1. What's in Oprah's Purse?
A peek at the contents of a woman's purse can be quite revealing. Here's what Oprah is carrying…

  • Makeup bag (a gift from Nate Berkus)
  • Louis Vuitton wallet, containing $14 in cash and some South African currency
  • Blackberry™
  • The Color Purple: The Musical playbill
  • Sunglasses, in both black and brown
  • Contact lens cleaning fluid
  • Copy of the movie Freedomland
  • Copy of Dr. Maya Angelou's poem, Amazing Peace
  • Maya Angelou's itinerary while she visits Oprah in Chicago
  • Pens
  • Reading glasses
  • Toys for Sophie, one of Oprah's dogs

…and a few stray crumbs from a nutrition bar!

2. Has Oprah Passed Gas on the Show?
Oprah is completely taken aback by this question—but she's ready to spill the beans! "First of all, let me say, that is so rude!" Oprah says. "That is so rude!…Perhaps I have…"

3. Who Does the Audience's Makeup?
The Oprah Winfrey Show has a reputation for having a good looking audience, but Oprah says they get that way entirely on their own. No professional makeup artists and no hired models!

4. Do Our Votes Really Count?
To answer burning questions on American history and government, Oprah turns to Jon Stewart , The Daily Show host and author of the best-selling satire, America (The Book) .

"The truth is, it does, same as a guy who's half drunk who came into the voting booth just because it was cold outside," Jon says. "That's the beauty of our democracy—everybody's vote counts the same. And in the last presidential election, about 110 million votes were cast. Yours counted…whatever 1 divided by 110 million is."

5. What Is the Majority Whip?
"In the Congress, each party has their own 'whip,' and the whip is the guy that makes sure that everybody votes along party lines because otherwise our Congress would encourage dangerous independent thought," Jon says. "We don't want that in our government. We want everyone to do exactly what the other person is doing."

"Think of the majority whip as Congress' 'mean girl' basically saying to the other people in their party, 'Today we're wearing pink,'" Jon says.

6. Who Are the Most Interesting People to Have Sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom?
"The truth is, after Lincoln, it pretty much went downhill," Jon says. "He was probably the top dog who slept in there." Joking aside, Jon says many famous people have slept in the room, especially during the Clinton era. "Barbra Streisand, the Spielbergs, the Hollywood donors—many of those people did," Jon says. "A lot of the Arkansas elite, your Huckabees—that sort of thing—slept there."

Jon also teases that the Lincoln bedroom has ties to The Oprah Show's star decorator, too. "Nate Berkus's great, great, great, great, grandfather [slept there] on a world's ugliest bedroom contest."

7. Do the President and First Lady Share a Bathroom?
"The White House has no indoor plumbing—the President and the Vice President share an outhouse," jokes Jon. "I believe that they have separate bath facilites…at least if the movie Dave is correct."

8. Was the White House Always White?
"Well, in terms of color—yes. In terms of its inhabitants, I'm going to go with 'yes' there, too," says Jon. "Actually, it wasn't—they white-washed it to seal it up and that's why it ended up being white."

9. Where Does Poop Go After You Flush the Toilet?
Mike Rowe , host of Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel, is here to flush out the answer. Every time you flush the toilet or wash something down a shower or kitchen drain, you create sewage, also known as wastewater. Wastewater travels through the pipes in your house to sewer lines underneath the streets and into a water sewage treatment plant.

The treatment process varies from plant to plant, but the goal is the same—separate the solid waste from the liquid waste. In San Francisco, Mike tours a plant where a series of mechanical rakes called a bar screener work to remove as much debris as possible. Next, the sewage travels to one of dozens of different primary sedimentation tanks—the heavier sludge sinks to the bottom, while the liquid rises to the top. Finally, oxygen and disinfectants are added to purify the water.

The finished product from the San Francisco plant is pumped 4 1/2 miles out into the nearest body of water, namely the Pacific Ocean. The final destination of your wastewater depends on your geographic location, and Mike says approximately 18 million gallons end up in the ocean every day. Because the water is now 95 percent treated, it's not harmful to fish or other animals. In fact, it's almost good enough to drink.

Is tap water just treated sewage?

"Sometimes, not all the time," says Mike. "It really depends from state to state."

10. What Happens to Road Kill?
To find the answer, Mike hits the road with two of the Ohio Department of Transportation's finest employees—they pick up road kill! Every year in the state of Ohio, over 400,000 deer are killed by motorists. Two weeks without road kill cleanup and most major interstate highways would be littered with dead animals. After being picked up by the crew, the road kill is brought to a county composting facility where it's turned into mulch for the garden. Now that's recycling!

11. Where Does the Fat Go When You Lose Weight?
The Know-It-All author A.J. Jacobs weighs in with the answer. "It breaks down into carbon dioxide and water," A.J. says. "The carbon dioxide you breathe out and the water you either sweat out or you pee out."

The fat cells stay in your body, he says. "They just get thinner. They're just waiting for more fat to come in. They're very sneaky."

12. What Is Dust?
"Dust has everything in there but the kitchen sink," A.J. says. "You've got little bits of clothing, ashes, plant matter and little insect parts—even human skin.

A lot of human skin. A.J. says we each shed one pound of skin a year! "That's what the dust is. And I've got to tell you—there are also dust mites, which love to eat the dust and they love to eat your skin cells. Your mattress has 2 million dust mites in it. So I hope you're able to sleep tonight!"

13. What Do Your Social Security Numbers Mean?
"They're not random," A.J. says. "The first three digits have to do with where you're born. I was born in New York so I have 095; if you're born in California, you're in the 500s—it sort of goes from east to west. The middle two [digits] have to do with when you were born. And then the last four are totally random. … So if you know someone's social security number, you can basically figure out where they were born and how old they are."

14. Why Can't People Keep Their Eyes Open When They Sneeze?
"A sneeze is not just your mouth and nose," A.J. says. "It's a full body reflex, so it involves the stomach, your head and your lungs. It puts a lot of pressure on your head and you close your eyes sort of as a protective measure. And by the way, you should never stifle a sneeze—if you hold your nose, the air goes out your ears and that puts pressure on your ears. So just let it go."

15. How Did Grape Nuts Cereal Get Its Name When There Are No Grapes or Nuts in It?
C.W. Post, who introduced the cereal in 1897, believed that grape sugar formed when the cereal was baked. And even though the recipe didn't call for nuts, he thought it had a nutty flavor. So he named the cereal Grape Nuts.

16. How Did the Academy Awards® Statue Get the Nname "Oscar"?
It isn't clear, but one commonly accepted theory is that Margaret Herrick, the Academy librarian, commented that the statue looked like her uncle Oscar. After a reporter printed her observation, the name stuck. In 1939, the Academy officially started using the name.

17. Can Dogs Only See in Black and White?
Although it's a common misconception that man's best friend can only see in black in white, A.J. has good news for dog lovers everywhere. Dogs can see in color! "They can't see red, but they see green and yellow and blue quite well," he says.

18. Are Black Boxes in Airplanes Really Black?
Despite the name, "black boxes" are actually a bright orange color. "That's the easiest to find in a wreck," says A.J.

19. After the Age of 20, How Many Brain Cells Do We Lose a Day?
A.J. says a person loses 50,000 brain cells every day after the age of 20. "The best way to fight off this is to keep your mind exercised—so do a lot of crossword puzzles," he says.

20. Why are barns red?
A.J. says the practice of painting barns red goes back hundreds of years when farmers used to make their own paint using a combination of linseed oil, milk and rust. The rust was added to prevent mold from growing in the mixture—and that's what gave it the red color. In keeping with tradition, many barns are still painted red using modern-day red paint instead.
FROM: Oprah's Most Burning Questions
Published on September 22, 2006


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