Askme Snowclones? March 16, 2008 9:06 AM   Subscribe

This is a serious, intended-for-AskMe question, but under the rules (because it is about AskMe itself) it must be asked here. So, kindly play by AskMe rules. Here goes. Various authorities claim there are only 69, 36, 20, 7, 3 or 1 possible literary plots, all the rest are just variations on the basic ones. Is it possible to categorize all MeFi questions into a limited number of generic forms?

Your task is to suggest questions in a snowclones format. Extra credit for linking to an example or two for each. For example, some easy ones:

Help me kill X hours in Y [city]. 1 2

Help me identify this X. 1 2 3

Why is/are my X [pet, usually cat(s)] doing/not doing [Y]? 1 2 3
posted by beagle to MetaFilter-Related at 9:06 AM (48 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Boy Meets Girl
Boy Loses Girl
A Man Learns a Lesson
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:09 AM on March 16, 2008


I would just like to point out this line in the Straight Dope column "Seven. The Internet Public Library quotes a list of seven plots (man versus nature, man versus man, etc.) that someone claims to remember from second grade. Not the most authoritative source, but no flakier than any of these other systems." That person, with the flakey idea, that's me.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:10 AM on March 16, 2008 [8 favorites]


yes.
posted by Chuckles at 9:18 AM on March 16, 2008


Thanks Jessamyn, and your post has more details on the 36, 20, 7, 3 and 1 than my link. Apparently we will never know the 69 plots because Kipling didn't specify what they are.
posted by beagle at 9:19 AM on March 16, 2008


I tried to do this in a slightly different format here.

Basically:

Help me decide whether I want product X or maybe product Y.
Help me identify song/book/movie X.
Special sub-category: Help me identify song X (where X="Down Baker Street").
Help me buy a present for X.
What is your favorite X?
Help me dispose of dead X.
Help me sell X (astroturf).
Discuss X (chatfilter).
Help me solve midlife crisis X.
Does X like me?
How do I have better sex with X?
Should I dump X?
Is X legal?
Will X kill me?
Do homework assignment X for me.
Help me not pay tax X.
I feel X - am I crazy?
posted by googly at 9:21 AM on March 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


Cited examples? OK.. Internet wanker is too lazy to look up the answer - link.
Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Maybe I'm just completely missing that this is listfilter.. :P
posted by Chuckles at 9:22 AM on March 16, 2008


Woops! Misremembered. It should be:
(Wo)man Meets (Wo)man. (Wo)man Loses (Wo)man. (Wo)man Finds (Wo)man. (Relationship AskMes)
A (Wo)man learns a lesson. (Help me write this paper! AskMes)
The Brave Little Tailor. (I'm going on an adventure! I've got a needle and thread. What else should I bring?)
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:22 AM on March 16, 2008


Name my X.

Eating/Food (Where should I eat in X city?, Should I eat this leftover X that's been sitting on my counter for X number of days?, Give me some good recipes for X, etc.)

Music/Mixtapes
posted by amyms at 9:23 AM on March 16, 2008


Should I X this Y?

Where {X: eat, take, travel to, accept, dump, ...} and {Y: food, job, country, internship, MOTAS, ...}.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:38 AM on March 16, 2008


X.
posted by flatluigi at 9:46 AM on March 16, 2008


(Who | what | where | when | how) (should | could | can | do | find | stay | leave | eat) x?
posted by SteveTheRed at 9:49 AM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I forgot the (I | me | him | her | they | them) part.
posted by SteveTheRed at 9:52 AM on March 16, 2008


Ever notice X weird thing happening to your body?

X weird thing is happening to my body, but it might be nothing. Should I go to a doctor?
posted by Afroblanco at 10:40 AM on March 16, 2008


XFilter: X problems. Warning: NSFW X messiness. Of course, there's
posted by ALongDecember at 10:53 AM on March 16, 2008


Or my least favorite:

I can't believe I'm wasting my question on X, but here it goes.

NO ONE GIVES A DAMN. IT'S ONLY ONE WEEK. IT'S NOT ONE OF THE GENIE'S THREE WISHES.

Okay, I need to calm down.
posted by ALongDecember at 10:58 AM on March 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


I think relationship-type questions will probably end up in categories with other things. I think this is more about format than context. Or at least to my way of thinking.

Help me learn X life skill (cook/shop/talk to guys/give a good first impression).
Help me learn X technical/specialized skill (do multivariate statistics/troubleshoot my programming).
Recommend a specific X that matches a need or want I have (a good Chinese place in my city/software that does the thing I want/a recipe that's quick and easy for a vegetarian/a place to meet single people my age in my area).
Help me place something I kind of remember (quote/book/song).
Give me advice on a specific situation I'm in (financial/romantic relationship/family dispute/choosing between two grad schools/cat is yowling all night).
Help me understand a concept (gravity/global warming/consciousness).
posted by Tehanu at 1:03 PM on March 16, 2008


Big complicated-sounding situation, full of extraneous detail. I've decided to X. Tell me I'm right, or I'm going to argue with you.
posted by ctmf at 1:03 PM on March 16, 2008 [6 favorites]


Hm, I wonder if anyone's posted John Hodgman's categorization of all possible plots.
posted by Pronoiac at 1:23 PM on March 16, 2008


My [craigslist ad / billboard / website] isn't getting me any [sex / ROI / hits] Is it because of my [body odor / geriatric models / fedora]?
posted by waraw at 1:52 PM on March 16, 2008


How about cool X and cool Y, followed by a self-link ban.
posted by DreamerFi at 1:59 PM on March 16, 2008


I read MetaFilter all day at work. Where can I find another job?
posted by Cranberry at 2:02 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


no flakier than any of these other systems.

Yeah, I remember those 7 plot categories.

man vs. nature: Any recomendations on back country camp sites?
man vs. man: I know they're all "scumbags" etc, but I find myself in the position of working with a broker...
man vs. the environment: What to put in a modern day emergency kit in the event of Katrina like situation?
man vs. technology: My car says it has gas but I don't think it does. It won't let me put more in. What to do?
man vs. the supernatural: All he remembers is there is a boy in a house and a day spent in the house equals to a year outside the house. It is also Christmas every day in the house.
man vs. self: Anti-depressant music...what picks you out of a slump
man vs. god/religion: ...more of a religious flavor than I was comfortable with, and I won't be going back.

Okay, so there weren't any real "supernatural" questions today. Maybe add a separate sub-category for "man vs. an inability to remember the name of that book he read ten years ago."
posted by sfenders at 2:04 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


What are some songs about X?
What are some books about X?
What is the X I am thinking of? It had Y and Z in it.
posted by Locative at 2:12 PM on March 16, 2008


Should I get back together with my X?
posted by brain_drain at 2:13 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


How do I do X in Y?

How do I do X in Y, given constraint Z?

Is it possible to do X, using Y?

It's mostly these that I'll answer, if Y == SQL.
posted by orthogonality at 2:17 PM on March 16, 2008


Hello, I'm a pretentious self-obsessed show off twerp, so I've just written 600 words of cutesy sub-McSweeney's look-at-me drivel while wanking off in front of a mirror. Here is my exquisite prose! Do you like me? Do you think I'm very clever? Do you? Oh yeah, I also have this question about X, but I left out pertinent details Y and Z, because I was too busy desperately seeking attention.
posted by jack_mo at 2:29 PM on March 16, 2008


How do I make X stop treating me badly without leaving X? (Where X = lover or employer)
posted by happyturtle at 3:04 PM on March 16, 2008


How do I do fiddly technical thing X? (Incredibly boring for bystanders, but presumably helpful to the participants.)
posted by happyturtle at 3:09 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Shall I eat this?
Shall I marry this?
Shall I feed this to my cat?

Where can i find something to eat/marry/feed to my cat?
posted by vacapinta at 4:11 PM on March 16, 2008


Let's talk about X, baby
Let's talk about Y and Z
Let's talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let's talk about X
Let's talk about X
Let's talk about X
Let's talk about X

posted by anonymous to human relations at 6:09 PM

posted by Rhaomi at 5:31 PM on March 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


man vs. the supernatural: All he remembers is there is a boy in a house and a day spent in the house equals to a year outside the house.

Holy crap, I think I remember this one. Wasn't this the one with the two twin brothers, and one of them wanted to be different? So he spent a year inside the house, so that he'd be younger than his brother?
posted by Afroblanco at 5:33 PM on March 16, 2008


Afroblanco: "Holy crap, I think I remember this one. Wasn't this the one with the two twin brothers, and one of them wanted to be different? So he spent a year inside the house, so that he'd be younger than his brother?"

You're thinking of Singularity, by William Sleator. I don't think that's what the asker of that question was looking for, though, since the book didn't mention anything about Christmas.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:45 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


jessamyn: That person, with the flakey idea, that's me.

Here's an idea:
Someone asks a question on the internet. The question has already been asked and answered by the MetaFilter community.
May not be a universal trope yet - but someday it will.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:15 PM on March 16, 2008


May not be a universal trope yet - but someday it will.

And on that day, it will become something like the Encyclopaedia Galactica and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy combined, in handy Q&A format. It will tell you not only what's in a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, but also the science behind it, how to make one, where to find the best one for the best price, and how to recover afterwards.
posted by Tehanu at 6:32 PM on March 16, 2008


ikkyu2 wrote: May not be a universal trope yet - but someday it will.

Someday no question wil be tagged with stumped, someday an iCal expert will join the site and put me out of my misery.
posted by jack_mo at 6:43 PM on March 16, 2008


When the backtaggers get done, maybe we can go back and collectively categorize all the AskMe questions with snowclones. The resulting arguments should fuel the site for years to come.
posted by pjern at 7:34 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


The often-repeated question which fascinates me is "I spend too much time looking at cool online and get no work done, what is a technical solution to this clearly personal problem?", i.e. they want to install software on their computer which will stop them looking at MeFi until 1PM every day, or similar.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:01 PM on March 16, 2008


Oops. That should say "cool stuff online".
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:01 PM on March 16, 2008


In a high school creative writing class, one question was "Name the possible literary plots."

I knew there where N plots, but could only come up with N-1. I made up "Man vs. killers hamburgers from outer space".

At review, the professor asked me to read my answer in front of the class. Since I hate to be humiliated and bullied by teachers, I gave the professor a (tiny, almost whispered) piece of my mind, refused to read the answer, and sat back down.

Turns out I had misremembered N, the actual number of plots we had studied was N-1, the teacher had given me extra points for figuring out that "Man Against the Unknown / Supernatural" was missing from the list, and wanted to congratulate me in front of the class.

Metafilter hive mind: Do you think I look fat?
posted by Dr. Curare at 12:17 AM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Pomerantz (2005) is a review of the various question taxonomies from a number of different research literatures. Graesser, McMahen, and Johnson (1994) developed a taxonomy based on the functions of expected answers. This taxonomy is divided into classes that require short versus long answers. Example of the former: verification (Is a fact true? Did an event occur?); example of the latter: definition (What does X mean?).

Adamic et al. analyze Yahoo! Answers examining characteristics such as thread length and asker/replier overlap in forums. Using k-means clustering, three meaningful clusters for Yahoo Answers categories were found: 1. "discussion forums" (e.g., Politics). 2. advice and common-sense expertise (e.g. Fashion). 3. factual answers (e.g., Biology). Thread lengths are longest for 1, shortest for 3.

Adamic et al.'s "discussion forum" cluster corresponds to chatfilter on AskMe. Clusters 2 and 3 are defined in terms of the types of answers (several legitimate answers or factual answers), and AskMe does get both types of questions. This work illustrates an automated approach to identifying question types, while Pomerantz reviews human-originated question taxonomies.

References:
Pomerantz, Jeffrey. (2005). A linguistic analysis of question taxonomies. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 56(7), 715-728.

Adamic, Lada A., Zhang, Jun, Bakshy, Eytan, & Ackerman, Mark. (2008). Knowledge sharing and Yahoo Answers: Everyone knows something. WWW2008. PDF
posted by needled at 5:42 AM on March 17, 2008


Those "man vs. ---" answers are themes, not plots. They tell you where the conflict lies, not how it is resolved.
posted by breezeway at 7:03 AM on March 17, 2008


Help me do X (where X is "something simple"): followed by numerous caveats: (not actually simple, may be dangerous, almost certainly illegal, completely abhorrent to anyone with even basic morals, etc).

Am I over-thinking it? Why is this so difficult?
posted by quin at 9:16 AM on March 17, 2008


Isn't this post just another form of Question #17-B?
posted by Doohickie at 11:06 AM on March 17, 2008


I hate my [job / school / spouse / significant other / neighbors / life]. What should I do?
posted by ook at 11:47 AM on March 17, 2008


(damn, forgot roommate; that counts for more than the rest combined)
posted by ook at 11:48 AM on March 17, 2008


Rhaomi - holy crap, you're right! It's been years since I've thought of that book.

Although now that I think about it, I believe I had it backwards - inside the shed, time went slower than normal. So the twin had to spend a year in the shed, but to his brother, only a single night had passed.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:06 PM on March 17, 2008


Oh man, I know Jeffrey Pomerantz... I should get him to be my PhD thesis advisor!
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:30 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Practical: How do I do X?

Common examples:
My computer is broken. How do I diagnose and fix the problem?
What's wrong with my pet?
How do I find this information?
Where can I buy X?
How can I improve my fitness / willpower / money management?

Identification: What is this?

What's the name of this book / movie?
Here's a photo of something -- what is it?

Recommendations

What's it like living in city X?
What should I see in city X?
What books / movies should I see next?

Personal: I'm having a personal problem, and I'm looking for advice.

I'm having a relationship problem.
I'm having difficulty with a major decision.
I'm having trouble figuring out what to do with my life.

Creative (?)

I'm looking for ideas for a gift / pet name / mix tape.
What should I do with this?
posted by russilwvong at 12:41 PM on March 18, 2008


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