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The Literary Magic 8-Ball that Provides Sound Advice

alex atkins bookshelf booksWho or what do you turn to when you need helpful advice for life’s most important questions? If you grew up in the  mid-1900s or if you are President Trump or work in his administration, you turn to the Magic 8-Ball. The Magic 8-Ball, initially called the Syco-Slate, was invented by Albert Carter and Abe Bookman back in 1950, inspired by a device used by Albert’s mother, who was a clairvoyant. The plastic ball, resembling an 8-ball from billiards, contains an icosahedron (20 sided die) floating in alcohol that is dyed dark blue. A user asks a yes-no question, shakes the ball, and turns the ball to reveal the window and read the answer. The 20-faced die contains 20 answers, 10 of which are affirmative, 5 are non-committal, and 5 are negative. Sometimes consulting the Magic 8-Ball can be exasperating when it tries to be coy: “better not tell you now” or is recovering from a bad acid trip: “reply hazy, try again.” Below are the 20 possible answers revealed by the Magic 8-Ball:

Affirmative answers:
As I see it, yes.
It is certain.
It is decidedly so.
Most likely.
Outlook good.
Signs point to yes.
Yes.
Yes — definitely.
You may rely on it.
Without a doubt.

Negative answers:
Don’t count on it.
My reply is no.
My sources say no.
Outlook not so good.
Very doubtful.

Non-committal answers:
Ask again later.
Better not tell you now.
Cannot predict now.
Concentrate and ask again.
Reply hazy, try again.

Not content to receive answers from an indifferent, sometimes sassy icosahedron inebriated by alcohol, Carol Bolt, a multi-disciplinary artist who incorporates words, drawings, and interactive elements into her work, believed there was a better source for sound advice: literary classics. So in 2000, she published an antidote to the Magic 8-Ball, The Literary Book of Answers, to allow sentences drawn from famous works of literature to provide the answers. You could say that it is a literary version of the Magic 8-Ball. Should I quit my job this year? Should I ask for a raise? Should I move to New York? Should I begin my novel this year? Shall I part my hair behind. Do I dare eat a peach? Whatever the question, the user simply opens the book and lands on one of the 704 pages that contains a sentence from a famous literary work. Doing this randomly, I received the following five answers:

“Change something from the way it was before.” (from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury)

“Quick, ain’t no time for fooling around and moaning.” (from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain)

“Let everything rip.” (from Ulysses by James Joyce)

“Whatever you can do or dream, you can begin it.” (from Faust, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

“Adopt that course if you like.” (from Symposium by Plato)

The book has been very successful, and was recently published as a 20th-anniversary edition. Bolt also published six other editions, some of which are still in print: The Book of Answers, The Movie Book of Answers, Love’s Book of Answers, The Soul’s Book of Answers, Mom’s Book of Answers, and Dad’s Book of Answers. 

Of course having two very different sources of advice for life’s important question begs the question: which is the better source of advice? So, naturally, I asked The Literary Book of Answers: “Are you the better source of advice, over the Magic 8-Ball?” Then I turned to a random page that revealed this definitive answer: “Depend on it, my dear” (from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen). Case closed.

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