The Case of the ‘Talking Pineapple,’ the Reading-Comprehension Test Stumper

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For those far removed from it, let’s briefly relive standardized testing day. Remember how, for hours on end, you’d flip through a drab gray packet of reading comprehension questions, stare at several paragraphs of nonsense and answer subjective questions about them?

Well, what if the questions weren’t just subjective — what if the question didn’t have an answer at all? As in, the question was poorly designed and didn’t actually have a point? Enter the “talking pineapple” question, which has a dedicated Facebook page with thousands of “likes” and multiple news outletsbloggers and Jeopardy winner Ken Jennings trying to figure out what the point of it actually is.

The “talking pineapple” was brought to our attention by a New York Daily News article investigating what seems like the perfect nonsensical reading comprehension question that appeared on a state exam for eighth-grade students. Here’s their summary for how it goes:

A talking pineapple challenges a hare to a race. The other animals wager on the immobile pineapple winning — and ponder whether it’s tricking them.

When the pineapple fails to move at all and the rabbit wins, the animals dine on the pineapple.

Students were asked two perplexing questions: why did the animals eat the talking fruit, and which animal was wisest?

The full-text of the question and multiple choice options are also here, but it won’t make the question any easier.

(MORE: A Brief History of Standardized Testing)

To summarize again, the story boils down to: a pineapple wants to race a hare. The hare accepts, yet the other animals think its a trick because, well, why would a pineapple who can’t move challenge a hare to a race if the pineapple didn’t have a way to win? One animal, a moose, notes that a pineapple couldn’t have a trick up its sleeve because “pineapples don’t have sleeves.” Anyway, the hare races and wins. They all eat the pineapple. That’s it. So, which animal was “wise” and why did they “eat” the poor pineapple?

Anybody?

It seems the question has been befuddling everyone for awhile. The Daily News points out in the article that a New York parent, Leonie Haimson, had pondered the question on her blog. She writes on the blog New York Public School Parents that the question isn’t just a New York testing oddity. It has appeared in multiple states and was “causing huge confusion among students for at least the last seven years,” Haimson wrote.

Even the purported author of the test question, which a NY 1 report said is children’s-book author Daniel Pinkwater, didn’t really have a satisfying answer for why it was written. On his blog, Pinkwater explained that the question was adapted from a novel he had written in which a character tells a story of a rabbit and an eggplant, and the test company changed it inexplicably to a pineapple and a hare:

I don’t know how the test publishing company changed the story. I gather they decided to call the rabbit a hare, and made the eggplant into a pineapple. Also there appears to be something about sleeves. And they made up questions for the students to answer. I would not have done any of these things. But it has nothing to do with me.

So, reading over the full test question again, the only moral we gleaned was that the animals kept trying to figure out some big conspiracy on the part of the pineapple and willfully overlooked the glaring problem that the fruit had no way to move. In other words, the lesson seems to us: don’t overthink things that are straightforward.

But what does that have to do with the question of which animal is “wise,” and why did they all decide to cruelly devour the pineapple just because it made a bet it couldn’t win? The answer is (e), because pineapples are delicious.

MORE: Should Kids Be Bribed to Do Well in School?

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