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RED PEN: Red pens to winners and answers for everyone



SEVERAL Red Pen readers tackled the challenge of Aug. 6, which presented eight sentences with problems.

I didn’t tell you what kind of problems. That would’ve taken the fun out of it.

Most of you did figure out what the sentences had in common: Factual impossibility.

Here’s the list, with answers:

1. From a staff-written story: “[Name] of Stafford County, who was on the waiting list for a liver transplant at Fairfax Hospital, was admitted to the hospital Thursday in critical condition and received a kidney transplant on Sunday.”

The patient went in for a liver but received a kidney? Nope.

No malpractice occurred—except, possibly, on the part of the reporter.

Everybody who entered got this one right.

2. Letter to the editor: “I’m struck by the irony of a women’s conference in Beijing, the only nation that requires couples to have only one child.”

True, no couple is required to have even one child. Several of you spotted that error. But not everyone pointed out that Beijing is just a city; China is the nation.

3. Sports wire story: “The Dallas Mavericks’ Jason Kidd outscored the Minnesota Timberwolves 18–15 in the pivotal third quarter as Dallas beat the Mavericks.”

Dallas—the Mavericks—beat the Minnesota Timberwolves. When I let a mistake like this get past me, I want to beat myself.

You guys are good; almost everyone got this.

4. Staff-written story: “[Name] graduated from John J. Wright High School in the 1960s, before the days of segregation.”

During the days of segregation, that is. Before integration. In Spotsylvania, schools weren’t integrated until 1968, according to the John J. Wright Educational and Cultural Center Web page.

About half the respondents got this one.

5. Letter to the editor: “To put it simply, soccer has more than 32 billion fans on four continents.”

Several readers pointed out that there are more than four continents. Fair enough.

But the glaring error is the number of fans: 32 billion?

It just can’t be so. The world’s population is about 7 billion—people, that is. Reader Frank Wilner made me smile by suggesting that the remaining billions of fans are insects.

6. Science news blurb: “There are two kinds of charges: positive (or plus) and negative (or minus). The particles with a positive charge are called electrons.”

“In my day, electrons had negative charges,” wrote Hedy Witte, “but everything else changes, so I don’t rule anything out.”

Hedy—and everybody else who attempted this one—got it right.

Protons have positive charges. Electrons have negative charges. And neutrons are neutral.

Thank the Internet for this:

A neutron walks into a bar and asks, “How much for a drink?” The bartender replies, “For you, no charge.”

7. Wire story: “A Clinton administration plan would give Newport News Shipbuilding the go-ahead to build an aircraft carrier but would end the yard’s nearly 90-year tradition of making nuclear submarines.”

Some of you just didn’t like this sentence and attempted rewrites. But the glaring error is in the phrase “90-year tradition of making nuclear submarines.”

It’s true that at the time the story was written in 1993, the Newport News Shipbuilding had a nearly 90-year submarine tradition; it built its first four subs in 1904.

But the first nuclear sub was launched in 1954.

8. Wire story: “A Prince George’s, Md., man was arrested after allegedly stabbing his girlfriend, then turning the gun on himself.”

It’s unlikely that he stabbed his girlfriend with a gun, though many readers suggested that he might have affixed a bayonet.

No one missed this.

Everyone who attempted an answer—and there were 29 entries this time—got a chance to win a shiny new red pen, an ultra fine-point Sharpie. I assigned everyone a number and let the website pick five numbers.

Winners are: Delores Klyvert (whose business English students at Career Training Solutions in Spotsylvania County tackled the challenge), Ed Hlywa, BarryBressler, Bruce Levy and Johnny Brooks.

Laura Moyer of The Free Lance–Star is a lifelong compulsive copy editor. A version of this column appeared in her Red Pen blog on You can reach her at 540/374-5417 or