Ask Mr. Know It All

Q. I love the smell of the ground after a summer rain. What is the name of that smell? I assume it does have one.

M.J., Woburn, Mass.

A. Yes, it has a name: petrichor. The word is constructed from the Greek “petros,” which means “stone,” and “ichor,” the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology. The word was created by two researchers in the mid-1960s when they discovered that certain plants excrete an oil during dry periods that is absorbed by soil and rocks. During a storm, the oil is released into the air, creating petrichor.


As a child, Ginger Rogers was kidnapped by her estranged father several times before her mother took him to court.

Q. What is candlepin bowling?

O.L., State College, Pa.

A. Candlepin bowling got its start in 1880 in Worcester, Mass. The pins are nearly 16 inches high and 3 inches in diameter; the ends taper, giving them the appearance of a candle. The ball is 41/2 inches in diameter and may not weigh more than 2 pounds, 7 ounces. Knocked-down pins, known as “wood,” remain where they fall and become an important part of the strategy in knocking down more pins. A game consists of 10 frames, and bowlers get to throw three balls instead of two. A perfect game is 300 points, but the highest-sanctioned score is 245.


On average, a strawberry has 200 seeds on it, and it is the only fruit with seeds that grow on the outside.

Q. What is the coloring used on Muenster cheese? In a cheese store, I saw the spelling Munster (no “e”). Is the spelling interchangeable? What does the name of the cheese mean?

A. Muenster is a semi-soft cheese made in the United States. It is a pale cheese with a smooth texture; the orange rind is colored with vegetable dye.

There is also a Munster cheese made in France. Its name comes from the Alsatian abbey of Munster. It is made with unpasteurized cow’s milk. It is not the same thing as Muenster cheese.

Q. Has any presidential family not had a pet living with them in the White House?

R.E.D., Eddy, Ind.

A. To my knowledge, only Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and Chester A. Arthur did not have pets. The White House has been home to lions, tigers and bears — oh, my!

Q. I enjoy watching the British detective drama series “Midsomer Murders.” Where is Midsomer? The stories focus on head detective John Barnaby (played by Neil Dudgeon). How many actors have played the role of Barnaby? How long has the series been on television?

A. Midsomer is a fictional English county. The show is based on books by Caroline Graham, including “Chief Inspector Barnaby.” The series first aired in 1997, with John Nettles playing the role of Tom Barnaby; he left the production in 2010 and was replaced by Neil Dudgeon, playing Tom Barnaby’s cousin John. Dudgeon first appeared in the series as randy gardener Daniel Bolt. As of February 2014, there have been 100 episodes.

Q. When and where did Elvis Presley perform his last concert?

J.W., Memphis, Tenn.

A. Presley’s last concert was June 26, 1977, at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, to a crowd of 18,000 fans. The last song Elvis performed in private was a rendition of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” on his piano in Graceland hours before his death Aug. 16, 1977.

Q. I recall the Moog synthesizer from the mid-’60s. I’ve often wondered how it got its name.

H.C., Langhorne, Pa.

A. It was named after its inventor, Robert Moog. Moog introduced the instrument in 1964.

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

2014 Gary Clothier

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