In this age of terrible problems, a trifling bit of minutiae has bothered me. It is the hole, about the size of a .22-caliber bullet, in the upper left hand corner of the 2010 Old Farmer's Almanac.

It is a perfect hole, penetrating all 256 pages. It bored through pages predicting the weather, meteor showers, simple solutions for indecisive times, and ads for a special relief cream for arthritis.

But that hole in the cover always bugged me.

"Robert Thomas began publishing the almanac in 1766," says Ginger Vaughan, a spokesperson for the handy-size publication.

After a few years - in 1792, to be exact - Thomas learned that his subscribers had a tendency to lose the book. He decided to drill a hole in the cover so they could hang the almanac on a nail or loop a string through it.

But Mr. Thomas discovered that his almanac was serving a need other than simple reading material. Those were long before the days of indoor plumbing, even before the trusted Sears, Roebuck catalog.

"We know for a fact that our Old Farmer's Almanac would be hung in outhouses," Vaughan says. "People using the outhouse would read the messages or ads in the book and then - in lieu of bathroom tissue - use almanac pages for … well, uh, you know what I mean."

The almanac was always printed on sturdy stock, so it served the user well, if not exactly with comfort.

Outhouses were long, long gone, so about 15 years ago the almanac company decided to do away with the hole in the cover. It was costing the publisher $40,000 to punch those holes. Subscribers were surveyed.

"It was an overwhelming response. 'Save the hole.' 'Leave that hole alone.' That's what readers were telling us," Vaughan explains. So the almanac publisher decided to leave well enough alone.

Some of the angrier protests came from homeowners whose décor was Early American. They wanted to complete the ambience by hanging an Old Farmer's Almanac alongside their cobblers benches or dough boxes.

Old Farmer's Almanac has a circulation of 3.5 million. The 2010 edition amounts to round holes punched through 903 million pages. Everyone should be happy to know that the little punched-out holes are recycled.

Contact Bill Wundram at (563) 383-2249 or bwundram@qctimes.com.

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