[Mind Vault] The “Is the apple on the table?” eye exam

eye exam

Mind Vault: the place for storing weird, sometimes nonsensical memories for potential evaluation at a later time. À la Finn’s mental strategy from Adventure Time. 

adventure time vault

This is the first in what I hope to be a series of posts from the Mind Vault, where I evaluate some strange thing that’s inside there for entertainment, enlightenment, and — ahem — inspiration. 

Most U.S. grammar schools must have them — annual wellness screenings administered to the entire student body, ensuring everyone is meeting a base standard of health. At my grammar school, Saint Mary Academy, our exams always took place in the nurse’s office, a cramped, closet-like space that could fit maybe three kids at most. Coincidentally, that’s how students were grouped for the screenings — three at a time, rotating throughout the week until all students had been examined. The screenings were predictable. Year after year they were exactly the same and involved…

  • Of course, the lice check. Subsequently, one child would always be missing for a couple days after. Sorry kid, we all knew what was up.
  • A scoliosis check. I got to skip this thanks to already having it, suckers.
  • A hearing check. We’d put on earphones and raise our hands when we heard a beep in one ear (left, right, left, left). I must have been a pretty good guesser because I always miraculously passed.
hearing test

Wait, one sec, I know this….

  • A vision check. This is the weird one that went into the vault.

This vision check had no wall charts, no covering your eye with a plastic spoon, no reading lines of letters. I was used to those, having glasses since age two. I was allowed to keep my glasses on for this odd vision test, which involved looking down into this ancient-looking box. Inside was an illuminated picture. Always  the same picture. With glasses, I could see it clearly. It was black-and-white top-down image of a family having a picnic. There was a picnic table and a blanket on the grass. Looking into this strange box, the nurse would ask: “Is the apple on the table?” 

Every year for eight years I’d approach the box in high hopes. “This is it,” I’d think. “This is my year to see it.” But, again, I’d confront my annual conundrum.

There was no apple.

The question was never “Is there an apple on the table?” I would have answered no. “Is the apple on the table?” implied that there was certainly an apple somewhere in the image. It was only a matter of where it was located. To speak the truth — that there just wasn’t an apple — seemed too ridiculous and would likely mean failing the exam. So I’d guess “yes.” Apparently that was the correct answer because I seemed to always pass year in, year out without question.

It bugged me, but not enough to tell anyone else about it. I considered that this might not be a eye exam at all, but a lying exam, and I was getting marked down annually as a chronic liar. But then I moved on to high school and put this strange vision test and its apple-less image into the vault.

Suddenly last week, almost out of the blue, I remembered this haunting question: “Is the apple on the table?” What had they been testing? I never knew. I’ve since had many eye exams, and never again have I encountered the peculiar box.

To the interwebs!

I haven’t found much about it other than anecdotes in forums from people who also claim to have not seen the elusive fruit as a child. According to this forum, the “apple” was not an apple at all, but a red light. The point of the exam may have been to test for binocular vision. This would make a whole lot of sense,  as it fits in with a whole lot of other vision anomalies of mine. For one, traditional blue-and-red 3D glasses don’t work on me. I either see blue or red and nothing popping out of the screen.

3d theater

Um, all I see is red. Now blue. Now red. Why is it so damn blurry? And NOT 3D?

The much more hip 3D glasses used in theaters nowadays seem to mostly work, thankfully, though they give me awful headaches.

Secondly, I’ve always always been sure that so-called Magic Eye books are just a big conspiracy. I have never once in my life ever seen anything in them but a nauseating cluster of absurdity, no matter how slowly I pull the pages back from my nose or whatever.

magic eye

Pretty sure this is just an obnoxious Windows 95 desktop background

This Mental Floss article reaffirms my suspicions that I must just have some trouble with binocular and/or stereo vision, and that is why the apple never revealed itself to me. I was born with a super-cool lazy eye, and while it has been corrected through glasses, there may be some minor residual symptoms. I can still induce my lazy eye on cue (good party trick), and it sometimes lazes when I’m eating something really delicious (don’t know, don’t ask).

It’s not enough to hinder my every day activities (and apparently not worth my eye doctors’ concern). It’s just annoying enough to make a couple venues of entertainment impossible and cause eight years of questioning whether or not I was crazy to not see an apple on a table. Alas, I am not yet insane. My eyes just don’t like acknowledging each others’ existence sometimes.



*Except I still don’t get why the question was “Is the apple on the table” and not “Is there an apple on the table?” Maybe the “apple” could have been on the ground OR on the table depending on eye dominance? That wouldn’t explain why I didn’t see it at all… ho boy, I shall not dwell on this.


One thought on “[Mind Vault] The “Is the apple on the table?” eye exam

  1. Meghan Savina says:

    Randomly found this searching the same test. Our question was ‘where is the apple?”. Never saw it, but when every kid ahead of me said the table….I said the table.

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