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The invisible Reader T-shirts

Why Reader Puzzle winners don't wear the prizes

The only other Reader T-shirt on the loose that I’ve seen was hanging on a rack in a downtown thrift shop. - Image by Rick Geary
The only other Reader T-shirt on the loose that I’ve seen was hanging on a rack in a downtown thrift shop.

Dear M.A. Dude: This question is a serious matter. I have been here 30 of my 30-1/2 years on this planet. So between me and my friends, we total around 73 years in this city. Combined, we have been looking at this rag maybe 30 years. Now that I have set it up, here goes. Where are all the Reader T-shirts? If you do the math, five shirts a week for, let's say, 15 years — that's a lot of shirts. But alas, me and my friends have never seen one. Let alone two or three. Thanks for your time and effort in solving this dilemma for us. — Mark Rossi (Ocean Beach), Paul Woodburn (Ocean Beach), John Bidleman (Encinitas)

A serious matter indeed, dudes. The same question has occurred to me from time to time. But of course, I’m always too busy dealing with all those lame queries from just about anybody capable of aiming a stamp at an envelope and making it stick, so the answer has gone unpursued. Until now.

I will admit that in all my 60,70 years of pushing this particular rock up the Reader hill,

I have seen only one Reader T-shirt being worn by what seemed to be an actual living person. (I’m not counting Reader T-shirts seen on Reader employees, their spouses, or their offspring. The person I saw inside the T-shirt was a stranger.) That was fully six years ago, which suggests to me that perhaps the average puzzle winner immediately incorporates his prize into the stuffing for his pet’s comfy dog bed or stows it in the closet with the Armorall and Turtle Wax. Or maybe, just maybe, we don’t get out enough, dudes. Could it be that by now all of San Diego is marching around in matching Reader T-shirts like a troop of parochial school kids, but the four of us have been home cleaning the crumb tray in the toaster and just haven’t noticed? Unlikely. But we must consider all possibilities.

To that end, I made a quick survey of 20 current and former Reader employees, most of whom actually do go outside from time to time. Fully half the respondents, like you, have seen no one wearing free clothing provided by the Reader, a free publication. Another 25 percent or so have seen only one person willing to expose him/herself to stares and mockery by wearing the mark of the reverse R in public. Two employees claimed to have seen two T-shirts, but one of those respondents is in the financial office, and they fudge numbers all the time, so we’ll throw that one out. And one person, well known here for her honesty and guileless ways, swears that over the years she’s seen Reader T-shirts on three total strangers. So toss out the don’t-get-around-enough theory. They ain’t out there, dudes.

Asked to guess why we don’t see the shirts, my fellow toilers at the R offered a hodgepodge of speculation, most of it cynical and insulting. One maverick believes people don’t wear them so they can keep them as souvenirs of sorts. He swears he has actually encountered strangers who offered him money for his Reader T-shirt, willing to buy it right off his back. I’m skeptical. And one reason I’m skeptical is that the only other Reader T-shirt on the loose that I’ve seen was hanging on a rack in a downtown thrift shop. I will admit, though, the price tag for the hardly-ever-worn shirt was $3.75, versus $1.25 for its companions. In that vein, I’m waiting for the day that a Reader T-shirt shows up on a small child in a news story on the latest relief efforts in Bangladesh.

Let’s get some historical perspective on the question. The first five shirts were given away for the correct solutions to puzzle number one, which appeared on January 12, 1978. Last week’s puzzle was number 769. For a brief period in the late ’70s, winners were given copies of a Reader-published book called Neighborhoods, and for a while winners could choose a T-shirt or a gift certificate for a hot tub place, so I can’t say precisely how many shirts have actually been awarded. A conservative estimate is 3625. Not many, spread around a county our size. Of course, the average life expectancy of a T-shirt being what it is, the maximum number of shirts likely to be wearable at any given time is considerably smaller. At some point, that number must have leveled off as new winners received their prizes and old winners shredded theirs for dust rags. This would further reduce your chances of seeing one.

But don’t despair, dudes. We have one final and unassailable source for our answer — the T-shirt winners themselves. So we turn to you, you clever folks who’ve solved one of our 769 brain teasers and received a cheesy poly-cotton garment as your reward. What did you do with it? Did you wear it? If so, where? If not, why not? Any heartwarming Reader T-shirt stories you’d care to share? You’re our last hope. We’ll keep asking until someone out there answers. Mail it, fax it, or phone it in on the line ordinarily reserved for letters to the ed. That’s 235-3000 x460. And remember, particularly on the phone line, brevity is an endearing trait. In return you’ll receive no more free clothing, only the sincere gratitude of three dudes and Matthew Alice.

To see answers from the Reader T-shirt winners, click here.

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The only other Reader T-shirt on the loose that I’ve seen was hanging on a rack in a downtown thrift shop. - Image by Rick Geary
The only other Reader T-shirt on the loose that I’ve seen was hanging on a rack in a downtown thrift shop.

Dear M.A. Dude: This question is a serious matter. I have been here 30 of my 30-1/2 years on this planet. So between me and my friends, we total around 73 years in this city. Combined, we have been looking at this rag maybe 30 years. Now that I have set it up, here goes. Where are all the Reader T-shirts? If you do the math, five shirts a week for, let's say, 15 years — that's a lot of shirts. But alas, me and my friends have never seen one. Let alone two or three. Thanks for your time and effort in solving this dilemma for us. — Mark Rossi (Ocean Beach), Paul Woodburn (Ocean Beach), John Bidleman (Encinitas)

A serious matter indeed, dudes. The same question has occurred to me from time to time. But of course, I’m always too busy dealing with all those lame queries from just about anybody capable of aiming a stamp at an envelope and making it stick, so the answer has gone unpursued. Until now.

I will admit that in all my 60,70 years of pushing this particular rock up the Reader hill,

I have seen only one Reader T-shirt being worn by what seemed to be an actual living person. (I’m not counting Reader T-shirts seen on Reader employees, their spouses, or their offspring. The person I saw inside the T-shirt was a stranger.) That was fully six years ago, which suggests to me that perhaps the average puzzle winner immediately incorporates his prize into the stuffing for his pet’s comfy dog bed or stows it in the closet with the Armorall and Turtle Wax. Or maybe, just maybe, we don’t get out enough, dudes. Could it be that by now all of San Diego is marching around in matching Reader T-shirts like a troop of parochial school kids, but the four of us have been home cleaning the crumb tray in the toaster and just haven’t noticed? Unlikely. But we must consider all possibilities.

To that end, I made a quick survey of 20 current and former Reader employees, most of whom actually do go outside from time to time. Fully half the respondents, like you, have seen no one wearing free clothing provided by the Reader, a free publication. Another 25 percent or so have seen only one person willing to expose him/herself to stares and mockery by wearing the mark of the reverse R in public. Two employees claimed to have seen two T-shirts, but one of those respondents is in the financial office, and they fudge numbers all the time, so we’ll throw that one out. And one person, well known here for her honesty and guileless ways, swears that over the years she’s seen Reader T-shirts on three total strangers. So toss out the don’t-get-around-enough theory. They ain’t out there, dudes.

Asked to guess why we don’t see the shirts, my fellow toilers at the R offered a hodgepodge of speculation, most of it cynical and insulting. One maverick believes people don’t wear them so they can keep them as souvenirs of sorts. He swears he has actually encountered strangers who offered him money for his Reader T-shirt, willing to buy it right off his back. I’m skeptical. And one reason I’m skeptical is that the only other Reader T-shirt on the loose that I’ve seen was hanging on a rack in a downtown thrift shop. I will admit, though, the price tag for the hardly-ever-worn shirt was $3.75, versus $1.25 for its companions. In that vein, I’m waiting for the day that a Reader T-shirt shows up on a small child in a news story on the latest relief efforts in Bangladesh.

Let’s get some historical perspective on the question. The first five shirts were given away for the correct solutions to puzzle number one, which appeared on January 12, 1978. Last week’s puzzle was number 769. For a brief period in the late ’70s, winners were given copies of a Reader-published book called Neighborhoods, and for a while winners could choose a T-shirt or a gift certificate for a hot tub place, so I can’t say precisely how many shirts have actually been awarded. A conservative estimate is 3625. Not many, spread around a county our size. Of course, the average life expectancy of a T-shirt being what it is, the maximum number of shirts likely to be wearable at any given time is considerably smaller. At some point, that number must have leveled off as new winners received their prizes and old winners shredded theirs for dust rags. This would further reduce your chances of seeing one.

But don’t despair, dudes. We have one final and unassailable source for our answer — the T-shirt winners themselves. So we turn to you, you clever folks who’ve solved one of our 769 brain teasers and received a cheesy poly-cotton garment as your reward. What did you do with it? Did you wear it? If so, where? If not, why not? Any heartwarming Reader T-shirt stories you’d care to share? You’re our last hope. We’ll keep asking until someone out there answers. Mail it, fax it, or phone it in on the line ordinarily reserved for letters to the ed. That’s 235-3000 x460. And remember, particularly on the phone line, brevity is an endearing trait. In return you’ll receive no more free clothing, only the sincere gratitude of three dudes and Matthew Alice.

To see answers from the Reader T-shirt winners, click here.

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“Anytime you have a pool, or a bathtub, or a toilet, or a bucket, a child can drown.”
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