How outnumbered were the Alamo defenders?
What was discovered in Corsicana in 1894?
Who shot J.R.?
These are but three of the one hundred questions you’ll find in Texas Monthly’s “Tex Education” quiz. Published in four parts over the course of 2001, this collection of brain busters was designed to test the historical and cultural literacy of both native Texans and the many newcomers who were pouring into the state. The questions, which range in difficulty from “you really oughta know” to “seventh-grade Texas history teacher knowledge,” cover our state’s saga from Cabeza de Vaca to La Raza Unida.
These riddles were designed to stump and delight readers by longtime staff writer Anne Dingus. A native of Pampa, Dingus started at the magazine as a fact-checker, in 1978, when she was 24 years old. During her twenty-plus-year tenure, she wrote fantastic personal essays about her hometown in the Panhandle; created articles about history, rural Texas, and pop culture; and published “More Colorful Texas Sayings Than You Can Shake a Stick At.” That article, a collection of Texas maxims, later became a book, and three decades later, it is still consistently among the most-viewed stories on our website. When I spoke with Dingus recently, she said the inspiration for her Tex-centric trivia series came from an unlikely source: her scrap pile.
“Like most writers, I had a bunch of folders, and one of my folders was labeled ‘Miscellaneous,’ ” Dingus said. “I threw everything in there—research and reporting—that didn’t fit in one of my other files. One day I pulled out the ‘Miscellaneous’ file. It was full of great information, but no one piece seemed to justify a whole article. So, it occurred to me, ‘Well, let’s put all the snippets together and do a trivia piece.’ ”
Much like today, Texas was experiencing a flood of folks moving here from other states—particularly, ahem, California. “We thought it would be helpful for them to have kind of a CliffsNotes of Texas history. And then we thought longtime Texans would enjoy it, because they had grown up with this information.” Dingus’s hunch proved true: readers, both the newly arrived and the deeply steeped, loved the challenge, and soon Dingus was inundated with letters and calls praising the quiz—mostly.
“Occasionally somebody would call if they were incensed about something,” Dingus said. “Some would write in and complain about a fact being wrong. These people had grown up being told, ‘Oh, the defenders of the Alamo were outnumbered one thousand to one.’ Well, that’s not true. That’s just a Texan brag. It’s part of the big myth, and they’d just be so angry that I had gotten that wrong. But fortunately, we have fact-checkers, and they had gone the extra mile to ensure that all of our facts were correct.
Our goal was to make it both fun and educational. And I think we succeeded.”