Dimensionally, it’s about 5.2 times larger than an iPhone in size and about 25 times as heavy. Its search engine is at the tip of your fingers and probably floating about luminously somewhere in one of your frontal lobes. There is not a single visual image included in its 1,368 pages. (Well, the cover features an apple…but not that kind of Apple.) Finding anything in it will require the ability to skim a) a table of contents and b) an index. (All conditions that scream 'anathema!' to the wired generation.) This is the revised, expanded, third edition of The New YorkTimes Guide to Essential Knowledge: A Desk Reference for Curious Minds (2011), descended from the 2004 original.
This is not the party favor you purchase for your great niece or grandson, nor the Christmas stocking stuffer you surprise your youngest relatives with unless they are seeking a hefty doorstop, or have very huge feet. But it is a reminder: it recalls the cumulative efforts of a great newspaper with more than 160 years of experience and 95 Pulitzers to its credit, and it also serves as the contemporary expression of that great 18th-century human endeavor—to corral all ‘known’ knowledge into a comprehensive form—a task that gave Denis Diderot a reason to get up every morning, which historians eventually labeled the French Enlightenment (which is, incidentally, only indexed in the Guide’s section on “Law,” though it appears elsewhere).
|Diderot: Ahh, sacré bleu, eez zee tomato zee vechuteble o zee fruwt?|
It’s the kind of weighty tome you stash somewhere handy, like, near a landline phone where you know you’ll be on hold a lot, or in your car if you have to wait for someone to finish their violin lesson or Little League game, or well, in the bathroom, where it would be a perfect brain teaser. It's the resource you brandishly proudly if you are averse to computery.
Moreover, it’s not only virtually guaranteed to keep your brain primed, but also provides a respectable upper body workout. But here’s the most salient point: the NYT Guide is truly ‘written,’ not just cobbled together from a bunch of random facts. It has a sleek intelligence all its own, because its compilers and essayists still respect the sanctity of proper spelling, grammar and descriptive finesse. It is a paean to the kind of reputable English that some of us still care about, deeply. Even so, on p.865 you will find that in 2010 the New York Times placed third in circulation (876,638), after the Wall Street Journal (2,061,142) and USA Today (1,830,029). That’s a lotta fish wrap! (see “Green Revolution” and “Environmentalism” to deal with that).
So, just to determine whether you really need this sturdy resource as you prep to appear on Jeopardy, or to jumpstart the cockles of your gray matter before a competitive game of Trivial Pursuit with those rabid players from across the street, here are a few quiz-like questions gleaned from the segments on the arts, sciences, humanities, economics, media, sports and food. Some come out of a handy reference segment that includes “Nations of the World,” biographies, special dates, and those troublesome metric to inches or pounds conversions in “Weights and Measures.
Who was the first African-American baseball player in the American League?
(Hint: Not Jackie Robinson, who was in the Major League).
What is considered the finest example of Hindu architecture?
Temple of Angkor Wat, Cambodia, c.1150
And on p. 1163, you can learn that Cambodia had a population of 14,701,717, a budget of about $30 billion, and a national G.D.P. of $2,000 per capita.
What Polish-born author is thought to be the ‘first great 20th-century English novelist?
|Josef Konrad Korzeniowski, aka Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)|
How many plays do we think Sophocles wrote, and which of his plays did Aristotle consider the ultimate example of tragedy?
|Of an estimated 123 plays, Oedipus Rex proved supreme. Freud liked its 'complex' plot too!|
What woman is considered one of the three most important Soviet composers of the post-Shostakovich period?
|Sofia Gubaidulina (b.1931), Two Paths (1999), Light of the End (2003), and In Tempus Praesens (2007)|
In the contemporary periodic table of the [how many?] elements, do Einsteinium (Es) and Fermium (Fm) occur naturally?
|Something like 125 and no, these appeared after the first thermonuclear explosion at the Eniwetok atoll in 1952.|
So c’mon, is “irregardless” acceptable or NOT?
NOT, say the NYT “Writer’s Guide editors.
(But what about eggs? Can I have eggs or not?!)
|Alex: You can eat eggs; in fact, I KNOW you can. I have my sources.|
Karen L. Mulder, Ph.D., only answered one of the questions above correctly despite her erudition and extensive travel experience.