World Beat

It's Quiz Time! And No Note-Passing Or Gum-Chewing!

A FEW YEARS ago there was this gag floating around which went like this:

1. Take the number of letters in any one of your names, but don't tell me (not that you could). Add two. Double your answer, then double that answer. Subtract eight, then divide by the number of letters in your name.

2. Using the number you're left with, count forward in the alphabet (A=1, B=2, etc.)

3. Think of a country which starts with that letter.

4. Now think of an animal, the name of which starts with the last letter in the name of the country.

5. Finally, think of a color, the name of which starts with the last letter in the name of the animal.

After you've done all this, you're supposed to be amazed when the questioner tells you that you're thinking of an orange kangaroo from Denmark. Thank you, thank you.

I was on the radio once and a deejay friend of mine asked me (and the listeners) to do that. He was all ready to spring it on me when I told him what I had (really) come up with was an azure iguana from Djibouti. He moved to Maine shortly thereafter, although I'm pretty sure that that particular episode didn't have anything to do with the move.

It's an easy trick using simple algebra and the assumption that the player has a very basic knowledge of, and limited interest in, geography. Once you get painted into that corner with Denmark, it's pretty much all downhill from there.

However, you needn't have found yourself in that corner at all, because there are four countries which begin with "D." Besides the aforementioned two, there is also Dominican Republic, which we yanquis insist on calling The Dominican Republic, and Dominica, a Caribbean island about the size of the Foothills Mall. I don't know much about the latter, but I'm betting it's run by a guy who looks like Edward James Olmos and has really relaxed banking regulations.

Actually, this would be the perfect time for me to look that up because this is National Geography Week. As National (Blank) Weeks go, this one is way more important than, say, National Pickle Week, which most of you probably missed last month.

Geography is very important, because no matter where you go in the world, there's, like, geography there.

(That last quote was from the prize-winning essay in the "Why I Like Geography" contest for home-schooled kids. It's the only one which didn't include the phrase, "I really like geography because it shows me there's something else in the world besides my dining room table/desk and our pew at the Church of the Divine White People.")

Of all the core subject areas, geography has been the one most neglected over the past couple decades in schools, public and private, according to Bill Bendt, who teaches this stuff with a passion in the Amphi High Honors Academy. The word is that when the AIMS test results are released, it's an even-money bet that the students will have done even worse in geography than in math. (Of course, those who did really badly in math will give you 3-to-1 odds on that even-money bet.)

Try this little geo-quiz on for size, and then we'll move on to the meat of this piece. Don't cheat! And no note-passing or gum-chewing.

A. What two countries start with the letter "A," but don't end with the letter "A"?

B. What two South American countries are land-locked? (Neither touches an ocean.)

C. Name nine countries which begin with the letter "I." (One is the common English pronunciation of an otherwise French name.)

D. Besides Canada and the U.S., what's the only other non-island country in either North or South America which has English as its official language?

E. Within 10, how many actual countries are there in the world this week?

The highlight of this week in Tucson will be the citywide Geography Challenge November 19 at Naylor Middle School. Hundreds of middle-school kids from all over Tucson will gather for fun, games and contests. The centerpiece of the day's action will be a mass recital of all of the countries in the world by kids who have accepted something called the FunkaMentals Challenge.

FunkaMentals is the brainchild of Wade Colwell and Ranson Fitzgerald Kennedy III. (How very '90s; lots of kids have multiple daddies these days.) In short, it's concentrated knowledge presented with a hip-hop beat. They would like it to be the School House Rock of the New Millennium. And yes, they know they have 13 months to get it in place.

You all remember School House Rock. "I'm just a bill, an average bill, and I'm stuck up here on Capitol Hill." Or everyone's favorite, "Conjunction junction, what's your function?" The founders of the FunkaMentals Institute remember it, too, and have tried to update it several decades' worth.

A sample from their Geographunk (no, really) lesson: "Dominica and Denmark were rollin' in a bucket, cruisin' South Sixth with Djibouti and Dominican Republic." And then there's "She sells sea shells on the Seychelles Sea, set sail to Singapore and rocked the whole party." Now if you didn't automatically pronounce the last word "Par-tee!," go back to listening to your Fiona Apple records. This isn't for you.

Something like this was tried back in the late '80s by one of the founding members of the Sugar Hill Gang, who tried to teach kids the Constitution through rap music. It never really worked, because all he could come up with to rhyme with "preamble" was "we gamble," and Lord knows these kids have enough negative stuff in their lives already.

"Worldside," which includes the entire list of nations put to a funky beat, has been receiving airplay on Hot 98 FM radio. It has even received requests, beating out songs by Tupac Shakur, who is still dead and, contrary to rumors, is not living in any of the countries mentioned in the song.

During the festivities at Naylor, the song will be performed by the FunkaMentals Institute's house band, so to speak. As someone once said, Check it out, yo!