Against a tough opponent the balls were flying out of the park, yet it came down to defense today.
1. Correctly spell the branch of medicine which deals with diseases of the eye and their treatment.
2. This former third baseman and member of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame hit 548 home runs in his career, most ever hit by a player who spent his entire career with just one team.
Pretty much a no-brainer if you’re into baseball trivia: Mike Schmidt. (Actually less of a no-brainer if you also knew Eddie Mathews played 3B, which I only learned after I played, and had over 500 HR, which sounded plausible, and you didn’t know he’d played for three teams. Of course, if you knew what position he played then you'd probably have some idea of what teams he played for.) I knew Schmidt was in the 500 HR club and didn't know him to have played for any team other than the Phillies. He was their rock-solid leader my entire childhood and perennially one of the best players in the National League. Brooks Robinson, the other immediately obvious Hall of Fame third baseman, wasn't known as a slugger and certainly hadn't hit 500 homers.
I discovered some noteworthy similarities between Schmidt and Robinson when I performed a little research (after turning in my answers, obviously). Each hit .267 lifetime and was the face of his franchise during a long, distinguished Hall of Fame career played entirely with one team. They both sparkled in the field at the hot corner; although “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” Robinson is considered the greatest defensive third baseman ever and won 16 consecutive Gold Gloves (tied with Jim Kaat for second all-time to Greg Maddux's 18), Schmidt could flash the leather as well and won 10 Gold Gloves. But Schmidt far outslugged Robinson with 548 career HR to Brooks’ 268, and Schmidt played five fewer seasons. The list of all-time great third basemen is arguably shorter than that of any other position, but other leading 3B include George Brett, Pie Traynor, George Kell, Chipper Jones and Wade Boggs, and of course Alex Rodriguez if you consider him a third baseman. I consider him a shortstop who currently plays third base because he chose to play alongside Derek Jeter, who wasn’t going to vacate the position for him or anyone else.
The thing about most HR by a player who spent his entire career with one team was a trivia gem I'd never heard before. Over the last month I've enjoyed the quiz show "Baseball IQ" on the MLB Network, where I recently learned another one. I posted it on this blog two weeks ago, but since I've had a readership spike due to blogging LearnedLeague, I'll repeat it now. Who is the only player in major league history to hit All-Star Game home runs with three different teams? (Actual teams, not National or American.)
3. While there are today dozens of theatre festivals across the globe which are dubbed fringe festivals, the original and still largest fringe festival in the world takes place in what European city?
My friends in the truly great musical improvisation group Baby Wants Candy have been going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (and killing 'em there) for many years. In fact, I donated to their Kickstarter campaign last summer for their latest trip across the pond. Thus, to me, a no-brainer that I knew before I finished reading the question.
4. The Rwandan Genocide, which took place in 1994, was planned and led by an extremist organization known as the Akazu, who were members of what majority ethnic group?
If you rank the players in the league by how much they know about Africa, I’m probably in the bottom half, maybe the bottom third. Yet I knew this one thanks to the movie Hotel Rwanda, which revolves around the tension between the Hutu and the Tutsi. I was pretty confident in my recollection that the Hutu, or at least the extremist faction mentioned in the question, were the majority oppressor and the Tutsi the victimized minority. Sure enough, Hutu was correct.
5. A drama series which debuted on the Fox Television Network in April of 1987 and revolved around a group of police officers, who worked undercover investigating crimes in high schools and colleges, had what as its title (named after the address of the officers' headquarters)?
You had me at cops undercover as high school students: “21 Jump Street” starring a young Johnny Depp. Fox TV and 1987 didn’t hurt either. If I'd had any trouble remembering this, which I did not, I would have been reminded on Monday, when Jonah Hill spent an hour on the Howard Stern radio show promoting his 21 Jump Street movie remake, coming March 16 to a theater near you.
6. This photograph was taken in which U.S. state?
This is where my sixpack got run over by a steamroller. Who turned up the velocity on the pitching machine? I had no earthly clue what was going on with this one. The only useful information, beyond the obscure town names, was the weird shape of the, presumably, state highway. There was no state with that shape, and what was the deal with the face hanging off of the outline? It looked like Abraham Lincoln to me so I figured maybe it was a picture of Mount Rushmore. Lacking a better idea, I therefore guessed South Dakota. The correct answer was New Hampshire, where a distinctive rock outcropping known as the Old Man of the Mountain apparently once graced the, appropriately enough, Granite State. It’s on their state quarter.
What’s crazy is that the trapezoidal shape of the sign (if you ignore the face) made me think of Vermont and New Hampshire, but I rejected this thought because the trapezoid was stubbier than the more elongated outlines of those states and clearly wasn't the outline of any state.
My opponent today was Tyler Hinman, five-time champion of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and a friend of mine. Tyler is known as a rambunctious boy genius to anyone who’s seen the documentary movie Wordplay, but now that he’s in his mid-20s, he’s merely a rambunctious genius. The guy is insanely smart, endlessly amusing, an even faster talker than I am, and almost as tough in trivia as he is in crosswords. As I posted on his Facebook early this morning, “I haven’t looked at the questions yet but I’m hoping the answer form isn’t in the shape of a grid.”
Since we’re in touch in the real world and know each other’s full names, which is relatively rare among LL opponents, we were able to compare notes once we’d played our match. Tyler's only error was misspelling ophthalmology; as he put it in typically entertaining fashion, “I left the L out of ophthalmology (which L is left as an exercise to the reader).” He also remarked self-deprecatingly that New Hampshire was the only one he was remotely confident about during his first pass through the questions. Modesty notwithstanding, he got five correct answers — even Edinburgh, which I wasn't sure if he would know since his stats were iffy in theater, so I assigned it the 3.
Because Tyler and I played to an offensive draw with five correct answers each, it came down to defense. I was stunned when he told me he’d assigned me the 0 on New Hampshire; although it's of course completely subjective, that was to me the hardest question by far. Thus, I scored the maximum 9 points.
My defense was imperfect as well, but slightly less so. I thought about assigning Tyler the 0 on ophthalmology since a crossword savant’s spelling obviously figures to be very strong. Still, that word is often misspelled, rarely comes up in everyday life and doesn’t pop up in the NYT puzzle too often either. Even though I figured Tyler would probably spell it correctly, I decided to assign him a 1 on the spelling question and the 0 on Mike Schmidt. Although he’s too young to have seen Schmidt’s career, I know he’s a huge sports fan who loves his college hockey and recently co-wrote a newsworthy baseball-themed New York Times crossword. This wasn’t a particularly hard baseball trivia question and I figured Tyler would definitely get it, which he did.
So by a narrow 9(5)-8(5) margin, I escaped with the win. Tyler, for his part, took yet another hard-luck collar. As he put it, with semi-competent defense, he would have been at least 3-2-0 in his last 5 games. Instead, he’s 0-3-2.