Jewish World Review May 3, 2004 / 12 Iyar, 5764

Jeff Elder

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Consumer Reports

Fun facts about the 7 modern wonders; What does WD-40 stand for?; difference between flotsam and jetsam; more | Q: What are the wonders of the modern world, and who decided? _Ray Otstott, Charlotte, N.C.

A: Ray, the new four-bladed razor, featured on many dazzling TV commercials, did NOT make the list. I know. I was stunned, too.

How did we survive without a fourth blade? We can only hope the razor industry doesn't stop now. What America needs is a razor with so many blades it looks like Venetian blinds. That way you can shave your whole family, trim the shrubbery and make mounds and mounds of delicious cole slaw all at the same time.

OK, the real modern wonders really ARE marvels.

In the mid-'90s, the American Society of Civil Engineers, with help from experts around the world, selected the Seven Wonders of the Modern World to commemorate the greatest accomplishments of the 20th century.

Here's a fun fact about each:

_Empire State Building: The classic 1,250-foot skyscraper was built with astonishing speed. Construction began March 17, 1930, and President Hoover officially opened it May 1, 1931.

_Golden Gate Bridge: Hanging from two 746-foot towers, its cables - each a yard thick - are the biggest ever to support a bridge.

_The CN Tower: The tower that looms over Toronto's skyline was built with incredible precision in 1976. It's 1,815 feet tall, within 1.1 inches of original plans.

_The North Sea Protection Works: This vast and complex system of dams, floodgates and storm surge barriers allows the Netherlands to hold back the sea. Otherwise, much of Holland would be swamped.

_Panama Canal: About 42,000 workers dredged, blasted and excavated so much rubble and soil that if they had dug straight down, they could have opened a 16-foot tunnel to the center of the Earth.

_The Itaipu Dam: Five miles wide and requiring enough concrete to build five Hoover Dams, the dam spans the Brazil-Paraguay border.

_The Channel Tunnel: The tunnel from the United Kingdom to France is 31 miles long, of which 23 miles are underwater. Its average depth is 150 feet under the seabed.

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Q: What does WD-40 stand for? _Reatha Andrew, Charlotte, N.C.

A: Reatha, it stands for "water displacement, 40th attempt."

In 1953, the three-person Rocket Chemical Co. of San Diego tried over and over to perfect a rust-prevention solvent for the aerospace industry.

On the 40th try they got it right, and unceremoniously labeled the product by its use and batch number.

Would it be a household name today if chemists had succeeded on the 27th try?

WD-40 was initially used to protect the shells of missiles in the mid-'50s. It worked so well to prevent rust and corrosion that people in the aerospace industry started sneaking it home for use around the house.

The Rocket Chemical Co. put WD-40 into aerosol cans and it first hit stores in 1958.

Today, WD-40 is sold in 160 countries and used by millions of people every day. There's even a 63,000-member official WD-40 Fan Club. (THAT would look slick on a resume.)

Despite this huge success, the WD-40 formula is known by only a handful of people and is mixed at the corporate headquarters in San Diego by a single "brewmaster."

Weirdest uses of WD-40? The company singles out the bus driver in Asia who used WD-40 to remove a python that had coiled itself around the undercarriage of his bus. Or when police used WD-40 to remove a naked burglar trapped in an air-conditioning vent.

Despite the lube job, the burglar failed to give police the slip.

Remember, you only really need two tools: WD-40 and duct tape. If it doesn't move and it should, use the WD-40. If it moves and it shouldn't, use the duct tape.


Q: What's the difference between flotsam and jetsam? _John Arant

A: John, in the technical maritime sense, flotsam applies to wreckage or cargo floating after a shipwreck. (Flotsam is related to the word floating.) Jetsam applies to cargo or equipment thrown overboard from a ship in distress. (Jetsam is related to the word jettison.) The words also have an obscure cousin, lagan, which is goods thrown into the water but attached to a buoy so they can be recovered.)Flotsam and jetsam are often used broadly to refer to useless stuff.



On cars:

1. On the '60s TV show "My Mother The Car," what kind of car was Mom?

2. What famous Car did the supermodel Paulina Porizkova take home in 1989?

3. What's the name of Speed Racer's multi-optioned vehicle?

4. What stainless steel-bodied sports car was assembled in Northern Ireland?

5. Why did the 1966 Buick Electra become notorious?



1. A 1928 Porter

2. Paulina Porizkova married Ric Ocasek, lead singer of the '80s band The Cars.

3. Mach 5

4. The DeLorean

5. Jayne Mansfield died in one.


SOURCES: University of Memphis, Encyclopedia Britannica,

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Jeff Elder is a columnist for The Charlotte Observer. Comment or try to stump him by clicking here. If you send him a great question, he'll send you a Glad You Asked T-shirt.


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