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South Side author collects Pittsburgh trivia in book

| Monday, Oct. 16, 2006

Quick: What's the busiest intersection in Pittsburgh• The steepest street in Pittsburgh• The weekly number of worms consumed by the birds at the National Aviary• The only Pittsburgh Pirate to have pitched a no-hitter while tripping on LSD•

Dane Topich knows the answers: Routes 22 and 48 in Monroeville (70,000 vehicles a day); East Woodford in Carrick (27.6 degrees); 60,000 worms; and Dock Ellis.

Topich, 66, of the South Side, has been collecting odd questions about Pittsburgh -- and their answers -- for years, starting while he worked in local politics. The end result is "Ultimate Pittsburgh Trivia" (Towers Maguire Publishing, $18.95), a collection of 1,000 questions and answers about his favorite city.

"I did a lot of research for politicians, writing speeches, drafting press releases, things like that. So I collected a lot of facts," says Topich. "After that, I went to KDKA-TV and radio and wrote editorials. I guess I wrote anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 editorials -- I used to do four a week.

"So my background has always been collecting facts. Then you combine that with obsessive-compulsive behavior -- it's easy to get compulsive with questions and answers."

Okay, maybe most of us aren't dying to know how many toilets there are at PNC Park. Then again, you never know ....

"They might not be dying, but to ease their comfort, they might want to know," explains Topich. (The answer is 265 for men, 230 for women.)

He's encountered some amazing characters on the way.

There's the city's heaviest resident -- Jackson, a 10,400-pound elephant at the Zoo.

And there's Franklin Phillips, who deserted the Army in the Spanish-American War. He changed his name to Harry Fisher, rejoined the Marines to fight in China during the Boxer Rebellion, and won the Congressional Medal of Honor under his assumed name. Wes Slusher, Topich's friend, ran a campaign to help Phillips receive the Medal of Honor under his real name.

The book includes an index. Topich envisions future researchers picking the book out of the stacks to spice up future speeches and editorials.

Sometimes the answers lead to more questions. For example, if Pittsburgh is the second-safest city in America behind Columbus, Ohio, when it comes to driver deaths from running red lights, does that mean that "the Pittsburgh left" is less of a menace than we thought?

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