Thursday, March 29, 2012

Day 25: Bringing it all back home

With nothing at stake today but my pride, I wrapped up the season with a respectable showing:

1. The men's basketball team for this university, now a member of the Big East Conference, was a #1 seed in the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament in the years 1980, 1981, and 1982, but lost its first game of the tournament each of those years.

Ugh. I've never been into college basketball and I was too young during the time period in question to take note of this interesting bit of trivia. Frankly, I'm hard-pressed to name teams in the Big East, and the "now a member" thereof hint was lost on me.

I was thinking Notre Dame on the theory that their hoops team recently joined that conference (I think?), but depending how you read it, the question seemed to suggest that the whole university joined, and ND football is of course still independent of any conference. I thought of Georgetown since they were definitely a power back then, but I was pretty sure Michael Jordan's Tar Heels beat them in the title game in 1982. Ultimately I went with Seton Hall, remembering that they played in the 1989 title game (though that may have been a surprise), even though there was no reason to think they were that great in the early 1980s or joined the Big East since then, if they're even in it now.

Honestly, if there had been a promotion spot at stake in today's results, I would have spent a lot more time mulling this over, but I'm currently slammed by a busy workweek, particularly after taking last week off, and didn't even play these questions until 7pm after briefly reading them at 6am before heading into the office. Even if I had thought about it more, I wouldn't have gotten it. The Big East thing threw me off. I was thinking northeastern states.

The answer, as it turned out, was right in my backyard: the DePaul Blue Demons, then under legendary coach Ray Meyer before his son Joey took over. They were an insanely great team in that era, with future NBA stars Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings, plus the memorably named Dallas Comegys. I remember they failed to go too far in the tournament, but I didn't remember their bombing out in the first round three straight years as #1 seeds. I will now.

2. Dancing in the Street, a hit for David Bowie and Mick Jagger in 1985 (and slightly less so for Van Halen in 1982), was originally recorded and made famous by what Motown singing group?

If you'd talked about music with your music-head older brother as much as I have over the years, you'd have known this too: Martha (Reeves) and the Vandellas. They also recorded Heat Wave.

3. The Earl Hamner, Jr. novel Spencer's Mountain, and subsequent 1963 Henry Fonda/Maureen O'Hara film of the same name, provided the basis for what 1970s/early 80s television drama set in 1930s/40s America?

Didn't know Hamner, Spencer's Mountain, the novel, or the film. But a 1970s television show about mountain folk set in the Depression era sounded suspiciously like The Waltons. Not only didn't I have a better guess, I didn't have any other guess. So I went with The Waltons and, as I suspected, it was correct.

4. In 1957, a Patrick Dennis novel was adapted into a stage play and later a film, with Rosalind Russell in the title role in both. In 1966, a musical version opened on Broadway, with Angela Lansbury originating and winning a Tony for her titular performance. Give the name of either the novel or the enduring Broadway musical.

Didn't know the actresses who played Auntie Mame in the film and Broadway musical of the same Mame name, but the name Patrick Dennis was a dead giveaway. I knew he was the nephew and wide-eyed observer to Mame's bigger-than-life persona, and that Dennis was Mame's last name too. I'm down with the Mame meme. My opponent was iffy on theater so I gave this the 3.

5. Named after the English physicist who predicted its existence in 1964, this hypothetical elementary particle, known also as the God particle and expected to have no spin and a neutral charge, validates the Standard Model by explaining the origin of mass of elementary particles.

Frustration. I had three thoughts here: neutrino, quark, hadron. Didn't like neutrino because that was clearly based on the word neutral, not someone's name. Quark, already discovered, not hypothetical, plus not likely anyone's name and almost certainly not an Englishman's. Hadron, I know there are hadron colliders and/or accelerators, but again, if people are colliding and/or accelerating them, they're probably not hypothetical. Although I was less than thrilled about the weak charge in this guess, I went with hadron. The answer was Higgs boson, which did sound familiar as I've heard of it, though I never would have thought of it. You got me again, Commish.

6. Under the standard rules of chess, there is one piece (i.e. one type of piece) which must remain on squares of the same color for the entire game. Which piece is it?

Even if you've only played chess once, you probably know that the only correct answer to this question is the piece that moves diagonally: the bishop. Gave this one the 0. In a league as brainy and nerdy as ours, we might crack the 90% correct threshold on this one. We also have a lot of squares of the same color.

Although my performance was fairly average today, my overall sophomore season feels like a huge success. I managed to earn a promotion to a higher division for next season, holding my own against a lot of tough players in a brutal C division that outperformed the other five Cs. The questions were right over the plate for me a lot more often than during my rookie campaign, and since that could end any time, I'm enjoying this one while I can.

It's been fun writing these daily reports, and in light of my spiking traffic totals, maybe a few other people enjoyed them too. Thanks to everyone who read, commented, emailed, or Gchatted me along the way. And there's no reason to quit now: during the offseason before LL53, I'll probably write about LL minileagues, one-days, and/or Best Wrong Answers, plus the usual BB&B silliness that has earned me my literally tens of readers.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Day 24: Playing out the string

After suspect defense cost me a few wins or ties this season, I was clutch yesterday when it mattered the most. By allowing my opponent the minimum 1 point for his two correct answers (0 for Grease, 1 for pampas), I escaped with a narrow victory by scoring 2 points on the same questions (Grease 0, pampas 2).

When the strong player just below me, who outranked me throughout our rookie season, suffered a rare loss, my lead increased and I clinched a promotion to a higher group next season. With the eleventh-hour drama eliminated, at least for promotion as opposed to relegation, most of us in my highly competitive division are now just playing out the final two days of the campaign.

But that’s no reason not to keep doing as well as we can, and after yesterday’s black diamond run, I welcomed today’s return to a green dot trail:

1. One of the most widely recognized 'constructed words', created to demonstrate irregularities in spelling in the English language (and, in some cases, the need for spelling reform) is the fake word ghoti, which is a re-spelling of (and thus pronounced like) what common word?

A gimme. Fish. GH as in rough, O as in women, TI as in nation. You either knew it or you didn’t. I did and I bet you did too.

2. In Rudyard Kipling's short story Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, what type of animal is the title character?

A gimme, for me at least: a mongoose. A lovable, crafty mongoose who battles a menacing, scary cobra. I’ve never read the book but I loved the animated version on TV when I was a kid.

3. This term was used in Ancient Rome to refer to a resident of the Roman province of Arabia, and by the time of the Crusades had evolved into a term for any follower of Islam.

Didn’t know it, guessed Muslim knowing it had to be wrong. I was vaguely familiar with the answer, Saracen, but would never have come close to thinking of it if I’d had another week. My first thought when I saw the answer: “Joon Pahk is going to get this.” Because I was not playing against Joon, I gave this the 3.

4. What is the title of the song in this audio clip (28 seconds)?

In the Mood. Glenn Miller. I love this song and always have. It gives me fond memories of the old-time radio my brother listened to when we were kids. E.g., Chuck Schaden’s show and Carl Amari’s When Radio Was. They don’t make radio shows like they used to.

5. A 6 foot 3-1/2 inch tall white rabbit is the title character of what Pulitzer Prize-winning play from 1944?

I knew it from the Jimmy Stewart movie, not the play: Harvey. My opponent was generally strong in pop culture so I gave this one the 0.

As it happened, I had once entered "Harvey Milk, Twinkie defense" into the same blank on the website form, and that full answer popped up as I typed the word Harvey. Not exactly the predictive text Jordan Rubin was talking about, just an interesting coincidence.

6. The type of roof on this building is known simply as a French roof, but is also known as what, after the 17th c. French architect who first popularized it?

Knew it immediately: mansard roof. I hope they ask a question next season about berms because along with mansard roofs, berms are something I hear my mom talk about that no one else ever does. Now that I’ve made that point, of course, they’ll never ask about berms. What can I say? Very Important LearnedLeague People read this blog.

There are a lot of promotion and relegation spots at stake throughout the league in the final few days of the season. If you're one of the many players fighting for position, good luck to you.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Day 23: Who wrote these?

Just what I needed heading into the final three days of the season while clinging to a narrow lead in the race for promotion to a higher division: a ridiculous set of questions to pound on me like Moe did to Calvin.

1. Name either of the two main gangs at Rydell High School (one male, one female) identified by name in the 1978 film Grease.

I thought I was in good shape today as I teed off on the front nine with this ultra-gimme. Yes, I’ve seen the movie many times, I’ve seen the play a few times, but it goes beyond that. A law professor of mine introduced the writers of the show, which started at the Kingston Mines Theater in Chicago, to their original New York producers, thereby helping the fledgling production make it to Broadway in the 1970s. My prof also helped produce the movie and several simultaneous national touring casts. More recently one of said co-writers, the native Chicagoan Jim Jacobs, staged the original uncut R-rated production here, with the script restored to its gritty Northwest Side roots. I was lucky enough to attend the opening night and wrote about it here.

Anyway, the answer was the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies, though I never thought of the Pink Ladies as a gang, more of a social club. I mean, they wore pink, and were ladies. Then again, they were pretty tough. Several of them could probably beat me up. Definitely Stockard Channing.

I guessed the Pink Ladies because, like selon and d’apres, I was more comfortable guessing the one with no ambiguity so I wouldn’t get stuck in some weird trick bag where the T-Birds were construed to be Thunderbirds. I didn’t want another pertussis problem. Gave this one the 0, and if my opponent looked at my stats, he may have done likewise.

2. What is the name for a particular type of musical comedy theatrical production, well known in the British Commonwealth but much less so in the U.S., which is normally based on traditional children's tales, known (and popular) for its numerous performance conventions, and usually performed during the holiday season?

I’m pretty good in theater but I didn’t know this one. Looking for something cheerful and plummy, I guessed “roustabout.” That’s traditional British Yuletide musical comedy, right? Wrong. The correct answer was pantomime, a word that has a couple of meanings to me but none that matches the question. I’m hoping my opponent will give this one the 0 because I’ve only missed one theater question before today.

3. An organization known as the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, which presently is composed of members of the Swiss and Swedish Armed Forces, was created as part of the armistice agreement that ended what?

No clue. I waffled between WWI and WWII, ultimately going with the former because the word armistice sounded somewhat dated and Great War-y. The correct answer was the Korean War. If you say so!

Speaking of random collisions of nations, I spent Tuesday night having dinner in North Beach, San Francisco with trivia divisionmate, crossword puzzle virtuoso and friend of this blog Tyler Hinman at an Indian restaurant built into an Irish pub with the memorable name Kennedy’s Curry. Part of the reason we chose this place was its Tuesday night pub trivia contest. Despite having just two players as we faced two rooms full of mostly 4- to 6-player teams, Tyler and I represented the LearnedLeague with aplomb, leading the proceedings for most of the night. We particularly rocked out on the music category, identifying 9 of 10 recording artists from Feist to Montell Jordan to Len to Gipsy Kings to R.E.M.; our only miscue was going with American Hi-Fi instead of All-American Rejects. Unfortunately we choked in the final round just as the point values doubled, failing at one point to write down a correct answer that came up as we debated our guesses, and managed to finish in second by a single point. We did, however, meet Tyler's goal of coming up with the most offensive team name: Congratulations Amy Winehouse, 9 Months Sober!

4. What is the common name for the section of the musical instrument highlighted in this image?

Ugh. I knew a nut was the string bar on the top of a guitar neck below the pegs, so I guessed nut. A violin did indeed have a nut as well, but it too was below the pegs. The correct answer was the scroll. I gave this one the 3 on the theory that even someone with decent classical music stats might easily not know this.

5. What is the term, from Quechua for plain, used to describe the temperate lowlands which cover most of Uruguay and central Argentina?

It was definitely either the pampas or the Patagonia. I was somewhat vague on both of these, but my sense was that the pampas were lush and fertile, whereas the Patagonia was more dry and hard. Patagonia was presumably singular, so if I was correct that pampas was plural, then the question didn’t help on that front, with plain being singular and lowlands being plural. But “temperate lowlands” sounded more like what little I knew about pampas than what little I knew about Patagonia, plus the answer seemed like it had to be a common noun rather than a proper noun, so I went with pampas and to my relief it was correct.

6. This two-word phrase, which occurs repeatedly in both the Old and New Testaments, is common in Christian liturgy, and comes from the Greek for 'Lord have mercy'.

This question seemed to support my long-held theory that Sophocles wrote the Bible, but I was at a loss as to the Greek phrase for “Lord have mercy.” I felt like God or Lord was Dei-something in Latin and Theo-something in Greek. I only know a few words in Greek and mercy wasn't one of them (badasses like myself know no mercy). Couldn’t think of a two-word phrase with Theo anything, and I knew I wasn’t going to come up with a miracle guess, so I went with Theo Huxtable. The answer was Kyrie Eleison. Never heard of him. Did he play with Kyrie Irving?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ripped from the headlines

From the March 24 New York Times "Today's Headlines" email:

On March 24, 1989, the nation's worst oil spill occurred as the supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on a reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound and began leaking 11 million gallons of crude.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Day 22: Unintentional generosity

For the second time in a few days, my defense was so poor that I handed my opponent a tie.

1. What is the last name of the family who, with their house staff, are the main subjects of the television series Downton Abbey?

I’ve never seen the show but have certainly heard the hype, including the runup to Season 2 a few weeks ago. I was briefly tempted to jump in at that point but decided a better move would be to start from the beginning. It reminds me of a Thanksgiving weekend my family once spent in Breckenridge, Colorado visiting my then-postcollegiate-ski-bum brother. There was a copy of the recently released third Harry Potter book laying around our coffee table the entire weekend. Although I was constantly tempted to read it, having heard how great the books were, I knew I’d be better off starting the series from the beginning. Upon returning to Chicago, I did just that and my patience was rewarded.

Anyway, no clue on the family’s last name. All I could do was guess something suitably stuffy and British-sounding, so I went with Chesterton despite a vague memory (likely from the NYT review) that the family’s name wasn’t that lengthy. Sure enough, the correct answer was Crawley.

2. What is the world's most populous primarily Spanish-speaking country?

My buddy Mike was exactly right when he said this was “trick-easy.” I sweated this out for what felt like forever. Mexico seemed like the obvious answer. Mexico City alone has well over 20 million people, there are other significant cities, and the nation is fairly large.

But then I started thinking about South America: what about Argentina? Buenos Aires was pretty big, wasn’t it? I wasn’t sure how big or populous the nation was beyond B.A., but Argentina had that seductively just-off-center “correct LearnedLeague answer” feeling. Then a gaucho named Venezuela came riding over the horizon. A friend from Caracas has told me how overcrowded that city is. Maybe the whole country is like that? My inability to think of a single large city other than the obvious one in either Argentina or Venezuela made them feel like also-rans.

Looming over all of this like the Death Star was Spain, what with Barcelona and Madrid, not to mention the extended family of Rafael Nadal that all live in the same large apartment building they own. Would the league ask a question whose answer was buried in the question itself? I would feel pretty silly failing to answer a riddle about a chicken and a road whose answer was “to get to the other side.”

Eventually I decided to ride my favorite horse, Mexico, even though I was far from confident about it, and was thrilled to see I’d made the right call. I gave this one a 1, but frankly anything from 0 to 3 would have been justifiable. I couldn’t figure out if it was easy or difficult.

3. In the Apollo 11 space mission, where humans walked on the moon for the first time, the Lunar Module was named Eagle. What was the name of the Command / Service Module, manned by Michael Collins during the landing itself (it would not be the last NASA craft so named)?

Didn’t know the answer and made a horrendous guess: Rover, hoping to shoehorn into the final part of the question the Mars Rover that would come into prominence much later. There were two enormous problems with this guess: 1, considering that it was the Eagle that famously landed, the Command / Service Module probably wasn’t even landing anywhere, much less roving anything; and 2, since we were going for a companion nickname to Eagle in the context of fulfilling President Kennedy’s promise that the U.S. would reach the moon, preferably ahead of the Soviets, the correct answer was likely to be something more patriotic than what Ward Cleaver would name his dog. Liberty, Patriot, Freedom, United, something like that. I probably wouldn’t have guessed the correct answer, Columbia, but I’d like to have given myself a chance to.

4. Cray, Burroughs, Eckert-Mauchly, and Wang are all names of current or former companies whose business was the manufacture of what?

Gimme: supercomputers. Wasn’t 100% sure all four of these made supercomputers as opposed to computers (though I knew Cray did) so I guessed computers and it was deemed correct. In fact, the correct answer was simply computers. I gave this the 0 on the flawed theory that my opponent would also know it.

5. The title characters of Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers are Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, but the story tells the tale of what other adventurer, as he travels to Paris to join the prestigious Mousquetaires de la garde?

I actually referred to Athos and Porthos on this blog the other day. At the time, I was misremembering that D’Artagnan was the third Musketeer. In fact, Aramis was the third and D’Artagnan was the main protagonist. But either way, I knew there was a D’Artagnan, which got me through this question. This was the converse of my two failings the other day, where I forgot that I needed to use the integral of a parabola to measure its area, and couldn’t come up with the Iraqi Prime Minister’s name although I’ve seen it repeatedly. This time, although I’ve never read The Three Musketeers, I knew some basic trivia about it, just like I scored a point last season by knowing a fair amount about the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s without ever having seen it. I assure you that it feels a lot better to be able to identify the basic details of books and movies you’ve never read or watched than to forget things you ought to know.

6. Identify this man.

Not only did I have no clue who this was, I didn’t even know who he was when I read the correct answer. I guessed Jones in the hope that I would luck into a miracle, but the answer was Conrad Murray. I had to Google that to be reminded that he was the doctor whose brand of medical expertise didn’t do much for Michael Jackson. Giving this one the 3 was a highly suspect move in that my opponent only answered two questions correctly and this was one of them.

What I will charitably call my “defense” could not have been worse. I gave my opponent a 2 for Downton Abbey and a 3 for Conrad Murray, so he scored 5 points on just two correct answers. His defense wasn’t great either in that he gave me a 0 on Conrad Murray, which I missed, and 2, 2, 1 for the three I got. In the end, middling defense with two correct answers was as good as disastrous defense with three correct answers. Considering that we both deserved to lose, I guess I should be happy with a tie.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Day 21: The failure to learn

Today I was back to playing mere mortals I’ve never met. But in our division everyone’s dangerous and I certainly wasn’t letting up.

1. Who is the current Prime Minister and head of the government of the Republic of Iraq?

Sigh. I’ve only seen the guy’s name three or four thousand times in news headlines. I’m not particularly interested in Iraq, other than to whatever extent it affects or threatens the U.S., so I never bothered to learn the Prime Minister’s name. I knew it was al-M___, something with an A and an I. Knew for a fact the last part had six letters, as I often notice and remember the number of letters in words. (Three pleasant 8-letter town names that have come up in the last day during my trip to the Bay Area: Petaluma, Larkspur, Woodside.) I also knew that it had alternating vowels and consonants. Lacking a better idea, I guessed al-Mazawi. The correct answer was Nouri al-Maliki. Close enough! I totally deserve it! (I do not deserve it.)

2. In the same year that former U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as a result of his work on his namesake reconstruction plan, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was awarded a Nobel Prize in what category?

Two of the great literary contributions by statesmen were President Grant’s memoir, which he only wrote for money at the end of his life to provide for his wife, Julia, and Churchill’s significant history of WWII. I haven’t read it, but I’d like to; I’ve certainly read about it. Aside from everything else he accomplished, the polymathic Churchill was an outstanding writer. On the same trip to London I mentioned the other day, we visited the Churchill War Rooms in Whitehall from which the great man led his country’s wartime efforts against the Axis powers. It was as stirring as you might expect. Anyway, the answer was literature.

3. What is the area of the region bounded by the graphs of y = x2; x = 0; x = 2; and the x-axis?

Um… 4 pi? No? How about sagitta?

I knew y = x2 was a parabola; indeed, I scored a correct answer for my knowledge of parabolas last season. But the area underneath a parabola? Fat chance. I’m still probably as good at any SAT math question as I was in high school, but this was a bit trickier. There was clearly some kind of sigma involved. Maybe if Mike Markovich and I hadn’t sat in the last row of high school calculus all year, quietly smarting off about the Masters golf tournament (our teacher wore a forest-green blazer), Rosalie D. and the KBC, Julie B. and the LBM, Liz F., Insane Jane, Stork McG. and what have you — yes, I still remember our inside jokes 20 years later — then I would have learned enough to remember a useful formula for this problem.

Speaking of Mike, I had dinner with him this evening at the Park Tavern in North Beach, San Francisco. He's a LL rookie this season so since we’d both already played, we compared notes on today's questions. To his credit he remembered the formula 2/3 base x height; there's also x3 / 3. Either one would have gotten me home.

But since I didn't remember these during the match day, I drew the parabola and broke down the answer into its three component parts. The lower right section had an area of 1; the uppermost section was slightly less than 3/2; and the left section was somewhat less than 1/2. Thus I knew the answer was greater than 5/2 and less than 3. Without much confidence I guessed 2 3/4 and ended up fairly close to the correct answer, which is to say I got the wrong answer. The actual area was 8/3, or 2 2/3.

My opponent was super-strong in math, so I assigned this question a value that was never used in ancient Rome: 0.

4. What type of nut are these?

I knew them on sight: filberts (aka hazelnuts). During my freshman year of college, after learning that I have a nut allergy, my frenemies across the hall used to leave filberts in my dorm room. They didn’t understand that by “nut allergy” I meant them. Need I even mention that both of these guys ended up in law school?

5. Name the film, scheduled to be released in the U.S. in July of 2012, which will be the thirteenth feature film produced by Pixar Animation Studios, and the studio's first fairy tale, as well as its first with a female main protagonist.

A few days ago I was driving around Berkeley, California with an old friend of mine. I mentioned that Pixar was down the road in Emeryville and we started talking about Pixar movies. I told him I’d heard the studio was working on a Monsters, Inc. prequel called Monsters University. He replied that he’d heard the new one coming this summer, Brave, was going to be really good. Thank you, Joop!

6. Who celebrated his 50th birthday by premiering his Symphony No. 5 in E flat major at the Helsinki City Orchestra on December 8, 1915?

I can name two Finnish classical music people: Jean Sibelius and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Given the timing of the question and the fact that Salonen is probably in his 40s or 50s right now, not to mention a conductor, my only guess was Sibelius. Happily, Sibelius was correct. My opponent was iffy in classical music so I gave this one the 3.

There’s no shame in not getting a correct answer, but it’s frustrating not to come up with two answers that you’ve either known, or known how to solve, at some point in life. I hate forgetting things. Luckily for me, my opponent managed three correct answers to my four, gave me a 3 for Sibelius, and gave me a 1 on the parabola. I escaped with a 6(4)-3(3) win.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Day 20: Spotting Tiger a stroke

Today’s opponent is Joon Pahk. Although best known as a friend of this blog, Joon is also a Jeopardy! champion, frequent constructor of New York Times crossword puzzles, “Guess My Word!” game designer and Harvard physics instructor. What a slacker.

He’s also plenty tough in LearnedLeague, so I had to bring my A game today. Happily, these questions played to my strengths, but I didn't see where they would give Joon too much trouble either.

1. Identify the architect responsible for the structure in this photograph.

I’m on vacation in northern California and spent the day in the picturesque Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. Since I wasn’t sure what time I would be getting back into San Francisco tonight and didn’t want to risk my first-ever forfeit, I played today’s questions from the Healdsburg Bar and Grill during a brief window when I had wi-fi access.

Against my better judgment, since my mom was sitting next to me, I called up the architectural photo. She innocently asked what was with the picture. I knew that despite my occasional explanation she doesn't really understand how LearnedLeague works. What I should have said was, “Please don’t say anything about it because I’m playing my trivia league and I’m not allowed to get help from anyone else.” (Walking away for a moment with the computer to submit my guesses at this point wouldn’t have been a bad idea either.) What I did say was, “It’s my trivia league. We have to identify the architect.” She replied, “If it was me I’d say Calatrava.”

Lichened again! With a sinking feeling I realized she was probably right. I know Sergio Calatrava’s famous birdlike addition to the Milwaukee art museum and this was reminiscent of it. If I’d already been intending to say Calatrava when she spilled the beans, I would have been comfortable submitting that guess because she wouldn’t have steered me to the correct answer. But since I hadn’t even had a chance to think about it yet, I had to throw out that answer and find another guess on this question. (In the lichen fiasco a few weeks ago, a fellow LLer knowingly gave away the correct answer, wrongly assuming I too had played. This time, neither my mom nor I knew for sure whether she was correct, so I felt I was within my rights to guess something else. Considering how much my mom knows about art and architecture, it felt even more justifiable, since I was almost certainly walking away from the correct answer.)

Because the structure was faintly reminiscent of Eero Saarinen’s soaring TWA terminal design at JFK, I guessed Saarinen — last name only on the off chance that maybe it was Eliel — knowing it was probably wrong. It came as little surprise when I failed to hole out from 180 yards, especially when I didn’t have a full selection of clubs. The correct answer was in fact Sergio Calatrava.

2. Pictured here are the pieces for what tile-based game?

A no-brainer if you played this game as a kid around the swimming pool with your grandmother at Green Acres Country Club in Northbook, Illinois. (It wasn’t mah jongg, but it was close enough.) The game is called Rummikub.

Although Joon knows plenty about sports and games, I had no particular reason to think he would know this, and since no other question seemed likely to stump him, I gave this one the 3.

3. X should be replaced with what number in the following statement?: A gold alloy with 75% purity, three parts gold and one part another metal, would be described as X-Karat gold.

Although there was clearly a direct relationship between karat number and gold quality, I didn't know how the karat system worked, so I had to try to backsolve my way to the answer. It seemed likely that there were only three possible correct answers here: 14, 18, or 24, the only gold karat measures I’d ever heard of. If I was correct that 24K gold was the highest quality, and karats were a reflection of purity percentage, then it stood to reason that the highest quality gold would be 100% pure, unalloyed gold, and that 75% quality gold would be three-fourths of 24K, or 18K.

This felt like a solid guess, with one problem. How would the lowest quality gold be 14K? Seven-twelfths alloy? 12K seemed to make a lot more sense. (Maybe it has to be more than half gold to be called gold?) However, even with this caveat, I liked my 75% theory pretty well, and in any case I didn’t have anything better. So I went with 18 and it turned out to be correct.

Since I both know Joon to be a man of science and saw him do some pretty nifty arithmetic on his feet during his Jeopardy! run, I figured he was a cinch to get this one. The only reason I didn't give it the 0 was because the next one was such a gimme.

4. In the first Star Wars film (Episode IV), as Luke prepares to board his X-wing fighter before the attack on the Death Star battle station, which character utters the line 'May the force be with you'?

Han Solo’s emotional journey takes him from “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a blaster by your side, kid” to “May the Force be with you.” Joon has missed his share of movie questions — in relative terms, at least; he’s strong in just about every category — but there was no way he was going to miss this one. As I said, I gave it the 0.

5. The title character of this Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale emerges from a barleycorn flower, and has uncomfortable interactions with various unsavory creatures (a toad, a stag beetle, and mole) until meeting and marrying a more suitable mate: a tiny fairy prince.

Tiny title heroine of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale? Gotta be Thumbelina. Of course, I felt equally confident last season when I quickly guessed Peter Cottontail instead of Peter Rabbit, but there it is. I couldn’t think of anything else, so I guessed Thumbelina and it was correct.

6. The 1990 album Unison, which sold 3 million copies worldwide, was the first anglophone album (and 15th overall) from what recording artist? Her eponymous release would be an even bigger success two years later.

The many constraints in the given information — highly prolific bilingual multimillion-selling female recording artist who started working in English in 1990 — narrowed the field to only one possible answer. Gloria Estefan? Already big before 1990, spent many years working with her husband in the Miami Sound Machine so probably didn’t do 14 albums in Spanish. Shakira? Wasn’t big in 1990. Whitney Houston? Madonna? English only, big before 1990. Beyoncé? English only, not big in 1990. Margaret Thatcher? Not a singer.

The correct answer had to be a huge star since a three million seller wasn’t even her biggest record. The album title Unison didn’t do anything for me, but it wasn’t too hard to think of a zillion-selling bilingual female pop singer who owned the 1990s. It was the iron butterfly from north of the border, Celine Dion. Pop music didn’t seem like Joon’s strong suit either, so after a lot of uncertain internal debate I gave this a 2 even though he could easily get it anyway.

I know Joon outside of LL and his stats show some clear patterns, so on many sets of questions I would know exactly how to play defense against him. (Ancient history? Science? Math? Bet your life that he knows it.) On this set, though, it was tricky. Few questions seemed to fall squarely into or out of his wheelhouse so I was left debating what he would or wouldn’t know on very thin evidence. It's pick your poison; you have to pitch to him eventually and give him two 2s and a 3 somewhere. Making matters worse for me, the guy plays strong defense too; at the time of this writing, if I may be immodest, he and I rank in the top 3 in our 22-player division in both overall standings and defense.

I was generally happy with the questions today, particularly against Joon. A movie question and a pop music question (two of my favorite categories, plus he's iffy in pop music); even better, no world history or geography (he's great at those, I'm terrible). That was a very navigable landscape. The trouble was that the pop music and movie questions were so gettable. If he didn't know them, he could easily figure them out. Heck, in the case of Celine, I had to.

Having Mr. Pahk to contend with made this a bad day to get lichened again, but you never know. The first time it happened I was facing the other rock star player from my division, Tom Nissley, and although I managed only two correct answers that day to Tom's three, I still escaped with a narrow victory. Still, it would be helpful if Joon's mom happened to blurt out a bunch of correct answers.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Day 19: Still in my wheelhouse

Today’s opponent is the aforementioned Avram Gottschlich, who turned in a sparkling performance last weekend at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Brooklyn. He knows plenty of trivia too and, in a happily recurring theme among America’s puzzle and trivia elite, also happens to be a very nice person. Unfortunately for Avram it was a good day for me, with five “no problems” and a “no chance.” Then again, I expect him to cruise as well.

Here’s my scorecard:

1. The largest collection of paintings and graphic art in the world is held in what European state museum, founded to hold a private imperial collection in 1764 and opened to the the public 88 years later?

Largest collection of paintings in the world plus European museum said Louvre or Uffizi to me. After a Venus de Milo question a few days ago, there wasn’t a chance in l’enfer that the Louvre would be a correct answer. So I said Galleria Uffizi with deep reservations about the two problems with this guess: 1, I wasn’t sure the Uffizi was a state museum, and 2, the museum was an “imperial” collection. What empire would the Uffizi be a part of? I figured it was more likely rooted in the Famiglia Medici collection in Florence than anything imperial. Nor did the Louvre feel much like an empire’s storehouse either. The imperial facet told me that Uffizi was probably wrong, but I couldn't think of a better alternative. I should have probably spent more time on this one, but I felt good about the other questions so I just called it a day. I wouldn't have gotten this anyway.

The problem was my longtime failure to think of Russia as European. The answer lay not on the Seine or the Arno, but up in St. Petersburg: the Hermitage museum. Adding insult to injury, I live on Hermitage Avenue in Chicago.

2. Over twenty brands owned by this consumer products company have over one billion dollars in annual net sales, including Bounty, Duracell, Gillette, Max Factor, and Pampers.

Can I get some props for knowing it was spelled Procter (not Proctor) & Gamble? No? Even if you didn’t know the answer, everything in the question leading up to the first comma made it extremely guessable. The correct answer was by far the most likely answer, particularly if you know that P&G has a fetish for having the #1 or #2 market share product in every category in which they compete (e.g., Tide is the leading detergent).

My only hesitation here was that I felt fairly confident that Berkshire Hathaway had been a longtime investor in Gillette, but if Berkshire had owned all those other brands like they do See’s Candies and GEICO, I felt I would know about it. In the 1980s when the New England Patriots had their sexual harassment scandal with the female reporter in the locker room, the team owner was Victor Kiam, then the Gillette owner, so I figured Berkshire was a longtime minority owner. Plus I knew Gillette had been acquired in the last few years, and though I didn’t remember whether P&G had bought it, that seemed very plausible. Although Avram was iffy on business/economics, I thought this was reachable enough to warrant a 1.

3. Name the sea captain who was blamed — perhaps unfairly — for the major oil spill that resulted from the tanker Exxon Valdez's collision with a reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound, in March of 1989.

Remember this one as plain as day. Captain Joseph Hazelwood was the butt of a thousand jokes and SNL sketches. It's news to me that he might not have been at fault. Thought maybe Avram was too young to remember this and it’s somewhat obscure so I gave it the 3.

4. Since 1970, the NBC television network's flagship news program has been NBC Nightly News; from 1956 until 1970, it was named after what two newsmen, who served as its co-hosts?

Don’t remember this show but have read about it over the years many times. Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were the co-hosts.

5. First Impressions was the original title of what 1813 novel, which was first published in the U.S. in 1832 as Elizabeth Bennet or _______ (current title redacted)?

You say Elizabeth Bennet, I say Pride and Prejudice. Gave this one the 0.

6. The 14th c. English nobleman and hero Sir Henry Percy, nicknamed Harry Hotspur, died leading troops in the Battle of Shrewsbury during the Hundred Years' War. Much later, he inspired the name of a Premier League soccer team that represents and plays in what area of London?

Nine years ago I traveled to London and Cornwall with a childhood friend who was a huge Premier League soccer fan. We saw Arsenal take on Dynamo Kiev at Highbury Stadium in North London. The Gunners won in thrilling fashion, scoring in the final minute to break a 0-0 tie. (Making the night even more memorable, we had to leave halfway through a speech my buddy’s dad was delivering at the U.S. Embassy in order to catch the game.) En route to the pitch in a black taxicab, my friend gave me a thorough grounding in Arsenal’s rival teams in the Premiership, from Tottenham Hotspur to Chelsea to Manchester United, and I’ve stayed slightly abreast ever since. So when you ask about a soccer team and mention Hotspur, I know you’re talking about Tottenham.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Day 18: Spilling the beer

Although I am in San Francisco supervising the West Coast office of Ben Bass and Beyond, I kept tabs on this year's particularly lively American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

Congratulations to my LearnedLeague divisionmates Dan Feyer, who captured his third straight title in dramatic come-from-behind fashion; five-time champion Tyler Hinman, who finished in a strong second after his umpteenth error-free whirlwind ride; 2010 rookie of the year Joon Pahk, who came in eighth; and Avram Gottschlich, who slugged his way to a Clemente-worthy 21st.

Kudos also to my fellow LL rookie from last season, Stella Zawistowski, and my league sponsor, Ellen Ripstein, two speedsters who rounded out the top 10. And though she's not in the LearnedLeague, special props to my fellow Illinoisan Anne Erdmann, who exuded class by penalizing herself for a mistake that no one else even thought she made, then still managed to outrace a deeply talented field to earn another trip to the A finals.

And now, the trivia:

1. What heavy metal legend replaced Ozzy Osbourne as lead singer of Black Sabbath after Ozzy's departure from the band in April of 1979?

Less of a gimme than Sammy Hagar replacing David Lee Roth, perhaps, but gimme-adjacent. On the outskirts of Gimmetown. Ronnie James Dio.

Although the bourgeois New Trier Township High School in Winnetka, Illinois, probably had fewer metalheads per capita in the 1980s than the average American secondary school, we did have a smattering. I still remember the day one of them was showing off a Dio pin that marked him as a fan of the eponymous metal band that Mr. Dio fronted at the time. He pointed out that the word "Devil" could be read in the Gothic script when the word "Dio" was turned upside down. My response surely confirmed to this leather-jacketed hoodlum how cool I was: "Fine, but who's Dio?" (I learned a lot more about rock music later in life.)

2. Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, two song cycles based on the poems of German lyricist Wilhelm Müller, are the works of what Austrian composer of the Romantic era?

Sigh. This was one of those LL questions that I reasoned all the way to the two yard line, only to fumble and lose the ball. As you may have gathered during Choralgate the other day, I don't know my eras of classical music, so "Romantic era" did little for me. "Austrian composer" suggested Mozart, but I know enough about Wolfgang's work that I felt I would at least recognize these titles as his, plus song cycles didn't sound to me like his thing. Who else might be Austrian? Richard Wagner? I was pretty sure he was German. Same with Felix Mendelssohn. I was quickly exhausting what little I knew about classical music. That left me grasping at straws, thinking of names that might be Austrian, and it came down to a coin flip between Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert.

This is where I choked. I can't quite explain it, but Schubert just feels more like a correct LearnedLeague answer than Schumann. Just like the Sundance film festival felt more right to me than Toronto the other day. I wonder whether other players have developed a similar aesthetic in this regard, or whether I'm crazy (or both); I'll be curious to read your comments on this issue.

The bottom line is that I guessed Schumann instead of Schubert, and when I saw Schubert was correct, I felt like I'd made a terrible choice. It wasn't 50-50. In hindsight I feel like it was 70-30 or 80-20 and I went with the weaker option. I gave this one the 3 because my opponent was iffy in classical music.

3. The Greek Acropolitan temple known as the Parthenon was completed in 438 BC as a dedication to what mythological deity?

A gimme: Athena. I was way into Greek mythology as a kid, even before I read Edith Hamilton's Mythology as a freshman at the aforementioned high school. The derivation of Parthenon is unclear to me, although it's faintly reminiscent of the name Pallas Athena. It also reminds me of two of the Three Musketeers, Porthos and Athos.

4. This island, the world's fourth-largest, is the largest to be (with some tiny peripheral islands) its own independent nation.

More geography? Do we have to do this every day? Sigh.

I literally traveled around the perimeters of the world's continents over and over in my mind, both amassing and eliminating potential answers. There was nothing off the coast of North America or South America that made sense. Greenland is enormous, too enormous in fact to be correct, as it's the world's largest island, plus it's not an independent nation. Over to Europe. The UK? Maybe, but I didn't see it as likely to be the fourth-largest island in the world, nor did I like "with some tiny peripheral islands." Ireland is more than that. How about Cyprus? I felt like it was an island nation but again, way too small to be the fourth-largest.

Down to Africa. Madagascar, which I just mentioned on this blog the other day, felt like a very good bet. It was big, it was its own country, and if it didn't look too large next to Africa, that was likely because mainland Africa is so huge. Over to Asia. There are numerous island nations, but I couldn't think of a single one that was a large primary island and tiny fringe islands. They were more archipelagos like Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines. Australia, way bigger than fourth-largest island in the world, and I didn't think it would be cool of LL to have the correct answer be a nation that is also a continent. (Tasmania could be the tiny fringe island though.) I rounded out my world tour by briefly thinking about New Zealand. Sizewise it was a candidate, but with roughly equivalent north and south islands, it didn't fit the given information.

Although I had a slight sinking feeling that I was failing to consider something obvious, I couldn't think of a guess anywhere near as good as Madagascar, plus I like univocalics, so that's what I went with. Happily, Madagascar was correct.

5. A New England prep school, where students confront adolescent jealousy, rivalry, self-identity, death, and the looming presence of WWII, is the setting for what American novel, the author's debut, first published in the U.S. in 1960?

Gimme: A Separate Peace. I read it in school. You probably did too. I gave this one the 0.

6. This is a screenshot from what film?

Another gimme, to me at least. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Squint and it will look like a music video by a vastly less talented pop diva who has yet to find an icon she can't rip off, or for that matter an African family whose baby she can't steal.

So, by doing most but not all of the work to get to Franz Schubert, I failed to drink the beer today, but still had another solid outing in a season that is going better than I had any right to expect.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Day 17: Back to basics

This set of questions was more in my comfort zone than the previous two. I took a collar on both of those, first because of my poor defense, then thanks to my tepid offense. But today I got back on track.

1. Former U.S. Senator and New Jersey Governor John Corzine was Chairman and CEO of what international financial derivatives broker at the time of its bankruptcy filing in October of 2011?

Knew this one cold, having read weeks of daily coverage in the NYT, plus I've followed Corzine since he used $60 million of his own Goldman Sachs money to buy himself a New Jersey Senate seat. (Among other things, I know his first name is spelled Jon.) The firm is called MF Global. I would imagine MF is also short for what he exclaimed upon learning his firm could not find over $1 billion of its clients’ money. Business/economics is my opponent’s worst category, so I gave this one the 3.

2. Bobby Fischer became the first American World Champion of Chess in over 80 years after winning what became known as The Match of the Century, in Reykjavik, Iceland, in July and August of 1972. Name the Soviet defending champion that Fischer defeated in this match.

A gimme: Boris Spassky. Although games/sport did not look like my opponent’s forte either, I thought this one was sufficiently well known to merit a 1.

3. German-born Herbert Ernst Frahm escaped to Norway to avoid Nazi persecution in 1933 at age 19, and later gained international prominence as long-time mayor of West Berlin, and then as German Chancellor. To evade Nazi agents while in Norway, he adopted what pseudonym — the name by which he was known for the rest of his life?

A great story. The only problem was I couldn’t name the protagonist. Lacking a better guess, I said Helmut Kohl knowing it was probably wrong since he is so über-German. Sure enough, the correct answer was Willy Brandt. I’d heard of him but didn’t know much about him, and if I’d had another month I wouldn’t have even thought of him.

4. The massive thoroughfare junction pictured here is named formally after whom?

Even if I hadn’t been to the Place Charles de Gaulle, there’s a good chance I would have guessed him anyway. It’s like guessing Pope John Paul II in the original Trivial Pursuit. I guess there’s also Napoleon or Joan of Arc, but really, isn’t he like the #1 French national, their Churchill? It was more likely to be a Gallic hero and it wasn’t Etienne Elysée or Thierry Triomphe. I wasn’t sure how well known this was, but gave it a 1 because it was so guessable.

5. What is the title of this famous painting?

I’ve known it since I was a kid: His Master’s Voice. That is what makes the dog curious about the sound coming out of the phonograph. It’s been used for so long to promote RCA Victor that it’s nearly outlasted those brands. Although the Victrola was already archaic when I was a kid and the Radio Corporation of America name is also fixed in the past, the RCA side is still somewhat current as long as they continue to manufacture electronics. The RCA Championships summer hardcourt tennis tournament in Indianapolis, a U.S. Open warmup event that annually played host to Sampras and Agassi in their prime, used to promote itself with the RCA dog, Nipper. His puppy son, Chipper, eventually got into the act too.

6. The title character of this long-running television drama series, a graduate of Harvard Law School, had several notable comic peculiarities, including an affinity for driving a Ford Crown Victoria (three models over the course of the series), a fondness for hot dogs, and an allegiance to wearing gray suits in the courtroom (where he was virtually always victorious).

This is an example of how the endless cluing in a LearnedLeague question can eventually get you home. Reading this question, I was like: “Harvard Law School? Jonathan Rollins from L.A. Law? No, wait, he wasn’t the title character, and he didn’t have comic peculiarities. OK, reading on… Ford Crown Victoria… no clue… hot dogs… no clue… doesn’t sound like Perry Mason… I don’t think he went to Harvard or ate hot dogs… gray suits in the courtroom… oh, it’s probably Matlock.” I don’t think I have ever seen an episode of this show, but it ran seemingly forever and every single time I flipped past the show or saw the character depicted in a commercial, it was always Andy Griffith in the same pale gray suit. Either he had one of them or a hundred of them, but that was his uniform. I thought the gray suit was enough of a giveaway to give this question the 0, particularly because the show was a big hit and my opponent was well versed in pop culture.

Speaking of my opponent, it was Marc Spraregen, a friend from the National Puzzlers’ League. I know him as a Californian, a good trivia player and a very nice guy. It was hard to play defense against Marc because he’s strong in a lot of categories, I don’t know him that well, and it was tricky figuring out what he (or a lot of people for that matter) would or wouldn’t know from this middle-of-the-road set of questions. In hindsight Willy Brandt feels like the toughest one, since MF Global is such a current and heavily covered story, but it’s too late to adjust my defense now. All I can do is hope for the best.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Day 16: Beware the Ides of March

I can’t remember ever feeling this confident about six answers and getting only three of them correct.

1. What name is shared by one of the three Biblical magi, a servant of the Montague household in Romeo and Juliet, and a size of wine bottle equivalent to sixteen standard bottles?

I knew that a Magnum and a Balthazar were large bottles of wine. Felt fairly confident that none of the three wise men drove a Ferrari in Hawaii. Recognized Balthazar as a magus name along with Melchior. Felt pretty sure I remembered a Balthazar from Romeo and Juliet. Thus, fairly straightforward. Can we just go with this question and call it a day?

2. 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered' and 'I Could Write a Book' are standards which were written for what Rodgers and Hart Broadway musical, which starred Gene Kelly in the title role in the 1940 premiere and Harold Lang in the even more successful 1952 revival?

Here is a three-act play:

(February 27)
“Well, I choked on a lifestyle question that one time,
but at least I still have a perfect record on math and theater questions.”

(February 28)
“Name a part of a circle that is like a radius but not exactly
and also like a chord but not exactly.”

This question.

Hmm. A mid-century Broadway musical I know nothing about with a signature tune I have heard a thousand times? With a title role that is obviously the male lead? I thought about it for a while until I came up with what I thought was a pretty bulletproof guess: The Most Happy Fella. But I was a most unhappy fella when I learned the answer was Pal Joey. They couldn’t have mentioned Frank Sinatra?

3. What has been dubbed as the most famous dream sequence in television history is the entire eighth season of what long-running television drama?

Easy as Eazy-E eating Easy Cheese while filling out his 1040-EZ. I gave this question the 0 because many players in the league will presumably know that an entire season of Dallas was explained away as a dream in order to reverse the prior bad decision to kill off the popular character Bobby Ewing. A flamboyant college roommate of mine who was deeply into the Dallas spinoff Knots Landing — and later came out to the surprise of no one — took great delight in the fact that the dream season impacted Knots plots and was always treated as reality in that show.

4. Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen are among a relatively small number of American citizens currently serving time in federal prison for what crime?

Ugh with a capital ugh. I knew these were both traitorous American spies who turned national secrets over to our enemies. So I said treason. Actual answer: spying/espionage. That’s like convicting a murderer not of murder but of being the guy who pulled the trigger.

I know, I know, that doesn’t exactly hold water. I’m just bitter. If it had occurred to me to say espionage I’d be fine with it. It’s not as bad as the Choral Symphony question. But if you share my disgust, vent your spleen in the comments. Maybe I’ll feel better.

5. What is the name for the linguistic device which is a word, or occasionally a grouping of words, whose sound imitates the sound the word is describing, such as bang, click, fizz, and hush?


6. This is the work of what artist?

I knew Louis Comfort Tiffany was the king of glass art in his day, as I once wrote about for Flavorpill Chicago. Didn’t know whether he’d done any religious work, but it felt like a solid guess. Unfortunately, the correct answer was the univocalic Marc Chagall. I gave this one the 3 because my opponent was iffy in art.

No Chicagoan has left this many tallies off a scoreboard since Arnold Rothstein fixed the 1919 World Series. Help me, opponent!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Day 15: Who shut off the taps?

After a fairly robust performance over the past few days thanks to questions that played to my personal strengths, I was due for some comeuppance. It came in the form of today’s brutally difficult lineup (again, to me at least). I was worried about racking up my first-ever goose egg until I read the last question.

1. The airport known during WWII as RAF Speke is today named officially after what native Liverpudlian?

I can name four native Liverpudlians, all fab. Two of them are still alive. Assuming the airport was more likely to be named after a deceased person, the first to die has had far more time than the second to receive this tribute, plus he’s an iconic figure whom one might expect to receive such an honor. I wasn’t sure whether I was right, but I guessed John Lennon and it was correct.

2. This audio clip (30 seconds) is an excerpt from the finale of a symphony which is most commonly known by what name (not number)?

Sigh. Another question where I knew something about the subject, but it did nothing for me. The “what name (not number)” said Beethoven. “This audio clip” told me I was about to hear “Ode to Joy” even before I clicked on it, and indeed I did. I knew it was a key phrase from the Ninth Symphony, but I didn’t know what No. 9 was commonly called (I knew Eroica was No. 3 but that didn’t help). Lacking a better guess, I went with “Ode to Joy.” The correct answer was the Choral Symphony. I assigned this a 0, which was probably another mistake.

3. In Russia, this war is also known as the Eastern War (Vostochnaya Voina), and at the time of the conflict, in Britain it was known as the Russian War. By what name is it best known today?

No clue. All I could hope for was to make a decent guess, by which I don’t even mean a guess that might be right, but rather a guess that would be credible enough not to embarrass me on this blog. Something tells me I fell short of even that lesser standard. Correct answer: Crimean War. My guess: World War I.

4. In the sport of cricket, there are a number of ways a batsman can be dismissed. One of them is abbreviated LBW — what do the letters in LBW stand for?

Can’t tell you much about cricket, other than the one in Times Square. Too bad the abbreviation wasn’t WG, because then my only cricket lingo (“wicked googly”) might have helped. I knew there were wickets in cricket, so I guessed “left by wicket,” which doesn’t even make sense. This would have been a good place to go for a Best Wrong Answer, but as usual I preferred to try to hole out from 340 yards. The correct answer was “leg before wicket.” I gave this one the 3.

5. In medicine, the term bradycardia is used in general terms to refer to a slow resting heart rate. What is the accompanying term for an accelerated resting heart rate?

I didn’t know a prefix that would be the opposite of “brady-” so I guessed a word I associated with an unusual heart rate: arrhythmia. An even better guess would have been tachycardia. Of course!

6. While this famous serial killer and Wisconsin native is believed to have murdered only two people (still two more than normal, it must be noted), his mother-dependence and woman-suit-making provided the inspiration for Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

This one I knew because as a misguided youth I occasionally listened to Chicago radio shock jock Steve Dahl, whose poor taste ran to making jokes about noted local serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Ed Gein, a less prolific but more creative murderer over the border in Wisconsin, would also come up from time to time.

Today’s opponent was one of the best players in my rookie division last season and is having another strong campaign. With just two correct answers I don’t like my chances against him, particularly with my suspect defense, but who knows, maybe he had as hard a time as I did.

Postscript: Ugh. Sure enough, my lousy defense cost me a tie. I was intimidated by the sight of RAF Speke and WWII, and gave this question way too much respect. By giving 1 point for John Lennon, the gimme of the day at 66% correct, and a 0 on Choral Symphony, the hardest question of the day (and presumably one of the hardest in league history) at 9% correct, I let my opponent score 2 points to my 1, both on two correct answers. In league parlance, I lost 1(2)-2(2).

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Day 14: Battle of the bloggers

Today I had to face my fellow LearnedLeague blogger, the noted puzzle writer Eric Berlin. You might know him from his popular Winston Breen puzzle novels for kids, or from the Sunday variety crosswords he creates for the New York Times. He’s gentle and lovable, not unlike a certain road manager of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem we both wrote about yesterday.

I like Eric and didn’t much feel like “strapping on the leather,” as the league commissioner likes to say, and getting my game face on today. (But maybe years of being the nicest guy around were just Eric's disarming strategy!) In any event, the questions were mostly within reach:

1. One of the best known classical composers who worked with the technique of composition known as fugue is what German, whose The Well-Tempered Clavier is a collection of preludes and fugues in all 24 keys, and whose The Art of Fugue was unfinished at his death in 1750?

Even before I took a music appreciation class in college, where we learned our share about J.S. Bach, there was a Well-Tempered Clavier CD floating around my house when I was in high school. Someone had given it to my dad in the early days of CDs. Still remember the maroon cover made of cardboard, not even a jewel case, with a portrait of old Johann. Still not sure what a clavier is, but I know his was well-tempered, so this one was a gimme for me.

I seem to remember from that college class that Bach was a Romantic as opposed to a classical composer, having mostly done his thing before the classical era — please feel free to correct me in the comments if I have this wrong — but he’s clearly more in the general realm of classical music than is, say, Sheena Easton. And I knew for a fact who composed The Well-Tempered Clavier, so I wasn’t going to not guess Bach over that minor objection.

By the way, speaking of (D) minor, even if you don’t think you know any Bach fugues, you do. This one, for example.

2. This work of art, once attributed to Praxiteles but now widely believed the work of Alexandros of Antioch, was discovered by a peasant on a small Greek isle in 1820, and now is on permanent display at the Louvre in Paris.

I haven’t been to the Louvre in 15 years, but I can readily tell you its two most famous works of art: the Mona Lisa, or La Joconde as it is known in France, and the Venus de Milo. I didn’t know anything about the V de M being discovered by a peasant, nor was I too excited about the apparently Greek provenance of a statue that is not known as the Aphrodite de Milo, but it didn't matter; I was guessing it anyway. Of the thousands of priceless art treasures in the Louvre, I can name only two of them, and the Mona Lisa was definitely painted by either Leonardo or one of the other turtles.

Another reason I liked this guess was that I didn't know who had carved the Venus de Milo, or the first thing about its backstory — all I could confidently say was that Will Rogers had once quipped that it depicted someone who couldn’t stop biting her fingernails — so all the given information in the question was plausible enough. Happily, Venus de Milo was correct.

3. One of the best remembered speeches in American history was an inaugural address — famous for its indirect reference to a particular phobia — which happens to be the last to have taken place on March 4 (due to the recent passage of the 20th Amendment). Which U.S. President gave this address?

Another question that pretty much gave away the answer. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” intoned the great Franklin D. Roosevelt, as I heard a thousand times in the closing seconds of Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality.” I was pretty sure it was from one of his inauguration speeches but wasn’t sure whether it was prewar or wartime. The 20th Amendment thing reassured me that FDR was a solid guess; I knew the Prohibition and Repeal Amendments were the 18th and 21st (easily remembered if you associate them with drinking ages) so a president first elected in 1932 felt about right for the 20th. Plus the guy presumably gave more inaugural addresses than anyone else. I felt confident that Eric would nail this question so I gave it the 0.

4. In December of 2010, an arrest warrant was issued against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to extradite him to what country, for questioning on charges related to alleged sex offenses?

This was a huge story that I read about in both the NYT and the New Yorker. Plus it was more or less contemporaneous with the other big juicy story out of Sweden from the past few years, namely the intrigue over whether it was the late Stieg Larsson or his longtime lady friend who actually wrote The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels. A gimme.

5. At a latitude of 6 degrees south, this city is the only Asian national capital below the equator.

This was my best play of the day in that I did the best I could to work it out but had no idea whether my guess was right when I turned it in. That is why my neighbors may have heard a handclap that sounded like a gunshot.

My reasoning was, what is the furthest south part of Asia? I would have guessed that a bunch of Asian capitals were south of the equator. But having been to Australia, I knew that Indonesia was immediately next to it, as I have alluded to on this blog before. I knew the Philippines weren’t too far away either, but up closer to Japan. Since any other country next to Australia had to be by definition not Australian, Indonesia felt like a good guess. I knew for sure that Jakarta was the capital.

There were two minor problems with guessing Jakarta: 1, I knew there were other island nations not too far away from Indonesia, any of which could have a more southerly capital; and 2, I remember from a few months ago that the island of Java (which includes Jakarta) is the most populous island in the world, and I didn’t think the league would ask another Java/Jakarta question so soon. Actually, I couldn’t remember whether the Java question was a LearnedLeague question or a Final Jeopardy question on TV, but just in case, I stopped to think about other possible answers before I went with Jakarta. I knew Korea was on a peninsula, felt pretty sure that it extended south, and South Korea had to be south of North Korea. But there were other national capitals in that vicinity and I couldn’t say with any confidence what was south of what. I felt like southeast Asia was more southerly than India, Pakistan, etc., but I was at a loss as to what was the southernmost part of mainland Asia.

Ultimately, I knew the major cities of southern Australia were well south of the equator, and that even tropical North Queensland was safely in the Southern Hemisphere. Therefore, assuming all the nearby island nations were Asian (and how could they not be?), and since only one of their capitals was south of the equator, the answer had to be either Jakarta or some capital not too far away. Lacking a better guess, I went with Jakarta. To my mild surprise and great satisfaction, it was correct.

I figured this one might be as hard for Eric as it was for me — his stats are not unlike mine, plus he just remarked on his blog that geography and world history are his least confident topics, echoing something I have said here repeatedly about myself — so I gave this one the 3. This marks the first time I have used someone else's blog to scout them, as opposed to my usual shrewd approach of using this blog to tip my hand to my opponents.

6. Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo... Thus begins what semi-autobiographical novel?

If I may allude to the title of a beloved podcast: WTF? A moocow coming down along the road? Who wrote this novel, Timmy from preschool? Between the “nicens little boy,” the moocow, the baby tuckoo and the precious writing style, I couldn’t get past the idea that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote this. However, no matter how nutty his life was hanging out with C.S. Lewis and the other Inklings at the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, I couldn’t very well consider The Hobbit even semi-autobiographical.

I had nothing on this one. Speaking of Australia, the tuckoo felt Australian, but I was at a loss to say what novelist that would point to. The most Australian book I could think of, Bill Bryson’s In A Sunburned Country, wasn’t even a novel. I ended up guessing a semi-autobiographical novel I’d read in college that came to mind due to its colloquial, downhome style, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Unfortunately, the correct answer was A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a title that did have a certain autobiographical slant to it even for philistines such as myself who’ve never read Joyce. (By the way, capitalize your name, baby tuckoo. You’re not e.e. cummings.)

Eric's probably typing about this one even as I am, taking our usual navel-gazing to a weirdly mutual new level. As I write this I don't know how the match came out, but once again it's been fun playing against someone I know; last season that barely happened, but I know a bunch of people in my current division. See you in the crosswords, Eric.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Day 13: Batting practice

This was the easiest full set of six LearnedLeague questions I can remember offhand. Apparently not for everyone, judging from what a few friends had to say, but certainly for me.

Even the several times I’ve been lucky enough to run the table before, I've usually had to sweat something out, such as Deng Xiaoping the other day, but on these questions I barely paused. They just played to my strengths. No weird geography? No long-ago world history? A nice fat SAT math question? A rock and roll question? Another one where knowing rock and roll helped? A Muppet, for crying out loud? They might as well have asked for my birthday and my mother’s maiden name.

1. Identify this muppet.

Scooter is well known to a generation of Americans weaned on The Muppet Show, particularly those of us who know The Muppet Movie inside out. Although I didn't know how old my opponent was, I gave this question the 0.

Scooter, you are the man. I always appreciated your earnest enthusiasm.

2. The Live Aid concert, which took place on July 13, 1985, was held simultaneously in two cities — London, and what U.S. city (with Phil Collins famously appearing at both venues)?

The other day, upon reading a question about lepidoptera, I knee-jerked to Nabokov and butterflies. Same thing with this question. It’s sense memory (Speak, Memory). You say Live Aid, I say Bob Geldof, London, Wembley Stadium, Philadephia, Mick Jagger and Tina Turner, U2, African relief. Read enough about these things over the years and the factual bullet points just run together in your mind. Plus, in the case of Live Aid, I remember it firsthand.

3. The area of a circle with a diameter of 6 inches exceeds the combined areas of a circle 2 inches in diameter and a circle 4 inches in diameter by how many square inches?

I taught SAT verbal, not math, for the Princeton Review, but like most people I did better on the math and in any case this one wasn’t too hard. The key was to use the radius, not the diameter, of each circle, and not to leave pi out of the answer. The area of the big circle was 3 squared times pi, or 9 pi. The other circles had areas of pi and 4 pi. So the answer was 9 pi - 4 pi - pi, or 4 pi. Or as I put it in my answer blank because I was so afraid of screwing it up, “4 times Pi.”

4. This term is applied generally as a classification of art which intends to represent its subject matter in objective manner, and specifically refers to an artistic movement which emerged in France in the mid-19th c., represented by the works of Gustave Courbet, Jean-Francois Millet, and Honore Daumier.

Although I have seen their paintings in museums, if you had asked me “Courbet, Millet, and Daumier. What artistic movement?”, I would probably have gotten this wrong. But the question totally gave away the answer. I knew Realism was an actual school of painting, and “intends to represent its subject matter in objective manner” was easily enough for me to think of it. I did stop briefly to consider analogous terms like Objectivism or Representationalism, but these words were in the question itself, and Rationalism felt more like a philosophy than a school of painting. Realism was the only guess that made any sense to me, and it was correct. (A friend later told me that he guessed Naturalism, and I'm glad I didn't think of that, because it was also a very good guess.)

5. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 lasted only 13 days, but resulted in the creation of what new independent nation?

Between the newness of the nation and the geography, I strongly suspected the answer was Bangladesh. I couldn’t think of a better guess then that. When I thought about one of the only things I know about Bangladesh, namely that George Harrison and Ravi Shankar organized the Concert for Bangladesh fundraiser shortly after the Beatles broke up, the 1971 told me Bangladesh had to be correct, and it was. I gave this question the 3.

6. The name of what corporation has been redacted from this logo?

You either knew it or you didn’t, and I did. Gulf Oil.

Now all I need is for my opponent to miss two questions, or just miss something other than Scooter, so I can have a better result than I did the other day when John "Chainsaw" Chaneski and I split a 12-pack. Meanwhile, I'll enjoy the easy cruise while it lasts. Tomorrow, I trust, I'll be back to embarrassing myself by not knowing anything about the history of England.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Quote of the day

From a New York Times Q&A with Sopranos creator David Chase:

What the Creator of ‘The Sopranos’ Taught the Creator of ‘Mad Men’

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Day 12: Leaving chips on the table

Today I faced a good player who was right there with me on the standings ladder throughout our rookie seaon last fall. Clanking two makeable putts did not help:

1. In a complete list of names that includes Harold Ross, William Shawn, Robert Gottlieb, and David Remnick, whose name is missing?

Knew this one in my soul. I read every issue of the New Yorker for 13 years, attended seven consecutive New Yorker Festivals during that time, and covered several of them for a leading blog about the magazine. Many will remember that British firebrand Tina Brown shook up the staid New Yorker when she took the reins in the early 1990s, but I could have rattled off the entire editor list for you, including the legendary Harold Ross, founding editor at the magazine’s February 1925 inception (yes, I knew this; I’m a New Yorker nerd); his successor, William Shawn, not just a great editor but Wallace Shawn’s father; prominent fiction editor Robert Gottlieb, whom I think of as a stopgap guy since he was there for just a few years; Ms. Brown; and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lenin’s Tomb, David Remnick.

I was in attendance at the Directors Guild of America auditorium on 57th Street when Mr. Remnick hosted an instantaneously sold-out New Yorker Festival preview screening of the Borat movie a month before it was released. It blew the roof off the place. Sacha Baron Cohen was in New York that weekend doing press for the movie but didn’t make the screening. Still, what with the Remnick introduction, the crackling buzz around the screening, the movie itself, and the New Yorker aura, this was to me the cultural equivalent of the Yalta conference.

As we chatted about the day’s questions, a friend jokingly asked me whether Deng Xiaoping had edited the New Yorker. I replied that he’d edited the Beijingian. No, the Pekingian.

2. After the retirement of the Model T, this more powerful and luxurious Ford automobile began production in 1928, and continued until there were five million of them on the road by 1931.

The only very early Ford I could name other than the Model T was the Model A. Although alphabetically it didn’t seem like it would have followed the Model T, I knew the Model T was the progenitor of it all, and since I didn’t have any other guess, that was my only choice. Model A was correct.

3. Ado Annie, Laurey Williams, Jud Fry, and Will Parker are among the characters from what groundbreaking Broadway musical?

Saw this show at the Theater on the Lake here in Chicago a few summers ago. Ado Annie was played by a highly attractive young actress who had just graduated from the University of Chicago, better known as the elite academic home to Enrico Fermi and 72 other Nobel laureates than for its theater program or the gorgeousness of its students. That was enough to make Ado Annie memorable to me, though the other character names also sounded familiar.

Do you know what show it is? The one where the wind comes sweeping down the plain? (Google that lyric if you don’t.) I gave this question the 0 since my opponent was solid in theater.

4. Give the scientific names of two of the three diseases protected against by the DTaP vaccine.

I spectacularly blew this easily gettable question. Not having heard of the DTaP vaccine, it took me about three seconds to realize that the diseases in question had to start with the three capital letters, and about ten more seconds to come up with Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio.

Dazzled by the prominence of the polio vaccine, right there with smallpox atop your all-time vaccine hit parade, I ignored two problems with its inclusion on this list: 1, the polio vaccine was such a big thing unto itself that it might not be lumped in with lesser vaccines, the way Christina Aguilera is more highly paid than the other judges on The Voice because she’s the more iconic star, or how the enigmatic diva Michael Stipe reportedly traveled on his own tour bus separate from his bandmates’ during the 1987 R.E.M. Work Tour; and 2, the question asked for the scientific names of the diseases, which implied that at least one of the correct answers might be better known by some other name. And indeed it was: Pertussis, not polio, is better known as whooping cough.

What kills me is that I knew diphtheria, which I could even spell, and tetanus were rock-solid answers to this question, and could and should have easily guessed those. I recklessly ignored the above misgivings and included polio in my guess along with tetanus. Clang! In NBA circles, this is known as blowing a dunk.

It reminds me of a vocabulary quiz from a high school French class in which we were asked to name either French term for “according to.” We’d learned both the words selon and d’après. Although I knew selon was correct, I went with the iffier one, misremembered d’après as après de, and cost myself a point. Not that I still remember this 22 years later.

5. What was the term used by Parliamentarians ('Roundheads') for a Royalist supporter of King Charles I during the mid to late 17th c., and in turn for a school of poets of the era whose works were accordingly light and secular, and which included Ben Jonson, Richard Lovelace, Thomas Carew, and Robert Herrick? The term itself has evolved linguistically to mean both debonair and disdainful.

I’m no history expert — for proof, read every other LL entry in this blog — but this one felt way gettable. Although I quailed at the sight of the word “Roundheads,” because all I knew about them was that they were a thing around the time of Charles I, this question was more about literature and language. I’d read a little Jonson and maybe some Herrick as a college English major, but even if I hadn’t, the final sentence in the question put this answer into play for anyone who could come up with it. I didn’t know the poets categorically by any name, but the term in question, something meaning debonair and disdainful with some kind of British overtone, was on the tip of my tongue all day. It was tantalizingly close, but wouldn’t manifest itself from the inchoate depths of my vocabulary. Eventually I gave up in frustration and guessed “boulevardier” knowing it had to be wrong. The answer was “cavalier.”

6. Identify the album on which the song in this clip first appeared (58 seconds).

I am embarrassed that I was still paying enough attention to late-period Michael Jackson that I knew the answer to this question. The song was “Scream” featuring Janet Jackson, with that unsettling video set in outer space. The record was the one after Dangerous, promoted with an absurdly over-the-top militaristic animated short film with fighter jets, armies and an enormous Michael Jackson statue in it. As in so many things MJ, it was lavish, overblown and nonsensical. Even the album title was needlessly ponderous. HIStory (Past, Present and Future, Book I), which I remembered fairly accurately as HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, was laughable from the first time I read it. I still remember thinking, “Don’t hold your breath for Book II.”

I gave this one the 3 since my opponent was iffy in pop music. Heck, if I had better taste or more self-respect, I wouldn’t have known it either.

The results of this match won’t be available until Sunday evening, but with two near-miss errors against a strong opponent, I’m not too excited about my chances.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Day 11: Target practice

Another day, another match against a super-smart trivia expert and great guy I know through puzzle circles. I had to rock out just to give myself a chance:

1. The scientific order lepidoptera contains an exceedingly large number of insect species, all members of which are commonly known by one of two names. Give either one.

You say lepidoptera, I say Vladimir Nabokov collecting butterflies. I figured the other group had to be moths, and indeed it was.

2. What is the formal name of the title held by the UK Cabinet Minister (currently, George Osborne) whose post is the rough equivalent of Germany's Federal Minister of Finance, and the U.S.'s Secretary of the Treasury?

Chancellor of the Exchequer. You either knew this or you didn’t. I did, and I knew my opponent would too. Between the 2003 Iraq invasion and the 2008 financial meltdown, there have been some fairly well publicized opportunities to learn or be reminded of who minds the chequebook for the UK.

3. This (slightly edited) image shows the control pad for the first version of what video game console?

Sony PlayStation. It was pretty much a ripoff of the classic Nintendo Entertainment System controller, with the four-way directional on the left and the Select and Start and what have you. You’re not fooling anyone with the weird symbols on the buttons, Sony.

4. Identify the diplomat who was named Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1978 and in 1985 -- the only Chinese national to receive the designation on two separate occasions.

This is the one I really had to sweat out. Outside of FDR, Hitler, Churchill, and other similarly huge players on the world stage, it was hard to imagine anyone being named Time Man of the Year twice in ten years. And the words “diplomat” and “Chinese national” were confounding. Was the person a Chinese-born American diplomatic figure like the German-born Heinz “Henry” Kissinger? It was an interesting theory, but I knew of no one like that from China, and I felt confident that I would have if they’d been named Time Man of the Year twice. Was a head of state a “diplomat” for the purposes of this question? I was at a loss to say who was the Chinese leader in the 1970s, but remembered Deng Xiaoping as Reagan’s counterpart in the 1980s. How long had he been in power? About all I knew for sure was that the time period in question was too late for the answer to be Chiang Kai-shek or Sun Yat-sen.

Eventually I decided that maybe Deng had been the point person, diplomatic, political or otherwise, when Nixon opened China to the West in the early 1970s, which for all I knew was what helped him rise to the top job later if he didn’t have it already. I couldn’t come up with a better guess during the time period in question, so although I had my doubts that Deng had been Time Man of the Year twice, I went with him anyway (after briefly considering giving up and trying for a Best Wrong Answer for the first time ever). To my happy surprise, Deng Xiaoping was the correct answer. I may or may not have pumped my fist.

5. Dante's Divine Comedy is an epic poem divided into three canticas. The first is Inferno; what are the other two?

Purgatorio and Paradiso. Dante’s tour goes through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. Add it all up and you’ve got one wacky divine comedy! I read it in college. Also could have handled other Dante-related trivia including What was Dante’s last name? (Alighieri), Who directed Gremlins? (Joe Dante) and Who was Tony Soprano’s pompadoured consigliere? (Silvio Dante).

My opponent's stats were eerily similar to my own, and although he was strong in literature, I gave this one the 3 in the hope that he might know Dante’s Inferno was part of the Divine Comedy, but not know the names of the other two sections.

6. What is the title of the classic German horror film from 1922 which is subtitled eine Symphonie des Grauens (A Symphony of Horror), and stars Max Schreck as the Transylvanian Count Orlok?

The early classic vampire movie: Nosferatu. I’ve never watched it, but I’ll always know it, having seen E. Elias Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire. John Malkovich plays embattled Nosferatu director F.W. Murnau and Willem Dafoe plays Schreck as a "pre-Method" actor so intense that he acts like a vampire throughout the shoot, and may in fact be undead altogether. I knew my opponent would know this one so I gave it the 0.

Speaking of today’s opponent, it was John Chaneski, a very funny guy and leading puzzle expert who is one of the creative minds behind the upcoming National Public Radio quiz-variety show “Ask Me Another.” They’ve been taping episodes live at the Bell House in Brooklyn for broadcast this spring and summer, and from what I hear it's going to be a lot of fun (check it out, New Yorkers!).

John is a trivia maven, NYU theater alum, crossword guru, musical talent, puzzle writer, and New York City man about town. I like pretty much everything about the guy except for the fact that he too “drank the beer” by getting all six questions correct today (as did yesterday’s opponent, Tyler Hinman; fellow friend of this blog and rundlemate Joon Pahk; and my buddy Martin, scoring his first-ever sixpack in his rookie season). Therefore, it didn’t matter how John and I played defense. We were destined to tie.

Mr. Chaneski has had either three or four correct answers in every other match he’s played this season, but on this relatively easy par 3, he fired it at the stick and made the short birdie putt. (Today you have to kick ass?) Well played.