I wasn't kidding about Bangladesh.

The great quandry for our times: everybody loves trivia, but no-one likes a know-it-all. Is it the competitive edge? Is knowing trivia not as important as knowing more trivia than everyone else? Or is it that we hate those people who just aren't content to let someone say something without trying to best it?

Either way, it's not an attractive portrait of the human spirit. Fortunately, there aren't many in the Greenhouse who fit those descriptions. Even better, there's one person in particular who is a genuine trivia savant. In fact, I think that might be his job description. I don't know what his job is, actually, but I get the impression that I'm not supposed to. So, "Savant" fits him just as well as anything. Regardless, it's always both intimidating and enlightening when he stops by the office; you can always be sure that you'll have learned something from his visit, but you can't help but wonder where he gets his information.

Last week, the Savant dropped by again, this time with a handful of quarters. He handed one to me, and asked if I could tell what was different about it. It didn't seem familiar, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Smiling, he took the quarter back.

"You see, 1968 was the last year that the Canadian mint made quarters out of silver," he explained, bouncing the quarter off the desk to demonstrate the different sound it made. "That year, the value of the silver in the quarter became greater than twenty-five cents."

"Oh! Like the Bangladesh razor blade black market!"

"The what?", asked my co-worker, MJ.

"It's fascinating, really," I answered. "Since razor blades are so thin, you can make six of them from the metal in an Indian one-rupee coin. Each razor blade sells for six rupees, and they're both exportable and disposable. So, you have a situation where Indian currency is being smuggled across the border and destroyed at an amazing rate, resulting in a bizarre shortage in India. They've been paying with toffees, cigarettes, and I.O.U. slips. On the other hand, some people are actually making a profit selling currency." I turned back to the Savant. "It's exactly the market chaos that the Canadian mint avoided in 1969!"

And without a word, the Savant took his quarter back, and left the office. Stunned, I turned to MJ. "I didn't do anything wrong there, did I? I accepted his opening statement, introduced new information, and connected it to his analysis. That's the art of conversation, isn't it?"

"Hey, I was right there with you -- you're in the clear." MJ confirmed.


I should stress that our Savant wasn't being rude in any way, merely idiosyncratic, and that's hardly a condemnation at work (or this blog, for that matter). I'm not offended -- as a matter of fact, I'm delighted. For once, I was able return trivia for trivia, rather than just sit back and take notes.

In my book, that's a good day at the office.

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Canadian explorer. Chemist by training, biologist by nature. Long-time supporter and participant in National Novel Writing Month. Known as "Aquadeo" in most Internet circles. Also known as "that guy with the pants" to people who have seen me in certain pants.