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Question of the Day

How long have people been sending out Christmas cards?

The first Christmas card is thought to have been printed in England in 1843. Wood engravers of the time often produced prints with religious themes, but this was the first time anyone produced these prints in quantity and sold them (1,000 copies in London). The design was of a family party, beneath which were the words "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You." In the mid-19th century in the United States, the owner of a variety store in Albany, New York, produced a card carrying Christmas greetings from "Pease's Great Variety Store in the Temple of Fancy."

Last 7 Days

    What's the best way to start a coal fire?

    To start a coal fire, get a good hot fire going with hardwood kindling. Then add a shovelful or two of coal. When this coal has begun to burn, add more coal. It will usually take about 10 minutes for the wood fire to get hot enough to ignite the coal, so be sure to use enough kindling to last that long. Leave any dampers open for a good 10 minutes or so to get rid of the gases. Anthracite coal will not light unless it has a bottom draft.

    Where did the concept of New Year's resolutions come from?

    In researching this question, we ran across several possible answers. Our favorite was the Babylonian New Year's festival held in the spring. The king was stripped of his clothes and sent away for a few days. During this time, everyone could do whatever they wanted in the kingdom. When the king returned in a grand celebration, the people resumed their proper behavior and got back to work. In this way, they made a new start in their lives.

    What's the deal with unbleached versus bleached flour?

    Bleached and unbleached flour are interchangeable in any recipe. The only difference is that bleached flour is a little whiter, which some people prefer. Unbleached flour isn't any more nutritious, as many people think.

    What is the origin of the phrase "Time and tide waits for no man"?

    This phrase may be a derivative of two historical quotes. One is "Nae man can tether time or tide," written by Robert Burns (1759-1796) in "Tam o' Shanter." Another is "Hoist up saile while gale doth last, Tide and wind stay no man's pleasure," written by Robert Southwell in "St. Peter's Complaint," 1595.

    If a meteorite 1/4 mile across struck in the Atlantic Ocean, how high would the tidal wave it produced be?

    The impact and the resulting damage would depend on the meteorite's size, material composition, speed, and impact angle. The 1998 earthquake-induced tsunami in Papua New Guinea that wiped out coastal villages and killed thousands of people was only a few yards high. If a meteorite hit the Atlantic, we could easily see a tsunami wave 100 times higher. A 300-foot tsunami, for instance, would cause great damage to low lying areas all along the U.S. east coast, and could totally submerge vast areas in Europe, such as Holland and Denmark. A 300-foot tsunami could travel inland on the U.S. east coast about 14 miles.

    What were the symbols for the Republicans and Democrats before they were an elephant and a donkey?

    There were no symbols. Thomas Nast, a caricaturist and illustrator for Harper's Weekly, created and made famous the symbols for the parties -- the Democratic donkey in 1870 and the Republican elephant in 1874. Incidentally, it was Nast's illustration of St. Nicholas, as described in Clement Moore's poem "The Night Before Christmas," that formed the basis for our Santa Claus.

    Back when telephones were first used, what did people say when they answered the phone?

    We're so glad you asked, because it allows us to mention a short feature on the subject in The 1993 Old Farmer's Almanac. The word hello, as used today, didn't really exist back in the 19th century. Halloo was used to hail someone from a distance -- as in "Halloo! You up there on the roof!" -- or to incite hounds to chase, but it was not used as a greeting. Thanks to the discovery of a letter buried for more than a hundred years in AT&T's archives, we now believe that the word originated with Thomas Edison and the telephone he invented. Edison suggested using "Are you there?" or "Are you ready to talk?" to start a conversation on his phones. His rival, Alexander Graham Bell, was insisting on "Ahoy!" as the preferred greeting. In a letter to a colleague, Edison wrote, "I don't think we shall need a call bell, as hello can be heard 10 to 20 feet away." From then on, hello became the recommended greeting in telephone operating manuals.

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