Thursday, December 6, 2012

Friday, October 5, 2012

Chicago theater roundup

As the mercury drops, our attention turns to indoor entertainment. Let's discuss the PG-rated type.

The Chicago theater scene's traditional autumn kickoff is in full swing, both on the highly publicized stages of the Goodman, Steppenwolf and Lookingglass Theatres and in smaller venues throughout the city. Although there are literally dozens of options if you're looking for a night out, here are three solid choices as seen through the prism of my previews for Flavorpill Chicago.

Closing this weekend, and not to be missed if you're a fan of A Chorus Line, is this entertaining musical about its primary creator told largely through his own music:

A Class Act at Porchlight Music Theatre

Next, if you're into Sherlock Holmes and/or Downton Abbey, you'll like the dastardly deeds and tender romance set in Victorian England in this adaptation of a classic Wilkie Collins novel:

The Woman in White at Lifeline Theatre

And finally, for my money, the best show currently playing in Chicago...

Good People at Steppenwolf Theatre Co.

The Bears aren't always playing and there are good stories not being told on television. Get out there and support live theater; it will in turn enrich you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Whither the blogger?

If you are one of the hundreds of people who have stopped by here looking for LearnedLeague writeups over the past few days, I apologize for my radio silence. I was neither eaten by a whale nor signed to an exclusive blogging contract by the Huffington Post. (Preposterous! They don't pay anyone.)

The sad fact is that I can't keep up with writing LL reports every weekday. I was several match days behind by last weekend because I tried to watch some measure of the Democratic Convention and the U.S. Open while feeling constant pressure to keep the blog going, and although I had good intentions of catching up over the weekend, I then had social, tennis and theater commitments that got in the way. This week is no better (U.S. Open men's final and a fancy Flavorpill dinner last night, Northwestern University charity function tomorrow night, Bears-Packers Thursday night), nor next week (Rosh Hashanah, board meeting for and performance by The Moth, Obama fundraiser, rock show Friday night, another play, mixed doubles tennis tournament).  With the opening of the fall theater season I will be seeing approximately six plays by the end of the month; this will cut deeply into blogging time, to say nothing of the writing I do about those shows. Plus I am attending a tennis fantasy camp in October and I have been asked to play 3-4 times a week, plus do stretching exercises, to prepare. Did I mention that I have a job?

The details are unimportant; the big picture is that I have barely even been playing the LL questions lately let alone writing about them, and something's got to give. Although I write quickly, I also write at length and care about the quality of the end product, and while I certainly take a nonchalant and fun-loving attitude toward the trivia league, I am much more serious about the things I write. As such, I would rather call it a day than not do it right.

I took a pass on blogging the previous LL go-round in May and June because it was a busy time for me at work. I knew I couldn't do it and figured I could write my way through LL54 during my office's fall (only relatively, as it turns out) slow season.  Yet although my work has its seasons, my life doesn't. I'm just a busy person. Last spring, when I blogged my way through LL52, I drove my family and friends crazy as I tried to find 90 minutes a day to write during a weeklong trip to San Francisco, and it was also hard to keep up when I was home. You'd think I would have learned my lesson.

Anyway, I apologize to everyone who's been faithfully stopping by here looking to compare their thoughts with mine as we forge our way through the remainder of the trivia campaign. I hate the idea of quitting — and, indeed, anything that puts me in a category with Sarah Palin — but I'm doing it for my own mental health. I constantly feel guilty when I can't write the blog, and every day that I look ahead at my calendar and see that I won't be home that night, only makes me feel more anxiety that I am letting my supremely intelligent and quite attentive readers down.

In case you're curious how I've been doing lately:  after enjoying very strong (trivia-wise), solid (defense-wise) and lucky (otherwise) rides through the previous two seasons, my current nightmare season rolls on unabated. I continue to suck in nearly every way a LearnedLeague player can suck as I dwell in a purgatory of my own making and drift inexorably downward toward the Mendoza Line that separates retention from demotion.

Once again, I apologize to anyone who's disappointed by my abrupt capitulation, and I'm happy for whoever is pleased that I'm finally giving it a rest.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Day 11: Throwing it all away

Today’s match was a pick’em: my opponent and I had virtually identical stats in both answering questions correctly and playing defense. Unfortunately for me, in the latest variation on a sadly recurring theme, I brought my A- game when I needed my A+ game.

1. Name the Republican who currently represents Missouri's 2nd congressional district in the United States House of Representatives.

It’s that dipshit, Todd Akin. I gave this one the 0 (which is also what Todd Akin is) and so did a lot of other people. It defensed the easiest of the day at 0.9, and both my opponent and I knew it as did 69% of players leaguewide.

2. This woman has been credited with being the first television psychologist (credentialed by her Ph.D. from Columbia University), as well as the first female television boxing commentator (credentialed by her boxing expertise demonstrated on the game show The $64,000 Question).

As opposed to Dr. Phil’s Ph.D. from the University of North Texas via a dissertation entitled Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Psychological Intervention (?!), Dr. Joyce Brothers boasts an impressive résumé only somewhat besmirched by her constant shameless appearances before every TV camera this side of the putatively Rev. Jesse Jackson. (Boy, am I judging ’em today! What the hell, it’s my blog.) She either reclaimed or irrevocably destroyed her own cred by endlessly serving as the butt of jokes in the 1990s on NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien. You be the judge.

3. Identify this letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Aleph, the Hebrew A. As my bar mitzvah ceremony occurred at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, I was relieved to get this one, lest a vengeful Old Testament God smite me. Even for those with a passing knowledge of Hebrew, this was a total gimme. Apparently mistaking me for former Houston Astro BassK, my opponent gifted me a 3 on this one.

4. This illustration is the work of what well known graphic designer and street artist?

You might know him as the creator of the iconic Obama HOPE poster, but he built his street reputation on his Andre the Giant-based oeuvre. Who are we not to obey said giant? The answer is Shepard Fairey. This time it was I who let my opponent score a 3, which he earned as one of the 42% who got this.

5. The organic compound sucrose is a disaccharide composed of two monosaccharides, which are two of the three dietary monosaccharides (galactose being the third). Name these two monosacchardides, also known as simple sugars?

Time for my almost daily choke. I try not to be on the wrong side of questions that 65% of the league answers correctly, but I cacked this one. I came up with Fructose, as in high-__ corn syrup — definitely the most delicious of your corn syrups — but I drew a blank on the two apparently interchangeable other -oses: Glucose/Dextrose (which gave me various Neuroses). I went with Lactose with a far too nonchalant “what the hell, maybe it’s a milk sugar.” I still don’t even know if it is.

I’m not going to make excuses about how it was 11pm and I just wanted to go to sleep without spending the time trying to remember another sugar ending in -ose. It’s my own fault for not playing these questions early in the morning when I think most clearly. Glucose should have been the first one I thought of; it’s the obvious one. I threw away two points here.

In fact, speaking of the daily trivia cycle, I write a lot of these in the evening, as I’m doing right now instead of watching the Federer-Berdych match in the US Open. An odd side effect is that after I wrap up the writing shortly before I go to bed, I often realize with a start that I have not yet played the day’s questions. I have routinely been answering the day’s Qs in the last two hours before the window closes, as indeed I will probably do tonight as it’s already 9pm and I need my Federer infusion, to say nothing of President Clinton's speech at the Democratic Convention.

6. The first solid body electric guitar manufactured and sold by the Gibson Guitar Corporation, in 1952, was named after (and endorsed by) what American guitarist and inventor?

Les Paul in a total gimme. I could practically have written this question off the top of my head. At 78% correct, this was the easiest question of the day. But how many players in the league own a 1971 Epiphone Riviera, made by a sister company to Gibson, on which they mangle the world’s greatest rock songs to the consternation of their neighbors? I rest my guitar case.

My opponent killed this soft set of questions, running the table and “drinking the beer” with his correct six-pack. Thanks to spilling the sugar, I failed to keep up with him, batted just 5 for 6, and lost the ballgame.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Day 10: I'll take it

After more than my share of shaky defense lately, I finally flashed the leather at shortstop.

1. This photograph was taken in what city, where this sort of thing happens around 80 times a year?  

“This sort of thing” is the sausage race around the field at the Milwaukee Brewers’ home ballpark, which occurs “around 80 times a year” because the Brew Crew have 81 home games. Knew it, ate it up with sauerkraut and spicy mustard. 

2. Identify the national capital city highlighted in red on this map. 

Once again my spotty geography knowledge cost me. Somewhat at a loss to name an East African nation other than Madagascar, I was sort of proud to come up with Ethiopia, not to mention its capital city, Addis Ababa, thanks in part to a local Ethiopian restaurant by that name. But it turns out that although Ethiopia does border the (not Coral but) Red Sea, due east of it is Somalia, whose capital of Mogadishu was the correct answer. I would have earned a 3 for this one, but I did hold my opponent to a 0. 

They have Ethiopian pirates, don't they?  When they're not shooting horses?

3. First discovered in 1869, and now a fundamental component in many branches of scientific research, nucleic acids (polynucleotides) are large biological molecules which are plentiful in all living things on earth. All naturally occurring nucleic acids are known commonly by one of two names -- give either name.

This one hurt me in my soul, in that the question gave away the answer and I still blew it. I wasn’t sure of the answer, but surely it wasn’t DNA and RNA as their N and A (for Nucleic Acid) appeared right there in the question. I think you can see where I’m going with this. Once again I took a wild stab in the faint hope of fooling the teacher, guessing Peptides, but might as well have guessed The Prince of Tides.

4. In the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, what was the trademark catchphrase of Sylvester the Cat?

This was a classic “you either know it or you don’t” and thanks to my misspent youth I did, getting credit for Thufferin’ Thuccotash although the correct answer was Sufferin’ Succotash. This both defensed as the easiest question of the day at 0.9 and played that way at 76% leaguewide.

5. The last film which featured Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra together was what 1984 film, itself a sequel to a 1981 movie (which featured Sammy and Dean but not Frank)?

This wasn’t exactly a “you either know it or you don’t,” but it was a rare film question where I couldn’t even come up with a respectable guess. Sure enough, it played as the toughest Q of the day at 27% correct.

Due to a technical error my guess was not emailed to me, and a few minutes ago I compounded the problem by closing a window from several days ago containing my guess, but it went more or less like this: We’re All Going To Die Soon, First Sammy, Probably, Then Dean, Then Frank.

I did make a good guess as to the order in which they died, but my poor taste likely doomed even my bid for a Best Wrong Answer. The Best Right Answer was Cannonball Run II. The good news was that my gaudy statistics in the Film category presumably caused my opponent to give this one the 0.

6. The plot for the John Fletcher and William Shakespeare comedy The Two Noble Kinsmen is based on what earlier English work?

This one I figured out by the process of elimination. There are very few classic pieces of English literature that predate Shakespeare and would be fair game for a trivia question among non-PhD candidates.

My first thought, of course, was “Shakespeare needed a cowriter? That’s like Stacey King (jokingly) boasting about the night he and Jordan combined for 70 points after Jordan dropped 69 on the Cavs.” But I soon got to work thinking what the right answer could be. Something by Marlowe? Would the Commish be tricky enough to use an earlier work by Shakespeare himself? No and no. Spenser’s The Faerie Queene? Not likely; too obscure and maybe not even before Shakespeare. Milton? Not comedic, later than Shakespeare. La Morte D’Arthur? Hell no. Beowulf? Some other circle of hell no. 

That left Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, which I read in college and have largely forgotten. Although I was not entirely clear on the two noblemen thing, I felt like it pretty much had to be the correct answer, and indeed it was. 

My opponent and I each got three correct answers, but with immaculate defense I allowed the minimum 2 points and won 4(3)-2(3).

Making "Friends"

Hello, fellow triviaheads.  I hope you had an enjoyable holiday weekend.

The day after Labor Day fills a lot of people with dread:
  • Students, because they have to go back to school;
  • Teachers,                   "                  "                     ; and
  • Me, because we now embark on 14 weekdays in a row of LearnedLeague action and I've committed myself to writing about all of them.
Between the fall theater season opening (I write about shows), fewer people in our office due to travel, the U.S. Open tennis tournament underway that I follow closely, the Democratic National Convention this week, and only a month left in our outdoor tennis season, the prospect of spending 90 minutes a day writing about trivia is fairly daunting. 

I only managed to write about one match during the busy holiday weekend (wedding, tennis, out of town guest, high school friends' rock band reunion show, etc.), I'm already two matches behind, and we're only now hitting our grueling stretch of three straight weeks of trivia days. Sure, I could phone it in by quickly tossing off subpar writeups, but I'd rather spend my usual hour-plus and work hard to create subpar writeups.

So please bear with me as I try to keep up, but I will probably be a few days behind at times, and try to make up the ground on the weekend(s).

For now, here's a gem that my mom chipped in from a sea not named after a color, i.e. the Mediterranean:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Day 9: You lose some

I played a tough player today and needed my A game, but I brought my B game.

1. The location photographed here was, according to legend, first memorialized in song in 1936, by whom? 

Ugh. I think of the crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil as a legendary intersection of dirt roads somewhere in the backwoods of the Deep South, not a prosaic meeting place of two paved U.S. highways. But that was indeed the right answer.

I could not stop thinking about Route 66. The street signs put me on that road and that song. But 1936 was way too early. I had trouble coming up with a good guess. The Tennessee angle said it probably wasn’t East Coast-bred George Gershwin so I went with Cole Porter, whom I knew to be a native of relatively nearby Peru, Indiana. Give me an E for effort and a G for good intentions along with my W for wrong.

At an average 2.0 this defensed as the hardest question of the day, and I really could have used the 2 my opponent earned here. Only 35% of players got this, which did make it the day's hardest question.

2. The Dutch language in Belgium, as it is spoken by the majority of its citizens (and nearly everyone in the region adjacent to the Netherlands), is known colloquially by what name?

It’s Flemish, which you pretty much knew or you didn’t, and I did. I’ve been to Belgium and pay more attention to it than most Americans because I follow pro tennis. Over the past decade there were two supremely talented Belgians at the top rank of the women’s tour, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters. 

Henin was not particularly likeable — particularly when her poor sportsmanship screwed Serena Williams out of an important point late in the semifinals of the 2003 French Open — but Clijsters is right there with Federer among the nicest and most popular (among both peers and fans) champions of all time. She retired for good this week to spend more time with her family, having left the tour for three years to have a daughter, only to return in 2009 and win her second U.S. Open title after playing only a few warmup tournaments.

I hit the 2004 Australian Open with a girlfriend who'd played Big Ten college tennis. Henin and Clijsters were atop the sport at the time; we referred to the two Belgians as the “Waffle Chicks.”

3. Beginning with the 1987 French Open, and ending with the same tournament in 1990, this German appeared in a record 13 consecutive tennis Grand Slam finals.

What do I know about tennis? Enough to get this one. Whoever missed it likely guessed Boris Becker, but although the swashbuckling German was indeed a top player in the late 1980s, he certainly didn’t play in 13 straight Slam finals. For one thing, a 17-year-old Michael Chang won his only Slam when he beat Ivan Lendl in a five-set classic at Roland Garros in 1989, becoming the youngest men’s major tournament champion of all time and the first American to win the French Open since Tony Trabert in 1955.

The answer lay on the ladies’ tour, where Steffi Graf was the dominant force in question. She won each Slam at least four times, including a “Golden Slam” in 1988 when she ran the table and added an Olympic gold medal.  My opponent and I each nailed this and earned a 0 for our trouble.

4. Companion to Music, Companion to English Literature, Companion to Food, Companion to Western Art -- these are all partial titles to successful books which begin with what name?

I knew I would feel like a fool when I saw the correct answer, and indeed I did. I couldn’t come up with Oxford, instead guessing Norton as in Anthology of English Literature, a clear sign that Companion to English Literature made Norton incorrect, as indeed it was.

5. Sutter's Fort, the final destination of the Donner Party survivors, and abandoned after the discovery of gold (and subsequent rush) at nearby Sutter's Mill, was established in an area that would eventually become what city?

I knew the Donner Party had traveled through north central California and never hit the Bay or the coast (although both are lovely), so I figured Sacramento was a good guess. It turned out to be the best possible guess in that it was the correct answer.

6. To whom did the head in the bottom right of this painting belong?  

My first thought was St. John the Baptist. Then I realized I wasn’t sure whether he had been beheaded or not. So I tried at length to think of well-known people who lost their heads more literally than, say, Sarah Palin trying desperately to prepare for a vice presidential debate. It didn’t feel like Louis XVI was the right answer even though his was the era of the guillotine, and Jean-Paul Marat had died in the bathtub since he was so into Jim Morrison, so I went with Charles I. One of the few things I remember from World History my sophomore year of high school was an odd sequence of British kings (James I, Charles I, Charles II, James II) during which Charles I was beheaded.

This didn’t feel like the right answer either, but I didn’t have a better guess. The answer was Goliath, who was slain by a slung sling, but whom David apparently then beheaded as an extra “F you.” I gave this one the 3 and my opponent hit it with his sling.

He and I each gave up two points above the minimum, but by getting four correct answers to my three, my opponent both ended up with and deserved a 6(4)-4(3) victory.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Day 8: Fail Whale


Today I discovered a new and exciting, that is to say an old and tiresome, way to lose: inferior defense.

My opponent was Amy Reynaldo, a fellow Chicagoan, noted crossword blogger and author of How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle. She also authored a narrow victory over me that went like this:

1. Provide the two words that fill in the blank in the following full title of a novel as it was published in the United States on November 14, 1851: Moby-Dick; or, ___________

The answer was The Whale, which I know from reading this book during my junior year of high school in Mrs. Huggins’ class. (I also knew there was a hyphen after Moby, which you often (don’t) see omitted.) Probably my favorite chapter, for the wrong reasons, is the one where Melville spends about 10 pages rattling off the provisions and supplies aboard the Pequod.

2. Saint Eustachius and Saint Hubertus, the patron saints of hunters, are referenced in what liqueur brand's logo, which consists of a glowing Christian cross between the antlers of a caribou?

I had never heard of Sts. Eustachius or Hubertus, never having paid attention in church because I grew up Jewish, nor did I know about the glowing cross or the hunters, but it didn’t matter. As with my man Yuri Gagarin the other day (“Russian … cosmonaut ... whom?”), this question boiled down to “blah blah liqueur logo antlers caribou?”

I don’t even drink, but I have a black Soul Asylum t-shirt (still!) from college for which the Jagermeister logo is the artistic inspiration. Rather than "Jagermeister," "Soul Asylum" is spelled in forbidding Germanic calligraphy under the minorly famous caribou antlers. Underneath the band name are the words GUITAAR – LIQUEUR. It's a pretty sweet t-shirt, dudes, but so menacing that I was afraid to wear it for several years after I bought it. Frankly, I also knew that I was not yet cool enough. But I eventually wore it and was immediately hired as a Motörhead roadie, plus it helped me nail this question. 

3. In 1978, who won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress -- Miniseries or a Movie for her work in the miniseries Holocaust, which would be the first of a vast multitude of nominations and awards this actress would receive in her career?

Another giveaway from the details. “blah blah Emmy Award … Lead Actress … vast multitude of nominations and awards…” Who could it possibly be but Meryl Streep? It wasn’t Susan Lucci. I didn’t know the first thing about the Holocaust miniseries and it didn’t matter. I also knew Kramer vs. Kramer was 1979 and Manhattan was no earlier than 1978, so neither of these would necessarily have preceded the TV miniseries even if she’d earned nominations for them.

78% of players knew or correctly guessed this gimme. Incidentally, “in miseries” is an apt anagram/container for many miniseries.

4. According to their official wedding registry of April, 2011 (and per the surnames of the bridegroom's parents), what is the surname of William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge?

This question was a problem area. I thought the answer was Windsor and so obviously so that I gave this one the 0. The answer was in fact Mountbatten-Windsor, and my answer was properly deemed incorrect. When I saw the correct answer, I did recall hearing something about a hyphenated name during the royal wedding, by which I mean the marriage of Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

"This is the most stirring display of gallantry and sportsmanship since Mountbatten gave India back to the Punjabs."
British-accented commentator at a miniature golf tournament championship match between Bart Simpson and Todd Flanders

Amy and I got the same four questions correct today, but she gave this one a 1 while I gifted her a 0 on this Gordian knot. A mere 7% of players in the entire league got this one.

5. As defined in classical mechanics, speed is a scalar quantity defining how fast an object is moving, while velocity is a vector describing the object's speed and direction. Likewise, as distance is a scalar quantity of length, what is the term for the vector describing distance and direction?

OK, I’m going to embarrass myself here in front of all the science nerds, experts, PhDs, Nobel Prize winners (I assume), etc. who play in our league.

First of all, as I quickly scanned the question, I felt confident that the correct answer was Vector. When I saw that word twice in the question, I had a sinking feeling, a downward vector if you will. Reading the question more carefully, I also learned to my surprise that speed and velocity are not the same thing. Velocity is directional?!  (I did take physics as a junior in high school but apparently I was reading Moby-Dick that day.)

My hope of salvaging a correct answer started out dim, then faded further the more I thought about this. I briefly considered guessing Thrust, but that felt like power and acceleration, not merely distance and direction. I also thought about Force, but I recalled that was Mass x Acceleration, so it too involved derivatives and integration and stuff, and was more than a mere directional (tips cap). But I still didn’t have a good play until I came up with what felt like a decent guess: Momentum. It was pure bullshit, but maybe if the Commissioner was drunk when he graded my paper, I could get away with it.

The correct answer, however, was Displacement/Position. I take strong exception to the term Position as a correct answer, as that connotes to me a zero-dimensional location, not a relative measure as Displacement seems to be; Position only seems directional and distanced relative to an origin. Richard Feynman would surely agree with me, except for the part about me being completely wrong and clueless on this whole subject.

The only good thing that happened here was that Amy missed it too, so I didn’t take a huge bruise by giving this the 3.

6. The White Sea, off the northwest coast of Russia, is the fourth-largest sea in the world (in area) whose name in English is a color. What are the three largest that fit this description?

Black Sea is an XTC album. Wait, what?

God, do I suck at geography. In this case, I thought the Red Sea was too small because I constantly confuse it with the super-salty (so people easily float) Dead Sea in Israel, as opposed to what it actually is, a big sea between Africa and the Middle East. Black Sea sounded good, and I was pretty sure there was a Yellow Sea to go along with the Yellow River. I (w)racked my brain to think of other colorful seas but came up with nothing, so I went with Red after all, along with Yellow and Black, and it was correct. Coral would also have been accepted and I don’t even know why.

Not knowing I can’t find Yemen on a map, Amy gave me the 0 for it. Thanks, but I actually got this one. A whopping 86% of players got this one and few of them were as worried about it as I was.

Although we both had four correct answers, Amy allowed one point above the minimum to my two and handed me a 6(4)-5(4) defeat. ETTU, Amy?

Exigencies and eventualities


Will have Day 8 match report posted by the end of the day.

Until then, with apologies to Paul Baldwin, talk amongst yourselves.  Here is a suggested topic:  The Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire. Discuss.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Day 7: Christmas morning

...not because anyone gifted the match, but because I received an unwanted tie.

As an initially nervous but increasingly confident young rookie, then a brash sophomore, then a self-assured veteran, I used to win matches or salvage ties with defense. The opposite is the case lately, as I turn wins into ties and ties into losses (note foreshadowing for the Tuesday match, as I write up the Monday match on Wednesday morning). I am also finding ways to make Ws evaporate with spectacularly bad decisions on questions where I have to guess, as I did today for the second time in seven matches.

Around 100 people stopped by here yesterday looking for a writeup; apologies to my loyal readers for the delay. I spent Tuesday playing tennis — an 8-6 victory that, including a few chitchat breaks during changeovers, took 2 ½ hours — and, for the first time in six months, poker, in a lengthy session that I should have ended earlier for reasons both temporal and financial. Tennis and poker are my personal biathlon, but during outdoor tennis season I rarely play cards.

OK, you didn’t come here to hear my life story, so let’s get this painful match summary over with:

1. In the field of geography, the term cordillera (e.g. American Cordillera, Arctic Cordillera, Cordillera Central) refers specifically to a connected chain of what?

If there is one thing about the gameplay in this league that makes me want to throw up, it's when I'm pretty sure I have a good guess, then convince myself not to follow my instincts and go with a lesser guess, only to find I was right in the first place, and it costs me a win or a tie.

That was the case here. It felt like mountains were the right answer. That made complete sense and was the only thing I thought of at first. But then, in a fit of unjustified arrogance, I decided that if a connected mountain chain were called a cordillera, I would have heard the word before. Never mind that whatever the answer was, I had still never heard the word. Never mind that it was screamingly obvious that connected chains of islands, which I went with, would be far too small to justify names like American Cordillera and Cordillera Central.

The two points I gave away on this one would have given me a win rather than the tie I ended up with.

2. The actor James Dean is credited with appearing in exactly three feature films, all in leading roles. Of the three, which was the only one widely released during his lifetime?

This one I played just right with a combination of knowledge and analysis. I knew for a fact that Giant was released after he died. So it was a coin flip between Rebel Without A Cause and East of Eden. I went with the latter for two reasons: (a) I felt like it was less likely that he’d get such a huge, iconic lead role in his first movie, and (2) East of Eden is somewhat more obscure and thus a more likely LearnedLeague answer. I didn’t see the league rewarding players who could name only the most famous of James Dean’s movies when a more interesting curveball was available. Sure enough, only 23% of players got this one.

3. A series of oil paintings by American artist C. M. Coolidge, which was commissioned in 1903 by the publishing company Brown & Bigelow to promote cigars, is best known today for featuring what?

The only decent guess I could come up with for a famous oil painting from a century ago was Uncle Sam. There were problems with this guess — it seemed likely either to go back further, like to the Civil War, or not that far, like to WWI or WWII, as the country probably didn’t need an oil painting to recruit soldiers for the Mexican War; and why would Uncle Sam “NEED YOU” to smoke cigars? — but I couldn’t come up with a better guess.

The only other thing I thought of was “Pittsburg” baseball star Honus Wagner’s insistence that his likeness be removed from tobacco-sponsored trading cards, creating a rarity that helps explain why they now sell for over a million dollars; but that involved a photo, not an oil painting, and it was later than 1903.

So I went with Uncle Sam, and the answer was dogs playing poker. Compounding the problem was that I gave this one the 3 and to his credit my opponent nailed it. Like me a lot of people thought their opponents would miss it (average defense 2.0, highest of the day) but 46% of players managed to get it. Just not my week for anything involving poker.

4. What is the name of this athlete? 

McKayla Maroney (aka "that cute one"), which I not only knew but could spell, having taken note of her parents’ non-use of the more common Michaela. As the world saw during the recent Summer Games, her vault skills are both amazing and clutch, which I can say with the expertise of someone who spends about six minutes every four years thinking about the vault.

My opponent and I each gave this one the 0 and knew it, and leaguewide it was defensed the easiest at 0.9, yet only 52% of players got it right.

5. Most commonly, the chemical hydrolyzation process called saponification is used in the production of what?

I pulled this one out of thin air. Once again my AP Chem failed me, as I don’t know what hydrolyzation is, or whether it is the same thing as hydrolysis, or for that matter what hydrolysis is (and I am only fairly certain it exists). All I knew on this one was that savon is the French word for soap. Since I figured there was some chemical process involved in making soap, and because I had no other guess, I went with soap and was shocked that it was correct. But I defensed it wrong, giving it a 1 because my opponent was good in science, only to have him miss it.

6. On December 8, 2004, during a performance by the heavy metal band Damageplan in Columbus, Ohio, guitarist Dimebag Darrell was shot and killed by an audience member while on stage. Darrell was a founding member of what other band, with whom he first achieved fame?

Much like during a previous season, when I was able to identify both the Michael Jackson song Scream from an audio clip, and the preposterously named album on which it appeared, I was more embarrassed than proud to get this one. Dimebag Darrell played in Pantera, which I learned from the coverage of his hedonistic life and unfortunate death on the Howard Stern show. I’m not too proud of the time I spend on that either but its redeeming facets justify the more base segments, which I don’t even listen to.

I got 4 questions correct to my opponent’s 3, but as I have already boasted, my inferior defense let him catch up and earn a tie.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

BWA ha ha

A subtly entertaining facet of the LearnedLeague trivia contest is that the best wrong answers are honored as, well, Best Wrong Answers. These tend to be funny and intentionally so; in fact, players often shoot for this coveted honor when they can’t — or even if they can? — come up with the correct answer.

Since we’re in a break right now from live action, here are the Best Wrong Answers from the first six days of match play:

What was the name of the middle and long distance runner, one of the most famous individuals in the history of sport in Finland, who won nine Olympic gold medals during the 1920s, and was known during his time with countrymen Hannes Kolehmainen and Ville Ritola as the 'Flying Finns'?

Elvira, Bobby Sue, and (I'm Settin') Fancy Free are among the hits from what country music vocal group?

Of the 13 feature films released by Pixar Animation Studios since 1995, which is the only one -- not including 2012's Brave -- to receive no Academy Award nominations (befitting its critical reputation as the studio's worst release)?

Heartless by Dia Frampton, Fix You by Javier Colon, Roxanne by Juliet Simms, and I Believe I Can Fly by Jermaine Paul, all singles that reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart, were studio versions of performances that first appeared on what television program?
  • STAR WARS CHRISTMAS SHOW (I find this particularly hilarious because it's so random)

What is the most common informal name for the skyscraper at the center of this photograph?

Though his hometown was Rutherford, New Jersey, the epic Paterson was the crowning achievement of what American poet and physician?

Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, Craven Cottage, Anfield, and, formerly, Highbury, are all names of what?

We resume play tomorrow. Whoever's playing me, try to be funny!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Day 6: Correctapalooza

Today’s questions were easy. Too easy. So easy, in fact, that they compressed the field, resulting in a slew of high scores, ties, and wasted strong performances. Even the harder questions had few possible wrong answers, so players like me could score points even where we weren’t entirely sure.

Of the 26 players in my division,
  • 9 of us got all six questions correct 
  • 13 got five correct 
  • 3 got four correct 
  • 1 got three correct 
That is kind of ridiculous. We are a B division, not the elite championship tier.

Judge for yourself:

1. Aldo, Avia, Naot, and Sebago are all companies best known for the manufacturing and selling of what? 

Shoes (official answer: footwear). I’ve been in Aldo stores in Chicago and New York, I’ve known forever that Avia makes running shoes, and my mom had Sebago(e)s when I was a kid. Naot was the only brand I had naot heard of. On a day when almost every question could have merited the 0, I gave this one the 0.

2. The protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which establishes a structure of rolling commitments of greenhouse gas emissions reductions for its ratifying nations, is commonly named after what city, where it was adopted initially in December, 1997? 

The Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto. Gave this a 1, would have liked to give it the 0.

3. In geometry, a tetrahedron is a regular polyhedron with four faces (a.k.a. triangular pyramid), and a cube is one with six faces. How many faces does a regular dodecahedron have?

This one, admittedly, was not a gimme. If you didn’t know a dodecahedron was a 12-sided figure, as childhood D&D nerds like me did, then you might have guessed either 12 or 20 based on the word itself.

4. What is the name of the imperial dynasty that ruled China at the start of the first millennium (roughly from 200 BC to 200 AD), and gave its name to what today is China's majority ethnic group? 

Neither was this a gimme. Everyone knows the Ming dynasty from its vases, but I felt somewhat sure that the Han dynasty was a bigger deal, dynasty-wise. It felt more central to Chinese culture, not that I know much about it. Although I wasn't positive, it felt like Han was a stronger guess, even though Han shot first.

Sure enough, Han was the correct answer. I gave this question the 3, as did a lot of other people; its average defense of 2.1 was the highest of the day.

5. St. Moritz, Gstaad, and Verbier are major ski resorts in what country? 

Switzerland. Gstaad, you may recall, is one of the cities whose current times are simultaneously shown by the wristwatch of Louis Winthorpe III.

I gave this question a 2 only because I could only give so many 0s and 1s.

6. Of the 40+ animated television series that have aired on the Nickelodeon channel and produced by the network, which one has been, by far, the longest-running? Over 330 original episodes have aired since the May 1999 premiere, where the title character first landed a job at the fast food restaurant central to much of the series. 

I don’t have kids but I knew that SpongeBob SquarePants is the longtime signature character of the Nickelodeon network. I only hesitated at the fact that he was a fast food restaurant employee, which I didn’t know. Then again, I don’t really know anything about the guy other than the shape of his pants.

My division’s performance on today’s questions pretty much tells the story, but it was more of the same all around the league. The “hardest” question of the day was the Han dynasty at 61% correct. Going up from there, it was Aldo etc. (70%), Dodecahedron (75%), Kyoto (80%), SpongeBob (82%), and Switzerland at a whopping 86%.

The Commissioner is entitled to ask whatever questions he wants, whenever he wants. I guess the reason I’m complaining about having so many easy questions on the same day is that usually I’m spoiled. Although I’m nothing compared to the true rock stars in this league, I’m generally competitive because I tend to know an answer here or there that my opposition doesn’t. While the converse is also true at times, I benefit from the random differences more often than not, plus I usually play pretty good defense.

So on a day like this, when I run the table and so does my opponent, we each get a tie and are effectively penalized for being unlucky enough to play each other. Our good performances cancel each other out and go to waste, and the whole exercise turns into a crapshoot based on who’s playing whom (and, less objectionably, which players among the many who answered five correctly were lucky enough to have their opponents assign a 0 to the one question they missed).

It’s not the end of the world, but it does feel like a waste of a day.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Even as our league's Commissioner is taking a few days off, so too must I pause in my intrepid efforts to document the various and sundry ways I screw up this LearnedLeague season.

I will be spending the day driving around Lake County, Illinois looking at real estate, then attending a fundraiser for a local elected official, so I will not post my writeup of yesterday's leaguewide cakewalk until probably some time tomorrow.

If I can't handle a two-day LL week, God help me when we hit the 14 straight weekdays in September, but I'll deal with that when we get there.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Day 5: Running the table

The pendulum continues to swing from “no chance” to “no problem.”

1. With her husband Pierre, Marie Sklodowska-Curie is generally credited with discovering two elements of the periodic table, one named after her homeland, and the other named after its notable scientific attribute. Identify them both.

The element most closely associated with the Curies is radium, which I assume is named for its radioactivity. I vaguely remembered the other was polonium, and the telltale inclusion of Mrs. Curie’s maiden name left no doubt.

2. A New York socialite, daughter of a Titanic victim and niece of a famous museum founder, is herself best-known today as a preeminent collector of art (and perhaps also, of men). What is her full name (first and last)?

I’ve visited Peggy Guggenheim’s enormous house on the Grand Canal in Venice, which is now a well-known museum that houses her personal art collection. The American heiress was renowned for the many relationships she cultivated with leading artists of her day, whether as art patron, paramour or spouse (she married Max Ernst).

3. Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, Craven Cottage, Anfield, and, formerly, Highbury, are all names of what?

Wasn’t too familiar with the middle part of the list, though Anfield faintly rang a bell. But I knew that Old Trafford is the home of the world’s most famous soccer team, Manchester United. Highbury Stadium used to be the home of Arsenal, which I know from personal experience after catching a Champions League game there in 2003 against Dynamo Kiev.

The stadium was built right into a city block, so we entered by walking between rowhouses to the source of the lights behind them. Although Arsenal’s detractors  derided Highbury as “Library” for not being raucous enough, it was sold out and pretty lively the night we were there, particularly when the Gunners broke a scoreless tie in the final minute or so by scoring the game’s only goal right in front of us.

The official answer was “(English soccer) stadiums” and I got credit for “Soccer (football) stadiums.” Gave this question the 3.

4. What country was formally recognized by the United States government on November 13, 1903 (although not by the government of Colombia until 1921)?

Or put another way, “which country probably located near Colombia made major news in the first few years of the 20th Century?” It had to be Panama and its eponymous Canal. I wasn’t entirely sure it was adjacent to Colombia, but I felt fairly confident this was correct and in any case didn’t have another guess. (Republic of) Panama was indeed correct.

5. Hitsville U.S.A. was a nickname given to the first headquarters of what American company?

Knew this one cold: Motown Records (the official answer was Motown Record Corporation). I’ve read Berry Gordy Jr.’s autobiography, To Be Loved, plus my buddy Bill Wyman (not that Bill Wyman (click that link; it's a must-read)) wrote a music column called Hitsville for the Chicago Reader. The Hitsville house is now a museum in Detroit.

Mr. Gordy’s book explained how a then-unknown Motown artist named Rockwell scored a major hit with “Somebody’s Watching Me” thanks to its background vocals by Michael Jackson, then the world’s leading pop star. Rockwell was in fact the label founder’s son, Kennedy Gordy, and a childhood friend of M.J.

Memo to the Commish: write a question at some point about the Hitsville house songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. Everyone knows their songs but many people don’t know their names.

6. This American would probably prefer to be remembered for her time as one-half of a Grammy-winning comedy duo of the 1950s and 60s, and not as the writer and director of the colossal cinematic flops Mikey and Nicky and Ishtar.

Pretty easy if you're a comedy nerd who grew up in Chicago and spent a lot of time at Second City. Mike Nichols and Elaine May got their start in the Compass Players at the University of Chicago. I also knew that Ishtar was her (stillborn) baby. Gave this one the 0 because my opponent was strong in film.

Unfortunately, despite a lifetime correct answer percentage of over 60%, today's opponent has answered only two questions correctly in five days this season, with one forfeit. She got blanked on today’s questions so I walked off the field with a disappointingly easy win.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Day 4: Batting practice

Having pounded everyone into submission yesterday, the Commissioner threw us some softballs today.

1. Name the university, founded in 1693, which is the oldest institution of higher education in the state of Virginia, and second-oldest in the United States after Harvard University.

Knew this cold. I have a number of friends who went to the College of William and Mary. Although I couldn’t have told you the year of its founding as I could have with Harvard (1636), nor mention a past president or two (Derek Bok, Neil Rudenstine), I would have known it was America’s second-oldest college even if I hadn’t been given the state of Virginia.

2. The installments from this series of action films were the #6 top grossing film of 1987, #6 of 1989, #5 of 1992, and #10 of 1998.

It might have been Die Hard, but the fourth Die Hard movie took way longer than 11 years to see the light of day. It might have been Terminator, but the first one was in 1984 and the sequel took a lot longer than two years to come out. It might have been The Princess Diaries had Anne Hathaway not held out for more money after the second one. That left the Lethal Weapon series. I gave this one the 0.

3. In what European city is this room located? 

Went there when I was 16. It’s the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, known in France as the Galerie des Glaces. Quoi d’autre voulez-vous savoir?

4. Brassie, Spoon, Jigger, Mashie Niblick, and Cleek are all obsolete items formerly used in what sport?

You either knew these or you didn’t, and I did. Sometimes you see a mashie or a niblick referred to as such, other times you see the term in the question. There is a golf course development not far from my office where the street names include these beautifully evocative terms (Mashie Ct., etc.). My opponent gave me 3 points for this one, which I happily took.

5. Though his hometown was Rutherford, New Jersey, the epic Paterson was the crowning achievement of what American poet and physician?

I would have drunk the beer today, but this one wasn’t a twist-off and I didn’t have a bottle opener. I’d heard of Paterson, just couldn’t remember who wrote it. As an English lit major, I probably should have known which major American poet was a medical doctor, but I didn’t (I believe Dr. Seuss was merely a PhD).

I guessed Robert Frost knowing it couldn’t be right. The answer was William Carlos Williams, or as they say in Spain, Guillermo Charles Guillermos.

6. What was the stage name of the DJ of the hip hop group Run-D.M.C. (and the only non-eponymous member), who was murdered in a Queens, New York recording studio in October of 2002?

Maybe if I had spent more time in college reading books in the library and less time playing Nintendo Tecmo Bowl football and listening to rap music, I would have gotten question 5 instead of question 6. But these are the choices we make in life. 

The correct answer, as I well knew, was Jam Master Jay, not to be confused with Beastie Boys supporting player Mix Master Mike. I didn't even have to go to the well, i.e. my fading memory of the short conversation I once enjoyed with Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels.

To his credit, my opponent nailed the hardest question of the day, Wm. Carlos Wms., which only 26% of players knew and which the league defensed at an average 2.3. Jam Master Jay was the second-hardest question at 36% correct. At least 49% of players knew each of the other four Qs, with William and Mary the gimme of the day at 78%.

My opponent played better defense, giving up 1 point above the minimum to my 2, but by getting one more correct answer I squeaked out a 7(5)-6(4) win.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Day 3: A brutal slog

How you do on any given day of LearnedLeague — and by extension, how you feel about the game and yourself — is all up to the Commissioner, a shadowy figure at the helm of the whole enterprise. Although we know that the questions are written by an intelligent polymath in Seattle, it feels like they’re handed down to us mortals by a mercurial supreme being.

Today was one of those cruel Old Testament God days:

1. The words pizda, yebat', khuy, and suka are profane words, or mat, in what language?

The problem here was that I couldn’t find a consistent trend. Two words ending in -at (one with an apostrophe, admittedly) said Tagalog. The z in pizda felt Russian. The word khuy felt southeast Asian to me, to the point where I wanted to guess Vietnamese. This despite the embarrassing fact that I was not entirely sure that Vietnamese was a language. But then, the kh- also had a central Asian feel to it, like the Kazakh roots of the most fully realized comedic film character of the past ten years.

I waffled among Russian, Tagalog and Vietnamese for a while, trying to ignore the sinking feeling and mild dread that whichever one I picked was going to be wrong. Sure enough, I went with Tagalog (in hindsight, the worst guess among the three) and the correct answer was Russian.

2. What is the most common informal name for the skyscraper at the center of this photograph?

Not only did I not know the nickname, I wasn’t even sure I’d ever seen the building. I didn’t think I could take a wild guess that had any shot at being correct, so I went with “Some Guess I Will Not Be Embarrassed About When I Blog About It Tomorrow.” Given that the question was asked on Thursday and I am writing this on Saturday morning, I was even wrong about my own prediction. That is how hard the questions were today.

The correct answer was the Gherkin, a London financial district office building that opened in 2004. I have actually been to London since then, but since those cheerleaders and I stayed in Mayfair across from Hyde Park during my trip to Wimbledon 2009, I didn’t take note of the additions to the skyline since my previous visits.

3. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, enacted by the U.S. Congress primarily to reduce the cost of voting by incorporating voter registration into other citizen/governmental agency transactions, is best known by what rhyming name?

Thanks to this gimme, I was spared my first-ever goose egg in 3+ seasons of LL competition. Once or twice before I have flirted with the dreaded 0 but managed to get a single correct answer. It is humbling that there are plenty of smart people in this league who fight that battle a lot more often than I do.

The answer was the Moter Voter Law (my terminology, Motor Voter Act, was forgiven). As I recall, this was the primary legislative means by which I, along with other members of my generation, Rocked the Vote.

4. The traditional five-kingdom hierarchy of biological classification, first proposed by ecologist Robert Whittaker in the 1960s, includes Monera, Fungi, Plantae, Animalia, and what else?

Let’s see… there’s Qarth, King’s Landing, Winterfell… oh, wait, this question dealt with kingdoms I don’t take particular pleasure in thinking about.

This was deeply frustrating. For starters, I’m nearly useless in biology (future opponents take note). When I think about biological categories, I think “living things.” The categories Plantae and Animalia seemed to pretty much cover it. Even if one of those was going to be my guess, I probably wouldn’t have come up with the word “Animalia” for animals, and no chance I would have picked “Plantae” out of thin air.

The only other living things that felt like neither plant nor animal were some kind of paramecium or other microscopic creature, yet those still felt sort of like animals, or the slimy lichenish plant-animal hybrid that we were asked about a season or two ago. Yet Fungi seemed to cover all that creepy stuff that quietly oozes in the forest. And Monera? No clue what that was. As far as I was concerned it was the next town over from Pavarotti’s hometown of Modena, or maybe a Billy Idol song.

Like a high school student who played Xbox and smoked weed in his garage rather than study for his biology test, I tried to come up with a respectable-sounding guess that might fool the teacher. On the very questionable theory that trees might somehow be categorized separately from other plants, I went with “Arborea.”

The correct answer was Protista, and if my guess is right that this refers to some kind of protozoa, then at least I was on the right track with our tiny microscopic friends. I’m not going to compromise the purity of my abject ignorance by looking this up now, but even if I was on the right track, it didn’t matter; there was no way I was going to come up with Protista. Don’t know much biology, and doth protist too little.

5. This term, derived from the Greek for a reciter of epic poetry, is used to describe a free-flowing, irregular, and often improvisatory musical composition, characterized typically by emotion and spontaneity.

This was like the recent question about a school of British poets whose name meant something like breezy and nonchalant. I couldn’t come up with it and knew I would feel foolish when I saw the answer, which indeed I did: the Cavaliers.

In this case, the word “reciter” put me on “orator,” so I went with “Oratorio” even though I had no reason to think an oratorio was in any way spontaneous; if anything, I would think it was the opposite. But I didn’t have a better guess or a willingness to spend the time thinking of one. The correct answer was Rhapsody. Much like the Cavaliers, it looked both correct and, with the benefit of hindsight, guessable.

I gave this one the 0 because I figured that my classy opponent would nail it, marking the second time in three days that I gave the 0 to a question I missed.

6. Identify the French artist and chess journalist who worked on the piece of art pictured here from 1915 to 1923.

I didn’t recognize the painting, nor did it remind me of any other work, so to me this question was “which French artist and chess journalist (!) was active in the early 20th Century?” For reasons both temporal and artistic, it clearly wasn’t Chagall or Matisse. I went with Georges Pompidou, eponym of the French national modern art museum in Paris.

The correct answer was Marcel Duchamp, in a departure from his more urinal-based oeuvre. And Marcel, nice painting and all, but this took you eight years?

My opponent was the author and New York Times editor Daniel Okrent. He is a solid LearnedLeague player but that didn’t mean much today; the whole league struggled on these questions. At 55% correct, hardly a high number, Moter Voter was the “easy” one of the day, and every other question punished the field in the 18 to 28% correct range.

Mr. Okrent also managed only a single correct answer, the same one I got. Yet he gave me a 0 for Motor Voter while I gave him a 1, figuring he’d get Rhapsody for sure, so I got outpointed and lost due to inferior defense.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Day 2: Escaping with a W

Sometimes LearnedLeague players get out the gift wrap and hand each other victories. Day 1 was my opponent’s personal Christmas; Day 2 was mine.

1. The primary facility in Russia dedicated to the preparation and training of cosmonauts, located in the community of Star City (Zvyozdny gorodok), is named after whom?

No clue. All I had was what anyone with a passing interest in trivia would have when faced with “Russia … cosmonauts … whom?” That, of course, was Yuri Gagarin. The word gorodok hardly looked to me to mean “Gagarinesque.” It is only now, upon more careful reading, that I realize gorodok probably means star, or else city; surely if I’ve got that wrong, someone will correct me in the comment section.

Not wanting to be the Jeopardy! player who was dinged for saying “Art Buckminster Fuller,” I omitted the Yuri from my answer lest for some crazy reason it was not the correct first name; the way I gagged on the Paris question yesterday, anything was now possible. But it was indeed Comrade Gagarin, and he was indeed Yuri.

2. Of the 13 feature films released by Pixar Animation Studios since 1995, which is the only one -- not including 2012's Brave -- to receive no Academy Award nominations (befitting its critical reputation as the studio's worst release)?

This was pretty easy, to me at least. Cars 2 represented a low point for the venerable Pixar. Critics saw it as a subpar, cynical, merch-driven money grab; I remember the NYT review for one said so. It was hard to imagine that any of their more modest hits (A Bug’s Life, say) fared worse than that. Sure enough, it was Cars 2.

3. Name the Polish dish (and centerpiece of an annual Krakow summer festival) which is roughly the equivalent of the Japanese gyoza, Tibetan momo, Turkish manti, and Korean mandu.

I live in Chicago, home to the world’s largest Polish population outside of Warsaw. I was fortunate to grow up nearby in a household with a string of live-in Polish housekeepers, many of whom cooked. Every time Letterman or Conan brings his show to Chicago, there are obligatory jokes about this foodstuff. It is the only Polish food I can name. Need I even say the word pierogi?

I gave this one the 0, and indeed at 69% correct a lot of people knew it, yet by a narrow margin, Gagarin was the gimme of the day at 71% correct. Interestingly, players felt that questions 2 and 6 were the easiest questions of the day (at least for their individual opponents), assigning them 1.1 and 1.2 average defense, respectively.

4. The badge pictured here was used for a time in the 1960s and 70s on automobiles manufactured by what maker?

WTF? Was this spelling Sino? Sina? Dina? Maybe it was Dino, after the car that Fred Flintstone powered with his feet?

I took a stab with Audi, hoping that maybe it was a rare model anagrammed to Diua. The correct answer, however, was “Ferrari/Fiat.” Of course! Although to me those aren’t even the same thing!

I gave this one the 3, and indeed my opponent missed it. At average defense of 2.3, it was considered by far the toughest question of the day. None of that surprises me. What surprises me a great deal is that 39 percent of players in the league answered it correctly. I would have guessed more like 10 or 12.

5. 'Heartless' by Dia Frampton, 'Fix You' by Javier Colon, 'Roxanne' by Juliet Simms, and 'I Believe I Can Fly' by Jermaine Paul, all singles that reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart, were studio versions of performances that first appeared on what television program?

My first thought was Glee. They sell a lot of music first heard on that show and it routinely features covers of existing hits. But wait… none of those people is an actor on (or at least a star of) Glee. Then I thought, of course, it’s got to be American Idol, a hit factory that also manufactures pop stars I don't pay attention to. So I went with that, whereupon I learned to my regret that the correct answer was a show I have actually watched a few times because I watch Smash, the series it's paired with: The Voice.

6. There are four U.S. states whose largest city contains the name of the state in the city's name. One is Indiana (Indianapolis); name the other three states.

The dreaded “name them all” multi-answer question, tougher by far than the more forgiving “name any one of the three” type (e.g. Galahad).

Just as obvious as Indianapolis was New York City. It didn’t take much longer to come up with Oklahoma City (Norman is a major college town, but OKC is the state capital and big enough to support an NBA franchise).

The problem was coming up with the third one. Much like two seasons ago, when I had to surf the periphery of the world’s continents in my mind to come up with the island of Madagascar, I literally pictured the map of the United States in my mind and worked my way around the nation. It was somewhat easier than a question about state capitals, as that facet was off the table, yet there were still judgment calls to make. For example, Kansas City was big in Missouri, but the Kansas version was surely smaller than Topeka and maybe Manhattan.

The tricky one was Iowa. The biggest city had to be either Iowa City (home to the enormous University of Iowa) or Des Moines (insurance hub, state capital, Drake U.). Wasn’t too worried about Ames (Iowa State U.). I suspected Des Moines was larger but Iowa City was a contender. Ultimately, because I couldn’t come up with anything better, I called Iowa up to the big leagues and batted it third in my lineup.

Unfortunately, and somewhat incredibly, the third correct answer was Virginia. Hiding in plain sight was Virginia Beach, which is apparently nearly twice as large as Roanoke, to say nothing of state capital Richmond, Arlington or Newport News. With a population of over 400,000 people, Virginia Beach has to rank as the largest American city that no one ever talks about, ever, including many of the people who live there.

As generous as I was yesterday, my opponent was today. Although he got 4 correct answers to my 3, his defense was somewhat catastrophic and showered me with 6 points. He was way too respectful of my mediocre geography knowledge, giving me a 0 and a free pass on “name all three states,” the toughest question of the day at 19% correct leaguewide. (In fact, he missed it himself, though I can hardly criticize this as I did the same thing the day before when I gave Paris the 0 and shanked it.) Also, he gave me the 3 on Cars 2, which I thought was pretty straightforward.

I played my usual fairly solid defense, allowing one point above the minimum, so thanks to my opponent’s shaky defense I escaped with a one-point win, 6(3)-5(4). After losing a match I should have won on Opening Day, I’ll take it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Day 1: An inauspicious debut

Ugh. Although I enjoy both the exercise of writing about the LearnedLeague knowledge contest and the concomitant feedback it generates from fellow players and sideline observers, I am less than wildly enthusiastic about — nor therefore was I, up until the last minute literally seconds ago, even committed to — typing about trivia questions for an hour-plus every weeknight for the next month at the height of outdoor tennis season. Nor do I particularly care to make a permanent public spectacle of the epic choke I pulled off today.

So with that, here we go!

1. Among the various phase transitions in thermodynamics, melting is the transition of a substance from a solid to a liquid. The process known as deposition is the transition of a substance from what to what? (Two answers required, in correct order.)

I liked my guess on this one: “Gas to solid.” Although I took AP Chem in high school, attentive readers may recall that my inability to identify element #4 on the periodic table — beryllium, or Be, but of course you knew that — once nearly cost me a promotion to a higher division. But I digress. (See why these take me over an hour?)

I did remember from chem class all those years ago that the “sublimation point” was where a solid turns directly to a gas without first becoming a liquid or even passing Go. The question itself told us the phase transition that every S’more chef already knows: that melting is when a solid converts to liquid. That left “gas to solid” as the third leg of the triangle, which sounded OK for deposition. (We attorneys define deposition as “a frequently useless aspect of the discovery process.”) And sure enough, “gas to solid,” or as the official answer more accurately worded it, “Gas, Solid,” was correct.

2. What was the name of the middle and long distance runner, one of the most famous individuals in the history of sport in Finland, who won nine Olympic gold medals during the 1920s, and was known during his time with countrymen Ville Ritola and Hannes Kolehmainen as the 'Flying Finns'?

I didn’t know this and knew I was not going to guess it either. So I gave a shout-out to my two favorite Finns, awesomely named orchestra conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and touring tennis professional Jarkko Nieminen. I went with “Esa-Pekka-Jarko Salonen-Nieminen.” I was wrong for reasons far more fundamental than my careless misspelling of Jarkko (which would have been forgiven anyway (and which embarrasses me further in that I have always found that spelling incredibly cool)).

The correct answer was Paavo Nurmi. I’ve heard of him. Gave this one the 3, a good move as it also stumped my opponent.

3. Book VI of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur chronicles the quest of the Knights of the Round Table to achieve the Holy Grail. Ultimately, only three achieve the Grail; name any one of the three.

I read my share of folklore and mythology as a kid (Hubris! Pre-fall pride! Foreshadowing!), including Edith Hamilton’s Mythology and T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. I’m reasonably familiar with the Knights of the Round Table and have also visited the ruins of King Arthur’s legendary home, Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, England. I felt pretty confident that of Lancelot and Galahad, the Jordan and Pippen of the Knights of the Round Table, only Galahad reached the Grail. I wasn’t sure but liked Percival as a Horace Grant who got there with Jordan. No clue who was the Steve Kerr.

Sure enough, it was Galahad, Percival and Bors.

4. Since 2008, the Miss Teen USA beauty pageant has, oddly, not actually been held in the United States, but rather at a vast mega-resort and waterpark complex in what country?

My fellow Jeopardy! alums, and for that matter many of its viewers, will know what I mean when I say that sometimes the question answers itself. Scan down the blue screen next time you watch the J! show, as shrewd players do throughout the game, and you’ll see how often this is true:
  • “Blah blah this second president of the United States.”
  • “This longest river in the world blah blah.”
  • “Blah blah this noble gas that provided a nickname for Deion Sanders.”
  • &c.
In this case, although I had no clue where the pageant was held and “Donald Trump’s inappropriately libidinous imagination” was not a country, “a vast mega-resort and waterpark complex in what country” could only be referring to the ginormous Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, and therefore the correct answer was the Bahamas. And so it was.

5. Elvira, Bobby Sue, and (I'm Settin') Fancy Free are among the hits from what country music vocal group?

Didn’t even know the other two songs, but I know Elvira and that it’s by the Oak Ridge Boys. Incredibly, they were not from Oak Ridge Drive several blocks east of my childhood home in Glencoe, Illinois.

6. What is the name of the apple-offerer in these paintings? 

Annnnd this is where I choked the match away. Had I stopped to think about this for more than 0.6 seconds, I would have remembered that it was Paris who offered up the apple at the Judgment of Paris, offending Aphrodite, who in turn kidnapped his hot girlfriend, Helen of Troy, launching the Trojan War, inspiring the Iliad and more importantly a Brad Pitt movie, etc. But I didn’t read the question carefully, thought I had the answer, and quickly answered this sixth and final question so I could play defense and move on to whatever in my life was next. I was stunned but not surprised when I saw the answer was not Aphrodite, which I guessed, but in fact Paris.

I thought this question was so easy — as indeed it was, to me on a good day at least, but to my mild surprise, not to the LL in general (21% correct leaguewide) — that I defensed it with the 0. My opponent gave me, that is to say would have given me, 2 points for it, so I ended up losing by 1.

A giftwrapped victory for him, and a bitter memory for me that, given my accursed trivia memory, should take approximately 16 years to forget.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Let's do this

For those who have expressed interest:
  • I have heard your cries of woe.
  • I have succumbed to the underwhelming pressure.
  • I am advised that Eric Berlin is not doing it, and someone has to.
  • I am grudgingly willing to sacrifice a measure of my admittedly copious free time.
  • At the Commissioner's recommendation, I have already strapped on the leather and am holding on tight for the madcap excitement that the LL will deliver with hellbound fury upon my mortal soul anyway, so why not. 
  • In short, I am blogging LearnedLeague Season 54.
Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Eustace Silly

Do you like the New Yorker? Twitter? Cracking jokes? Making snide remarks?

Of course you do (or should). And so you might be interested to learn that the New Yorker has recently begun hosting a Twitter-based game show, which they're calling Questioningly. It's the latest technology on the bridge of a sailing ship that has navigated the narrows between the nostalgic and the au courant since its christening in 1925.

Every Friday, the magazine's Culture Desk blog both posts and tweets a new challenge that players have all weekend to tackle. Since contestants enter the fray via Twitter, 140 characters are all they get — fewer, really, since entries must include the hashtag #tnyquestion — which puts pithiness and wit at the premium they generally deserve.

In turn, the questions have tended to be short, open-ended setups for clever jokes and apt observations:
  • What might the planet Earth tweet?
  • Invent a new American holiday.
  • Which word should be stricken from the English language?
  • Coin and define a new word.
  • Invent a tasteless literary-themed commercial product.
  • &c.
The contest runs through each weekend until Monday morning, when a winner is crowned along with a retinue of honorable mentions.

The Alex Trebek of this enterprise is Ben Greenman, a noted author and humorist who works a day job as a New Yorker editor. He writes the Questioningly blogposts and, one suspects, has a major if not the only say in picking the winners.

Regular readers of this space may have noted my personal fondness for the New Yorker, pop culture, and witty humor (mostly others', sadly); my recent acquisition of an iPhone 4S; and my recent habit of tweeting at @BenBassBeyond. Add it all up and I have entered the contest more often than not.

My tireless efforts were rewarded this past week when I got my first honorable mention. Players were asked to name a new phobia; I got hosannas for "Arachnophobiaphobia: Fear of having nothing better to watch than a commercial-interrupted 1990s movie on basic cable."

Even better, I also tweeted a joke about an obscure Talking Heads album that was immediately improved upon by my old friend Jackpot England. Not one but both of his pop music-themed entries got honorable mentions in the same breath as mine. Check out Ben Greenman's entire writeup here.

And more broadly, visit the New Yorker's Culture Desk blog here to check out the latest Questioningly, enter and win!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Jane says...

Didn't get Lolla tickets?

Jane's Addiction and Franz Ferdinand are playing a special Lollapalooza after-show concert at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago on Saturday, August 4.  Tickets (just $15) will go on sale this Friday at 10am Central time.

Complete info in the Jane's Addiction press release after the jump:

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Just for the record

I recently covered the 4th annual Just For Laughs Chicago comedy festival for the going-out guide Flavorpill.  JFL CHI continues to grow in both size and quality, and this year's go-round was creatively and commercially the most successful to date.

Although the festival has wrapped, these headliners continue to tour and may be coming soon to your city, so here's my take on four of the best players in the game.

Roastmaster General Jeffrey Ross:

Friend of Kanye Aziz Ansari:

Medium cool Hannibal Buress:

And brawny cipher Nick Offerman:

Friday, June 15, 2012

Uncle Drew

After spending four hours in makeup, 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving heads to the courts of New Jersey to devour some young bloods in a pickup game.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Just For Laughs, just for a week

Just For Laughs Chicago, this city's arguably largest and inarguably best-funded comedy festival, returns this week for its fourth annual go-round.

Official festival performances begin in earnest tomorrow, but if like me you want to get an early laugh or two under your belt, head over to IO Theater at 8:30pm for this week's Armando show. I hear Second City/IO veteran Brian Stack, in town this week working on "Conan" at the Chicago Theater, will be sitting in on the all-star improv throwdown. Other special guests will probably pop up too.

The complete festival lineup is available at Check it out!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

siLLence is goLLden

As you have likely noticed by now if you're someone who frequents this blog to read my LearnedLeague trivia writeups — and have certainly not if you are not — I haven't posted a summary of yesterday's Season 53, Day 1 action. Why? After a lot of consideration, I have decided to take a pass on blogging my way through the new season.

The unfortunate fact is that April through July is always a hectic season for me at work. I've been going in early, staying late as needed, and bringing work home on the weekend. (I didn't even play the questions until 10 p.m. yesterday and the same thing might happen tonight.) This figures to continue until some time in July as it does every year, which is also why the French Open is the only major tennis tournament I have yet to attend. Thus, I don't have an hour or two per weeknight over the next month to spend writing about LL.

There are other reasons. As it is, I'm already falling behind on routine stuff like solving crosswords; I'm already one to three episodes behind on the TV shows I follow (Game of Thrones, Girls, 60 Minutes, Mad Men, Smash). I might join my dad for a midweek road trip to Milwaukee to catch a San Francisco Giants game; I'd rather not be blogging when Ryan Braun goes deep. And looking ahead to mid-June, I will once again be covering the Just For Laughs comedy festival for Flavorpill Chicago, which means I will be out pretty much every night that week.

Plus, the next five weeks figure to be some of the best weather of the year in Chicago. After months of reconstruction, my local tennis club is finally preparing to reopen four of our six outdoor clay courts. To the extent I have free time on weeknights I don't want to be indoors typing, I'd rather be on the court hitting kick serves, returning lefty forehands up the line on the ad side, maxing out the Daylight Savings Time and enjoying the long springtime evenings.

Thanks to those who have expressed interest in my LL coverage. I'll decide closer to LL54 (this August and September) whether I blog that go-round; I imagine I'll probably be ready to jump back in by then.

Good luck to everyone in LL53, old players and new! And remember, Limahl was the singer of Kajagoogoo, whose monster hit "Too Shy" appeared on their debut LP, White Feathers.