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If You Want to Be a Winner, You've Gotta Use Your Head

July 02, 1987|DAVID LARSEN | Times Staff Writer

Winning, as has been observed, isn't everything--but losing isn't anything.

Everybody, of course, has in the course of human events won a buck or two on a football game, or a horse race or a lottery. But the trick is to win where it really counts--such as choosing the right checkout line in a supermarket.

To the rescue comes David Feldman, a former college instructor who has written a book covering such vital subjects. "When you discover a good checker in a supermarket, loyalty counts," he said in an interview. "I'd give up another basket ahead of me just to get that checker. A checker in the hand is worth two in the bush."

Crucial matters such as this, and outfoxing multiple-choice tests, and solving mystery stories, and getting good service in fancy restaurants--all are dealt with in Feldman's book, "How to Win at Just About Everything" (William Morrow & Co.: $15.95).

For the jungle that is the neighborhood supermarket, these are Feldman's laws:

- Check what types of items are in the carts. In particular, watch out for vegetarians. "Nothing can slow a line longer than waiting for the cashier to weigh plastic bags of produce, particularly non-packaged produce, unlikely to have a marked price."

- Don't be afraid to get behind someone with 80 cans of the same cat food. "Usually, each item need not be scanned separately, nor prices hunted by checkers without scanners."

- Watch out for a shopper about to cash a check. If so, you will be slowed, usually because of the necessity for identifications. "Unfortunately, most customers won't reveal their checkbook until after you take your place in line--often until their order has been processed."

- Watch checkers for their speed. Although this isn't in his book, Feldman suggested being wary of an employee you observe chatting with another one: "If he is fooling around when you first sight him, he will probably be fooling around while you are in line. It will all end, of course, just as you are headed for the door."

Multiple-Choice Tests

But there are other pressing problems in life. Such as being faced with a multiple-choice test, be it to renew one's driver's license or to get through a school course.

The 37-year-old author, who once taught popular culture at Bowling Green State University and also taught at the University of Maryland, offered these tips on taking a test:

- "Teachers, at least unconsciously, try to hide the correct answer. Therefore, when in doubt in quizzes with four alternatives, pick choice B or C. The letter A is consistently the least correct answer, the explanation probably being that if the test taker immediately sees what he feels is the correct answer, he won't be tempted by the distractors. As for D, once again the teacher, possibly unconsciously, wishes to hide the correct answer."

- The longest alternative tends to be true, as opposed to the distractors. "The teacher's biggest fear is to have an answer that is flawed becaused it is unclear, unfair or inaccurate."

- Absolute statements tend to be false. "If a test-taker can come up with one possible exception, an otherwise true statement is invalidated. Words such as all, always, every, never and must denote absolutism. If the test is true-false, the question with these is usually false."

- On the other hand, statements with qualifiers tend to be true. Fudge expressions are used, such as almost, hardly ever, most, seldom, and probably.

Although it isn't in the book, Feldman even had some thoughts on how to decide which freeway lane to use:

"Generally speaking, you are better off avoiding the extreme right and left lanes.

"The right lane sometimes seems attractive because there aren't that many cars. The flaw is that you'll probably be slowed because of the off-ramps and on-ramps.

"The left lane loses flexibility because if it slows, there is only one escape.

"The middle lane is probably the best solution, because it avoids the pitfalls of the usually slower right lane and allows a switch to the left lane if the traffic in it seems to be moving."

OK, so what about coping with a fancy restaurant?

In Fancy Restaurants

"Be sure to make a reservation, even for a slow period," Feldman advised. "The best time to do so is in the afternoon or at the beginning of the dinner shift, around 6 p.m. Ask the maitre d' his name and be sure to introduce yourself, to build a foundation for the service you want."

After arriving, he continued, if you have a complaint about the food, do so while you are getting it. However, he added, "I have a friend who writes legitimate letters all the time. Sometimes she will say that the food was delightful, but that the experience was marred by the behavior of the waiter. You would be surprised how often the response she gets includes the offer of a free meal."

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