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Poll Results

Poll 538: Twenty Questions, #20! I know it's a specific male, talking, clothes-wearing carnivorous bear or weasel villain, originally from British literature or poetry. Is it... Iofur Raknison from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy?

Total votes: 3851

No: 2194 (57.0%)
Yes: 1657 (43.0%)  

Ah well, close. After question 19, I really only had two choices that I could think of. Iofur, or the Chief Weasel from Wind in the Willows. I had to pick one to frame the last, hopefully winning, question, and I really had no idea which might be the more popular choice. Obviously, I plumped for Iofur, and didn't get the over 50% I needed to consider this a success.

Of course, perhaps 7% or more of you were thinking of something else entirely, in which case neither option could have got me over 50%. In fact, perhaps less than 43% of you would have answered yes to the Chief Weasel, in which case I did as well as could be expected.

Throughout this set of 20 Questions, I realised that it would be difficult to come up with something that everyone agreed satisfied all the answers. I first realised this with Question #11: Is it carnivorous? The answer was yes, so I thought that meant it could be a type of cat, or dog, or various other carnivorous mammals including pinnipeds, toothed whales, mustelids, and some others. Most likely a cat or a dog.

But discussion in the forum turned on the question of what exactly is carnivorous? Most people, but not all, decided dogs were out of the running, since they argued that dogs were omnivorous - they eat vegetable scraps and dry dog food, which is mostly made of cereals, and a bit of meat. I didn't say so at the time, but I disgreed with this. Dogs eat meat. They only eat vegetable scraps and cereal-based foods because we give these things to them - mostly because meat is too expensive to feed a dog with all the time. But dogs are basically just wolves plus a few thousand years of breeding, and wolves and wild breeds of dogs pretty much eat nothing but meat. Wolves eat the odd berry apparently, but I doubt anyone would seriously argue they are not carnivorous. I figure dogs, deprived of human pet food, would also be unquestionably carnivorous.

But apparently many people disagreed. Nevertheless, I felt I had to spend a question (#13) asking if the mystery creature was a canine, which it turned out not to be. At this point I realised that you, the voting public, were most probably split on what you considered to still be valid creatures. Some of you probably thought badgers (to pick a random example) were okay, while others thought they weren't. Bears came up - people pointed out that they're not carnivorous, they're omnivorous. Well, except for polar bears, which primarily eat seals. So they stayed in.

Then Question #16 determined the creature wears clothing. Did that include armour? Again, some people on the forum argued yes, others no. So in the end I had to conclude that armour-wearing polar bears were not necessarily excluded, even though some of you very likely thought they were.

It was an interesting exercise overall, but in the end I think the vagaries of personal definitions mean that it's very hard to pin down a final answer that everyone actually agrees satisfies all the questions. Which makes my job as the asker very difficult. I may not have "won" the game, but I think I did pretty well, considering. Thanks to everyone who played along!

EDIT: Some years later I found this blog post, which discusses the different possible definitions of "carnivore", inspired by none other than this series of poll questions, and the discussion above!

My comics: Irregular Webcomic! | Darths & Droids | Eavesdropper | Planet of Hats | The Dinosaur Whiteboard | mezzacotta
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