I didn't exactly light up the scoreboard today, but neither did my opponent, and I squeaked through.
1. The planet Uranus has 27 moons, and each one is named after a character from the works of one of two authors. Name either of the authors.
Thinking sci-fi, my first thought was Ray Bradbury. Then I thought about the fact that Uranus and at least some of its moons had to have been discovered quite a while ago. I wasn’t sure exactly how far back, but Bradbury felt too recent. So I guessed an earlier classic sci-fi writer, H.G. Wells, and felt like I had a halfway decent chance, especially since I had two shots at it. The correct answers, however, were William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope. Alexander Pope?!
Upon reflection, Shakespeare would have been a better guess, both because I would have been better protected as to the time period of the discovery and naming of the moons, and because it sounded familiar when I later learned that there were Uranus moons called Titania and Oberon. Then again, I might have been thinking of Titan, a moon of Saturn, as in the Kurt Vonnegut novel The Sirens of Titan.
2. The 2001 novel A Painted House, about a rural Southern family of cotton farmers, was what author's first bestseller outside the legal thriller genre?
This was a gimme and a half: John Grisham. In case there was any doubt, the Southern angle and the timing erased it. After practicing law and serving as a state legislator in Mississippi, Grisham lit up the bestseller list throughout the 1990s with a string of blockbuster legal thrillers before branching out into new subject matter, so 2001 felt about right. I gave this question the 0 even though my opponent was stronger in academic and historical trivia than pop culture. I couldn’t see him not getting it.
3. Saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, guitarist George Benson, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams -- all jazz giants in their own rights -- were members in the 1960s of what trumpeter's band?
Felt like it had to be Miles Davis, and indeed it was. Only other plausible answer was Dizzy Gillespie, but I was going with the far more likely guess. As a hardcore jazz enthusiast friend of mine put it, “this question was basically who was the most famous jazz trumpet player of the 1960s, and I wish it was 10x harder.”
It sounded like the same complaint I made on this blog last season when the league asked for the celebrity name shouted in R.E.M.’s “Its (sic) the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine).” The answer, as everyone knew, was Leonard Bernstein. Since I know more than my share of R.E.M. trivia, my gripe was that they asked such an easy question that they erased any Stipe-based advantage I might have enjoyed. In this case, however, I was one of the philistines who was allowed to catch up.
4. This meat substitute product, which is purportedly named after an English village though it (perhaps not coincidentally) sounds like a common vegetable, is actually produced using fungal protein mixed with egg albumen. It is popular in Britain and other parts of Europe, less so in the U.S. since its introduction in 2002.
If there was ever a time for me to shoot for a Best Wrong Answer, this was it. There wasn’t a chance in hell I was going to get this one. But I am such a points whore that I wanted to try to score a miracle anyway. The problem was that I couldn’t even come up with a respectable guess. I waffled between guessing Leek and Kale even though I didn't think either one was correct, eventually guessing Leek. The correct answer was Quorn. Oh, sure. Quorn.
5. The Battle of Stoke Field, which took place on June 16, 1487, is widely believed to have marked the final days of what?
This question provided another embarrassing opportunity to point out, via the harsh spotlight of this blog with its literally tens of readers, how little I know about world history. The only good thing I did here was NOT to guess the first thing I thought of, the Holy Roman Empire, but which I then decided had continued past 1487. I correctly figured the answer was British but although I knew HRH Elizabeth I and Shakespeare were soon to come, I couldn’t place anything in English history that made much sense as an answer to this question. Having been to the ruins of Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, I knew that it was the legendary and perhaps apocryphal home of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table centuries before 1487, and it didn’t sound familiar that a battle ended the Arthurian era.
I ended up guessing “the feudal system,” apparently on the theory that a bunch of serfs rose up Nat Turner-style and smote their liege lords. This didn’t seem very likely. In fact, it seemed fairly clear that the correct answer was going to be a proper noun. Sure enough, the answer was the Wars of the Roses. I will further embarrass myself by admitting that I didn’t know the Wars of the Roses were within 200 years of 1487, or indeed that they were Wars, plural. Mrs. Fisher, my 10th grade world history teacher, would be so proud.
6. This Graham Greene story, about racketeering, murder, and mystery in post World War II Vienna, became a 1949 motion picture starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton.
Couldn’t have told you it was a Graham Greene story, but 1949 + murder mystery + Orson Welles + Joseph Cotton (actually Cotten) = The Third Man. I’ve seen it and knew the answer cold. They didn’t even need to say “Carol Reed” or “film noir.” As I said, my opponent didn’t seem too strong in pop culture, and I felt like this one would be reasonably hard for a lot of people, so I gave it the 3.
My defense was not ideal in that I gave my opponent 2 points for Miles Davis, not a particularly hard question. I could have given him 1 for Miles and 2 for Wars of the Roses, instead of vice versa; in hindsight the latter feels a little tougher and the statistics bear that out: 49% of players got Miles, just 34% for Wars. Reminds me of an old Zach Galifianakis line: “I was just on tour in Canada opening for Miles Davis, or as they call him up there, Kilometers Davis.” (About eight years ago I closed a Chelsea, NYC bar with Zach in the wee hours of a Monday night, but that is a story for another day.)
On the plus side I gave my opponent only one point above the minimum, nullifying his other correct answer by assigning the 0 to Grisham. He allowed me two points above the minimum, correctly giving me 0 for The Third Man and 1 for Grisham (though I might have reversed these) but a somewhat generous 3 for Miles. I ended up winning 4(3)-2(2).
A whopping 89% of players nailed Grisham, a big fat off-speed pitch right over the plate. To his eternal shame my buddy Mike missed it, guessing our fellow Chicagoan Scott Turow. But he made up for it by getting picked as a Best Wrong Answer for the Quorn question. Asked for a British town name that sounded like a vegetable, Mike went with “Brock-on-Lee.”