Mason County News
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This is Only a Test
Wednesday, February 25, 2009 • Posted February 25, 2009

My friend, Steve LaMascus, recently sent me a quiz with the title ‘High School Exit Exam’ at the top. It said I needed to correctly answer four of the ten questions to pass. So I took the test, partly because I like a challenge, and partly because I don’t think my local high school principal, Casey Callaghan, wants me back in school. And I needed a break from playing Freecell anyway.

At first glance the answers to these questions might seem obvious, but they’re not. When I read the first one I realized there must be some kind of trick. The question was “How long did the Hundred Years’ War last?”

Well, I like history. Dave Barry once said, “A country that does not know its history is doomed to do poorly on the scholastic aptitude test,” and I think he meant it. I knew the Hundred Years’ War, between England and France, lasted longer than a hundred years, due to scheduling difficulties and a shortage of white flags for the French troops, so I guessed 109 years. Turns out it was 116. So I was 0 for 1.

The next question was “Which country makes Panama hats?” Your average, hoity-toity New York City CEO type will probably miss that one, while your average rancher, who wouldn’t know a fiduciary debenture if one bit him on the behind, will get it right. Panama hats are made in Ecuador. That’s why, when you go into a western store, you’ll usually see a sign advertising ‘Ecuadorian Panama hats.’ One down, three to go.

The third question was “From which animal do we get cat gut?” Since footballs are called ‘pigskins’ and are made from cowhide, I figured catgut must come from pigs. You know cats aren’t good for anything.

Wrong again. It turns out catgut comes from sheep and horses. Why not?

Next the test wanted to know which month the Russians celebrate the October Revolution. I knew it wasn’t October, and I figured they probably celebrate it in the month when the revolution was either successful or defeated, so I guessed January. Unfortunately Ivan was quicker than I thought. The answer is November.

The next question was “What is a camel’s hair brush made of?” Well, I never saw a camel with real long hair, so I figured they made those brushes out of nylon. Nope. Squirrel. Actually, I’m not sure I believe that one, since I’ve never seen a squirrel with real long hair, either. But there you go.

Question six was “What animal are the Canary Islands, in the Pacific Ocean, named after?” Couldn’t be the canary, of course, and I knew this one, because I’d heard it before. I just couldn’t remember what it was, so I said the parakeet. The correct answer is the dog, which must be where the term ‘birddog’ comes from.

The next question concerned England again, I think. It was “What was King George VI’s first name?” The obvious answer, King, is incorrect. I guessed William, but that didn’t wash, either. It was Albert. You remember Albert. They put his picture on the tobacco can when he was just a prince.

At this point I’m one for seven, and things aren’t looking too good. I have to get the last three right or I lose. I remember high school being easier than this. Maybe I was just smarter back then.

Finally, though, I came to one I knew. “What color is the purple finch?” Well, everybody knows that. It’s red. The test said crimson, but red’s close enough. I’m not sure there’s a difference, anyway.

Number nine asked where Chinese gooseberries come from. That was a toughie. I figured China was out, but I was stumped, since I’ve never, as far as I know, seen a gooseberry. Unless that’s what you call goose doots, but I figured we were talking about something that grows on a bush.

Finally I remembered seeing a picture of some people in India once, and there was a goose in the foreground. India it is. Except it isn’t. It’s New Zealand. Which doesn’t make sense at all, but there you go.

The last question was easy – “What color is the ‘black box’ in a commercial airplane?” That’s the box that records everything that happens mechanically and digitally on a plane, so investigators can tell what happened after one crashes. It also records everything said in the cockpit, usually “Uh-oh,” or “I’ve never seen THAT happen before.”

Anyway, they always look for the black box after a crash, and if it was black they probably wouldn’t find it, especially at night. It’s orange. Sometimes it has stripes on it, but the main color is always orange.

So I only got three questions right, which means I should be back in school. And I’ll go, too, if I can find a teacher somewhere who got at least four right . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist who plans to do better on the college exit exam. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or

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