Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Clowns, hot dogs, mosquitos, and more quick hits

Illustration for article titled Clowns, hot dogs, mosquitos, and more quick hits
Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile RF (Getty Images)

We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 6,218,869-week series, Wiki Wormhole.


This week’s entry: Quick hits

What it’s about: Lots of things! Over the years, we’ve come across Wikipedia articles that fascinated or amused to some degree, but were too short to write a full column about. So for the next few weeks, we’re going to shake up the format, and move through our 6,218,869-part series a bit faster by tackling multiple subjects in brief.

World’s Longest Hot Dog: There is no more bitterly contentious issue in our divided nation than whether a hot dog is a sandwich. But there’s also a surprising amount of controversy over who has made the world’s longest hot dog. The now-dissolved Sara Lee company made a 1,996-foot dog for the ’96 Olympic Games in Atlanta, but that record is disputed, as while the hot dog was that long, the bun was produced in segments. Many consider a continuous bun necessary to holding the record because the bun is, as Wikipedia artfully puts it, “an integral part of the hot dog unit.”

The dog-and-bun record set in 2001 was a far less-impressive 15.3 feet, but that record quickly escalated until we passed the 50-foot-hot-dog barrier in 2005, and 100 feet in 2006; the current record stands at 718 feet, for a hot dog made in the German town of Flensburg. The real reason the bun is a contentious issue is that making a long hot dog is fairly easy. Per Wikipedia, “the hot dog is structurally quite sound, and remarkably flexible.” As hot dogs are simply casings full of processed meat, it’s not that difficult to create a long casing almost indefinitely.

Baking a bun hundreds of feet long is more of an undertaking. When the All-Japan Bread Association set the record in 2006, their 198-foot bun was baked on a conveyer belt that passed through several ovens at a constant speed, so the bread would be baked evenly.

London Underground Mosquito: Culex molestus is a variety of mosquito found on every continent besides Antarctica, but it’s popularly known as the London Underground Mosquito because in that city (and a few others), it’s found in the subway tunnels, but almost never above ground. (The bugs notoriously assaulted Londoners hiding out in the tunnels during the Blitz during WWII.)


Onfim: Novgorod, Russia, is surrounded by birch forests, and for centuries locals used the bark of those soft trees for writing. As a result, more than 1100 pieces of bark with ancient writing have been found in the last 70 years. Among the most notable are a collection of 17 pieces of bark from a 13th-century schoolboy known as Onfim. Aged 6 or 7 at the time of writing, he used a bark that isn’t that different than a modern child’s school notebook. Alongside practicing letters, syllables, and phrases (largely from the Book Of Psalms), he drew childish illustrations of knights, horses, pictures of his friends and his teacher, as well as, “himself, disguised as a fantastic animal.”

Clowns Gallery-Museum: That the vestry of Holy Trinity Church in Somerset, England, has been turned into a museum devoted to clowns is strange enough. But stranger still, the museum has a collection of eggs painted with clown makeup. Tradition dictates that no two clowns use the same make-up design, so everyone who joins that unusual fraternity paints their own design onto an egg and submits it to the museum, which confirms that their clown face is in fact unique to that performer. The gallery also has a branch in nearby Wookey Hole, one of those small English towns seemingly design to convince Americans the entire country is a whimsical land populated by hobbits and nannies who travel by umbrella.


Japanese Addressing System: America’s largest city, New York, is organized by a grid of helpfully numbered streets. The world’s largest city, Tokyo, is organized by a confounding mess in which most streets, as U2 observed, have no names. Instead, addresses across Japan include a house number and a numbered city block. However, city blocks are numbered from oldest to newest as cities have expanded over time, so there’s rarely any geographical order to the numbers, making the system baffling to outsiders.

To make things worse, some cities have their own system. Japanese addresses also include city district (chō), but Kyoto’s districts are tiny, numerous, and the city has multiple chōs with the same name. Sapporo is at least more organized—the city is divided into quadrants (much like Portland’s addresses all including NW/NE/SW/SE), with the block number indicating distance from the city center. Some cities in Ishikawa Prefecture don’t number their blocks, instead using…


Iroha: The Iroha is a famous Japanese poem dating at least as far back as 1079. It’s a pangram, which contains each kana (the symbols for syllables that make up Japanese characters) exactly once. English pangrams—like, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” or “Jovial egomaniac failed Trebek’s poxy quiz show”—repeat characters, as a 26-letter pangram in English is impossible without resorting to abbreviations, as in, “Mr Jock, TV quiz PhD, bags few lynx.”

Because of Iroha’s elegant use of language, it’s effectively used as alphabetical order in Japanese, with Ishikawa’s block-lettering system in “Iroha order.”


Further Down the Wormhole: Iroha has changed over time along with the Japanese language, and the original version contains characters which are now only used in Okinawan. That language is specific to the southern half of the Okinawa Islands, among Japan’s smallest and most southernmost islands. It’s also spoken in Brazil, as that country has a sizable Japanese immigrant community, and the state of São Paulo in particular has made an effort to preserve the language. São Paulo, which contains the city of the same name, is the wealthiest of Brazil’s 26 states, and its industrial base includes factories of several American companies, including Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Nestlé, and Coca-Cola.

Now that we’re settled into the New Year, we will return to our regular one-article-per-week format. We’ll take a taste of Vin Mariani, the Pope-endorsed cocaine wine that may have been Coca-Cola’s inspiration, next week.


Host of the podcast Why Is This Not a Movie? His sixth book, The Planets Are Very, Very, Very Far Away is due in fall 2021. He tells people he lives in New York, but he really lives in New Jersey.