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A Swiss Army Book
by Asa Butcher
2008-06-25 10:13:24
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Schott's Sporting, Gaming & Idling Miscellany
Written by Ben Schott
2004, Bloomsbury

Do you know what a 'Layter' signifies? What about a 'Yan' or a Yan-a-Bumfit? Come now, it is quite simple for those addicted to 'Ducks and Drakes'! Okay, before you hit the back button I will reveal all… Ducks and Drakes is the art of skimming smooth stones across the water and the aforementioned terms, taken from the terms traditionally used by shepherds to count their sheep, refer to the number of bounces one has achieved - Layter is 7, Yan is 1 and Yan-a-Bumfit is 16.

How do I know these relatively useless facts? It is all thanks to a unique trivia book entitled Schott's Sporting, Gaming & Idling Miscellany compiled by the ingenious Ben Schott. As ever, I am one of the last to discover these literary gems, so I am sharing them with you in the hope that there are others out there as much in the dark as I when it comes to Schott's addictive little productions.

The first edition of Schott's Almanac was published in Britain in 2005 and since then Ben Schott has produced a Miscellanies trilogy (Schott's Original Miscellany and Schott's Food & Drink Miscellany being the other two) which has sold over two million copies, and has been translated and adapted into dozens of languages. One of the best descriptions I found of Schott's books was by the German newspaper Die Welt, "A Swiss Army knife in book form."

Please don't misunderstand me when I say 'little' because, even though the book measures 12cmx19cm and has 160-pages, it is crammed full of random titbits of sporting, gaming and idling facts, quotes, diagrams, statistics, rules, illustrations and more - in fact, as Schott states in the book: Proportion of entry types - Sporting 46%, Gaming 28%, Idling 26%. There is enough information packed into the book to help answer pub quiz questions, solve crosswords or bore the hell out of anybody within earshot.

The Sporting section covers everything from the rules for Elephant Polo to David Beckham's tattoos, from the contestants in "Wacky Races" to Nevada State law regarding professional fighting. If you have ever wanted to know the origin of the Nike 'Swoosh' or the route and history of the Pamplona Bull Run then this book is for you. If you don't want to know how to rack the balls for UK 8 Ball, 9 Ball or US 8 Ball then this isn't going to be for you.

The Gaming section - don't take the term 'section' literally because the entries are all inter-mixed with no real order throughout - offers the best racing line in Pooh Sticks, how many different letters are in international games of Scrabble, the best and worst properties in Monopoly and also the names of the ghosts in Pac-Man. Did you know that it is possible to move a knight 64 times on a chessboard, so it lands on every square once and returns to its original position? It's called the Knight's Tour.

It isn't all sporting and gaming, there are facts and titbits for the more idle among us, such as famous sleepers in history, although many do seem to be from Greek mythology. There are quotes on idling, dubious interpretations of dreams and a helpful guide to the number of hours of sleep different people require. My favourite piece of advice is the 'Remedy for Idleness: "It has been advised for a fit of idleness, to sit down and count the ticking of a clock for one hour, and the individual will be thankful to get up and work like a native, rather than spend another hour in the same manner."

Ever since I was young, I've been an enthusiastic reader of factual books. I used to read the Guinness Books of Record from cover to cover and would sit browsing through our Encyclopaedia Britannica series for hours - those were the days before Wikipedia took over. It was great to have a pocket-sized book I could carry on the bus, take into the bathroom and generally bore anybody who happened to be in my presence. I administer this warning now to people who see me: I will be buying the other two books in the series, so watch out!

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Emanuel Paparella2008-06-25 11:48:42
Was it Nietzsche who said that there are no facts, only interpretations? Perhaps he went overboard with interpretation. Toward the end of his life he went mad and used to sign himself Dyonisius. That's a fact!

AP2008-06-25 14:07:28
Yeah, I remember sitting to read encyclopedias and dictionaries for hours too... It used to bore the whole family :)

Clint2008-06-26 19:13:15
On a recent flight to Finland I really enjoyed passing the time reading Schotts fascinating information and decided to share lots of them with my wife who seemed to fall asleep much quicker than she had done on previous flights. Strange that!

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