Over the next few weeks, I'll spend a lot of time rounding up the big (and odd) events of the past year on various TV and radio shows — keep an eye here for advance notice (and post-show recaps) of some of the more notable conversations. Special thanks to the folks from the 10! Show on NBC in Philadelphia, who helped us to kick off the season in fine style yesterday with a quick 2008 trivia quiz (below).
And condolences to guest host Tim Furlong, who got question #3 right, but for painfully wrong reasons. But, hey, just because Tina Fey is, oh, one of the most powerful people in broadcast television right now, I'm sure she won't hold it against you... Tim? Tim? Are you there...?
And don't forget to download our own Quiz Night Kit here.
Cover photo selection is one of our biggest challenges each year: how do you keep the photos timely and topical, when the cover has to go to press weeks before the final text pages are done? Even in years like this one, when we keep the book open long enough to include election and world series results, the cover still has to be wrapped up weeks before those events occur.
For the 2009 edition, we couldn't call the election four weeks early, so we had to give equal space to Obama and McCain; we couldn't predict the winner of the World Series, so we opted for a shot of Ken Griffey Jr., whose 600th home run was one of the most notable sports records of the year*; we didn't want to show too much national favoritism (and in an early fit of Phelpsomania, we had already put Mr. Eight Gold Medals on last year's cover), so we opted for a shot of waving Chinese and Olympic flags; and because the cover was wrapped up before the economic crisis really came to a head, we've got a shot of someone pumping gas — a reminder of what had been most people's major economic complaint in the first half of 2008.
And, oh yeah... we had that other guy... what was his name again?
there are 3 pictures on the cover of the 2009 World Almanac... Obama & McCain, the Olympics, and DAVID COOK! Sweeet!
In retrospect, I guess we shouldn't be surprised — but I have never seen so much online chatter about World Almanac cover photo selection. Google "world almanac david cook" and you get gems like this:
Hmmmmm...what to put on the cover of the 2009 World Almanac? Let's see. Obama and McCain, the 2008 Olympics...and...DAVID COOK, of course.
Wow, David Cook makes the cover of the 2009 World Almanac along with Barack Obama, in the words of Posh Spice, that's MAJOR.
David Cook on the cover of The 2009 World Almanac and Book of Facts. Hmmm... who won American Idol in 2008? David... Cook! (Queue crying David Archuleta fans...)
For the record: the World Almanac does not decide wagers, and we do not have an official position on the issue of Cook v. Archuleta. Cook won American Idol, American Idol was the biggest thing on TV last year (and has been since the 2005-06 season; pp. 292-93 in the new World Almanac for more), and we just thought it made sense to put the biggest show on TV on our cover. Nothing more!**
*And never mind the additional debate that this selection triggered: record-setting Cincinnati uniform, or season-ending Chicago?
**But seriously, wasn't it all downhill for Archie after "Imagine"? ...I kid, I kid! (cue pitchfork-wielding Archuleta fans...)
If you think you fulfilled your civic duty by showing up at the polls November 4, think again. As The Tonight Show's "Jaywalking" segments and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? have repeatedly and amply shown, many Americans' understanding of their own history and government is somewhat lacking. A new study from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute American Civic Liberties program, the perhaps melodramatically titled Our Fading Heritage: Americans Fail a Basic Test on Their History and Institutions, concurs.
The findings were based on the results of a multiple choice exam that included "33 straightforward civics questions, many of which high school graduates and new citizens are expected to know." 71 percent of the Americans who took the test failed it, with an average score of 49 percent. (Sample question: What was the source of the following phrase: "Government of the people, by the people, for the people"?)
Test your own civic literacy at ISI's website, where you can take the exam for yourself, and see if you can beat the average. Of course, if you feel like studying beforehand (or cheating), you can find most of the answers in The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2009 (pp. 435-530).
So Sarah and I survived another big satellite media tour: neither of us slept through our 4AM wakeup calls, we successfully hid our pasty white skin (the mark of the true almanackist) under a few layers of makeup, and we made it through 19 interviews without boring anyone to tears with long speeches about the truly geeky stats that we really enjoy, like tungsten mining or meat consumption in developing countries.
The clip below from XETV in San Diego is typical of the kind of interviews we have this time of year: recap the top news stories, share a few offbeat trivia items, maybe take a peek inside the World Almanac Time Capsule*. It's all good fun, and even more so when the hosts get really sucked in by the book — as with the whirlwind tour through the world of contranyms, below.
What you don't see is how truly weird it is to be an interviewee in one of these satellite tours. On TV, you get the impression that all participants can see each other... but in reality, you're perched on a stool in a small studio, staring straight into a big TV camera, only hearing the interviewers through a tiny earpiece. Which means the big challenge is to treat the camera like another person, and not let your attention wander all over the room... But then the fun part is finding out what your interviewers actually look like, when the clips go online or on the air.
(*Which exists only in our imagination, as I often have to remind people; I can't tell tell you how many interviewers thought we were actually burying Nancy Pelosi's gavel, or Barry Bonds' 756th home run ball, in a physical capsule last year.)
As promised, here's the list of Thursday morning's TV interviews. All times are ET, and may change slightly — the perils of live television! If we're talking to your local station, tune in to learn a little bit more about the 2009 edition of the World Almanac (especially if you're in range of KMPH, one of my favorite interviews from last year).
We'll be taping interviews with a dozen other stations, too, and will let you know when to watch for those segments as soon as we know their air times.
6:30AM CN8/COMCAST (Boston to Delaware): Your Morning 6:40AM KVUE ABC (Austin, TX): Daybreak 7:52AM KIVI ABC (Boise, ID): Good Morning Live 8:40AM KMIR NBC (Palm Springs, CA): KMIR 6 Today 8:50AM WYAM IND (Huntsville, AL): Valley Happenings 9:50AM WDAF FOX (Kansas City, MO): Fox 4 Morning Show 10:20AM XETV CW6 (San Diego, CA): Fox 6 News in the Morning 10:40AM KMPH FOX (Fresno, CA): Great Day 10:45AM KMAX CW (Sacramento, CA): Good Day Sacramento 11:20AM KARE NBC (Minneapolis, MN): Showcase Minnesota
I just returned from a relaxing holiday in Pittsburgh (actually, I spent more time around my tiny hometown of Mars, PA — Go, Planets!) and in a nice coincidence, today is the anniversary of the opening of the first drive-up gasoline station, also in Pittsburgh. You can click here for a few other curious automotive firsts, or click on the image for a fine collection of early-20th-century Pittsburgh postcards.
Sarah and I will be doing the annual World Almanac satellite media tour this Thursday (Dec. 4), so check back here soon for a listing of all the TV stations we'll be chatting with that morning — and maybe also some reflections on the strange experience of sitting alone in a dark room for five hours, staring into a camera lens and being interviewed by people you can't see...!