In which you'll find our irreverent answers to some vexing questions of the season


June 16, 1996|By Rick Horowitz

Summertime, and the living is ... queasy. You're perched on the very cusp of the season -- rocking in the hammock, sipping a cool something -- but deep inside, you're not quite as calm as you'd like to be. The solstice is only four days away (that's right, it's early this year), but there are summer questions you still can't answer -- riddles and puzzlers that have been gnawing at you for years like so many blood-crazed Maryland mosquitoes.


Summer's no time for you to be worrying. Here at the Institute for Barely Relevant Information, we've done your worrying for you. We've plumbed the depths of human knowledge, circled the globe (well, the block) seeking facts and figures that make the whole hot-and-sticky season a little more understandable. For you, we tackle summer's biggest issues and some of its most trivial pursuits. A few information-filled sentences can make all the difference, you know.

We think we've gone to the summit with this summer sampler, but if it turns out we you don't answer your most vexing question, the magazine can still be of use to you. Use it to swat bugs!

Hot? How hot?

Plenty hot. The official weather records at Baltimore-Washington International Airport go back more than 40 years; the highest July temperature ever recorded there was 104 degrees, in 1988. The highest August temperature was ... even more disgusting: 105 degrees, in 1983.

But here's a cooling thought: The lowest July reading on record was also from 1988: a brisk 50 degrees. August, meanwhile, hit bottom with a 45-degree day in 1986.

Hotter than July?

August may have had the hottest Baltimore day, but July is still the hottest Baltimore month. According to records compiled by the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., Baltimore's normal daily high temperature is 87.2 degrees in July, 85.4 degrees in August. Baltimore's normal daily mean temperature is 77 degrees in July, and 75.6 degrees in August. Close, but no cigar.

Swingin' Days, Swingin' Nights

Where's the best place to spend those sultry days? We'd have to say under a shady tree, swaying in a hammock. It takes 45 minutes and about 1,000 feet of rope to hand-weave the 84-by-60-inch "bed" of a deluxe, two-person North Carolina hammock. Hatteras Hammocks in Greenville, N.C., sells 75,000 to 100,000 hammocks a year. It's the largest hammock manufacturer in the world, says owner Walter Perkins III. At its production peak, Hatteras Hammocks can turn out 800 hammocks a day. The busiest time of the year? The weeks leading up to Father's Day. (Hey, that's today!)

Most hammock buyers aren't buying for themselves, Perkins says. "Nobody needs it, but it's a great gift!"

Checking Out Charcoal

Where does charcoal come from? Glad you asked. The driving force, so to speak, behind the modern charcoal briquette is none other than Henry Ford, father of the Model T. A waste-hater from way back, Ford was looking in the 1920s for a way to turn wood scraps from his auto production line into money. His answer? Turn them into briquettes. He teamed up with one Orin Stafford, who had developed a "retort charring" technology, and by the 1930s was selling those little pillows of fuel -- not to mention picnic grills -- through Ford auto dealerships.

Ford's charcoal-briquette operation, by the way, was based in the town of Kingsford, Mich., and Ford Charcoal was eventually renamed. (You can figure this one out.)

Firing Up the Grill

Speaking of briquettes, the Barbecue Industry Association lists 1995 U.S. charcoal sales at 823,712 tons. That works out to -- don't we make it easy for you? -- 164,742,400 10-pound bags.

That's a lot of charcoal, for sure, but gas is lighting up a lot of barbecues, too. If charcoal briquettes had heels, liquid propane gas would be nipping at them. The latest BIA survey finds charcoal grills in 56 percent of American households, and gas grills closing fast with 55 percent. (That comes to more than 100 percent? Easy: Some people are multi-grilled.)

What's Cooking?

According to the Kingsford Charcoal folks, who keep track of such things, it's chicken leading the pack, showing up on the grills of 64 percent of barbecuers. Hamburgers and steaks check in with 57 percent and 56 percent, respectively, while hot dogs lag behind at 25 percent. Fish? Just 11 percent.

But wait! The latest numbers from the Barbecue Industry Association put burgers on top, followed by steak and chicken in a virtual dead heat, and hot dogs.

'They're Lost in the Bay!'

No, they're not. They're just doing what comes naturally: following fish and eating them.

We're talking bottlenose dolphins. Every summer, it seems, Valerie Chase gets a phone call from an anxious Marylander or two. "The poor dolphins are lost in the bay! They're all scratched up! We've got to take care of them!"

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