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2273.  Thu Nov 27, 2003 5:08 pm Reply with quote

The use of three balls as the sign for a pawnbroker originates with the Medici, whose family badge was three (medical) pills - they hung this over their premises in Lombard Street, whence it was adopted by other banking / money-lending businesses.

2274.  Thu Nov 27, 2003 5:14 pm Reply with quote

Billiard balls: I have found statements that

1) allowing for their relative sizes, the world is smoother than a billiard ball (don't know if this statement is supposed to include all the water or not), and

2) the billiard ball was the first artefact to be manufactured from plastic (celluloid), used instead of ivory.

Can anyone confirm / deny / scoff at these items?

2277.  Thu Nov 27, 2003 5:19 pm Reply with quote

I'm not sure about the world and a billiard board, but I do know that Kansas is, officially, flatter than a pancake. I read this in a story about the igNobel awards in the Guardian, and paste the relevant section below:,13026,1048791,00.html

This year, for instance, three geographers compared the flatness of Kansas to the flatness of a pancake. They used topographic data from a digital scale model prepared by the US Geological Survey, and they purchased a pancake from the International House of Pancakes. If perfect flatness were a value of 1.00, they reported, the calculated flatness of a pancake would be 0.957 "which is pretty flat, but far from perfectly flat". Kansas's flatness however turned out to be 0.997, which they said might be described, mathematically, as "damn flat".

I found the Annals of Improbable Research article that the Guardian story referred to:

Last edited by Jenny on Thu Nov 27, 2003 5:55 pm; edited 1 time in total

2280.  Thu Nov 27, 2003 5:22 pm Reply with quote

Actually, from that same article, is something that (if we could confirm it) would make a fun QI question I think - and might even come under B if we can stretch a point, as it's about (peanut) butter:

Some research papers may simply be seen as shameless bids for an Ig, and were first published only in the journal Annals of Improbable Research, or AIR to its subscribers. One such was "The effects of peanut butter on the rotation of the Earth." It had several hundred authors but two lines of text: "As far as we can determine, peanut butter has no effect on the rotation of the Earth."

We could write a question that asked 'what is the effect of peanut butter on the rotation of the earth?' We ask such odd-sounding questions that the celebs are bound to think that there is some such effect....

But I suppose that would be cheating :-(

2283.  Thu Nov 27, 2003 5:33 pm Reply with quote

Yes - I think there has to be a positive point underlying the question somewhere.

2294.  Thu Nov 27, 2003 6:28 pm Reply with quote

'Freezing the brass balls off a monkey' as you all know refers to canonballs which were stored on deck in a triangular brass frame; when the temperature dropped the brass contracted, spilling the balls

Last edited by hardie on Thu Nov 27, 2003 6:32 pm; edited 1 time in total

2296.  Thu Nov 27, 2003 6:30 pm Reply with quote the Mayan ball game the losing side was executed. Don't tell Sky, they might get ideas

2298.  Thu Nov 27, 2003 6:41 pm Reply with quote

Ref the brass monkeys, we've had our wrists slapped by Menocchio on this one before - see post post 252 (just click on the number).

And, ref the sacrificial ball games, at Copan it was supposedly the winning side which was sacrificed, and at others I believe just the captain of the winning side. I think there's been a post on this somewhere too - I'll just go and look. Excuse me a second.

2301.  Thu Nov 27, 2003 6:50 pm Reply with quote

Can't find it - must've been somewhere else.

2863.  Sat Dec 06, 2003 12:53 pm Reply with quote

1. The sport of choice for the urban poor is BASKETBALL.

2. The sport of choice for maintenance level employees is BOWLING.

3. The sport of choice for front-line workers is FOOTBALL.

4. The sport of choice for supervisors is BASEBALL.

5. The sport of choice for middle management is TENNIS.

6. The sport of choice for corporate officers is GOLF.


The higher you are in the corporate structure, the smaller your balls actually become but the larger they are perceived to be. Unless you are in middle management, obviously.

3172.  Thu Dec 11, 2003 7:34 pm Reply with quote

the billiard ball was the first artefact to be manufactured from plastic (celluloid), used instead of ivory.

Can anyone confirm / deny / scoff?

post 2274

Confirmed, sort of. Styrene was first distilled from a balsam tree in 1831, but the early products were brittle and shattered easily. Then came vinyl chloride, discovered in 1835. Then, due to a shortage of ivory during the American civil war, a United States manufacturer of billiard balls offered a $10,000 reward for an ivory substitute. A New York engineer, John Wesley Hyatt, with his brother Isaiah Smith Hyatt, experimented several years before creating the new material. Patented in 1870, "celluloid" could not be molded, but rather had to be carved and shaped, just like ivory.

Source: A History of Packaging by Paula Hook & Joe E. Heimlich

3178.  Fri Dec 12, 2003 2:53 am Reply with quote

Ref. Mayan Ball Game.

The idea that it was the captain of the winning that was executed seems to me incredible, even for a bunch of weirdos like the Mayans.

I am ashamed to say,however, that it appears as 'fact' unchecked, and unsourced in the so-called "QI Database" written by me. Let this be a lesson to all you young scugs out there.

The ancient Mayans played a ball game where the captain of the winning team was sacrificed on the pitch after the match by having his his head cut off by the captain of the losing team

I now believe this to have been copied from some long-lost book of AMAZING FACTS, and to be wrong.

(I could however be wrong).

Whatever the right answer is, though, it mustn't be stated as 'fact' on these inner boards with proper checking and logged sourcing, and something as 'controversial' as this now is will need to be googled to death (at least six full pages of googling) to satisfy anyone we've pinned the bugger down. Better still it needs to be supported by some proper academic authority, a serious book, a primary reference, or a personal statement by a Professor of Mayan Studies or whatnot.

As for "brass monkeys" (as Flash says), I believe this hoary old piece of lore has now been discredited by Menocchio's burrowings.

Beware ye hearsay and misconception, and use not ye expression 'as everyone knoweth' but with extreme caution.
SIR THOMAS ARSE Interrogatio Argy-Bargius

3179.  Fri Dec 12, 2003 3:11 am Reply with quote

Does 'piles' (as in haemorrhoids) mean 'balls'?

My Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology says the word 'pile' probably comes from the Latin pila, a ball ref. the 'globular' external appearance of these afflictions.

I have a feeling that this, in turn, comes from the Greek pile or pallo or something (as in Heron of Alexandria's early steam-engine the aelopile whose definition was given in Series 1 as 'wind-ball').

Anyone know? Anyone care?

3180.  Fri Dec 12, 2003 3:37 am Reply with quote


Ref. the first post of this thread.

Were the Medici originally doctors, then, as the name suggests?

My Encyclopaedia Britannica says the family was originally 'of Tuscan peasant origin'...

3181.  Fri Dec 12, 2003 3:49 am Reply with quote

Tuesday, 1 February, 2000

A ginger tomcat has made a small piece of animal history.Three-year-old McLeod, who is described as a "silly old bagpuss" by his owner, is the proud owner of three testicles - at least he was. A veterinary surgeon has now removed them, putting an end to any plans McLeod might have had for an exciting climax to the millennium. It is believed to be the first recorded case of a cat with more than two testicles - a condition referred to as polyorchidsm.


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