On Match Day 7, for the first time, I let one slip away.
1. Homer's Iliad ends with the burial of what Trojan prince and warrior?
I've read The Odyssey but not The Iliad. Knew Odysseus was a Greek hero and strained to think of his counterpart Trojan warriors; the best I could do was to think of various USC (Trojan) Heisman Trophy winners. Finally I went with Ajax, who might have been a good guess had he not been a Greek warrior himself. I should have guessed his archrival and Trojan counterpart, Hector.
2. Identify the two largest businesses -- both London-based -- of the type that also includes Dorotheum, Bonhams, Phillips de Pury, Lyon & Turnbull, and MacDougall's.
None of the given business names meant a thing to me; they could have been clothing stores, casinos, gas (I mean petrol) stations, fast food places, department stores, insurance companies or china shops. But the names said upscale to me, so I figured they weren’t, for example, fast food places. My first thought was insurance companies, as Lloyd’s of London was obviously a London-based business, but I couldn’t think of another one, and although Lloyd's was old I didn't know it to be one of the two largest insurers.
All I could do was try to think of a classy, high-end industry whose two leading players were British. Rather than make a bad knee-jerk guess, as I had repeatedly over the previous Match Days (Blake Edwards, The Clapper, Olivetti, Robben Island, West Bank), I mulled it over for a while. Before long I thought of the auction world, where Sotheby’s and Christie’s were the two major names, and felt reasonably confident they were both British. The other given names seemed British or otherwise European, which made sense to me since those countries are so much older than ours; they’ve probably been auctioning art, antiquities and rarities for centuries. And try as I might I couldn’t come up with anything else. So I said Sotheby’s and Christie’s and it was correct.
3. What is the common name for the scalinata that connects the Piazza di Spagna with the Piazza Trinità dei Monti in Rome?
Another one I had to grind out. I’ve been to Rome but I didn’t know the two Piazzas and none of the given Italian words meant much to me. What might connect two piazzas (plazas, town squares) in Rome? My first thought was a road or a bridge, but I couldn’t think of anything, so I thought further. They were asking for a common name of a functional part of the physical plant of the city, one well enough to be known around the world and have its own nickname. And it had to be in modern-day Rome, not what remains of ancient Rome. I kept thinking of the Trevi Fountain, which is in a piazza, but I needed something more connective and less destinational. The Roman Road was more likely a road into and out of the city than within its borders, if it even still existed.
Suddenly it occurred to me: the Spanish Steps, one of the famous landmarks in the city, might connect two piazzas. I didn’t think of them as doing so, but who knew? I'd visited the Spanish Steps 14 years ago and remembered the steps themselves better than whatever was around them. I seemed to recall the bottom of the staircase was a major pedestrian artery, not a piazza, but it could have been both, i.e. a piazza along a roadway.
Rereading the question confirmed that my guess was solid. I don’t speak Italian but I speak French, and scalinata worked as a staircase since escalier means staircase in French (and both were something you scale). That was good enough for me. I guessed the Spanish Steps and it was correct. I didn’t even notice a second clue hiding in the question: the Piazza di Spagna was named for Spain.
4. What were the first names of the co-hosts of the 1960s/70s sketch comedy television series Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In?
I suffered a brain freeze on this question that cost me a tie in the match.
Knowledge is complicated; there are shades of gray. In this league, for example, there’s knowing the answer and confidently providing it; not knowing the answer and scoring with a well-reasoned educated guess; not knowing the answer and making a lucky random guess; and not knowing the answer and proving it with a wrong guess, an unfilled answer blank, or the capitulation of not even answering the question but instead trying to be funny.
The ugliest shade of gray is knowing the answer but not being able to say it, and that was my lot on this question. I’ve said it before, and it sounds like an excuse, but if you had shown me a list of 20 possible answers I’d have easily selected the correct one. It was on the tip of my tongue and I just couldn’t spit it out.
I think the “same first letter” thing screwed me up. I kept thinking “Dick Rowan and who, Dick Rowan and who,” when the answer was in fact Dan Rowan and Dick Martin. The crazy thing was I had just been thinking about these two guys’ names in the previous month or so, maybe in reference to Goldie Hawn or something. In any event, the harder I thought about it, the more I didn’t come up with the answer. Eventually I gave up and guessed Dick and Allen in frustration knowing it was wrong, and it was.
5. Of the chemical elements known as the noble gases, which is the only one that has only radioactive isotopes (and is in fact responsible for the majority of public exposure to radiation)?
This felt like the gimme of the day. I knew from both my career in real estate and as a casual follower of the news that radon gas was an ongoing issue in home inspections and buildings around the country. I also knew from having taken chemistry and AP Chem in high school that radon was a noble gas. Another element I knew offhand was a noble gas, neon, was also in widespread proximity to the public, but I’d never heard of a health threat due to leaky or aging neon signs. I thought xenon might be a noble gas but I couldn’t think of its general application other than maybe in high-end auto headlights, nor did I think of it as a threat. So I guessed radon and it was correct.
6. Named after a character from an obscure 1953 film, this stock sound effect has appeared in hundreds of instances across various media (including all Star Wars and Quentin Tarantino films). What is the effect known as?
You either knew this or you didn’t, and I didn’t. I guessed Screamy Joe. The answer was the Wilhelm Scream.
Defense: I gave my opponent 1 2 1 2 0 3 and he gave me 2 2 1 3 0 1 (boldface are correct answers), so I lost 6(4)-3(3).
This one should have been a tie. We both knew, played identical defense on, and canceled each other out on three of the easier (to us at least) questions. He knew the one I thought was hardest, the Wilhelm Scream, and earned a 3; I knew the one he thought was hardest, Rowan and Martin, but I couldn't manage to spit out the correct answer to earn a 3.
So what would have been a tie was instead a painful loss. But it was still early in the season, and I was surely not the only player with a hard-luck anecdote.