Ken Jennings


March 16, 2011

I’ve blogged before about my love for the eccentric 1980s satire mag Spy, without which I don’t believe Internet humor would exist. Last week I learned that Google had scanned a complete, searchable run of Spy into its Google Books database, which totally killed any chance of me getting anything at all done before summer.

What you may not know is that the tantalizing, brain-busting “what do they have in common?” Question Seven on my weekly Tuesday Trivia quiz was also ripped off from Spy. In its “Naked City” miscellany section, the same pages that gave us “Separated at Birth,” Spy‘s longest-lasting legacy, there occasionally ran a feature called “The Spy List,” which was nothing but the names of a dozen or so seemingly random celebrities. The (usually gossipy) theme that bound them together was left as an exercise to the reader.

Here was the very first Spy List, for example:

  • Milton Berle
  • Gary Cooper
  • Sonny Corleone
  • Willem Dafoe
  • Anthony Haden-Guest
  • Don Johnson
  • Levon Helm
  • George S. Kaufman
  • Henry Kissinger
  • Toulouse Lautrec
  • David Metcalfe
  • Armando Orsini
  • Tony Peck
  • Robert Plant
  • Iggy Pop
  • David Lee Roth
  • Secretariat
  • James Woods

(If you don’t live in 1980s Manhattan, this feature now works on a “Who are these people?” level as well. Armando Orsini?)

There were usually a few giveaway items on the list (“Sonny Corleone” and “Secretariat,” here) to help readers toward a solution. (Clever, avoiding lawsuits by making the libel happen in the reader’s head!) Even so, I don’t know if I ever figured out a single one of the feature’s themes as a kid. I was never as obsessed with The Spy List as this guy, who says he used to call the Spy offices and bug interns for hints.

But here’s my brainstorm: if Spy were published in the Internet age, solutions would be circulating online within days. Between collaborative solving and the ease of research, pretty much all puzzles are Internet-trivial.

So here’s a randomly chosen sample Spy List, not as easy as the Secretariat one. I found it in the February 1991 issue.

  • Johnny Carson
  • John Dean
  • Clark Gable
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Ron Howard
  • Mick Jagger
  • Don Johnson
  • many other Gentiles
  • Malcolm McDowell
  • Rudolf Nureyev
  • Elvis Presley
  • Burt Reynolds
  • Prince William

“Many other Gentiles?” Anybody got this?

Edited to add: More sensible thinkers than myself quickly solved this over on the message boards. Well done, Orange!

Posted by Ken at 11:17 am