Thursday, March 1, 2012

Day 5: Kissing your sister

A tie is the classic bad Father's Day present, and it's not particularly welcome in LearnedLeague either when you're in a tough division and you need to win the close ones.

1. What was the name of the failed vacation property development company incorporated by Jim and Susan McDougal and Bill and Hillary Clinton in June of 1979?

The gimme to end all gimmes. Teapot Dome. No, wait, Whitewater.

2. Old Enough, a 1984 film about teenagers in New York City, was the first film to win the Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic) at what film festival?

Had to be Sundance. Cannes is decades older and its top prize is the Palme D’Or. Tribeca was founded by Robert De Niro and his longtime producer Jane Rosenthal, if I recall correctly, to lift the spirits of the city shortly after September 11, 2001. Having served on the associate board of the Chicago International Film Festival for six years, I know our festival was founded in 1965, plus it’s not high-profile enough to be the answer to a LearnedLeague question. That left Toronto as the only other plausible right answer, but Sundance seemed like the better choice. I knew it had been around for a while and 1984 was more or less when Robert “(Butch and) Sundance” Redford founded the festival up in Park City, Utah. The leading American golden boy of the 1970s, Redford was pretty rich and established by then. And by now, my 30th official match day in the league, I’d refined my LearnedLeague aesthetic to the point where Sundance just felt more like a correct answer to me than Toronto did. And correct it was.

I almost went to Sundance once with a buddy from the Chicago festival, but that was the year the Winter Olympics were held in nearby Salt Lake City a month later, and what with the world's television networks and athletic personnel having already descended on the small town, finding a place to stay proved a major obstacle and we abandoned the idea.

3. With population in 2010 of just over 900,000, slightly more than Gran Canaria, what is the most populous of the Canary Islands?

Although I’ve managed to score on more than half of the geography questions I’ve faced, some of those correct answers have been educated guesses. I never feel confident in this category and usually have to sweat it out. When I don't know it, like today, sometimes there's not much I can do. I know almost nothing about the Canary Islands so my wobbly train of thought went like this: “I think Spain owns those. Gran Cranaria sounds Spanish, all right. I know Rafael Nadal lives on a Spanish island in the Mediterranean. I think it’s Mallorca. Or maybe Majorca. Nadal lives in a city called Manacor. But what’s the island called? Is Majorca the same thing as Mallorca? Is it in the Canary Islands? I feel like I would know if it were. But I don’t know anything about the Canary Islands either way. OK, let’s go with Mallorca.”

The correct answer was Tenerife. I’ve heard of it.

4. Among the world's top fashion schools are London's Central Saint Martins, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, and a division of New York's The New School which is known most commonly as what?

I could think of only two fashion schools in New York City: Parsons School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology. I preferred Parsons for two reasons. 1, since FIT has a more “standalone” name, I figured Parsons was more likely to be a subset of The New School, and 2, when the dean of my law school alma mater at Northwestern University left in 2011 to succeed Bob Kerrey as president of The New School, I read the press coverage in the NYT and Northwestern’s news release. It sounded familiar that Parsons was part of the New School. So I said Parsons and it was right.

5. This man, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1964 at age 30 for his reporting of the Vietnam War, was well known for writing on multiple topics, including foreign relations, civil rights, and sports — the latter of which includes the books The Breaks of the Game and Summer of '49.

Not a gimme to everyone, but it was to me. The great David Halberstam, whom I hold in the highest regard, was a journalist of the first rank, a perceptive and sensitive writer, deeply wise, incisively smart, a credit to his profession, his country, the planet. I’ve always admired his work. There’s a well-worn paperback copy of Summer of ’49 on my bookshelf. It’s a reportorial recounting of the postwar Yanks-Red Sox rivalry after Ted Williams and others returned from the battlefront. Mr. Halberstam interviewed dozens if not hundreds of old ballplayers and their widows; you feel like you’re there. If you're into baseball, you’ll love it. His Michael Jordan book is also well worth a read. I've been meaning for years to get to his non-sports stuff starting with The Best and the Brightest, which he wrote not too long after cutting his teeth as editor of the Harvard Crimson, widely revered as a devastatingly clear-eyed look at American Vietnam policy, and The Powers That Be, his profile of the major news media. Tragically, he died in a car accident a few years ago.

Here’s an excerpt from a commencement speech Mr. Halberstam once delivered at the University of Michigan:

I recently went back to the college from which I graduated and visited the undergraduate newspaper, and I visited with a few of the graduating student editors. A number of them wanted to be reporters but two of them had already decided to go to work for a consulting firm which was going to pay them around $85,000 a year, about three times the beginning, salary for reporters. Leaving aside the bizarre question of why anyone 22 or 23 years old should be going around consulting and giving advice about anything to anyone else, I had a sense that they did not particularly want to consult, but this was the best offer and seemed to connect them to something from which I and most of my generation were luckily spared, the dreaded fast track. And I who had headed off after my own graduation to the smallest daily newspaper in the state of Mississippi for the grand total of $46 a week asked them, "Did it ever occur to you that the salary you are being offered reflects the fact that this is a choice you might not make were it not for the size of the salary? And that in some way that you do not yet entirely comprehend, you are being manipulated." So perhaps there is a rule or a law of some sort here—if you are at too young an age being offered too heady or large a reward, perhaps it is not being offered with your best long-term interest in mind.

6. A unit of measurement of a magnetic field, a technique for blurring a graphical image, a law for gravity similar to Newton's law of universal gravitation, and a mathematical constant defined as the reciprocal of the arithmetic-geometric mean of 1 and the square root of 2 -- all of these are named after what German mathematician and scientist?

A German mathematician and scientist who has a well-known constant named after him? Max Planck felt about right, and it was all I could think of. Unfortunately, the answer was Carl Friedrich Gauss. I certainly know the name, but little about Herr Gauss ever sank in during my school years. A buddy of mine points out that “gaussing” is a well-known blurring technique, but I’m not much of a Photoshop user and I didn’t think of that before he pointed it out. For that matter, I didn’t know gaussing was blurring, I’d merely heard of it.

My opponent today was a good player with whom I shared a more or less identical track record throughout our rookie campaign, so it's fitting that I got my first-ever tie in match play against this gentleman. It was quite unusual to play my first 29 matches without once tying and I was overdue.

Ending with a tie feels like a near miss, but in this case I was fortunate to do that well. My opponent got 5 correct answers to my 4 and with all due respect his suspect defense cost him a win. He gave me a 2 for Whitewater, one of the easiest LearnedLeague questions I've ever seen and the easiest question of the day with 79% of players in the league answering it correctly. Those two points gave me the tie. He also did me a favor by giving me a 0 on Gauss, which I missed, when Whitewater and Sundance (74% correct) were the two gimmes of the day, and a 3 on Halberstam, which I happened to know.

For my part, I also left one point on the board by giving him a 3 for Tenerife and a 2 on the only question he didn't know, Halberstam, but my instincts were pretty solid as this player's personal stats were a wash in these categories, and by a narrow margin Tenerife proved to be the hardest question of the day.


Ellen said...

I thought Sundance started in the '70s, so guessed Toronto which turned out to be my only miss. Later research showed Sundance did begin in the '70s with another name, but didn't become the Sundance we now know and love until 1984.

Robert Hutchinson said...

I knew (or at least suspected) Gauss due to a desire to press buttons to see what they do. In this case, computer monitor buttons, some of which will give one the option to "degauss" one's monitor. I figured that that was connected to both the magnetic field and photo effect clues, so Gauss was my geuss.

Ben said...


Martin said...

Your first tie! How strange. I've had 2 ties already, after only 5 matches. All of my matches so far have been dogfights, never more than +1 in either direction. Also, in 3 of my 5 matches, both sides played identical defense, which seems statistically improbable although possibly not. Like Robert, I used "de-gaussing" as my way in to that question.

Have been reading Halberstam since I was a teenager, and even edited his words when I worked for an online company called Contentville in 2000. The site relied on "expert advice" to guide users' reading purchases, and Halberstam was one of our experts. Once a month one of our editors would have a phone conversation with him about what he'd been reading lately, and then write up his answers in paragraph (not QA) form, like a monologue. So I wasn't exactly editing his writing but a mutant mix of his words in the prose form our editor had given them.