When I started reporting this story, I was asking some of the same questions as a lot of other reporters. Why do we like quizzes? Are they grounded in reality? I decided pretty quickly that those stories weren’t that interesting, given that the answers to those questions were “we just do” and “nah.” Instead, I ran off instead on a quixotic quest to find out which publication was responsible, and when, for introducing pop-quizzes into the culture.
Numerous emails to my editor later, I realized that I wasn’t quite going to find the One, the quiz of all quizzes. But I did spend more hours than I should have in the NYPL, scrolling through old issues of Cosmo, looking for some of the first quizzes that Helen Gurley Brown had published. I did find some of those, and I loved that they were so serious and overly complicated. Look at all these words!
This one, about how well you know yourself (it depends, apparently, on your assessment of situations that reveal your femininity or your adventurousness), had two parts. The reader was meant to take the quiz herself, and then, as a second step, ask two friends to judge her qualities using the same questions. Thus, the reader could assess the accuracy of her own answers:
Here’s a close-up of one panel:
It is almost impossible to resist these. Before I realized what was happening, I would be sitting in the microfiche room ticking off these boxes, in order to get the small thrill of having a decades-old magazine tell me that I’ve got a fair bit of common sense. (But not enough to resist taking the quiz, apparently.)