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I started writing this page over a week ago. It's taken me this long to finish for two reasons. (1) The Straight Dope Web site is so poorly organized that I decided to try to figure it out and explain it to you so you don't have to spend so much time figuring it out yourself. (2) But the site is so full of such interesting information that every time I go there to try to figure out the navigation for you, I start getting lost wandering around and hither and yon, and I forget that I'm on a deadline.
I was introduced to the "Straight Dope" column when I lived in Chicago, home of the alternative free weekly newspaper called The Chicago Reader. The Reader, with its distinctive backwards R logo, is among the most respected of the free weeklies in the United States, and in 1973 without any fanfare it ran the very first of the now-pretty-famous columns by Cecil Adams.
Cecil, a rather mysterious "person," answers questions posed by readers. You write him with a question, he might answer it in the newspaper, and if he does you should be prepared to feel enlightened. Depending on your question, you might also want to prepare to feel foolish. I my own personal self wrote Cecil with a private question having to do with why the moon always shows the same face to Earth, and he responded! Of course, this was before he became a franchise, and even then he did make me feel foolish. But he did respond, and I did win the bet I had made with my friend KJDW about whether it was inevitable or coincidence.
Unca' Cece's answers are almost always right, and they're always worth reading. His answers are inevitably well-researched and well-written, if a bit acerbically at times. And funny at times, yes, that too. No matter how uninterested you might think you are in the question asked by the reader, the answer provided by Cecil Adams invariably not only educates but also entertains. This is high-quality writing of almost always high-quality answers.
The Straight Dope Web site currently (as of December 2005) offers a searchable list of a large plethora of Cecil's answers as well as an even larger list of answers supplied by what is called the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board, whose authors seem just as authoritative as Cecil himself, which is a lot. Full references and legitimate citations abound, logic is relentlessly employed at full tilt, and you just generally get the idea you're in the hands of people who have a better answer than you do. You often get the feeling that common knowledge isn't, and that you really will get the straight dope. Also, some of the illustrations are comical.
I promise to pay you a dollar if you can take a look at all the questions asked and not find one you want answered.
Unlike the Straight Dope himself, the Straight Dope Web site is pointlessly confusing. Or if there is a reason for the apparent confusion then I'm not smart enough to figure it out. If you are then you can just go straight THERE now. If you want my help, below is my latest attempt to make navigating the Web site make a bit of sense for you.
The site can be categorized into these three main types of page.
Now, to return to number 1 above, the several lists of answers are why you won't be able to get that dollar from me. Taken altogether there are many hundreds of such answers, some written by Cecil and some by his science experts. Unfortunately they are, for some no-doubt-good reason, located disjointedly in a number of places, the primary of which is the Archives page. Your best chance of finding what you're looking for is there. It's also on the Archive page where you can conduct searches.
Archives page. The ARCHIVES page is found under the "columns" directory even though it contains many links to articles that were never columns. Also, although the link on the home page to the Archives page is labeled "Search Archives," once you get there it's labelled "Archives." Worse yet, that "Archives" label sometimes changes unexpectedly as you wander afield from there. Sometimes links that you think will take you back to where you were on the Archives page take you to the top (which is a big deal considering how many items there are in so many lists. Furthermore, as of this writing at least a couple links back to the Archive page result in a Not Found error. This is not a complete list of all the questionable navigation aids, but you get the idea.
Anyway, you have to go to the main Archives page to get to all the lists of answers that are the reason you're doing this in the first place.
Note that some lists are ON the Archives page, whereas others are linked to FROM the Archives page. There is no useful reason I can figure out for which is which, which is partly why I'm trying to describe what I've learned from many long, pleasurable hours bouncing around the site anchorlessly.
Here is a list of the various pages and places, all found ON or linked to FROM the ARCHIVES page, where you can find lists of questions and their answers (not counting anything on the Message Board).
Note that the term column below, whether in quotes or capitalized or not, refers to an answer written by Cecil Adams that was published in The Chicago Reader.
Note also that the order of the items below is the inexplicable order in which you'll find them scrolling down from the top of the ARCHIVES page.
"A sampling of Straight Dope Classics" -- About 75 columns (1984 - 1999) from five of the "Straight Dope" books, ON the Archives page
"Recent Classic Columns" -- Over 200 recent answers from Cecil, ON the Archives page
"More Classic Columns" -- Over 500 more answers from Cecil, linked to FROM the Archives page
"Current columns" -- All the columns (about 100), at one a week, from January 2004 to the current date (December 2005 as of this writing), ON the Archives page
"2002 Column Index" -- All the columns (about 50), at one a week, from 2002, linked to FROM the Archives page
"2003 Column Index" -- All the columns (about 50), at one a week, from 2003, linked to FROM the Archives page
"Recent Special Reports (formerly Cecil's Mailbag)" -- About 75 recent answers from what's called the "Science Advisory Board," ON the Archives page
"Special Reports/Cecil's Mailbag" -- All the answers (over 600) to questions that the Science Advisory board has fielded, except the recent ones (explained immediately above), linked to FROM the Archives page.
Scrolling below that you're on your own, but above that, below here are some of the questions you'll find answered on the Straight Dope
site. Note that several of them are questions I myself essay to answer elsewhere on these pages.
Click whatever interests you.
What is déjà vu?
If you're familiar with the television show "Mythbusters," one of my favorites, you might recognize these earlier Straight Dope questions:
"chicken gun" used to test jet engines?
OK, I'm convinced I'll like this. Take me to STRAIGHT DOPE so I can check it out.
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