The Least Popular Answers Contest: The Results

Apologies for the long delay, but the results of the Least Popular Answers Contest is here! As implied in the title, this was basically the opposite of the previous entries in this series, as this time people had to pick valid answers that was shared by as few other people as possible. Of course, everyone else was doing the exact same thing, so it wasn’t as easy it looked at first glance. There were a total of 93 entrants, which was amazing to see! I’m glad people are continuing to enjoy this, and I have a few other twists up my sleeve in future iterations.

Let’s go through each of the prompts:

Note: Invalid answers are in italics and are listed as the number of points they received. In each case, only one person selected that response.

Name a day of the week

I’d wager that Thursday is the least notable day of the week, followed by Tuesday, so I’m not too surprised that they were the most frequently-picked answers here. The other five days of the standard week all ended up being decent answers, though I wonder if a few people picked Saturday because that was the day it happened to be when they were filling out the form.

“Today” and “Yesterday” aren’t days of the week, so they weren’t counted. After consultation I’ve been told that Shabbat is considered its own day of the week and not simply another way to refer to Saturday, while Nundina H comes from the ancient Roman eight-day week. When coming up with this question, I wasn’t expecting those alternate options, but credit should be given where it is due. I do think in a future contest I’ll want to be more thorough with my list of valid answers, but thankfully it didn’t affect things too much.

Name a country in Europe

Out of a total of 48 possible countries, seven were not chosen once: Spain, Ireland, Sweden, Turkey, Denmark, Ukraine, and Romania. A further 21 were answered by a single person, and the remaining 72 people each picked one of the other 20 countries. Belarus and San Marino took top spots, which I’m fairly certain is one of the few times the two can claim to be in joint possession of first place of anything.

Using Sporcle’s “Name the Countries in Europe” quiz as a proxy for how well-known a place is, each of the 19 least-known states were answered at least once, 13 of those at least twice, and 7 three or more times. On the other hand, once one gets past the most popular countries (the UK and France), only 2 out of the next 17 (Portugal and Poland) awarded multiple points. It seems with this question people tended to pick the most obscure place they could think of, but it backfired when most other people did the exact same thing.

Name a brand of soda

This was one of two questions in which I gave a more-or-less open-ended prompt. A lot of creativity shown through, with 39 of you picking unique soda brands, many of which I had never heard of before. RC Cola and Fanta tied for first, and in general the most popular picks were less frequently consumed brands that most people had still heard of. This one was definitely a case where one could just look for the most unknown sodas and more or less guarantee not having to share an answer with anyone.

One person put down “Mountain Thunder”, which I interpreted as a combination (and thus a superset) of Mountain Lightning and Dr. Thunder. In addition, I considered Great Value to be a superset of all of their sodas.

Rock, paper, or scissors?

On the other extreme, this one only had three possible choices. Despite that, and with the subject being a game in which all three options are very equal, paper was chosen almost twice as often as scissors. Interestingly enough, this strategy would work fairly well in real life, as apparently rock is most commonly thrown (especially by men), followed by scissors, and then paper.

This was one of the questions I was least sure about, since I was concerned that there were too few choices to make things interesting. Thankfully there was a good deviation in answers, but I think in the future I’ll want more than three possible answers for a given prompt.

Name a traffic sign

This was the other “open-ended” prompt, and it had the most unique answers by far. There were a total of 67 different signs named, 57 of which were only picked by one person. Various types of crossings were the most popular, with a total of 23 picking one of several types, animal or not. There were multiple cases where signs referred to the same or very similar things, but they were physically different signs so I wound up counting them separately. Interestingly enough, no one put down “Speed Limit”, but I guess most people wanting to go for really common answers to try to stay one stop ahead ended up settling on Stop and Yield instead.

Name a president of the United States

Congratulations to Chester A. Arthur for finally topping a list for once! The mid-1800s were very popular, with all of the top answers except for Washington and Trump serving their terms between 1840 and 1884. Meanwhile, the 20th century was barely visited, with only 3 out of 13 presidents between Hoover and Bush Jr. receiving any love. I was actually really surprised that in total almost one-third of presidents were not chosen, compared with about half as many European countries.

Provide to me in the blank below exactly one word that appears in this very sentence which contains a suitable variety of words from which you may choose.

I wanted to have one “meta” prompt, which wound up being this. There were a total of 28 words in the sentence, of which 2 were duplicates and a further 4 were not chosen by anyone. Those four included two extremely common words (“the” and “this”), one word whose plural form was also a valid option (“word”), and one longer word whose presence in this group I can’t really explain (“appears”). There doesn’t seem to be too many clear patterns in terms of length or part of speech, except that words about a third of the way in the sentence ended up being a safer bet on average.

Enter an integer between 0 and 20, inclusive

With this contest, 13 was a lucky number (as was 9) for the one person who picked it. Meanwhile, the most popular option by far was just one number up at 14. Numbers in the double-digits were chosen about twice as often as those under 10, which makes sense as they tend to be less “notable” and therefore more enticing picks. This was an interesting case where the most extreme and probably otherwise top picks (0 and 20) ended up not being bad answers, which is a departure from most questions.

Name a Shakespeare play

This one had the most lopsided top answer, with Pericles, Prince of Tyre having almost double the number of people picking it than the second place Romeo and Juliet. On the opposite end, 15 of you were unique with your selections, including two who were clever enough to put down plays that were co-written by Shakespeare and thus do not appear in the folios. In addition, Henry VI, Part 3, Julius Caesar, and the Merry Wives of Windsor were not picked at all. Going for a multi-part history was a fairly shrewd move, as all the votes for the various Henries got spread out a lot.

Interestingly enough, Romeo and Juliet (the #1 answer when I ran the Most Popular Answer Contest) was the #2 answer here, but Hamlet (#2 last time) only was chosen by one person.

Name a Solar System object that is or was at one point considered a planet

On first look, the phrasing of the question was to allow Pluto to be an option to avoid the controversy, but in fact there have been dozens of bodies considered planets in the past. In the old Ptolemaic model of the Solar System, the Sun and Moon were both planets as they orbited the Earth. When the first moons of Jupiter and Saturn were discovered, they were frequently designated as planets until the discovery of Uranus in the 17th century. When Ceres was first spotted in 1801, it too was classified as a planet, but after a few dozen more tiny “planets” had been found in the same vicinity, they were put into their own class of objects instead. Finally, Vulcan was supposedly a planet spotted inside the orbit of Mercury that could explain the latter’s unexplained orbit, but its existence was disproven with the advent of general relativity.

Quite a few of you picked up on this, as former non-Pluto planets were answered 24 times. In fact, Jupiter was picked less often than Ceres, the Sun, the Moon, and Pallas, and was equally as popular as Iapetus. Earth picked up honors as the most popular answer both here and when I did a similar question in the original Most Popular Answers Contest.

Analysis and Personal Thoughts

Since this was the first time running this type of contest, I tried to experiment with the questions to see what would work. Specifically, the main factor that I had to consider was the size of possible legal answers which greatly affected how each question was played and the best strategy one should use. I mentally classified each prompt’s answer space as constricting (<15 choices), finite (15-60), and functionally unlimited (>60).

The day of the week and the rock paper scissors questions each had a very small answer space, and each intended option all were obviously picked many times. I think the latter one had too few degrees of freedom to get any useful insights, though I was pleasantly surprised at the variance in the popularity of each day of the week. Still, I think if and when I do this again in the future, I’d want each question to have at least a dozen or so answers.

On the other extreme, there were two questions (“soda brand” and “traffic sign”) which had an effectively infinite answer space. It was really interesting seeing everyone’s creativity, but it was really obvious that the winning strategy was just to find the most obscure thing one could find and comfortably be the only one to pick that answer, since there was so mucy choices.

By design, most of the questions had a range of ~20-50 possible answers, and I think that ended up being the sweet spot. Some answers got picked a dozen times, while a few (but not too many!) other potential ones didn’t get chosen at all. Most people tended to go for the seemingly most obscure options, such as Pericles, Belarus, or Chester A. Arthur, or the most popular one in an attempt to try to be one step ahead (“Romeo & Juliet”, “Earth”). What ended up being the dominant strategy was to go for something that was a moderately-common answer that wasn’t near either extreme. Answers like “Sweden”, “Julius Caesar”, and “Bill Clinton” are all fairly well-known but they weren’t picked by anyone. Of course, the next time such a contest is run, perhaps people would be aware of this and the optimal strategy would shift, but then again it might not.

One struggle I had with this was to make sure that the questions were accessible. I didn’t want to have one where most people knew only one or two answers, as I wanted it to be a test of game theory more than that of knowledge. I probably ended up being a bit too conservative (after all, anyone can Google “Shakespeare plays” and I think that’s what happened to some extent), but in the future I’d probably still want to have some sort of balance so it’s more than just “picking an answer from a list at random”.

The Scores

Congratulations to ISD for winning and smartin for coming in a close second! They crushed the competition, finishing a good 2.7 points ahead of Dayton, who placed 3rd. Elliot and Victor Prieto rounded out the top 5. The middle of the pack ended up being very tight this time, to the point where the difference between 2nd and 3rd was higher than that from 3rd to 22nd.

As per usual I’ve included a comparison of the answers of the top scorers, the complete standings, and the raw data below. If anyone notices any errors, please let me know and I will correct them.

NameDay of WeekEuropean CountrySoft DrinkRoshamboRoad SignPresidentSentenceNumberShakespeare PlayPlanetName
ISDTuesdayItalyLeninadePaperHeadlights on in TunnelJames A. GarfieldBlank0Henry VI, Part 2IapetusISD
smartinShabbatAzerbaijanCheerwineRockT Intersection AheadCalvin CollidgeWhich8Henry VI, Part 1The Moonsmartin
DaytonThursdaySloveniaGoose IslandRockPrivate DrivewayZachary TaylorSentence4CoriolanusGanymedeDayton
ElliotSaturdayFinlandSan PellegrinoPaperRoundabout AheadWilliam Howard TaftOf15King LearUranusElliot
Victor PrietoMondayPolandSangria SeñorialPaperTwo Way TrafficWoodrow WilsonContains20Henry IV, Part 1SaturnVictor Prieto
DylanSundayBelarusBang EnergyPaperFreeway EntranceGeorge H. W. BushVariety19The TempestThe SunDylan
WillisFridayCzechiaSierra MistScissorsWhen FlashingGeorge WashingtonSuitable8Henry IV, Part 1SaturnWillis
TuesdayLiechtensteinFrescaPaperCow CrossingBenjamin HarrisonTo12Troilus and CressidaErisBenjamin
CatMondayLithuaniaSquirtPaperDead EndMartin Van BurenOne11Love's Labour's LostCeresCat
Nick JensenNundina HEstoniaPeardraxPaperRhea CrossingMillard FillmoreMay14CardenioThe MoonNick Jensen
Bolded answers are ones in which they had a unique pick.
NameScoreRank# Unique
Victor Prieto18.0853
Benjamin McAvoy-Bickford18.6682
Nick Jensen18.98104
Edmund S19.08113
I always forget what I put here19.32153
Lapis Lazuli19.83171
Joe Nutter20.12182
Dan L20.32213
Jon Pinyan20.40223
Rob C20.46232
Deep Thought21.08291
A. Ham 🙂21.86402
Alex Schmidt22.89502
El Jefe23.80562
Aidan Leahy24.13591
emily gunter24.57611
Aadi K24.67641
Caity H.24.75662
Lady Red Beacham24.86681
My Name25.03701
Joe Su25.54721
Matt Jackson25.95731
Rebecca Rosenthal26.29761
Laser Brain26.43770
Alex Damisch26.70791
Ganon Evans27.14821
larry black27.50840
Jasper Lee31.29920

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