May 6, 2005

Author, Author, ignores Google, Google . . .


For bibliophiles, it has long been one of life’s most delicious, and torturous, little pleasures: the “Author, Author” quiz in the Times Literary Supplement. But now the weekly quiz — which “offers three thematically linked, stunningly obscure quotations and asks who wrote them” — is being undermined a development no one foresaw when the quiz started in 1979: Google. As Noam Cohen explains in a New York Times report, readers can and do use Google and other Internet search engines to find the answers. Well perhaps not all the answers — the quiz is still difficult enough such that it only gets, at most, 50 or 60 winners each week. But editor Mick Imlah says he can tell who’s cheating. He tells Cohen “there are two regular entrants I’ve got down, fairly or not, as Google players — one in New York, one in Oxford — because they enter so often, and because they don’t seem to know the answers they give, if you see what I mean.” So what will the paper do? Keep on doing what they have done so far: “shut their eyes to the whole Google phenomenon and carried on as if it made no difference.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.