As a kid, I had a system for reading magazine quizzes.
The first time I took the quiz, I would answer honestly. I was genuinely curious to see what result some cool writer in New York had prophesied for me, a white elephant gift every time. Then, I would go through the flowchart again, pretending to be the opposite of myself. And then I would take it a third time, pretending to be my Mom. Then every other person I could imagine, until I’d found some way to derive every result.
I thought I was just learning useless information. I was 13 and I knew the ideal anti-aging cream for my skin type (something oil-based), the next movie to put on my 2012 watchlist (Argo), and which member of One Direction I most resembled (Louis, apparently). Unintentionally, though, I imprinted the format of the magazine quiz into my mind. Each flowchart had the same basic framework: short questions, two answers that led to further questions, bubbles and lines, three to six results. Sometimes, the tone was academic. Many times, it was humorous. Every time, it simplified a messy topic, stratified the subject matter, and made it personal.
I became NBN magazine’s self-appointed quiz writer in my first quarter, when I volunteered to tackle a half-baked Valentine’s Day pitch called “Will Your NU Love Last?”* I had only been on this campus for three months, and I was suddenly tasked with condensing the universal experiences of Northwestern hookup culture into a flowchart.
“You should put something in there about how you know it’s real if you guys have a picture taken together by Justin Barbin,” one of the older editors suggested. I was too embarrassed to admit I had no clue who that was.
The final result was this hilariously trashy quiz compiled from anecdotes I derived from Northwestern Memes for Networking Teens. Reading it four years later, the innocence is a reminder of a simpler time. (One of the questions, “Are you guys technically dating?” spawned the answers “Yes,” “No,” and “It’s 2017, who knows?” as if the world wouldn’t erupt into flames by graduation.) But when I finished it at the time, I felt that I had imagined more Northwestern romances than a discussion group in Marriage 101. Making the quiz required me to think not only of myself, but also the opposite of myself. And everyone in between.
The following quarter, I pitched another quiz. Soon, I was making a quiz for every magazine. I turned a typical party conversation into a flowchart. I compared students to overrated classes and stereotypical careers.** I made Dillo Day into “Bandersnatch.” I made MadLibs out of CTECs. For my last quiz, I matched readers with their Corona Persona, from breadmakers (The Loafer) to fledging alcoholics (The 5 O’Clock Somewhere).
Somewhere along the way, I went from being someone who had to do research on meme pages to someone who knew the inside jokes of this campus well enough to effortlessly weave them into flowchart vernacular. (“What do you want to do before you graduate?” one quiz asks. Your options are “Have dinner at Morty’s” or “Understand symbolic interactionism.”) Maybe professors have it wrong; perhaps the true mark of understanding material is not passing the test, but writing it.
I am going to miss writing the quiz for the last page of NBN — condensing my college experience into a series of shapes and lines, forcing the entire newsroom to tell me which result they received. I am going to miss niche conversations about sensory deprivation chambers and the Machine Age architecture of the Evanston post office. I am going to miss spending forty-eight hours in a second-floor room in McTrib subsisting on cold brew and Stulo*** vending machine Pop Tarts. I am going to miss the annoyed groans when I propose another pun as a title during “Heds And Deks.” I am going to miss reading good pitches, that burst of excitement like when you read the back of a book and know it’s going to be good. I am going to miss the chaotic pinball of a Plug.DJ playlist or a collaborative Spotify that’s three-fifths Hippo Campus. I am going to miss bartending at a party where the mixed drink is water and Ketel One. And I am going to miss doing a walkthrough of a magazine, seeing seven weeks of effort and pain and love printed in 50-cent four-color ink, immensely proud of the creative work that spans 64 unpublished pages.
As I graduate, I am left with the daunting question of figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. I filled many different roles in my time at NBN, learned endless skills, tried and failed and succeeded. How am I supposed to decide where to go from here? But growing up is about making choices. The flowchart that illustrates the rest of my life starts now. Like any good Emma Kumer quiz, it alters the traditional magazine format by providing two opposing answers, but also a cheeky third. The first question “Do you want to write or design for your career?” generates the choices, “Write!”, “Design!” and “Both, duh!”
I sometimes think that I avoid making tough choices because I think that life is irreversible, that taking one wrong turn will forever ruin the future. It’s taken four years of changed majors, scrapped story pitches, missed exits on the highway, and lectures about The Sunk Cost Fallacy for me to realize that I’m allowed to turn around and start over.
That’s the glory of a magazine quiz: you can take it again. And again. And again. I can pick a first job, realize I hate it, and get a new one. I can try to get famous on the internet. I can throw my phone in the ocean and move to Australia. I can work a desk job. I can freelance for a living. I can start a media company. I can change the world. What would childhood me do? What would the opposite of me do? What would my mom do? What should I do? Until I realize that, maybe, it’s not so complicated after all.
*To this day, I wonder who wrote that pitch. Best guesses? 1. Willard freshman whose parents’ proposal is still scrawled on some Lakefill rock or 2. Cynical frat boy recovering from being turned down by his PA group sweetheart.
**One of the answers was “The Next Josh Mackenzie,” and Josh Mackenzie himself took the quiz and tweeted this result. This was probably my peak.
***Stulo, coined by Emma Sarappo (Medill ‘19), short for “Student Lounge.”