Esoteric Knowledge Quiz #1

Do your friends, family, and coworkers accuse you of being a repository of useless information? (Mine do.) Here's your chance to test your knowledge of obscure but interesting tidbits...


  1. In a large glass bowl over medium heat, mix distilled water, gastric acid, and lye, taking care that it doesn't get out of the bowl. Balance the amounts of the acid and the lye so that the pH is precisely neutral, then boil away all the water. What's left?
    1. sodium hydroxide
    2. calcium perchlorate
    3. table salt
    4. sneezing powder

  2. What was the name of Julius Caesar's wife?
    1. Cornelia
    2. Calpurnia
    3. Pompeia
    4. all of the above

  3. The English words dam, dyke, and sluice all come from the same source language. Which language is that?
    1. Old German
    2. Dutch
    3. Greek
    4. Finnish

  4. When the priest Hilkiah found a long-lost copy of the book of the law while cleaning the temple, he gave it to a secretary, who read it, then took it to King Josiah and read it to him. What was the secretary's name?
    1. Shaphan son of Azaliah
    2. Joah son of Asaph
    3. Benaiah son of Jehoiada
    4. Shebna

  5. For most of the twentieth century, the Poincaire Conjecture was widely considered to be the most important open problem in mathematics. Today it is widely considered solved, due mostly to the work of one man. What is his nationality?
    1. Russian
    2. German
    3. American (of mixed European descent)
    4. Han Chinese



Answers have been posted: see the comments.

4 comments:

Mark said...

I only know the answer to the last question because I looked it up in Wikipedia. :)

Jonadab said...

So is that four out of five for you then, if we don't count the one you had to look up? ;-)

I admit, I wasn't sure exactly *how* esoteric I should make them. For this sort of thing you want most people not to be able to get them all, but OTOH you don't want it to be so outlandish that nobody can get any. A difficult balance to strike, if you want all of the questions to be of comparable difficulty to one another.

All of them can be looked up easily enough (well, I suppose only partly in the case of the chemistry one, but it should be enough to let you figure out the answer once you know the composition of each chemical), but if you have to go that route, perhaps the knowledge is too esoteric.

Andy said...

I got them all, although I had to look up the chemical composition of lye. The answer was surprising, but upon further investigation, that's pretty much what happens in the body, too.

The rest were good guesses or stuff I knew.

Jonadab said...

Okay, the answers...

Quickly: C, D, B, A, A.

Lye is sodium hydroxide (NaOH), and gastric acid is mostly water and hydrogen chloride (HCl), with trace amounts of sodium chloride (NaCl) and potassium chloride (KCl). So when you dissolve them you get Na+, OH-, H+, and Cl- (plus the potassium chloride, which doesn't get changed in the reaction).

Water, for our purposes here, his H+ together with OH-.

The trick, inasmuch as it's a trick question, lies in the phrase "boil away all the water", because you're actually going to boil away more water than just the distilled water you put in. The OH- from the lye and the H+ from the acid are pretty much just water, when you put them together and let the acid-base reaction settle down.

So that leaves you with mostly sodium chloride and trace amounts of potassium chloride, which as jentesal can tell you is a reasonably good facsimile of table salt. If you buy table salt at the store it has a couple more trace ingredients, mainly to prevent caking, but in a multiple choice context we're close enough as to make no difference.

Actually, any time you put an acid and a base together you're likely to end up with a salt of some kind.

Julius Caeasar married women with all three of those names, in that order. The first died, and he put aside the second.

Since all three words have to do with flood control measures, it should not be a very big surprise that they come from Dutch. Flood control is a pretty major issue for them. Living below mean sea level is one thing, and living within a stone's throw of the ocean is another, but putting the two together is a special form of insanity.

It was Shaphan. A couple of the other options were also secretaries, though, so this might qualify as the hardest question on the quiz.

Grigori Perelman is widely considered to be Russian.