The Quick 10: People With the Same Names

The inspiration for today's Quick 10 comes from mental_floss collaborator A.J. Jacobs. I recently read his book The Know It All: One Man's Humble Quest to become the Smartest Person in the World. He noted the George Harrison connection, and for some reason I knew the Jack Black connection. Thus, a post was born. Enjoy!

blacks1. Jack Black the actor (one of my favorites, I must say "“ I'm a big Tenacious D fan) shares his name with a famous rat catcher from London. The other JB was Queen Victoria's personal rat catcher and nearly died on many occasions due to infection from his numerous rat bites. He didn't kill them all, though "“ when he caught unusually-colored rats, he would keep them and breed them as pets. Queen Victoria even had a couple of pet rats, and it's thought that Beatrix Potter bought rats from Jack Black as well. The full name of Jables, by the way, is actually Thomas John Black, so technically the two of them don't share a name at all. Sorry to start this post with a farce.

2. George Harrison the Beatle shares his name with George Harrison the organ designer. He's known for creating organs with best tonal design ever. An example of his work is the organ at the Morman Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. So, this George Harrison probably isn't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but he definitely made some major contributions to music, too.

3. David Jones, AKA Davy Jones of the Monkees, shares his name with David Jones, AKA David Bowie. Since Davy Jones was famous first, David Jones changed his name to David Bowie to avoid confusion. I completely understand that; it would be super embarrassing to be onstage as Ziggy Stardust and having people shout, "DO DAYDREAM BELIEVER!!" at you. There's also David Jones the scientist (he studied aluminum) and David Jones the writer (The Anathemata). Actually, there are a lot of David Joneses, but I'll just stop there.

4. Likewise, there are lots of semi-famous William Baileys. There's Bill Bailey the English comedian, two major league baseball player Bill Baileys, Bill Bailey the dancer, Bill Bailey the Spanish Civil War Veteran and Will Bailey from the West Wing. But I'd be willing to bet that the most famous William Bailey (to most of us, anyway) is the William Bailey who is actually Axl Rose. He was born as William Bruce Rose, Jr., but when his mom remarried L. Stephen Bailey, she changed little Axl's last name, too.

5. Leslie Hope is a Canadian actress "“ 24 fans might remember her from the first season when she player Teri Bauer. She's been on various other T.V. shows with bit parts here and there. So, it's probably safe to say that the other Leslie Hope is a lot more famous. You just know him better as Bob Hope.

6. Michael Moore, the director/producer of Bowling for Columbine; Fahrenheit 9/11; and Sicko, shares his name with a ton of other somewhat well-known Michael Moores. First, there's Michael Moore the baseball player (he used to be a pitcher who played for the Mariners, the Tigers and the A's). Then there's Michael Moore the evangelist, and Michael Moore the Contemporary Christian musician. And Michael Moore the former New Zealand Prime Minister. And two Michael Moore jazz musicians (one played clarinet and sax, the other played bass). And there's a lot Moore where that came from. Ha.

thomases7. No doubt even people who aren't sports fans know the NBA's Isiah Thomas, formerly of the Pistons. But how about Isaiah Thomas, the revolutionary-era newspaper publisher? He performed the first public reading ever of the Declaration of Independence and was the founder of the American Antiquarian Society. Sounds like these two would have really hit it off.

8. Back on the Jones front, we have Brian Jones the Rolling Stones guitarist, who died at the age of 27 in 1969. However, there's also Brian Jones, the hot air balloonist, who is still alive and co-piloted the first successful, uninterrupted trip around the world in 1999. It took 19 days, 21 hours and 47 minutes.

9. Growing up in the "˜80s, I'm most familiar with Alfred E. Neuman, the MAD magazine mascot (I used to love the MAD magazine board game). But there's also Alfred Newman the composer, who received 45 Academy Award nominations before his death in 1970. He scored films such as How the West Was Won, Gunga Din, All About Eve and The Greatest Story Ever Told. And yes, the name Newman as a composer should ring a bell "“ he's Randy Newman's uncle. But that's not the only other famous composer in the family "“ two of his brothers, two of his sons and his daughter all did or do write music for the big screen. I'm partial to his son, David Newman, because he composed the music for Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

jacksons10. Michael Jackson. I'll refrain from personal commentary, but needless to say, there's a certain Michael Jackson that jumps to the forefront when you hear that name. But preceding him were Michael Jackson, a Massachusetts soldier injured at Bunker Hill; Michael Jackson, the head of the British army; Michael Jackson, the British software designer and computer scientist; and Michael Jackson, an industry expert in the fields of beer and whisky. That's him in the picture on the left, next to the other MJ.

job secrets
10 Secrets of Hotel Room Service

Guests visiting New York City's Waldorf Astoria hotel in the 1930s enjoyed an amenity that was unheard of at the time: waiters delivering meals directly to their rooms. While the Astoria’s reputation for luxury has endured, room service is no longer exclusive to five-star stays. Roughly 22 percent of the country’s 54,000 hotels [PDF] are willing and able to bring breakfast, lunch, or dinner to people who prefer to eat while splayed out on a large and strange bed.

To get the scoop on what goes into getting food from the kitchen to your floor, Mental Floss spoke with Matt, a hospitality specialist who spent a total of 10 years working in and around room service for a major San Francisco hotel. Matt preferred not to use his last name; since his stories sometimes involved naked people, undercooked chicken, and Oprah, you can understand why. Below, check out a few things you should know before you dig into that tray.


When a room service delivery employee takes a tray from the kitchen to your room, it’s typically covered in a metal lid to retain heat and to prevent other guests from sneezing on it. The higher up you are, the longer it has to travel—and the more that lid traps steam, soaking your food in moisture. “Food sweats in there,” Matt says. “Instead of having crispy, toasted bread, you get wet toast. The longer it stays in there, the worse it gets.” If you want crunchy fries, you’d better be on the first couple of floors.


A seafood dinner is presented on a plate

That lid is a nuisance in other ways. Because it traps heat, it’s effectively cooking your food in the time it takes to get from the chef’s hands to yours. “If you order a steak medium, it will probably be medium well by the time it gets to you,” Matt says. While you can try to outsmart the lid by requesting meat be cooked a notch lower than your preference, it's not so easy to avoid overcooked fish—which will probably also stink up your room. Instead, stick with burgers, club sandwiches, or salads. According to Matt, it’s hard to mess any of them up.


Just because you see a menu in your room, it doesn’t mean the hotel has a kitchen or chef on-site. To cut costs, more hotels are opting to out-source their room service to local eateries. “It might be ‘presented’ by the hotel, but it’s from a restaurant down the street,” Matt says. Alternately, hotels might try to save money by eliminating an overnight chef and having food pre-prepped so a desk clerk or other employee can just heat it up. That’s more likely if sandwiches or salads are the only thing available after certain hours.


Two coffee cups sit on a hotel bed

No, not for the reason you’re thinking. Because so many hotel guests are business travelers who are away from home for weeks or months at a time, some of them get tired of eating alone. When that happens, they turn to the first—and maybe only—person who could offer company: the room service waiter. “People are usually traveling alone, so they’ll offer you food,” Matt explains. Sometimes the traveler is a familiar face: According to Matt, he once sat down to eat with Oprah Winfrey, who was eating by herself despite her suite being filled with her own employees. He also says he had a bite with John F. Kennedy Junior, who wanted to finish watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High before heading for his limo.


Busy hotel kitchens aren’t always paying attention to whether the chicken wings they buy in bulk are frozen raw, frozen cooked, or somewhere in between. “Ask for them extra crispy,” Matt says. That way, they’ll be cooked thoroughly regardless of their freezer status. “I recommend that to everyone.”


A hotel guest pours milk into a bowl of cereal

Breakfast is undoubtedly the busiest time for room service, and those little cards that allow you to check off your menu items the night before are a huge help. “It’s great for everybody involved,” Matt says. “The kitchen can pace themselves and you can get your food on time.”


Yes, guests answer the door barely clothed. No, this is not optimal. “We don’t want to see it,” Matt says. “It's something we dealt with numerous times.” While it's likely your waiter will use discretion, any combination of genitalia, drugs, or illicit activity is best kept out of their sight.


A hotel room service tray sits in a hallway

That move where you stick your soggy fries outside your door? It can lead to some awkward encounters. Matt says he’s seen other guests stop, examine trays, and then pick up discarded food from them. Other times, people leave unimaginably gross items on the trays. “I’ve found condoms on there. Divorce paperwork. All kinds of things.”


Weird people aside, “We don’t really want it out there,” Matt says. “It stinks.” Instead, dial 0 for the front desk and let them know you’re done eating. They’ll dispatch someone to come and get it.


A tip is placed near a hotel check

People pay out the nose for room service, with hotels adding surcharges for “service” and “in-room” dining that can turn a $5 club sandwich into a $15 expense. That’s not great news for guests, but it does mean you don’t need to feel bad about not offering a cash tip. Those service fees usually go straight to the employees who got your food to your room. “I never tip,” Matt says. “Most of the time, the service and delivery charges are given to the waiter or split between the people who answered the phone and pick up the tray. It’s better to leave it all on paper to make sure it gets divided up.”

Big Questions
What is Mercury in Retrograde, and Why Do We Blame Things On It?

Crashed computers, missed flights, tensions in your workplace—a person who subscribes to astrology would tell you to expect all this chaos and more when Mercury starts retrograding for the first time this year on Friday, March 23. But according to an astronomer, this common celestial phenomenon is no reason to stay cooped up at home for weeks at a time.

"We don't know of any physical mechanism that would cause things like power outages or personality changes in people," Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, tells Mental Floss. So if Mercury doesn’t throw business dealings and relationships out of whack when it appears to change direction in the sky, why are so many people convinced that it does?


Mercury retrograde—as it's technically called—was being written about in astrology circles as far back as the mid-18th century. The event was noted in British agricultural almanacs of the time, which farmers would read to sync their planting schedules to the patterns of the stars. During the spiritualism craze of the Victorian era, interest in astrology boomed, with many believing that the stars affected the Earth in a variety of (often inconvenient) ways. Late 19th-century publications like The Astrologer’s Magazine and The Science of the Stars connected Mercury retrograde with heavy rainfall. Characterizations of the happening as an "ill omen" also appeared in a handful of articles during that period, but its association with outright disaster wasn’t as prevalent then as it is today.

While other spiritualist hobbies like séances and crystal gazing gradually faded, astrology grew even more popular. By the 1970s, horoscopes were a newspaper mainstay and Mercury retrograde was a recurring player. Because the Roman god Mercury was said to govern travel, commerce, financial wealth, and communication, in astrological circles, Mercury the planet became linked to those matters as well.

"Don’t start anything when Mercury is retrograde," an April 1979 issue of The Baltimore Sun instructed its readers. "A large communications organization notes that magnetic storms, disrupting messages, are prolonged when Mercury appears to be going backwards. Mercury, of course, is the planet associated with communication." The power attributed to the event has become so overblown that today it's blamed for everything from digestive problems to broken washing machines.


Though hysteria around Mercury retrograde is stronger than ever, there's still zero evidence that it's something we should worry about. Even the flimsiest explanations, like the idea that the gravitational pull from Mercury influences the water in our bodies in the same way that the moon controls the tides, are easily deflated by science. "A car 20 feet away from you will exert a stronger pull of gravity than the planet Mercury does," Dr. Hammergren says.

To understand how little Mercury retrograde impacts life on Earth, it helps to learn the physical process behind the phenomenon. When the planet nearest to the Sun is retrograde, it appears to move "backwards" (east to west rather than west to east) across the sky. This apparent reversal in Mercury's orbit is actually just an illusion to the people viewing it from Earth. Picture Mercury and Earth circling the Sun like cars on a racetrack. A year on Mercury is shorter than a year on Earth (88 Earth days compared to 365), which means Mercury experiences four years in the time it takes us to finish one solar loop.

When the planets are next to one another on the same side of the Sun, Mercury looks like it's moving east to those of us on Earth. But when Mercury overtakes Earth and continues its orbit, its straight trajectory seems to change course. According to Dr. Hammergren, it's just a trick of perspective. "Same thing if you were passing a car on a highway, maybe going a little bit faster than they are," he says. "They're not really going backwards, they just appear to be going backwards relative to your motion."

Embedded from GIFY

Earth's orbit isn't identical to that of any other planet in the solar system, which means that all the planets appear to move backwards at varying points in time. Planets farther from the Sun than Earth have even more noticeable retrograde patterns because they're visible at night. But thanks to astrology, it's Mercury's retrograde motion that incites dread every few months.

Dr. Hammergren blames the superstition attached to Mercury, and astrology as a whole, on confirmation bias: "[Believers] will say, 'Aha! See, there's a shake-up in my workplace because Mercury's retrograde.'" He urges people to review the past year and see if the periods of their lives when Mercury was retrograde were especially catastrophic. They'll likely find that misinterpreted messages and technical problems are fairly common throughout the year. But as Dr. Hammergren says, when things go wrong and Mercury isn't retrograde, "we don't get that hashtag. It's called Monday."

This story originally ran in 2017.


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