After Hours

Geek Trivia: Federal funning

In the spirit of election season, we've placed three candidate questions on your Geek Trivia ballot this week. See if you know the answers to these respective political puzzlers.

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Editor's note: The Trivia Geek's sabbatical has been unexpectedly extended for another week, so to make it up to you, we're publishing three abbreviated trivia tidbits, all on the timely election-season subject of politics. Hope that's enough to keep the critical discussion posts to a minimum.

Cleveland rocks

Grover Cleveland's career as U.S. president is a veritable treasure trove of trivial facts: Cleveland is the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms in office (1885 to 1889 and 1893 to 1897); he is the only president to be married in the White House (to Frances Folsom in 1886); he is the only president whose wife gave birth in the White House (to Esther Cleveland in 1893); and he is one of only three candidates to lose a presidential election (to Benjamin Harrison in 1888) despite winning the popular vote.

Yet few people realize that, in an effort to assuage his largely reviled political image, Cleveland signed into law a federal holiday that we still celebrate today. WHAT FEDERAL HOLIDAY DID GROVER CLEVELAND ENACT INTO LAW?

A piece of the pi

From elementary geometry to high-level abstract number theory, the precise value of pi has vexed mathematicians literally since the days of the Egyptian pharaohs and Babylonian lawgivers. During the intervening millennia, mathematics has conceded that pi is an irrational number, meaning that we cannot use a fraction or ratio to describe it because pi has no easily rendered discernible pattern or precisely calculable value.

Despite this accepted irrationality, a U.S. state very nearly legislated an "official" value for pi at the turn the century. WHAT U.S. STATE ATTEMPTED TO LEGISLATE AN OFFICIAL VALUE FOR PI?

Congressional oversight

Article IV, Section 3 of the United States Constitution gives Congress the power to admit new states into the union. Article V, in turn, gives states the power to amend the Constitution, provided three-fourths of the states ratify any such amendment.

These two constitutional tenets gave legal scholars and civil libertarians fits in 1953, when it was discovered that Congress had technically failed to admit a state 150 years before, casting doubt on all amendments ratified since 1803. WHAT STATE DID THE U.S. CONGRESS FAIL TO OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZE FOR 150 YEARS?

In the spirit of election season, we placed three candidate questions on your ballot this week. Get the answers to these respective political puzzlers below.

Cleveland rocks

What federal holiday did trivia-friendly U.S. President Grover Cleveland enact into law?

In 1894, President Cleveland used federal troops to break an American Railway Union strike led by noted Socialist party official Eugene V. Debs (who would later garner 1 million presidential votes from a jail cell in 1920). Though successful, Cleveland's harsh tactics earned him the ire of powerful labor unions.

In order to salvage the 1894 elections for his fellow Democrats, Cleveland followed the lead of more than 20 state legislatures and declared Labor Day, the first Monday in September, a federal holiday in all U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.

A piece of the pi

What U.S. state attempted to legislate an official value for the irrational mathematical constant pi?

In 1897, Dr. Edwin Goodwin of Posey County, IN lobbied the state legislature to introduce House Bill 246, which established four separate values for pi (none of which are close to accurate) and an additional, incorrect value for the square root of two.

Goodwin persuaded the legislature to consider the bill with the promise that Indiana could use his "findings" in its school textbooks free of charge, but that other states would have to pay him a royalty. The bill made significant progress in the Indiana state legislature before someone finally called it out for its stupidity, and Goodwin's laughable claims have since fallen into rightful obscurity.

Congressional oversight

What state did the U.S. Congress technically fail to officially recognize for 150 years?

In 1803, Congress admitted the state of Ohio into the union. In 1953, officials were reviewing the original Congressional admission documents in preparation for celebrating Ohio's 150th "birthday." However, the legal scholars discovered that while Congress had ratified Ohio's geographic boundaries and accepted its state constitution, Ohio itself had not been formally recognized as a state.

Immediately acting to prevent legal chaos—a legitimate fear considering that any Congressional act voted on by representatives of the state of Ohio would now be technically suspect—Congress quickly passed a resolution that retroactively admitted Ohio into the United States on the original date of Feb. 19, 1803.

The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.

This quibble comes from the Oct. 5 edition of Geek Trivia, "May the Schwartz be with you," wherein I did my part to eulogize the works of legendary sci-fi and comics figure Julius Schwartz. In this article, I was betrayed by a cute but numerically inaccurate turn of phrase, "a film or three," about the number of Superman movies starring the late and sorely missed Christopher Reeve.

TechRepublic member Ed Woychowsky caught the idiomatic foul-up first. "There were four Superman films staring Christopher Reeve. The final installment was Superman IV: The Quest for Peace."

I joked that the movie was so bad that I didn't want to acknowledge it, but the reader community suggested I keep such opinions to myself. As always, thanks for keeping me humble.

The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who's duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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