Posts filed under “Young Readers”


Why must the “word problems” we give our children to solve be boring? Let the problems capture the imagination, and then math homework will be a joy. Here are a few problems, all of which Dr. Boli cheerfully donates to the public, with explicit permission to copy and use them in any form for any purpose.

1. Aralia Sneep planted 84 kangaroo seeds, but 13 of them grew into wallabies instead. What percentage of the seeds were actually wallaby seeds?

2. Because the waiter served your pie in your face, you have decided that he deserves only a 13% tip. The bill was $18.75. How much do you give the waiter?

3. In the town of Mysterious Glowing Rock, Wyoming, 27% of the people have three feet instead of two. If the population is 134, how many feet are there in town? (Round to the nearest foot.)

4. It is a known fact that 8% of male Plaid-Headed Warblers have wing markings in the shape of Carmen Miranda. Some guy at the Uni-Mart says that there are 27 male Plaid-Headed Warblers with wing markings in the shape of Carmen Miranda in Ohiopyle State Park. If that is true, how many male Plaid-Headed Warblers are there in the park? (Round to the nearest bird.)

5. This week only, the Pennsylvania General Assembly is offering a 30% discount on legislators from smaller urban areas. If it usually costs $79.95 to buy a state representative from Altoona, how much will it cost this week?

6. Brenneman’s Frosted Honey Crunch cereal is made of 92% sugar and 8% crunch by weight. If the manufacturer has 631 pounds of crunch on hand, how much sugar will be needed to make all the crunch into a batch of Frosted Honey Crunch cereal?

7. It is well known that 12 members of the royal house of Cowvetch-Hastings-Mulligan-Gasket von Toaster are mad, but no one knows which members. If there are 54 members of the family altogether, what is the percentage chance that Rupert Adolphus Griswold Cowvetch-Hastings-Mulligan-Gasket von Toaster is mad?

8. On average, 39% of everything the novelist Osmorhiza Yi writes is absolute rubbish. Assuming that this rate is consistent in all of her novels, how many pages of rubbish will you have to wade through in her 1,523-page opus Damp Petals of a Wild Geranium?

9. Mr. Zim’s Instant Gourmet shop was hit by a flood, in which 73% of his stock of freeze-dried eels were accidentally rehydrated and swam away. If Mr. Zim has 87 packages of freeze-dried eels now, how many packages did he have before the flood? (Round to the nearest package.)

10. A sloth spends 80% of its time asleep. There are 60 seconds in a minute. How many seconds in the next minute will Calvin Coolidge, the sloth at the Wilmerding Zoo, spend asleep?

(N.B.—Any answer to question 10 should be accepted if it is supported by a coherent argument.)


CITIZEN 1. Look! Up in the sky!

CITIZEN 2. It’s a weather balloon!

CITIZEN 1. It’s a helicopter!

CITIZEN 2. I really think it’s a weather balloon.

ANNOUNCER. No! It’s Invincible Man!

(Music: Theme, in and under for…)

ANNOUNCER. Yes, Malt-O-Cod, the only malt food drink flavored with real cod-liver oil, presents the Adventures of Invincible Man, the most powerful hero in the universe. Faster than light—more powerful than a hydrogen bomb—able to leap Mount McKinley with a hop, skip, and jump—Invincible Man fights for truth, beauty, and clean living!

(Music: Fade.)

ANNOUNCER. As our story opens today, Invincible Man has confronted the diabolically ruthless Dr. Villain, who has kidnapped plucky girl reporter Dottie Daily and plans on using her hatpins to build a doomsday device that will destroy most of the tri-state area.

DR. VILLAIN. So, Invincible Man, you have found my evil lair! But it makes no difference. My wicked plot proceeds apace. I have but to—

(Sound: Quiet smack.)

DOTTIE. Gosh, Invincible Man, you flicked him right off the continent.

INVINCIBLE MAN. I expect him to land in Tierra del Fuego somewhere, looking rather surprised.

DOTTIE. So his evil plot is foiled.



DOTTIE. So, um, what would you like to talk about?

INVINCIBLE MAN. Well, I don’t know. Seen any good movies lately?

DOTTIE. No. I mean, I’d like to go to the movies sometimes, but my boyfriend Grant Sussex, mild-mannered fellow reporter at the Leader, is always so busy, and we just never seem to have the time. And anyway, the weather’s been so nice lately, so who wants to be cooped up in a stuffy old movie theater?

INVINCIBLE MAN. Yes, the weather has been very mild this spring. Last year it was so unpredictable.

DOTTIE. I know! It was, like, all tulips and daffodils one day, and the next day it was a blizzard.

INVINCIBLE MAN. Still, we had a mild summer last year. It never really got too hot.

DOTTIE. Yes, that was nice. But it wasn’t very good for the tomatoes. They don’t really thrive until the weather gets hot.

INVINCIBLE MAN. Oh, do you grow tomatoes?

DOTTIE. Yeah, the landlord lets me plant a little patch every year behind my building. I mean, I have to have something to do, since my boyfriend won’t take me to the movies.

INVINCIBLE MAN. Well, maybe if you chose a different kind of movie, your boyfriend wouldn’t be so reluctant.

DOTTIE. What kind? I really try, you know. I always suggest superhero action movies, cause I know guys like that.

INVINCIBLE MAN. Well, see, that’s your problem. Guys go to the movies to escape the everyday grind. Maybe a nice light romantic comedy.

DOTTIE. You know, you’re weird sometimes.

INVINCIBLE MAN. Well, I’m just trying to help. You don’t have to get all snippy.

DOTTIE. Sorry. It’s just that I’m worried about my relationship with Grant, you know? It always seems like he’s got something more important to do than be with me.

INVINCIBLE MAN. He’s probably just busy trying to save the w— I mean, save enough to make a down payment on a nice little bungalow for the two of you. A guy doesn’t want to marry a girl he can’t support, you know.

DOTTIE. Well, that’s not a problem. I’ll be making enough for both of us. Mr. Moore wants me to be features editor.

INVINCIBLE MAN. Features editor! You didn’t tell me anything about— I mean, have you, um, mentioned that to Grant?

DOTTIE. Aw, he’s too busy to listen. Anyway, I’m going to tell him next time I see him.

INVINCIBLE MAN. Well, I’m sure he’ll be very surprised.

DOTTIE. Sometimes you sound a little sarcastic, but I’m never quite sure why.

(Music: Theme, in and under for…)

ANNOUNCER. And so once again Invincible Man preserves the American Way from evil villains with indeterminate foreign accents. Tune in next time for more of the Adventures of Invincible Man. And don’t forget to drink your Malt-O-Cod today, kids. You can’t be as strong as Invincible Man, but you can be a hero to the Malt-O-Cod Corporation if you pester your parents for more Malt-O-Cod every time they go to the store. Unlike other fish-liver-flavored malt food drinks, Malt-O-Cod is made only from the purest Ukrainian barley and the sweet cream of the North Atlantic cod fisheries. Malt-O-Cod—it’s the malt food drink that’s brain food!

(Music: Theme, in full then out.)


ANNOUNCER. And now Malt-O-Cod, the delicious and nutritious malt food drink flavored with real cod-liver oil, presents…

(Music: Stinger.)

ANNOUNCER. The Amazing Adventures of…The Chihuahua!

(Music: Theme, in and under for…)

ANNOUNCER. Ponsonberry Primrose was an ordinary angst-ridden young man until, one night in his job at the Pet Palace, he was bitten by an annoying and moderately radioactive small dog. The radioactive bite gave him the fabled powers of…The Chihuahua!

(Music: Theme, in full, then fade.)

ANNOUNCER. Today we find Ponsonberry Primrose sitting in his living room with his love interest and frequent damsel in distress Janey Lou…

PRIMROSE. Gee, this is swell, Janey Lou. Just you and me, an old movie on the television, some popcorn and a glass of Malt-O-Cod for each of us—what could be nicer?

JANEY LOU. Well, it could be nicer to have a boyfriend who wasn’t too cheap to take me out to the movies once in a while. But whatever.

(Sound: Doorbell.)

PRIMROSE. Someone’s at the door! Someone’s at the door! Someone’s standing on the porch right now, ringing the doorbell! The nerve of him! Just ringing the doorbell, like he owned the front porch! Why, I oughta go out there right now and show him a thing or two! I oughta go out there right now and tell him who’s the boss around here! He’s right there, right now, on the porch!

JANEY LOU. I’ll get it.

PRIMROSE. Ringing the doorbell! Right now! I’ll tear him limb from limb, that’s what I’ll do! Standing on the porch like he owns the place! He didn’t reckon with me, that’s for sure! I’ll rip his legs off and make kibble out of ’em! I’ll chase him from here to Montana! He won’t know what hit him! He’ll be sorry he ever messed with me, you can bet on it!

JANEY LOU. Calm down. It’s just the mailman.

PRIMROSE. The mailman! My arch-nemesis! Prancing around the neighborhood with his evil blue uniform and his bag of horrors! Well, he’s not going to get away with it! He didn’t reckon with me when he started stepping on people’s porches and pushing doorbell buttons willy-nilly!

JANEY LOU. Get a grip, Ponse. He’s like, six-four and three hundred pounds. You’re, what, five-six?

(Sound: Door opening.)

PRIMROSE. Let me at him! I’ll lay him low like you wouldn’t believe! He’ll need three undertakers when I’m done with him! He’ll have stitches up one side of his body and down the other! I’ll give him rabies! I’ll go out and get rabies, and I’ll give it to him! I’ll bite his head right off his fat neck! I’ll take all the junk mail and stuff it down his throat!

JANEY LOU. Sorry about all the noise.

MAILMAN. It’s okay. I’m used to it. Just sign for this package, and—

PRIMROSE. It’s a trap! That package is rigged! The pen is rigged! The receipt is rigged! Don’t do it! Emergency! Let me out there, and I’ll protect you from the wicked machinations of the postal service! Let ’em send a million mailmen! I’ll beat ’em all up with one hand tied behind my back! I’ll lay ’em out like department-store mannequins! I’ll rip their arms off and feed them to the starlings!

JANEY LOU. Here you go.

MAILMAN. Thanks. Have a nice day.

PRIMROSE. Yeah, you better run, you coward! You think your thin blue armor will protect you from me? Well, you’ve got another think coming, that’s what you’ve got! You better not come back here with your letters and packages and free local coupon booklets! You better think twice about setting foot in this neighborhood again! I’d move to another state if I were you, that’s what I’d do!

JANEY LOU. You know, my roommate turned down a date with Captain Pleonasm because she said he was too talky.

PRIMROSE. He thinks he can just waltz up on people’s porches and push their doorbell buttons like it’s nothing at all. But he didn’t reckon with me. No, sir. I chased him off. I chased him from here to sundown. He can’t come up on this porch and ring the doorbell. Not while I’m around he can’t.

JANEY LOU. “Talk, talk, talk—that’s all he does.” That’s what she said.

PRIMROSE. If he tries that again I’ll teach him a thing or two. I’ll break both his legs. I’ll tear his ankles off. He can’t come up on people’s porches like that, like he owned the place. He can’t go around wearing blue uniforms whenever he wants to. Someone’s got to tell him people won’t stand for that sort of thing, and that someone’s going to be me.

JANEY LOU. And I thought to myself, “Well, I can beat that.” But I didn’t say anything.

PRIMROSE. If he comes here again he’ll get a contusion, that’s what he’ll get. He’ll be so black and blue they’ll think he got hit by a subway train. He’s gonna go home aching, that’s for sure. I’ll make him regret the day he decided to set foot on this porch. Oh, look! Popcorn.

(Music: Theme, in and under for…)

ANNOUNCER. And so, once again, the Chihuahua saves Janey Lou from the powers of evil and makes the neighborhood safe for doorbells. Tune in next week for more of the same, I guess. In the meantime, kids, why not mix yourselves up a great big glass of Malt-O-Cod right now? Malt-O-Cod is the only malt food drink with the rich, satisfying taste of 100% real cod-liver oil. You know as well as I do, kids, that the artificial cod-liver-oil flavor in those other malt food drinks just doesn’t cut it. So remember to shame your parents into brand loyalty. Accept no substitutes for Malt-O-Cod—the malt food drink that’s brain food.

(Music: Theme, in full then out.)


ANNOUNCER. And now Malt-O-Cod, the only malt food drink flavored with real cod-liver oil, proudly presents…

(Music: Fanfare)

ANNOUNCER. The Adventures of Sir Montague Blastoff, Interplanetary Space Dragoon!

(Music: Theme, in and under for…)

ANNOUNCER. Tonight we find Sir Montague with Colonel Wilhelmina Darling in New York of 1836, with picturesque carriages and sumptuous costumes and other things that cost a lot less on radio than in the movies.

SIR MONTAGUE. Well, Colonel, here we are—thanks to our earlier perfection of time travel—in November of 1836, just in time to prevent the election of Martin Van Buren as President of the United States and assure a Whig victory.

COL. DARLING. But I still don’t see why we had to come all this way to interfere with a minor historical figure in one of those forgotten backwater countries that used to infest the earth before the Interplanetary High Commission sorted everything out.

SIR MONTAGUE. My dear Colonel, the misery wrought by the Panic of 1837 led to untold—

SIR MONTAGUE (distant). Oh, I say! There you are!

COL. DARLING (distant). Wilhelmina! Wait for us!

COL. DARLING. Look, Monty! It’s us!

SIR MONTAGUE. I say! Is this another hiccup with the machinery?

SIR MONTAGUE (approaching). Not at all. I came looking for you, actually. Jolly good thing I found you, too.  I’ve come to tell you to turn back before it’s too late. It turns out that the consequences of a Whig victory in 1836 were nothing short of appalling.


SIR MONTAGUE. Indeed. The effect on contemporary interplanetary culture has been simply devastating.

COL. DARLING. Look at these uniforms we have to wear. Polyester velour!


SIR MONTAGUE (distant). Just a moment there!

COL. DARLING. Look! It’s us again!

SIR MONTAGUE (approaching). Good thing we caught up with the four of you! It turns out that Martin Van Buren must be stopped after all. By a series of events too complicated to explain right now, his election led to a complete collapse of the Interplanetary Union shortly after the second pair of you left.

SIR MONTAGUE. My word! That’s awkward.

SIR MONTAGUE. It certainly is. So the mission is on again, eh?

SIR MONTAGUE (distant). Not quite, I’m afraid!

COL. DARLING. It’s two more of us!

SIR MONTAGUE (approaching). After a round of jolly complicated calculations by the boffins, we’ve discovered that it was actually the election of Richard M. Johnson as vice president in 1836 that led to all the troubles down the road, so to speak.

COL. DARLING. So we have to prevent Richard M. Johnson from being elected, but not Martin Van Buren?

COL. DARLING. Yes, to prevent polyester.

COL. DARLING. No, I’m afraid the polyester will happen anyway. The boffins couldn’t calculate a way around it.

COL. DARLING. But I hate polyester! It doesn’t breathe!

COL. DARLING. Actually, a few of us have taken to wearing a cotton-polyester blend. It’s against regulations, and who knows what would happen if we were caught, but—

SIR MONTAGUE (approaching). I say, do any of you fine ladies and gentlemen know which way it is to 1841?

COL. DARLING (approaching). Monty, I think you forgot to reset the temporal coordinates.

SIR MONTAGUE. Oh, that must be it. Sorry, everyone. Obviously Colonel Darling is correct; I simply forgot to reset the dial thingy after coming here to tell you all that it was John Tyler who had to be stopped, not Richard M. Johnson.

SIR MONTAGUE. But you haven’t told us anything of the sort.

SIR MONTAGUE. Really? Well, we should be along any moment now.

SIR MONTAGUE (distant). I say, everyone, wait just a minute! It’s not Johnson or Van Buren at all! It’s Tyler!

SIR MONTAGUE. Ah, there we are now.

SIR MONTAGUE (approaching). One pair of us has got to get to March of 1841 and slip President Harrison some penicillin.

COL. DARLING. We’ll go, won’t we, Monty?

COL. DARLING. No, don’t bother. We can take care of it.

COL. DARLING. Are you sure? I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble.

COL. DARLING. If neither of you want to do it, I’m sure we could manage.

COL. DARLING. You actually look rather fetching in polyester velour.

COL. DARLING. Do you really think so? Don’t tell anyone, but it’s a cotton-polyester blend.

(Music: Theme, in and under for…)

NARRATOR. Will Sir Montague and Colonel Darling make it to 1841 in time to stop President Harrison from kicking the bucket? Don’t miss next week’s thrilling episode: Sir Montague Blastoff and Article 2, Section 1, Clause 6 of the United States Constitution! Until then, kids, remember to whine frequently until your parents bring home the Malt-O-Cod, the only malt food drink with the rich, satisfying flavor of real cod-liver oil. For a limited time only, you’ll find a little packet with more Malt-O-Cod in it inside each specially marked package of Malt-O-Cod. So remember that name, kids: Malt-O-Cod, the malt food drink that’s brain food.

(Music: In full, then out.)


Announcer. Malt-O-Cod, the only malt food drink flavored with real cod-liver oil, presents…

[Music: Laughing trombone.]

Announcer. The Adventures of Sarkastiko, the hero with the rapier wit!

[Music: Theme, in and under for…]

Announcer. Yes, Sarkastiko, armed only with his cutting repartee and an actual rapier, fights for justice and freedom on a daily basis, like that will help.

[Music: Theme fades.]

Announcer. As you recall, last week Sarkastiko had just found the secret lair of Professor Literal, when suddenly he was surrounded by henchmen, and…

Prof. Literal. Aha! Now you are in my power at last, Sarkastiko!

Sarkastiko. Yeah, it looks like I’ve got you right where I want you, doesn’t it?

Prof. Literal. I think you fail to understand the gravity of your situation. It is I who have you right where I want you. Your puny thin little sword is ineffectual against my henchmen armed with machine guns, hand grenades, and anti-tank weaponry.

Sarkastiko. I suppose you might have a tiny advantage in the weapons department.

Prof. Literal. I assure you, Sarkastiko, it is a very large advantage! You are completely helpless now, though I admit that your resistance was valiant.

Sarkastiko. Yeah, I really aced this one, didn’t I?

Prof. Literal. Not exactly. But you have fought bravely, and I respect that. I will therefore allow you to choose the manner of your own demise. How would you like to die?

Sarkastiko. Um…old age? Heh heh.

Prof. Literal. Oh! Very well, then. See you in seventy years or so. And no cheating and dying of cancer in the mean time.

Sarkastiko. Um…

Prof. Literal. Or getting hit by a streetcar. I hate that! I’ll be watching! And you should cut down on fatty foods. I want you to have your cholesterol checked.

Sarkastiko. Uh, okay.

Prof. Literal. Now bundle up. It’s chilly out there. The last thing we want is to have you catching pneumonia and depriving me of my ultimate victory when you’re a hundred and three or so. I shall very much enjoy watching your slow withering away into senility! Careful on the steps on the way out.

Sarkastiko. Um, right.

Announcer. And so once again Sarkastiko is saved by his razor-sharp wit, although at the cost of making this week’s episode a little shorter than we expected. Tune in next week for more of the Adventures of Sarkastiko, the hero with the rapier wit! And the actual rapier.

[Music: Theme, in and under for…]

Announcer. Kids, Sarkastiko knows that you’d never take advantage of your parents’ concern for your health. So it’s not like kids your age would ever try to get the Malt-O-Cod you crave by needling your moms and dads about the health benefits of your favorite malt food drink. But you should know that children who drink Malt-O-Cod have been shown to be 17% less likely to be attacked by killer bees. Not that you’d ever have any use for that information. So remember that name, kids: Malt-O-Cod, the malt food drink that’s brain food.

[Music: In full, then out.]


Announcer. Malt-O-Cod, the only malt food drink flavored with real cod-liver oil, presents…

[Music: Simple fanfare.]

Announcer. The Adventures of Common-Sense Man!

[Music: Theme, in and under for…]

Announcer. Common-Sense Man, standing up for all that is good, decent, and practical whenever it is threatened by dogmatism and theoreticism! In his strikingly comfortable khaki slacks and mid-blue polo shirt, Common-Sense Man drives his very practical Toyota Prius at the posted speed limit to arrive within a reasonable time whenever there is danger!

[Music: In full, then out.]

Announcer. As you recall, last week our hero was captured and taken to the underground lair of the Dragon, a fiendish villain bent on destroying the world by fire!

Dragon. So you see, Common-Sense Man, my plan is perfect. There is nothing you can do to stop me. With one press of this button, I shall set off a chain reaction in all the world’s nuclear arsenals, cleansing the earth in a storm of flame! Then the world shall know that I am [reverbthe Dragon.

Common-Sense Man. But how will you and your minions survive?

Dragon. Aha! I have thought of that! Here in this underground bunker, I shall be perfectly secure!

Common-Sense Man. But who’s going to generate your electricity?

Dragon. What?

Common-Sense Man. I mean, you use electricity for everything down here. Where will you get your power when everyone who works at Duquesne Light is dead?

Dragon. Well, I could—I could buy a generator.

Common-Sense Man. You mean the kind that runs on gasoline? Who’s going to refine your oil for you?

Dragon. Um, I.… Okay, smarty-pants,  I’ll go solar! Ha! Didn’t see that coming, did you? I’ll go solar, and then I won’t need Duquesne Light or a generator!

Common-Sense Man. But solar panels need to be replaced every so often. Can you make a solar cell? Did you remember to pick a photoelectric engineer as one of your minions? And batteries wear out even faster than solar cells. Can you make a rechargeable battery out of stuff you have lying around the lair?

Dragon. Well, gee, you kind of take the fun out of everything. I mean, if that’s the way it’s going to be, I might as well go back to managing the Burger Yurt.

Common-Sense Man. Well, now, that’s a very good idea. There are lots of opportunities for practical evil in the fast-food business.

Dragon. Yes. Yes! I could do something really evil with the Burger Yurt! I could… I could put a timer on drive-through transactions, but not on counter sales, and measure employee performance by the timer, so that the entire drive-through line will be cleared before a single walk-in customer is served! That’s evil, isn’t it?

Common-Sense Man. At least it’s not very nice. It’s a good first step. And it’s very practical.

Dragon. Hoho! I see it all now! Nuclear annihilation is for sissies! The real playground of evil is food service!

Announcer. And so once again Common-Sense Man saves the earth from destruction, although at the cost of a certain amount of inconvenience to the lunch crowd. Tune in again next time for more thrilling and edifying adventures of Common-Sense Man!

[Music: Theme, in and under for…]

Announcer. Kids, one thing Common-Sense Man knows is that you can’t start the day without a good breakfast. That’s why he always starts the morning with a great big glass of Malt-O-Cod, the only malt food drink with the delicious flavor of one hundred per cent real cod-liver oil. Then he eats some eggs, toast, and fruit, because the FDA wants us to tell you that. So remember, kids, tell your parents it’s just good common sense to stock up on Malt-O-Cod today!

[Music: In full, then out.]


Does that not sound like a splendid subject for a fable? But we are not going to hear it. Instead, we are going to hear the story of How the Leopard Got His Spots. This is a literary technique known as bait and switch.

In his youth, the Leopard was known for his wild and reckless behavior. It was a frequent subject of hand-wringing and head-shaking among the other animals of the jungle.

“He has no thought for the future,” said the wise old Elephant. “He never considers the consequences of his actions.”

“He drives like a maniac,” added the Okapi. “I mean, he would if we had cars.”

“Something ought to be done to teach him some responsibility,” said the Musk Ox, who had come south for the jungle climate on the advice of his doctor.

“I shall teach him responsibility,” the Lion declared. All eyes turned toward the wise and magnanimous king of the beasts. “I shall teach him by giving him a kind of responsibility which will engage his pride, his amour-propre as it were.” The animals were always particularly impressed when the Lion threw a little French into casual conversation, although in fact the only French words the Lion knew were “amour” and “propre.” “He will be given a responsibility essential to the well-being of all, and the consequences of failure will be shame and embarrassment.”

“A wise decision,” the animals all agreed, and there was scattered polite applause.

So the Lion summoned the Leopard into the royal presence.

“What’s cookin’, pops?” the Leopard asked with a jocularity that had all the other animals cringing.

“I have a very important mission for you,” the Lion told him with imperturbable good cheer.

“Solid!” replied the Leopard, who was always “hep” to the latest “jive.”

“You must carry this tray on your back to the Chimpanzee, who lives on the other side of the valley,” the Lion explained. “On it are six open bottles of ink, which the Chimpanzee will use to write his quarterly report. As I am sure you are aware, without quarterly reports the entire machinery of government grinds to a halt. Yours is therefore a mission of the utmost importance, and it requires extreme steadiness and careful concentration. One thoughtless step, and your splendid yellow coat will be ruined. Can you do it?”

“I won’t let you down, pops,” the Leopard assured him.

So the Elephant used her trunk to lower the tray carefully onto the Leopard’s back, and the Leopard set out for the other side of the valley, treading the well-worn jungle track as carefully as he could.

He had been walking only a few minutes when he met the Hyena, who was rolling on the ground laughing uncontrollably.

“Oh—oh—oh!” gasped the Hyena. “I just heard the funniest joke! I must tell it to you!”

“Oh, man, I love a good joke!—But no; no, I have an important responsibility now, and I must not fail. If I laughed too hard, the ink would surely spill all over me, and everyone would know that I had failed. You must excuse me; I will hear your joke when I am done.”

So the Leopard walked carefully onward, even though he really wanted to hear the Hyena’s joke.

It was not long before he met the Cheetah along the way.

“I just learned this solid new dance,” she told him, bouncing up and down with excitement. “Won’t you please dance it with me?”

“Oh, man, I love to dance with you!—But no; no, I have an important responsibility now, and I must not fail. If I danced with you, the ink would spill all over me, and everyone would know I had failed. You must excuse me; I will dance with you when I am done.”

So the Leopard walked carefully onward, even though he really wanted to dance with the Cheetah, who had a bit of a reputation as a wild girl.

It was not long before he met the Grey Parrot, who never had anything good to say.

“Aw, your mother sells inferior foreign-made footwear in a discount department store,” the Grey Parrot said with a beaky sneer.

“Oh, man, I’d love to chase that bird!” the Leopard said to himself. “But no; no, I have an important responsibility now, and I must not fail. If I chased him, the ink would spill all over me, and everyone would know I had failed. There will be time to chase the Parrot when I am done.”

At last the Leopard came to the Chimpanzee, who relieved him of the tray of ink, thanked him profusely, and wrote him a receipt to take back to the Lion. The Lion congratulated the Leopard on a job well done, and hoped he understood now how good it felt to take personal responsibility for something important.

“I sure do,” said the Leopard. “I’m going out to celebrate right now!”

So the Leopard ran around the corner to the tattoo parlor. “I feel like celebrating,” he said. “I want something really wild. Something like what the Cheetah’s got.” And the tattooist gave him what he wanted. And that is the story of how the Leopard got his spots, which made quite a change in his appearance. The next time he passed by, the Giraffe was so surprised that he stretched his neck way out to get a better look, and it stuck that way. So it seems we did hear the story of how the Giraffe got his neck after all.



From Dr. Boli’s Fables for Children Who Are Too Old to Believe in Fables.


In its first run, this was one of Dr. Boli’s most popular articles. It accumulated a long chain of comments, which are worth reading if you are a connoisseur of Internet comments.

ONCE TWO SCIENTISTS—it hardly matters what sort—were walking before dinner beside a pleasant pond with their friend, a reporter for the Dispatch, when they happened to notice a bird standing beside the water.

“I am a skeptic,” said the first scientist. “I demand convincing evidence before I make an assertion. But I believe I can identify that bird, beyond all reasonable doubt, as a duck.” The journalist nodded silently at this assertion.

“I also am a skeptic,” said the second, “but evidently of a more refined sort, for I demand a much higher standard of evidence than you do. I see no irrefutable evidence to back up your assertion that this object before us is even a bird, let alone positively identifying it as a duck.” The journalist raised his eyebrow sagely.

“But what of the feathers?” the first scientist demanded. “Surely you must have noticed the feathers, which are the veritable hallmark, so to speak, of a bird.”

“I have seen nearly identical feathers on a feather duster,” the second replied. “At present the evidence is not strong enough to say whether the object before us is a member of the avian genus Anas or a common household implement.” The journalist held his chin and pondered this revelation.

But this object has two legs, and walks upon the ground,” the first scientist objected.

So indeed do many members of the genus Homo, including our own species,” the second replied, and the journalist smiled a knowing smile.

But this creature has webbed feet,” the first scientist pointed out, his voice rising slightly.

My cousin Albrecht has webbed feet,” the second replied. “You are making my case for me by presenting not one but two compelling pieces of evidence that this object is in fact a member of the genus Homo, and very likely my cousin Albrecht.” The journalist looked up, as though he were carefully weighing the argument.

But it has a broad and flat bill,” the first scientist said.

The platypus has a broad and flat bill,” the second pointed out, “and so has a baseball cap. Since we have much evidence that suggests the object is a member of the genus Homo, and some that suggests it belongs to the genus Ornithorhynchus, it seems reasonable to suppose, as a provisional hypothesis, that the object is a mammal, and with somewhat less certainty we may identify it as my cousin Albrecht wearing a baseball cap.” The journalist, unable to suppress his instincts any longer, produced a long, narrow notebook and began to scribble furiously.

But it has feathers!” the first scientist shouted. “It has feathers, and two legs, and webbed feet, and a broad flat bill, and it says ‘quack,’ and—look—it’s gone into the pond now, and it’s floating on the water. It’s a duck!”

Each one of those observations is susceptible of a different explanation,” the second scientist responded calmly. “Where is your compelling evidence?”

The first scientist slapped his forehead. Then, calming himself, he turned to his friend the reporter. “Since we seem unable to reach a conclusion,” he said, “would you be kind enough to favor us with your opinion?”

Reputable scientists disagree,” said the journalist. “There is a debate. The question is far from settled. The truth probably lies between the two extremes of duck and not-duck.

So the two scientists both stomped away in dudgeon and hostility, and the journalist, unable by himself to decide where to eat dinner, starved to death.


seventh-anniversary-horsemanIn honor of the seventh anniversary of his Magazine’s appearance on the World-Wide Web, Dr. Boli is reprinting a few notable items from the past seven years.

ANNOUNCER. Malt-O-Cod, the delicious and nutritious malt food drink flavored with real cod-liver oil, presents…

(Music: Theme, up  and under for…)

ANNOUNCER. The Adventures of Backstory Man and Angst Boy!

(Music: In full, then fade for…)

ANNOUNCER. As you recall, in our last episode, Backstory Man and Angst Boy had agreed to meet Doctor Lethargicus to discuss his demand for world domination beginning with a nationwide speed limit of fifteen miles per hour. But as they waited for Doctor Lethargicus to appear, suddenly a hidden panel swung open, and…

ANGST BOY. Now what are we going to do? We’re trapped in Doctor Lethargicus’ Web of Inactivity, and we can’t move our arms and legs! It’s like a metaphor for my adolescent life.

BACKSTORY MAN. This is all my fault. I was distracted by memories (which somehow appeared to me in sepia tones) of the time long ago when Doctor Lethargicus was just plain little Herbie, my long-lost younger brother.

ANGST BOY. But I should have known it was a trap! Oh, how can I call myself a sidekick when I can’t protect my mentor from even the most obvious nefarious plots?

BACKSTORY MAN. No, don’t blame yourself, Angst Boy. It is I who must shoulder the blame on this occasion. I have failed you, just as I failed young Herbie when he was your age. If only I had warned him about the dangers of reading Ayn Rand! But no, I thought it was merely a phase he would grow out of.

ANGST BOY. But sooner or later we have to fail, don’t we? I mean, is it even possible to go out heroing all the time without eventually meeting the villain you can’t defeat? And if it’s not possible, then why do we do it? Isn’t our whole body of work meaningless because of this one failure? Doesn’t the whole world know that eventually we have to fail? And is that why none of the cheerleaders at school will ever pay any attention to me?

BACKSTORY MAN. You remind me so much of Herbie when he was your age. He said just the same thing after he saved me from that speeding freight train when I was home from college and he was only sixteen. At least he said the part about the cheerleaders. I don’t remember the rest of what he said.

ANGST BOY. Then this is it. We might as well give up and admit that we’ll never live up to the standard that’s expected of us as heroes.

BACKSTORY MAN. No, Angst Boy. Never give up. That was the last thing my mother said to me before my parents mysteriously disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle, leaving me with no clue as to their whereabouts except monthly postcards with pictures of sand dollars and seagulls on them. And in honor of that last wish, I have taken a solemn oath never to give up on anything.

ANGST BOY. Aren’t you the one who doesn’t have a driver’s license because you said the test was too hard?

BACKSTORY MAN. Never give up on anything important. That’s my motto. It has to be important.

ANGST BOY. And here I am, sidekick to a hero who can’t drive. Is this what I was supposed to be by the time I was sixteen?

ANNOUNCER. Will Backstory Man and Angst Boy be stuck forever in Doctor Lethargicus’ Web of Inactivity? Will next week’s episode be stretched out with ultimately meaningless dialogue? Tune in next week at this same time to the Adventures of Backstory Man and Angst Boy!

(Music: Theme, up and under for…)

ANNOUNCER. Kids, have you had your Malt-O-Cod today? Your parents must be awfully negligent if they don’t make sure you’re well supplied with the rich, satisfying flavor of Malt-O-Cod every morning. Perhaps you ought to report them to the authorities. Visit the Malt-O-Cod Web site for the addresses of child protective services organizations in your area. And tell them Backstory Man and Angst Boy sent you!

(Music: In full, then out.)