Sunday, December 14, 2008

On the Ramadan quiz in the Thursday Magazine

A letter written to the Thursday magazine, Times of Oman. Did not elicit any response or acknowledgment though.

Sir / Madam,

Thank You – Thursday Magazine – for running a sequence of quizzes during Ramadhan. It was quite an enjoyable pastime figuring out answers to these. The Times of Oman group has always been at the forefront when it comes to promoting quizzing in Oman, and this series only adds to that.

There were however, a few questions to which the answers provided are incorrect; and a few others where the questions were poorly framed, leading to the answers provided either being incomplete or being only one of the many possible answers. I have no issues with the results (list of winners) of your series. I do, however, have concern with the answers.

Here are some, which I believe, fall in either of the categories mentioned.

Quiz1. Q6. Name of material brought back from the moon? The answer provided is Armkalite. This is clearly incorrect. There is no such thing as Armkalite. The correct answer to this is merely 'Moon Rock'1. A search of the term Armkalite in Google returns only 4 entries. I assume that the quiz setter would have copied this question from one of these sources. Any responder getting the same answer would have happened to chance on the same source.

The term seems to have been a mix up of the word 'Armalcolite'2 (returns 6730 entries in Google search as against the 4 for Armkalite). Armalcolite is a mineral that was first discovered on the moon, and later found on earth as well. This has been named after the three astronauts – ARMstrong, ALdrin & COLlins. The correct answer to your question, as it is framed, is Moon Rock, and not even Armalcolite.

Quiz3. Q10. Cortex & Medulla are parts of which organ? Answer provided is Kidney. A medical practitioner would be able to explain better, but from my understanding of etymology, the cortex and medulla are parts of many organs. The 'cortex' is used to refer to the outermost layer of many organs, and is derived from Latin meaning shell3. Medulla4 similarly refers to the middle of something. Hence while the answer 'Kidney' is correct, it can also be the brain, adrenal gland, ovaries etc.

Quiz3. Q6. Sandwich is named after which British title? Answer given is 'Earl'. The sandwich is not named after the generic title of Earl, but after the 'Earl of Sandwich'5. Or more specifically, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu6.

Quiz3. Q8. What is the name of the school in the Harry Potter books? Nothing incorrect with the answer. I am sure all respondents would have given the same as yours – Hogwarts. However the question has been poorly framed. There are a few other schools mentioned in the Harry Potter books. E.g. Smeltings, where Dudley goes, & the St Brutus centre for incurably criminal boys.

Quiz4. Q7. Who invented the rocking chair? Answer given is Benjamin Franklin. This is an urban legend. Rocking chairs have been around long before Franklin7.

Quiz4. Q8. Poem written to celebrate a wedding called? Answer given is Epithalamium. This could be right going by some sources. However by strict definition, an epithalamium8 (or epithalamion) is a poem written to honour the bride and groom. A poem written to celebrate a wedding per se is a prothalamion9.

Quiz2. Q4. What relation to me is my father-in-law's only daughter's mother-in-law? Answer given is 'Mother'. This is correct if 'me' in the question is a male, but not so in the case of a female respondent.

Quiz4. Q4. Name the country with the highest per capita chocolate consumption. Answer given is Switzerland. This answer is probably right. However, I have seen many conflicting data on this, some proclaiming Switzerland as having the highest per capita consumption (including an article in Times of Oman dt 30 Oct 08), while others attribute this honour to Ireland, Denmark and Belgium. Do you have any authoritative source on this?

My understanding is that while Switzerland has the highest per capita sales of chocolate, it need not necessarily have the same position in consumption. A large portion of chocolates sold in Switzerland are to tourists who take them out of the country11. Hence it is not consumed in Switzerland. And no clear studies exist that accurately measure consumption.

People have various pet peeves. One of mine is, folks(particularly quiz setters) getting facts wrong. I too have erred many times when setting questions. And the professionals too are not immune to this. E.g., Pickbrain, arguably the most popular quiz conductor in Oman today, has twice in the past three years asked the question, "What is Nintendo's successor to the GameCube called?" The answer given was "Revolution." This may have been correct prior to 2006. But this name was changed prior to launch, and today the correct answer to this question is "Wii".10

The public tends to believe everything they read in print, be it news journals or books. They are not so gullible to other sources of information, such as the internet, television or hearsay from friends and acquaintances. I have had the occasional experience where, when I have challenged someone over some statement, they claim what they say is true because they have read so in the newspaper. Hence, I feel, it is even more important for the print media to get their facts right; to maintain their credibility.

I do not have any desire of having this published, and hence have not troubled to fit within any specified word limit. My main intention is to address the quiz setter (again appreciate his/her efforts). If my observations are incorrect, could they please respond to me with authoritative sources? If not, would you please care to publish a corrigendum?


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