Question: I was told an earthquake in Madrid was the strongest ever felt in North America. How is that possible? -- N.H., Bar Harbor, Maine

Answer: I bet you are thinking of Madrid, Spain. Don't -- the strongest earthquake in North America happened in New Madrid, Mo., in the 1800s.

The earthquake was actually a series of three severe earthquakes that would have measured in excess of magnitude 8 on the Richter scale, had there been a Richter scale back then. Collectively, the rumblings are known as the New Madrid earthquakes.

The first quake hit on Dec. 16, 1811; the second occurred on Jan. 23, 1812; and the third, the strongest of the three, was on Feb. 7, 1812. Tremors continued for several months after the final quake. The vibrations were felt as far north as Boston and as far south as Mexico. For a time, the Mississippi River flowed backward, river islands disappeared and lakes formed where there had been none before.

The San Francisco earthquake of 1906, which measured 8.3 on the Richter scale, was felt in an area of 6,200 square miles. The New Madrid earthquakes were felt in an area of 1 million square miles. Because of the sparseness of the area at the time, there was little property damage and few deaths. Scientists say it's not a matter of if another earthquake will hit the area, but when. When it does, the loss figures will be a bit different.


Q: What was the first book printed in the American colonies? -- D.S., Norfolk, Neb.

A: About 1,700 copies of "The Bay Psalm Book," written by Stephen Daye, were printed in 1640. A book dealer tells me this is one of the most valuable books in the English language. By the way, the full name of the book is "The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated Into English Metre."

Q: I picked up a novel in England this summer. One of the characters uses a "Stowaway." I can't quite figure out what it is. -- O.L., Upper Darby, Pa.

A: When first introduced in the United States in 1979, the Sony Walkman was known as a Soundabout. In England, the same product was called a Stowaway.

Q: I'm certain that when I was a kid, I used to see an automobile license plate labeled "the Iodine State." No one believes me. Am I correct? -- D.E.J., Pine Bluff, Ark.

A: You are. Before it was called the Palmetto State, South Carolina was known as the Iodine State. Sometime in the 1920s, it was discovered that South Carolina soil had a high concentration of iodine, and fruits and vegetables grown in the state had a much higher level of this necessary nutrient.

Q: As a kid, I enjoyed Fizzies, a popular fruit-flavored drink made by dropping a tablet into a glass of water. When was it developed? -- D.M.C., Perry, Ga.

A: Oh my, a trip down memory lane! Fizzies were invented by Emerson Drug Co. while it was working on a product similar to Bromo-Seltzer. In 1957, the company introduced the tablets to a limited number of supermarkets. By 1962, Fizzies were available across the nation, exceeding Kool-Aid in sales and popularity. The effervescent tablets were made in grape, cherry, orange, punch, berry, lemon-lime and root beer flavors -- eight tablets cost 19 cents. Unfortunately, Fizzies contained cyclamate, which was banned by the Food and Drug Administration in 1968. The tablets were taken off the market.

In 1995, Fizzies were reintroduced with a new formula containing NutraSweet, but they did not last long. The company went out of business the next year. Fizzies came back in 2005, and you can find out where to buy the tablets at

Q: A muckraker was a journalist who dug around to expose corruption and abuses of power. When did the term start? -- C.T.L., Quakertown, Pa.

A: The term muckrake, referring to a farmer cleaning up after his animals, was used as early as 1685 in "Pilgrim's Progress" by John Bunyan (1628-1688). Some credit Theodore Roosevelt with applying the moniker to U.S. journalists who were involved in digging in the dirt for a story.

Q: One of the most beautiful sights at night is the full moon. On a clear night, the moon is so bright you can do some outside chores. How much brighter is the full moon than the half moon? -- T.L., Wooster, Ohio

A: The full moon is ten times brighter than the half moon.

Q: I once had a cake that was baked in a shell-shaped mold. As I recall, it was named after a woman. Neither my husband nor I can recall what it was, other than we enjoyed the delicacy. Do you happen to know the name? -- M.E.S., Stuart, Fla.

A: Sounds as if you enjoyed a madeleine. Although the origin of the name is not known for sure, many say the cake was named after 19th-century French pastry cook Madeleine Paulmier.

Q: I know of several athletes with the nickname Dizzy. I once came across the name used for a politician. I think it was an affectionate term. Who was the statesman? -- J.L., Midland, Texas

A: Friends of former English Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli called him Dizzy.

Q: We recently toured England and visited Royal Leamington Spa. We were told this was the only town in England permitted to use the word "royal" in its name. I never asked why. Can you answer this for me? -- G.G.H., Bakersfield, Calif.

A: There are two other cities with royal names: Royal Tunbridge Wells and Royal Wootton Bassett. The reigning monarch decides if a town will be granted the "royal" title.

Royal Leamington Spa was granted its title in 1838 by Queen Victoria. The spa town was a frequent stop for royal families.

Q: In relationship to current-day geography, where is Mesopotamia? Does the name have a meaning? -- H.E.C., Chandler, Ariz.

A: In Greek, Mesopotamia means "between two rivers." Those rivers are the Tigris and Euphrates. Mesopotamia is mostly located in present-day Iraq.

Q: John Wayne fought in Native American wars, the Civil War, World War II and in Vietnam -- in the movies. What about in real life? Did he serve during World War II? -- L.G., Cape Coral, Fla.

A: No. Because he was a father of four and his mother relied wholly on his financial support, he did not have to serve in the military.

Q: I have long used the term "on the Q.T." How did the phrase originate? -- N.B., Quincy, Mass.

A: This is a simple one: From the first and last letters of "quiet."

Q: I've been told there is a Disco Island someplace in the world. I can't find it. Can you? -- P.L., Jamestown, N.Y.

A: Spelled Disko, it is an island located off the west coast of Greenland. In Greenlandic, the island is called Qeqertarsuup.

Q: I am a longtime fan of Michael J. Fox. What is his middle name? -- F.J., Mesa, Ariz.

A: Andrew. Screen Actors Guild regulations state that no two members can share a name (for crediting reasons). Since there was already a Michael Fox, he needed to change his name. Fox considered using his given middle initial, but felt that would be awkward, so he added the J in honor of character actor Michael J. Pollard.

Q: At what age does a squab, a young pigeon, become a pigeon? -- B.D.E., Joliet, Ill.

A: There is no specific age when the transition occurs. When a squab flies, it is a pigeon. This usually happens at about four weeks.

Send your questions to Mr. Know-It-All at or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.