Ask Mr. Know It All

Q. True or false: Tug-of-war was an Olympic sport.

T.Z., Ocala, Fla.

A. It’s true. Tug-of-war was added as an official event in the second modern Olympics, held in 1900. It had a short time in the spotlight — tug-of-war was an Olympic sport only until 1920.

Q. About 10 years ago, General Mills changed the name of my favorite cereal, Cheerios. It added “2” cereal pieces in with the usual O’s. What was the name of the cereal? What did the 2’s represent?

V.L., Lafayette, Ind.

A. In 1999, General Mills introduced Millenios as a limited edition cereal to commemorate the millennium. The text on the box read, “Once in a lifetime.” Millenios were produced through 2000.

Q. During the War of 1812, the British captured Washington, D.C., and burned the Executive Mansion along with many other buildings in the city. Where did the president and his wife live when they returned to the city? How did their temporary building survive destruction?

A.L.B., Scottsdale, Ariz.

A. British forces destroyed much of Washington, D.C., in 1814. When the troops advanced on the city, Col. John Tayloe, a wealthy Virginia plantation owner, offered his home, the Octagon House, to the French for use as their embassy. The French accepted, and the building was spared. Tayloe later offered the house to James and Dolley Madison as a temporary residence. They, too, accepted.

The Octagon House, a three-story brick building, was given its odd shape to fit the building lot.


In 1981, Mia Farrow and Jane Fonda were scheduled to star in “Thelma & Louise,” but, due to a writers’ strike, the film was not shot. The film was eventually made in 1991, with Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon in the titular roles.

Q. I love bagpipe music, and I go to any event where it is being played. I have a question about the dress of the bagpipe players: They have a pouch below the belt in the front. What is the pouch for? Does it have a name?

S.B., Ankeny, Iowa

A. The pouch is called a sporran. It serves as a pocket for the pocketless Scottish kilt. Sporran is Gaelic for “purse.”

Q. I would never want to get into a debate over which Frank Lloyd Wright home is the most famous. Two of my favorites are Taliesin and Taliesin West. Which of the two homes is the oldest? What does the word Taliesin mean?

R.U., Newton, Kan.

A. After spending a year in Europe, architect Frank Lloyd Wright returned to the Wisconsin valley where his Welsh ancestors settled. In 1911, he began construction of Taliesin, near Spring Green. In Scottsdale, Ariz., Wright built Taliesin West, which, in 1937, became his winter home.

Taliesin is the name of a sixth-century Welsh bard. In Welsh mythology, Taliesin is the god of the bards.

Q. I was at a yard sale, where I bought what the seller called a Pigeon lamp. What did I buy?

G.B., Baraboo, Wis.

A. Charles-Joseph Pigeon (1838-1915) invented the lamp in 1884. He worked as a salesman for a Paris department store and became a dealer in lamps. The Pigeon lamp, a nonexploding safety lamp, made him famous and wealthy.

Q. It is common to see women in medieval pictures wearing large cones on their heads. This cone often had a veil of some sort attached. Does this headgear have a name?

L.Y.F., Santa Rosa, Calif.

A. It does — it’s called a hennin. Hennins were popular in the 15th century in northern France and northern Europe. A truncated version resembles a flowerpot. There are many versions of hennins, including ones that are heart-shaped and beehive-shaped.

Send your questions to Mr. Know-It-All at or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

2012 Gary Clothier

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