Updated October 2013
Fighting ignorance since 1973 (it's taking longer than we thought).
– Motto of 'The Straight Dope'.
'The Straight Dope' is a question-and-answer column written by a man called Cecil Adams. Yes, but is Cecil Adams a real person? Why does he know so much? Is he a product of the internet mania for trivial factoids? Er, yes, we're not sure, and no.
You Have Questions, We Have Answers
To answer the last question first: the column originally appeared in 1973 in The Chicago Reader, a free weekly alternative newspaper in Chicago. It predated the internet by a considerable span of time.
Cecil will answer almost any question, ranging from 'Where are all of the baby pigeons?' to 'Is it true men can suffer a penile fracture?', from 'How do they get the 'M's on M&Ms?' to 'Is it true about Catherine the Great and a horse?"' Cecil will also set you straight about questions h2g2 cares about, such as 'Did the Middle Ages not really happen?'. h2g2 readers, of course, are familiar with the intricacies of the Phantom Time Hypothesis, with its connection to the historicity of Charlemagne and the possible location of Jesus' underwear. Cecil, a kindred spirit, investigates issues both obscure and bizarre. According to his editors, '…if you ever come up with a question that Cecil won't touch, you'd better turn yourself in to the police.'
What is the secret of Cecil's popularity as a pundit? According to his website, ' Cecil knows all. Naturally, since he does not want to put his readers to sleep, he does not tell all.' In other words, he works on the same principle as the Edited Guide.
Who Is this Man, and How Does He Keep Writing?
According to the website, Cecil Adams is 'the world's most intelligent human being'. He's been writing since 1973. He does vast amounts of research – in fact, enough for a rather large team of h2g2 Researchers. This makes us suspicious. On the other hand, he shows up on (radio) talk shows and 'Straight Dope' messageboards…
Often, Cecil's 'editor and confidant', Ed Zotti, speaks for him. It is possible that he could really be 'the world's most intelligent human being'. However, he may have help.
Whatever the truth of the matter, nobody at 'The Straight Dope' is admitting anything – rather remarkable for a website that is so voluble on so many other subjects.
Popular, Reliable, and Worth a Visit
The Straight Dope is currently read in over 30 newspapers. There have been five books and a short-lived TV series. Of course, there is also the website.
Straight Dopers, referred to by Cecil as 'the teeming millions', have remarkably intelligent and lively discussions on their messageboards. They challenge Cecil when they believe him to be wrong. Sometimes he revises or retracts a statement. It's all part of fighting ignorance, which Cecil and his friends have been doing since 1973.
It's taking longer than they thought.