Saturday, August 18, 2012

Day 3: A brutal slog

How you do on any given day of LearnedLeague — and by extension, how you feel about the game and yourself — is all up to the Commissioner, a shadowy figure at the helm of the whole enterprise. Although we know that the questions are written by an intelligent polymath in Seattle, it feels like they’re handed down to us mortals by a mercurial supreme being.

Today was one of those cruel Old Testament God days:

1. The words pizda, yebat', khuy, and suka are profane words, or mat, in what language?

The problem here was that I couldn’t find a consistent trend. Two words ending in -at (one with an apostrophe, admittedly) said Tagalog. The z in pizda felt Russian. The word khuy felt southeast Asian to me, to the point where I wanted to guess Vietnamese. This despite the embarrassing fact that I was not entirely sure that Vietnamese was a language. But then, the kh- also had a central Asian feel to it, like the Kazakh roots of the most fully realized comedic film character of the past ten years.

I waffled among Russian, Tagalog and Vietnamese for a while, trying to ignore the sinking feeling and mild dread that whichever one I picked was going to be wrong. Sure enough, I went with Tagalog (in hindsight, the worst guess among the three) and the correct answer was Russian.

2. What is the most common informal name for the skyscraper at the center of this photograph?

Not only did I not know the nickname, I wasn’t even sure I’d ever seen the building. I didn’t think I could take a wild guess that had any shot at being correct, so I went with “Some Guess I Will Not Be Embarrassed About When I Blog About It Tomorrow.” Given that the question was asked on Thursday and I am writing this on Saturday morning, I was even wrong about my own prediction. That is how hard the questions were today.

The correct answer was the Gherkin, a London financial district office building that opened in 2004. I have actually been to London since then, but since those cheerleaders and I stayed in Mayfair across from Hyde Park during my trip to Wimbledon 2009, I didn’t take note of the additions to the skyline since my previous visits.

3. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, enacted by the U.S. Congress primarily to reduce the cost of voting by incorporating voter registration into other citizen/governmental agency transactions, is best known by what rhyming name?

Thanks to this gimme, I was spared my first-ever goose egg in 3+ seasons of LL competition. Once or twice before I have flirted with the dreaded 0 but managed to get a single correct answer. It is humbling that there are plenty of smart people in this league who fight that battle a lot more often than I do.

The answer was the Moter Voter Law (my terminology, Motor Voter Act, was forgiven). As I recall, this was the primary legislative means by which I, along with other members of my generation, Rocked the Vote.

4. The traditional five-kingdom hierarchy of biological classification, first proposed by ecologist Robert Whittaker in the 1960s, includes Monera, Fungi, Plantae, Animalia, and what else?

Let’s see… there’s Qarth, King’s Landing, Winterfell… oh, wait, this question dealt with kingdoms I don’t take particular pleasure in thinking about.

This was deeply frustrating. For starters, I’m nearly useless in biology (future opponents take note). When I think about biological categories, I think “living things.” The categories Plantae and Animalia seemed to pretty much cover it. Even if one of those was going to be my guess, I probably wouldn’t have come up with the word “Animalia” for animals, and no chance I would have picked “Plantae” out of thin air.

The only other living things that felt like neither plant nor animal were some kind of paramecium or other microscopic creature, yet those still felt sort of like animals, or the slimy lichenish plant-animal hybrid that we were asked about a season or two ago. Yet Fungi seemed to cover all that creepy stuff that quietly oozes in the forest. And Monera? No clue what that was. As far as I was concerned it was the next town over from Pavarotti’s hometown of Modena, or maybe a Billy Idol song.

Like a high school student who played Xbox and smoked weed in his garage rather than study for his biology test, I tried to come up with a respectable-sounding guess that might fool the teacher. On the very questionable theory that trees might somehow be categorized separately from other plants, I went with “Arborea.”

The correct answer was Protista, and if my guess is right that this refers to some kind of protozoa, then at least I was on the right track with our tiny microscopic friends. I’m not going to compromise the purity of my abject ignorance by looking this up now, but even if I was on the right track, it didn’t matter; there was no way I was going to come up with Protista. Don’t know much biology, and doth protist too little.

5. This term, derived from the Greek for a reciter of epic poetry, is used to describe a free-flowing, irregular, and often improvisatory musical composition, characterized typically by emotion and spontaneity.

This was like the recent question about a school of British poets whose name meant something like breezy and nonchalant. I couldn’t come up with it and knew I would feel foolish when I saw the answer, which indeed I did: the Cavaliers.

In this case, the word “reciter” put me on “orator,” so I went with “Oratorio” even though I had no reason to think an oratorio was in any way spontaneous; if anything, I would think it was the opposite. But I didn’t have a better guess or a willingness to spend the time thinking of one. The correct answer was Rhapsody. Much like the Cavaliers, it looked both correct and, with the benefit of hindsight, guessable.

I gave this one the 0 because I figured that my classy opponent would nail it, marking the second time in three days that I gave the 0 to a question I missed.

6. Identify the French artist and chess journalist who worked on the piece of art pictured here from 1915 to 1923.

I didn’t recognize the painting, nor did it remind me of any other work, so to me this question was “which French artist and chess journalist (!) was active in the early 20th Century?” For reasons both temporal and artistic, it clearly wasn’t Chagall or Matisse. I went with Georges Pompidou, eponym of the French national modern art museum in Paris.

The correct answer was Marcel Duchamp, in a departure from his more urinal-based oeuvre. And Marcel, nice painting and all, but this took you eight years?

My opponent was the author and New York Times editor Daniel Okrent. He is a solid LearnedLeague player but that didn’t mean much today; the whole league struggled on these questions. At 55% correct, hardly a high number, Moter Voter was the “easy” one of the day, and every other question punished the field in the 18 to 28% correct range.

Mr. Okrent also managed only a single correct answer, the same one I got. Yet he gave me a 0 for Motor Voter while I gave him a 1, figuring he’d get Rhapsody for sure, so I got outpointed and lost due to inferior defense.


Eric Suess said...

Well, every day is a tough day here, but sometimes you get lucky.

1. After taking Russian in college, these seemed Russian enough to make this a reasonable guess. I was mildly impressed that I was right.

2. On the LL page, there's a discussion of serendipity, and how one always seem to find answers just after playing, not before. I managed to luck out. During the Olympics they kept mentioning "The Shard" so I looked up London buildings to see which were the tallest and most interesting. Little did I know this 'pickle' would pay off.

3. Motor Voter - an immediate solve.

4. I had biology in 1976 and 1980. It's been a while, and I had no idea. I can't even remember what I answered, but it was *not* Protista.

5. I knew it was rhapsody right away. I own roughly 400 pieces of classical music on CD and twice that many electronically, so I'm not going to miss too many.

6. The artwork did nothing for me. Ben, my first reaction was the same. What took so danged long? I mean, Seurat's pointillism stuff could take ages, but this looks like something you could kick out over a beer one afternoon. (OK, everyone's a critic. Maybe I'm missing something.) Anyway, I knew Duchamp. Not many people fit that description.

So, I was playing the extremely sharp Drew Scheeler. Drew pulled a 9(6). For some reason only he knows, he defended Protista with a zero, giving me 9(5) and a tie. I had given him a 3. Thanks! Like I said, luck.

Joon said...

i struggled immensely with the one question that seems to have been a gimme for everybody else. at least my guess of "registration legislation" has a rhyme i can be proud of.

i did manage to guess russian based on russian-looking-ness, and duchamp based on nationality, dates, and silly-looking-ness. (incidentally, it's not a painting. the name is "the bride stripped bare by her bachelors, even", which is as silly a name as it is a work.) and protista was a blessed gimme. but i lost when my answer of dithyramb, which i was sure was right, turned out not to be right for rhapsody, and my opponent nailed it for 3 points.

MeyerS said...

The Duchamp is an interesting work -- it's painted and done with metal foil and dust, sandwiched between two panes of glass (which broke the first time the work was moved, and Duchamp pronounced it complete.) (scroll to 1923) has a really fascinating and only kinda-tongue-in-cheek animated explanation of it.

Bruce Wrighte said...

It's reassuring to see I'm not the only one who feels they often carefully weigh several options then pick the wrong one! So it was when I said Hebrew instead of Russian for #1.

I was very familiar with the Gherkin from a recent family trip to London, but at the time the four of us referred to it as The Egg, and my memory tricked me into believing that was what everyone else called it too!

As a Canadian I wasn't acquainted with Motor Voter, and in an effort to come up with a rhyme, turned the initials N.V.R. into a word and guessed The Never Lever Act.

When I submitted my incorrect answer for the biology question and saw the answer was Protista, I still drew a blank. It sounded like something that would get you killed in South America.

I completely agree that Rhapsody, in hindsight, was guessable. Unfortunately I focused on the word "improvisatory" and said Cadenza.

Yes, it was an unusually tough day. I only got Duchamp.

ahabs.leg said...

Fun fact! Part of the reason it took Duchamp so long is part of the work was allowing dust to settle over the piece for a long period of time. It's called The Large Glass. Fun fact #2! This was the only question I got right for the day. =/