red tulips | copyright Jill J. Jensen

 

 

Darwin Awards II: Unnatural Selection

Wendy Northcutt
New York: Dutton ©2001

Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me! The Oddly Informative News Quiz

Peter Sagal, National Public Radio
New York: Rodale ©2002

Stoopnagle's Tale Is Twisted: Spoonerisms Run Amok

Keen James
Sherman Oaks, California: Stone and Scott, Publishers ©2001

 

As the book jacket blurb from the Baltimore Sun says, "If you are not yet aware of The Darwin Awards, you should probably be pitched out of the breeding population." We may not choose to go quite that far, but if you haven't dipped into these hilarious and true accounts that often circulate on the Internet, you're missing out on a whole lot of fun — and some useful cautionary tales.

The Darwin Awards, started by former UC Berkeley molecular biology student Wendy Northcutt in the mid-1990s, are described as a collection of "magnificent misadventures commemorating individuals who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it in a sublimely idiotic fashion." The "rules, traditions, and procedures" for receiving a Darwin include 1) the "elimination of the candidate from the gene pool" — usually, this means death; 2) showing "an astounding misapplication of common sense;" 3) verification of the event by media reports and/or eyewitnesses; 4) the "candidate must be capable of sound judgment" — awards don't go to kids who imitate stupid adults or to the result of medical catastrophes; and 5) candidates must cause their own demise. As the books prove, far too many folks qualify.

The Darwin books contain true Award stories, Honorable Mentions, Urban Legends, and Personal Accounts (where the names and particulars are often disguised), as well as a short discussion of Darwin's Theory of Evolution, the author's biography, protocol for joining in the Web site discussions, and wonderfully pithy reminders of the results of stupidity, such as "If at first you don't succeed... then skydiving is not for you." You'll also find the "Classic Dozen: Better Read than Dead," the twelve most striking reminders of why it's better to learn from others' mistakes and think before you act. Here's the 1992 winner of the "Midnight Special: Jacob, forty-seven, accidentally shot himself to death in December in Newton [North Carolina] when, awakening to the sound of a ringing telephone beside his bed, he reached for the phone but grabbed instead his loaded Smith & Wesson .38 Special, which discharged when he drew it to his ear."

Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me! expands on the idea that there's a lot to chuckle about in the activities of "narcissistic entertainers, stupid criminals, and windbag politicians." As one of the most popular segments on National Public Radio stations, this weekly quiz show combines a panel of humorous know-it-alls or know-it-all-wannabes (including P.J. O'Rourke and Roy Blount, Jr.), distinguished guests ranging from former Secretary of State Madeline Albright to blues legend Buddy Guy and Arizona Diamondbacks General Manager Joe Garagiola Jr., as well as Listener Contestants, all of whom try to answer questions about the strange — and true — events in the news.

While the radio program focuses on events that happened during the week of broadcast, the book assembles favorite anecdotes in categories that include animals, business, education, entertainment, foreign news, politics, science, stupid criminals, and "miscellaneous: all the news that doesn't fit" anywhere else. Limericks, fill-in-the-blanks, multiple choice, and 'bluff' news stories challenge your wits. And for those who always hope for divine intervention during tests, the answers are in the back of the book.

In fact, author and NPR moderator Peter Sagal recommends spending a lot of time in the Answer Section as a way to learn something that may prevent you from winning, prematurely, a Darwin Award of your own. Sagal's advice is well taken. For example, although it might be interesting to know that "a construction company in Florida used rock music to drive away beavers," what you find out in the Answer Section is why: "Tallahassee County officials and local builders have been trying to rid a development site of the bucktoothed rodents. Workers repeatedly tore down the dams but the creatures just rebuilt them. (It's what beavers do.) Finally, the construction company found what appears to be beaver Kryptonite: rock music. Continually blaring guitar riffs have driven out the critters once and for all." You never know when that might come in handy for your own back yard, right?!?

And now for something completely different.... Well, maybe, not all that different, since we're still talking funny stuff here. But anyone old enough and sufficiently off-center to have watched and enjoyed "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" during formative years in the 1960s may remember a segment titled 'Fractured Fairy Tales.' Turns out, those upside-down stories — like Prinderella and the Since or Beeping Sleuty or The Pea Little Thrigs — owe their beginnings to one Reverend William Archibald Spooner of Oxford University. In the 1940s, radio personality Frederick Chase Taylor's pseudonymous Colonel Lemuel Q. Stoopnagle turned the punnish, twisted syllables and sounds of 'spoonerisms' into radio comedy and books. Recently, comedian George Carlin probably came closest to this kind of word-play humor.

Puns and word play of the Spooner sort can be hilarious and challenging. 'Fractured Fairy Tales,' the stories in this book (a collection of Aesop's Fables ["Aysop's Feebles"], and traditional fairy and other tales ["tairy and other fales"]) demonstrate as much. They're especially good fun when read aloud because that's often when the transpositions become obvious. In Stoopnagle's Tale..., we're treated to such 'tables and fales,' as well as background on Reverend Spooner, how Colonel Stoopnagle came to be, a brief discussion of the spoonerism and how it is crafted, along with the introduction and back cover blurbs from the original Stoopnagle book.

The back cover of the current Stoopnagle book carries this descriptive endorsement from Kyle Siderski, a nine-year-old Rhode Islander: "This book is a good read-aloud for any age. It is very punny and humorous. Some kids find it more enjoyable if they are read to, with this book in particular, since spoonerisms tickle the verbal ear more than the mental ear. (You shouldn't buy this book if you don't know what MOOZING HIS LARBLES means.) It's, in short, a beazing plook to any istener's lear." How true!

 

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