By Gareth Edwards

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Elk Spoons and a Surprisingly Good Deal on Golf Equipment.

Welcome to the blog that attempts to explain everything in the entire universe once and for all. Here are the answers to some of your questions. I hope you’re happy, and if you aren’t I don’t honestly know what you expect me to do about it.

Nance We have knives, forks, spoons, and chopsticks as traditional eating utensils. What other utensils have fallen into disuse for the dinner table?
Ever since the first cave-dweller tutted at his neighbour for using an elk spoon to eat mammoth, humans have enjoyed intimidating each-other with fancy and incomprehensible eating utensils. This quest to use cutlery to humiliate dinner guests into feeling socially inferior reached a peak in Victorian times in what historians call the Great Cutlery Bubble. A quick flick through the Imperial Silverware Manifest of 1874 turns up such treasures as the sausage wrench, the lobster catapult, the soup syringe, and the horse-drawn butter mallet. But perhaps the most magnificent eating utensil ever devised was Bishop Steadfast Dyson’s clockwork stew vortex which advertisements claimed would overcome forever “our nation’s unhappy awkwardness concerning whether to eat stew with a spoon or fork”. It consisted of a six-foot-high iron cylinder pierced by a series of mouth-sized apertures to which dinner guests’ faces could be lightly strapped. Hot stew was then poured into the cylinder and the whole thing rotated by a powerful clockwork spring at immensely high speed, forcing the stew out of the cylinder and into the mouths of the spinning guests.  The invention was simultaneously a total failure and an enormous success: as an aid to eating stew it was inconvenient to the point of fatality but as a means of terrifying dinner guests it was second only to the tiger-handled cake-slice.

Aaron asked What is the blue flavour?
It tastes like depressed chicken.

Peggy Tryton asked Why are there so many murders in Midsomer?
A quick statistical analysis reveals that the county of Midsomer has about twice as many murders per head as London. To anybody who has ever supervised the queue for the donkey rides at a picturesque church fête, or attended a lecture on crochet in a village hall on a hot day wearing a scratchy tweed skirt this is entirely understandable. With no dark alleys in which to mug hapless strangers, no blighted inner-city schools to vandalise in a frenzy of alienation and not even any rocks of crack the inhabitants of Midsomer are doomed forever to bottle everything up behind a smiling veneer of non-ethnically-diverse smiles and gardening trousers. Nobody can live under such conditions, and inevitably it all comes out in a raging frenzy of lemon-curd-fuelled homicide.

J-Bob asked Is left always left?
No. “Left” and “right” should only really ever be used when you are in a house or on a street. At sea of course we use port and starboard, in an antiquarian bookshop there is “sinister” and “dexter” and on a farm the correct usage is “over yer” and “over thurr”. In space of course left and right become irrelevant because there is no up or down so astronauts use “clockwise” and “North”.

Debsalini Why is it that when a thread has more than three comments there's always someone wanting to sell the others something?
Like any sprawling structure with murky corners the internet is haunted. A typical supernatural online experience might be as follows: you are alone in the house, and it is dark, the only light being the feeble flicker of your annoyingly obsolete iPhone 4 which you only bought a few months ago for heaven’s sake. You stumble upon an interesting YouTube video of a cat who falls off a table when it hears the start of the Nicki Minaj classic Super Bass. It is followed by a thread of comments that debates whether or not Americans are bigoted morons or whether conversely without America England would have had it’s sorry ass whooped in the second war and then we’d all be speaking Russian. You have devised your own bon mot, a puckish reference linking the loud shirts of Texan tourists to global warming when suddenly your iPhone goes cold, or at least, drops to only twenty degrees above room temperature, and a sinister scrawl appears in front of you “Hi guys, outstanding thread! These comments are of the most engaging and I have uttered often on this topic on my own blog”. With a chill gathering about your heart you click on the link. But do you find further nuanced debate about international relations? No. There is nothing but the howl of the electronic wind whistling through a surprisingly good deal on Pringle jumpers. The legend goes that this malevolent comment was typed by no human fingers. It was the Invisible Hand of Market Forces.

That’s all for now. If you have any questions about what makes the universe tick or can offer a surprisingly good deal on golf shoes, please leave them in the comments below.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Tewksbury Council of Plurals and a Bewildered Mammoth

Welcome to the blog that confidently sets out to explain every aspect of everything that has ever existed, then goes a bit quiet when it realizes that that’s quite a big ask, then resolves to really give it a go anyway. Here we present the latest answers to your questions…

Nance asked: Who invented tax-collecting?

Collecting anything can be a fascinating hobby, although to be honest it often is not. As a boy I collected stamps, as a teenager I collected anxieties, and now in adulthood I enjoy nothing more than sitting on a sofa collecting dust. But my Great Uncle Emlyn was the only person I have come across with a collection of taxes. His favourite among these was a Cat Tax, instituted by the French government in 1763 and prompting a widespread sell-off of cats. The cat shortage that followed lead to the Mouse Tax of 1764, which proved to be an administrative nightmare. Also in his collection were the Watchmakers Duty or “Tick Tock Tax”; and the Small Ornaments and Glaziers’ Materials Levy of 1958, or “Nick Knack Putty Tax”. In fact my great uncle was just one tax short of collecting every tax ever imposed when he died in October 1973. His estate was wound up (he had been a lifelong advocate of the clockwork car), and his collection broken up and sold in order to pay his newly-incurred inheritance tax, thus simultaneously completing and destroying his collection.

Peggy asked: As Britain gets very little sun, how does the Shadow Cabinet function?
By forming a Shadow Puppet Government.

Nance also asked: How many generations or years did it take to reduce the regular size of a dog breed to make one that fits in a handbag or baby-sling? Are there any popular big dog breeds that are shrinking?
Our beliefs about how and why we have tiny dogs was turned on its head in 1987. Up to that point received opinion was that dogs were indeed gradually getting smaller, possibly as a result of erosion or being washed at the wrong temperature, and scientists postulated that the earliest dogs might well have been forty or fifty feet high. Then deep inside a limestone cave in France archeologists stumbled on a painting of a mammoth hunt. In an ornate animal-skin bag worn over the shoulder one of the hunters appears to be carrying a bulgy-eyed, scrawny and unusually horrid tiny dog. In our modern era we know that dogs like this cause bewilderment and nausea in anyone who sees them. We can only assume that the dog in the picture was about to be used by the prehistoric hunters to really get on the mammoth’s nerves, causing it to roll its eyes and tut at the repulsive yappy freak just long enough for the hunters to catch the mammoth and kill it.

A-aron asked: Where do flies bodies go when they die?
They go to fly body heaven, which is also spider heaven.

Alisoun Truggmakyr asked: What is the plural of anonymous?
The Tewksbury Council Of Plurals of 1621 was perhaps the most shameful episode in the history of English spelling. After a sensible morning spent adding s to things, thus agreeing that the plural of “an apple” would be “some apples” and so forth, the committee adjourned for lunch to a nearby tavern, only returning some hours later to finish their work almost too drunk to stand and certainly too drunk to say “some mouses” “some gooses” or “some octopuses”. The clerk of the council tried to keep up with the increasingly slurred and random plurals but it was a lost cause, and by the time they got to “anonymous” the officially agreed plural appears to be  “some-on-some-mices”.

That’s all for now, but remember, if there’s anything at all that puzzles you about everything that’s ever existed, real or hypothetical, then why not write it in the comments below and our team of world-class conjecturers and idle speculationists may get back to you with a state-of-the-art explanation in due course, or even sooner. That’s the Some Kind of Explanation guarantee.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Vikings, Duvets and Meaningless Revelry

Welcome to the blog that sets out to explain everything once and for all for the rest of time. Here are the answers to some of your recent questions.

Nance asked According to historical records, who was the first person to sign a secret diary, rant or poison pen letter with "Anonymous"?
Until the 15th century social convention decreed that people sign their names to every single document no matter how offensive or contentious. This lead to embarrassment, acts of revenge and quite boring Valentine’s Days. Then in 1487 a particularly unpleasant poem entitled “Three-and-twenty Reasons forwhy Alisoun Truggmakyr is an Rottyn Bytche” was nailed to the side of a well in Devizes, Wilthsire. It was signed simply “Anonymous”. The towns-people gathered round puzzling over the meaning of the new word until Sir Godfrey deBodfrey stepped forward and announced that it meant that the name of the author was secret. When asked how he knew this, Sir Godfrey went red and began talking about the weather. The new word immediately became a part of the language, and Godfrey deBodfrey was pushed into the well by Alisoun Truggmakyr.

Scott asked How do they get the non-stick surface of a non-stick frying pan to stick to the pan itself?
By not using a stick.

@ComedyPunkz asked Why is bed more warm & comfy on weekday mornings than on weekend mornings?
Etienne Duvet’s pioneering methodology for lying in bed thinking about stuff, Bedpoststructuralism, posits that the reality of the external world recedes as the self snuggles further under the covers. This means that to the snoozer the outside world only has meaning in so far as it is not as nice as the bed. It therefore follows that the colder and more horrid the outside world the cosier the bed must therefore always already be. Thus on a cold weekday in February in Croydon the whole idea of getting out of bed collapses in on itself, and shortly thereafter so does the person trying to get up, a concept known as Indifférance.

Julian: Who actually put the bomp in the bop-she-bop-she-bop? While we're at it, who put the ram in the ram-a-lang-a-ding-dong? And most importantly, what on earth are either of them, and why?
If you look carefully you’ll see that there isn’t a “bomp” in the “bop-shoo-bop-shoo-bop” (you’ll see I’m using use the Folio spelling “shoo” which I think is more widely accepted than “she”). It’s just “bops” and “shoos”. In fact a hoax internet “bomp” alert such as yours is likely to attract the attention of the law, with the police spending thousands of pounds of taxpayers money on a disproportionate and ill-considered prosecution of your threatening behaviour, and rightly so. Meanwhile “Ram” is the Biblical figure Ram, son of Hezron and forbear of King David, and it was added to the a-lang-a-ding-dong by Oliver Cromwell in1653 replacing the earlier “Hey-nonny-a-lang-a-ding-dong” which Cromwell regarded as “most foul and meaningless revelry”.

Chelsea: Why is Iceland green and Greenland ice?
The sagas of Gunnbjörn Ulfsson, Erik the Red and the Viking settlement of Iceland and Greenland are well known, but posterity has been less kind to the exploits of 10th century practical joker Sigurd the Sign-Swapper who sailed throughout the known world making things confusing for everyone else for his own selfish amusement, eventually returning home to spend his declining years in the remote Danish village of Beirut.

That’s all for this month, but why not subtract from the sum of human bewilderment  by posting a question in the comments section below? Just a small effort on your part will make an immeasurable difference to future generations.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Laissez-Faire Llamas and a Globe Full of Snow

Welcome to another installment of the blog that knows all the answers to everything in the universe, but doesn’t like to go on about it.

Nance asked How do you get snow into a snow globe?

Snow globe construction is as simple in theory as it is hard in practice. A trained snow-globe trapper simply scours the arctic in summer looking for a suitable micro-climate. Then he waits. As soon as the weather turns snowy he scoops the clouds up into a hand-blown glass dome and glues an ugly plastic miniature village to the bottom, inverts it, then begins the long trek back south to civilization and its gift shops.

@alexthomp18 I gave a cat some dog food. Can anything bad happen as a result?
1) Your cat will hate you.
2) Your dog will hate you.
3) Your dog will hate your cat.
Isn’t there already enough hate in the world?
 asked What is the probability that llamas will take over the world in 2013?

This cannot possibly happen, for the simple reason that llamas have already taken over the world. You might think that this explains a lot about why the world is in such a sorry state and add that our llama masters have made a pretty poor fist of managing the planet, but the truth is that llamas feel it’s inappropriate to meddle in the day to day affairs of humans or indeed any other species, including llamas. Some might term the llama’s attitude laissez-faire free market economics but the truth is that llamas are just massively passive aggressive, as you can tell by their facial expressions.

"I'm totally fine actually"             

Robert Hudson On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?
The poor wolf is probably deeply uncomfortable. Not only is it a hot, humid night and he's stuck wearing fur, but his date has clearly stood him up. Now he's sat there sweltering and clutching his rather over-the-top bouquet feeling like an idiot. I'd offer him a whisky and soda and book him a cab.

@slepkane Why is a watch called a watch?
When the first portable timepieces appeared in 14th century Florence they were as much for prestige as punctuality. Any nobleman wealthy enough to own a “clocetto” as they were then known would have no real need to turn up on time to anything, but would instead expect people patiently to await his arrival, and so the clocetto had just one hand which indicated the month. Nor was convenience a consideration for anyone with a retinue of servants, so the clocettos were carried about by twenty or thirty footmen, or in one case a team of dray elephants. With neither size nor functionality imposing any limitations on design the clocettos became all about spectacle. Cosmo da Grazia’s clocetto featured life-sized wooden models enacting the racier bits from Boccaccio’s Decameron while the Duke of Panini’s was decorated with battling Greek triremes on a real lake. Thus when one nobleman casually met another in the Piazza he might ask “if he had the right month on him”, prompting the latter to get out his clocetto. This would result in a spectacular contest of competing displays lasting several hours, always introduced with the one word “Watch!” Only in 14th century Italian obviously.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this blog I am frankly astonished. However, why not add to the sum of human knowledge by asking your own question in the comments below.