The 23 Questions I Ask Everybody I Meet In Order To Decide If I Can Really Love Them

From Chuck Klosterman's "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs"

  1. Let us assume you met a rudimentary magician. Let us assume he can do five simple tricks he can pull a rabbit out of his hat, he can make a coin disappear, he can turn the ace of spades into the Joker card, and two others in a similar vein. There are his only tricks and he cant learn any more; he can only do these five. HOWEVER, it turns out hes doing these five tricks with real magic. Its not an illusion; he can actually conjure the bunny out of the other and he can move the coin through space. Hes legitimately magical, but extremely limited in scope and influence. Would this person be more impressive than Albert Einstein? 

  2. Let us assume a fully grown, completely healthy Clydesdale horse has his hooves shackled to the ground while he head is held in place with thick rope. He is conscious and standing upright, but he is completely immobile. And let us assume that for some reason every political prisoner on earth (as cited by Amnesty International) will be released from captivity if you can kick this horse to death in less than twenty minutes. You are allowed to wear steel-toed boots. Would you attempt to do this? 

  3. Let us assume there are two boxes on a table. In one box, there is a relatively normal turtle; in the other, Adolf Hitlers skull. You have to select one of these items for your home. If you select the turtle, you cant give it away and you have to keep it alive for two years; if either of these parameters are not met, you will be fined $999 by the state. If you select Hitlers skull, you are required to display it in a semi-prominent location in your living room for the same amount of time, although you will be paid a stipend of $120 per month for doing so. Display of the skull must be apolitical. Which option do you select? 

  4. Genetic engineers at Johns Hopkins University have developed a so-called super gorilla. Though the animal cannot speak, it has a sign language lexicon of over twelve thousand words, and an IQ of almost 85, and most notably a vague sense of self-awareness. Oddly, the creature (who weighs seven hundred pounds) becomes fascinated by football. The gorilla aspires to play the game at its highest level and quickly develops the rudimentary skills of a defensive end. ESPN analyst Tom Jackson speculates that this gorilla would be borderline unblockable and would likely average six sacks a game (although Jackson concedes the beast might be susceptible to counters and misdirection plays). Meanwhile, the gorilla has made is clear he would never intentionally injure any opponent. You are commissioner of the NFL: Would you allow this gorilla to sign with the Oakland Raiders? 

  5. You meet your soul mate. However, there is a catch: Every three years, someone will break both of your soul mates collarbones with a Crescent wrench, and there is only one way you can stop this from happening: You must swallow a pill that will make every song you hear for the rest of your life sound as if its being performed by the band Alice in Chains. When you hear Creedence Clearwater Revival on the radio, it will sound (to your ears) like its being played by Alice in Chains. If you see Radiohead live, every one of the tunes will sound like its being covered by Alice in Chains. When you hear a commercial jingle on TV, it will sound like Alice in Chains; if you sing to yourself in the shower, your voice will sound like deceased Alice vocalist Layne Staley performing a capella (but it will only sound this way to you). Would you swallow the pill? 

  6. At long last, somebody invents the dream VCR. This machine allows you to tape an entire evenings worth of your own dreams, which you can then watch at your leisure. However, the inventor of the dream VCR will only allow you to use this device if you agree to a strange caveat: When you watch your dreams, you must do so with your family and your closest friends in the same room. They get to watch your dreams along with you. And if you dont agree to this, you cant use the dream VCR. Would you still do this? 

  7. Defying all expectation, a group of Scottish marine biologists capture a live Loch Ness Monster. In an almost unbelievable coincidence, a bear hunter shoots a Sasquatch in the thigh, thereby allowing zoologists to take the furry monster into captivity. These events happen on the same afternoon. That evening, the president announces he may have thyroid cancer and will undergo a biopsy later that week. You are the front-page editor of The New York Times: What do you play as the biggest story? 

  8. You meet the perfect person. Romantically, this person is ideal; You find them physically attractive, intellectually stimulating, consistently funny, and deeply compassionate. However, they are one quirk: This individual is obsessed with Jim Hensons gothic puppet fantasy The Dark Crystal. Beyond watching it on DVD at least once a month, he/she peppers casual conversation with Dark Crystal references, uses Dark Crystal analogies to explain everyday events, and occasionally likes to talk intensely about the films deeper philosophy. Would this be enough to stop you from marrying this individual? 

  9. A novel titled Interior Mirror is released to mammoth commercial success (despite middling reviews). However, a curious social trend emerges: Though no one can prove a direct scientific link, it appears that almost 30 percent of the people who read this book immediately become homosexual. Many of the newfound homosexuals credit the book for helping them reach this conclusion about their orientation, despite the fact that Interior Mirror is ostensibly a crime novel with no homoerotic content (and was written by a straight man). Would this phenomenon increase (or decrease) the likelihood of you reading this book? 

  10. This is the opening line of Jay McInerneys Bright Lights, Big City: You are not the kind of guy who would be in a place like this at this time of the morning. Think about that line in the context of the novel (assuming youre read it). Now go to your CD collection and find Hearts Little Queen album (assuming you own it). Listen to the opening riff to Barracuda. Which of these two introductions is a higher form of art? 

  11. You are watching a movie in a crowded theater. Though the plot is mediocre, you find yourself dazzled by the special effects. But with twenty minutes left in the film, you are struck with an undeniable feeling of doom: You are suddenly certain your mother has just died. There is no logical reason for this to be true, but you are certain of it. You are overtaken with the irrational metaphysical sense that somewhere your mom has just perished. But this is only an intuitive, amorphous feeling; there is no evidence for this, and your mother has not been ill. Would you immediately exit the theater, or would you finish watching the movie? 

  12. You meet a wizard in downtown Chicago. The wizard tells you he can make you more attractive if you pay him money. When you ask how this process works, the wizard points to a random person on the street. You look at this random person. The wizard says. I will now make them a dollar more attractive. He waves his magic wand. Ostensibly, this person does not change at all; as far as you can tell, nothing is different. But somehow- this person is suddenly a little more appealing. The tangible difference is invisible to the naked eye, but you cant deny that this person is vaguely sexier. This wizard has a weird rule though you can only pay him once. You cant keep paying giving him money until youre satisfied. You can only pay him one lump sum up front. How much cash do you give the wizard? 

  13. Every person you have ever slept with is invited to a banquet where you are the guest of honor. No one will be in attendance except for you, the collection of former lovers, and the catering service. After the meal, you are asked to give a fifteen-minute speech to the assembly. What do you talk about? 

  14. For reasons that cannot be explained, cats can suddenly read at a twelfth-grade level. They cant talk and they cant write, but they can read silently and comprehend the text. Many cats love this new skill, because they now have something to do all day while they lay around the house; however, a few cats become depressed, because reading forces them to realize the limitations of their existence (not to mention utter frustration of being unable to express themselves). This being the case, do you this the average cat would enjoy Garfield, or would cats find the cartoon to be an insulting caricature? 

  15. You have a brain tumor. Though there is no discomfort at the moment, this tumor would unquestionably kill you in six months. However, your life can (and will) be saved by an operation; the only downside is there will be a brutal incision to your frontal lobe. After the surgery, you will be significantly less intelligent. You will be a fully functioning adult, but you will be less logical, you will have a terrible memory, and you will have little ability to understand complex concepts of difficult ideas. The surgery is in two weeks. How do you spend the next fourteen days? 

  16. Someone builds an optical portal that allows you to see a vision of your own life in the future (it is essentially a crystal ball that shows you a randomly selected image of what your life will be like in twenty years). You can only see into this portal for thirty seconds. When you peer into the crystal, you see yourself in a living room, two decades older than you are today. You are watching Canadian football game, and you are extremely happy. You are wearing a CFL jersey. You chair is surrounded by CFL books and magazines that promote the Canadian Football League, and there are CFL pennants covering your walls. You are alone in the room, but you are gleefully muttering about historical moments in Canadian football history. It becomes clear that for some unknown reason you have become obsessed with Canadian football. And this future is static and absolute, no matter what you do, this future will happen. The optical portal is never wrong. This destiny cannot be changed. The next day, you are flipping through television channels and randomly come across a pre-season CFL game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Knowing your inevitable future, do you now watch it? 

  17. You are sitting in an empty bar (in a town youve never before visited), drinking Bacardi with a soft-spoken acquaintance you barely know. After an hour, a third individual walks into the tavern and sits by himself, and you ask your acquaintance who the new man is. Be careful of that guy, you are told. He is a man with a past. A few minutes later, a fourth person enters the bar; he also sits alone. You ask your acquaintance who this new individual is. Be careful of that guy too, he says. He is a man with no past. Which of these two people do you trust less? 

  18. You have won a prize. The prize has two options, and you can choose either (but not both). The first option is a year in Europe with a monthly stipend of $2,000. The second option is ten minutes on the moon. Which option do you select? 

  19. Your best friend is taking a nap on the floor of your living room. Suddenly, you are faced with a bizarre existential problem: This friend is going to die unless you kick them (as hard as you can) in the rib cage. If you dont kick them while they slumber, they will never wake up. However, you can never explain this to your friend; if you later inform them that you did this to save their life, they will also die from that. So you have to kick a sleeping friend in the ribs, and you cant tell them why. Since you cannot tell your friend the truth, what excuse will you fabricate to explain this (seemingly inexplicable) attack? 

  20. For whatever the reason, two unauthorized movies are made about your life. The first is an independently released documentary, primarily comprised of interviews with people who know you and bootleg footage from your actual life. Critics are describing the documentary as brutally honest and relentlessly fair. Meanwhile, Columbia Tri-Star has produced a big-budget biopic about your life, casting major Hollywood stars as you and all your acquaintances; though the movie is based on actual events, screenwriters have taken some liberties with the facts. Critics are split on the artistic merits of this fictionalized account, but audiences love it. Which film would you be most interested in seeing? 

  21. Imagine you could go back to the age of five and relive the rest of your life, knowing everything you know now. You will reexperience your entire adolescence with both the cognitive ability of an adult and the memories of everything youve learned from having lived your life previously. Would you lose your virginity earlier or later than you did the first time around (and by how many years)? 

  22. You work in an office. Generally, you are popular with your coworkers. However, you discover that there are currently two rumors circulating in the office gossip mill, and both involve you. The first rumor is that you got drunk at the office holiday party and had sex with one of your married coworkers. This rumor is completely true, but most people dont believe it. The second rumor is that you have been stealing hundreds of dollars of office supplies (and then selling them to cover a gambling debt). This rumor is completely false, but virtually everyone assumes its factual. Which of these two rumors is most troubling to you? 

  23. Consider this possibility: 
    a) Think about the deceased TV star John Ritter.
    b) Now, pretend Ritter has never become famous. Pretend he was never affected by the trappings of fame, and try to imagine what his personality would have been like.
    c) Now, imagine that this person the unfamous John Ritter is a character in a situation comedy.
    d) Now, you are also a character in this sitcom, and the unfamous John Ritter character is your sitcom father.
    e) However, this sitcom is actually your real life. In other words, you are living inside a sitcom: Everything about your life is a construction, featuring the unfamous John Ritter playing himself (in the role of the TV father). But this is not a sitcom. This is your real life. How would you feel about this?

14 More Questions I am going to use as Conversation Pieces for Girls in Bars. It will not necessarily be to find out if I love them. I know before I even meet them that no, I do not love them. (These are from Chuck Klosterman's "IV")


1)   Think of someone who is your friend (do not select your best friend, but make sure the person is someone you would classify as “considerably more than an acquaintance”).

This friend is going to be attacked by a grizzly bear.

Now this person will survive this bear attack; that is guaranteed.

There is a 100 percent chance that your friend will live. However, the extent of his injuries is unknown; he might receive nothing but a few superficial scratches, but he also might lose a limb (or multiple limbs). He might recover completely in twenty-four hours with nothing but a great story or he might spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Somehow, you have the ability to stop this attack from happening. You can magically save your friend from the bear. But his (or her) salvation will come at a peculiar price: if you choose to stop the bear, it will always rain. For the rest of your life, wherever you go, it will be raining. Sometimes it will pour and sometimes it will drizzle – but it will never not be raining. But it won’t rain over the totality of the earth, nor will the hydrological cycle be disrupted; these storm clouds will be isolated, and they will focus entirely on your specific where-abouts. You will never see the sun again.

Do you stop the bear and accept a lifetime of rain?

2)   Assume everything about your musical tastes was reversed overnight. Everything you once loved, you now hate; everything you once hated, you now love. For example, if your favorite band has always been R.E.M., they will suddenly sound awful to you; they will become the band you dislike the most. By the same token, if you’ve never been remotely interested in the work of Yes and Jethro Tull, those two groups will instantly seem fascinating. If you generally dislike jazz today, you’ll generally like jazz tomorrow. If you currently consider the first album by Veruca Salt to be slightly above average, you will abruptly find it to be slightly below average. Everything will become its opposite, but everything will remain in balance (and the rest of your personality will remain unchanged). So – in all likelihood – you won’t love music any less (or any more) than you do right now. There will still be artists you love who make you happy; they will merely be all the artists you currently find unlistenable.

Now, I concede that this transformation would make you unhappy. But explain why.    

3)   At the age of thirty, you suffer a blow to the skull. The head trauma leaves you with a rare form of partial amnesia – though you are otherwise fine, you’re completely missing five years from your life. You have no memory of anything that happened between the ages of twenty-three and twenty-eight. That period of your life I completely gone; you have no recollection of anything that occurred during that five-year gap.

You are told by friends and family that – when you were twenty-five – you (supposedly) became close friends with someone you met on the street. You possess numerous photos of you and this person, and everyone in your life insists that this individual was your best friend for over two years. You were (allegedly) inseparable. In fact, you find several old letters and e-mails from this person that vaguely indicate you may have even shared a brief romantic relationship. But something happened between you and this individual when you were twenty-seven, and the friendship abruptly ended (and – apparently you never told anyone what caused this schism, so it remains a mystery to all). The friend moved away soon after the incident, wholly disappearing from your day-to-day life. But you have no memory of any of this. Within the context of your own mind, this person never even existed. There is tangible proof that you deeply loved this friend, but – whenever you look at their photograph – all you see is a stranger.

Six weeks after your accident, you are informed that this person has suddenly died.

How sad do you feel?

4)   You work in an office, performing a job you find satisfying (and which compensates you adequately). The company that employs you is suddenly purchased by an eccentric millionaire who plans to immediately raise each person’s salary by 5 percent and extend an extra week of vacation to all full-time employees.

However, this new owner intends to enforce a somewhat radical dress code: every day, men will have to wear tuxedos, tails, and top hats (during the summer months, male employees will be allowed to wear gray three-piece suits on “casual Friday”). Women must exclusively work in formal wear, preferably ball gowns or prom dresses. Each employee will be given an annual $500 stipend to purchase necessary garments, but that money can only be spent on work-related clothing.

The new regime starts in three months. Do you seek employment elsewhere?

5)   You have been wrongly accused of a horrific crime: Due to a bizarre collision of unfortunate circumstances and insane coincidences, it appears that you have murdered a prominent US senator, his beautiful young wife, and both of their infant children. Now YOU DID NOT DO THIS, but you are indicted and brought to trial.

Predictably, the criminal proceedings are a national sensation (on par with the 1994 OJ Simpson trial). It’s on television constantly, and it’s the lead story in most newspapers for almost a year. The prosecuting attorney is a charming genius; sadly, your defense team lacks creativity and panache. To make matter worse, the jury is a collection of easily confused sheep. You are found guilty and sentenced to four consecutive life terms with virtually no hope for parole (and – since there were no procedural mistakes during the proceedings – an appeal is hopeless).

This being the case you are (obviously) disappointed.

However, as you leave the courtroom (and in the days immediately following the verdict), something becomes clear: the “court of public opinion” has overwhelmingly found you innocent. Over 95 percent of the country believes you are not guilty. Noted media personalitites have declared this scenario “the ultimate legal tragedy.” So you are going to spend the rest of your life amidst the general population of a maximum-security prison… but you are innocent, and everyone seems to know this.

Does this knowledge make you feel (a) better, (b) no different, or (c) worse?

6)   You are offered a Brain Pill. If you swallow this pill you will become 10 percent more intelligent than you currently are; you will be more adept at reading comprehension, logical, and critical thinking. However, to all other people you know (and to all future people you meet), you will seem 20 percent less intelligent. In other words, you will immediately become smarter, but the rest of the world will perceive you as dumber (and there is no way you can ever alter the universality of that perception).

Do you take this pill?

7)   You begin watching a new television series, and you immediately find

yourself strongly relating to one of the supporting characters. You’ve never before experience a TV character that seems so similar to yourself; this fictional person dresses, behaves, and talks exactly like you. And – slowly, over the course of several episodes – the similarity grows spooky: on two sperate occations, the character reounds personal anecdotes that happened in your real life. The actor portraying this character begings mimicking you mannerisms. In the at least three different episodes, the character’s dialogue quotes things that you have said (verbatim) during casual conversation

You become convinced that this is neither coincidence nor mental illness: somehow, this character is being actively based on your life. The show’s writers generally depict the “you” character in a positive manner, but – as far as you can tell – ou don’t know anyone involved in the show’s production or creation. It’s totally inexplicable.

You have two friends who also watch this show. One of them is certain that your theory is correct and that (somehow) the character is, in fact, based on your life. She tells you to get a lawyer. The second friend concedes that many of the similaritites are amazing, but that the whole notion is ridiculous, impossible, and egocentrict. He tells you to see a therapist.

How do you respond to this situation? Do you do anything?

8)   If given the choice, would you rather (a) only abide by the rules and morals of society that you personally agree with, or (b) have the power to slightly adjust the rules and morals that currently exist (but these adjustments would then apply to you and everyone else, all the time).

9)   You are placed in the unenviable position of having to compete for the right to stay alive.

You will be matched against a person of your own gender in a series of five events – an 800-meter run, a game of Scrabble, a three-round boxing match, a debate over the legalization of late-term abortion (scored and officiated by reputable collegiate judges), and the math portion of the SAT.

In order to survive, you must win at least three of these events (your opponent will be playing for his or her life as well).  However, you (kind of) get to pick your opponent: you can either (a) compete against a person selected at random, or (b) you can compete against someone who is exactly like you. If selected at random, the individual could be of any age or skill level – he/she might also be an Academic All-American linebacker from Notre Dame. If you pick “the average human,” he/she will be precisely your age and will have an identical level of education, and the person will be a perfect cross-section of your particular demographic – he/she will be of average height and of average weight, with a standard IQ and the most normative life experience imaginable.

So whom do you select? Or – perhaps more accurately – do you feel that you are better than average version of yourself?

10)   It is 1933. You are in Berlin, Germany. Somehow, you find yourself in a position where you can effortlessly steal Adolf Hitler’s wallet. This theft will not affect Hitler’s rise to power, the nature of World War II, or the Holocaust. There is no important identification in the wallet, but the act will cost Hitler forty Reichsmarks and completely ruin his evening. You do not need the money The odds that you will be caught committing this crime are less than 2 percent.

Are you ethically obligated steal Hitler’s wallet?

11)   How would your views about war, politics, and the role of the military change if all future conflicts were fought by armies of robots (that is to say, if all nations agreed to conduct wars exclusively with machines so that human casualties whould be virtually nonexistent)?

12)   You are in a plane crash in the Andes Mountains, not unlike those people from the movie Alive.[1] As such, you will be forced to consume the human flesh of the people who died on impact; this will be a terrible experience, but it is the only way for you to survive. Fortunately, you did not know any of the victims personally.

Would you rather eat a dead baby, or would you rather eat a dead elderly person? Would gender play a role in the selection process? And how much would it bother you if this meat turned out to be delicious?

[1] Or, I suppose, like the 1972 Uruguayan rugby team who experienced this situation in reality. 

13)   The world is ending. It’s ending quickly, and it’s ending dramatically.

It will either end at noon on your fortieth birthday, or it will end two days after you die (from natural causes) at the age of seventy-five.

Which apocalyptic scenario do you prefer?

14)   You are given the chance to control what your legacy will be.

You can’t specifically dictate how you will be recalled by future generations, but you are given the chance to choose between two general idioms of legacies.

The first kind of legacy (“option A”) would be that you lived your days as a good, honest person who worked hard and contributed to society. However, the limitations of this legacy will be that almost no one will know or remember this information (including future members of your own extended family). Most average people will never even know you lived.

The second kind of legacy (“option B”) will be familiar to almost everyone in the world for centuries to come. However, this legacy will be extremely strange and neutral; it will be an obscure fact that has almost nothing to do with your tangible day-to-day life (the best comparison being the legacy of General Tso Tsungtang, and extremely gifted and successful military leader during the seventeenth-century Qing Dynasty who is now exclusively remembered as the namesake for the popular Chinese dish General Tso’s chicken).

Which legacy do you want?