News Quiz

No. 471: “Fox Networks”

Visiting Washington this week, Vicente Fox, Mexico’s president-elect, told President Clinton that our countries’ relations would improve dramatically if we could eliminate one thing. What?

Send your answer by 9 p.m. ET Sunday to

Wednesday’s Question (No. 470)—”If This Should Fall Into the Wrong Hands …”:

“People in the business are suspicious because The Times’s formula is guarded like some kind of secret sauce,” said one professional, alluding to a popular feature of the New York paper. And now Alan Nevins, one of Mike Ovitz’s Myrmidons, may have cracked the code. To what nefarious purpose is he said to have put the Times’ secret formula?

“He can do whatever he wants as long as A.M. Rosenthal doesn’t come back.”—Charlie Glassenberg

“Now the weddings of America’s wealthiest, overeducated offspring will be documented in Variety!”—Carson Stanwood

“Excuse me, but according to the stylebook, that should be ‘one of Mr. Mike Ovitz’s Mr. Myrmidons.’ “—Greg Diamond

“He used it to break up Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche, the bastard.”—Gary Frazier

“Avenging the death of Patroclus, fairest of Argives, is hardly nefarious.”—TG Gibbon

Click for more answers.

Randy’s Wrap-Up

If you do a quick search for “secret sauce,” what appears most often is the mystery goo squirted onto the Big Mac. Although the actual wording on the propaganda leaflets McDonald’s heaves out of airplanes over occupied territory (winning hearts, minds, and food-poisoning lawsuits) is “special” sauce, the widespread misconception is that the sauce is a secret. (And that the Big Mac is a “hamburger.”) The Web abounds with the sites of forensic chefs who claim to have unraveled the mystery of this sauce (the Fermat’s Last Theorem of industrial cookery) and devised an impressive simulacrum right in their own home. Why someone would want to do this is less a culinary than a psychiatric question, but they do. (Despite what must be some impressive stomach cramps.) Taking on this challenge is like trying to synthesize a synthetic, to re-create not a dinosaur but Dino. There are some secrets that are not worth knowing. But I’m no scientist. Or big fat guy. With arteries clogged tighter than the 72 Street IRT platform at rush hour.

Here’s an attempt from Aaron J. Davis who writes: “If you like Big Macs, it’s probably because of that tasty ‘secret’ spread that is plopped onto both decks of the world’s most popular double-decker hamburger.” (In my experience, if you like Big Macs it’s probably because you’re 5 years old or from out of town, but I’m no food scientist.) Mr. Davis offers the results of his own research with understandable (if frightening) pride. “This is the closest ‘special sauce’ clone you’ll find … anywhere.” His recipe:

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons French dressing

4 teaspoons sweet pickle relish

1 tablespoon finely minced white onion

1 teaspoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Stir well.
  2. Place sauce in a covered container and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight, so that the flavors blend. Stir the sauce a couple of times as it chills.

What I particularly like about his recipe is that it consists mostly of other commercial products, ready-mades—mayonnaise, French dressing, relish. Why not just buy some special sauce? It makes me nostalgic for my Aunt Bernice’s secret dip made of a packet of Lipton’s dehydrated onion soup and a quart of daiquiris.

More Powerful Than Harry Potter Answer

Alan Nevins, a literary agent with Mike Ovitz’s Artists Management Group, is suspected of using the New York Times’ secret roster of surveyed bookstores to wangle a place on the best-seller list for his client Rich DeVos, a co-founder of Amway.

Nevins denies any skullduggery but acknowledges placing orders for at least 18,000 copies of DeVos’ new book, Hope From My Heart: 10 Lessons for Life, at a few small bookshops that report to the Times. Editors involved with the best-seller list say Nevins’ plan would not have worked because they disregard such unusually large bulk orders.

Nevins says he was just doing his holiday shopping early, or if you prefer to know what he actually said, that he arranged the sales on behalf of Amway distributors who planned to resell the books at their fall sales conference. Why did Nevins order them at small local bookstores instead of directly from the publisher? Mike Ovitz works in strange ways his wonders to perform.

Ron Land, an executive with the book’s publisher, says, “The purpose of directing those sales through the stores was to get the book a presence in the marketplace and get it on the list.” Owners of the stores say Nevins made that intention clear to them. I can’t believe that an agent would lie.

Oh, sure I can. But I can’t believe that any of Mike Ovitz’s people would know the name of a small independent bookstore. Or of a book.

Incontrovertible Headline Extra

Lack of Information Hindered Identification of Woman—Irish Times (Dublin) Aug. 24, 2000

Matt Heimer’s You-Be-the-Editor Extra

Participants were asked to suggest cover lines for the forthcoming magazine Hip-Hop Girl, described as a “Cosmo-Martha Stewart Living hybrid aimed at the hip-hop set.”

“Turn Your Bedroom From Skank to Swank in Five Easy Steps.”—Gary Drevitch

“Destiny’s Child Works It in the Bathroom.”—Julie Carwile

“Decoupage Those Empty 40s!”—Carrie Schadle

“Puff Daddy Shows Off His Nasty Pad. (And We’re Not Kidding. You’d Think He Could Afford Maid Service.)”—Steven Davis

“Def, Dope, and Fly—Retro ‘80s Design Tips From Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five.”—Andrew Puzzio

“Eminem’s Famous M&M ‘Fighting Hostility’ Bar Cookies.”—Julie Carwile

“Turn Your Old Thongs Into an Unforgettable Thanksgiving Centerpiece!”—Gary Drevitch

Click for more cover-line fun.

(Because of complicated technical problems—i.e., I did something truly boneheaded—some submissions to this extra were lost. Fortunately, the mishap occurred in the passive voice to obscure the degree of my responsibility, i.e., 100 percent. Unfortunately, they were undoubtedly the funniest answers ever, not just today but in the history of the quiz. I’m sorry.—Ed.)

Too Much News Extra Credit Extra

Three questions that almost made the cut:

Responding to Poland’s new prosperity, billboards have appeared around the country, some bearing the single word “Autoagresja,” others with the word “Autodestrukcja.” What are they promoting?—Autoagresja, Autodestrukcja: Great stuff, but in the end I feared an onslaught of Polish jokes.It’s 8-feet high, weighs 1,000 pounds and, come Monday, it will be right in front of the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. What is it?—A large public object, like … well, you know. But would this invite too much NYC hackery and, with it, those annoying calls from Jay Leno asking to buy the top five responses?In Australia yesterday, a 17-year-old, described by friends as a “real goose,” stepped out of a crowd and pulled a small fire extinguisher from under his coat. What did he do next?—I particularly like that it’s his friends who call him a goosea goose? who calls anyone a goose?but feared that the answer might be too obvious, and that the question might not invite enough Polish jokes.

Common Denominator

Crossword puzzle + filler = New York Times.