Article Comment 

Slimantics: A case of questionable answers


Slim Smith



On Jan. 1, 1935, The Dispatch introduced a new daily feature on Page 1. 


Outside of the newspaper's masthead, it is probably the only thing in The Dispatch that hasn't changed over the intervening 80-plus years. 


As close as I can figure, The Dispatch has printed Five Questions on its front page in the neighborhood of 24,000 editions, with the answers found elsewhere in the same edition of the paper, usually in the Classified Section. 


For some readers, Five Questions is something of a daily ritual, which is probably why it has survived all these years. I've never read an edition without seeing if I know the answers. I almost never know them all -- my usual success rate is about 3 in 5. Sometimes, I whiff completely, though. As is often the case, it is often hard to judge the popularity of these kinds of features. Much like the comics, it is impossible to know how many people make Five Questions part of their newspaper routine.  


Actually, there are a couple of ways to find out and neither of them are particularly pleasant. 


One way is to remove the feature and see what happens. That is something that often happens with the comics. Just about every newspaper on earth has tinkered with their comics from time to time, dropping what is presumed to be an outdated, lightly-regarded comic strip in favor of another. In almost every single case, that change is met with fierce resistance. Nothing gets readers howling like tinkering with the comics, and newspapers do this at their peril. 


The other way to gauge interest, specific to Five Questions, is to mess up the answers. 


That's what happened Wednesday. Somehow, the Five Questions we presented on page A1 did not correspond with the answers provided on page B10. 


The net effect was something like asking Donald Trump a foreign policy question: The answers provided didn't rise to the level of being wrong. They were nonsensical. 


For example, the answer to the first question -- What does a Cartomaniac collect -- was "John Tyler." Likewise, "Mars" was identified as first company to have a television commercial. 


Somehow, we managed to get our questions and answers out of order, thus -- for one day at least -- the first state to post speed limit signs was "Epidermis." (Epidermis would be a pretty good name for a state, though, far better than the boring practice of just putting a "South" or a "North" on a Dakota or Carolina). 


Obviously, we regret the error. Callers and letter-writers helped us with that. Thanks. 


We published the questions with the correct answers in Thursday's edition, but the damage had been done. 


We regret the possibility that someday a student taking a college entrance exam is going to see the question: The Koppen System is a classification system for what? He'll smile, think to himself, "I got this!" and answer confidently, "Al Capone." Goodbye, Harvard. Hello, community college. 


Outside of that sort of worst-case scenario, though, we find that no real damage has been done. Cartomaniacs collect maps, but it wouldn't bother me any if they collected John Tylers instead, as long as they were treated well. 


In fact, I find that the "wrong" answer to the question "Who invented the brassiere?" was far more interesting than the actual answer -- which turned out to be someone I never heard of, a person named Mary Phelps Jacobs.  


Now, I don't mean to throw shade at Mary Phelps Jacobs, but the idea of Bob Marley inventing the bra is just a delicious thought to hold in my head. I envision him huddled over a Singer Sewing Machine in a cloud of marijuana smoke, mumbling to an assistant, "Han me dat thick thread, mon. We be makin' some righteous liftin' and separatin' on dis one!" 


Newspapers have many roles. Among them is to inform and entertain. 


Certainly, we aspire to both, but we do not generally attempt to do the latter at the expense of the former. 


For this, we apologize.  


A famous newspaper executive once said, "Don't be afraid to make a mistake. Your readers might like it." I think it was William Randoph Hearst who said that. Or, was it The Isthmus of Panama? 


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]


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