What's your April Fool's Quotient?


With April Fool's Day just around the corner, it's time to sharpen your wits. How gullible are you? How quickly can you spot a fraud? Here are a few "tune up" exercises to put you on your toes. Check your answers to find your "AFQ."

Some simple ones to start: True or False? (Fill in your answer.)

1. Just as bats can hear "ultrasound," or very high sound frequencies, so elephants can hear "infrasounds," very low frequencies. ___

2. The monkey wrench is so called because the long handle looked like the tail of a monkey. ___

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3. Until well into the 20th century, "a computer" referred to a human who did calculations. ___

4. A duck's quack does not echo. No one knows why. ___

5. It is impossible to lick your elbow. ___

6. Peanut butter was invented in the early 1900s by well-known plant botanist George Washington Carver. ___

7. Levi Strauss's innovative trousers had rivets at the stress points for strength. Early jeans had a rivet in the crotch, too. This rivet was eliminated when it was found that it heated up uncomfortably when wearers - then mostly gold miners - lounged around a campfire. ___

8. "OK" is an English-language equivalent of the French phrase "Au quai!" ("At the dock!"), which French sailors yelled when their ship had arrived. ___

9. The inventor of the three-ring binder has a statue commemorating him on Boston Common. ___

10. Latex rubber was originally known as "caoutchouc." It became "rubber" when someone noticed that gobs of dried latex rubbed off pencil lines. ___

11. The first Nike "waffle sole" on its famous running shoes was created using an actual waffle iron. ___

12. The reason the filament (the thin wire that lights up) in a light bulb doesn't burn out instantly is that there's a vacuum inside the bulb - most of the air has been sucked out. ___

13. In India, where the majority Hindu religion regards cows as sacred, McDonald's fast-food restaurants serve the McVeggie, a vegetable patty with lettuce and eggless mayonnaise on a sesame-seed bun. ___

14. Up until the 1800s, beekeepers and naturalists assumed that the head of a beehive was "the king bee." ___

Let's make it a little tougher. Now you must choose from among three answers. (Circle your response.)

15. The state that has the highest proportion of people who walk to work is:

A. Alaska

B. New York

C. California

16. The state that has the highest consumption of ice cream, per person:

A. Alaska

B. New York

C. California

17. The state with the highest proportion of people who own airplanes:

A. Alaska

B. New York

C. California

18. Australia, plagued with rabbits (a nonnative species) that are eating up its grasslands, is shunning the tradition of the Easter bunny and promoting a native species as its cute Easter animal. What is it?

A. The Easter koala

B. The Easter bilby

C. The Easter didgeridoo

19. Citizens in Nazi-occupied Norway in World War II ran the risk of being arrested if they wore this particular item in their lapel. What was it that the occupiers found so subversive?

A. A button

B. A paper clip

C. A safety pin

20. April Fool's Day began when:

A. A court jester boasted to Roman Emperor Constantine that any fool could rule better than he could. Constantine decided to let him and his fellow fools give it a try.

B. The start of France's calendar year was changed from late March to January in the 1500s. Those who kept the old date were "April fools."

C. Printers of holiday cards invented it in the 1950s as a way to sell holiday cards between Easter and Mother's Day. While goofy "April Fool's" cards never caught on, pulling pranks on April 1 did.

21. In the 1850s, Napoleon III of France had dinner plates made from a substance that, at the time, was more precious than gold. They were made of:

A. Rhodium

B. Aluminum

C. Bakelite

Now you're ready for the final test.

Here are three stories. At least one of them is true, one is false, and one of them has been circulated as true - but it's false, too. Which is which?

Story No. 1: Peculiar dinnerware

When trade between China and the fledgling United States began to boom in the 1800s, it became fashionable to have your dinner settings custom-made in China. People would send drawings of the designs they wanted to the Orient by sailing ship. Chinese artisans would meticulously duplicate the designs in porcelain. (Porcelain, along with silk and tea, were precious trade goods in China. Tea plants, silkworms, and the secret of making strong, light porcelain were carefully guarded.) Most customers were pleased with the results. On rare occasions a plate designer forgot that the platemakers did not speak or read English. They would draw their plates but then, instead of coloring them, they would indicate the colors they wanted by writing "blue" or "red" or "white" on the design itself. Back would come beautifully made plates. But instead of being colored as directed, the words "blue," "red," or "white" were carefully written on the plates - in perfect imitation of the designer's handwriting. Most of these delightful "mistakes" were immediately thrown away, of course.

Story No. 2: 'The Birds,' revisited

An enterprising student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1970s was majoring in psychology. He had learned a thing or two about "operant conditioning," used to train animals, and decided to put some of his learning to use. He had an internship in Boston (MIT is in nearby Cambridge) that kept him in the area that summer. Every day after work he would take the bus to Harvard Stadium. He carried with him a whistle, a yellow piece of cloth, and a sack of bird food. Harvard Stadium is a haven for pigeons, which roost in its cavernous recesses. The student would walk onto the field, give a little toot on the whistle, throw the cloth into the air, and then scatter birdseed on the ground. He did this faithfully all summer.

Fast-forward to Harvard's first at-home football game that fall. All was well until one of the game officials spotted a penalty. The referee blew his whistle, threw his yellow flag in the air... and had to duck as hundreds, if not thousands, of pigeons descended onto the field.

Story No. 3: Just plane foolishness

One of the workers who helped build Charles Lindbergh's plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, was inspired by the aviator's solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. So inspired that he vowed to fly across the Atlantic someday, too. He became a pilot and bought his own plane. Since he was also an airplane mechanic, he began to modify his plane for transatlantic flight. Federal regulators would not certify his plane to fly the Atlantic, though - only for cross-country flights.

So in 1938 he flew his plane from California to New York. His flight plan was to return to California. He took off from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn one July night in a thick fog, heading east to avoid buildings at the western edge of the airfield. To everyone's surprise, he kept flying east. Visibility was poor, the pilot said later, and his compass showed that he was going in the right direction. Twenty-six hours later, he dropped through the clouds to find himself over a large body of water. That's when, he said, he noticed that he had been following the wrong end of his compass needle. Two hours later, he landed in Ireland.

22. Which is/are true? ____

23. Which is/are false? ____

24. Which is the one that has been passed off as true? ___


(1) True. Elephant herds can communicate over long distances via infrasound; (2) False. It was named for Charles Moncky, the Briton who invented it. (3) True. In fact, many of these early 20th-century 'computers' were women. (4) False, though this was widely circulated on the Internet as 'fact'; (5) True. (And did you try it?); (6) False. An unknown American doctor invented it in 1890 (though ancient Incas had surely pounded peanuts into a paste centuries before). (7) True; (8) False. 'OK' is an abbreviation for 'Oll Korrect,' which was part of a comical-spelling fad in the 1830s; (9) True, but not for inventing the binder, which he patented in 1854. Henry T. Sisson is honored with a statue for his service in the Civil War. (10) True; (11) True. William Bowerman, cofounder of Nike, came up with the waffle sole in 1972 - and made the first of them using a waffle iron. (12) False. Most ordinary light bulbs are filled with argon gas, which prevents the filament from burning. (13) True; (14) True; (15) A; (16) A; (17) A; (18) B. The endangered bilby is a rabbit-size creature with silky, mostly blue-gray fur, a long pointed nose, and big ears. (19) B. Norwegians claim the paper clip was invented by Norwegian Johan Vaaler in 1899. A paper clip in one's lapel during the German occupation was to show patriotism and irritate the occupiers. The function of the paper clip, to bind together, also took on a symbolic meaning: 'We must unite in the face of the enemy.' (20) B. 'April Fools' would celebrate the new year with feasts during the last week of March. (21) B. While aluminum is common, it was very difficult at first to extract it from the rocks it was part of. (22) Stories 1 and 3 are true. Some misdesigned chinaware still exists, though it is rare. Douglas 'Wrong Way' Corrigan really did fly to Ireland, not California, in 1938. Depression-weary Americans were delighted by the humor of his exploit and gave him a ticker-tape parade in New York when he returned - by boat. Did he really misread his compass? He always insisted publicly that he had. (23) Story No. 2 is false. (24) Story No. 2 has been passed off as 'true' (with a wink, perhaps) to prospective students and visitors touring MIT.

Calculate your AFQ:

24 to 16 correct: You're no fool.

16 to 8 correct: Pause before you try to pick up that quarter on the sidewalk, because it's probably glued down.

8 to 0 correct: Review the answers. Now give it another try.

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