News Quiz

No. 384: “Prob. Ability”

“What used to be a problem for Wyoming and Montana is now a problem for everybody,” says the Rev. James G. Wilson, an Episcopal church official. What’s the problem? 

Send your answer by noon ET Tuesday to

Thursday’s Question (No. 383)—”To Err Is Humor”:

This week at a Chicago trade show, it was announced that 80 percent of these products are misused, often with tragic consequences. In response, many manufacturers will offer free inspections and free instructional clinics. What is the product, and how are its users going wrong?

“This isn’t the story about the lobster vibrator, is it?”—Scott Pollino

“It’s lather, rinse, repeat; not rinse, repeat, lather.”—Francis Heaney

“Is there going to be a ‘Sodomy Corner’ on this one? Just wondering.”—Michael Manella

“Let’s see … that means 20 percent are using it correctly, and that’s not too bad considering America’s educational system.”—Steven Davis

“I hate to be a killjoy, but the Chrysler people are right: Car seats make lousy sleds.”—Matt Heimer

Click for more answers.

Randy’s Wrap-Up

I am reluctant to criticize anyone for “misusing” a product being, as I am, someone who’s pounded in a nail with a delicate porcelain figurine of Henry Kissinger dressed as a sad-eyed clown. (Perhaps he’s sad about those declassified documents revealing U.S. involvement in Pinochet terrorism that he knew absolutely nothing about.) Of course one person’s misuse is another’s use. Preparation H turned out to make a great face cream, although it was originally formulated as a source of material for Jay Leno. But today’s quiz question refers not to products applied to a new purpose, but to one that was poorly applied to its original function. One way to avoid that sort of thing is for the manufacturer to provide a first-class instruction manual, like the assembly sheets that come with IKEA furniture. These are so well conceived that even I can follow along, and yet the instructions are almost entirely nonverbal, demonstrating either elegance of design or that some Swedes are mocking us for being a nation of illiterates. I prefer to think the former. And indeed, it is said (by me, and I’m lying) that Jane Goodall taught a chimpanzee to assemble an IKEA home entertainment center. However, when the construction was completed, and a television placed on top of it, the chimp was unable to sit through an entire Leno monologue or to believe Kissinger’s denials of the most treacherous behavior in Chile.

Inadvertent Ejection Seat Answer

Eighty percent of child seats are installed improperly, a more complicated process than one might suppose. Only certain models fit any given car. And the seatbelts must be attached in a particular way. And the car must be parked when you install them. And you can’t be naked. Or on fire.

Thursday at the Chicago Auto Show, DaimlerChrysler announced that 400 of its dealers would offer free inspection of child seats on any car from any maker. GM has donated 51 minivans to be used as mobile car-seat checkpoints. Ford offers child-seat clinics at dealerships, as does Toyota. Nissan has some very nice pamphlets, which, presumably, can significantly reduce injuries if you pack them tightly around your child.

Mil Spec Extra

Last week, President Clinton presented Congress with his $1.8 trillion budget, including $291.1 billion in military spending. Which of the following are actual weapons systems the president is plumping for?

  1. Wolverine—mine-clearing car-type thing.
  2. Grizzly—another cool car kind of thing that knocks down bridges.
  3. Super Hornet—Navy jet, to go with the dozen other jets already deployed by other branches of the service, but this one is a NAVY jet.
  4. Hell Monkey—no one is certain what it does, but its subcomponents are made in 35 separate congressional districts.
  5. C-130J—transport and tanker planes that the Air Force says it has no need for but that Lockheed Martin says it would like to sell anyway.
  6. F-22—wildly overbudget fighter plane whose funding was cut last year.
  7. Crusader—new Army artillery system too heavy to be quickly deployed with existing aircraft.
  8. Ol’ Unreliable—ineffectual anti-missile system. Cost: $60 billion to date.
  9. El Pollo Loco—secret weapon to stop drug trade in Colombia. Details are classified, but experts agree: It will cost a lot, and it won’t work.


All are genuine except 4 and 9. While the name of 8 is untrue, the amount spent on it is correct; 1 and 2 have been cut from the budget and their funding transferred to other ineffectual and unnecessary weapons systems without animal names.

Extra Credit Extra

Five points added to your grade for the entire term if you can simply think the correct answer to yourself. (Scoring done via BrainScan feature on Windows 2000.)

Mel Torme, Peggy Lee, Carmen McRae—what’s the connection?

Common Denominator

Guns and vibrators—suggesting the possibility of a deadly but delightful new hybrid product.

Festive Extra

Participants are invited to join us for the News Quiz second anniversary party, Monday, Feb. 28, from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., in the prestigious back room of Cucina Della Fontana, Bleecker and Charles streets, New York.

As is customary, this event is BYOE, bring your own everything—food, drink, health insurance. (Not so much bring as “buy.”)