Beyond the Coke formula, other secrets that need telling


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By Justin Moyer
Sunday, February 20, 2011

The public radio show "This American Life" stunned carbonated beverage connoisseurs last week when it revealed what it alleges is the secret formula for Coca-Cola. Though Coca-Cola denied that the recipe is "the real thing" and soda-lovers have yet to storm supermarkets for ingredients necessary for homebrewing, the Coke formula is but one of many tantalizing things that someone somewhere knows - but just not us.

What's the Google algorithm?

Gaming Google's search results isn't impossible. Reports surfaced last week that someone paid to have thousands of sites link to JCPenney, thus helping the retailer come first in searches for "area rugs" and "bedding." But the online giant won't reveal the programming that makes it, well, Google. "We are, to be honest, quite secretive about what we do," says its official blog. "There are two reasons for it: competition and abuse."

Who is 'You're So Vain' about?

Carly Simon, former wife of James Taylor and former girlfriend of Warren Beatty, has confirmed that her signature 1973 hit ("You're so vain/You probably think this song is about you") isn't about the former and isn't entirely about the latter. Other candidates include Mick Jagger, Kris Kristofferson, David Bowie and David Geffen. In 2005, Simon even joked that the song was about Mark "Deep Throat" Felt.

And while we're asking: Who is Alanis Morissette's 1995 hit "You Oughta Know" about? Anyone who's seen "Full House" can't believe rumors that it's about mulleted Dave "Uncle Joey" Coulier.

What's the Colonel's secret recipe?

What makes KFC chicken finger-lickin' good? Cayenne pepper? Old Bay? Extra salt? Chefs have tried to reverse-engineer Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Harland "Colonel" Sanders's mix of 11 herbs and spices, but the company keeps the lone, handwritten copy under lock and key in its headquarters in Louisville.

Where is Jimmy Hoffa buried?

Teamsters president James Hoffa disappeared outside Detroit on July 30, 1975, where he was allegedly meeting with Mafia heavies. Though Hoffa was declared dead in 1982, a 2004 episode of the TV show "Mythbusters" busted the myth that he's interred in Giants Stadium, and the FBI unsuccessfully searched for his body on a Michigan farm in 2006. In Danny DeVito's 1992 biopic "Hoffa," starring Jack Nicholson, Hoffa was shot in a diner parking lot. It's as good a theory as any.

What's on the deleted 18 ½ minutes of the Watergate tapes?

Richard Nixon's White House tape No. 342, recorded on June 20, 1972, just three days after the Watergate break-in, contains a long, deliberate erasure. Attempts to restore the tapes have failed, but the gap can be heard online by anyone who likes listening to static. (The 1999 comedy "Dick" provides an answer: 15-year-old White House dog-walker Arlene Lorenzo, played by Michelle Williams, fell hard for Nixon and testified to her love on tape.)

And while we 're asking: What's in the 22 million e-mails from March 2003 to October 2005 lost by the Bush White House?

Where is Osama bin Laden?

Let's hope the answer to the war on terror's central question didn't get lost among those 22 million messages.

moyerj@washpost.com Justin Moyer is Outlook's editorial aide.


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