As I entered Match Day 3 of my rookie season in the LearnedLeague trivia contest, my confidence was low after two shaky efforts. Unfortunately my third go-round did little to right the ship.
1. What is the specific common name for the government of France that existed from 1870, upon the collapse of the Second French Empire, until 1940, and the Nazi invasion and subsequent Vichy regime?
This was one of those topics I faintly remembered from a long-ago world history class in high school. Unfortunately we studied the French Revolution at great length and pretty much glossed over the post-Napoleonic era; it was all Robespierre, all the time. I speak French and spent the summer in La Rochelle, France when I was 16, but those weren't doing much for me either. I guessed “parlement” with little confidence, and sure enough, the correct answer was the French Third Republic. It sounded vaguely familiar.
2. During the third verse of the R.E.M. song It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine), the instruments stop abruptly and briefly while the band shouts the name of what man?
The good news was that I knew the answer. The bad news was that so does everyone else: Mstislav Rostropovich. There are few questions about R.E.M. they could have reasonably asked that I wouldn’t have known in my sleep, but they flattened it out so much they erased any Stipe-based advantage I might have enjoyed. As you know, the answer is actually “Leonard Bernstein! (Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs, birthday party cheesecake jellybean boom.)” At least my knowledge of Lester Bangs and his fellow grandees of rock criticism would soon pay dividends.
3. Identify the tabloid-style German newspaper whose name translates to English as Picture, and which is -- by far -- the largest circulation newspaper in Europe (and in fact the largest outside Japan). Its policy of showcasing a topless woman on every front page may have some effect.
I didn't know there were topless women in any European tabloids outside of England; maybe that's not why the U.K. sat out of the whole euro thing. I knew that the German word Spiegel means mirror, not picture, and I knew Der Spiegel was a German magazine, not a tabloid newspaper. But I didn’t know the word for picture or the names of any other German periodicals, nor did I have a plausible guess, so I guessed Der Spiegel in honor of my buddy Matt Spiegel. The answer was Bild, which seems like a somewhat prosaic name (“Picture”) for a publication that features words and pictures.
4. There are two generally established classifications in French cuisine for clear soups: bouillon (simple broth), and what other, which is essentially clarified bouillon?
Continuing the French theme, much like the French Third Republic, I knew the correct answer would sound familiar when I heard it, but I also couldn’t think of it. I guessed bouillabaisse, a thick fish soup so far from bouillon I might as well have guessed the Beastie Boys. The correct answer was consommé.
5. The short films What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963), It's Not Just You, Murray! (1964), and The Big Shave (1967) are among the very early works of what Oscar-winning film director?
This one I regret because I could have made a much better educated guess. A few years ago I attended a screening of the first full-length feature by this filmmaker, Who’s That Knocking At My Door?, his senior film project at NYU film school from the mid-1960s. That would have been consistent with short films made in the previous few years, and also with a predilection for the use of questions as somewhat lengthy film titles. And, for that matter, with a director who burst into prominence in the ensuing decade. But I rushed through this one a little, not giving sufficient thought to any of those things. I focused only on the era in question and the fact that the shorts sounded more or less comedic, and guessed Blake Edwards pretty much knowing it was wrong. Sure enough, the answer was Martin Scorsese.
6. What was the eventual name of the product which was first marketed in the UK as the Stowaway and in the US as the Soundabout?
I made a terrible guess here, not really thinking about the ramifications of the word Stowaway and instead trying to think of what a Soundabout might do. I guessed The Clapper, but the correct answer (which 65% of players leaguewide got, fully as many as Leonard Bernstein) was the Sony Walkman. In hindsight, this looks fairly guessable.
Another brutal 1 for 6 day. I was starting to dread being sent down to A ball, where I would be asked to name any two of the four Beatles.
As for defense, I gave my opponent 1 0 2 1 3 2 and he gave me 2 0 1 1 2 3. We both knew Leonard Bernstein and received 0 points for it. My opponent, living up to his Gallic-sounding surname, also knew the French Third Republic and consommé. So once again I played perfect defense, giving away the minimum number of points, but so did my opponent, and good defense can absolve ignorance only so far. In LL terminology, I lost 2(3)-0(1).
Now I was 1-2 and plummeting fast. In three days I'd dropped from the traditional Opening Day tie for first, to 32nd place in my 44-player division. It wasn't even clear yet who our better players were, but I wasn't looking like one of them.
What was clear was that I had little room for error. With just six questions per match, even one mistake or giveaway could be ruinous, and the LL seemed to go for the jugular every day with just one or two easy questions in the mix. Hell, even Jeopardy! starts with the simple stuff and only gradually turns up the heat. Few of their questions are this hard.
They were not asking things I felt confident about, and I'd squandered several chances to guess some crooked numbers onto the scoreboard. This was not going well. But as Robespierre said, it's always darkest before the dawn...