The Daily Dirt: A year of things we’ve learned

2023’s roundup of random and sometimes real estate tidbits

The Best of the Things We’ve Learned: The Daily Dirt

Another year, another chance to sneak nerdy and often non-real estate information into your inboxes.

Writing the “A thing we’ve learned” section of The Daily Dirt is a highlight of my day, and I have been delighted by the increase in readers suggesting their own items. Keep them coming!

Here is an extremely subjective roundup of the best things we’ve learned from 2023’s newsletters:

Massachusetts has had a version of builders’ remedy on its books since 1969. It is known as the Anti-Snob Zoning Act.

The fate of the seasons was previously left to a hedgehog. Germany expanded on a Christian holiday called Candlemas Day by introducing the prickly rodent, according to Time. If the hedgehog saw its shadow, that meant six more weeks of winter weather. When German immigrants brought the tradition to Pennsylvania, they replaced the hedgehog with a groundhog.

In other animal-weather news: Warm autumn weather used to be called “goose summer” or gossamer. “These spells were notable for gossamer threads, the mass of fine spider webs which catch the sun in stubble fields on a bright autumn morning,” according to the Guardian. Goose summer is also referred to as “St. Martin’s Summer,” in relation to a legend in which St. Martin exacted revenge on a goose, leading to the tradition of eating goose on St. Martin’s Day, historically celebrated on Nov. 11.

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop once played piano with Blues Traveler’s John Popper. Fulop is now running for New Jersey governor.

The rock classic “My Sharona” is about Sharona Alperin, who today is a real estate agent in Los Angeles.

A preference for symmetry in building design may be related to the “biological predisposition to prefer symmetry in human faces or bodies.” That is according to an article titled “How to Appreciate Buildings” published by the website Psyche.

Sweethearts, the conversational candy hearts, were invented in 1902 by the New England Confectionery Company. The original phrases included “Be Mine” and “Kiss me,” which, I don’t know, seems kind of forward for the beginning of the 20th century. Apparently courting at the time began to include candy packaged in heart-shaped boxes.

The term “desire path” was coined by Gaston Bachelard in his 1958 book “La Poétique de l’Éspace,” according to the Spectator. Bachelard wrote that these paths were created through repeated use by pedestrians seeking to go “from point A to point B more quickly than the predetermined paths (like sidewalks) that have been put in place.” This academic journal describes “desire lines” (an alternative term) in Montreal as recordings of “collective disobedience.”

Thanks to a fossilized Ankylosaurus larynx, scientists may be closer to understanding the sounds dinosaurs made. A recent study suggested that an Ankylosaurs windpipe could modify sounds, allowing the creature to vocalize in a bird-like manner, according to the New York Times.

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The school in the 1979 film “Rock ’n’ Roll High School” was based on Fort Lee High School in New Jersey. The movie’s director, Allan Arkush, a graduate of the school, told a crowd in Jersey City in February that his making the fictional school’s leadership repressive was a nod to his alma mater’s long list of banned books. He also recounted looking out the window at his school and imagining the Kinks or the Yardbirds playing a concert there.

“Witch windows” are windows tilted 45 degrees and found mostly in 19th century farmhouses in Vermont, but also in New Hampshire. There are a few theories for why these windows are so named, one being that the tilt was designed to prevent witches from flying through, according to Atlas Obscura.

The cause of a 1969 fire that gutted Bannerman Castle — a former private warehouse built for an eccentric supplier of military goods — remains unknown. Whether the blaze was accidental or intentional, it should be noted that for years, active munitions were found on the island, and Frank Bannerman VI apparently had a proclivity for incorporating cannonballs (some of which were live) into the castle’s facade.

Apple seeds are unpredictable and toxic. The seeds from one tree, if planted, will not grow to sprout the same kind of apples. In fact, the fruit will likely be small and bitter.

Apple seeds, as well as peach and apricot pits, contain cyanide. If you are like me and have watched an obscene amount of “Murder She Wrote” and are wondering how such a sneaky toxin could escape your encyclopedia of ridiculous murder scenarios, rest easy: The seeds do not have enough cyanide to kill, unless consumed 150 at a time, per USA Today.

There is a Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in Milwaukee. It apparently has more than 10,000 bobbleheads, including life-sized ones. The museum’s tagline, regrettably, is “bobble in today!”

The longest-running lawsuit in India was settled in January after 72 years, the Times of India reports. The case, which involved the liquidation of a bank, has been compared to the fictional, decades-long litigation depicted in Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House,” which I happen to be reading right now.

Swedish advocacy group YIMBY Stockholm coined the term “yimby” when the organization formed in 2007. That is according to the book “Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America,” by Conor Dougherty.

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is referred to as a “zombie-ant fungus” because it takes over a carpenter ant’s body, “draining it of nutrients and hijacking its mind,” the Atlantic noted. The fungus compels the ant to cling to a low-lying leaf and wait until a stalk grows out of the dying ant’s head to disperse spores of the fungus to more insects below.

James Dolan has a band, J.D. and the Straight Shot, that performs at Madison Square Garden, an arena he controls. The band has opened for Jewel and the Eagles, according to the New Yorker. His songs have made it into a few movies, all of which were produced by his ex-friend, Harvey Weinstein.

The boxer who famously lost part of his ear in a fight with Mike Tyson is involved in The Real Deal’s origin story. The trademark for “The Real Deal” was purchased from heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, whose nickname was “the Real Deal.” Our publisher Amir Korangy tells the story here.
Thank you to David Westenhaver, who has done a fabulous job writing the newsletter on Fridays, and to Jay Young for digging up this year’s data for the newsletter. Shoutout to Erik Engquist and Greg Dool who passed along some of this year’s best random facts.