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When the Sun Hits Your Eye Like an Uno's Pizza Pie

August 2, 2000

When I taught introductory astronomy at the University of Virginia, I quickly learned that writing tests was hard, probably harder than taking them. Any wiggle room in a question left for a student meant an argument later over why I graded it wrong. I had one student argue with me for 45 minutes about wind speed on Saturn! After that, I was very careful about phrasing the questions so that they were unambiguous, and that my answer was the only one that was correct.

Not everyone is so careful. ABC had a quiz that was wrong, and other website do too. Not only that, but some restaurants put quizzes on their placemats, ostensibly to teach kids. I applaud such an effort, of course, but I wish they could all be accurate.

Such is not the case. At an Unos Restaurant in Orlando, Florida, Bad Reader Jeff Thomas found a kid's quiz on his placemat, with the following question: ``Can you name 10 planets in our solar system?'' Puzzled, knowing that there are only nine known planets in the Solar System, Jeff checked the answer, printed upside-down on the mat: ``Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Earth, Sun.''

Now, there may be no hard-and-fast definition of what a planet is, but the Sun certainly isn't one of them! It's a star, not a planet. Some people might argue that Pluto is not a planet (and I might be one of them), and some might argue that the Moon might possibly be considered as a planet in its own right (and I am not one of them), but no matter how you slice it, we only know of at most nine planets in the solar system.

I like Uno's pizza, and I am happy they tried to do something educational. I just hope that kids reading that placemat don't take their pie-in-the-sky ideas to heart.

Thanks to Bad Reader Jeff Thomas for fighting the good fight!

©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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