All I know is, The Straight Dope, a book my friend Cal Burke turned me onto thirty some years ago, is witty, informative, and, more often than not, hilarious. Cecil Adams is the author of the “The Straight Dope,” an 800-word column first published in the Chicago Reader in 1973. Since then, the columns have been gathered in five books and now is online. The gist of the original column was readers ask Cecil a question about something they’ve always wondered. Often, the questions are odd: When the toilets atop the Sears Towers flush, do the contents travel down the 110 floors?, Why do men have nipples?, Are people in the Central Time Zone more productive because TV schedules let them sleep more? Odd but interesting and always answerable by Cecil. And this is where the fun starts.
I have never forgotten the opening line to his response involving Nostradamus. First the question:
Recently I saw a movie on cable TV called “The Man Who Saw Tomorrow,” about Michael Nostradamus the prognosticator. That film scared the hell out of me. Nostradamus claims that first Halley’s comet will screw up the entire world and then in the 1990s a Middle East/Russian collaboration will wage nuclear war on the West for 27 years, after which the U.S. and Russia will join together again to defeat the Islamic horde. Should I begin to say my prayers? How good was Nostradamus at predicting the future? Did Orson Welles (the film’s narrator) con me once again?
There are two schools of thought on Nostradamus: either (1) he had supernatural powers which enabled him to prophesy the future with uncanny accuracy, or (2) he did for bullshit what Stonehenge did for rocks. I incline to the latter view.
Cecil then goes on to give the witty facts, which you can read here should you be interested.
But is Cecil Adams real? Adams might just be the name used for a group of journalist who wrote for the column. It also might be the pseudonym for Ed Zotti, Adam’s “editor” and man behind the curtain. Jake Malooley reports for Time Out Chicago:
“People have a lot of theories,” Zotti says with a smirk, painting himself as an errand boy for a genius. “I do much of Cecil’s typing, but Cecil presides. I’m Cecil’s editor, confidante and personal assistant. A couple of other assistants do some research and I do some research, and then Cecil gives it his magic touch and it somehow gets into the paper.”
The Straight Dope website even has FAQ that addresses this question:
Who is this man called Cecil Adams?
- Who is Cecil Adams? Cecil Adams is the world’s most intelligent human being. We know this because: (1) he knows everything, and (2) he is never wrong.
Maybe we’ll never know, but like I say, I don’t care. Anybody who can connect bullshit and Stonehenge like Cecil did with Nostradamus has my vote.