News Quiz

No. 447: “Wise Crackers”

Praising the decision by Philip Morris, owner of Kraft Foods, to buy Nabisco, retail consultant Burt Flickinger said, “Kraft’s biggest issue is having too many products that are in categories, like cheese, with declining consumption. Nabisco is in one of the few fast-growing expandable areas.” What area is that?

Send your answer by 10 a.m. ET Wednesday to

Friday’s Question (No. 446)—”Equipped, He Quipped”:

“We have made a profound and dramatic shift in focus from supporting a police force in a friendly country to supporting an army engaged in a civil war,” said Sen. Slade Gorton. “I wonder how long it will be until we read the first news story of some of this equipment showing up in the hands of the rebels.” What equipment does he fear will be used by whom to do what?

“The Beadazzler. And perhaps, once the rebels have lovely sequined costumes, it’ll only be a matter of time before they begin attracting others to their cause.”—Tim Carvell

” ‘Equipment.’ Heh heh.”—Jon Zerolnick & Josh Kamensky

“I want to keep Molotov cocktails out of the hands of WTO protesters as much as anyone, but I’m not sure higher gasoline prices will do the trick.”—Doug Walker

“Is Staten Island threatening to secede again?”—Charles Star

“It’s no biggie. Sen. Gorton’s just peeved that the timber-industry representative who wrote his last 19 pieces of legislation took a vacation and won’t return his fund-raising calls every hour.”—Josh Kamensky

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Randy’s Wrap-Up

One of the lessons of the Vietnam War, apparently untaught at the Gorton Academy, is the failure of secret weapons to achieve dominance over a determined foe. In that sad and profligate conflict, the helicopter gunship was the hot technology, and that meant the Navy was left out of the action. Then they thought of hovercraft, boats that float on a cushion of air and speed across any surface—water, land—at 60 miles an hour. The southern part of Vietnam is a delta; when it floods during the monsoon season, nothing moves easily. But for two weeks in 1968 in the province of Kwai Vat, the Navy deployed armed hovercraft, bristling with machine guns, their six-man crews roaring across the Plain of Reeds, spreading high-speed death.

Before sending them to Nam, the Navy trained the hover-crews in the surf off Malibu, Calif. Totally the wrong place, of course. There is great film of crews struggling to launch their hovercraft as the waves flip them about. Still considered a good posting, however—bikinis, surfboards, and the cutting edge of dimwitted interservice rivalry.

The project was considered a failure and was shut down. But it remains one of the war’s most demented demonstrations of the belief that technology would triumph. But not even those who championed high-tech war worried overly much that a hovercraft would fall into the hands of the VC. And the footage of those hovercraft does look way cool—in a futile, blood-soaked, colonial kind of way.

Utterly Unlike Vietnam Answer

Helicopters again. Sen. Gorton fears that sophisticated Blackhawk gunships will be used by Colombian insurgents to blast the government’s troops to perdition.

Thirty Blackhawks and 35 Huey IIs, along with other gear, will be heading to Colombia as part of a $1.3 billion aid package. The senator feels that aiding the Colombian army during a civil war might not be the best way to cut down on U.S. coke sniffing, but his colleagues disagreed, supporting the aid bill 95-4.

Gen. Rosso Jose Serrano, stepping down as Colombia’s national police chief, is less enthusiastic. “We’d rather see drug consumption drop than get any of this aid.” Serrano wishes his country “could go back to what it once was, a place that grew coffee, where people worked hard and sweated for a paycheck.”

While the foreign-aid bill found plenty of money for anti-drug helicopters, it provided only $75 million in assistance to the world’s poorest countries, despite the administration’s request for $262 million.

U.S. drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the mastermind of America’s drug-busting efforts, was in trouble again this week when it was revealed that he’d made deals with several search engines so those who searched words such as “pot” or “weed” would receive government anti-drug propaganda on their screens, which must have been disconcerting to cooks and gardeners. This is the same McCaffrey who was in trouble in January for reviewing TV scripts to see if they took the official anti-drug line. And don’t get me started on Sy Hersh’s view of McCaffrey.

Best Sentence in the International News Section Extra

“The bride arrived in a golf cart driven by her father.”—New York Times, June 25

(Oh, have it your way, it was the wedding section, but still …)

Best Sentence in the Breaking News Section Extra

“Peter Jennings retraces the footsteps of Jesus in an effort to form a detailed picture of his life.”—New York Times, June 26

(And coincidentally, best case of unclear antecedent. Yes, yes, yes, if you insist on “accuracy,” it was the TV listings.)

Ugly Couples Ongoing Extra

Participants were invited to submit a hideous word pair from a newspaper or magazine along with the source and a withering comment.

” ‘Clinton Proposing’ (New York Times headline, Page A1, on drug benefits under Medicare)—Reagan forgot lots of things while he was president, but at least he always remembered that he was married.”—Josh Kamensky & Jon Zerolnick

” ‘Female Sublet’—spacious, fully equipped, available immediately!!! OK, so it wasn’t in a newspaper or magazine, but I thought the contents of this flyer spotted at the corner of 115th and Broadway just might be disturbing enough to meet the extra’s criteria.”—Michele Siegel

“The New York Times quotes Internet stock analyst Mary Meeker as having referred to a ‘modest downside.’ She’s either trimming her projections on’s summer share price or forecasting the collapse of the market in summer thong beachwear.”—Greg Diamond

Entries From Those Who Only Partially Followed the Directions

” ‘Steamy document’ (from a ‘Readme’ column by Michael Kinsley).”—Brian P. Rosman

Entries From Those Who Ignored the Directions but Found Some Nice Combos

” ‘Visual Viagra’ ‘Gobbler’s harem spankingest bar.’ “—Deborah Guy

“Early death.”—Larry Amoros

Entries From Jim O’Grady:

” ‘From Saco, Maine, Fresh Samantha Inc. ships to supermarket shelves nationwide “body zoomer” fruit smoothies that carry cartoon pictures of children to catch the eye.’—’Diet Supplement Marketers Target Kids,’ Guy Gugliotta, June 18, Washington Post. This sentence contains three ugly pairs (four if you count ‘Saco, Maine’). I’m torn as to which is the most hideous. ‘Fruit smoothies’ has been around so long it’s lost some of its edge, if not its ability to irritate. The combination of a product called ‘Body zoomer’ marketed by a company named ‘Fresh Samantha’ has got to win some sort of prize for loathsomeness.”

Common Denominator

Slate Gorton, Flash Gorton.