Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Whither the blogger?

If you are one of the hundreds of people who have stopped by here looking for LearnedLeague writeups over the past few days, I apologize for my radio silence. I was neither eaten by a whale nor signed to an exclusive blogging contract by the Huffington Post. (Preposterous! They don't pay anyone.)

The sad fact is that I can't keep up with writing LL reports every weekday. I was several match days behind by last weekend because I tried to watch some measure of the Democratic Convention and the U.S. Open while feeling constant pressure to keep the blog going, and although I had good intentions of catching up over the weekend, I then had social, tennis and theater commitments that got in the way. This week is no better (U.S. Open men's final and a fancy Flavorpill dinner last night, Northwestern University charity function tomorrow night, Bears-Packers Thursday night), nor next week (Rosh Hashanah, board meeting for and performance by The Moth, Obama fundraiser, rock show Friday night, another play, mixed doubles tennis tournament).  With the opening of the fall theater season I will be seeing approximately six plays by the end of the month; this will cut deeply into blogging time, to say nothing of the writing I do about those shows. Plus I am attending a tennis fantasy camp in October and I have been asked to play 3-4 times a week, plus do stretching exercises, to prepare. Did I mention that I have a job?

The details are unimportant; the big picture is that I have barely even been playing the LL questions lately let alone writing about them, and something's got to give. Although I write quickly, I also write at length and care about the quality of the end product, and while I certainly take a nonchalant and fun-loving attitude toward the trivia league, I am much more serious about the things I write. As such, I would rather call it a day than not do it right.

I took a pass on blogging the previous LL go-round in May and June because it was a busy time for me at work. I knew I couldn't do it and figured I could write my way through LL54 during my office's fall (only relatively, as it turns out) slow season.  Yet although my work has its seasons, my life doesn't. I'm just a busy person. Last spring, when I blogged my way through LL52, I drove my family and friends crazy as I tried to find 90 minutes a day to write during a weeklong trip to San Francisco, and it was also hard to keep up when I was home. You'd think I would have learned my lesson.

Anyway, I apologize to everyone who's been faithfully stopping by here looking to compare their thoughts with mine as we forge our way through the remainder of the trivia campaign. I hate the idea of quitting — and, indeed, anything that puts me in a category with Sarah Palin — but I'm doing it for my own mental health. I constantly feel guilty when I can't write the blog, and every day that I look ahead at my calendar and see that I won't be home that night, only makes me feel more anxiety that I am letting my supremely intelligent and quite attentive readers down.

In case you're curious how I've been doing lately:  after enjoying very strong (trivia-wise), solid (defense-wise) and lucky (otherwise) rides through the previous two seasons, my current nightmare season rolls on unabated. I continue to suck in nearly every way a LearnedLeague player can suck as I dwell in a purgatory of my own making and drift inexorably downward toward the Mendoza Line that separates retention from demotion.

Once again, I apologize to anyone who's disappointed by my abrupt capitulation, and I'm happy for whoever is pleased that I'm finally giving it a rest.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Day 11: Throwing it all away

Today’s match was a pick’em: my opponent and I had virtually identical stats in both answering questions correctly and playing defense. Unfortunately for me, in the latest variation on a sadly recurring theme, I brought my A- game when I needed my A+ game.

1. Name the Republican who currently represents Missouri's 2nd congressional district in the United States House of Representatives.

It’s that dipshit, Todd Akin. I gave this one the 0 (which is also what Todd Akin is) and so did a lot of other people. It defensed the easiest of the day at 0.9, and both my opponent and I knew it as did 69% of players leaguewide.

2. This woman has been credited with being the first television psychologist (credentialed by her Ph.D. from Columbia University), as well as the first female television boxing commentator (credentialed by her boxing expertise demonstrated on the game show The $64,000 Question).

As opposed to Dr. Phil’s Ph.D. from the University of North Texas via a dissertation entitled Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Psychological Intervention (?!), Dr. Joyce Brothers boasts an impressive résumé only somewhat besmirched by her constant shameless appearances before every TV camera this side of the putatively Rev. Jesse Jackson. (Boy, am I judging ’em today! What the hell, it’s my blog.) She either reclaimed or irrevocably destroyed her own cred by endlessly serving as the butt of jokes in the 1990s on NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien. You be the judge.

3. Identify this letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Aleph, the Hebrew A. As my bar mitzvah ceremony occurred at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, I was relieved to get this one, lest a vengeful Old Testament God smite me. Even for those with a passing knowledge of Hebrew, this was a total gimme. Apparently mistaking me for former Houston Astro BassK, my opponent gifted me a 3 on this one.

4. This illustration is the work of what well known graphic designer and street artist?

You might know him as the creator of the iconic Obama HOPE poster, but he built his street reputation on his Andre the Giant-based oeuvre. Who are we not to obey said giant? The answer is Shepard Fairey. This time it was I who let my opponent score a 3, which he earned as one of the 42% who got this.

5. The organic compound sucrose is a disaccharide composed of two monosaccharides, which are two of the three dietary monosaccharides (galactose being the third). Name these two monosacchardides, also known as simple sugars?

Time for my almost daily choke. I try not to be on the wrong side of questions that 65% of the league answers correctly, but I cacked this one. I came up with Fructose, as in high-__ corn syrup — definitely the most delicious of your corn syrups — but I drew a blank on the two apparently interchangeable other -oses: Glucose/Dextrose (which gave me various Neuroses). I went with Lactose with a far too nonchalant “what the hell, maybe it’s a milk sugar.” I still don’t even know if it is.

I’m not going to make excuses about how it was 11pm and I just wanted to go to sleep without spending the time trying to remember another sugar ending in -ose. It’s my own fault for not playing these questions early in the morning when I think most clearly. Glucose should have been the first one I thought of; it’s the obvious one. I threw away two points here.

In fact, speaking of the daily trivia cycle, I write a lot of these in the evening, as I’m doing right now instead of watching the Federer-Berdych match in the US Open. An odd side effect is that after I wrap up the writing shortly before I go to bed, I often realize with a start that I have not yet played the day’s questions. I have routinely been answering the day’s Qs in the last two hours before the window closes, as indeed I will probably do tonight as it’s already 9pm and I need my Federer infusion, to say nothing of President Clinton's speech at the Democratic Convention.

6. The first solid body electric guitar manufactured and sold by the Gibson Guitar Corporation, in 1952, was named after (and endorsed by) what American guitarist and inventor?

Les Paul in a total gimme. I could practically have written this question off the top of my head. At 78% correct, this was the easiest question of the day. But how many players in the league own a 1971 Epiphone Riviera, made by a sister company to Gibson, on which they mangle the world’s greatest rock songs to the consternation of their neighbors? I rest my guitar case.

My opponent killed this soft set of questions, running the table and “drinking the beer” with his correct six-pack. Thanks to spilling the sugar, I failed to keep up with him, batted just 5 for 6, and lost the ballgame.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Day 10: I'll take it

After more than my share of shaky defense lately, I finally flashed the leather at shortstop.

1. This photograph was taken in what city, where this sort of thing happens around 80 times a year?  

“This sort of thing” is the sausage race around the field at the Milwaukee Brewers’ home ballpark, which occurs “around 80 times a year” because the Brew Crew have 81 home games. Knew it, ate it up with sauerkraut and spicy mustard. 

2. Identify the national capital city highlighted in red on this map. 

Once again my spotty geography knowledge cost me. Somewhat at a loss to name an East African nation other than Madagascar, I was sort of proud to come up with Ethiopia, not to mention its capital city, Addis Ababa, thanks in part to a local Ethiopian restaurant by that name. But it turns out that although Ethiopia does border the (not Coral but) Red Sea, due east of it is Somalia, whose capital of Mogadishu was the correct answer. I would have earned a 3 for this one, but I did hold my opponent to a 0. 

They have Ethiopian pirates, don't they?  When they're not shooting horses?

3. First discovered in 1869, and now a fundamental component in many branches of scientific research, nucleic acids (polynucleotides) are large biological molecules which are plentiful in all living things on earth. All naturally occurring nucleic acids are known commonly by one of two names -- give either name.

This one hurt me in my soul, in that the question gave away the answer and I still blew it. I wasn’t sure of the answer, but surely it wasn’t DNA and RNA as their N and A (for Nucleic Acid) appeared right there in the question. I think you can see where I’m going with this. Once again I took a wild stab in the faint hope of fooling the teacher, guessing Peptides, but might as well have guessed The Prince of Tides.

4. In the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, what was the trademark catchphrase of Sylvester the Cat?

This was a classic “you either know it or you don’t” and thanks to my misspent youth I did, getting credit for Thufferin’ Thuccotash although the correct answer was Sufferin’ Succotash. This both defensed as the easiest question of the day at 0.9 and played that way at 76% leaguewide.

5. The last film which featured Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra together was what 1984 film, itself a sequel to a 1981 movie (which featured Sammy and Dean but not Frank)?

This wasn’t exactly a “you either know it or you don’t,” but it was a rare film question where I couldn’t even come up with a respectable guess. Sure enough, it played as the toughest Q of the day at 27% correct.

Due to a technical error my guess was not emailed to me, and a few minutes ago I compounded the problem by closing a window from several days ago containing my guess, but it went more or less like this: We’re All Going To Die Soon, First Sammy, Probably, Then Dean, Then Frank.

I did make a good guess as to the order in which they died, but my poor taste likely doomed even my bid for a Best Wrong Answer. The Best Right Answer was Cannonball Run II. The good news was that my gaudy statistics in the Film category presumably caused my opponent to give this one the 0.

6. The plot for the John Fletcher and William Shakespeare comedy The Two Noble Kinsmen is based on what earlier English work?

This one I figured out by the process of elimination. There are very few classic pieces of English literature that predate Shakespeare and would be fair game for a trivia question among non-PhD candidates.

My first thought, of course, was “Shakespeare needed a cowriter? That’s like Stacey King (jokingly) boasting about the night he and Jordan combined for 70 points after Jordan dropped 69 on the Cavs.” But I soon got to work thinking what the right answer could be. Something by Marlowe? Would the Commish be tricky enough to use an earlier work by Shakespeare himself? No and no. Spenser’s The Faerie Queene? Not likely; too obscure and maybe not even before Shakespeare. Milton? Not comedic, later than Shakespeare. La Morte D’Arthur? Hell no. Beowulf? Some other circle of hell no. 

That left Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, which I read in college and have largely forgotten. Although I was not entirely clear on the two noblemen thing, I felt like it pretty much had to be the correct answer, and indeed it was. 

My opponent and I each got three correct answers, but with immaculate defense I allowed the minimum 2 points and won 4(3)-2(3).

Making "Friends"

Hello, fellow triviaheads.  I hope you had an enjoyable holiday weekend.

The day after Labor Day fills a lot of people with dread:
  • Students, because they have to go back to school;
  • Teachers,                   "                  "                     ; and
  • Me, because we now embark on 14 weekdays in a row of LearnedLeague action and I've committed myself to writing about all of them.
Between the fall theater season opening (I write about shows), fewer people in our office due to travel, the U.S. Open tennis tournament underway that I follow closely, the Democratic National Convention this week, and only a month left in our outdoor tennis season, the prospect of spending 90 minutes a day writing about trivia is fairly daunting. 

I only managed to write about one match during the busy holiday weekend (wedding, tennis, out of town guest, high school friends' rock band reunion show, etc.), I'm already two matches behind, and we're only now hitting our grueling stretch of three straight weeks of trivia days. Sure, I could phone it in by quickly tossing off subpar writeups, but I'd rather spend my usual hour-plus and work hard to create subpar writeups.

So please bear with me as I try to keep up, but I will probably be a few days behind at times, and try to make up the ground on the weekend(s).

For now, here's a gem that my mom chipped in from a sea not named after a color, i.e. the Mediterranean:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Day 9: You lose some

I played a tough player today and needed my A game, but I brought my B game.

1. The location photographed here was, according to legend, first memorialized in song in 1936, by whom? 

Ugh. I think of the crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil as a legendary intersection of dirt roads somewhere in the backwoods of the Deep South, not a prosaic meeting place of two paved U.S. highways. But that was indeed the right answer.

I could not stop thinking about Route 66. The street signs put me on that road and that song. But 1936 was way too early. I had trouble coming up with a good guess. The Tennessee angle said it probably wasn’t East Coast-bred George Gershwin so I went with Cole Porter, whom I knew to be a native of relatively nearby Peru, Indiana. Give me an E for effort and a G for good intentions along with my W for wrong.

At an average 2.0 this defensed as the hardest question of the day, and I really could have used the 2 my opponent earned here. Only 35% of players got this, which did make it the day's hardest question.

2. The Dutch language in Belgium, as it is spoken by the majority of its citizens (and nearly everyone in the region adjacent to the Netherlands), is known colloquially by what name?

It’s Flemish, which you pretty much knew or you didn’t, and I did. I’ve been to Belgium and pay more attention to it than most Americans because I follow pro tennis. Over the past decade there were two supremely talented Belgians at the top rank of the women’s tour, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters. 

Henin was not particularly likeable — particularly when her poor sportsmanship screwed Serena Williams out of an important point late in the semifinals of the 2003 French Open — but Clijsters is right there with Federer among the nicest and most popular (among both peers and fans) champions of all time. She retired for good this week to spend more time with her family, having left the tour for three years to have a daughter, only to return in 2009 and win her second U.S. Open title after playing only a few warmup tournaments.

I hit the 2004 Australian Open with a girlfriend who'd played Big Ten college tennis. Henin and Clijsters were atop the sport at the time; we referred to the two Belgians as the “Waffle Chicks.”

3. Beginning with the 1987 French Open, and ending with the same tournament in 1990, this German appeared in a record 13 consecutive tennis Grand Slam finals.

What do I know about tennis? Enough to get this one. Whoever missed it likely guessed Boris Becker, but although the swashbuckling German was indeed a top player in the late 1980s, he certainly didn’t play in 13 straight Slam finals. For one thing, a 17-year-old Michael Chang won his only Slam when he beat Ivan Lendl in a five-set classic at Roland Garros in 1989, becoming the youngest men’s major tournament champion of all time and the first American to win the French Open since Tony Trabert in 1955.

The answer lay on the ladies’ tour, where Steffi Graf was the dominant force in question. She won each Slam at least four times, including a “Golden Slam” in 1988 when she ran the table and added an Olympic gold medal.  My opponent and I each nailed this and earned a 0 for our trouble.

4. Companion to Music, Companion to English Literature, Companion to Food, Companion to Western Art -- these are all partial titles to successful books which begin with what name?

I knew I would feel like a fool when I saw the correct answer, and indeed I did. I couldn’t come up with Oxford, instead guessing Norton as in Anthology of English Literature, a clear sign that Companion to English Literature made Norton incorrect, as indeed it was.

5. Sutter's Fort, the final destination of the Donner Party survivors, and abandoned after the discovery of gold (and subsequent rush) at nearby Sutter's Mill, was established in an area that would eventually become what city?

I knew the Donner Party had traveled through north central California and never hit the Bay or the coast (although both are lovely), so I figured Sacramento was a good guess. It turned out to be the best possible guess in that it was the correct answer.

6. To whom did the head in the bottom right of this painting belong?  

My first thought was St. John the Baptist. Then I realized I wasn’t sure whether he had been beheaded or not. So I tried at length to think of well-known people who lost their heads more literally than, say, Sarah Palin trying desperately to prepare for a vice presidential debate. It didn’t feel like Louis XVI was the right answer even though his was the era of the guillotine, and Jean-Paul Marat had died in the bathtub since he was so into Jim Morrison, so I went with Charles I. One of the few things I remember from World History my sophomore year of high school was an odd sequence of British kings (James I, Charles I, Charles II, James II) during which Charles I was beheaded.

This didn’t feel like the right answer either, but I didn’t have a better guess. The answer was Goliath, who was slain by a slung sling, but whom David apparently then beheaded as an extra “F you.” I gave this one the 3 and my opponent hit it with his sling.

He and I each gave up two points above the minimum, but by getting four correct answers to my three, my opponent both ended up with and deserved a 6(4)-4(3) victory.