Jewish World Review May 12, 2004 / 21 Iyar, 5764

Jeff Elder

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Consumer Reports

That odd smell after you eat asparagus; only horseshoe-shaped toilet seats in public restrooms?; more | Q: Why is it that eating asparagus affects the smell of one's urine so much? _John Lilley, Charlotte, N.C.

A: John, today I'm going to answer two bathroom questions that I have been asked many, many times. I've always declined to answer them with the attitude "It's a big, beautiful world out there. We should focus on other things."

But people have a lot of time to think IN THERE, and they keep asking me these questions.

So here goes.

The smell is due to a chemical reaction. Asparagus contains sulfur compounds, the stuff that gives us eau d' rotten eggs, garlic breath and skunk spray. Your digestive tract breaks these sulfur compounds down, and the by-products are released into urine. This happens very quickly - even within 15 minutes of eating asparagus.

People have been fascinated by this for a long time. The first published study on the phenomenon was written in 1891 by a man identified only as "Nencki." (I think, therefore, that this should be known as "the Nencki smell.")

There are people reading this right now thinking, "What the Nencki is he talking about? I've never noticed any smell."

That might be because your body doesn't make the smell. Or maybe your nose doesn't notice it. Studies published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that some people produce the odor, some don't, and some can't smell it when they do.

_Sources: Elizabeth Somer, WebMD, Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board

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Q: Why is it you only see horseshoe-shaped toilet seats in public restrooms? _Randal Inman, Charlotte, N.C.

A: Randal, toilet seat makers told me the horseshoe-shaped variety is easier to keep clean. (The front end of the seat gets the dirtiest.) That's the main reason that high-traffic public restrooms have the horseshoe-shaped variety. The experts also say horshoe-shaped toilet seats tend to look more industrial, while closed-ended seats come in more decorative varieties. People want attractive ones for their homes.

Horseshoe-shaped seats are often made for elongated toilets. Those are more expensive, and more difficult to fit into small bathroom spaces. So contractors sometimes choose to put round-bowl toilets into homes. But even when people choose elongated toilets, they usually choose closed-ended seats.

Now. Out into the big, beautiful world.

_Sources: Olsonite, American Standard


Q: Why do they call the Baltimore Orioles' home field Camden Yards? _Liz and Samuel Nichols, Norwood, N.C.

A: Liz and Samuel, thanks for asking about such a cool place. Camden Yards helped change how Americans go to baseball games.

The official name of the ballpark is Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Former Baltimore mayor and Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer wanted the park to be called Camden Yards because a historic train depot, Camden Station, is nearby. Eli Jacobs, who owned the Orioles when the ballpark was built, wanted to call it Oriole Park. They compromised.

Almost everyone just calls it Camden Yards. So in effect Schaefer prevailed.

The beautiful "retro" ballpark ushered in a new era for baseball when it was built in 1992. For a generation before that, major league baseball was played in concrete bowls, generic venues built for both baseball and football, like Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium, Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium and Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium.

Camden Yards is more like Boston's Fenway Park, Chicago's Wrigley Field and bygone baseball palaces like Brooklyn's Ebbets Field and Philadelphia's Shibe Park.

The field is grass, not turf. The dimensions are asymmetrical. The architecture features historic touches. The ballpark incorporated the old Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Warehouse -- the longest building on the East Coast at 1,016 feet - into its design. Each of the warehouse's 3 million bricks was hand-cleaned in the renovation.

And Babe Ruth's birthplace is just two blocks away from the ballpark.

Other cities took notice of Baltimore's new "old" ballpark, and the era of concrete bowl baseball stadiums ended. Turner Field in Atlanta, Jacobs Field in Cleveland, SBC Park in San Francisco and others have borrowed from Camden Yards' example, incorporating character and a sense of history.

_ SOURCES: Baltimore Orioles,, ESPN

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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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