Ask Mr. Know It All

Q. On the old TV game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” Monty Hall would give away lots of prizes along with a few “zonks” — undesirable items. What happened with those? Did the people get some token prize instead? What if they actually wanted to keep the zonk prize? A couple of cows or a flock of sheep could be a decent prize if you happened to own a farm, for example.

M.K., Venice, Calif.

A. Though usually considered joke prizes, traders legally win the zonks. After the show taping, any trader who had been zonked was offered a consolation prize. A disclaimer at the end of the credits of 1970s episodes read, “Some traders accept reasonable duplicates of Zonk prizes.”

Q. How many men running for president won the majority vote but lost the election because of the electoral votes?

F.J.S., Springfield, Ill.

A. It has happened four times: In 1824, Congress elected John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson. In 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes was declared the Electoral College winner by an electoral commission over Samuel J. Tilden. In 1888, Benjamin Harrison won over Grover Cleveland. And, most recently, in 2000, George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in a Supreme Court ruling. A final recount showed that Bush won Florida, the deciding state. Tilden actually won more than half of the popular vote. The others only won a plurality.


The first Broadway “rock musical” opened in 1968 and became a film in 1979. What was it? “Hair.”

Q. What is the origin of the phrase “strike while the iron is hot”?

S.E. Lake Jackson, Texas

A. The phrase means to act decisively and take opportunities as they arise, alluding to the blacksmith at his forge. If he delays in hammering the hot iron, it will soon cool, thus missing an opportunity to work.

The first known use of the phrase is from Richard Edwards in “The Excellent Comedie of Two the Moste Faithfullest Freendes, Damon and Pithias,” circa 1560. He wrote: “I haue plied the Haruest, and stroke when the Yron was hotte.”


Rembrandt is one of the world’s most famous painters. Rembrandt is his first name; his full name is Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.

Q. My family enjoys coleslaw, so I serve it at least once a week. One night, our 10-year-old daughter said, “Coleslaw is a silly name. What does it mean?” My husband and I were clueless. Can you help us with an answer?

E.L., Minot, N.D.

A. Coleslaw comes from Dutch “koolsla,” meaning “cabbage salad.” It’s believed the Dutch brought the dish to the U.S. in the 18th century.

Q. Somewhere in my travels, possibly in England, I visited a Chamber of Horror, where torture devices were on display. There was a wheel in which body limbs were threaded through the spokes. The wheel was named after a woman. What was her name? Why was it so named?

K.N.M., McPherson, Kan.

A. I think you saw a Catherine wheel (or breaking wheel), which was popular in the Middle Ages. The wheel was named after St. Catherine of Alexandria. She was to be killed in this fashion, but when she touched the wheel, it miraculously broke. She was beheaded instead. Her feast day is Nov. 25.

The Chamber of Horrors of which you speak might be the one associated with Madame Tussaud’s wax museum.

Q. I suppose this is a silly question, but I really am curious: Did Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have first names?

C.L., Clovis, N.M.

A. They did. Author Robert Louis Stevenson gave them the names Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde.

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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