Princeton Problem

Princeton Problem

Princeton Problem

Testing your knowledge of what happened this week
Dec. 3 1998 3:30 AM

Princeton Problem

No. 150: "Princeton Problem"


State law won't let Princeton, N.J., hire Dr. Anthony DeNicola and his team of sharpshooters, despite the pleas of township Mayor Phyllis Marchand: "Sharpshooting would be far safer than opening it up to hunters, even the best. They just don't have the kind of techniques that this group does."
What does Mayor Marchand want DeNicola to do?

by noon ET Wednesday to e-mail your answer to

Responses to Monday's question (No. 149)--"Help Wanted":
Fill in the blank.
The pay is bad, the hours are irregular, and there's that nettlesome FBI background check. Small wonder Shirley Phillips says, "Being a ___________ makes one feel subhuman and as low on the totem pole as one can get."

"Publicist for Tom Hanks."--Beth Sherman

"Dental hygienist general (a post not unlike that of surgeon general, only without benefits or a snappy uniform)."--Tim Carvell

"Temp. (Oh, wait, I said that.)"--Colleen Werthmann

"Seasonally employed bomb-sniffing dwarf."--Joan Judge

"Being alive."--Deb Stavin

Click here for more responses.

Randy's Wrap-Up
The most popular response by far was president of the United States (along with its perverse and acrobatic variants). Not so long ago, becoming a running joke for Johnny or Dave meant you were washed up: Consider Gerald Ford's fall to falling man. Partly this was a gifted host's astute sense of national sentiment; partly it was a bully's sense of who could be mocked with impunity. (Neither host would ever take a truly unpopular position--say yes to drugs, perhaps, or Christianity is for saps.) But talk show mockability no longer signals the end of a political career. The puny jabs of Jay and Dave have the opposite affect: they humanize, turning the butt of the joke into a scamp, a scalawag, a cut-up. The president is portrayed as a frat brother whose high jinks have got out of hand: He must be reined in, but his reign need not end. He won't be booted out of the house.
The second most popular response was "News Quiz" participant (along with its sedentary and sardonic variants), but until this gag is taken up by talk shows, I won't know what to make of it.

Despair Watchers' Notebook
Today Deb Stavin becomes the new Darkest Answer Champion and thus may wear the black tiara, assuming she has the will to sit up.

Big Yellow Answer
"Bus driver."
In particular, school bus driver. It's tough for many school districts across the country to keep their fleets rolling. Drivers often work just 90 minutes in the morning and another 90 minutes in the afternoon; few receive benefits; many complain about rowdy children. Shirley Phillips, 51, a single mother of seven, makes less than $7 an hour driving an unair-conditioned school bus in Van, Texas.


Rainy Day Fun Extra
Harvard vs. Vatican. Which did the New York Times obsessively mention more often over the past year? Do a Lexis-Nexis search and find out. Learn to handle large numbers and emotional problems about belonging.
(If you don't have Nexis, go through all the back issues of the paper, then sell the papers at a recycling center and use the money to get Nexis, then travel back in time and do a Nexis search, so you never have to go through all those inky, old papers.)


Disclaimer: All submissions will become the property of Slate and will be published at Slate's discretion. Slate may publish your name on its site in connection with your submission.

Randy Cohen used to write Slate's "News Quiz." His most recent book—oh, like you don't know.