Saturday, May 17, 2014

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Gorged On Free Cheese Samples Edition

Today I attended the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison, and as is my way when I go to the farmer's market, I stuff myself to bursting on cheese, baked goods, meats of animals various and sundry (emu! bison!), and perhaps maple syrup, honey and something out of a food cart.

After I filled up there, I found a couple books on State Street:

*O'Bryan, John- A History of Weapons: Crossbows, Caltrops, Catapults & Lots of Other Things That Can Seriously Mess You Up
*Wallechinsky, David; Wallace, Amy; Wallace, Irving: The People's Almanac Presents The Book of Predictions

I need to explain that second one, found in Browzers Bookstore, which deals pretty heavily in some old, dusty, forgotten titles, rare or simply unloved. It's a bookstore for the hardcore bookworms only, which, in Madison right near the UW campus, there is no short supply. The book carries a 1981 copyright; in that year, a wide variety of experts were called upon to make predictions as to what they thought would happen over, usually, the next 50 years; about 2030 is where the prediction timelines seem to peter out.

We're 33 years down that timeline, meaning a large quantity of the prediction deadlines have come and gone by now, and many of the others are coming up. I felt it would be just a peck of fun to browse through the book and see just how well the experts have done. Perhaps we'll do that tomorrow.

...except for one little wrinkle at the very back of the book. Two contests were given to the readers about events that would happen in 1982/1983: a prediction contest, in which you were asked how various notable statistics, facts and figures would look that year (what would be the US inflation rate on Halloween; who would win the women's singles at Wimbledon; how many seats in the US House of Representatives election for 1982 would be won by lawyers, etc.), and you were given the relevant stat for several years previous to help guide your prediction. That one's not all that interesting to me.

The interesting one is the psychic contest. This one consisted of five questions, all five of which asked you for specific bits of information regarding 1983 that were WILDLY unpredictable. The thinking, of course, was that you would pretty much have to be psychic to manage to nail any of them. The five questions were:

*What title will be #7 on the New York Times hardback fiction best-seller list on July 5, 1983?
*Which horse will finish second-to-last in the 1983 Kentucky Derby?
*What will be the banner headline in the LA Times (morning final edition) on July 1, 1983?
*Which television program will get the lowest Nielsen rating for the week beginning May 8, 1983?
*Who will finish 47th in the 1983 Boston Marathon?

Yeah, good fucking luck with those, Carnac. In fact, this is tough even today, because it isn't as much a test of psychic ability as it is a test of research ability. I can tell you only three of them for sure.

*#7 fiction bestseller: Well, technically there wasn't a list on July 5, 1983. The contest got the release date wrong. They either meant to say July 3 or June 5; they probably meant June 5. But since the question specifically states that they want the book that was #7 on July 5, we should go with the list that is current for that date, which is July 3. That book is Ascent Into Hell by Andrew Greeley. (Ancient Evenings by Norman Mailer was the book for June 5.)
*Kentucky Derby horse: Law Talk.
*LA Times headline: Well, it's definitely one of these five, but they're behind paywalls. It's not one of the ones Google is able to get to. Doesn't help that it appeared to be a slow news day.
*Lowest Nielsen show: CBS News Report, "Nuclear Arms Debate". Damn it so much, people.
*47th in the Boston Marathon: Nearest I can give you is that Mark Mesler finished 30th. Boston Marathon's official record archives only go back to 2001.

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