Remember the book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus"? "Well, today we will experiment with a new form called the 'tandem story'. The process is simple. Each person will pair off with the person sitting to his or her immediate right. As homework tonight, one of you will write the first paragraph of a short story. You will e-mail your partner that paragraph and send another copy to me. The partner will read the first paragraph and then add another paragraph to the story and send it back also sending another copy to me. The first person will then add a third paragraph, and so on back and forth. Remember to re-read what has been written each time in order to keep the story coherent. There is to be absolutely NO talking outside of the e-mails and anything you wish to say must be written in the e-mail. The story is over when both agree a conclusion has been reached."
The following was actually turned in by two of my English students: Rebecca (last name deleted), and Gary (last name deleted).
(first paragraph by Rebecca) At first, Laurie couldn't decide which kind of tea she wanted. The chamomile, which used to be her favorite for lazy evenings at home, now reminded her too much of Carl, who once said, in happier times, that he liked chamomile. But she felt she must now, at all costs, keep her mind off Carl. His possessiveness was suffocating, and if she thought about him too much her asthma started acting up again. So chamomile was out of the question.
(second paragraph by Gary) Meanwhile, Advance Sergeant Carl Harris, leader of the attack squadron now in orbit over Skylon 4, had more important things to think about than the neuroses of an air-headed asthmatic bimbo named Laurie with whom he had spent one sweaty night over a year ago. "A.S. Harris to Geostation 17,....", he said into his transgalactic communicator. "Polar orbit established. No sign of resistance so far..." But before he could sign off a bluish particle beam flashed out of nowhere and blasted a hole through his ship's cargo bay. The jolt from the direct hit sent him flying out of his seat and across the cockpit.
(Rebecca) He bumped his head and died almost immediately, but not before he felt one last pang of regret for psychically brutalizing the one woman who had ever had feelings for him. Soon afterwards, Earth stopped its pointless hostilities towards the peaceful farmers of Skylon 4. "Congress Passes Law Permanently Abolishing War and Space Travel," Laurie read in her newspaper one morning. The news simultaneously excited her and bored her. She stared out the window, dreaming of her youth, when the days had passed unhurriedly and carefree, with no newspapers to read, no television to distract her from her sense of innocent wonder at all the beautiful things around her. "Why must one lose one's innocence to become a woman?" she pondered wistfully.
(Gary) Little did she know, but she had less than 10 seconds to live. Thousands of miles above the city, the Anu'udrian mothership launched the first of its lithium fusion missiles. The dim-witted wimpy peaceniks who pushed the Unilateral Aerospace Disarmament Treaty through the congress had left Earth a defenseless target for the hostile alien empires who were determined to destroy the human race. Within two hours after the passage of the treaty the Anu'udrian ships were on course for Earth, carrying enough firepower to pulverize the entire planet. With no one to stop them, they swiftly initiated their diabolical plan. The lithium fusion missile entered the atmosphere unimpeded. The President, in his top-secret Mobile submarine headquarters on the ocean floor off the coast of Guam, felt the inconceivably massive explosion, which vaporized poor, stupid, Laurie and 85 million other Americans. The President slammed his fist on the conference table. "We can't allow this! I'm going to veto that treaty! Let's blow 'em out of the sky!"
(Rebecca) This is absurd. I refuse to continue this mockery of literature. My writing partner is a violent, chauvinistic semi-literate adolescent.
(Gary) Yeah? Well, you're a self-centered tedious neurotic whose attempts at writing are the literary equivalent of Valium. "Oh shall I have chamomile tea? Or shall I have some other sort of f*****g TEA??? Oh no, I'm such an air headed bimbo who reads too many Danielle Steele novels."
(TEACHER) A+ - I really liked this one. Only group to get an A
That's a pretty old one. The story was written on a sheet of paper passed back and forth when I first read it, before anybody knew what email was.
Sam, you prompted me to dig out a few oldies from my archive. I think these go back to the mid-late 80's or so, though the filedates mostly say Feb '91, which would have been about when I transferred a lot of my old archives from Amiga floppies to the PC's hard drive. They're all ASCII-formatted, so we'll see how well they translate over. First one.
The Final Exam
Instructions: Read each question thoroughly.
Answer all questions. Time limit - four hours.
Describe the history of the Papacy from its
origins to the present day, concentrate
specifically but not exclusively, on the
social, political, economic, religious, and
philosophical impact on Europe, Asia, America
and Africa. Be concise and specific.
Compose an epic poem based on the events of
your own life in which you see and footnote
allusions from T.S. Eliot, Keats, Chaucer,
Dante, Norse mythology and the Marx brothers.
Critique your poem with a full discussion of
Write a piano concerto. Orchestrate it and
perform it with flute and drum. You will find
a piano under your seat.
Explain Mona Lisa's smile.
Assuming the Judeo-Christian moral structure,
take the stand for Adam and Eve, and the
eating of the forbidden fruit. Explain your
position fully to a Chassidic Rabbi, and
answer his arguments. An Anglican bishop will
moderate this debate.
Using accepted methodology prove all four of
the following That the universe is infinite;
that truth is beauty; that there is not a
little person who turns off the light in the
refrigerator when you close the door, and
that you are the person taking this exam. Now
disprove all of the above.
Sketch the development of human thought;
estimate its significance. Compare with the
development of any other kind of thought.
Take a position for or against truth. Prove
the validity of your position.
You have been provided with a razor blade, a
piece of gauze, and a bottle of Scotch.
Remove your own appendix. Do not suture until
your work has been inspected. You have
Create life. Estimate the differences in
subsequent human culture if this form of life
had developed five hundred years earlier,
with special attention to the probable
effects on the English Parliamentary system.
Prove your thesis.
Employing principles from the major schools
of psychoanalytic thought, successfully
subject yourself to analysis. Make
appropriate personality changes, bill
yourself and fill out all medical insurance
forms. Now do the same to the person seated
to your immediate left. Also, based on your
degree of knowledge of their works, evaluate
the emotional stability, degree of
adjustment, and repressed frustrations of
each of the following Alexander of
Aphrodisias, Rameses II, Gregory of Nicea,
Hammurabi. Support your evaluations with
quotations from each man's work, making
appropriate references. It is not necessary
Estimate the sociological problems that might
accompany the end of the world. Show how the
boy meets girl theory developed. Construct
and experiment to test your theory.
Develop a realistic plan for refinancing the
national debt. Trace the possible effects of
you plan in the following areas Cubism, the
Donatist controversy, the wave theory of
light. Outline a method from all points of
view. Point out deficiencies in your argument
as demonstrated in your answer to the last
Define computer. Define Science. How do they
relate? Why? Create a generalized algorithm
to optimize all computer decisions. Assuming
an 1130 CPU supporting 50 terminals, each
terminal to activate your algorithm, design
the communications to interface and all the
necessary control programs.
Define Management. Define Science. How do
they relate? Why? Create a generalized
algorithm to optimize all managerial
decisions. Assuming an 1130 CPU supporting 50
terminals, each terminal to activate your
algorithm; design the communications
interface and all necessary control programs.
2,500 riot-crazed students are storming the
auditorium. Calm them. You may use any ancient
language except Latin or Greek.
Explain the nature of matter. Include in your
answer an evaluation of the impact of the
development of mathematics on science.
Disprove Einstein's Theory of Relativity.
Construct an experiment to prove your
The disassembled parts of a high-powered
rifle have been placed in a box on your desk.
You will also find an instruction manual,
printed in Swahili. In ten minutes a hungry
Bengal tiger will be admitted to the room.
Take whatever action you feel is appropraite.
Be prepared to justify your decision.
Outline the steps involved in breeding your
own super high yield, all weather hybrid
strain of wheat. Describe its chemical and
physical properties and estimate its impact
on world food supplies. Construct a model for
dealing with world-wide surpluses. Write your
Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
Three minute time test. Read everything
before doing anything. Put your name in the
upper right hand corner of this page. Circle
the word name in sentence three. Sign your
name under the title of this paper, after the
title write yes, yes, yes. Put an X in the
lower left hand corner of this paper. Draw a
triangle around the X you just put down. On
the back of this paper multiply 703x668.
Loudly call out your name when you get to
this point. If you think you have followed
directions carefully to this point call out
"I have." Punch three small holes in the top
of this paper. If you are the first person to
get this far, call out "I am the first person
to this point, I am leading in following
directions." On the reverse side of this
paper add 8950 and 9850. Put a circle around
your answer and put a square around the
circle. Now that you have finished reading
carefully, do only sentence two.
There is a red telephone on the desk behind
you. Start World War III. Report at length on
its socio-political effects, if any.
In Part 2 of Shakespeare's "Henry VI", Jack
Cade, the leader of the Populist revolt,
proposes that the first order of business
following a successful coup d'e'tat could be
to "kill all the lawyers". In light of the
present populist mood in the United States,
assess the utility and any potential impact
of such a policy today.
It has recently been suggested (especially
after Black Monday) that only a foreign war
can restore America's lost national
consensus. Propose the ideal opponent(s) for
the US in such a war, and how the conflict
might be engineered so that US would seem not
to be the aggressor in the situation. Discuss
the pros and cons.
Give today's date, in metric.
Transform lead into gold. You will find a
tripod and three logs under your seat. Show
all work including Feynman diagrams and
quantum functions for all steps. You have
Describe in detail. Be concise and
Define the Universe. Give two examples.
The story around Harvard was that there was a
graduate Math course whose final always consisted
of "Make up an appropriate final exam for this
course and answer it. You will be graded on both
Then one year, a student answered as follows:
The exam is: "Make up an appropriate final exam
for this course and answer it. You will be graded
on both parts."
The answer is: "Make up an appropriate final exam
for this course and answer it. You will be graded
on both parts."
His reasoning was that since that was the best
exam the professor could write, it certainly ought
to be good enough for a student. He got an A. The
professor specifically prohibited that answer from
I've no idea how true it is or if it's an Urban
Legend. This guy was taking an exam in Trinity
College here (old college, about 400 years old).
In the middle of the exam, he called a porter and
requested his pint of ale. The porter, of course,
just looked at him.
Our hero then produced a copy of the *old*
regulations which stipulated that a gentleman was
entitled to this type of refreshment.
The college authorities, fearing more expensive
and disruptive episodes in the future, checked the
college regulations. They then provided our man
with his glass of ale, but promptly fined him for
not wearing his ceremonial sword.
This is true, told to me by a chemistry professor
at Idaho State University.
The professor had the following as an extra credit
question on an exam:
An age-old question is "How many angels can dance
on the head of a pin?" Answer that question given
o Each angel requires an area equal to a circle
with a diameter the size of a gold atom in
which to dance.
o The pin in question has a head which is a
circular plane with a diameter of 0.5 mm.
Make any other assumptions necessary to solve the
The professor was sorry to admit that he had to
give full credit to the following answer:
I assume that angels do not exist.
The answer is 0.