No. 241: "A Very Special ..."

No. 241: "A Very Special ..."

No. 241: "A Very Special ..."

Testing your knowledge of what happened this week
May 12 1999 9:48 PM

No. 241: "A Very Special ..."

A recent episode of a popular TV series was postponed because it was frighteningly like an actual, front-page event. Now the network says it will go ahead and broadcast the show's season finale, although it too is disturbingly reminiscent of that same event. How will the listing in TV Guide describe the big show?


Send your answer by noon ET Thursday to

Tuesday's Question (No. 240)--"So Stop and Ask Directions":

Fill in the blank on this thoroughly satisfying explanation from Defense Secretary William Cohen: "None of those maps indicated that it was the Chinese Embassy that was being targeted. It was not a human error or mechanical error--it was a(n) __________ error."

" 'Humechanical error?' offered Cohen after an uncomfortably long pause."--Beth Sherman (Dale Shuger and David Duncan had similar answers.)


" 'Hilarious error.' (This contributed to China's angry reaction.)"--Justin Warner

" 'Typographical error.' 'Chinese Embassy' was mistakenly typed 'aspirin factory' on the map, so the spell-checker missed it."--Charles Star (similarly, Ken Novak)

" 'Cartoon error.' Just try this little trick to defuse the tragedy of the situation: Missiles through window. Embassy flattened. Staccato violins pluck out stereotypical Chinese music. Chinese run around, backsides aflame. Cut to Jiang Zemin positioning boulder on cliff."--M Pesca

"A time in my boyhood when the world seemed full of possibility. I and my friends would take our fishing poles down to the pond and dip our toes in the water and ... oh, I'm sorry--are we out of time? I deeply regret the error."--Kate "Please Stop Sending Me Those Autoreplies" Wing


Click for more answers.

Randy's Wrap-Up

It is a terrible thing to be dragged in front of the TV cameras and forced to admit that your own dreadful ineptitude led to horrible suffering, which is why I pray that none of you will ever have your divorce hearing televised. But if you do, may you be blessed with the wiliness of a fox, the agility of a cat, and the creepy ingenuity of a defense secretary in concocting a dazzling non-acknowledgement: It was nobody's fault. It's the new heartlessness.

Whatever happened to the military's traditional heartless approach of finding a scapegoat? In Stanley Kubrick's 1957 Paths of Glory, when those French soldiers failed to go over the top and take the anthill, the general staff arbitrarily picked three poor, dumb bastards to be tried and executed for cowardice. In the remake, the general staff will arbitrarily select three saps who will be tried and found delightfully not guilty. The movie will be called ... oh, pick it--anything from Tailhook to Aviano. No, wait. One guy was found responsible for that last one, not for the deaths themselves, but for destroying a videotape. Patton, I think it was.


Always Check Your Answer

"It was an institutional error."

Some ways of cross-checking a map the institution decided not to try:

  • Have an American on the ground confirm the location.
  • Have a Yugoslav on the ground confirm the location.
  • Ask an American official who'd recently been in Belgrade.
  • Ask a travel agent.
  • Look it up in the phonebook.
  • Call the Yugoslav Federal Directorate of Supply and Procurement and ask for its address.


Cartographic Fun Fact

The National Imagery and Mapping Agency, the Pentagon bureau that made the map of Belgrade, also made the map of Aviano, the one without the ski lift. Coincidentally, it was also nobody's fault that the Marine jet severed the cable and killed those skiers.

Let Your Fingers Do the Extra

The just-arrived Manhattan Yellow Pages is sprinkled with chirpy public-service ads. As every professional knows, placement is as important as the ad itself. That is, the way an ad in a magazine is read is affected by the other information on the page. Below, actual phone book public service messages, the actual paid ads that accompany them on the page, and the presumed meaning of their juxtaposition.

Public Service Ad: "Encourage children to write and share original stories."

Paid Ad: "Celebrity signatures and sports memorabilia."

Presumed Message: Get your kids to sign lots of stuff, so years from now, when they're famous, you can sell it to suckers.

Public Service Ad: "Volunteer to read to children."

Paid Ad: "She-Male Escorts, The Alternative to the Routine."

Presumed Message: Something about reading pornography to kids? I'm as appalled as anyone.

Public Service Ad: "Hold family storytelling sessions."

Paid Ad: "ACI, The Nation's Oldest Private Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center."

Presumed Message: Hold family storytelling sessions about Uncle Milt's three-day benders in Atlantic City.

Public Service Ad: "Healthy Advice. Consult your physician before beginning an exercise program."

Paid Ad: "Sizzle Escorts. Feel the Heat."

Presumed Message: Ever since Rockefeller died during sex, people are so cautious. It's like they're afraid of being sued or something.

Public Service Ad: "Household safety. Make sure everyone in your family knows what to do in the event of a fire."

Paid Ad: "Accident Victims. You Need an Experienced Law Firm ... fire and explosion injuries."

Presumed Message: First the fire, then the lawsuit.

Public Service Ad: "New in town? Shop the Bell Atlantic Yellow Pages."

Paid Ad: "Asian Club Escorts to Excite You."

Presumed Message: Don't know where to find a hooker? Here.

Public Service Ad: "Start your own family book club."

Paid Ad: "Gold Shield Security and Investigations. Private and Corporate Investigations."

Presumed Message: Make big money writing books people will pay you not to publish. Start with Uncle Milt.

Common Denominator

Intelligence error.