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.