Thursday, March 29, 2007 Bookmark Now! | Email to a friend  

Why is a police booking photo called a "mug shot"?

A mug shot is "a photograph of a person's face, especially one made for police files." According to Wikipedia, the word "mug" is 18th-century British slang for "face." Wikipedia says, "Another source suggests the term comes from mug, as in grimace, because early subjects would try to reduce their mugshot's value for later identification by grimacing or otherwise twisting their facial muscles (mugging)."

OK, but how did a face come to be known as a "mug"? Over on the Wordsmith.org message boards, one post says: "According to Webb Garrison in " Why You Say It," beer mugs of the late 18th century were often shaped like human heads, and a not especially attractive person often bore a resemblance to a face on a mug. As a result, a face came to be called a mug."

A Word Detective column corroborates this: "It was common in the 17th and 18th centuries to decorate drinking mugs with grotesque caricatures of human faces, and by the early 1700's "mug" had become a popular slang term for "face."

Whatever the origin, we know one thing: Some mug shots are mandatory viewing

Source: ask.yahoo.com

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Thursday, March 22, 2007 Bookmark Now! | Email to a friend  

What is the most common birthday?

We found several references to this question on the Web, all pointing to the same source: a survey of 12,576 Americans conducted by Anybirthday.com.

Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star cite the study's finding of October 5 as the date the most people (in the U.S., anyway) are born. The 2001 report claims approximately 968,000 living Americans entered the world on that date. (The original web page announcing these results is no longer online, but we oh-so-cleverly queried the Internet Archive Wayback Machine and found it.)

So why October 5? Just a random date? Perhaps, but Anybirthday has a theory: To be born on this date, a baby would most likely have been conceived on New Year's Eve.

The survey also found May 22 to be the least common birthday. As yet, no guesses as to what it is that happens in late August (nine months prior to that date) that routinely turns so many people off. Perhaps it's just too darn hot?

source: ask.yahoo.com

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Monday, March 19, 2007 Bookmark Now! | Email to a friend  

What is the origin of the expression "shoestring budget"?

A shoestring budget isn't a positive thing. As anyone who works for a start-up company knows, the expression refers to running an operation or business with little money and few perks.

While nobody seems to know the phrase's exact origin, Mavens' Word of the Day offers an interesting theory. In the late 1800s when a shoestring broke, the remaining one was often used to bundle items. This thrifty gesture may have contributed to the phrase's meaning and popularity.

The New York Public Library's "Ask a Librarian" column offers a slightly different explanation. A shoestring budget may have originally meant "that one's resources are limited to the laces of one's shoes." Depressing, but logical.

Whatever the shoestring budget's history, the phrase is now understood by all. We always assumed it was a simple reference to how shoestrings are just barely above the ground.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007 Bookmark Now! | Email to a friend  

How long does it really take to trace a phone call?

We've all seen movies where the cops try to dupe some telephoning wacko into droning on about his plans to blow up Rhode Island, just long enough to complete a trace on the call. But Slate's Explainer describes how this longtime Hollywood trope no longer applies:

"Tracing problems are a relic of manual switchboards, which required operators to physically connect circuits. In order to track down a caller's location, police needed 10-20 minutes to figure out the maze of circuits....shorter calls could only be traced back...to a nearby switching station rather than the source phone."

But phone companies started using electronic switching systems in the mid-1980s, so that a caller's number could be identified almost instantaneously, and cross-checked with an "automatic location indicator" for the address. Furthermore, many systems now include a call-tracing feature, triggering a trace when customers dial *57.

The originating location of many cell phone calls, however, remains untraceable. (In 2003, only 15 percent of 911 centers could trace cell phone calls.) This inability has presented a problem for emergency service personnel, sometimes leading to tragedy. Although the FCC set a deadline of December 31, 2005 for "enhanced 911 services," in which carriers should have equipped 95 percent of subscribers with "location-capable handsets," the phone companies are behind schedule. More and more counties, however, are instituting cell phone tracing. And while privacy advocates may not be thrilled, those guys from "The Wire" should be happy.

Source : ask.yahoo.com

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Monday, March 12, 2007 Bookmark Now! | Email to a friend  

Who invented the ice cream cone?

We believe in giving credit where credit is due (especially when it involves something as tasty as the ice cream cone). Unfortunately, like a double scoop left out in the sun, the answer's a bit messy.

Most sites credit the St. Louis 1904 World's Fair as the birthplace of the ice cream cone. According to legend, an ice cream vendor named Arnold Fornachou ran out of paper plates. Luckily, a pastry maker by the name of Ernest E. Hamwi was in the next booth. Hamwi gave Fornachou a zalabia (similar to a waffle) rolled up into a cone, and voilĂ  -- one of the world's most beloved treats was created.

But is that really how it went down? Some argue that the cone's inventor was actually a chap named Italo Marciony. In 1896, "he began baking edible waffle cups with sloping sides and a flat bottom." Marciony actually filed for a patent and was granted one on December 15, 1903.

The lack of certainty doesn't surprise us. From the telephone to the car to the ice cream cone, most great inventions come with a side of controversy.

Source: ask.yahoo.com

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007 Bookmark Now! | Email to a friend  

What does the Queen of England eat for breakfast?

Before we were able to pluck the answer out of the WWW ether, we found what Americans, Ontario children, monks, the Pope, astronauts, Australians, the Hulk, Thais, mermaids, Koreans, southerners, South Beach dieters, and everyone else eats for breakfast. As if we wanted to know. Finally, this from "Harper's":

"It was revealed that the Queen of England often eats cornflakes for breakfast out of a Tupperware container and that Prince Andrew loves to play jokes on the servants, especially by hiding a puppet called Monkey in a different place every day." (Notice we threw in the answer to the inevitable question: "What is the name of the puppet that Prince Andrew likes to hide?" as a bonus.)

Oh, and we found that the original Queen Elizabeth's breakfast might have been "manchet, ale, beer, wine, and a good pottage made of mutton or beef." (Thus providing another reason for her status as the Virgin Queen.) And finally -- err -- that's it.

And that, my friends, is what we here at Ask like to call "earning a living." Cheers.

Source: ask.yahoo.com

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Monday, March 05, 2007 Bookmark Now! | Email to a friend  

Why does lighting a match get rid of "bathroom odors"?

This isn't the most pleasant topic, but questions relating to the bowels are usually worth answering. After all, if we can help prevent just one unnecessary odor, then we've done noses the world wide a great service.

The MadSci Network offers several theories about why matches neutralize odors. The site also notes that smell is subjective, meaning it's possible the "match effect" is in our heads. However, if you're willing to play along and assume a match really does work, there are a few possible reasons why.

When a match is struck, it produces sulfur dioxide, a "very pungent substance, to which the smell receptors are extremely sensitive." MadSci explains, "You can smell a minute amount of sulfur dioxide, but when you have done so, you will not smell anything else for a while." So, the match doesn't really get rid of the odor -- it just covers it up. This seems the most likely explanation, but MadSci presents a few other possibilities, including "oxidation of smelly substances in the flame" and "absorption of smelly substances onto the smoke."

The TV show "MythBusters" covered this topic and concluded that matches mask the methyl mercaptan found in flatulence and feces. So, a match may not eliminate odors, but it will push them to the background. Most of the time, that's good enough.

Source: ask.yahoo.com

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