Cover image for Do fish drink water? : puzzling and improbable questions and answers
Do fish drink water? : puzzling and improbable questions and answers
McLain, Bill.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W. Morrow & Co., [1999]

Physical Description:
xvi, 304 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
AG195 .M38 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Is it true that elephants are afraid of mice?
How much gold does the United States store in Fort Knox?
Why do I get a headache when I eat ice cream too fast?
How did the "seventh inning stretch" originate?

As the official webmaster for Xerox, Bill McLain was surprised by the kinds of questions he was receiving, like whether people born blind can see in their dreams and why rabbits are associated with Easter. McLain began to answer each and every question--attracting national attention from MSNBC, CNN, and People--and the result, collected in Do Fish Drink Water?, is a surprising, funny, and informative collection of facts. McLain's answers can often be as wild as the questions and prompt entertaining anecdotes about where he found them. McLain explains how magnets are made, what caused the Great Depression of 1922, and even explains why cats purr. Also included is an extensive list of websites where he conducts research, offering an informative guide to making the most of the Internet.

Author Notes

Bill McLain is the webmaster for Xerox. He works at Xerox's Palo Alto facility and lives in Santa Clara, California.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Xerox web master McLain has compiled a fascinating, often hilarious list of questions submitted by the public to the Xerox web site and their supposed answers. The questions are divided into 20 categories, ranging from "Animal Kingdom" ("On a turkey, what is the name of that red thing that hangs down over the beak?") to "World" ("What are the seven wonders of the natural world?") to "Off the Wall" ("How long would it take to vacuum the state of Ohio?"). In addition to responding to these queries, McLain provides, at the end of each section, a list of between three and ten web sites that he recommends for further research. The "United States" section, for example, lists web sites for zip codes, the CIA, and the FBI as well as an online phone directory; the "Sports" section supplies URLs for the National Football League, major league baseball, and the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In the last few pages, McLain also lists major web search engines and offers a few general tips. With the exception of the suggested web sites, this title is similar to David Feldman's "Imponderables" series. Unfortunately, like the books in Feldman's series, this volume also suffers from a reliability problem: although McLain's answers sound authoritative, he only infrequently provides their original source. (And a surprisingly large number of answers in each section cannot be found using the web sites McLain recommends.) While this book is entertaining and makes for enjoyable browsing, it is not an appropriate choice for most reference collections. Recommended only for larger public libraries with a demand for humorous trivia books.ÄLeah J. Sparks, Bowie P.L., MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

1 Animal Kingdom
Do dolphins ever sleep?p. 1
Where do butterflies go in the winter?p. 3
Why do cats purr?p. 5
Is it true that elephants are afraid of mice?p. 7
On a turkey, what is the name of that red thing that hangs down over the beak?p. 9
Is there a land animal that has a body the color of purple grape juice?p. 11
Is a pinto a breed of horse or just a color?p. 13
Is it true you can't teach an old dog new tricks?p. 15
Do fish drink water?p. 17
2 Clothing and Apparel
When and where were the first eyeglasses made?p. 21
Where did the idea for underwear come from?p. 23
Are denim, jeans, and Levi's the same thing?p. 24
What is the origin of the neckties that men wear?p. 27
3 Finance
Does the government still print two-dollar bills?p. 30
What does the information on a U.S. penny represent?p. 33
How much gold does the United States store in Fort Knox?p. 35
Why are gasoline prices listed to three decimal places, such as $1.479 per gallon?p. 37
What caused the Great Depression of 1929?p. 39
Anecdote: A rare disease leads to a weddingp. 41
4 Food
Where did pizza originate?p. 43
What's the difference between lager and pilsner beer?p. 45
How many colors of MandMs are there?p. 47
What is the difference between caffe latte and cappuccino?p. 49
What makes peppers so hot?p. 51
What is the difference between apple juice and apple cider?p. 53
What is the difference between jelly, jam, preserves, and marmalade?p. 55
5 Geography
What is the lowest point on earth?p. 60
How did each of the seven continents get its name?p. 62
Is it true that at one time the entire world consisted of a single continent?p. 64
Is there really a north pole?p. 65
6 History
How did the ship that landed at Plymouth harbor get the name Mayflower?p. 70
Did Napoleon lose the battle of Waterloo because of hemorrhoids?p. 72
Is it true that in ancient Greece 300 soldiers held off 200,000 Persian elite troops for 3 days?p. 75
What does "flying the hump" mean?p. 77
Has a U.S. vice president ever been assassinated?p. 79
How many people died in the Civil War?p. 81
Is it true that a former king of England had blue urine?p. 83
Who were the Knights Templar?p. 85
Anecdote: Pushing a van around an islandp. 88
7 Holidays
Why are eggs associated with the Easter bunny?p. 90
What is the origin and meaning of Valentine's Day?p. 92
Where did the custom of kissing under the mistletoe originate?p. 94
What is the origin of celebrating New Year's Eve?p. 96
How did the custom of trick-or-treating on Halloween begin?p. 98
What is the origin of the Christmas tree?p. 100
8 Language
What is Zulu time?p. 105
What does "mind your p's and q's" mean?p. 108
Why do people say "Gesundheit" or "God bless you" when you sneeze?p. 109
Where did the term "dark horse" come from?p. 111
How did grapefruit gets its name?p. 113
Why do people yell "Geronimo" when they jump off something?p. 114
What is the origin of the word "jazz"?p. 117
What is the origin of the phrase "It's not over until the fat lady sings"?p. 119
9 Literature
What are the fourteen Oz books written by L. Frank Baum?p. 123
How many pages were in the longest book ever written?p. 126
What was the first typewritten manuscript of a novel submitted to a publisher?p. 128
Is there a place called Transylvania and was there a real Count Dracula?p. 131
Who wrote the first "detective" novel?p. 133
Anecdote: Can you fix my koto, Kato?p. 136
10 The Human Body
Why don't Eskimos die from scurvy?p. 138
Why do I get a headache when I eat ice cream too fast?p. 140
Do people who are born blind ever dream?p. 142
What makes us yawn?p. 144
What blood type is the rarest?p. 146
11 Music
In the Australian song, what does "waltzing Matilda" mean?p. 150
Why did Custer choose Garry Owen as his regimental song?p. 152
What was the last song the musicians on the Titanic played?p. 154
What makes the sound when you rub your finger along the edge of a glass?p. 156
What gave Roger Miller the inspiration to write King of the Road?p. 159
12 Odds and Ends
What is the world's fastest roller coaster?p. 162
What is the difference between green and blue mailboxes?p. 164
Why don't beeswax candles drip?p. 166
Did Thomas Crapper really invent the toilet?p. 168
What is the name and breed of the RCA dog?p. 170
What is the average number of flowers used on a Rose Parade float?p. 172
Before refrigeration was invented, where did the iceman get the ice he delivered to homes during the summer?p. 174
Anecdote: Which came first, the chicken or the exercise machine?p. 177
13 Off the Wall
How many licks does it take to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop?p. 178
How long would it take to vacuum the state of Ohio?p. 181
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?p. 183
What is the correct way to eat an Oreo cookie?p. 185
What can I do with the small slivers of soap left over in the shower?p. 187
14 Religion
Who are the Shi'i Muslims and what do they believe?p. 190
When did the Roman Catholic Church begin using the calendar we use today?p. 193
Why are the signs on Pennsylvania Dutch barns called "hex" signs?p. 195
What is the religious makeup of the United States?p. 197
What is the history and significance of the Infant of Prague?p. 200
15 Science
Is it true that toilets in Australia flush in the opposite direction from those in the United States?p. 203
My grandmother told me that when she visited Ireland she saw the sun turn green. Is that possible?p. 205
How are magnets made?p. 208
What makes the sound when you snap your fingers?p. 210
Does hot water freeze faster than cold water?p. 212
Why do some paints, stickers, and toys glow in the dark?p. 214
Why aren't there 100 seconds in a minute and 100 minutes in an hour instead of 60?p. 216
What is the star closest to our sun?p. 218
Why are the oceans salty but not lakes?p. 220
Is it true that opals contain a lot of water?p. 222
Anecdote: A visit from the Dutch Royal Navyp. 225
16 Sports
What does "packers" refer to in the name of the Green Bay Packers football team?p. 226
Who was the model for the Heisman trophy?p. 229
How did the "seventh-inning stretch" originate?p. 231
What is the difference between billiards, snooker, and pool?p. 233
Why is a dartboard laid out the way it is?p. 235
In football, why is it called a "down" instead of a chance, or try, or attempt?p. 237
How did the sport of hockey get started?p. 240
17 Transportation and Travel
How does a traffic signal know that a car is waiting for a green light?p. 243
Why do they drive on the left side of the road in England?p. 245
Why are the roofs of some school buses painted white?p. 247
Why don't they make dirigibles anymore?p. 249
How many people in the world visit zoos in a single year?p. 251
18 United States
What is the average height of a person in the United States?p. 255
Who was the youngest American to go up in space?p. 257
What is the book that the Statue of Liberty is holding?p. 259
What caused the fire that destroyed San Francisco?p. 262
Which place in the United States has the longest name?p. 264
How many political parties can be represented in a presidential election?p. 266
Anecdote: A 14-year search for a cowboy songp. 270
19 Weather
What is the difference between a hurricane and a typhoon?p. 272
What is the difference between partly cloudy and partly sunny?p. 274
What part of the world gets the most rain?p. 276
Can it really rain frogs?p. 279
20 World
What is the oldest living thing in the world?p. 282
What is the tallest clock in the world?p. 284
When the Panama Canal was built, was it just cut through the land or did they have to build a concrete bottom and sides?p. 286
What are the seven natural wonders of the world?p. 289
Why is the Tower of Pisa leaning and will anyone ever straighten it?p. 291
What is the largest museum in the world?p. 293
Exploring the Internetp. 297
Indexp. 299