Does locating obscure information make you glow?


If so, you are probably just itching to race to your nearest library (or at a minimum head to Google Scholar) and look for the WHY behind the things mentioned below, and the source of the facts.  Not just so you can amaze friends and acquaintances with unbelievable trivia but – more importantly – to satisfy your curiosity!!



Have you ever wondered what makes fireflies glow/blink?

This one is actually fairly easy to answer.  Almost any good encyclopedia or resource about insects should cover this – including this fairly fun page from the University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center.



Why are barns painted red?

There are a lot of urban myths floating around about this one – and is fairly easy to find on the web.  I recommend the answer from How Stuff Works.



Did you know almost half the people in offices at the top of skyscrapers get motion sick on windy days?  (Those buildings are designed to sway as much as 3 feet.)


If you’re an extrovert you like red, orange, or yellow.  If you’re introverted you prefer blue, green or purple.


Did you know you’re dumber in the summer?  The good old summertime is when you’re at your mental bottom.  If they give you a test in August you may not pass it.  Give you the same test in April and you’ll handle it easily. 


Mosquitoes bite men more than women and adults more than kids.



The information above was taken from: 

Aylward, Jim.  You’re Dumber in the Summer: And Over 100 Other Things No One Ever Told You.  New York:  Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980.  

This book is considered to be juvenile literature and as such there are no sources given for the “facts.”  The author is a former radio personality and many of his comments came from research news items around the country.




Do rainbows ever appear as complete circles?

What causes the holes in Swiss cheese?

Does corn grow faster at night?

Do tornadoes turn clockwise or counterclockwise?

Are brown eggs richer and more nutritious than white eggs?

Does fright actually raise the hair?

Why does one’s reflection in a spoon appear upside down?

Where is Podunk?

Why do sea shells roar?


Answers to questions in this section can be found in:  Stimpson, George W.  Why Do Some Shoes Squeak? And 568 Other Popular Questions Answered.  New York:  Bell Publishing, 1984.



Can you actually hear corn growing?


Farming legends suggest that one can hear corn growing, especially at night, with distinctive popping sounds.  These popping sounds actually do occur, but David G. Browning of the University of Rhode Island attributes them to something different than suggested by legend: puffs of wind during otherwise calm conditions cause adjacent leaves to strike each other, producing in many cases a distinctive spectrum of sounds. The sound spectrum changes as the corn matures (the increased weight of the corn ears causes the stalks to sway more pronouncedly) and as it loses moisture (the leaves become more brittle).  Browning says that the "sound of corn growing" can therefore be transformed from a fanciful legend into a practical tool for monitoring the condition of crops.  He has given several presentations on this topic, but does not appear to have ever published it anywhere - yet.


Corn image taken from



Are you a Feynman fan, but not fascinated by the intricacies of physics?


Richard Feynman earned the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics.  If you’ve read anything by Feynman you know that curiosity is what drove him.  He saw the world as a question, “Why does this happen when I do this?” “I wonder if I could do that!”  Similarly, librarians tend to be fascinated by curiosities that go completely unnoticed by others.  If you are a curious person, you will find a kindred spirit in Richard Feynman. And if you’re not, you will be after you read one of his books.


Surely You Must be Joking, Mr. Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character. (His first, and arguably his best, book aimed at the general public.)

What Do You Care What Other People Think? (This one is largely about his experience on the Challenger Commission)

Classic Feynman: All the Adventures of a Curious Character. (This is a compilation of some of his better known essays.)



Why do TWIX cookie bars have holes in them?

How do they keep the water in water towers from freezing in the wintertime?

Why are all calico cats female?

In what direction are our eyes facing when we are asleep?

Can one spider get caught in the web of another spider?


Answers to questions in this section can be found in:  Feldman, David.  A World of Imponderables:  The Answers to Life’s Most Mystifying Questions.  New York:  Galahad Books, 2000.  (The author does a phenomenal job of contacting experts, who he cites directly in the text, for almost all of the questions posed in his books.)


Want more to read?


Both David Feldman and George W. Stimpson have written a number of books aimed at answering popular questions like the ones mentioned above.  To look for other authors/books in this same vein, head to your nearest public library and look for books in their collection under the subject heading of “questions and answers.”


Caution – like it or not, you have the makings of a great reference librarian!  Check out other links to learn more about this fascinating career.



Page created:  January 6, 2006

Links last checked:  September 15, 2006

Text last updated:  January 12, 2007

©2008, Lorrie Pellack - Send questions or comments about this page

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