- Who is Cecil Adams?Cecil Adams is the world’s most intelligent human being. We know this because: (1) he knows everything, and (2) he is never wrong.
- How do we know that Cecil knows everything and is never wrong?Because he said so, and he would never lie to us.
- No, really.Listen, read the columns. Soon you will agree this is no ordinary man.
- What do you mean, “columns”? You’re telling me the world’s smartest human being works for the newspapers?We all gotta eat. Yes, Cecil works for the newspapers. His syndicated weekly column, the Straight Dope, presently appears in more than 30 newspapers throughout the United States and Canada. Ballantine has published five collections of his work, a Straight Dope TV show aired on the Arts & Entertainment cable network, and we’ll be starting on the biopic as soon as we can line up Sly Stallone.
- You’re making this up.All right, the Sly Stallone part we made up. But the other stuff is real.
- How come I’ve never seen the Straight Dope in print?You’ve got to start reading better newspapers. For a list of subscribers, see Newspapers Carrying the Straight Dope.
For a description of Cecil’s five books, go to the Straight Dope Store. Naturally, if you have not been reading the Straight Dope up till now, we urge you to buy all Cecil’s books immediately. This will enable you to make up for the wasted years.
- When is the Straight Dope TV show on?It used to be on Sunday nights on A&E, but it was cancelled. Should the television industry realize the foolishness of this move and offer us a fat contract to bring SDTV back (we’re not holding our breath), rest assured we’ll announce it immediately on this site.
- How does the Straight Dope newspaper column work?People ask questions. Cecil answers them. It is not a complex concept.
- Questions about what?Anything. Cecil knows all. Naturally, since he does not want to put his readers to sleep, he does not tell all. (We leave that to movie stars.) He prefers to confine his attention to questions that are interesting and funny, or sometimes just interesting. However, stupid but funny also has a pretty good shot.
- Isn’t that what Ann Landers does?No, no, no. Advice columnists just try to get you through the day. Cecil is trying to eradicate world ignorance. He deals strictly with factual questions. Questions you’ve always wanted to know the answers to. Questions like: What are the real lyrics to “Louie Louie”? When they execute a guy by lethal injection, do they swab off his arm first? How do the astronauts go to the bathroom in space?
We wanted to make that last one the title of one of the Straight Dope books, but Ballantine wouldn’t go for it. They also wouldn’t go for: “THE STRAIGHT DOPE – Third Book of Revelations.” Said it was too long to fit on the computers. Sure. We say they were scared of the religious right.
- Has there ever been a question Cecil couldn’t answer?Yeah, like he’d admit it. But it can honestly be said no question Cecil has seriously pursued has remained beyond his grasp. Admittedly some took longer than others. He got pretty frustrated trying to figure out how they got the M’s on M&Ms, because Mars, the manufacturer, refused to cooperate. Stonewalled us for years. It got to where we were about to put a guy over the wall.
Luckily, just then Mars hired Hans to run the PR department. Hans believed in freedom of information and had a cool accent to boot. He explained the whole thing. Not that he was telling Cecil anything he didn’t already know. Nobody ever does.
Some questions, it must be conceded, lie beyond the veil of things known. For example, while Cecil did his best, he was never able to conduct a systematic search for the Vatican porn collection (i.e., to prove there wasn’t one). Also, we do not feel the last word has been written about the phenomenon of piss shiver. Although when we said as much to the management of the Chicago Reader, they said, “Wanna bet?”
Just thought of another great book title Ballantine rejected. “Straight Dope 3-D.” Suggested by our friend Robert. He’s such a card.
- Has there ever been a question Cecil WOULDN’T answer?Well, let’s see. He discussed the calorie content of sperm. That was pretty out there. He also dealt in a grave and educational manner with the issue of why fecal matter is brown. Actually the question didn’t say “fecal matter.” But we didn’t want to get termed (terminated, for you newbies) by the AOL RoboCensors, which is where we first posted this FAQ.
Then there was the matter of the gerbils. And placenta stew. No question, we are definitely advancing the frontiers of civic discourse.
But you asked if there was ever a question Cecil refused to answer on grounds other than that it was inane. Can’t think of one, but we’ll say this: if you ever come up with a question that Cecil won’t touch, you’d better turn yourself in to the police.
- How did the Straight Dope come to be?It all started in February, 1973, in the Chicago Reader, now a titan of alternative journalism but then . . . well, a skinny titan. The column appeared without fuss or fanfare. This was Cecil’s preference. He wanted to start off small and then expand. Just like the universe.
- Did Cecil have a vast army of assistants to help him with his research?No. On occasion he called his brother-in-law. He has also had the assistance of an editor, generally a feckless youth, plus an illustrator. For many years now the illustrator has been Slug Signorino, a legend in his own right. Someday we are going to write about Slug, too. We’d do it now, except the court locked up the psychiatric notes.
About those editors. The first was Mike Lenehan. Mike was not feckless. Mike had fecks to beat the band. It may truthfully be said that Mike was something of a father figure to Cecil, who was then of tender years himself. Mike took the young genius under his wing, nurtured his gift, and made him what he is today. Often Mike, recently retired as executive editor of the Chicago Reader, looks back and thinks: Lord, this is all my fault.
Even then, you see, Cecil was a handful. In print this evidenced itself as a certain attitude with regard to readers. Our favorite comment remains, “If ignorance were cornflakes, you’d be General Mills.” Or: “I’m going to explain this as well as I can, given the limits of my space and your attention span.” But Cecil also took it out on his editor, so much so that after three years Lenehan bailed. The next editor was Dave Kehr. Dave hung in there for two years. At last, broken in spirit, he took to reviewing movies and wound up writing for the New York Daily News. It was tragic.
The management at the Chicago Reader huddled. This Cecil, they said, he’s brilliant, but his insufferable personality is more than any normal person should be asked to bear. The only solution is to assign him an editor who does not have any sense of self to start with.
This explains Ed Zotti. He started off slow and it’s been downhill from there. But since 1978 he’s kept Cecil, if not happy, at least constructively pissed, cranking out columns once a week. Better that than letter bombs.
- How does Cecil do his thing?From what we have been able to piece together, Cecil works in fits and starts. First he rummages through the mail looking for mash notes from groupies. Our favorite (no kidding): “Dear Cecil, are you married? If yes, do you fool around?”
Then he looks for enough interesting questions to fill a column. He ruminates for a while. He cleans the oven. Finally he calls over his editor and dictates. This part takes twenty minutes. Then the editor has to check the facts. This can take years. YOU try definitively establishing what the H stands for in Jesus H. Christ. Finally the finished column is produced and turned over to the typesetting department, which inserts random mistakes.
Nah, just kidding. The people at the Chicago Reader never goof up. But stuff happens. Like the other day. We start getting grief from residents of a city in which the column appears because Cecil wrote milliMETERS when it was clear from the context that he meant milliLITERS. Well, it went out of HERE saying milliliters. What’s more, it went out ELECTRONICALLY, so if we rule out influence from cosmic rays we must ask the editors of an unnamed newspaper HOW COULD THIS POSSIBLY GET SCREWED UP? Sorry, just needed to get that off our chest. But you get the idea.
- What’s Cecil really like?Only his editors really know. When you ask them, their eyes glaze, their bodies become rigid, and they start to spit. They are struggling to express their joy, we figure. More than that we cannot say.
- What do we know about Cecil’s private life?Not much. Over the years he has revealed a few details in the column. For example, he is left-handed. That tells you a lot right there. We also know that there is a Mrs. Adams, although, now that we think about it, that could be his mother. Cecil has made reference from time to time to “the little researchers.” These may be children. On the other hand, maybe he just hires dwarves.
- Tell the truth. Has Cecil ever been wrong?Never. However, certain questionable situations have arisen. Veteran Straight Dope readers may remember that a column once referred to “talking books for the deaf.” Very funny. It was a new copyboy’s first day on the job. His body has never been found.
- Are the questions in the column real?Of course they’re real. You think we could make this stuff up?
- What’s the average lag between the time you receive a question and the time the answer appears in print?Sometime between 15 minutes and never. The longest lag we know of for a question that was actually published was nine years. But that was unusual. If a question is worth answering, we make a genuine effort to do so while the question asker is still alive.
- Just one more thing. How do you pronounce “FAQ”?Fakk, that’s how. Don’t be smart. That’s Cecil’s job.