Q. Which novels of Nabokov have been adapted for film?
Within maybe five minutes, I got this:
A. "Lolita" was the first of his novels to be filmed. Vladimir Nabokov wrote the novel and the 1962 screenplay.
Of course, I knew the answer, and any child with a computer could have found it. I suddenly found myself wondering a) what fact I didn't know, among which there are hundreds of millions of contenders or b) couldn't find on the Internet.
I tried, in my own dim way, to stump the brainiacs by crafting a question that required maybe a little informed opinion.
Q. Of all film artists working today, which is most influenced by Robert Bresson? Or are there any?
A. There are currently many actors who have stated that they were influenced by Robert Bresson.
Well, thank you Magic Eight Ball, could you name one? I tried again.
Q. Is there a modern film director whose work shows the influence of Robert Bresson?
A. I'm sorry. I was unable to locate any directors who state their influence from him.
Well, I'll let you off on that one, but here are two you might consider: Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader.
Later in the day, as I shared this service to friends -- and discovered that a lot of the gang at the coffee shop were already addicted to it -- I was able to get reasonably good working definitions of phenomenology and Plessey vs. Ferguson, and a half-good answer on the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.
OK, I thought sometime in the evening, how about this one:
Q: What does "only connect!" mean?
A. I can't find any meaning for that phrase, so I believe it means to only connect.
Big fat F on that one, Cha-Cha, as E.M. Forster's famous phrase and it's meaning is rather easily accessible to anyone who types the words into Google.
Still, I've used the service three times today when I wasn't near a computer. I was listening to Glenn Gould on the way to work and suddenly wondered just who this Scriabin was.
A. Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin, the noted Russian composer, was born on Christmas Day and died at Eastertide.
A tragic end for a most accomplished newborn.
Also, I finally learned what "called an audible" means.
A. To decide what to do at the last second after seeing all possible options and obstacles that come up.
And just now I was reading William Maxwell's first novel, written back in the 1930s, when a woman makes a grocery list that includes something called Nujol.
A. Liquid paraffin, or mineral oil, is a mixture of heavier alkanes, and has a number of names, including NUJOL, adepsine oil.