August 4, 2008

The Power of Two: A game show for PBS or NPR

Here's a website called FreeRice.com, where they ask you vocabulary questions and the sponsors (e.g., UniLever) donate 20 grains of rice to hungry people somewhere or other for each word you get right. Many of the words are highly obscure, but if you know your Greek and Latin prefixes and suffixes, you'll do okay.

I got the first 31 in a row right for 620 grains of rice, so, morally speaking, I now get to go kick a cat or something.

Here's how to make it better so that it would be a hit gameshow on NPR or PBS.

You win one grain of rice to donate to the global poor for getting the first, very easy question right. You win two for the second, four for the third, eight for the fourth.

Get it? It's exponential. White People love the Power of Two. (In fact, "The Power of Two" would be a good name for the show.) By getting 31 in a row right, I would have had donated 1,073,741,824 grains of rice.

Which comes out to about 37,000 pounds, or about $25,000 bucks at today's high prices -- i.e., that's about the right amount for a guest with a good vocabulary who lucks into a hot streak like I did. In contrast, on the commercial TV "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," the prizes for a right answer rise in 15 steps from $100 to $1,000,000.

Second, vocabulary questions are good, but if you really want to drive the NPR/PBS audience wild, also include grammar questions! Nothing raise the passions of the SWPL crowd higher than disputes over grammar.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

36 comments:

Truth said...

"Second, vocabulary questions are good, but if you really want to drive the NPR/PBS audience wild, also include grammer questions! Nothing raises the passions of the SWPL crowd higher than disputes over grammar."

'Grammer' questions are excellent, but the guests should be questioned on speelling as well (Sorry buddy, I couldn't resist.)

albertosaurus said...

I missed one about five words into the test and then got the next forty right. How good is a score is that?

As you know the Stanford Binet full scale correllates with its sub-test scores. One of those sub-tests is vocabulary.

When you don't have time to give the full scale SB you are instructed that you can get a good IQ approximation by just giving the vocabulary subtest.

The SB vocabulary test gets harder as it progresses until it reaches some very obscure words. So I tell people that if that don't have time to give the full vocabulary sub-test you can just ask the last word on the list.

Since Stanford is near the Pacific shore it has as its most difficult words - limpet.

There now don't you feel smarter?

So I developed a way for anyone to raise their IQ.

Anonymous said...

I got the first 37 in a row just now, which is mostly explained by the fact that I'm a life-long language geek. If anyone is curious, I was stumped by lyddite = explosive. Who knew? I should also say that I've used this site twice before - about a year ago and about 6 months ago. I probably didn't retain anything from either of those experiences though - you rarely learn new words without a context, and the quiz format does not provide much of a context.

By the way, this map quiz is even more fun than freerice: http://www.travelpod.com/traveler-iq

And here's a NYT review of a book by a guy who's read through the entire Oxford English Dictionary:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/books/review/Baker-t.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

James Kabala said...

"Nothing raises the passions of the SWPL crowd higher than disputes over grammar."

This was claimed by Lander himself as well, but I don't see the evidence. In my experience love of grammar is a conservative passion (not necessarily politically conservative, but tempermentally conservative). This one was a rare major misfire by Lander.

Anonymous said...

I donated 1000. Great vocabulary builder. Thanks for the tip, bookmarked.

Anonymous said...

Got the first 23 -- stopped by "theca."

But Steve, don't you think you are getting a bit carried away by this whole SWPL thing? Yes, it's clever and insightful. But it's not *that* clever, and you are starting to come across as fixiated on it. Give it a rest!

geronimo mctavish said...

Im up to 3,040 grains. I get to kick a cat and tip battery acid into a stream as well!

Bookmarked.

halfbreed said...

I tried out for "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" once, at a friend's suggestion (I live within commuting distance of NYC). I passed the test, which wasn't particularly hard (between five and ten percent of the people there seemed to have passed), but made the mistake of mentioning to my interviewer/screener afterward that I had been on several Bigfoot expeditions. Got a postcard a couple weeks later saying my services weren't needed. Moral of the story: honesty not the best policy.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

And if you want to lose the NPR/PBS crowd, include math or science questions. "Marketplace" is just "Economics by anecdote," and that's the toughest they got.

Whether grammar is liberal or conservative (socially or temperamentally) is a fascinating discussion. Conservatives are suspicious of anything pomo that undermines their idea of standards, and liberals like to show that they know the social rules better than the proles. Quite a battle.

Many grammar rules are mere pedantries that are used as class markers (So of course I taught my children to be pedantic. Do you think I'm stupid? They use the Princeton/Oxford comma).

Steve Sailer said...

Okay, you can all now admit that you noticed the grammar error in the last sentence.

Argent Paladin said...

I've gotten to level 50, the final level. But I teach GRE for a living and know Latin and some Greek. And I got a bit lucky.

michael farris said...

"you can all now admit that you noticed the grammar error in the last sentence"

I'd assumed there would be an error but didn't look for it and it was the kind of thing that's easily missed in internet reading where skimming, rather than careful parsing, is the norm.

"Nothing raise the passions"

Assistant village idiot is completely right that many, many (though not all) rules of traditional grammar have nothing to do with language structure or logic but are social rules akin to using the right fork at a formal dinner.

The linguist position is that when a substantial number of native speakers use a form, it can't be called an error in any linguistic sense. It can be called an error in the don't-spit-on-the-sidewalk sense.

"Nothing raise the passions"

Looking at it, it does look like an error and not merely non-standard usage. It's no secret that person/number agreement in English has seen better days. Mostly this means that verbs with third person singular (tps) subjects often take the general form and not the specifically tps one*. In casual conversation almost all speakers do this to some extent (either because it's part of their dialect, sometimes for expressive effect).

Nevertheless, I'd not normally do that with an indefinite pronoun subject. It's easy for me to imagine a context where I could say "she raise" or "Steve raise" but 'nothing' stubbornly needs 'raises'.

*sometimes it means that the tps form can expand in usage, "they was" and "we was" sound colloquial but not wrong to me. Interestingly in Britain the levelling there is going in the opposite direction, many Brits routinely say "it were" which sounds wildly wrong to me, like "Did you give it him" (also common in colloquial British usage).

agnostic said...

"Nothing" takes a singular verb, so "raises."

You see the same with math nerds, btw. I think some of them seek out discussions of skewed distributions just to see if the writer correctly used the "skewed left" vs. "skewed right" convention.

Anonymous said...

I've gotten to level 50, the final level.

50 is not the final level.

koos said...

This reminds me of the role the Green movement here in Germany played in raising energy prices. The only solution they now have is to privately concede thyt Nuclear Reactors are a good idea, that windmills are too expensive and to public tell my I must turn off my lights and even think of using a blanket during winter.
To my mind the main 2 reasons for food shortages are:

-Biofuels
-"Liberated" countries

Southern Africa frequently pops up on any discussion of poverty and hunger. Yet there exists an inverse correlation between the state of “liberation” of any of those countries and the state of its agricultural sector.
Rhodesia was an exporter of food. Uganda was considered the corn-chamber of Africa. Those countries are now net importers of expensive European and US food, yet even with that their populations are going hungry. South Africa has reached the tipping point where the local production only just manages to feed the country. Of the original 80000 commercial farmers only about 20000 remain. 3000 were murdered and many others decided farming was too dangerous for their families. Many are now framing in South America, Australia and other parts of Africa (Zambia, Mozambique, Nigeria) where the former “liberators” have got the message.
Under Apartheid South Africa was exporting food to all of southern Africa, sometimes for free in the hope of stemming the tides of refugees which now have arrived in South Africa (thanks to the ANC).

So Whiter People could have prevented all this Spell for Rice shit if they had just refrained from insisting on "liberation before education", or in the case of African countries "liberation before food production". In addition, if they had not insisted on Green cars just as much, we would not be saddled with the energy-wise incoherent Biofuels and all the market speculation. Having screwed up both food-producing countries and saddled the food market with biofuels, they now try and fix their self-created mess with spelling competitions. This is like going to McDonalds in order to lose weight.

This would all just be ludicrous if it were not for the fact that many weak people with diminished outcomes would not have to gamble their lives on it.

rob said...

The grammar thing that always confused me as a child is everything. Everything IS blank, or everyone IS whatever. What could be more plural than all of something.

Charity Refusenik said...

Don't feed the poor people! Not one fucking grain of rice! Seriously! I did that back in high school; a quarter century later and a billion plus more mouths to feed, each competing with me for food and commodities and a threat to immigrate to my country, and I now see the error of my ways. Fuck em! They'd starve you and skin you alive if they had the chance, and they might sooner than you'd think.

Anonymous said...

"I've gotten to level 50, the final level. But I teach GRE for a living and know Latin and some Greek. And I got a bit lucky."

I got to level 44 (I thought level 60 was the highest) and didn't study Latin or Greek. I have a very good vocabulary and while I was taking it, I kept thinking to myself that it surely is true that an extremely good work and study ethic is important to academic success. In other words, I have a gift for language, but didn't add to it. No problem, I'm a stay at home mom and always knew I would be so. Funny, I'm the biggest advocate of kids knowing their Latin and Greek and mine surely will be studying them!

Em

James Kabala said...

"I'd assumed there would be an error but didn't look for it and it was the kind of thing that's easily missed in internet reading where skimming, rather than careful parsing, is the norm."

Mr. Farris is right, plus typos are so common on the Internet. (This isn't Yglesias, but still.) For example, was "grammer questions" an authentic typo (as truth seemed to believe), or another plant?

Sideways said...

Those ones from old English are killers.

H. said...

There used to be--and might still be--an interesting website called "It Pays to Learn." It had prizes for correct answers to its questions in categories such as history, geography, spelling, Bible and more. I always thought it was a superb idea, since I believe that people who know a lot should be the ones who are subsidized.

Ronduck said...

Since we are on the subject of grammar, please fix the last line of your donation plea on the right. Your last sentence should say:

Thanks, I appreciate it deeply.

or:

Thanks, I deeply appreciate it.

or even better:

Thanks, I deeply appreciate your donation.

I hate it when single words are used as a sentence for emphasis, such as the following:

The. Best. Ever.

You need to be careful with the SWPL-grammar line, your readers might start nitpicking everything you write.

Anonymous said...

Another great charity site is AIDtoCHILDREN.com. It donates money to children in need through World Vision.

Check it out at http://www.aidtochildren.com

Anonymous said...

Very nice that your knowledge of many words helps hungry children, but why does this invoke in the minds of men access to the forbidden pleasure of kicking cats? Do you people dislike cats? Because if I catch any one of you, or people like you, kicking my puppy-dog friendly cat Bebe, I'll be kicking your grains of rice right up your snooty greco-latin prefixed noses.
However if "now I can go kick the cat" is just anti-pc expression, signifying nothing, then kudos for all you do-gooder rice-pickers.

Bill said...

Got 19 in a row, tripped up on "duroc", which is evidently a red pig.

Oh well, guess I'm not cut out to be a pig rancher.

Fun test. I'm getting back into this stuff lately. My friends and I went out to a pub for a trivia contest last night and won the purse, which paid for all our beer and then some. Hanging out with nerds has its benefits!

Argent Paladin said...

Ah, my ignorance shows that I haven't played in the past month. They have recently expanded the levels. A quick look at the archives shows that it used to be only 50 levels, but now it is 60. So, I will have to try again to top it out. But it looks like it will be harder than before. Probably due to people who look up the words in dictionaries.

Anonymous said...

"You need to be careful with the SWPL-grammar line, your readers might start nitpicking everything you write."

YOU need to be careful with YOUR grammar.

You have written a run-on sentence of the comma-splice variety.

You should end the sentence with a period after the word "line" and capitalize the next word, thus creating two full sentences, as opposed to a comma splice.

Anonymous said...

Is 60 the highest level? I got 51. Some of the definitions seemed rather odd ...

Josh said...

I got the first 8 right and then quit. Sorry starving dudes! I agree with the other poster that the charm of SWPL is a bit elusive. Everytime I check it--thanks to Steve--the #1 or #2 topic of discussion is Post 11,Asian Girls.The interesting comments are over,and now its just ,"Asian chicks love white cock!"type stuff. These guys need to get more on point,theyre losing me!

Truth said...

"I did that back in high school; a quarter century later and a billion plus more mouths to feed, each competing with me for food and commodities and a threat to immigrate to my country, and I now see the error of my ways."

Wow! You must have been really good at it!

If Mugabe, Rawlings, Chavez, Lula, et. all haven't thanked you for saving their continents, allow me to be the first

Anonymous said...

Anon wondered about the "kicking..." being just an "anti-pc expression". If I'm going for effect, I'll use "club a baby seal"

Martin said...

"Truth said...

Wow! You must have been really good at it!"

Actually, Charity Refusenik said...

"Don't feed the poor people!"

He said he fed poor people, not the entire world. You might try reading, instead of skimming.

Truth said...

No shit Sherlock?

Wow, I learn so much from corresponding with you triple-digit-IQ types!

Next you'll be telling me that Jules Verne didn't really go to the center of the earth.

KevinM said...

Way spooky. How do I know the meanings of words I don't know the meanings of? Some of the adjectives and adverbs I can kind of see how I could puzzle out, but those 1 syllable nouns?

It would be interesting to see how my nephews and nieces do on this by age.

Anonymous said...

"A quick look at the archives shows that it used to be only 50 levels, but now it is 60. So, I will have to try again to top it out. But it looks like it will be harder than before. Probably due to people who look up the words in dictionaries."

and

"Is 60 the highest level? I got 51. Some of the definitions seemed rather odd ..."

Only at this blog could someone (me) be defensive about getting *only* a 44.

Em

Ronduck said...

Anonymous said...

"You need to be careful with the SWPL-grammar line, your readers might start nitpicking everything you write."

YOU need to be careful with YOUR grammar.

You have written a run-on sentence of the comma-splice variety.

You should end the sentence with a period after the word "line" and capitalize the next word, thus creating two full sentences, as opposed to a comma splice.


Thank you, I do need to be careful with my grammar. My apologies for for the post.