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.