen the strange spectacle of fish and shell-fish dwelling high on lofty trees?

At Tranquebar, Hindoostan, where the perch climbs up tall fan-palms, in pursuit of certain shell-fish which forms its favorite food. Covered with viscid slime, he glides smoothly over the rough bark: spines, which he may sheathe and unfold at will, serve him like hands to hang by, and with the aid of side fins and a powerful tail he pushes himself upward.

43. What famous sword was captured by John Brown?

The one presented by the renowned Frederick the Great (born 1712) just previous to his death August 17, 1786, to George Washington (1732-1799), on the golden scabbard of which was the following inscription: “Ab duce maximo natu in Europa ad maximum ducem in orbe terrarum” — “From the oldest general in Europe to the greatest general in the world.” This sword was taken from the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in 1859, but is now in the possession of the Washington Family.

44. What were the sayings of the Seven Wise Men?

These seven famous mottoes were inscribed in the temple of Apollo at Delphi. Solon of Athens — “Know thyself.” Chilo of Sparta — “Consider the end.” Thales of Miletus — 16Suretyship is the precursor of ruin.” Bias of Priene — “Most men are bad.” Cleobulus of Lindus — “Avoid excess.” Pittacus of Mitylene — “Know thy opportunity.” Periander of Corinth — “Nothing is impossible to industry.” But there are many variations of these proverbial expressions, as the ancients do not agree in their accounts of these sages (who lived five and six hundred years before Christ), their lives, or their sayings. Those given above have the best authority.

45. What is meant by the “Golden Number”?

The cycle of nineteen years; or the number which shows the years of the moon’s cycle; its invention is ascribed to Meton of Athens, about 432 B. C. To find the golden number or year of the lunar cycle, add one to the date and divide by nineteen, then the quotient is the number of cycles since the Christian era and the remainder is the golden number. The golden number for 1883 is 3.

46. What people have only 355 days for a year?

The Mohammedans. The Era of the Hegira dates from the flight of Mohammed, on the night of Thursday, the 15th of July, 622. The era commences on the 16th. With them the year 1300 begins November 12, 1882.

47. When was the “Wandering Jew” last seen?

January 1, 1644, Michob Ader, calling himself the Wandering Jew, appeared at Paris, where he created an extraordinary sensation among all ranks. He pretended to have lived sixteen hundred years, and that he had travelled through all regions of the world. He was visited by the literati of the city, and no one could accost him in a language of which he was ignorant. He was also familiar with the 17 history of persons and events from the time of Christ, so that he was never confounded by any amount of cross-questioning, but replied readily and without embarrassment. Of course he claimed an acquaintance with all the celebrated characters of the previous sixteen centuries. He said of himself that he was usher of the Court of Judgment in Jerusalem, where all criminal cases were tried at the time of our Saviour; that his name was Michob Ader; and that for thrusting Jesus out of the hall with these words: “Go, why tarriest thou?” the Messiah answered him: “I go, but tarry thou till I come”; thereby condemning him to live till the day of judgment. The learned looked upon him as an impostor or a madman, yet took their departure bewildered and astonished.

48. Who were the “Seven Sleepers”?

Seven noble youths of Ephesus, who fled, in the Decian persecution, to a cave, and were walled in. They fell asleep for two centuries, when their bodies were found and taken to Marseilles in a large stone coffin, still shown in Victor’s Church. Their names are Constantine, Dionysius, John, Maximian, Malchus, Martinian, and Serapion. This fable took its rise from a misapprehension of the words, “They fell asleep in the Lord,” — that is, died.

49. What are “cuttle-fish” bones?

The substance is not a “bone,” nor derived from a true “fish.” It is simply the rudimentary shell of a mollusk. The cuttle-fish of our own shores is a harmless animal, only ten or twelve inches long; but the one frequenting the African seas attains a formidable size. This is the “devil-fish” so graphically described by Victor Hugo. (Born at Besançon, France, 1802.)


50. Who was King Cophetua?

An imaginary African monarch, of whom the legendary ballads told that he fell in love with a beggar-maid, and married her. The song is extant in Percy’s Reliques, and is several times alluded to by Shakespeare (1564-1616) and others. A modernized version of the story is given by Tennyson in his poem entitled The Beggar-Maid.

51. What is a frequent quotation from the Travels of Gulliver?

“Whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.” Strange to say, this truism has been popularly attributed to Lord Palmerston, who lived a century and a half after Swift [Jonathan] — (1667-1745).

52. Which mountains are the newest?

The highest ones. This is easily understood when we remember that all mountains and mountain chains are the result of upheavals, and that the violence of the outbreak must have been in proportion to the strength of the resistance. When the crust of the earth was so thin that the heated masses within easily broke through it, they were not thrown to so great a height, and formed comparatively low elevations, such as the Canadian Hills or the mountains of Bretagne and Wales. But in later times, when young, vigorous giants, such as the Alps, the Himalayas, or, later still, the Rocky Mountains, forced their way out from their fiery prison-house, the crust of the earth was much thicker, and fearful indeed must have been the convulsions which attended their exit.


53. Who was Blue-beard?

The hero of a well-known story of the same name, originally written in French by Charles Perrault. It is said that the original Blue-beard was Giles de Laval, Lord of Raiz, who was made Marshal of France in 1429. He was distinguished for his military genius and intrepidity, and was possessed of princely revenues, but rendered himself infamous by the murder of his wives, and his extraordinary impiety and debaucheries. At length, for some state crime against the Duke of Brittany, he was sentenced to be burned alive in a field at Nantes, in 1440. Bluebeard is also the name by which King Henry VIII. lives in the popular superstitions of England.

54. Who was the British spy detected in carrying a message to General Burgoyne in a hollow silver bullet?

Major Daniel Taylor of the English army. The note read as follows: —

FORT MONTGOMERY, October 8, 1777.

“Nous y voici” [we come] and nothing now between us and Gates. I sincerely hope this little success of ours may facilitate your operations. In answer to your letter of September 28, by C. C.,* I shall only say, I can not presume to order, or even advise, for reasons obvious. I heartily wish you success.                 Faithfully yours,



A transcript of this note in the handwriting of Governor Clinton is among the manuscripts of General Gates in the library of the New York Historical Society, No. 170 Second Avenue, New York City. The identical bullet, — a curiously wrought hollow sphere, fastened together in the centre by a compound screw, — presented to the Society by General Tallmadge, was lost through the carelessness of the 20 secretary. At Hurley, a few miles from Kingston, New York, the spy was tried, condemned, and hanged upon an apple-tree near the old church, while the village of Esopus was in flames, lighted by the marauding enemy.

*  Captain Campbell.

55. What is the most noted “dinner-party” on record?

That of twenty-one scientific men, who, at the invitation of Dr. Hawkins, once took dinner within the restored body of the iguanadon. On that occasion Dr. Owen, the celebrated geologist, sat in the head for brains.

56. The waters of what river can be detected three hundred miles at sea?

The Amazon, which is so charged with sediment that its waters can readily be detected by their discoloration this distance from its mouth.

57. Where is the “Devil’s Pulpit”?

At Bedford, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire. A channel, which has been cut in the solid rock, is seventy or eighty feet deep, and from twenty to thirty wide. At the head of the channel there is a large pool of water. In other parts, the bottom is filled with rubbish through which, in one place, a pole may be passed down twenty or thirty feet.

58. How old are Niagara Falls?

Niagara River has cut a channel through the solid rocks, two hundred feet deep, twelve hundred to two thousand feet wide, and seven miles long. The evidence is conclusive that the Falls were formerly at Queenstown, seven miles 21 below their present situation. It has been shown that they have not receded more than one foot a year for the last half century. If this has been the rate of retrocession for the whole distance, — and on account of the nature of the rocks there is no reason for supposing it greater, — it has required thirty-six thousand years for that great excavation.

Part II

[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]

Copyright  © 2004 by Elfinspell