For Alexei Svistunov, collector of Russian records, it all began 10 years ago - with a protest.
Then a journalist with the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily on a visit to Washington, Svistunov picked up his first "Guinness Book of World Records" to quench his thirst for the best, quickest and quirkiest achievements.
But, as a hard-news journalist, he was quickly disappointed, spotting what he thought to be some twisted facts and other items he felt had not been thoroughly researched.
That the award for the world's largest newspaper circulation went to a Japanese newspaper at 14 million copies a day and not his Komsomolskaya Pravda (19 million) or Russia's Trud (20 million) was enough to set Svistunov off creating a news agency that now provides newspapers, television programs and other subscribers with information on these quirky, unusual and sensational facts.
The company he created, called PARI - for "Paradoxes, Records and Information" - now has 40 employees and celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. Along with the news agency, Svistunov and his team have published a book that lists all worldwide "very firsts." They also have put together a collection of beer records on CD-ROM. And in the works is the first proper book of Russian records, due out early next year.
The ultimate goal, Svistunov said, is to create an international network of publishers of national records books to provide an alternative to the Guinness Book of World Records.
The book of "very firsts" was published in 1992 - with a print run of 50,000 - and sold out in its first month, the author said, most going to schools.
"If you want to find unusual information about, say, when smoke was used on stage for the first time or which was Russia's first tabloid, you get it all there ... along with the usual set of first discoveries, first things, people and events," Svistunov said.
The authors, through the news agency and publications, strive to correct mistakes made in other publications.
"There are many inaccuracies or even mistakes in textbooks. We double-check our information and present it in a lively format. It's as good for school kids as it is for journalists, writers or film directors," he said.
Svistunov said he felt embarrassed for a film director when watching a TV show portraying a World War II battle near Moscow. He spotted Kalashnikovs and T-76 tanks, which were mass-produced only after the war. Another TV date mishap showed Columbus peering into a telescope - which did not exist at the time, Svistunov said.
The authors' research also helped seal the fate of another misconception, he said.
"The Americans thought they were smart when using seals to track submarines and mines in the 1950s. We found photographs proving we were already using them at the turn of the century," Svistunov said.
The book of Russian records, when it comes out, will feature this kind of amazing data. It will be a record in itself, said Svistunov's assistant Anna Vasenina. It's still early to say how many records it will list, as the agency's telephone rings every other minute with people eager to tell of their achievements.
But, as Vasenina said, not every phone call will result in a record. "Many people just don't know that their record has already been done by someone else, and we get different people calling us, sometimes nutcases or commercial offers. Some are offering money to see their name in a book with no matter what record," she said.
Among other things, the agency's newswire features information about the biggest collection of Coca-Cola cans; a Russian double of Pamela Anderson; a man speaking 200 languages; the discovery of giant mushrooms (50 centimeters in diameter); and the fact that the first feminist organization in Russia was registered by a man.
"We just got a phone call about a dog that can speak 30 phrases. Now we have to go and check that out," said Vasenina.
However unusual, both Vasenina and Svistunov say such records are not their priority.
"When compiling a book, we are not interested in records of who will spit the farthest or who will eat more. That's what Guinness does. But we are looking for real advantages that also might have practical use.
"We are the biggest country with the biggest number of records. It's high time we did justice to ourselves and have our real heroes come out on the front stage. And we will see it happen soon," Svistunov said.
(The publishers are accepting nominations for records at PARI, Box 200, Russia, Moscow, 115573. The agency's telephone in Moscow is (7095) 790-2447.)