You don't have to be a rocket scientist to create a Web page that surfers will visit daily. But it helps.
George Schmidt, the co-founder of an addictive site called du Jour, has a day job at NASA in Huntsville, Ala., as an engineer. Using his nights and weekends, he worked out the technical problems of putting together the advertiser-supported site, which is an entertaining combination of daily almanac and puzzle page.
Du Jour gets visited more than 100,000 times every day, an astonishing number for a site not connected to a major company or service. But where else could you find out, if you happened to have called up the site on Nov. 27, that that day was the birthday of Anders Celsius (born in 1701, he invented the temperature scale now given his name), Alexander Dubcek, Robin Givens and Jimi Hendrix?
The site also lets you know that the date marks the deaths of such luminaries as Horace (the Latin poet died in 8 BC), Eugene O'Neill and Baby Face Nelson. And it was on that date that Pope Urban II kicked off the 1st Crusade, Alfred Nobel established his coveted prize, the Beatles released "Magical Mystery Tour" and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk were killed by Dan White.
In addition, du Jour presents several puzzles and quizzes, which also change daily, offering surfers the chance to pick up small prizes.
The site began last year as the far more modest Riddle du Jour. "We were looking for a way to promote a local Internet service provider," Schmidt said, speaking from his office. "We wanted to come up with something that would become a habit with people, something they would visit every day."
The daily riddle was an immediate hit; the traffic overloaded the system a few times, Schmidt said.
On Nov. 27, the riddle asked: "A man is running home. Halfway there, he sees a masked man. He stops and goes back to where he started. Why?" (You'll find the answer at the end of this column.)
If you got the right answer you are not alone--991 who submitted answers that day got it correct. Six of them, chosen in a drawing, won prizes.
Schmidt and his partner added other games, such as a trivia quiz ("Disney's Mickey Mouse originally went by what name?"), an electronic labyrinth and a word game.
The list of births, deaths, events and international holidays (that day was Martyr's Day in Cuba and Weizmann Day in Israel) makes up the most extensive part of the site.
Other facts are tossed onto the site. Unless you checked du Jour, you probably got through all of November without realizing it was National Alzheimer's Disease Month, International Drum Month and Peanut Butter Lover's Month.
Du Jour has picked up more than 40 sponsors, but it still doesn't quite pay its own way. "That's why I'm speaking to you from my NASA office," Schmidt said with a laugh. But he and his partner have started selling similar services to other companies wishing to increase daily traffic.
Du Jour can be found at http://www.dujour.com.
By the way, the man in the riddle was playing baseball. He was running from third base to home when he saw the catcher. And Mickey is the cartoon figure formerly known as Mortimer Mouse.
Cyburbia's e-mail address is email@example.com.