Question: Why are bag pipes played at the funer als of policemen and firemen? When did the tradition start? -- J.P., Elmwood, Ill.

Answer: The tradition of playing bagpipes at police and firefighter funerals in the U.S. originated in the mid-1800s, when great numbers of Irish immigrated during the Great Potato Famine. Bagpipes were traditionally played at Irish and Scottish weddings and funerals. When the Irish came to the U.S., so did the tradition.

Irish immigrants were treated poorly, and only the most dangerous jobs were available to them. Many became firemen and policemen. When there was a funeral, they carried out their tradition of playing bagpipes. The practice has been handed down to this day. Scottish bagpipes are louder than Irish ones, so they are the ones heard today.

Q: On the old TV game show "Let's Make a Deal," Monty Hall would give away lots of prizes along with a few "zonks" -- un desirable items. What happened with those? Did the people get some token prize instead? What if they actually wanted to keep the zonk prize? A couple of cows or a flock of sheep could be a decent prize if you hap pened to own a farm, for example. -- M.K., Venice, Calif.

A: Though usually considered joke prizes, traders legally win the zonks. After the show taping, any trader who had been zonked was offered a consolation prize. A disclaimer at the end of the credits of 1970s episodes read, "Some traders accept reasonable duplicates of Zonk prizes."


Q: My family enjoys coleslaw, so I serve it at least once a week. One night, our 10-year-old daughter said, "Coleslaw is a silly name. What does it mean?" My husband and I were clueless. Can you help us with an answer? -- E.L., Minot, N.D.

A: Coleslaw comes from Dutch "koolsla," meaning "cabbage salad." It's believed the Dutch brought the dish to the U.S. in the 18th century.

Q: New Zealand has a national margarine or food spread that went through a shortage, with not enough for the country or even for their Olympic athletes this summer. What is the name of this spread? Will you supply some history of this prod uct and describe its flavor? -- T.W., Flintstone, Md.

A: The product is a spread called Marmite. In the late 1800s, a German scientist found that if brewer's yeast was concentrated, it could be eaten. With that, Marmite Food Extract Co. was founded in Great Britain, with Marmite as its principal product. It is named after the French "marmite," meaning "large cooking pot."

Because the product became so popular in the U.K., the Sanitarium Health Food Co. started distributing it in New Zealand and Australia in 1908. Later, sugar and caramel were added to the product and other ingredient amounts changed.

Marmite is popular in Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Islands. The main ingredient is the yeast that is a by-product of beer making. People describe the taste as salty, malty and somewhat like beef bouillon. The New Zealand version is sweeter than the British version. It is available in the U.S. through mail order or specialty shops.

Q: I used to listen to a very funny man named Mark Russell on PBS. He wrote political satires with music and sang them while playing the piano. The program stopped about three years ago without explanation. Can you tell me what happened? -- M.J., Naples, Fla.

A: Mark Russell announced he was retiring in 2010. He continues to write and make appearances. He is 80 years old. Visit for jokes and videos of his performances.

Q: How many men running for president won the majority vote but lost the election because of the electoral votes? -- F.J.S., Springfield, Ill.

A: It has happened four times: In 1824, Congress elected John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson. In 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes was declared the Electoral College winner by an electoral commission over Samuel J. Tilden. In 1888, Benjamin Harrison won over Grover Cleveland. And most recently, in 2000, George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in a Supreme Court ruling. A final recount showed that Bush won Florida, the deciding state. Tilden actually won more than half of the popular vote. The others only won a plurality.

Q: What is the origin of the phrase "strike while the iron is hot"? -- S.E. Lake Jackson, Texas

A: The phrase means to act decisively and take opportunities as they arise, alluding to the blacksmith at his forge. If he delays in hammering the hot iron, it will soon cool, thus missing an opportunity to work.

The first known use of the phrase is from Richard Edwards in "The Excellent Comedie of Two the Moste Faithfullest Freendes, Damon and Pithias," circa 1560. He wrote: "I haue plied the Haruest, and stroke when the Yron was hotte."

Q: Somewhere in my travels, possibly in England, I visited a Chamber of Horror, where torture devices were on display. There was a wheel in which body limbs were threaded through the spokes. The wheel was named after a woman. What was her name? Why was it so named? -- K.N.M., McPherson, Kan.

A: I think you saw a Catherine wheel (or breaking wheel), which was popular in the Middle Ages. The wheel was named after St. Catherine of Alexandria. She was to be killed in this fashion, but when she touched the wheel, it miraculously broke. She was beheaded instead. Her feast day is Nov. 25.

The Chamber of Horrors of which you speak might be the one associated with Madame Tussauds wax museum.

Q: I suppose this is a silly question, but I really am curious: Did Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have first names? -- C.L., Clovis, N.M.

A: They did. Author Robert Louis Stevenson gave them the names Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde.

Q: I recently saw a picture of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Was he a child star? His eyes and voice look and sound familiar. Will you tell me more about him? -- D.R., Wyoming, Ill.

A: Joseph Gordon-Levitt was indeed a child actor. He was on numerous TV shows as a child, including "Dark Shadows," "The Powers That Be" and "3rd Rock From the Sun." More recently, he has been seen in the films "Inception," "The Dark Knight Rises," "Looper" and "Lincoln."

Gordon-Levitt was born in 1981 in Los Angeles. His maternal grandfather, Michael Gordon, was a well-known movie director.

Q: Recently on "The Doctors," I noticed that Dr. Stork was wearing a wedding band. When did he get married and to whom? -- H.S., Torrance, Calif.

A: Dr. Travis Stork married his longtime girlfriend, pediatrician Charlotte Brown, on June 30.

Stork has been a panelist on the syndicated daytime talk show "The Doctors" since 2008. He was the bachelor on "The Bachelor" in 2006.

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