List stories are wildly popular today. We have the "best and worst" and "10 wealthiest" and "100 most powerful" in endless variations. It all speaks well of our curiosity about other people's affairs, but what about that old list standard: things you didn't know?
It seems to have declined rapidly in and out of education, despite the gaudy flowering of TV quiz shows and their mind-boggling cash and gift awards.
Herewith is a list of some things you probably didn't know and even some you don't want to know -- history and geography bites that you can use to tantalize your kids, stump your buddies or bore dinner guests:
* One hundred years ago, there were still more than 150 Confederate generals alive and kicking and roaming around wondering how the South could have triumphed.
* The famed Lady Baltimore cake was not a local invention. It is said to have originated in Charleston, S.C.
* A Marylander, John Hanson, and not George Washington, was the first national officer of this nation entitled to be called "president." Hanson was president of the United States in the Congress assembled in the 1780s before the Constitution reorganized things and dropped a heap of problems on old George.
* If you want to be in the center of things in Maryland you have a choice of the State House in Annapolis, Harborplace in Baltimore or Ocean City on Labor Day, right? Take your pick. But to be in the real middle of Maryland you would seek out the geographical center of the state. It's in Prince George's County near the banks of the Patuxent River and Bowie racetrack.
* Pennsylvania has higher mountains than Maryland, yes? No. At a breezy 3,360 feet, the state's highest mountain, Backbone, in Garrett County, is a cool 137 feet higher than Pennsylvania's highest, Mount Davis in Somerset County.
* Maryland was the first Southern state to free the slaves, a General Assembly act that was passed in November of 1864. Since Lincoln's proclamation affected only slaves in regained territory within states in rebellion, the Maryland manumission came decidedly early in the drive to end the slave system.
* Yes, Virginia, there are other Marylands. Maryland is a county in the republic of Liberia on the Atlantic coast of Africa. It's 40 miles long and thrives on rubber, palm oil and cocoa.
It's also a village in the Mashonoland section of Zimbabwe in Africa. The place is 40 miles northwest of the capital city of Harare. Chromium mines are the big attraction.
* It's ditto for Baltimore. Charm City does not have a patent on the name. Baltimore is also the name of a town in southeast Vermont, a coastal settlement in County Cork, Ireland, a village in southern Ontario and also a village in Fairfield County, Ohio.
* Home handymen were in great demand in early Baltimore -- as is true today. As a for instance, homeowners were responsible for putting in sidewalks and keeping them in good repair after the city was incorporated in 1796. If you rented, you were still responsible, but you got a break; you could deduct the cost of repairs from your rent.
* What they meant by the good old days: Until 1890, there was no local city tax on sales of alcoholic beverages in Baltimore.
Some of these sparklers may not seem very important but they could be a key to a better grade in civics, a smile from a teacher or -- who knows -- maybe a help some day in getting elected. *