News Quiz

No. 412: “Science Friction”

“There needs to be some caution here,” said Dr. Fred Gould, a member of a 12-person panel appointed by the National Academy of Sciences. “Not all tomatoes are equal.” What was the panel’s task? 

Send your answer by 5 p.m. ET Sunday to

Wednesday’s Question (No. 411)—”Cargo Cult”:

Uzbek border guards stopped an Iranian truck bound for Pakistan and seized its mysterious cargo, packed in 10 lead containers. Commenting on the cargo, a senior State Department official said, “We’re not prepared to say it is or it isn’t. We just don’t know. We’re trying to find out.” Is or isn’t what?

“Andrew Sullivan’s private stash of synthetic testosterone.”—Evan Cornog

“Female. Travel restrictions for women in those Muslim countries have gotten really harsh.”—Julia A. Woods

“Indie!! Indie, come quickly!”—Daniel Kahn

To George W. Bush
From Definitely NOT a Drug Dealer.”—Larry Amoros

” ’(Gasp). The jewels!!!’ ‘Yeah, and I would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for you meddling Uzbek kids.’
‘Hooray! Scooby Snacks for everyone!’ (Translated from the original Uzbek and Persian-Pidgin-Uzbek.)”—Tim Olevsky

Click for more answers.

Tim Carvell’s Wrap-Up

The scene: Coco Chanel’s home, Paris, 1953. She is reclining on a divan. A man in a lab coat bursts in.

MAN IN LAB COAT: “Miss Chanel! Miss Chanel!”

COCO CHANEL: “Yes, Jean-Luc, what is it?”

MAN IN LAB COAT: “It’s happened again! We were mixing up a batch of fragrance, and suddenly, Gerard and Matthieu began bleeding out of their eyes and vomiting uncontrollably. It seemed to have liquefied their internal organs.”

COCO CHANEL: “Gracious! Are they all right?”

MAN IN LAB COAT: “Er, no. No, having your internal organs liquefied is fatal pretty much 100 percent of the time. Anyway, I was wondering, what should we do with the stuff?”

COCO CHANEL: “The same thing we did with the other batches that didn’t work out. Seal them in lead and ship them off to the Chanel underground bunker in Iran. Someday, some government may find a use for them.”

MAN IN LAB COAT: “Consider it done. [Hesitantly] Listen, Coco—should we keep on experimenting with this stuff? We’ve gone through 11 batches now, and only one of them didn’t wind up killing or maiming our fragrant technologists.”

COCO CHANEL: “I suppose you’re right. Let’s just go with that one non-fatal fragrance.”

MAN IN LAB COAT: “The fifth one?”

COCO CHANEL: “Yes. I suppose it will have to do.”

MAN IN LAB COAT: “This was a rather obvious gag.”

COCO CHANEL: “Yes. Also, why aren’t we speaking French?”

MAN IN LAB COAT: “Beats me.”

Fissionable Answer

Is it material that could be used to make a nuclear weapon?

American officials said—and with a straight face—that no weapons-grade nuclear material has ever been smuggled successfully out of the former Soviet Union to their knowledge. (Presumably these were not the same American officials who failed to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union out of which the nuclear material had not been smuggled.) But of course, if it had been smuggled successfully, they wouldn’t know. That’s pretty much what is meant by “smuggled successfully.”

The border guards, trained and equipped by the U.S. government, got suspicious when their equipment detected that the truck was radioactive. The mysterious cargo has been sent to more technologically sophisticated Kazakhstan for testing.

Let me just repeat my favorite bit: The truck was radioactive.

Jon Delfin’s News Briefs Extra

* Front Page, New York Times, April 6, 2000—Cabinet Official Cleared: An independent prosecutor who investigated kickback charges involving Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman has concluded that she did not break any laws. “Does that mean I can keep the money?” Secretary Herman did not ask.

* Only half-heard in local news on WNYC: Some sort of disease is threatening New Yorkers. It is carried by “affected mosquitoes.” Fill in your own punch line.

The Early ShowGets Beaten Senseless by the Worm Extra

Although CBS spent $30 million to revamp its morning program, The Early Show, it has actually lost ground to its two rivals, NBC’s Today Show and ABC’s Good Morning America. Which of the following are actual CBS excuses explaining their failure?

  1. It’s all going according to plan; this is a long-term process.
  2. Bryant Gumble refuses to go on high-fat diet to counteract his “distressingly healthy” colon.
  3. Making show “younger and edgier” scared off older viewers, but will eventually attract younger replacements.
  4. Ill-advised regular feature, “Let’s Go Nun Hunting.”
  5. Costly bioengineered talking dog only marginally better than inexpensive Paula Zahn.
  6. Bryant Gumble’s bitter divorce alienates women viewers.
  7. Bryant Gumble’s crude on-air passes at foreign heads of state “to make up for my bitter divorce” frightens the crew.
  8. Should have spent some of the $30 million on some kind of “cameras.”
  9. Viewers lured to Good Morning America by Diane Sawyer’s routinely pouring Irish whiskey into guest’s coffee cups, challenging them to “settle this outside.”
  10. Boring, boring, boring.


1, 3, and 6 are true; the rest are TRUE.

Common Denominator