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Michael Caine and the Tube

Michael Caine and the Tube
By Mark Mason on 08-01-13 20:27. Comments (2)
It's been great to soak up the Tube trivia this week, as the grand old network celebrates its ton and a half. The facts about the system itself are legendary, from Mark Twain being a passenger on the Central Line's first ever journey, to Canary Wharf station being big enough to house 1 Canada Square. But some of my favourite tales are the ones where the Tube plays only a bit part. They sum up the way the Underground is just there, part of London's fabric. One of the best is the story of Michael Caine and the telephone in Leicester Square station ...

Saturday night with the Unknown Warrior

Saturday night with the Unknown Warrior
By Mark Mason on 09-11-12 07:45. Comments (0)
In case you're looking for something to do in London tomorrow night, could I recommend platform 8 of Victoria Station at 8 o'clock? It won't be your usual Saturday night jollity, but you'll be free by 8.40pm, and you'll have witnessed one of London's least-known and most moving traditions: the commemoration of the Unknown Warrior. Why does it take place at Victoria Station?

The incredible ‘Birthday Problem'

The incredible ‘Birthday Problem'
By Mark Mason on 12-10-12 14:01. Comments (0)
How many people do you have to gather together in a room before it becomes more likely than not that at least two of them will share a birthday? This teaser is something I mention on the Central Line walk (which passes the wonderful Gresham College, where I first learned about it.) For years I've struggled to convince people that the answer - just 23 - is correct. But recently I found a way of doing it that really brings the truth of the puzzle home ...

Water water everywhere

Water water everywhere
By Mark Mason on 31-08-12 12:35. Comments (0)
It can get pretty hot in London during the summer (though perhaps not this summer). It's easy to forget in these days of Evian and Buxton in every newsagents that clean drinking water was once a rare commodity in the capital. That's where the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association came in. Their beautiful monuments are still dotted around the city.

Satire on two wheels

Satire on two wheels
By Mark Mason on 22-08-12 15:48. Comments (0)
There have been protest stickers applied to Boris bikes before - but this one, which I spotted on Holborn the other day, is beautifully subtle. It also reminded me of these cunningly designed additions to various Tube carriages.

An indoor marathon

An indoor marathon
By Mark Mason on 03-08-12 10:49. Comments (0)
The Olympic event I'm looking forward to most is the marathon - the women's one takes place this Sunday (5th August), the men's a week later. Having hobbled one myself, in over twice the world record time of 2 hours 3 minutes 38 seconds, I'm constantly amazed at the effort it takes to run that fast for that long. The other reason I love the marathon so much is it reminds me of one of my favourite bits of bizarre London history - the indoor marathon staged at the Royal Albert Hall in 1909 ...

Why actors say ‘break a leg'

Why actors say ‘break a leg'
By Mark Mason on 26-07-12 10:57. Comments (0)
So just why do actors say ‘break a leg' instead of ‘good luck'? (This cropped up in my last blog post.) It turns out that the answer lies in the 18th century, when the Duke of York wanted to bring a boastful friend down a peg or two ...

Apophenia - what's the one thing the SAS have in common with actors?

Apophenia - what's the one thing the SAS have in common with actors?
By Mark Mason on 13-07-12 10:44. Comments (0)
You wouldn't think actors had much in common with the SAS, would you? Apart from a sense of the dramatic, though in the SAS's case they back it up with a bit more than a vodka and tonic and a moan about how their agent just isn't getting them the right auditions. But there is one other thing shared by the two groups of people, and it's an example of a weird thing our brains engage in called ‘apophenia'.

How many shots do you need to play to win a set of tennis?

How many shots do you need to play to win a set of tennis?
By Mark Mason on 29-06-12 09:41. Comments (0)
You never know who to trust when it comes to trivia. A theme of this blog is the uncertainty surrounding many of the ‘facts' you hear. Wimbledon - and in particular Rosol's incredible serves as he beat Nadal last night - have reminded me of the time even a respected TV quiz show got it wrong.

Where Jack and Jill really did go up the hill

Where Jack and Jill really did go up the hill
By Mark Mason on 22-06-12 12:24. Comments (0)
The best trivia is the stuff you bump into unexpectedly, those little facts that appear from nowhere and light up your day like an interesting old cove you've met in a pub. It happened to me recently in Somerset.

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Books


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Walks

Inspired by my book Walk the Lines: the London Underground - Overground, each of these trivia-packed walks uncovers London’s history by following a section of a Tube line ... at street level.
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Quizzes

Tailor made quizzes
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Podcasts

Aural delights from the world of trivia
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Content

Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower grows by 7 inches in summer. Again, a lovely way of bringing to life what could be a very dull statement in a physics lesson. (In this case - metals expand when they are heated.)