Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #37

Bill Higgins (left) and Steven H Silver (right), photo by Chris M. Barkley at Capricon 39, 16 February 2019

Capricon 39: Information PLEASE!

By Chris M. Barkley: When I was attending Worldcon 76 at San Jose, Chicago area fan writer and editor Steven H Silver approached me with an unusual proposition: would I be interested in participating in a fantasy and sf version of an old radio show Information Please.

I had been a radio talk show host myself, which was called Bad Moon Rising and was broadcast on a public access radio station from the summer of 1976 through the spring of 1983. As an aficionado of old-time radio shows, I knew about Information Please but I had never heard an episode. But I knew about the basic premise and format and was sufficiently intrigued to agree.

According to its Wikipedia entry:

Information Please was an American radio quiz show, created by Dan Golenpaul, which aired on NBC from May 17, 1938 to April 22, 1951. The title was the contemporary phrase used to request from telephone operators what was then called “information” but is now called “directory assistance”.

The series was moderated by Clifton Fadiman. A panel of experts would attempt to answer questions submitted by listeners. For the first few shows, a listener was paid $2 for a question that was used, and $5 more if the experts could not answer it correctly. When the show got its first sponsor (Canada Dry), the total amounts were increased to $5 and $10 respectively. A complete Encyclopædia Britannica was later added to the prize for questions that stumped the panel. The amounts went up to $10 and $25 when Lucky Strike took over sponsorship of the program.”

Mr. Silver’s idea was to present this show in a panel format at sf conventions on a regular basis. Steve Davidson, the current publisher of Amazing Stories, agreed to be the sponsor these contests and eventually offer prizes of subscriptions to winners who submitted questions that stumped the panel.

Since it was not widely publicized, there was a lack of audience material to work with and as a result, Mr. Silver wrote all of the questions himself.

Besides myself, Steven also invited Rich Horton and Bill Higgins of General Technics to participate as future hosts or participants.

There was no room on the 2018 Windycon programming schedule so it was mutually agreed that the pilot episode of “F&SF Information Please” would be held this weekend at Capricon 39.

Mr. Silver was our host and seated to his right were myself, Mr. Higgins, Chicago fan David Hirsch and Capricon 39 Author Guest of Honor Seanan MCGuire.

Unlike Jeopardy! or other quiz shows, you can’t really study for it; the questions are so arcanely phrased that you have to rely on all of the inherent knowledge you possess plus and improvisational comedy skills you can muster. And believe me, had there been an audio recording of the panel, you would have gotten an earful of both.

Mr. Silver began with a series of common knowledge questions regarding Hugo Award winners, Harry Potter characters and fan related items of interest. (I am being deliberately vague here because the questions that were used may turn up at future conventions.)

The questions became harder and more perplexing as the panel progressed, much to the delight of the 40 plus members of the audience attending. In fact, several members of the audience knew some of the tougher entries involving Disney movies, fantasy characters from novels, spaceship names and sf convention history.

At one remarkable point in the proceedings, we were all treated to the splendid singing voices of Ms. McGuire and Mr. Higgins, who both sang filk songs from memory.

I must say that I modestly held my own during the proceedings with a few swift answers and some snappy repartee. And I also also admit I laughed so hard that afterwards I thought that I had stressed my vocal chords.

Alas, all of this has been mostly lost to history because I did not think of setting up my smartphone to record the panel.

I think that this particular game show would be a welcome addition to local and regional conventions and I am urging everyone reading this to participate if and when this may show up on a programming schedule.

I can say with some certainty that Information Please will be performed at Windycon 47 this coming November (where, coincidentally, I am the Fan Guest of Honor.) I am hopeful that other venues around the country will be announced as well.

If you would like to participate and have a chance to win a subscription to Amazing Stories, please send your questions to Steven H. Silver at: infopleasesf@gmail.com 

Let the flow of knowledge, and hilarity, ensue!

2 thoughts on “Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #37

  1. Episodes of Information Please can be downloaded at https://www.oldtimeradiodownloads.com/quiz/information-please to give an idea of what sort of questions I’m looking for.

    And one of the questions not used this past weekend, to further give an example of what I’m seeking:

    Which film are you watching if the action involves…
    …a giant slug and a walking carpet? (Return of the Jedi)
    …space herpes? (Ice Pirates)
    …a queen and a blue angel? (Aliens)
    …an earthquake and a planetwide explosion? (Superman)

    Send them to me at infopleasesf@gmail.com and if I use your question, I’ll send a prize, and if you stump the panel, you’ll also get a subscription to Amazing Stories.

  2. As some of you know, I host a completely different game show (definitely not a “quiz” show), in the form of Match Game SF, an sf/f themed version of the classic 1970s-80s Match Game. In fact, I’ll be hosting (current plans, subject to change) three “episodes” of the show at SpikeCon (Westercon/NASFiC) in Utah this summer, including a “sneak preview” show on the night before the con. (I’m co-Fan GOH of Westercon, along with my wife, Lisa Hayes, and her companion Kuma Bear; all three of us are part of the team that brings you the show.)

    I’m always looking for more questions for the show, so I’d welcome people sending me some. MGSF questions are not “quiz” questions with only one right answer, but questions like “The Starfleet admiral said, ‘Captain Kirk has the biggest ___ in Starfleet!'”

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