In the proper end-of-term spirit, all entries shall be presented as quiz
questions. Submit answers via e-mail or in person. Catching up now…
Nov. 25, 2004
The autumn afternoon sun begins its descent to the horizon while our flight
attendants prepare the cabin for final approach and descent into CVG. Staring
dreamily out my window, I spot the tiny silhouette of an MD-88 flitting
gracefully over treetops and tobacco fields. The flaps and gear extend. We drop
faster. The shadow grows ominously larger, faster, moving gently toward us in
pursuit, coloring helpless warehousesand highways and empty lots in its wake.
Suddenly, as we skim above the warning strip of runway 36R, the unrelenting
umbral shape overtakes us. Tires meet tarmac in their forceful embrace and the
shadow engulfs the view.
“Welcome to the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, where
the local time is now 3:15 PM,” intones the flight attendant automatically.
Q: On which side of the plane was I sitting? You have
enough information to answer this question without any specific knowledge of
Nov. 28, 2004
I eat lunch at a restaurant in Danville, Indiana themed after The Andy
Griffith Show. A replica Mayberry Sheriff squad car is parked outside
on U.S. 36.
Q: In which state is the fictional town of Mayberry
Nov. 30, 2004
I depart from Cincinnati at dawn. The Boeing 757 cabin hums loudly, as they
always do, at 400 Hz.
The flight attendants employ a new trick to get us to watch the preflight
safety video: they turn off power to the cabin lights and the reading
lights. This prompts a good deal of moaning from the coach cabin, and the
reading lights are switched back on before the tape repeats in Spanish.
The producers of preflight safety videos are welcome, any time now, to stop
concluding their tapes with shots of gleaming aircraft eclipsing an orange sun
accompanied by a dramatic crescendo of ethnic drumming.
On the ground in Boston, the flight attendant informs us that we will be
“deplaning” through the most forward door. I want to explain that if “deplane”
were actually a verb—it is not—it would take one of these meanings:
- To cease travelling along the surface of water.
- To make a surface rough or uneven.
- To render an object unlike an airplane.
I favor #3. Taking the wings off would in fact make a 757 look more like a
Q: It is likely that the originator of “deplane” did not
intend the word to be the negation of a verb “plane.” In English, many verbs
that appear to use prefixes indicating negation (“de-“) or repetition (“re-“)
do not actually have a meaningful root form. “Refrigerate” is one example.
Dec. 1, 2004
Sitting in the magnificent reading room at the Boston Public Library, I am
thumbing through original documentation of Boston’s water system from 1882. The
yellowed pages are in terrific shape. The fold-out engineering drawings are
remarkable. The textured leather cover of this volume is embossed with the
gold-leafed seal of the City of Boston. I wonder if this is what 1882 smelled
Both extant copies of a later volume on the Boston Water Works came back
from the stacks as “missing.” A bespectacled research librarian later informed
me of the irony: they were likely destroyed in “the flood of 1998.”
The inside cover of this volume is adorned with a B.P.L. bookplate filled in
magnificent flowing script from the fountain pen of a long-deceased
Q: If the librarian were 20 years old when he penned this
inscription, how old would he be upon the debut of the Bic ballpoint pen?
(This is a bad question because it requires you to know an utterly irrelevant
fact, but as such it is more like a real quiz.)