Mental Floss

Are you smart enough for Mental Floss? This short quiz should help you decide:

1) When selecting a magazine, I look primarily to:

a. Be entertained.

b. Learn something.

c. Be entertained and learn something.

d. Be momentarily deluded into thinking I am being entertained and learning something.

2) I consider myself smart, but:

a. It's not my defining characteristic.

b. That doesn't make me better than anyone else.

c. I get no thrill from reading a magazine just because it has Mensa ads.

d. Big words make my brain sad.

3) I read the Atlantic Monthly:

a. Every month. It provides the nuanced analysis of complex issues I need to make sense of my world.

b. Occasionally. Every brain needs a good workout now and then.

c. Never. US Weekly fills my need for cultural insight just fine, thank you.

d. Never, but I frequently buy a copy to impress strangers.

4) You can really tell how intelligent a person is by:

a. Hearing his thoughts on the world around him.

b. The people he chooses to surround himself with.

c. What he does for a living.

d. Whether he knows that President James Polk was "plagued by diarrhea" during his time in office.

If you answered D to any of the above questions, have I got the magazine for you!

It's not that I hated Mental Floss, or even that I disliked it, really. What bothered me is the yawning chasm between what it claims to be and what it is. When I saw it on the newsstand, it seemed like a revelation. Its title and tag line (Feel Smart Again) promise a high-minded experience, a glossy respite from a culture gone dumb. Yet the design -- faux-tabloid cover blurbs and bright, bold colors -- suggests there is fun within, that it doesn't take itself too seriously. Could it be? A magazine that recognizes you can be smart without being boring? What a novel concept! I was intrigued.

But Mental Floss doesn't deliver on the smarts. What it delivers instead is trivia -- pages and pages of endless trivia. Why do Bulgarians make fun of people from Gabrovo? When was Donald Trump first mentioned in The New York Times? How do you catch a snapping turtle? It soon became clear to me that Mental Floss is more about helping people appear smart than about stimulating anyone's intellect.

If you're looking for a fun, smartly written magazine that will greatly improve your Trivial Pursuit game, by all means, pick this one up. It really is fun (and easy) to read, and I personally can't think of another magazine out there like it, which is saying a lot. But if you're looking to give your brain a workout, move along, folks. There's nothing to see here.

Still, Mental Floss' greatest trick may not be fooling its readers, but its advertisers. How else to explain the presence of Merriam Webster, and the aforementioned Mensa International? I'm sorry, but trolling for high IQ candidates in the pages of Mental Floss makes as much sense as looking for astronauts at a "Star Trek" convention. Sure, you'll find plenty of self-deluded wannabes, but nothing here is interesting enough to hold the attention of the genuine article for long.

That said, in the September/October 2007 issue, I counted nine ad pages among 72 total, not including house ad pages (2.5). So maybe advertisers are smarter than Mental Floss thinks.


Published by: Mental Floss, LLC

Frequency: Six times a year

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