fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Back in late January, I devised an initial set of rules for a game I called Safety: It’s Not Jeopardy. Based on some feedback on the National Puzzlers’ League facebook page, I made some minor tweaks to those rules, mostly to randomize how players passed questions. I also somehow changed the word "Safety" to "Security" and wrote 60, rather than 42, questions, but blame those changes on a faulty memory.

I did note that I took it for granted that I could write interesting, yet challenging but fair, trivia questions. Given the results, I was clearly wrong. I overfocused on what I thought was interesting and overestimated what people would know. Given how many fights Robert and I have had over the years over his fondness for the phrase "but everybody knows that" (generally referring to things that maybe four people in the known universe know), I should have known better. Or at least tested things more on a different set of friends.

The first set of players quickly got into not even attempting to answer the questions. A passer-by asked what was going on and one of the players said this was the hardest trivia game ever. Clearly, I had misgauged what people know. What bothered me was not that people weren’t getting the answers, but that it was clear they were not having fun. I did get some useful feedback and thought it was worth revising questions as much as I could overnight and running it again the next night. That did work better, but it was still clear that an interesting item of trivia does not necessarily make a good trivia question.

To give a couple of examples of questions I was surprised people didn’t get:


  1. Q: Bel Kaufman’s best known literary work is the novel, Up the Down Staircase. Who was Kaufman’s famous literary grandfather?

    A: Sholem Aleichem – this falls into the category of things I assumed "everybody" knows, but apparently not so much. This is something I could have rewritten, perhaps by adding a mention of Sholem Aleichem’s most famous character, Tevye.


  2. Q: The only painting Caravaggio ever signed is Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. In what city can that painting be found?

    A: Valletta, Malta (in St. John’s Co-Catherdral) – I didn’t necessarily assume everybody knows this per se, but I did assume a significant number of people know Caravaggio was a Knight of Malta, having been exiled to that nation after her murdered someone in a bar brawl in Naples. (And, for what it’s worth, people should know more about him, as he was arguably the greatest painter of the 17th century.)

  3. Q: In 2015, the movie industry of what country surpassed Hollywood to become the second largest in the world?

    A: Nigeria. The intended trick is that Bollywood (i.e. the Indian film industry) is the largest in the world. But apparently the existence of Nollywood is more obscure than I thought. It’s not like I was asking about The CEO, a Nollywood movie that was the first film ever to premiere aboard an airplane. (Apparently, it was funded, in part, by Air France.)


To give an example of something I was able to rewrite to make it easier to guess:

Q: What Middle Eastern airline features a shower spa in its Airbus 380 first class cabin?

A: Emirates

Here, the change was adding the words "Middle Eastern" to the question.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the game mechanism (which is what I had been primarily focused on) is basically sound, though could use a bit more tweaking. If I do the game again, I need to put a lot more effort into how the questions are written. I’d intended to have a mix of difficulties, but the only question which actually proved easy was:

Q: Who was the second man to walk on the moon?

A: Buzz Aldrin

I probably won’t run this again next year, but intend to the year after. My reasoning on next year is actually because I have an idea for something else, which is probably a mini-ganza, though it could be a (live) pub quiz. We’ll see as it develops.

I also want to note that I was pleased to see more games and puzzles run by women this year, though there is still a gender imbalance. Saxifrage collaborated with Cazique on a Jeopardy, for example. And, most significantly, Colossus ran the Extravaganza.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch:Paul Terasaki was a notable scientist whose work enabled tissue typing and organ transplants. The personal significance is that I used to work for his brother, Dick. Paul Kantner and Signe Toly Anderson were both part of Jefferson Airplane. Bob Elliot was a comedian, half of Bob and Ray. Jack Elrod used to draw Mark Trail, the least interesting comic strip still around. Sir Jeremy Morse set Birtish cryptic crosswords under the pseudonym "Esrom." Apparently, Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse was named for him. Edgar Mitchell walked on the moon. Dan Hicks wrote the song "How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away." Margaret Forster wrote the novel Georgy Girl which was, of course, made into an unmemorable movie with a memorable title song.

Trivia: I got good feedback on my trivia game, with a few useful suggestions for minor tweaks. Now all I have to do is actually write the trivia questions.

Founding Farmers: I went to a Restaurant Week dinner with some folks from Flyer Talk at Founding Farmers in Tyson’s. It was not as great a deal as some other places since, even though you could order anything up to certain prices on the menu, their starter options did not include any of the soups or salads, just things like breads with spreads. The food was fairly tasty, but the service was abominable. The most egregious example was that one guy at our table had to ask for a knife for his lamb four times. So I probably won’t be going there again.

Used Bookstore Run: The weekend before last I finally did a used bookstore run. I got rid of about 50 books and acquired about 15 in trade. Which is, of course, going in the right direction, but ever so slowly.

Book Club: Our meeting got moved a week, due to weather. So it was this past Wednesday that we discussed Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller. Interestingly, this was probably the most divided we’ve ever been on any book, with a few people hating it, a few loving it, and a few in between. That does make for good discussion. Since I was the one who had suggested it in the first place, I was glad at least a few people enjoyed it enough to go out and get Fuller’s other books. Funniest moment of the discussion involved someone commenting on not having been to Scotland (which is where Fuller’s mother’s family originated) to which I responded, "It’s a lot like Zimbabwe." And, actually, in ways it is, both in terms of scenery (though Scotland has fewer kopjes) and tribalism.

Global Entry: I finally got around to getting Global Entry, which should simplify my travel life slightly. I did my interview late in the day at IAD, which was kind of a mistake because it meant driving directly into the sun. And after I had scheduled the meeting, I had a meeting come up in Chantilly, so I could have coordinated things better and not driven back and forth the complete length of two counties. But, oh well, it’s done and successfully so.

The Joys of Home Ownership: This weekend started with a plumbing emergency. My toilet needed to be reseated and resealed, as water was dripping from it into my downstairs neighbor’s bathroom. Plumbing is expensive. (I had heard water running, but thought I just needed to replace the flapper.) I will still need to reimburse my neighbor for repairs to his bathroom ceiling, too.

Genealogy Update: The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington has an Assisted Research session at their next meeting, this coming Sunday. I’ve been working on my great-grandfather’s brother, Chaim Wulf Sczwarzbord, later Hyman Schwartzbord. My maven has helped me find a bunch of info and I believe this has also identified a mysterious family photo of Cousin Ray (a woman, who I now believe is likely his daughter, Ray Ginsburg). The document that really opened things up was one for a death of a U.S. citizen abroad, as he died in Israel in 1959. There are still plenty of open questions, particularly involving the uncle named Kalman Lewidra who he listed as the person he was going to when he emigrated to New York in 1909, but this work added a huge number of cousins to my tree.

Monsters of the Villa Diodati: I had seen And the World Goes Round at Creative Cauldron a couple of months ago, so I was excited to have the opportunity to see this new musical there. It was written by Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith, who are familiar from Signature Theatre and is part of a series of "Bold New Works for Intimate Spaces." In case you don’t recognize the Villa Diodati, it was a large estate that Lord Byron rented on Lake Geneva in 1816. He was there with Percy Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Claire Clairmont (Mary’s step-sister, who had an affair with Lord Byron), and Dr. John Polidori. Most of the show is from Mary’s point of view, though there are aspects from Polidori’s, mostly in the form of excerpts from his diary. (He was paid by a publisher to keep that diary.)

Of course, the famous thing that happened was a challenge to write ghost stories, which resulted in Frankenstein (and Polodiori’s short story "The Vampyre.") But the musical focuses on the complex soap opera between the people at the villa. Lord Byron comes across as a pretty terrible person, frankly, and there’s a nicely nasty scene between him and Mary with a song ("Monster") to show their enmity. Byron and Shelley have a complex relationship of their own, with definite sexual aspects. And then there is poor Dr. Polidari, who really doesn’t fit in at all. He has a particularly effective song ("Directions for John") about his life position.

Overall, this is an intriguing work. It was also well-staged, with clever set changes to move from Lake to Villa to boat and so on, making full use of a limited space. As for the performances, David Landstrom was excellent as Dr. Polidari. Sam Ludwig was alternately attractive and repellent as Lord Byron. Alan Naylor was a handsome Shelley and a good foil to the two women, Susan Derry as Mary and Catherine Purcell as Claire.

I’m looking forward to future shows at this venue (which is conveniently 10 minutes from my house) and, in particular, new musicals being developed there.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
You may recall that I complained last year about how male-dominated the after hour games at the NPL con were. In the interest of lighting a single candle, I’ve been working on developing a trivia game. I could just do a Jeopardy game, of course, but I thought it would be fun to devise a slightly different game mechanism. I want things to be less dependent on buzzer-pushing reflexes and also to have a little element of chance. (Recall that I am the person who loves backgammon on the grounds that it is a game of skill when I win and a game of luck when I lose.)

Here is what I’ve figured out. I’d love some feedback on whether this looks like something you might like to play. And, of course, I invite ideas for tweaks, though I feel free to reject them.

This is a 6 player game. At the beginning of the game, a die will be tossed to determine which player will start. Assuming the players are in a curved linear seating array (i.e. more or less around a table, facing me as the moderator) the play will then move to the next person on the previous player’s right.

There will be a total of 42 trivia questions which will be, for convenience, on index cards. The questions will cover a wide range of categories. That deck of index cards will be shuffled before the game starts. The cards will then be gone through in order.

The player whose turn it is will roll a die to determine how many points his or her question is worth. On hearing the question, the player has the opportunity to either answer or pass. Incorrect answers lose points, but passing does not. Either a pass or an incorrect answer gives the next player the opportunity to answer the question. The point value of the question does not change as a result. If no player answers correctly, the game will move to the next card. Note that getting a card as a result of an incorrect answer or passing does not count as one’s turn.

Each player will also have one safety token. This can be traded in for the opportunity to answer a question with no penalty for being incorrect. Note that each player can only use his or her token once during the game.

At the end, the player with the most points wins.

So, what say you?
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Mervin Field founded a polling company. Elizabeth Peet McIntosh was a spy, both with OSS and its successor, the CIA, and wrote a couple of books about women spies. Ornette Coleman was a major jazz composer and saxophonist. Christopher Lee was an actor, noted particularly for horror movies. It wasn’t his fault that the film adaptation of Dracula so completely mangles the book. Ron Moody was also an actor, best known for playing Faigin in the movie version of Oliver!. Jack King was the voice of the Apollo space missions.

Puzzle People Deaths: I met Leslie Billig only in passing at a couple of crossword tournaments, but it is clear from what other people have said that she was well-liked and a significant loss to the tribe of puzzlers. The loss that has hit me harder is that of Thomas Gazzola, known within the NPL as Maso. He was a brilliant man, the creator of numerous puzzles, including a late-night game that I still think of as Doubles Jeopardy, even though he later changed that to It Takes Two. I was always astonished (and excessively proud of myself) when I could beat him at any sort of trivia. His death is particularly tragic, as he was the victim of a drunk driver, who struck him while he was jogging near his home. This year’s con will not be the same without him.

Leading Jewish Minds: Tuesday night was the first Washington area edition of the Leading Jewish Minds at MIT series, sponsored by MIT Hillel. Traffic going to McLean was a mess, but I made it in plenty of the time to the home of our gracious hosts. I hadn’t expected to know anybody (other than the Hillel staff) but, in fact, the attendees included someone I met a while back via a mutual friend and another person whose cousin was a good friend some 30+ years ago. The event was advertised as having "light kosher dairy refreshments." Ignoring the kashrut question, at a non-Jewish event, that would mean wine and cheese and maybe crudites. At a Jewish event, light refreshments means a groaning board, including noodle kugel, spanakopita, lox, salads, etc.

The speaker was Dr. Gerald D. Cohen '88, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Macroeconomic Analysis at the US Department of the Treasury, who spoke about the outlook for the US economy. I thought the most interesting part of his talk had to do with metrics, i.e. how we actually measure how the economy is doing.

Food Pornography – Pizza Edition: There was a flyertalk dinner at Fireworks Pizza in the Courthouse area on Wednesday night. The place was quite noisy, which is an issue, but the food was well worth it. The beer list offered too many choices, so I went with a cocktail, instead – The Calm Before the Storm, which was their version of a Dark and Stormy. It was quite good, with strong ginger flavor. (One of the reasons I rarely order these is that most American ginger beer is unimpressive.) As for food, the tartufo pizza had lots of tasty mushrooms (shitake, cremini, maitake) and an excellent thin crust. It is probably the best pizza I’ve had in the area and I would certainly try some of their other offerings.

The evening also solved a bit of a mystery. A couple of weeks ago I ran into somebody at a bookstore, who clearly knew me as he called me by name. He looked vaguely familiar, and I was pretty sure there was a work connection, but I could not place him at all. Well, he was at that dinner and it turns out that he works with our software team. But he is based in Seattle, so it’s not like he’s around all the time. We had never actually worked together but had had a conversation re: flyertalk once on the way into the building (since I had a backpack with a flyertalk tag on it).

Everybody Knows: I thought that everybody knows that there are stalactites underneath the Lincoln Memorial, formed by the limestone of the carving dripping down into the cavernous understructure. I have, in fact, been there and seen them, though it is some years ago. Nobody in my office knew about this. Alas, it appears that they’ve closed off public access, so they will remain unconvinced.
fauxklore: (Default)
Good Jobs for Women: There was a piece in Forbes several weeks ago listing the 10 best jobs for women. Aerospace engineer came in 10th. For the record, many jobs on the list had some science / math orientation, e.g. oceanographer (3), geoscientist (8), surveyor (6). Supreme galactic empress was not on the list, alas, but I still aspire to that one.

Odd Advertising: I get a number of circulars in the mail with discounts for local businesses. Restaurant ads usually have pictures of food. I understand most of these, e.g. kebabs for the Persian place and stir fried something or other for the Chinese restaurant. But why on earth is a restaurant whose tag line is "Get to know our homemade food" advertising itself with a photo of a plate of toast?

Customer Service: I have cooled off from my bad experiences with several companies, but I will note that it is very annoying when either clicking on a discount or logging into your account (which has the link for getting a discount in it) makes the price of an Amtrak ticket go up by 20 bucks. I know how to circumvent this (which sometimes requires buying two one-way tickets instead of a round trip one) but they have known about this for a couple of years and show no interest in fixing it.

Do I Want to Read This? Mark Leyner has a new novel out. I will admit to having liked My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist but could he possibly have more to say?

Celebrity Death Watch: King George Tupou V of Tonga died recently. The interesting part is that he died in a hospital in Hong Kong. As you may recall, the Tongan treasury was greatly increased by the sale of Tongan citizenship to people from Hong Kong who were concerned about China's intention, but much of that money was embezzled by their court jester. That was under the previous king but it is still such a good story that I can't resist repeating it.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Mara Chibnik lost her battle to pancreatic cancer. She was a calm and intelligent presence back in the good old days of Usenet (and a few mailing lists we were on). She influenced my thinking on a range of subjects, including gender, sexuality, aging, and books. I will miss her.

Speaking of Sexuality: I saw the documentary Trembling Before G-d Saturday night as part of the Northern Virginia International Jewish Film Festival. Homosexuality in the Orthodox Jewish world is more talked about now than it was when this film was made over a decade ago, but it is still (obviously) a controversial subject. I found the movie interesting and moving, especially a scene in which an older man talks about his estrangement from his family, saying "I'm 68 years old and I want my daddy" before singing "Shalom Aleichem."

Brother Russia: As I've mentioned before, I subscribe to Signature Theatre largely in order to support their productions of new musicals. This is their latest and was, in my opinion, an interesting failure. I didn't have problems with using the life of Rasputin as the subject of a musical, but I didn't see the need to place it in the "play within a play" mode involving a theatre troupe. I may also know too much about Russian history to have been able to get past the (admitted) fabrications, which do get called out by one actor later on. The music was just okay, with the only particularly memorable song being a lively celebration of vodka. (My experience, however, is that Russians of the class frequenting that tavern would actually be more likely to drink beer or kvass.) The performances were fine (especially Nastascia Diaz as Anastasia). The choreography was remarkably dull and the whole thing was too long. Overall, this might have been better off with a year or three of workshops to figure out what it is supposed to be and edit it into a more satisfying show.
fauxklore: (Default)
It seems I am busy enough doing things that finding time to write about them is a low priority. This episode gets me only half-way through last weekend and covers primarily much randomness, rather than what I've been up to. I will get caught up real soon now.

Celebrity Death Watch: The obvious celebrity death to note is Whitney Houston. Her music was not really to my taste, but she was a big name.

Health: I had a doctor's appointment last week and can, therefore, testify to the benefits of fish oil. My doctor was pleased with the impact on my triglyceride levels, as was I. I was less pleased with the cold I caught in the waiting room.

Work, part 1: Passing around a bowl of chocolates does not compensate for scheduling a meeting over lunch time. Fortunately, the meeting in question finished in an hour and a half, not the three it was scheduled for.

Work, part 2: The background on this item is that there are 7 people in my group, plus 2 from another group who come to our weekly staff meeting. Two of us are Jewish. We have just inherited an additional responsibility and about all we know about it is that it involves four questions. One of my (non-Jewish) colleagues commented about our need for training and asked, "Does anybody here even know what the four questions are?" David and I immediately turned to each other and said, "mah nishtana ha layla hazeh..."

Missing the Point: The Washington Post had an opinion piece regarding intellectual property a couple of weeks ago. They used the example of an ebook of horror stories which included two pieces by Poe and "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs and decried the copyright violations. A little detail they might have wanted to consider is that all of those stories are in the public domain, so there was not any copyright violation.

Winter in a Day: I was down in Richmond on Saturday for a VASA board meeting. Shortly before leaving, we had a storm come through. There was rain, sleet, hail, wind, snow, thunder, and even thundersnow. Fortunately, it went through pretty quickly and the drive north was just a bit wet for a few counties (and clear once I got up to about Caroline County).

Virginia Rivers: We have two types of river names in Virginia. (I refer only to things identified as a River. Creeks are called "Runs" and don't count for this purpose.) There are polysyllabic ones like the Rappahonack. And there are single syllable ones like the Po and the Ni. The latter was obviously where the knights used to hang out.

Story Swap: The Voices in the Glen story swap was Saturday night. The swap was, as always, a good time. I was particularly pleased that we had a few newcomers, one of whom even told a story.

Convidence

Jul. 12th, 2011 09:43 pm
fauxklore: (Default)
Convidence was this year's National Puzzlers' League convention. As the pun suggests, it was held in Providence, Rhode Island. For a number of reasons, I flew up on Thursday afternoon, instead of Wednesday evening. I had a unique and bizarre experience with the flight up. United uses the same gate at Dulles for multiple express flights. They announced that the Providence flight would be delayed due to a mechanical problem and boarded a Syracuse flight. Then they took everybody off the Syracuse flight because they had actually loaded them onto the wrong plane and theirs was the one with the mechanical problem.

Still, I got to Providence safely enough. My next fiasco was my own fault as I made the dubious decision to try taking the train from the airport to Kennedy Plaza. What I didn't know was that the train doesn't run in the middle of the day. There are three trains in the morning and three in the evening, but nothing from 7:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. I ended up taking a bus which was cheap but slow. At that point, I was grumpy enough to just take a taxi the last mile or so to the hotel.

Thursday evening started off with introductions, in which people told their nom, where they are from, and how they heard about the NPL. That was rather lengthier than desirable, but so be it. Then came a couple of games. The first, a mixer, involved switching off with various people to form words with the best Scrabble scores. You had three letters, your partner had three, and one was given that you could use. There was also one already placed on the card that you had to use, which limited the possibilities quite a bit. It was reasonably entertaining. That was followed by a team game which involved choosing words to fit given categories, with the constraint that no word in a set could use letters used in another word in that set. That's the sort of thing that I think often makes a better solo puzzle than a group activitiy.

The best part of con for me is the after hours unofficial games. I played Only Connect, a very difficult but entertaining trivia game. The two teams were pretty much neck and neck until the end, though mine ended up losing. After that came a few Jeopardy games. [livejournal.com profile] jeffurrynpl always puts on an excellent game and this was no exception. His "Children's Literature Before and After" category was especially amusing, though it is harder to buzz in when you can't stop laughing. I followed that with two of Noam's Jeopardy games which were also fun, though not as twisted.

Friday had free time for sightseeing. I had more faith in the weather than I should have and decided that, while rain was a good reason not to go to Newport, it would still be okay to do the Providence Volksmarch. The walk consisted of two 5K loops, which I did in the opposite order of how the directions were written for reasons that will not make sense to anyone other than me. It started out fine and I still think Benefit Street has to be one of the nicest urban walks in the country, but the drizzle turned to torrential downpour just about as I got to Wickendam Street. Fortunately, it was a good time to stop for lunch and I had a delicious falafel wrap at a cafe there. The rain had let up as I left and I confidently strolled along, heading up towards the Brown University campus. The checkpoint for that leg of the walk was a market where I chatted a bit with the owner. Not long after leaving, the next downpour came. There wasn't any particularly handy shelter until I got up to the Brown University Bookstore, which really ought to have umbrella bags so people don't have to feel quite so guilty about dripping all over the floor. At any rate, I had time for a nice browse before the rain let up enough for me to continue the walk. The other loop was basically along the river walk and around the State House. All in all, it was a nice route, but I'd suggest doing it in better weather. It did serve its purpose though as I not only got some much needed exercise, but was able to finish the Artistic Heritage special program.

Friday night's puzzles started with one called "Polar Coordinates" which involved guessing which of two fill-in-the-blank answers would be more popular. I suspect some generational bias in the results. Apparently nobody goes out on a date any more, though they still go out on limbs. That was followed by a team trivia game in which each member of a team of three had to supply one of the answers in a category. The catch was that no verbal communication was allowed. Most teams went for people holding up fingers to indicate how many of the answers they knew. My favorite question of the bunch had to do with naming the three European languages, other than Spanish and Portuguese, which are official languages on the South American mainland. (By the way, I don't think that specifying the mainland was strictly necessary, but specifying European languages obviously was.) The final official event was an elaborate video, with amazing production values, that included five flats. (Flats are basically word puzzles in verse. There are a lot of types of them. Fortunately this was limited to a few types of flats, all of which were explained well, and (more significantly) are types I can actually do.) This was very cute and a good end to the evening.

The unofficial events on Friday night started with a trivia game called Million Point Score Drop. This was a team game and involved judging how confident one was of the answers, so had some team dynamic issues to resolve. It was fun, but not something I would necessarily go out of my way for. After that came an opportunity to play Learned League Live. I'd been introduced to this last year in Seattle and liked the range of trivia subjects and the game dynamics which have a strong element of defense. It proved to be my triumphant moment of con, as I actually went completely undefeated. Most of that was because other people did not do super well at guessing what I would and wouldn't know, while I managed to play defense well. (The play would feel quite different were one playing people one knows well.) While I'd like to play Learned League on-line, it requires you to have internet access every weekday and I can't be sure of that. (For example, I have no idea what connectivity is like in Torshaven, Faroe Islands. I do, alas, know what it is like - or, more precisely, isn't - in Belo Sur Tsiribinha, Madgascar.) I should also mention that a lot of the odder things I know, I know because of song lyrics. Were it not for the Stan Rogers song, "Northwest Passage," I'd never have known the Beaufort Sea, for example.

I finished out the evening with Doubles Jeopardy, a partnered version that I did considerably less well at. (Not terribly, but not brilliantly.) At that point, it had somehow become 4 a.m. and I figured it was wise to go to bed some time before the hour I normally get up at.

After sleeping well but too quickly, it was time for breakfast, followed by the business meeting. The most important things to note are that next year's con is in Portland, Oregon and 2013 will be in Austin, Texas. I will probably make a week or so of real vacation out of the former, since there are other things I'd like to do in that area.

The afternoon puzzles included one that involved filling in consonants in response to clues for answers which used each vowel exactly one and one that involved crossword answers divided into two parts which had to be matched to find where to enter the answer in the grid. (I am sure I am not explaining that well.) These are the sort of thing that can just as well be done as a handout, but were still fun. The main Saturday afternoon event was the flat competition. I ended up with a group of about 5 people. I was sure I'd be completely useless, but that proved not to be the case, as there were a few I was able to see right off.

After a brief break for the group photo, I went off to play Rhode Island Jeopardy. This was extremely weird and entertaining. For example, one round involved a spelling bee with the names of H. P. Lovecraft's elder gods. I didn't do particularly well, but I had a lot of fun.

After dinner came the Saturday night extravaganza. This is a series of interlocked puzzles. Fortunately, my team worked well together, with everybody contributing. There are two types of teams - runners, who are really racing, and strollers, who want to take a more casual approach and work all the puzzles. I go for the latter and we managed to be the fourth of the stroller teams to finish. The main thing I want to say is how much I admire the ingenuity of Mike Shenck, who wrote the puzzles. I can't imagine how much work went into something that is just a labor of love.

I didn't actually play any after hours games on Saturday night, though I did watch some of another game of Rhode Island Jeopardy. That meant I got an almost respectable amount of sleep. So I didn't doze through breakfast or the Sunday awards ceremony. After that, it was off to the airport and the flight delay of the day. (Though, in this case, not for any particular reason I could discern, or at least not for a bizarre one).

I am, alas, not caught up at home yet. In fact, I have not even touched last week's Sunday crosswords yet, never mind this week's. So there are things I must do. But next July, I shall return to the field of trivia. Be very afraid. (And maybe by next year, I will have actually learned what that's a quote from.)

Mish Mosh

May. 1st, 2011 08:36 am
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I have an unexpected weekend free, so here's another catch-up entry.

Free Weekend: I had planned to go to Staunton for a VASA board meeting and stay overnight to do a Volksmarch today. The board meeting got cancelled. My condo is grateful for the attention.

Commuting: I've had a few annoying metro moments lately, suitable for haiku. Let's start with Friday's fun at Crystal City:

This morning, doors would
not open because the train
overshot platform.

I had been on time, but that extra stop to the airport and trip back made me late. I'd also had that extra stop earlier the week but had nobody but myself to blame:

It is bad enough
when I'm absorbed in reading
and miss my station.

Which is why it is a good thing I live at the end of the line. Except when the worst fellow passenger ever is also going to Vienna:

He took up four seats
then lit up a cigarette -
also needed bath.

Game theory: The Prisoner's Dilemma (a classic problem in game theory) came up at a meeting I was at on Thursday. It gave me an opportunity to point out that neither approach to it (both of which are valid) is entirely satisfying. Pareto died in exile and Nash spent much of his adult life hospitalized for schizophrenia.

Work comment of the week: One of my colleagues referred to a meeting as having been held in "one of those big sleeper conference rooms."

Disease trivia of the week: Armadillos can transmit leprosy to humans. I never did trust animals that think they need armor.

Books purchased: I took advantage of being at Dupont Circle on Friday night to do some book shopping. I found a book of Yiddish folk tales at Second Story Books (which is mostly a used book place). And I bought John Pollack's The Pun Also Rises at Kramerbooks, as well as Old Jews Telling Jokes which will make a reasonable Mother's Day present.

Theatre: The reason I was at Dupont Circle was to see National Pastime at the Keegan Theatre. This was advertised as a musical about a fictional baseball team, which is right up my alley. The show was reasonably entertaining, but nothing brilliant. The plot, such as it is, involves a struggling radio station in Iowa in 1933 which tries to save itself by making up a baseball team, whose games (in Europe to keep anybody from trying to go to them) they will have exclusive rights to broadcast. It works fine - until a reporter from Life Magazine wanders by. There are a couple of love stories woven in. One involves the person behind the scheme (the owner's daughter who happens to be a big shot lawyer from Chicago) and the station manager. The other involves the primary baseball reporter and the woman who does traffic reports and such. He doesn't act on anything until one of the thugs, hired to pretend to be a ball player and do on-air interviews, makes a move on her. Then he takes revenge by killing that player in the next game.

A lot of the humor comes about because the two guys doing the broadcasts don't know anything about baseball. So, for example, they don't understand the symbols for the positions when they cover the first game and say things like say things like x is at C and y is P-ing on the mound. And they take it too literally when the station manager throws a suicide squeeze into the script later on.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of little things that are distracting. It's hard enough to believe two adult American men in 1933 are that ignorant about baseball. It's even harder to believe that a woman lawyer would be able to run everything in that era. (And, really, to have her wearing a pants suit in much of Act 1? No.) There are plenty of anachronisms and errors. The team schedule, for example, makes no sense in that era of limited air travel. A radio station in Iowa (which is west of the Mississippi) could not be named WZBQ. And the flags everyone waves in a scene about how great being an American is were current ones, with too many stars. These are nits, but all of this could have been solved with competent editing. Just because it's a musical doesn't mean you don't have to do your homework.
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I've been absurdly busy but I did want to post at least a partial update before I go off-line for a few days.

Celebrity Death Watch: Major celebrity death of the past several days is Sidney Harman. Aside from having made lots of money in audio equipment and then gone on to buy Newsweek for a dollar, his major claim to fame in the D.C. area is that the theatre used by the Shakespeare Theatre Company is named for him. He and his wife, former Congresswoman Jane Harman, were long term patrons of the arts here.

Random Trivia: 14% of our troops who have been medically evacuated from Afghanistan have had altitude sickness.

Taxes: Virginia ended their free file program after last year. The idea was that people with lower incomes would get to use commercial providers free, while others could pay to file electronically. Being a cheapskate and noting that the feds at least have free fillable forms, I intended to file on paper. But Intuit saw a marketing opportunity and provided a prepaid code for all Virginia taxpayers, making it free to use their turbotax product. This meant that I used turbotax for the first time in my life (for both federal and state taxes). I found it fairly annoying that things are arranged in a different order than they are on the forms and call for more information. For example, I don't have to enter the info from 1099-INT and 1099-OID forms in separate sections on Schedule B, instead of just separate lines. Nor do I have to list each of my charitable contributions with the exact date. Overall, I wasn't super impressed and wouldn't bother to pay for the software. People who are less compulsively organized or more intimidated by tax forms may find the experience more satisfying.

Social Media: I've been getting some odd LJ comments. They aren't obvious spam, but they just say things like "this was an interesting topic." Which, of course, is completely generic and doesn't bear any particular relationship to anything I wrote. In all cases, when I look at the commenter's LJ, they have no entries, no friends list, and just a bunch of comments. Has anybody else experienced this and what could somebody be aiming to gain out of it?

House Envy: I went to a friend's housewarming party this past Sunday afternoon. He bought a condo in Crystal City towards the end of last year and moved in right at the beginning of January. He has already replaced the dining room floor, decorated with his vast collection of antiques (e.g. hung several old maps, arranged a lot of glass objects in curio cabinets he inherited from his greatgrandparents, etc.), arranged an assortment of stuffed animals on the guest bed, and so on. More to the point, he appears to have actually unpacked everything. Now, admittedly I didn't open up closets and maybe he has a messy storage locker somewhere, but I've lived in my condo for over 3 years now and my den remains the Black Hole of Vienna and I haven't hung most of my pictures. (Partly that is because I am looking for some display cabinets and haven't had time to find ones I like.)

He also has an awesome view of the airport, the river and much of the District. There's a part of me that envies the view but I made a concious choice of where to live and I prefer my neighborhood. I realized that much of my envy had to do with the orderliness of his place. And that is something that is within my control. I'm not going to ever achieve a clutter-free life (nor would I really want to) but I can do better.

Travel Planning: I believe I've mentioned before that I am planning a trip to Iceland and the Faroe Islands. The news this week noted that the Phallological Museum in Iceland has finally gotten a human specimen. This sounds like such a bizarre museum that it may be worth adding to my itinerary.

Reviews to Come: I saw Pink Martini (with the NSO Pops) on Wednesday night. Last night, I drove to Herndon for the Elden Street Players production of the musical, Thrill Me: The Story of Leopold and Loeb. Expect reviews some time next week.

Upcoming Calendar Items: I have mailed in my registration fee and made my travel arrangements for Convidence. On a completely different note, I have almost decided to enter the 2nd annual Virginia Tall Tales Championship.
fauxklore: (Default)
A transit system birthday haiku:
The Metro System
is now 35 years old
and showing its age.

Celebrity deaths: There are a lot of recent celebrity deaths. In the political world, I'll note both Warren Christopher and Geraldine Ferraro. In show biz, there was Farley Granger and, of course, Elizabeth Taylor. (Oddly, I think the only one of Liz's movies I've seen is A Little Night Music.) The literary world lost Dianna Wynne Jones. And, most significantly to me, the sports world lost Lou Gorman, the general manager of the Red Sox from 1984-1993.

A strange work-related thought: If the sky is falling, will that create orbital debris?

A strange work-related quote: "Anything human-created in space would have had to be launched."

Another incomprehensible note to myself: I have no idea why, but I wrote down the phrase "SoLo(W)" in my planner.

A strange observation prompted by a voicemail message I got this week: It must be particularly inconvenient to have a lisp if your name starts with "S."

Trivia about the Old Dominion: Someone asked me this a couple of weeks ago and I just got around to googling the answer. Virginia has 95 counties and 29 independent cities.

Not really a political observation: Antonin Scalia was ticketed for his role ina 4-car accident on the George Washington Parkway this week. I wonder if he will fight the ticket.

Good news in the book world, part 1: Politics and Prose (a very good independent bookstore in D.C.) has found a buyer. Actually, a pair of buyers.

Good news in the book world, part 2: The newest No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novel, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party is just as charming as the previous books in the series. I particularly liked how Charlie (one of the apprentices at the garage) was handled.

I still have other things to write about, but will do so separately.
fauxklore: (Default)
Thanks to other people's comments on cassava, I was reminded that I always confuse cassava and taro. The thing the two of them have in common is that they are poisonous if not treated before eating. But it turns out that some varieties of cassava (referred to as "sweet cassava") have little enough cyanide that they can be eaten raw - at least for a while.

The chronic low level cyanide poisoning results in goiters.

So there is the explanation for this Dogon dance mask, seen in Tereli, which Adama explained has to do with "a disease that no longer exists." (I had assumed that there was now some new source of iodine.)




By the way, eating poisonous foods is not actually uncommon throughout the world. Salt fish with akee is pretty much the national dish of Jamaica. And I have been known to eat (and enjoy) fiddlehead ferns.
fauxklore: (Default)
On Friday I was talking to one of the meteorologists at work and complained that it seems that the crappy weather is always on the weekend, when it is less convenient for me to deal with. She said that there really are some weather patterns that are 7 days in length. That led us to speculating about weeks.

Years are easy - there's the sun. And the moon determines months. Yes, both are approximations but they are close enough. The question is whether there is any actual physical basis for a week being 7 days. If it had to do with weather patterns, one would expect a different length of weeks in cultures in different climate zones. If you have a monsoonal pattern, for example, you might have a week that is shorter or longer than people have in temperate climates.

None of us knew the answer to this, but I wonder if there are (or have been) cultures in which a week is 6 days or 9 days or anything other than 7. Wikipedia is marginally helpful (and suggests the answer is "yes") but not entirely satisfying. This is more a subject for cocktail party chatter than actual serious inquiry, by the way.

By the way, I had sent an email to someone to cancel a meeting and titled it "need to cancel 21 Jan" without putting in the word "meeting". He replied that I shouldn't cancel January 21st because that would create the calendrical equivalent of a black hole. He did, however, give me permission to cancel April 15th.
fauxklore: (Default)
I'm still searching for cable ties (which are great for closing luggage). In the process of searching, I stumbled across more little notes to myself. I have no idea why I wrote down these two little bits of trivia, but they may come up some pub quiz somewhere so I figured I'd pass them along.

1) Donald Duck's middle name is Fauntleroy.

2) Robert Recorde invented the equals sign.

On another note, I find it mildly disturbing that the main section of my duffel bag is full and I haven't packed any actual clothing other than underwear yet.

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