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10 Superlative Facts About Guinness World Records

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Without the good folks at GWR, how would we ever know about the world’s longest usable golf club, heaviest carrot, or largest gathering of people dressed as gorillas? Sixty years ago today, the very first Guinness Book of Records was published. After reading our little tribute, get out there and try to make next year’s print edition. Go nuts!

1. No, It Isn’t Owned by the Brewery (Anymore).

Let’s tackle this one first. True, the makers of Ireland’s favorite stout did establish this record-tracking franchise in 1954 (stay tuned for details). However, everything changed in 2001. Diageo—Guinness’ new parent company—decided to sell off all non-booze-related assets. A deal was then struck with the new owner which let them keep using the iconic beverage’s name, though astute readers will note that their top product is now called Guinness World Records as opposed to The Guinness Book of World Records.

An unlikely buyer soon picked up this rechristened brand: Gullane Entertainment, the producers of Thomas the Tank Engine and other kid-friendly shows. Since then, it’s been sold to the Jim Pattison Group, which also owns Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

2. The Whole Concept Was Inspired by A Bird-Hunting Question.

Pop quiz! Name the fastest game bird in Europe. Anyone? Bueller? If you’re drawing a blank, don’t worry: Sir Hugh Beaver didn’t know the answer either. In 1951, this Guinness marketing director posed the same query at an Irish shooting party. Nobody present could settle the ensuing debate—even after combing through their host’s private book collection.

If only there was a single, authoritative text loaded with superlatives. Such a resource could end trivial arguments like this one throughout Ireland and the world at large. Thusly inspired, Beaver contacted Norris and Ross McWhirter, who ran a London-based fact-finding agency. Soon enough, Guinness hired the pair to create an all-new record book. Legend has it that, during the interview process, somebody asked them which language has the fewest irregular verbs. Without missing a beat, the brothers—accurately—said “Turkish” and the job was theirs.

Oh, by the way, Europe’s fastest game bird is the red grouse (so says The Guinness Book of World Records, 1989). You’re welcome.

3. Finishing the First Edition Took 13 and a Half 90-Hour Weeks, Including Weekends.

According to GWR’s official website, that figure doesn’t even include the McWhirters' research phase, which came earlier. Labor-intensive, no? Still, the rewards were pretty sweet.

Guinness’ original plan was to hand out free copies to around 80,000 Irish & British pubs. Nobody had the foggiest idea about how wildly successful this meek, 198-page volume would soon become. By Christmas 1955—just over four months after its release date—word-of-mouth public demand had transformed The Guinness Book of Records into a runaway bestseller. Beaver couldn’t believe his eyes. “It was a marketing giveaway,” he said, “it wasn’t supposed to be a money maker.”

4. Ashrita Furman Holds the Record for Most Guinness World Records.

This man is a record-setting legend. In 1979, the Big Apple native made history by doing an unprecedented 27,000 jumping jacks, and he didn’t stop there. At one point or another, Furman’s cracked upward of 500 Guinness World Records. Today, he defends over 200, including “most records held at the same time by an individual.” The others range from “highest mountain peak climbed on stilts” to “tallest object balanced on chin.”

5. Sadly, “Oldest Living Woman” Is Among the Most Frequently-Updated Records.

“It’s consistently broken at regular intervals for obvious reasons,” reveals editor-in-chief Craig Glenday. 2015 alone has already seen that title change hands twice. As of right now, 116-year-old Brooklynite Susannah Mushatt Jones owns the Guinness certificate. What’s her secret? “Sleep!” she says. And bacon.

6.  92% of Applicants Are Disappointed Every Year.

The remaining 8% actually get certified as record holders. On average, Glenday’s staff receives an unenviable 1,000 applications per week. Most don’t get very far. “One of the most common reasons for rejection is lack of evidence,” he notes. “We don’t have to be in attendance at every attempt… so, we ask for video footage, photos, independent witness statements, press clippings, log books, credit card receipts and so on to help us validate the achievement.”  Also, many wannabes brag about doing banal things that don’t count as records to begin with (e.g.: “I can lick my elbow!”).

7. In 2008, They Were Sued by “The Most Litigious Man in the World.”  

Jonathan Lee Riches will file a lawsuit against anything. Literally anything. An ex-federal prisoner, he’s tried to sue Weird Al Yankovic, George W. Bush, the Eiffel Tower, Plato, Viagra, Nordic Gods, the Ming Dynasty, the dwarf planet Pluto, Whoopi Goldberg, Google, Huggies, Black History Month, Nostradamus, “various Buddhist monks,” and Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. Things got so absurd that, in 2010, a U.S. district court officially prohibited Riches from submitting any more “frivolous, fraudulent, or malicious lawsuits” to federal courts.

Just one year earlier, he’d set his sights on Guinness World Records. Riches allegedly heard that the company was about to name him “The Most Litigious Man in the World.” What happened next? Exactly what you’d expect: Riches sued. “Jonathan Lee Riches is not a Guinness record holder,” said one spokeswoman in response, “and a category for most litigious man is not something Guinness World Records has ever monitored.” As usual, the inmate’s case was dismissed.  

8. President Obama Was a World Record Holder—For Two Whole Weeks. 

This spring, America’s commander-in-chief set up a bona fide Twitter account. Before that, Robert Downey Jr. had the distinction of having clocked the “fastest time to reach one million followers” on that social media service, but Obama racked up a million followers in 4 hours 52 minutes on May 18 to take the movie star's title. Two weeks later, Olympic champion and transgender activist Caitlyn Jenner joined Twitter and broke the president's record by 49 minutes. 

9. Special Rules Apply to Culinary Record-Seekers.

Wanna make the world’s largest pizza? Have fun! Just don’t be wasteful. Chefs hoping to pursue food-related titles must make sure that their grub is “either consumed or distributed for consumption after it has been measured.”

10. Guinness World Records Itself Has Set a Pretty Awesome One.

Guinness World Records has the distinction of being “The best-selling annual publication” in history, with “132,002,542 copies sold from 1955 until October 2013.” 

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literature
A Limited Edition, Handwritten Manuscript of The Great Gatsby Can Be Yours for $249
SP Books
SP Books

Fans of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby need to put this on their holiday wish list: The French manuscript publisher SP Books is releasing a deluxe, limited-edition version of Fitzgerald’s handwritten Gatsby manuscript.

A handwritten manuscript of 'The Great Gatsby' open to a page
SP Books

The 328-page, large-format edition is cloth-bound and features an ornamental, iron-gilded cover. The facsimile of Fitzgerald’s original manuscript shows how the author reworked, rewrote, and otherwise altered the book throughout his writing process, changing character’s names (Nick was named “Dud” at one point), cutting down scenes, and moving around where certain information was introduced to the plot, like where the reader finds out how Gatsby became wealthy, which in the original manuscript wasn’t revealed until the end of the book. For Fitzgerald superfans, it's also signed.

A page of the handwritten manuscript with a pen on it
SP Books

The publisher is only selling 1800 copies of the manuscript, so if you’re a lover of literary history, you’d better act fast.

It’s available from SP Books for $249.

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Pop Culture
An AI Program Wrote Harry Potter Fan Fiction—and the Results Are Hilarious
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

“The castle ground snarled with a wave of magically magnified wind.”

So begins the 13th chapter of the latest Harry Potter installment, a text called Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash. OK, so it’s not a J.K. Rowling original—it was written by artificial intelligence. As The Verge explains, the computer-science whizzes at Botnik Studios created this three-page work of fan fiction after training an algorithm on the text of all seven Harry Potter books.

The short chapter was made with the help of a predictive text algorithm designed to churn out phrases similar in style and content to what you’d find in one of the Harry Potter novels it "read." The story isn’t totally nonsensical, though. Twenty human editors chose which AI-generated suggestions to put into the chapter, wrangling the predictive text into a linear(ish) tale.

While magnified wind doesn’t seem so crazy for the Harry Potter universe, the text immediately takes a turn for the absurd after that first sentence. Ron starts doing a “frenzied tap dance,” and then he eats Hermione’s family. And that’s just on the first page. Harry and his friends spy on Death Eaters and tussle with Voldemort—all very spot-on Rowling plot points—but then Harry dips Hermione in hot sauce, and “several long pumpkins” fall out of Professor McGonagall.

Some parts are far more simplistic than Rowling would write them, but aren’t exactly wrong with regards to the Harry Potter universe. Like: “Magic: it was something Harry Potter thought was very good.” Indeed he does!

It ends with another bit of prose that’s not exactly Rowling’s style, but it’s certainly an accurate analysis of the main current that runs throughout all the Harry Potter books. It reads: “‘I’m Harry Potter,’ Harry began yelling. ‘The dark arts better be worried, oh boy!’”

Harry Potter isn’t the only work of fiction that Jamie Brew—a former head writer for ClickHole and the creator of Botnik’s predictive keyboard—and other Botnik writers have turned their attention to. Botnik has previously created AI-generated scripts for TV shows like The X-Files and Scrubs, among other ridiculous machine-written parodies.

To delve into all the magical fiction that Botnik users have dreamed up, follow the studio on Twitter.

[h/t The Verge]

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