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The Straight Dope

Topics/tags: Reviews, short

Back in my college days, one of my favorite things to read was, naturally enough, the weekly Chicago Reader. The Reader had great long-form reporting [1], awesome comic strips [2], and, of course, the subject of this musing, Cecil Adams’ The Straight Dope.

For those who don’t know, The Straight Dope was a kind of question and answer column. Adams would choose from the questions his readers had submitted on everything from human evolution [3] to geography [4] to language [5] and much, much, more. Adams (and, later, his team of assistants) would do an in-depth study of the matter, often interviewing experts in the area and, it seems, reading related technical articles.

Many things made the column a joy to read. The questions are, well, different. Some you’ve probably asked or thought about. Others seem to come out of left field [6]. Adams has a humorous, slightly snarky tone. Every column is accompanied by a strange illustration by Slug Signorino. And, well, the answers are relatively thorough.

I stopped reading The Straight Dope when I left Chicago. A few years ago, I realized that I could subscribe to an email newsletter. And I’ve been reading it weekly ever since.

Then came today’s message.

This week’s Straight Dope marks the last appearance of the column as the Teeming Millions have known it for the past 45 years.

Why? It appears that Adams doesn’t really own the column. Sun-Times Media owns The Chicago Reader and therefore the column. Interestingly, it appears that although they are selling The Reader, they are keeping the column. However,

[T]he folks at Sun-Times Media, which will continue to own the Straight Dope, are re-thinking the once-a-week deep dive (sorta) on a single topic (usually) in question-and-answer format. […] But no decision has been made, and my role, if any, has not been determined.

I’m amazed that Adams has written the column for forty-five years. Of course, we don’t really know that it’s the same person; it’s pretty clear that Cecil Adams is not really the author’s real name. But it feels like the same person. I’m even more amazed that The Sun-Times would consider continuing the column without him. Of course, Dear Abby is no longer written by Pauline Phillips. Nonetheless, it strikes me as poor practice in this case.

Is there a positive in all this? I see one. Cecil writes

I’m thinking about publishing another Straight Dope book – it’s been nigh on 20 years since the last one.

I realize that I’m old fashioned, but I relish the idea of another physical Straight Dope book.

Fingers crossed!

[1] One of my favorite stories was a profile of Daddy G of Gary U.S. Bonds’ Quarter to Three. I’d love to read it again, but I’ve never been able to track it down.

[2] Jay Lynch’s Phoebe and the Pigeon People was definitely a favorite.

[3] E.g., Has human evolution stopped?

[4] E.g., Why is Greenland considered an island but not Eurasia?

[5] E.g., "What’s the origin of the expression Indian giver?

[6] I wonder where the phrase comes out of left field comes from [7,8,9,10].

[7] Cecil probably knows.

[8] As does David Feldman.

[9] Yes, I realize it’s probably a baseball phrase.

[10] These days, the Interweb could also provide me with additional information. I see that Wikipedia has some, including some parts that suggest that no one completely knows.

Version 1.0 of 2018-06-28.