Small, obscure optimizations sometimes have the potential to make the greatest impact. For example, every time a connection is made, MySQL will do a DNS lookup of the host that is trying to connect. If MySQL is handling many connections, the overhead of an extra DNS lookup can be hefty, simply because of the number of extra operations that have to be performed before MySQL can actually start doing actual work.
Thankfully, there is an option in recent versions (4.1+) of MySQL that will instruct MySQL to skip the extra DNS lookup. It’s a fairly obscure option called skip-name-resolve. The only caveat to using this option is that the users defined the GRANT tables can only use IP addresses as hostnames. For most MySQL users, this shouldn’t be an issue.