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A Call to Arms for the State's Eccentrics

California is woefully lacking in its share of Guinness record holders. Where are our long-distance tap-dancers and 4-inch ear hairs?

September 22, 2002|ROY RIVENBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When it comes to bizarre world records, California is losing its touch. Its dinosaur vomit isn't old enough, its motorized sofas aren't speedy enough and its giant carrots aren't massive enough.

Although the state still lays claim to the world's largest disco ball, the steepest skydive by a dog and the most soap bubbles blown by someone with a live tarantula in his mouth, something is clearly amiss.

According to statistics compiled for Guinness World Records 2003, California ranks first in the nation in total world records (290) but falls to an embarrassing 14th in records as a percentage of state population. Whereas New York has one Guinness record for every 82,500 residents, California has only one record for every 117,000 people.

The current champion of Guinness records on a per-capita basis is

"We're just tickled to death," said Tony Bullock, spokesman for Washington Mayor Anthony Williams. "We'll take any distinction we can get, especially positive ones. And we do consider this positive."

The District of Columbia's claims to fame include the biggest map collection (at the Library of Congress), largest antiwar rally (600,000 people in November 1969), most fan mail for a cat (75,000 letters a week for former White House feline Socks), most varieties of beer sold commercially (1,072 at the Brickskeller) and highest concentration of corrupt windbags in one place (U.S. Congress). Actually, that last category isn't officially recognized, but it's still a record. The District is also home to the woman with the world's largest natural breasts, size 48V, according to Guinness.

"I can't say I have any firsthand knowledge of that one," Bullock said.

How did Washington amass such a high percentage of records? Guinness officials say many of the marks are politics-related. But Bullock offered another theory: "This city attracts people from all over the world, and with that tremendous diversity comes an unnatural amount of talents."

The second-best Guinness showing belongs to Alaska, home of the world's largest carrot (18 pounds, 13 ounces) and fastest-moving glacier. A spokesman for Gov. Tony Knowles said the state has no plans to try to overtake Washington, D.C.

"I don't know if we could compete with the District of Columbia because their categories are so different," said gubernatorial press secretary Bob King. "Alaska is famous for its arctic conditions, whereas Washington is known for its hot air."

Third-place finisher Hawaii (heaviest professional sumo wrestler, largest active volcano, biggest aloha shirt) attributed its strong performance to "something in our clean air." Gov. Benjamin Cayetano said: "It's the clean, fresh air that Los Angeles once had 200 years ago."

Maybe so, but Hawaii must remain vigilant to hang onto third place. Tenth-place New York recently pilfered the island state's record for largest ice cream scoop pyramid.

Meanwhile, in Sacramento, Gov. Gray Davis seems shockingly unperturbed by California's feeble Guinness output. "We have the fifth-largest economy in the world, the strongest environmental laws in the nation and some of the most magnificent coastlines you can find anywhere," said Davis spokeswoman Jordan Rasmussen. "That makes California No. 1 in our eyes. And some records aren't worth breaking."

If Davis' Republican opponent, Bill Simon, has a plan to rally the citizenry to boost California's world records, he isn't sharing it. His campaign didn't return calls seeking comment.

But, clearly, the situation calls for action. Even puny New Hampshire has more Guinness records per capita than California. That state's landmarks include longest candy counter (112 feet), most jack-o'-lanterns in one place (23,727 at a pumpkin festival held two years ago) and most people wearing fake Groucho glasses and mustache simultaneously (522). New Hampshire also boasts the third-largest legislature in the English-speaking world, with 424 members, trailing only the British Parliament and Congress.

"There's no state policy on getting into the book of Guinness records, but we've got a long history of independent, adventurous spirits, and I guess that's continuing today," said Pamela Walsh, press secretary to New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.

It won't be easy for California to claw its way to No. 1. Guinness officials receive about 50,000 requests a year from aspiring record-breakers. For California to be competitive, it must first protect the records it already has, such as longest car (a 100-foot limousine equipped with its own swimming pool and diving board); most live honeybees held inside a human mouth (109); largest lemon (an 8.5-pound monstrosity grown in Whittier in 1983); largest drug seizure (47,554 pounds of cocaine found in Sylmar in 1989); loudest finger snap (108 decibels, by a Pasadena man); and longest distance leapfrogged (996 miles by 14 Stanford students in 1991).

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