Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal Arts
6 minutes for reading

BORIS BURDA: How to solve an argument

BORIS BURDA: How to solve an argument
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Artwork: Olena Burdeina (FA_Photo) via Midjourney




King Tupou IV of the oceanic state of Tonga loved to eat so badly that he reached a weight of 209.5 kilograms — who’s going to stop him, he’s the king! However, there was a solution for him: he began to lose weight by practicing sports, when this fact was mentioned in a book. Which one?




In the Guinness Book of Records, of course — who wants to be known as the fattest king?



One of the most ancient and widespread entertainment, tests, ways to check the competence of the interlocutor — questions and answers. Back in time immemorial, educated people had to know the answers to questions like «what mountain is a mountain to all mountains?» (Tabor), «what bird is a bird to all birds?» («eagle»), «what beast is a beast to all beasts (lion), etc.

Ancient manuscripts have brought down to us the questions asked to foreign wise men by Alexander the Great: «who is the most respected in the world?» (the one who respects himself), «who is more — the living or the dead?» (the living, because the dead are gone), «which animal is the most cunning?» (the one about whom a man does not know yet)… Whoever answered correctly was considered a wise man.

Even collections of wise questions began to appear, like the popular in the Middle Ages «Physiologist», from which one could learn that a tiger keeps his tiger cubs in a glass ball, a deer pours water on a snake and drowns it, a fed panther sleeps for three days, a partridge steals eggs of other birds and a number of other equally true facts. Those who knew were considered educated, uh-huh.

Closer to our time, the facts in such handbooks became a little more reliable and could even be of real use — as, for example, in O. Henry’s story «The Handbook of Hymen», the hero of which conquered a beautiful widow with data from such a handbook, such as «If an artery is cut, tighten it above the wound». By the way, and indeed, it is useful to know…

In 1928, Mikhail Koltsov decided to start a special section in the magazine «Ogonek» for entertaining questions. Since he entrusted it to journalist Viktor Mikulin, this section was called a quiz. The word caught on, and entertainment of this type became popular, giving birth to «What? Where? When?» and similar games.

In some countries, arguing about the correct answers to tricky questions has practically become a national hobby. Many believe, for example, that it is inherent in the Irish, arranging a mug of beer such discussions that even the saints can be taken out… However, if the British tell such stories — divide everything by at least ten, these peoples have a complex history of relations…


BORIS BURDA: How to solve an argument
Portrait of Arthur Guinness, founder of Arthur Guinness Son & Co, which bottled beer under the Guinness brand / wikipedia.org




It all started with a man who left his mark on a number of countries in the British Empire. He was born in South Africa, served in the Indian police force, was an engineer in England, a director general in the Canadian Ministry of Labor. And in neighboring Ireland, which had already gained independence, he held a position, which many considered a cult. What — I’ll tell you a little later…

November 10, 1951 near the Irish town of North Slob, he went after the hunt to a party, where, according to hunting custom, all poured bitterness from the blunders favorite alcoholic beverages (including those produced under his leadership) and productive discussions about how they are a couple of meters hit the white light, as in a penny…

Our hero came up with a simple and clear explanation for his failures — of course, he was shooting at a golden plover, the fastest bird in the world! The neighbor, who had just finished another mug, began to giggle offensively — what a plover, it could never catch up with a grouse! But there was not a single plover or grouse in the beer hall, and there was no way to check who was right.

Three years passed, and in the next beer hall they started discussing the plover again, and moreover, they bet that the Scottish partridge flies even faster! The famous anglo-saxon fair play demanded a precise answer to such an important question, but where to get it? There would have been some special handbook for such information, but there was not!




And now let’s reveal the incognito of this controversialist. His name was Sir Hugh Beaver, and he was at that time the managing director of the company that had been producing the world-famous Guinness dark beer since 1756. This is not just a beer — it is practically one of the national symbols of Ireland. Such a status, of course, was facilitated by inventive advertising.

The use of animals and birds became almost a classic in advertising — a toucan with seven mugs of Guinness on its beak, an ostrich swallowing Guinness together with a glass… not to mention a sea lion, even though it is not a bird! Parodies of classic famous poems were used — sometimes even in Latin, even though cultured people drink…

Ever since the Duke of Wellington started drinking Guinness after a serious injury and was cured, many people believed in the healing properties of this drink. It was recommended to postoperative patients, wounded and lactating. However, it was not possible to prove it scientifically and advertising was curtailed, but in Africa they still believe that «Guinness» helps from malaria and hemorrhoids. What if it’s true?

A beautiful glass of very dark beer, always topped with a white foam cap, got a beautiful name «blonde in a black skirt». To make the glass look exactly like this, there is a special pouring technology — first they pour three quarters of the glass, then wait for two minutes, and only then fill it to the top. In general, they not only know how to brew beer, but also how to serve it.


BORIS BURDA: How to solve an argument
Hugh Beaver — Anglo-South African civil engineer, industrialist and bureaucrat, founder of the Guinness Book of Records. He was director general of the Ministry of Works and managing director of Guinness Brewery / i.ebayimg.com




Having failed to find out who flies faster, the plover or the partridge, Sir Hugh asked the reasonable question, «What should one do when such a debate arises, especially since his firm’s product encourages such a debate?» It would be great if one could open a book with many such records and easily decide who is right…

His colleague Chris Chataway gave him a solution, recommending his fellow students, twin brothers Norris and Ross McWhirter, owners of an advertising agency — maybe they would take on the task of compiling such a guide. The brothers were not afraid, began to write to all sorts of connoisseurs and prepared the first version of what the whole world soon learned about.

August 27, 1955, the book, called «Guinness World Records», arrived in stores. Everyone waited with trepidation to see how the sale would go, but despite the very low price (only 5 shillings!) only 6 pieces were bought in the first hour. A failure? Not at all — by the end of the third hour 100 pieces had gone, and by lunchtime the number of sales had passed 1000!

Further — more — more: even before the end of the week sold 10 000 pieces, and by the end of the year had to republish the book twice more, increasing the price almost twice, to 9 shillings. Now the circulation of the Guinness Book of Records is noticeably inferior to only two editions — the Bible and Mao Zedong’s «Little Red Book». By the way, another record: this is the book that is most often stolen from libraries!


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Over the years, the Guinness Book of Records has developed strict rules for fixing records: to ensure that it includes, firstly, records that are interesting and surprising, and secondly — minimally harmful to nature and people. For example, all records related to the killing of living creatures or mistreatment of them are now taboo.

So, the unfortunate Janaka Basnayake, who wanted to set a record for the longest time spent underground, died in vain during his unsuccessful attempt. The coveted Book of Records limited itself to expressing its condolences to the deceased and once again reminded him that it does not register records directly related to the danger to life.

Another important criterion for a record to be included in the Book is whether it can be broken. For example, the owner of a legless dog was refused to register the record. Yes, the poor animal really has 0 (zero!) legs, but can there be a dog with minus one leg? In the same way, a rock musician who gave a concert of one chord was also refused — well, zero, and then what?

Judging by the given facts, such strict criteria were not applied before. There is a report about the performance «Bag», shown in December 1983 in the English town of Grantham — there was not a single spectator in the hall, and it is written that it did get into the Guinness Book of Records. Nowadays, he would probably be denied — not only is it impossible to beat him, but no one needs to.

Sometimes the record is fought for annulment for reasons that are quite serious. At least twice the Nordic countries raised the issue of removing all athletics records set before 2000. The reason is simple — almost no one can beat them, because doping control has improved dramatically. Too bad you can’t prove anything here, or you would have to…


BORIS BURDA: How to solve an argument
Norris and Ross McWhirter / rattibha.com




There are plenty of people who want to get into such a famous publication, and therefore the recognition of a record is accompanied by a rather well-developed procedure that allows you to be sure that the record is really set. It all starts with the submission of an official application. It will be considered within 12 weeks (you want to speed up the deadline — pay £500!).

Then a contract is signed between the applicant and Guinness World Records, and the more interesting and unusual the record that is going to be set, the higher the chances of the contract being signed. The criteria for scoring the record are defined — if you don’t do something, it won’t count. And only then, in the presence of representatives of the Book, the record is set (or not).

For some records such a commission is not required — it will not check, for example, what is the distance to Proxima Centauri (is it really equal to 4.35 light years), and if it does, I wonder how exactly? Facts like that are simply carefully verified using solid scientific sources. They rarely enough change…

Sometimes the question of getting into the cherished Book has to be decided by the courts. What’s more, sometimes people go to the courts to avoid getting in. For example, Jonathan Lee Riches, who filed more than 4000 lawsuits during his life, sued the Guinness Book of Records itself, demanding that it forbid to call him the most prolific sleuth in history. He only increased his record…




Maybe I’m wrong, but the most interesting thing about the Guinness Book of World Records is not the story of the biggest, smallest, fattest or heaviest thing. Much more interesting are the facts that tell us about the most unbelievable, impossible, badly stacked in the mind. About what you will not immediately believe — and, by the way, it is absolutely in vain, they have learned to check the facts perfectly!

Will you be able to believe, for example, that three times a day a jet plane flies between San Francisco and Oakland and spends 5 minutes on the flight? Well, yes, the distance is 19 kilometers and 200 meters, how can it be without a plane? Nevertheless, there is such a fact in the Book, and therefore there is a route. Who will prevent people from living with conveniences if they want to?

And won’t it surprise you to hear that finnish Rister Aitikainen threw a hen’s egg at a distance of 317 feet 7 inches (a little less than 100 meters), and the egg fell… and didn’t break? By the way, this is the truth — Guinness is not misleading. How can it be? And very simply: the egg flew not by itself, but inside a live chicken. But I fear for the chicken…

Anything can reach record size, even a Swiss folding knife. How many different blades do you think there are in a record-breaking knife — 20, 40, well, 100, probably, hardly any more… But no! In such a knife, which has, as it should be such knives, 12 centimeters in length, 3 — width and full 35 centimeters in height, there are 306 different blades. How convenient…

And don’t tell me these things are abstract, far removed from real life. The fact that Liberian President Charles Dunbar Burgess King will win the 1927 election, having collected 15.5 times more votes than there were voters in the country, for residents of some countries — not a joke and not a paradox, but a thing quite real, albeit sad. Guinness World Records are only a reflection of true life.

But the Guinness Book of Records, like Tchaikovsky, «we do not love it at all for that». It tells us about the diversity of the world, about the amazing possibilities of a person who really wants to set a record, about how many things people can do. And it doesn’t usually tell us what we shouldn’t repeat — vigilant editors delete such information, and rightly so!


BORIS BURDA: How to solve an argument
Swiss folding knife Wenger Giant Knife, entered into the Guinness Book of Records / knifecenter.com


Frenchman Michel Lotito made it into the Book when he ate an airplane (of course, after sawing it into pieces and spending several years on it). He was awarded a special Guinness medal for such an achievement — so he sawed it up and ate it too!

The Commins couple from Clitnwood made it into the Book of Records by giving birth to five children in different years, but on the same day. And one Norwegian couple managed to give birth to three children, all on February 29, in three different leap years. What a saving on birthdays!

For a long time in the USSR, the Guinness Book of Records was issued only from special storerooms by permission. After all, it contained data about the Soviet Army, places of imprisonment, repressions and other delights, which were considered top secret at that time…

Read the Guinness Book of Records carefully — there is one false report in every copy! Whoever discovers it will receive a special gift copy from the publisher.

Want to get into the Guinness Book of Records without these complications? No problem: there is a shooting gallery where you can achieve it in a couple of hours! You just have to aim better — it uses the Guinness Book of Records as a target for shooters who really want to get into it…


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