And now, the Geek Bowl VIII answers!
Tag: life Page 2 of 5
Just to make sure I don’t bury the lede: my team, How I Met Your Mothra, won Geek Bowl VIII. It was unreal. 147 teams competed, and we came out on top. The second place team, I kid you not, was made up of Jeopardy! champions. That is some trivia firepower! Any quizzer will tell you, though, that you’re never going to get everything right, no matter how smart you are. The close wins come down to getting asked the right questions, and this time, we got asked enough of the right questions to edge the Jeopardites by one point. Considering it made the difference between a $3,000 team prize and a $6,666.66 team prize, that one point ended up being pretty important!
Our team this year had some shakeup in its makeup, which may have affected the outcome as well. A married couple (Dave and Lori) that has been part of our Geek Bowl team for the past 5 years dropped out this time for various reasons, and teammate Larry recruited a couple of new members (Don and Jonathan) who are very strong indeed. We hung out together in Austin the night before and day of the Geek Bowl, and as usual that was a lot of fun. Thanks to teammate Don’s organizing efforts, several of us had even brought practice rounds of trivia questions to quiz each other with. So we toddled around different Austin locations, warmup questions flying.
We also went to the Geeks Who Drink pre-party (the “Freak Bowl”) on Friday night, at a place called Recess Arcade Bar — the Geeks had rented the upstairs space, away from the arcade games. That kind of party is not really my scene — my introverted self would much rather hang out someplace quiet with a few people than someplace bludgeoningly loud with a boatload of people. They did have a good live band, though — Guilty Pleasures, an all-girl rock & roll cover band who did a fine job with Blondie, AC/DC, ZZ Top, Beastie Boys, Nazareth, and so forth. They also had these dancers called The Hell Katz, who slung fire, showered sparks, and so forth, which, wow. It was awesome to see, but I was kind of glad I was in the balcony.
As for the Bowl itself, it was held in easily the nicest venue it’s ever had, the Moody Theater in downtown Austin, where Austin City Limits is filmed. The place was gorgeous, roomy, and had absolutely top-notch sound and video, which is especially important in an event like this, where the ability to see and hear clearly can mean the difference between a right and wrong answer. A beautiful building won’t compensate for a poorly organized night, but lucky for us, Geek Bowl 8 was a beautifully organized night, even before it ended so well for us. The early Geek Bowls were pretty rough going, but at this point the organization seems to have solved whatever problems needed solving, allowing them to accomplish some pretty remarkable feats of logistics, like getting 8 different live acts on and off stage quickly enough that we never felt like we were waiting for anything, even though each act only played for 25 seconds. (Well, they each did their thing twice, so I guess 50 seconds.) I feel like GWD hit a peak last year in event management, and it was gratifying to see them not slip an inch, and even improve in some areas.
Then there were the questions. The GWD signature tone is one I often describe as “self-consciously edgy.” They go to great lengths to position themselves as “not your father’s trivia game,” which means you are pretty much guaranteed to hear some combination of f-bombs, sexual references, and scatological humor, along with general irreverence and attitude. This has tended to be my least favorite GWD quality, because it has often felt like a bunch of well-written questions interspersed with two scoops of lowest-common-denominator crap. Over time, though, at least in the Geek Bowl, I feel like they’ve figured out how to integrate those themes well enough that they end up with a bunch of well-written questions that just happen to have raunchy elements. The question-writing has hit a very strong, very consistent stride, and this year’s quiz was no exception.
As I’ve done in previous years, I’m going to recap the questions and answers here. A few caveats about this, though. First, the Geeks are pretty careful about their intellectual property, and the agreement we’ve worked out is that I won’t post these recaps until at least a week has elapsed since the Geek Bowl. (Though all things considered I’d have a hard time getting this together in less time anyway!) Second, I consider these recaps a tribute to the excellent question writers of the Geek Bowl, and an advertisement for a really fun event, but I am in no way officially associated with Geeks Who Drink, and I have not been supplied with question material. The recap below is not a verbatim representation of the Geek Bowl 8 questions. They are reconstructed from my notes and memories, which are very fallible. I am certain I have left out some of the cleverness, some of the humor, and some of the pinning precision. Anything in the questions and answers below that is wrong or crappy is my fault, not theirs.
Quoting myself from 2012, here’s the format: each team has its own small table, with 6 chairs. Quizmasters read questions from the stage, and the questions are also projected onto large screens throughout the venue. Once all the questions in a round have been asked, a two minute timer starts, by the end of which you must have turned in your answer sheet to one of the roaming quizmasters. The game consists of 8 rounds, each with its own theme. Each round contains 8 questions — usually, each question is worth one point, so there’s a maximum possible score of 8 points for each round. However, some rounds offer extra points — for instance, Round 2 is traditionally a music round, with 8 songs played, and one point each awarded for naming the title and artist of the song. In a regular GWD pub quiz, it’s only Round 2 and Round 8 (always the “Random Knowledge” round) that offer 16 possible points. However, in this year’s Geek Bowl, one other round was upgraded from 8 potential points to 16 — we could see from the pre-printed answer sheets that Round 5 would have 16 answers.
Finally, teams can choose one round to “joker”, meaning that it earns double points for that round. Obviously, you’d want that to be one of the 16-point rounds, unless you really believed you wouldn’t score above 8 in any of them, which is highly unlikely. We discussed our jokering strategy ahead of time, and decided on thresholds. The Round 2 threshold was 14 — in other words, if we felt very confident about 14 out of 16 answers in Round 2, we would joker it. The threshold for Round 5 would be 13, and of course for Round 8 there was no threshold — if we hadn’t jokered by then, we certainly would do so.
Now, for posterity and enjoyment, the questions of Geek Bowl 8. I’ll note our team’s experiences in [square brackets.] I’m also going to try something a little different this year and put the answers in a separate post, since this one gets long enough as it is.
Round 1: These Team Names End Tonight
Remember how I said that the GWD tone is intentionally raunchy? Well, that carries over to some of the names people give their teams, and sometimes you see these names week after week, year after year. Often, they weren’t that funny to begin with, but even the ones that are funny tend to wear out their welcome after a while. So the Geeks, to their credit, mock them mercilessly, and in this round they announced (tongue in cheek, I assume) that the team names mentioned in these questions are herewith banned forever, and anyone with one of those team names will score 0 points for this round.
1. Banned team name: My Grandma Doesn’t Wrestle, But You Should See Her Box. If your boxing grandma were 124 pounds, she would be in what boxing weight class, in between bantamweight and lightweight? [We batted this one around for a while, and then Don nailed it.]
2. Banned team name: Cunning Linguists. Noam Chomsky was a very cunning linguist, who was born in the latter part of what decade? [Jonathan had an answer for this one, but alas, it was not correct.]
3. Banned team name: My Couch Pulls Out, But I Don’t. Even if you did pull out, your method of contraception would be rated very poorly on what scale, which shares its name with a pretty mineral ball?
4. Banned team name: Kitten Mittens. In the nursery rhyme where three little kittens lose their mittens, what food is withheld from them as punishment?
5. Banned team name: Turd Ferguson. In that SNL sketch which we have apparently all seen, Turd Ferguson is the alias used by what film star, being played by what SNL cast member? BOTH answers are required.
6. Banned team name: Ramrod. In the movie Super Troopers, which half of “RamRod” was also the director: Ram or Rod? [None of use knew this movie, so it was basically a coin flip. 50/50 was good to us that time.]
7. Banned team name: Hermaphrodite Barbie Comes In Her Own Box. The more widely accepted word for someone who cannot easily be categorized as male or female is what “I” word, which has its own advocacy group, the ISNA? [I was first out with this one, but I’m sure others at the table knew it.]
8. Banned team name: Just The Tip. Now that she’s split from Al, you could play “just the tip” with Tipper Gore, but her predecessor as second lady is still married. Give that predecessor’s first name.
[We ended up with 7 correct answers in this round.]
See the answers
Round 2: Sexy Songs Of SEX
Round 2 of the Geeks Who Drink pub quiz is always a music round, and in the bar that tends to mean mp3s played over speakers. At Geek Bowl, though, it’s live music all the way. Each year in Austin, they’ve actually brought in eight different live acts, each one of which plays for about 25 seconds, then repeats that same 25 seconds. Obviously there’s no way to present that here without giving away the answers, unless the Geeks choose to put up some video. So it’s all descriptions here — our one hint was that all the songs would be about sex in some way. (Ah, Geeks.) I will note that I am just awful at identifying songs when they’re played without lyrics and in a different style. Lucky for me, Brian, Jonathan, and especially Don are awesome at it.
1. A xylophone-and-drum group called The Djembabes played “Girls” by the Beastie Boys.
2. The best group name of the night was: Cello, Is It Me You’re Looking For? That was an ensemble of six cellists, but they seem to have no web presence, so no link on their name. (Maybe a pickup group of cellists? Can that happen?) Anyway, it was six cellos playing “Push It” by Salt-n-Pepa. [Don recognized this right away, and was kind of annoyed when the cellists went on to play a much more recognizable phrase from the song.]
3. Reggae band Tribal Nation played a rastafied version of Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On.”
4. Then there were the bagpipes. A peck of pipers (and drums) called Silver Thistle played Monty Python’s loving anthem, “Sit On My Face”. [We were absolutely clueless on this one. We ended up guessing “I Want Your Sex” by George Michael.]
5. Afghani group Atash played a lovely and rather haunting bit of “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye.
6. At this point, the MC introduced something called The Gams. I can’t find anything on the web about them either, but maybe that’s not too surprising. Essentially, what happened was that a guy came on stage cradling what looked like a case of soda. “Hot Legs” by Rod Stewart started to play. Then, as the vocals began, a puppet popped out of the case to sing “Who’s that knockin’ on my door?” And that was it. This was probably the lamest part of the night.
7. The next act made up for it. This was a country outfit called Horse Opera, who played a perfectly country-fried version of “Too Drunk To Fuck” by the Dead Kennedys. [Don latched onto a lyric about getting into a fight at a party and was calling the answer as “Kiss Me Deadly” by Lita Ford. However, on the second listen, it became apparent that was wrong. Suddenly Jonathan jolted to life, grabbed a piece of paper, and scribbled down TOO DRUNK TO FUCK. At which point Brian said, “Yes! Dead Kennedys!” And we were off. Awesome.]
8. The final act was The Capital City Men’s Chorus. The amusing thing about this act was that a line of men walked up on the stage, and then behind them another line of men walked up on the stage. Then, behind them, another line of men walked up on stage. And AGAIN. They just kept coming. Very funny. Then they started into their number, but flubbed the beginning. Their conductor turned to the audience, flashed an imaginary Men In Black neuralyzer and said, “That didn’t happen.” Heh. Anyway, the second time the song came off fine, or at least as well as it could considering it was “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Badd. [Don ROCKED this one. He recognized it almost immediately. From the verse, mind you.]
[We felt very good about 14 of our 16 answers this round, and since that met our previously-agreed-upon threshold, we jokered the round. That gave us 28 points, to combine with our previous 7 for a total of 35.]
Round 3: Lather and Rinse, But No Repeats
Round 3 of Geeks Who Drink is typically some kind of a gimmick round. Sometimes that means a speed round (name everything in some category in 2 minutes), sometimes it’s a “stop” round (the quizmaster reads increasingly-obvious clues to an answer until somebody in the bar shouts “stop”, and then everybody has to answer — something that obviously wouldn’t work at Geek Bowl.) Most often, though, it’s some kind of 50/50 round — true or false; real or made-up; multiple-choice with two answers; or some mix of these. Sometimes it’s even something very specific like 8 South Park questions to which the answer is either Timmy or Jimmy. Round 3 at Geek Bowl 8 followed this trend: it was a 50/50 round about hygiene.
1. In those old toothpaste ads, who fought the Cavity Creeps: Colgate or Crest?
2. True or False: The average cellphone has more germs on it than the average toilet seat.
3. Which one was a real slogan for Irish Spring soap: “Smell like you’re worth exploring” or “Get a little Irish on you”?
4. When you go take a shit during the next scoring break, which toilet should you select if you want the lowest bacteria levels on it: the one closest to the bathroom door or the one farthest from the bathroom door?
5. According to the American Congress Of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which is better: to douche or not to douche?
6. True or False: A recent study by the FDA found that antibacterial soap gets your filthy self cleaner than regular soap.
7. Which has more blades: the manual Gilette Fusion or the Schick Quattro?
8. Who wrote an 1867 paper entitled “On The Antiseptic Principle of The Practice Of Surgery”: Oliver Wendell Holmes or Joseph Lister? [Larry knew this one before they even read the names.]
[We got #3 wrong, but all the rest of them right — a 7-point round which brought our total to 42.]
See the answers
Round 4: I Went To Geek Bowl And All I Got Was This Lousy Anal Probe
This was a round about the paranormal (titled in classic GWD fashion), and lucky for us, George has a particular interest in the topic. He was very strong in this round, though everyone contributed.
1. Before being thoroughly debunked, what spoon-bending Israeli proto-douche insisted that his abilities were a gift from extraterrestrials?
2. 108 Ocean Avenue, formerly 112 Ocean Avenue, is an infamous house in what New York town of 10,000, located on an inlet of South Oyster Bay?
3. Shadow people keeping you from moving? Don’t worry, it’s probably just this phenomenon. [This was another question where Jonathan scribbled something down, and as soon as I saw it, I knew it was correct.]
4. The Zapruder film is to the JFK assassination as the Patterson-Gimlin film is to what? [George nailed this one.]
5. Peruvians may have been communicating with aliens, or maybe they were just high, when they created what UNESCO-recognized geoglyphs? [I had never heard of these at all, but George was all over it.]
6. The Jersey Devil is a legendary creature said to stalk what area of southern New Jersey, also the name of a classic Sopranos episode?
7. The Time/Life books series Mysteries of The Unknown had this many volumes, the same as one of the best episodes of Battlestar Galactica as well as a Smashing Pumpkins song. Coincidence? We think not.
8. This volunteer, nonprofit, paranormal-investigation organization is headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, has Dan Aykroyd as a Hollywood consultant, and has a 5-letter acronym for its name, the middle three letters of which are “UFO”. Name it. [Hilariously, George knew about two different such organizations with “UFO” in the middle, and decided to go for the better-known one. Good decision!]
[We nailed this one. 8 points, for a new total of 50.]
See the answers
Round 5: A Pervert’s History Of The United States
Round 5 of Geeks Who Drink is always a visual round. At a bar, that means half-sheets of paper, usually with some kind of photoshopped craziness on them. At Geek Bowl, it has tended to mean images displayed on large video screens. This year, though, they upped the ante with a full-blown video. Each clue was a still picture, but the camera panned over them in a lingering fashion. This is one of the ways Geek Bowl 8 improved upon its predecessors, especially last year. Geek Bowl 7 showed pictures into which famous faces had been photoshopped, but the pictures went by super fast, and depending on where you were sitting it could be hard to see enough detail in the images to have a reasonable shot at answering the question. By slowing it down and doing documentary-style pans, they solved both these problems and made the round way more fun.
As it turned out, this year was another version of “familiar faces in an unfamiliar context,” but this time the faces were pasted into vintage porn pictures — nothing super graphic, but plenty porny. (Boy, there really was a lot of sex stuff this year.) The idea was that each picture would show a couple, but the faces of the couple would be people who were somehow linked in American history, with the picture sometimes putting a funny gloss on the relationship. Each question was worth two points — one for each face.
Oh here, let me just show you, at least until YouTube gets wind of the content and takes it down. In case you hadn’t figured this out yet, you probably shouldn’t watch this one at work:
[We got everything but #6, wrongly guessing Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. So that was 14 points, for a total of 64.]
See the answers
Round 6: William Shakespeare, Product Support Specialist
This was my favorite round of the night. Eight different quizmasters walked onto the stage, along with one or two others whose job it was to explain the concept, which is as follows: each clue consists of support instructions for eight different modern products, but the clues are written in Elizabethan English, even iambic pentameter sometimes. In any case, the clues were very well-written and extremely clever, and each one was read by a separate quizmaster in fine Royal Shakespeare style. Sometimes the screen would show an additional hint to provide a little context, along the lines of “Name this product whose first model debuted in 2008.” Unfortunately, the style of the round makes it basically impossible to reproduce from memory. I tried scribbling down notes, but they are woefully insufficient.
However, lucky for me, when they showed the answers, they repeated a bit of the prose from each question, so I was able to snap pictures once I figured out that was the thing to do. (Cameras are allowed at Geek Bowl as long as they are not capable of receiving information.) So, because I’m unable to fully reproduce the questions, my recap of this round will display the answer along with just a snippet of the question. (I’m winging it on #1 because I only have notes.) Just take it from me that each one had quite a bit more amusing quasi-Shakespearean diction.
1. “In bouncing the coil just move thy wrist / For hours and hours of fun, what ho!” Slinky
2. “Cook the noodles, eight minutes or so / Stirring occasionally as they soft’n and swell…” Kraft Macaroni & Cheese [I recognized this one right away.]
3. “Grip thou the handle if thou wouldst transport / This technologic dream in Bondi blue…” iMac
4. “Eleven lets thee swap spots with thy foe / Unless he be inside the safety zone…” Sorry!
5. “Swipe the temple touchpad to and fro / And perhaps with thy mouth thou could go ‘whoosh’…” Google Glass
6. “Two hundred miles or farther may thou go, / Before thou must recharge the thing again…” Tesla Roadster
7. “Music, Podcasts, Photos, touch them all / Or ‘FM’ to the radio turn on…” Sony Walkman [We were tossing around things like the iPod touch or iPhone, but the screen indicated that the product’s first version was released in 1979. I thought of the Walkman as the only thing that came out in 1979 and might have the listed capabilities today. I managed to talk my team into it, too — I think this question is the contribution I’m happiest about for myself.]
8. “Should its magic work beyond four hours / Seek help, if thou wouldst not thy todger maim…” Viagra
[We got all 8 on this one, for a total of 72.]
Round 7: Even More Celebrities (We Could Get!)
In the bar version of Geeks Who Drink, round 7 tends to be a second audio round, usually of clips from movies, or tv shows, or commercials, or some such. (Though I hear that some lucky venues get video round 7s — sadly my home bar is not one of these!) In any case, the first several Geek Bowls I went to had movie clips for round 7, but last year they had a little breakthrough and managed to get 8 minor (but geekily beloved) celebrities to read questions, people like Wil Wheaton, Katee Sackhoff (from Battlestar Galactica), and Will Shortz. This year, they repeated the feat with 8 new celebs:
Just in case that video ever evaporates, here were the questions:
1. Levar Burton: In the Reading Rainbow theme song, following the words “I can” are a couple of two-word phrases. What are they? [We struggled on this one. Jonathan came up with “go twice as high”, but that’s not two two-word phrases. Still, nothing else we could come up with, so that’s what we put.]
2. Steve Inskeep: The day before Morning Edition came on the air, the Iran hostage crisis began. The hostages were held for a multiple of 111 days. How many days were they held for? [This felt like a real softball. We would have known it even without the “111 multiple” thing.]
3. Mondo Guerra: Every Project Runway designer is familiar with Tim Gunn’s famous three-word catchphrase, when he’s less than impressed with a design’s progress. Hint: it shares one word with RuPaul’s. What is it? [Brian knew that RuPaul’s catchphrase was, “You better work,” but from there we didn’t have much. I suggested “This doesn’t work,” and since nobody else had anything better, that was what we went with. Not big Project Runway watchers over here.]
4. Rich Sommer: The man who plays my boss is named Robert Morse. He first rose to fame in 1961, playing a window-washer who rises through the ranks to become a big business executive in what big Broadway musical? [Don knew this as soon as the guy said, “Robert Morse.”]
5. Jim O’Heir: Historically, the Pawnee people lived mostly along the North Platte river, in the territory that became what great plains state?
6. David Koechner: You might know me as Champ Kind from Anchorman, or Todd Packer from The Office, but I was also Uncle Earl, from what? [We were again clueless on this one. I knew he was an SNL cast member for a year, and that is the only thing any of us knew, so we put down SNL]
7. Elijah Wood: Alfred Hitchock’s North By Northwest and my early film North are both rightly hailed as classics of American cinema. How many years elapsed between the films’ release dates: 25, 35, or 45? [Larry knew exactly when North By Northwest was released, and Don knew North, so there you go.]
8. Jim Parsons: You probably remember me as a Medieval Times knight in Garden State. A few years earlier, Janeane Garofalo played a Medieval Times waitress in what film that Ben Stiller directed between Reality Bites and Zoolander?
[This was the toughest round for us. We ended up getting 5 correct, for a total score of 77.]
See the answers
Round 8: Random Knowledge
Round 8 of Geeks Who Drink is always a “random knowledge” round, and always worth 16 points. It’s a last chance to joker if a team hasn’t already, and kind of an equalizer in that it is a total potpourri. In the bar version, the points are all over the map — a question can be worth anywhere between 1 and 4 points. In Geek Bowl, it’s a little more stable: each question was worth two points.
1. Giorgio Moroder worked on the soundtracks of two different movies with “Top” in the title, one in 1986 and one in 1987. Name them both.
2. Adam is the first prophet of Islam. What two famous dudes are the last prophets of Islam?
3. Louis Sullivan was an American architect known as the “father of the skyscraper.” First, with what alliterative three-word phrase is he most closely associated? Second, what devoutly midwestern guy was Sullivan’s most famous protege?
4. What child development word comes from the Latin for “speechless”? Before babies leave the hospital, they are usually vaccinated against what form of hepatitis? [We felt good about our second answer, but struggled on the first. We put “aphasia”, since that does mean inability to speak, but had qualms about the fact that you couldn’t really call it a “child development word.”]
5. What subatomic particle was thought for a few months in 2011 to have been measured traveling faster than light? What is the name for the edge of the solar system, where the solar wind is stopped by the interstellar medium?
6. What monarch instituted the tradition of the white wedding dress by wearing a white lace dress at her 1840 wedding? What Romantic composer wrote the theme most of us know as “Here Comes The Bride”, or the “Wedding March”?
7. What old bearded man was the subject of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Portrait Of A Man In Red Chalk”? Vincent Van Gogh’s “Man In A Red Beret” was a portrait of what other artist, who was involved in the ear-cutting incident? [Larry had a great pull on the Van Gogh question.]
8. Finally, here’s that Friends question you’ve all been wanting. Which two of the 6 central characters on Friends also worked as servers at Central Perk?
After those eight questions came probably the best innovation of Geek Bowl 8: the pre-emptive tiebreaker. In previous years, there would very frequently be a tie among some of the top-placing teams, and that was handled by giving them 5 additional questions, letting them huddle, and then breaking the tie based on who got more of them right. However, this method was logistically awkward, and involved a lot of sitting around waiting for everyone else in the audience. So this time, the Geeks asked this extremely convoluted question:
Pre-Emptive Tiebreaker: Take the number of years Facebook has been a company as of February, and add the number of years Hitler served as Fuehrer of Germany. Multiply the total by the year in which the Colosseum was built, and then subtract the resulting number from the actual population of Amityville, New York as of the 2010 census.
They simplified it a bit with this expression, projected onto the video screens:
Amityville 2010 – [(years of FB + Hitler as Fuehrer) x year of Colosseum] = ?
[We amazed me by getting 15 points in this round. The child development word was the only one we missed. So, combined with our 77 points so far, we had a final total of 92 points.]
See the answers
And there you have it, the questions of Geek Bowl VIII. Before we move on to the answers, let’s enjoy this awesome “In Memoriam” video which played at the Geek Bowl. WARNING: spoilers within for True Blood, Dexter, Downton Abbey, Sons Of Anarchy, The Walking Dead (so, so much), Game of Thrones, Homeland, Doctor Who, and especially Breaking Bad.
At Geek Bowl V last year, my team The Anti-Social Network ended up winning all the marbles, except the marbles were actually considerable sums of cash. Hooray! This year, the event moved from Denver to Austin, Texas, and we didn’t fare quite so well, coming in 10th out of 146 teams. Still a respectable showing! But not enough to get paid, as only the top 3 teams win money.
Nevertheless, a great time was had! I got to spend quality time with my wonderful teammates, met the delightful Valerie Thatcher, spent a great afternoon with the estimable Rob Wheeler, and got to experience the Austin 6th Street bar strip during a pretty freaky power outage. Turns out that the bar scene is really not my scene, and the bar scene when none of the bars or streetlights have electricity, and thousands of people are roaming through darkness, is really REALLY not my scene.
Of course, the reason I went there was Geek Bowl VI, which now bills itself as the biggest live trivia event in the U.S. It’s a pub quiz multiplied by 20, and every year, Geeks Who Drink does a little better job with the event. It’s never without its flaws, but it’s quite impressive to manage 150 or so teams and deliver a variety of good questions in a fun way. Not to mention the cash prizes, which make for a very cool incentive.
Here’s the format: each team has its own small table, with 6 chairs. Quizmasters read questions from the stage, and the questions are also projected onto large screens throughout the venue. Once all the questions in a round have been asked, a two minute timer starts, by the end of which you must have turned in your answer sheet to one of the roaming quizmasters. The game consists of 8 rounds, each with its own theme. Each round contains 8 questions — usually, each question is worth one point, so there’s a maximum possible score of 8 points for each round. However, some rounds offer extra points — for instance, Round 2 is traditionally a music round, with 8 songs played, and one point each awarded for naming the title and artist of the song. In a regular GWD pub quiz, it’s only Round 2 and Round 8 (always the “Random Knowledge” round) that offer 16 possible points. However, in this year’s Geek Bowl, two other rounds were upgraded from 8 potential points to 16. Finally, teams can choose one round to “joker”, meaning that it earns double points for that round.
For posterity and enjoyment, here are the questions from Geek Bowl VI. Note that I’m reconstructing these from memory and notes, so they may be missing any clever turns of phrase that they might have had originally, and any inaccuracies that result from my paraphrasing are solely my fault. I’ll put any commentary about our team’s experience in [square brackets].
At the request of Geeks Who Drink, I had taken these down. Then, in a pleasing and surprising turn of events, we had a good conversation over email in which they decided that having the questions posted might be okay after all, as long as they were posted at least a week past the date of the event. So, I’m pleased to say, the questions have returned to this entry! Thanks, Geeks!
Round 1: Austin-tatious, a round about Austins and flamboyance
1. What is the name of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s trademark finishing move? [We were clueless on this one, guessing “cold cock.” Nope!]
2. What fancy-ass palace was built by Louis XIV of France on the site of his dad’s hunting lodge? [Teammates Dave and Lori had actually visited there, so they had this one well in hand.]
3. Who wrote the theme to Austin Powers, 30 years before the movie came out?
4. Ryan Good rocked the Twitter-verse by announcing that he was resigning as what musical artist’s “swagger coach”?
5. Jane Austen wrote two novels with one-word titles. For one point, name them both.
6. How many yards is an NFL team penalized for excessive celebration after a touchdown?
7. Spelling counts for this question: What is the first name of President Obama’s former economic advisor Mr. Goolsbee? [Again, clueless. We guessed “Osten.” Not even close! Well, except for the fact that we knew it was some variant of “Austin.”]
8. Tawûsê Melek is a peacock angel in the Yazidi religion of what ethnic group of Russia and northern Iraq?
[Our score for this round: 6]
Round 2: Music
[The usual GWD music round has some theme or other. They play 8 mp3 excerpts, and teams must name the title & artist of each song. Geek Bowl is usually a little grander — for instance, last year they brought in a mariachi band to cover 8 different songs. This year, they took advantage of Austin’s self-billed status as the “live music capital of the world” by bringing in eight different musical artists, one for each question.]
1. An 80’s hair-metal band covered “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry. [Our team is fortunate to have Brian Ibbott, creator and host of the very entertaining Coverville podcast. Brian nailed this one right away.]
2. A Cuban band covering “Careless Whisper” by Wham!. Or Wham! featuring George Michael if you want to get technical.
3. A rockabilly band covering “I Got Stripes” by Johnny Cash. [We knew it was Johnny Cash, but couldn’t identify the song.]
4. An air guitarist and air drummer “covering” “Hot For Teacher” by Van Halen.
5. A classical string quartet covering “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters.
6. A local theater group doing an a capella version of “The Money Song” from Avenue Q. [For this one we named the musical instead of the artist, which was no problem. However, we were unable to come up with the title “The Money Song”, instead taking a shot with the unwieldy “When You Help Others (You Can’t Help Helping Yourself).”]
7. A brass group covering “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne.
8. A glee club from the University of Texas doing a vocal version of the beat from “Kill You” by Eminem. [We were nowhere close to this, guessing “Cuban Pete” by Desi Arnaz. Hey, it never hurts to guess.]
[Our score for this round: 12, giving us a total of 18.]
Round 3: A 50/50 round about sex
[Round 3 is often some version of 50/50 chance questions like true/false or multiple choice with only 2 choices.]
1. On the Kinsey scale, would Waylan Smithers be closer to a 0 or a 6? [We guessed in the wrong direction on this one. We didn’t know the scale, and I thought it might have had a slight anti-gay bias by putting homosexuality closer to 0 than 6. Nope!]
2. Who first coined the phrase “vaginal orgasm”, Sigmund Freud or Margaret Mead?
3. Who did Frank Sinatra bone first, Ava Gardner or Mia Farrow?
4. Who released the song “Let’s Talk About Sex”, TLC or Salt-n-Pepa?
5. If you were tying up your partner for some traditional Japanese bondage, what sort of rope would you use: jute or sisal? [Another one with no clue, but here we guessed right. Teammate George literally wrote the two answers down on two scraps of paper, held one in each hand, and had Lori pick a hand.]
6. If you’re a dacryphiliac, which one are you turned on by: yelling or sobbing? [Guessed wrong here, though. We reasoned that “lacrym-” has to do with tears, therefore “dacrym-” must be something else. Nope!]
7. In the 17th-century Japanese woodcut by Hokusai called “The Dream Of The Fisherman’s Wife”, is she getting it on with the crew of a fishing-boat or with octopi?
8. What was the power source of the first known vibrator: wind-up or steam-powered?
[This round had a bonus 9th question, a speed round worth 8 points in itself, making the round worth a total of 16.]
9. In three minutes, name the eight characters besides Carrie Bradshaw who have appeared in more than 20 episodes of Sex And The City. First names are sufficient. [We got 5 of these: Miranda, Charlotte, Samantha, Big, and Steve. That we even got that many was thanks to Brian.]
[Our score for this round: 11, bringing our total to 29.]
Round 4: High-culture/low-culture Before And After
[This round used the old “Before and After” format seen on Wheel Of Fortune and Jeopardy! to lock together two different answers, one to a high culture question and one to a low culture question. For instance “A William Shakespeare and George Romero production about cross-dressing zombies” might be “Twelfth Night of The Living Dead.”]
1. A philosophical principle for selecting the simplest answer as the correct one chooses a 90’s wheeled kid’s toy.
2. A 2100-year-old armless statue of a hottie goes on an adventure with a pug puppy and his kitten pal.
3. The English monarch who went on the Third Crusade helps Debbie Harry with her fragile cardiac organ.
4. A teaching strategy devised by Plato’s mentor educates a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan.
5. An ancient Greek’s machine for moving water somehow helps Samus Aran destroy enemies. [Brian’s video game knowledge came through on that second part.]
6. Dickens’ only novel featuring a female narrator depicts what Kid ‘n Play get up to when their parents aren’t around.
7. An award-winning play about Sir Thomas More introduces some new biker characters from a drama series on the FX channel.
8. Two Brazilian ladies eat poo from a dome-like architectural structure atop a larger dome.
[Finally a perfect round score! Our 8 on this round gave us a total of 37.]
Round 5: Hips and Hops
[Round 5 of GWD is always a visual round. In the regular pub version, this consists of a half-sheet of paper with 8 pictures on it. At Geek Bowl, it was 8 images projected onto the screen, with questions alongside. Not having the images to hand, I rely on my rather lamer powers of description.]
1. Image: a picture from Dr. Seuss. Question: What Dr. Seuss book is this image taken from? [Answer: Hop On Pop]
2. Image: An assassin in a black hat and cowl. Question: In what movie did Doc Hopper hire this assassin to eradicate a certain amphibian? [Answer: The Muppet Movie. That’s your basic wheelhouse question for me.]
3. Image: 3 different pictures of hips, decorated variously. Question: To what performer do all these hips belong? [Answer: Shakira]
4. Image: The painting “Night Hawks” by Edward Hopper. Question: What is the name of this famous painting by Edward Hopper?
5. Image: A vaguely C-shaped organ. Question: This was ripped straight out of somebody’s head. What in the hell is it? [Answer: Hippocampus. George caught onto this answer very quickly.]
6. Image: Some hops. You know, the plant. Question: What variety of hops are these? Hint — they happen to be named after a city in Texas. [Answer: Amarillo hops. Somehow my unconscious brain knew this. I do not know how.]
7. Image: Close-up on a male statue’s groin. Question: These famous hips belong to what statue? [Answer: Michelangelo’s David]
8. Image: An African-American guy from the 1980s. Question: This man is sometimes called the Grandfather of Hip-Hop. Name him. [Answer: Afrika Bambaataa. Major kudos to teammate Larry on this one. Half the team was leaning towards “Grandmaster Flash” for this answer, but Larry insisted that the man pictured was tougher-looking than any picture he’s ever seen of Grandmaster Flash. He was arguing for Afrika Bambaataa, and since he’s our team’s closest equivalent to a hip-hop expert, we went with it. Glad we did!]
[Another perfect round! 37 + 8 = 45.]
Round 6: No Straight White Males Were Harmed In the Making of This Round
1. The National Women’s Hall Of Fame is located in what central New York town, which was also the site of the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention? [Great pull by Lori on this one.]
2. What model of Pontiac did Oprah give away to every member of her audience in 2004? [Hilariously, a variation on this very same question came up in the trivia game some of us had played the night before. How I love quiz synchronicity.]
3. Manon Rhéaume, the first female goalie to play in the NHL, was signed to what expansion team in 1992? [Larry and Dave puzzled this one out nicely.]
4. Future coin star Sacajawea was a member of what Native American tribe? [I knew this thanks to Dante’s recent coin-obsession.]
5. On October 1, 1989, Axel and Eigil Axgil entered into the world’s first legal civil union for a gay couple, in what Scandinavian country? [Toss-up between two countries on this one, and we guessed wrong, with Sweden.]
6. Reggie and Cheryl Miller are basketball-playing siblings who played for what two rival universities?
7. In her book Pornography: Men Possessing Women, what feminist argued that pornography incites men to rape? [This one KILLED me. 18 years ago, when I was steeped in academia, I’d have had it cold. In 2012, however, I just could not retrieve it, and nobody else had even heard of it.]
8. Fill in this 4-word quote from Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing: “I’m just a struggling black man trying to __________ in a cruel and harsh world.” [I have seen that movie at least 3 times, though none recently. I think all of us around the table had seen it. Yet none of us could recall it at this level of detail.]
[This was a bit of a struggle. 5 points scored, bringing our total to 50.]
Round 7: A Movie Round About Pizza!
[In regular GWD, Round 7 is a second audio round. It’s often movie clips, but can be a wide variety of other things, like clips from NPR interviews or 1980s commercials. In Geek Bowl, though, Round 7 seems to have solidified as a movie round, with onscreen movie clips. The twist this time was that 16 points were available. Each clip contained a 1-point question and a 2-point question. You had to answer one or the other — answering both would net an automatic 0 points.]
1. Video: Party aftermath scene from Sixteen Candles, with a pizza on the turntable. 1-point question: Name the movie. 2-point question: Where does Jake find The Geek? [We answered the 2-pointer]
2. Video: This. 1-point question: Name the movie. 2-point question: What movie did the director make immediately after this one? [We answered the 1-pointer.]
3. Video: This, stopping at about 0:26. 1-point question: Name the movie. 2-point question: Name the producer, a famous b-movie maker who helped launch the careers of Jack Nicholson, William Shatner, and Robert De Niro, among others. [We answered the 2-pointer.]
4. Video: This, stopping at about 0:32. 1-point question: Name the movie. 2-point question: How does Pizza The Hutt die? [We answered the 1-pointer.]
5. Video: This, stopping at about 0:22. And, obviously, sans the top and bottom text. 1-point question: Name the movie. 2-point question: What is the name of the fat kid who burns the vampire with garlic pizza? [We answered the 1-pointer. Great job George even identifying that much.]
6. Video: This, stopping at about 0:22. 1-point question: What is Wayne’s last name? 2-point question: What Pepsi slogan does Wayne recite at the end of this scene? [We answered the 1-pointer.]
7. Video: Navin and Marie eating “Cup-O-Pizza” in his trailer. 1-point question: Name the movie. 2-point question: Give the last name of the director, which he shares with his son, director of “The Princess Bride.” [Kind of a heavy-handed hint there, dontcha think Geeks? We answered the 2-pointer, grimacing at how easy it was compared to the other 2-pointers.]
8. Video: This. 1-point question: Name the movie. 2-point question: In what New York City borough does this scene take place? [We answered the 2-pointer — way to go Lori.]
[Good but not great on the movie round. We scored 12 points, for a total of 62.]
Round 8: Random Knowledge
[Round 8 of GWD is always a hodgepodge, and always worth 16 points. Usually, the point distribtion is random too, with some questions worth 1 point and some worth as many as 4. However, in the Geek Bowl, each question was worth 2 points.]
1. Exact answers and first names required. For 1 point each: Name the author of The Princess Bride and the author of Lord Of The Flies. [Abbott and Costello-esque confusion ensues as members of our team try to tell each other the answers.]
2. In 2003, Peyton Manning and Steve McNair shared the NFL MVP award. The last time that happened was 1997. For 1 point each, name the two players who shared the award that year. [We got one right, but guessed wrong with Troy Aikman on the other.]
3. Unlike headhunting, head-shrinking has only been found on one continent. For one point, name the continent. For another point: the process uses herbs containing what organic compounds, also found in red wine and tea? [We got the compound but missed the continent, guessing Africa.]
4. For one point each: in the acronym HDMI, what do the M and the I stand for? [Got the I but not the M, guessing “Multiple.”]
5. Famous Browns. For one point, who preceded Gordon Brown as prime minister of England? For another point: The landmark Supreme Court Case Brown vs. Board Of Education overturned what controversial 1896 decision?
6. Three installments of the Final Fantasy series were released for the Playstation: VII, VIII, and IX. Each of these games has a central protagonist. For one point each, name any two of them. [Thank goodness for Brian pulling out one of these. We guessed wrong on the other, with Sephiroth, who was actually the antagonist in Final Fantasy VII.]
7. Scientists with effects named after them. Question 1: The effect that causes water to swirl counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere is named after what scientist? Question 2: Christian Doppler, discoverer of the Doppler effect, was born in what Austrian city, also the birthplace of Mozart?
8. After Hungarian-British conductor Georg Solti, who has won more Grammy awards than anybody else with 31, the 2nd and 3rd place record for most Grammys are held by a 78-year-old producer and a 40-year-old bluegrass singer and fiddler. For one point each, name them. [We guessed wrong on the producer, saying Clive Davis.]
[11 points scored this round. We hadn’t used our joker yet, so we used it here, doubling our points to 22 and bringing our final total to 84.]
1. What is the name of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s trademark finishing move? The Stone Cold Stunner
2. What fancy-ass palace was built by Louis XIV of France on the site of his dad’s hunting lodge? Versailles
3. Who wrote the theme to Austin Powers, 30 years before the movie came out? Quincy Jones
4. Ryan Good rocked the Twitter-verse by announcing that he was resigning as what musical artist’s “swagger coach”? Justin Bieber
5. Jane Austen wrote two novels with one-word titles. For one point, name them both. Emma and Persuasion
6. How many yards is an NFL team penalized for excessive celebration after a touchdown? 15
7. Spelling counts for this question: What is the first name of President Obama’s former economic advisor Mr. Goolsbee? Austan
8. Tawûsê Melek is a peacock angel in the Yazidi religion of what ethnic group of Russia and northern Iraq? The Kurds
Round 2: Music
[Answers are in the questions.]
Round 3: A 50/50 round about sex
1. On the Kinsey scale, would Waylan Smithers be closer to a 0 or a 6? 6 (exclusively homosexual)
2. Who first coined the phrase “vaginal orgasm”, Sigmund Freud or Margaret Mead? Sigmund Freud
3. Who did Frank Sinatra bone first, Ava Gardner or Mia Farrow? Ava Gardner
4. Who released the song “Let’s Talk About Sex”, TLC or Salt-n-Pepa? Salt-n-Pepa
5. If you were tying up your partner for some traditional Japanese bondage, what sort of rope would you use: jute or sisal? Jute
6. If you’re a dacryphiliac, which one are you turned on by: yelling or sobbing? Sobbing
7. In the 17th-century Japanese woodcut by Hokusai called “The Dream Of The Fisherman’s Wife”, is she getting it on with the crew of a fishing-boat or with octopi? Octopi
8. What was the power source of the first known vibrator: wind-up or steam-powered? Wind-up
9. In three minutes, name the eight characters besides Carrie Bradshaw who have appeared in more than 20 episodes of Sex And The City. First names are sufficient. Samantha Jones, Charlotte York, Miranda Hobbs, Mr. Big, Steve Brady, Stanford Blatch, Trey McDougal, Aidan Shaw
Round 4: High-culture/low-culture Before And After
1. A philosophical principle for selecting the simplest answer as the correct one chooses a 90’s wheeled kid’s toy. Occam’s Razor Scooter
2. A 2100-year-old armless statue of a hottie goes on an adventure with a pug puppy and his kitten pal. Venus de Milo and Otis
3. The English monarch who went on the Third Crusade helps Debbie Harry with her fragile cardiac organ. Richard The Lionheart Of Glass
4. A teaching strategy devised by Plato’s mentor educates a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan. Socratic Method Man
5. An ancient Greek’s machine for moving water somehow helps Samus Aran destroy enemies. Archimedes’ Screw Attack
6. Dickens’ only novel featuring a female narrator depicts what Kid ‘n Play get up to when their parents aren’t around. Bleak House Party
7. An award-winning play about Sir Thomas More introduces some new biker characters from a drama series on the FX channel. A Man For All Seasons Of Anarchy
8. Two Brazilian ladies eat poo from a dome-like architectural structure atop a larger dome. 2 Girls 1 Cupola
Round 5: Hips and Hops
[Answers in the questions.]
Round 6: No Straight White Males Were Harmed In the Making of This Round
1. The National Women’s Hall Of Fame is located in what central New York town, which was also the site of the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention? Seneca Falls, New York
2. What model of Pontiac did Oprah give away to every member of her audience in 2004? The Pontiac G6
3. Manon Rhéaume, the first female goalie to play in the NHL, was signed to what expansion team in 1992? The Tampa Bay Lightning
4. Future coin star Sacajawea was a member of what Native American tribe? Shoshone
5. On October 1, 1989, Axel and Eigil Axgil entered into the world’s first legal civil union for a gay couple, in what Scandinavian country? Denmark
6. Reggie and Cheryl Miller are basketball-playing siblings who played for what two rival universities? USC and UCLA
7. In her book Pornography: Men Possessing Women, what feminist argued that pornography incites men to rape? Andrea Dworkin
8. Fill in this 4-word quote from Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing: “I’m just a struggling black man trying to __________ in a cruel and harsh world.” “keep his dick hard”
Round 7: A Movie Round About Pizza!
1. Video: Party aftermath scene from Sixteen Candles, with a pizza on the turntable. 1-point question: Name the movie. 2-point question: Where does Jake find The Geek? [We answered the 2-pointer] Movie: Sixteen Candles, of course. Jake finds The Geek under the coffee table.
2. Video: This. 1-point question: Name the movie. 2-point question: What movie did the director make immediately after this one? Movie: Goodfellas. Scorsese directed Cape Fear immediately afterwards.
3. Video: This, stopping at about 0:26. 1-point question: Name the movie. 2-point question: Name the producer, a famous b-movie maker who helped launch the careers of Jack Nicholson, William Shatner, and Robert De Niro, among others. Movie: Rock And Roll High School, directed by Roger Corman.
4. Video: This, stopping at about 0:32. 1-point question: Name the movie. 2-point question: How does Pizza The Hutt die? Movie: Spaceballs. Pizza The Hutt dies by eating himself.
5. Video: This, stopping at about 0:22. And, obviously, sans the top and bottom text. 1-point question: Name the movie. 2-point question: What is the name of the fat kid who burns the vampire with garlic pizza? Movie: The Monster Squad. Character’s name is Horace.
6. Video: This, stopping at about 0:22. 1-point question: What is Wayne’s last name? 2-point question: What Pepsi slogan does Wayne recite at the end of this scene? Wayne’s last name is Campbell, and at the end of the scene, he says, “Pepsi: The Choice Of A New Generation.”
7. Video: Navin and Marie eating “Cup-O-Pizza” in his trailer. 1-point question: Name the movie. 2-point question: Give the last name of the director, which he shares with his son, director of “The Princess Bride.” Movie: The Jerk. Director’s last name: Reiner.
8. Video: This. 1-point question: Name the movie. 2-point question: In what New York City borough does this scene take place? Movie: Saturday Night Fever, which takes place in Brooklyn.
Round 8: Random Knowledge
1. Exact answers and first names required. For 1 point each: Name the author of The Princess Bride and the author of Lord Of The Flies. William Goldman wrote The Princess Bride, and William Golding wrote Lord Of The Flies.
2. In 2003, Peyton Manning and Steve McNair shared the NFL MVP award. The last time that happened was 1997. For 1 point each, name the two players who shared the award that year. Brett Favre and Barry Sanders.
3. Unlike headhunting, head-shrinking has only been found on one continent. For one point, name the continent. For another point: the process uses herbs containing what organic compounds, also found in red wine and tea? Continent: South America. Compounds: Tannins
4. For one point each: in the acronym HDMI, what do the M and the I stand for? “Multimedia Interface”
5. Famous Browns. For one point, who preceded Gordon Brown as prime minister of England? For another point: The landmark Supreme Court Case Brown vs. Board Of Education overturned what controversial 1896 decision? Tony Blair preceded Gordon Brown, and Brown vs. Board of Education overturned Plessy vs. Ferguson.
6. Three installments of the Final Fantasy series were released for the Playstation: VII, VIII, and IX. Each of these games has a central protagonist. For one point each, name any two of them. Cloud, [which was the one we got] Squall, and Zidane.
7. Scientists with effects named after them. Question 1: The effect that causes water to swirl counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere is named after what scientist? Coriolis Question 2: Christian Doppler, discoverer of the Doppler effect, was born in what Austrian city, also the birthplace of Mozart? Salzburg
8. After Hungarian-British conductor Georg Solti, who has won more Grammy awards than anybody else with 31, the 2nd and 3rd place record for most Grammys are held by a 78-year-old producer and a 40-year-old bluegrass singer and fiddler. For one point each, name them. The producer was Quincy Jones. [Yes, again, dammit. George was arguing for Quincy Jones, but we couldn’t believe he’d be an answer twice in the same game. Those tricky Geeks! This answer even had a parenthetical comment: “(That’s right, two Quincy Jones questions!)”] The fiddler is Alison Krauss
Thanks for a great time, Geeks. Hope I can afford to make it there next year if it’s held out of town again.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about my annual Christmas traditions with my friends Siân and Kelly, a mix CD of songs I’ve been listening to that year. The songs generally reflect a little something about my life in one way or another, though not perfectly so — sometimes they’re just songs I’ve imprinted on for some reason. The liner notes tradition has continued as well, but I didn’t post the notes from 2010. See, 2010 was a terrible, terrible year. Professionally, it was by far the unhappiest I’d ever been in my job, and personally, my marriage tailspun into a major crisis right at the same time we moved into a new house and my work life was at peak misery. It was very difficult, and painful, and I withdrew from many things and people.
Then came 2011. In January, I started a new job, thank god. I am in a much healthier atmosphere now, and am much, much happier at work. Laura and I finally found the right counselor in the spring, and have healed a lot of things. By the time November rolled around, I had started to emerge from a fair amount of depression, and it was in that mood that I made this year’s CD. I feel really happy with the collection, both as a musical collage and as a reflection of my year.
1. DEAR PRUDENCE – Siouxsie and the Banshees
Siouxsie Sioux was always in the back of my mind as somebody I wanted to learn more about, so last year I procured a greatest hits album. I liked it, though I don’t think I’ll go much deeper than that. I quite enjoy her voice, especially on this cover. It was a pretty Beatles-y year for me, so this was a fitting choice for that, but even more so for the lyrics and tone of the song itself. To me, this is about emerging, after being shrouded in protection. That’s pretty much what happened with me this year. I can hardly measure how much better things are now, both at home and at work, compared to this time last year. Not that everything is magically perfect — there’s still a lot of work to do — but the skies are a lot sunnier now.
2. ALL THIS BEAUTY – The Weepies
And what do we see when we come out to play? This was a year of The Weepies for me. They’re a married couple of singer-songwriters, Deb Talan and Steve Tannen, who started out as fans of each other’s solo work, and then literally began to make beautiful music together. Their harmonies are lovely, and their songs are just killer. I absolutely fell in love with their album Hideaway, from which this track is taken. That was the launching pad for my Weepies infatuation, and this was one of the songs that made me want to buy the album. (Thanks to the Internet radio station for bringing them to my attention.) It’s hard to pick just one song from that album, but this one fit my mindset a lot, or at least a part of it. (Lucky for me, there are other Weepies songs to fit other parts. 🙂 It’s about remembering to be amazed — there is so much beauty in this world, and sometimes it’s easier to see it if you close your eyes, then slowly open wide.
3. HERE COMES THE SUN – Paul Simon with David Crosby and Graham Nash
Speaking of lovely harmonies. I saw Paul on tour this fall, and he completely surprised me by singing this song as part of his set. It’s such a beautiful song anyway, and it fits his voice perfectly. After a little research, I found that he actually has a long history with the song — he sang it with George on an SNL episode way back in 1976, and various times in his career after that. I’m a lifelong Paul Simon fan, but I had no idea about this connection. It was a high point of the concert for me, and those always find their way to these end-of-year compilations. Not only that, it resonates with one of the most beautiful moments from the Love show I saw this year (more about that later), and perfectly encapsulates the theme of the year. Hence my title. I had a little trouble finding a good recording of him singing it solo, so I went with this one, from the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame’s 25th anniversary concerts.
4. TRUE FAITH – New Order
Sometimes focus falls on something one year because it belonged to a project from the previous year. So it was with this song. My Christmas gift for my sister in 2010 had a Guns ‘n’ Roses theme, since that’s one of her favorite bands. I decided to follow up on that with her birthday gift (not much of a reach, since her birthday is on New Year’s Eve.) Our tradition is some kind of themed CD as her birthday gift from me, so last year I decided to make her 3 volumes of songs from 1987, the year G+R’s first album came out. I love a lot of the music from that year — it’s probably not coincidental that I was 17 at the time, and just fully embracing music as a part of my identity for the first time. I’m sure plenty of people find much of their favorite music rooted in their late teens. This song appeared on that collection — it’s one of two New Order songs written that year to be bonus tracks on their greatest hits collection Substance. I find the music both hypnotic and uplifting, and the lyrics fit in well with the previous song — “my morning sun is a drug that brings me here.”
5. SECRET LOVE – Stevie Nicks
Why yes, Stevie Nicks did come out with a new album this year! 🙂 In Your Dreams was her first release in 10 years, and I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone that several songs from it would appear on this compilation. This one was the advance single, and the record company offered a download of it with pre-orders of the album. It’s based an a demo I’d been listening to for years. Stevie has tons and tons of these unrecorded demos that have circulated amongst fans forever, and it’s an incredible thrill when she finishes one up with a proper studio version and releases it. Sometimes these actually turn out to be a little less satisfying than the demo — a couple of songs from the 2003 Fleetwood Mac album are like that — but often they are wonderful realizations of a rough outline. That was the case with this song. I got a full-body rush when listening to it for the first time. I think Dave Stewart does a fantastic job of production, Stevie’s vocals sound great, and it got me very excited for the album.
6. MOONLIGHT (A VAMPIRE’S DREAM) – Stevie Nicks
Here’s one of my favorite tracks from that album, and one of the standouts from her wonderful concert this summer. Again it’s based on a demo, but in a peculiar way. The demo that fans have been calling “Lady From The Mountain” has the beginning verses and piano part, but the more driving music that kicks in on the lyric “Strange, she runs with the one she can’t keep up with” is all new. Apparently Stevie was inspired by the first Twilight movie — she says it reminded her of an experience she had, though she coyly never reveals what that was. I’ve never read or seen any Twilight anything. All I know is that this song charges me full of energy every time I hear it. I love what it does with “Lady From The Mountain”, marrying its fragility to a smooth, powerful backbone.
7. GERM FREE ADOLESCENTS – X-Ray Spex
This song begins what I think of as the “Thank You Siân” section — all artists I’ve learned to love because of her influence. Laura was friends with Siân first — they were in CU‘s English Literature PhD program together. That’s how I met Laura too, except that I was doing my M.A. Siân wrote her dissertation on punk rock. I remember her telling me about X-Ray Spex back when she lived in Colorado — in fact, now that I look at the dissertation, its very title is an X-Ray Spex reference. So I filed that away but rarely thought of it again until she mailed me a couple of CDs of punk songs from the Sunday Times. This song appeared on that CD, and I liked it enough to seek out a compilation. The songs in that collection made X-Ray Spex one of my favorite punk bands — “Identity”, “Art-I-Ficial”, “I Am A Cliche”, “Let’s Submerge”, “Age”… I’ll stop before I list out all their songs. They’re all great, but this was the one that lit the way, and there’s still something special about it.
8. SHOOT THE MOON – Hugh Blumenfeld
Yeah, here’s another guy I wouldn’t be listening to if not for Siân. Hugh is actually a friend of hers, and she’s put various songs of his on mixes she’s made for me over the years, and I eventually became a fan. She and Kelly visited us in August of 2010, and she brought me four of his CDs at that time. My backlog being what it is, I ended up listening to them in November, which marks the beginning of this music-listening year for me. There were many songs I enjoyed from those CDs — I picked this one both because it reminded me of Dante and because it happened to have a wonderful resonance with another much-loved song from another much-loved Siân Mile artist…
9. THE SPACE RACE IS OVER – Billy Bragg
I think Bragg is Siân’s favorite artist overall, and another one I adopted because she passed some of his best stuff along to me. I’ve been buying more things in MP3 form in the past few years, to feed and fill the iPod’s sacred shuffle, but that’s meant that I don’t listen to them as closely as I do my CDs. Therefore, I periodically burn a batch to CD, and so it was with one CD from a Billy Bragg box set I’d downloaded a couple of years ago. It’s a fine collection — some songs I knew and liked because Siân had included them on various compilations, while others I heard for the first time and learned to love on my own. This was one of the latter. I think my jaw literally dropped when I heard him sing, “I watched the Eagle landing on a night when the moon was full / And as it tugged at the tides I knew that deep inside / I too could feel its pull.” What an incredibly gorgeous lyric. I love the way this song summons an elegiac and wistful tone for the bright future that might have been. I think it’s better than the Blumenfeld song, though that’s hardly a fair comparison, and they do pair so nicely.
10. PICTURE WINDOW – Ben Folds and Nick Hornby
This is from the album Lonely Avenue, in which Ben Folds and Nick Hornby do their version of an Elton John/Bernie Taupin partnership — Hornby wrote the lyrics and Folds wrote and performed all the music. It is a gorgeous album, and while it’s hard to pick a favorite song on it, this one emerged from the pack for a couple of reasons. First, I think it’s just heart-rendingly poignant; it’s easily the most moving song on the record. Second, it reminds me strongly of an experience that made a major impression on me this year. A very close friend of mine went through a horrible hospital experience this summer — her 12-year-old son went into the hospital as a result of multiple health issues crashing into each other. I visited them frequently during this period — her son loves comics and music, so I was able to relate to him and bring him some things to make him happy in that difficult hospital environment. I watched him suffer awful, awful mental and physical anguish, and I watched her agonize every day over him, playing the very difficult role of protector and intermediary between him and the institutional realities. There was a series of horrible situations produced by a combination of organizational dysfunction, misjudgements, parental personalities, and the nature of his issues, which weren’t easily pigeonholed. After several weeks of hell, he finally got some treatment that, although rather invasive, began to turn things around. They were in there for a couple of months total, and they’re still recovering. Watching your child suffer like that day after day is one of the worst things I can think of.
11. HELPLESS – k.d. lang
About 5 years ago I saw a movie called Away From Her, about a woman (played by Julie Christie) whose mind is slowly disintegrating from Alzheimer’s. It made a huge impression on me, and this song played over the credits of that movie. It blew my mind. lang’s incredible voice brings out a power I’d never heard in this song before, and every time I hear it, I feel this thick blanket of emotion settling over me. Eventually I sought out the album it came from — Hymns Of The 49th Parallel, in which lang covers all Canadian artists — and listened to it this year. Covers are definitely her metier, I think — her own material (with the exception of Ingenue) tends to fall flat for me. Whereas when she gets a hold of something that’s already really strong, like this song, she can make it profoundly affecting.
12. LIVING IN TWILIGHT – The Weepies
Remember when I said the skies are sunnier now? I know that’s true because we spent much of the earlier part of the year in the twilight this song so perfectly describes. Parts of my life this year were like one of those movies all scored by one artist (Magnolia, Harold & Maude, Good Will Hunting). The Weepies sang the soundtrack of my movie.
13. THE SOUND OF SETTLING – Death Cab For Cutie
Last year, Pink was the artist I discovered 10 years later than everyone else. This year, it was Death Cab For Cutie. I think I listened to their album Transatlanticism for about 3 weeks straight in September. It is just amazing. I knew I’d be picking a song from it for this compilation, and the choice was so difficult I just randomized it. Fittingly, this was one of the Death Cab songs that made me decide I needed to go out and buy their albums. I find the first lyric especially arresting: “I’ve got a hunger / twisting my stomach into knots / that my tongue has tied off.” Wow! I just love that.
14. YOU JUST HAVEN’T EARNED IT YET, BABY – Kirsty MacColl
There is one reason that things are better between Laura and I, and that reason is that we have worked our asses off this year to get to where we are. We have both been very committed to learning new ways of relating, and putting our new knowledge into practice. As a consequence, our conflicts are fewer, less frightening, and more quickly resolved. I don’t mean to make it sound like we’re finished working, but we’re closer than we’ve been in years, and we’ve earned it, baby. I’ve loved this song ever since hearing it on the She’s Having A Baby soundtrack in high school. I’ve never been much of a Smiths person — I like Johnny Marr well enough, but with a few big exceptions I just find Morrissey too grating. However, I do have strong affection for some Smiths covers, and this one tops the list. I adore Kirsty’s voice, and the production is gorgeous and uplifting. I can’t get enough of it.
15. ON SUNDAY – ‘Til Tuesday
‘Til Tuesday’s Welcome Home was another of those CDs I burned from downloaded MP3s. I’ve been a Mann fan for years, but never went beyond the “greatest hits” level with her old band. I like this song a lot, and it fit my life since part of my commitment with Laura was to do a regularly scheduled session of emotional/relationship work on Sundays when we didn’t have a couples therapy appointment. “Why spend your sadness now? / Save it up for me, on Sunday.”
16. ROCKS AND WATER (LIVE AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011-08-27) – The Weepies
As a part of my Weepy year, I saw them on tour at the Chautauqua Music Hall. It was a wonderful concert, everything I’d hoped it would be and more. The “more” was composed of a few things. One of these was actually the amazing set and lighting. They had this stylized miniature city set up on one side of the stage, and then kind of a forest glade on the other, and throughout the show, the lighting would change on various things to highlight different parts. At one point, a previously unseen river gets lit up, running through the city and the woods. You can get a little flavor of it from this photo, though obviously that doesn’t get at the different lighting changes. One of the other great parts was the new songs they played — well, new to me anyway. I have their albums, but forgot all about the fact that they had solo careers before they got together! This is a song from one of Deb’s solo records, and I just adored it the first time I heard it. As soon as I came home, I downloaded both her version and one that they did in an iTunes exclusive concert. However, neither version captivated me the way the concert version had. Lucky for me, some bright soul put up a bunch of clips from the concert on YouTube, so I used my handy-dandy DownloadHelper and turned the audio from that clip into an mp3. God bless the internet.
17. SEA AND SAND – The Who
Three things about this song. 1) I listened to Quadrophenia more intently this year than I had ever done before. For reasons “I Can’t Explain”, Quad was kind of a passed-over Who album from my youth, so I ended up really appreciating it much later than most of the rest of their material. 2) This song is a major standout from that album for me. It’s one of the most perfect Who songs to me, flawlessly blending Pete’s fantastic lyrics and storytelling with the immense power of the band. 3) Given that “Sea and Sand” was already on my list, how could I resist pairing it with “Rocks And Water”?
18. HERE COMES THE SUN/THE INNER LIGHT [TRANSITION] – The Beatles
I went to Las Vegas for a trivia convention this summer — a great experience. While I was there, I saw the Cirque Du Soleil show of The Beatles Love — an utterly transcendent experience. I’ve already written about how I spent most of the show with tears streaming down my face, so I won’t rehash all that. I just new that I needed to pick a song for this compilation to represent that experience. It was very hard to choose. I settled on this one both for the reasons I mentioned in the Paul Simon entry, and because this part of the show remains absolutely indelible for me. It wasn’t the yoga poses and the trapeze artists, though those were certainly eye-popping. Instead, it was the massive ball of candles, glowing warmly and rising from the center of the stage, as robed children sit on the edge, radiating joy from meditative poses.
19. ADD MY EFFORT – The Weepies
Yep, one more Weepies song. This one returns to the theme touched on earlier in the MacColl and ‘Til Tuesday songs. It’s about loving someone who frequently lives in darkness — really loving them. I was always adding my effort, but without understanding, that effort can be fruitless or even counterproductive. However, when understanding is there, effort can be enough.
20. CHEAPER THAN FREE (FEATURING DAVE STEWART) – Stevie Nicks
Yep, one more Stevie Nicks song. This the closer for In Your Dreams, and it felt like a perfect closer for this collection as well. It is a pure love song, and for me, purely magical. “What’s cheaper than free? You and me. What’s better than alone? Going home. What does money not buy? You and I. What’s not to feel, when love is real?”
Until next year…
On day 2 of TCONA, the first trivia event was scheduled at 8:30am, but it was the Quiz Bowl Seeding Test, which I co-wrote. So I wouldn’t be taking it, which was all for the best, since I’d had a late night. I left my sister asleep in our room and toddled on down to the conference room around 9:45, as the test was breaking up.
The next event was “Learned League Live!”, hosted by Shayne Bushfield, or rather his alter ego, Commissioner Thorsten A. Integrity. If you’re not familiar with Learned League, it requires a bit of explanation. The game is played over the Internet, six questions per day in a variety of categories, and with varying levels of challenge. The twist is that each 6-question match places you head-to-head against another player. You must not only answer the questions, but also play defense against the other player by assigning a point value to each question — a zero, two ones, two twos, and a three. The points are how much the other player will score upon answering the question right. Consequently, you’re required to both assess the difficulty of each question and also guess your opponent’s chances at getting it right, depending on his or her skills in the category. And LL provides zillions of stats, so you can make this analysis just as painstaking as you like.
When I first heard about the game, it sounded a bit overwhelming, intimidating, and time-consuming. I stayed away for a while, and then even after I was ready to join, I had to wait to be invited by a trivia buddy. Now that I’m in it, I love it. The questions are excellent, the format is fun, and the whole thing is quite addictive. The live version of it was a lot of fun too. The group was seated at a bunch of tables, 8 people to a table. Each player was assigned a number and given a packet of questions. Then we faced off in a series of 7 four-minute matches — you’d turn the page to reveal the questions, scribble down your answers and assign points to them, then the Commissioner would read off the answers. You’d compare notes with your opponent to learn your scores, and figure out who won the match. Here’s a sample set of questions, along with the point values I gave them and whether I got them right or wrong:
- Name the three yellow properties in the standard American version of the board game Monopoly. (1 point, wrong)
- This 1942 Aaron Copland ballet tells the story of a young woman, accomplished in all the skills of a cowpoke, who hopes to attract the attentions of the head wrangler on a ranch; commensurate with the pre-feminist tradition of the day, he is unimpressed by her skill but succumbs to her charms when she trades her cowboy duds for a dress and shows a more “womanly” side at the ranch dance. (3 points, wrong)
- Among other things, this film is known for G, A, F, (octave lower) F, C. (0, right)
- The holiest city of Zoroastrianism, Rhaga, is today known as Rey, a suburb of what western Asian city? (2, wrong)
- What is the mode in this number series? 1,2,2,3,3,4,4,4,5,5,5,5,13,17,17 (2, right)
- This word can be used generally to apply to any appendix or supplement, but when used as a legal term refers specifically to an amendment to a will. (1, right)
It was a whole lot of fun. I ended up with a record of 3-2-2, which is pretty comparable to how I tend to perform in online LL (I ended my first season 13-11-1, and I’m 18-15-3 overall.) That meant that I didn’t advance to the championship round which was held later that day. My teammate (and tablemate, and the guy who actually invited me to LL) George Doro did, though, and ended up taking the silver medal overall! (Did I mention that TCONA gave out actual medals to event winning individuals and teams? It was pretty cool.)
After lunch was one of my favorite parts of the entire event: a panel featuring Ken Jennings, Bob Harris, and Ed Toutant, talking about Jennings’ match (with Brad Rutter, who bailed on TCONA in the 11th hour) against IBM’s Watson computer. This, as you may know, was an event that I found fascinating, so a live panel on it with Jennings himself was catnip for me. Even better, it turns out that Toutant, in addition to being rich and famous (well, game-show famous), spent his career as an IBM engineer, and served as a consultant to the team that built Watson. He observed the computer’s behavior in its middle stages, and wrote a report that provided his insights as both a software designer and a game-show expert. After that, he played against Watson in its final practice matches before it went in front of the cameras. Toutant’s report is available online at edtoutant.blogspot.com. I particularly enjoyed his entry on gamesmanship, which not only has very insightful tips about Jeopardy! strategy, but finally explains why Watson chose such bizarre dollar amounts for its Daily Double wagers!
The panel explained that there are four strategic elements in Jeopardy:
- Daily Double wagering
- Picking a square
- Buzzing or not
- Final Jeopardy wagering
Watson was programmed to take advantage of all these strategic elements to the best of its ability. It picked squares to maximize its chances of finding a Daily Double — these generally occur in the harder clues (the bottom 3 clues of each row), and I was fascinated to discover that according to the unbelievably comprehensive J! Archive, the first column on the board has by far the highest percentage of Daily Doubles found. Watson based its buzz on its confidence level — a delay was intentionally built in on answers where Watson was less confident. And the reason why it wagered such peculiar numbers for Daily Doubles was basically to increase its chances of screwing up an opponent’s mental math. As Toutant wrote, “One of the most challenging parts of Jeopardy! for many players is the need to do quick math in their head under pressure, especially when making a bet. It is always easier for humans to do math that involves only round numbers. Unlike humans, Watson can’t get flustered and forget to carry the one during addition. So Watson should exploit his inherent math superiority by never using a round number on a Daily Double wager… This may give viewers the impression that Watson’s thinking is very precise, but the real motivation is to make the math more difficult for his opponents when they have to make a wager.”
Another great aspect of this panel, and of TCONA in general, was the opportunity to spend some time with Jennings. I wasn’t watching Jeopardy during his run, so he isn’t an icon to me at quite the level he is to some people, but he’s still the closest thing the trivia world to has a rock star. How cool it is, then, that he is down to earth, funny, and personable. In a roomful of trivia nerds, social skills stand out, and Jennings excels in this arena. Interestingly, he didn’t dominate every competition. He held his own, but was beaten in some events. I ended up convinced that his knowledge is very strong, but what made him so hard to beat in Jeopardy was his extraordinary touch on the buzzer — he’s just about peerless in this physical aspect of trivia. Well, unless he’s competing against a computer. Jennings’ own account of TCONA is here.
After the panel were the quiz bowl matches. If you’re not familiar with the quiz bowl format, I explain it here. I think it is still my favorite trivia format. It combines individual challenge (in the toss-ups) with team synergy (in the bonuses), and it encourages that zen trivia flow state that I love. This time, unfortunately, the fates were not with my team. The six-person Anti-Social network added a couple of friends and split into two four-person teams. In addition to that, our team took on an extra person, a Las Vegas native who had shown up solo at TCONA and was seeking a team to join with. He was knowledgeable, but a bit eager, and not terribly accustomed to the format, so there was a bit of a breaking-in period there. Unfortunately, once that period was over, we only had a couple of games left. We played five games in a round-robin format, and ended up doing well in the later ones, but it wasn’t enough to advance us to the finals. On the plus side, I got to spend some time with Dave Gatch, who wasn’t participating in TCONA as a player, but who came out to Vegas to serve as a reader for the quiz bowl portion. (Dave and his mom come to Vegas a lot, so apparently it wasn’t a big sacrifice.)
After flaming out in the quiz bowl, that was pretty much it for my trivia day — the only other events that day were playoffs for which I hadn’t qualified. So that meant that my sister and I got to hit the town! We took the monorail to the Bellagio, saw the fountains, gambled a bit. She took me to a fancy dinner at a wonderful restaurant called Olives, where we had so much delicious food. Once again, we wandered around gambling and hanging out. I taught her a bit more about video poker and she taught me a bit more about slots. At the end, we headed back to Bill’s room for a little more pseudo-Jeopardy, then gambled into the night. It was a great, great time, and a great close to a second day of Vegas and trivia.
Day 3 was playoffs and championships, and I wasn’t much involved. I stuck around to watch the quiz bowl finals, but for some inexplicable reason they chose to repeat a set of qusetions for the semi-finals — not a lot of fun to sit and watch the same questions asked twice. So I bowed out at some point and went to a final buffet lunch with my sister before she caught her plane for home. I still had one more night at the hotel — I had tickets to see The Beatles’ LOVE (Cirque Du Soleil show) at the Mirage that night. I decided after hearing the album that I had to make a pilgrimage to see the show, so there was no question that if I was in Las Vegas, I’d be going.
And I’m so, so glad I did, but that experience deserves a post all its own. For now, let’s revisit those Learned League questions:
- Name the three yellow properties in the standard American version of the board game Monopoly. Atlantic Avenue, Ventnor Avenue, Marvin Gardens
- This 1942 Aaron Copland ballet tells the story of a young woman, accomplished in all the skills of a cowpoke, who hopes to attract the attentions of the head wrangler on a ranch; commensurate with the pre-feminist tradition of the day, he is unimpressed by her skill but succumbs to her charms when she trades her cowboy duds for a dress and shows a more “womanly” side at the ranch dance. Rodeo (You’ve probably heard its most famous song, Hoe-Down).
- Among other things, this film is known for G, A, F, (octave lower) F, C. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (This.)
- The holiest city of Zoroastrianism, Rhaga, is today known as Rey, a suburb of what western Asian city? Tehran
- What is the mode in this number series? 1,2,2,3,3,4,4,4,5,5,5,5,13,17,17 5 (Mode means the number occurring most often.)
- This word can be used generally to apply to any appendix or supplement, but when used as a legal term refers specifically to an amendment to a will. codicil
I ended up tying my opponent in this match, with a score of 5 points each.
If you tend to read what I write here, you’ll know that this has been quite a trivia year for me. The most recent highlight is that I played in another pub quiz tournament with the Anti-Social Network (renamed The A-OK’s for this event), i.e. the same team that won The Geek Bowl. And we won again! This time the purse was $1000. It is astonishing, weird, and wonderful to be part of such a high-performing group.
The highlight before that, though, was the Trivia Championships Of North America, or TCONA. This event is poorly named, according to me — it sounds like it’s going to be some kind of culmination of a long season of North American trivia contests, when in fact it’s more of a triviapalooza, a big convention of trivia hobbyists who get together to compete in and/or watch a variety of events. The “championships” of anything else is not something that just anybody can buy a ticket to, show up, and participate in the competition, but TCONA was open to anybody who cared to pay the ($100) admission fee and get themselves to Las Vegas, where the event was held.
Economic times are a little tight in my family right now, so I would not have been one of those people, but for two things. First, organizer Paul Bailey reached out to us Anti-Socialites and offered to waive the admission fee if we’d provide some material for the weekend: a 100-question seeding test for the quiz bowl tournament event. Secondly, also because of the Geek Bowl, I had some winnings set aside, to be used for a special occasion. I decided that TCONA was just such an occasion, and booked my ticket. However, I still tried to cut corners, which is how I found myself getting up at 3:30am on July 8th, preparing for a 6am flight to Las Vegas.
I got myself on the plane without incident (unlike my last airplane adventure), and by 9am I was in Vegas. (This delay brought to me by a layover in Phoenix, another cost-cutting measure.) I’d never actually been to Vegas before. It is a strange, funny place. One of the first things I noticed is that it is totally the land of women-as-things. I mean, every place in America is at least a little bit like that, but Vegas is really like that, in little things like magazines and bus advertisements, and in big things like enormous billboards. Or this — pretty much the first sight that greeted me when I walked into my hotel, the MGM Grand, was an enormous bank of screens, all projecting one massive image: a long line of women, framed against a black background. Then, the women turned around, and revealed the backs of their outfits, completely black from head to toe, blending into the background, all except for their asses, which were left perfectly bare. Picture it — as I walked in the door, my greeting committee consisted of an extensive queue of disembodied asses, hanging in the air and twitching tartly back and forth, with military precision.
Anyway. The hotel staff was very nice about letting me check into a room early so I could get a nap before the trivia festivities began that afternoon, and they also gave me an extra key for my awesome sister Jenny, who was flying out from L.A. later that night to join me for Vegas partying. I headed up to the room for a much-needed nap, and afterwards explored the hotel, so that I could figure out the lay of the land. Trrish gave me some excellent advice about Vegas, which is that everything is much further away than it looks like it’s going to be. That is so, so true of the MGM Grand. I swear I did about 45 minutes of walking each day, just within the hotel! It’s like a huge hotel combined with a huge casino, a huge mall, a huge conference complex, and another huge hotel. Finally, I scoped out where the events would be held, though it was all barricaded because nobody was ready yet. After I snagged some lunch, I returned and got my nametag, program, and cute little swag bag.
Prior to the TCONA kickoff, my Colorado trivia colleague Bill Schantz hosted some mock-Jeopardy games in his room. Bill wrote a cracking J-simulator, and I went on a long Jeopardy-question-writing jag last year, so I was one of people who provided material for this unofficial event. Thus, around 3:30 on that day (more like 3:45 once I’d figured out I was at the wrong room and took the 10-minute hike to the right one) I got to do a very enjoyable trivia warmup, both as a reader and as a player. My “The Onion Rates The 2010 NFL” category was a hit. (Sample question: “After giving up 50 sacks in 2009,” this team‘s “offensive line appears to have forgiven Aaron Rodgers for whatever he did.”)
I did do a little gambling. I’m not a fan of slots — they feel more like just rolling a die than actually playing a game. And I don’t have nearly the skill, interest, or bankroll required to play table games. But I do enjoy video poker, and I’ve had a little practice at it too — Colorado has a few mountain towns in which gambling is legal, and I’ve been there enough times to learn the basic video poker ropes. My mom had given me some casino mad money — thanks Mom! — and I sat down at a poker machine and spent a very enjoyable 90 minutes turning $5 into $50! That was as lucky as I was ever going to get that weekend — turns out I’m much better at turning $10 or $20 into $0, though I have a reasonably good time on the way there.
Finally I sauntered down to the main event room — basically a big conference room with tables and chairs set out — around 5:30. Lots of trivia compadres were there, and it was fun to catch up with them. At 6pm, the first event began: a solo “kickoff quiz.” This was a pen-and-paper test, one of my least favorite trivia formats, at least when I’m not by myself. Also, I found it ridiculously hard. The gimmick was that all the answers consisted of a two-letter abbreviation for a US state, US territory, or Canadian province. Given the “North American” theme of TCONA, this made some sense, though obviously Mexico and Central America were conspicuous by their absence. Mr. Bailey explained that this was because nobody from those countries was attending this time, though he’d love to recruit anybody who’s interested. You can see the quiz here. (It is a bit annoying to read because it is “intentionally presented as an image, and with disruptive background to deter OCR,” per Mr. Bailey. I’m not sure why the copyright anxiety, but whatever.) Answer key is here.
After the kickoff quiz was an event called “Smarty Pants,” hosted by Paul Paquet. The deal with this game is that it sets up two opposing teams of four players each. Three members of each team are famous game show winners or trivia “celebrities” in some way. Players in this edition included Ken Jennings, Ed Toutant, Kevin Olmstead, and Bob Harris. All the “civilians” in the room got handed a card with a number on it, and then Paul picked random numbers for people to come and play on the all-star teams. I wasn’t one of those picked, but I had fun watching, and found the questions pretty interesting and clever.
The next event was a “pub quiz mash-up.” Representatives from four different pub quiz companies — Geeks Who Drink, King Trivia, TriviaNYC, and the aforementioned Paquet — brought a couple rounds of trivia each, and took turns quizzing a roomful of teams, 11 in all, with one extra made up of the quizmasters. Moreover, the teams themselves were randomly selected, with an eye toward geographical distribution. Each was captained by some kind of trivia celeb, so as to ensure that no one team marshaled an unreasonable amount of firepower, and they were constructed to ensure that each would have someone from outside the USA, someone from the west coast, someone from Colorado, etc.
The selection process for these teams was painful — rather than having the teams assigned beforehand, they were constructed on the fly, which meant about 45 minutes of tedious “Okay, please come to the front if you came here from California. Hm, only 8. Okay, California, Oregon, or Washington, please come to the front. Can everybody hear me?”, etc. However, once the teams were settled and the questions began, this was one of the most fun events of the weekend. I was on a team captained by Jerome Vered, called “Veredable Smorgasbord.”
Everybody on the team was extremely nice, and nobody was overly uptight about scores and answers, which was great, since nothing kills a good time at trivia like the guy who takes the whole thing too seriously and gets emotional about things going wrong. The questions were a lot of fun too. One group just did category questions, like “There are 11 NFL teams whose helmet graphics include some kind of writing or lettering. Name 10 of them.”, and “There are 10 people who are in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame both as a solo artist and as a member of a group. Name them.”
My favorite round was presented by Geeks Who Drink, an audio “before and after” round in which two different songs were played blending into each other, and the answer was a blend of the two titles, hinging on the common word. Examples: Tori Amos & The Beatles “Precious Things We Said Today”; Guns ‘n’ Roses & John Mellencamp “November Rain On The Scarecrow”; and Wu-Tang Clan and M.I.A. “C.R.E.A.M.I.A.” Probably this was my favorite round because Adam Villani and I teamed up to kick ass on it, and brought our team back from the doldrums to a solid middle-of-the-pack showing.
Somewhere around the middle of the pub quiz, Jenny (my sister) showed up, and watched from a back table. After it was over, she and I headed out to explore the strangeness of Vegas. We ate a little, gambled a little, and walked a lot. She was looking specifically for a slot game she loves called Invaders From The Planet Moolah, which has a fun cascading reel effect, a bit like Bejeweled. We finally found it at Excalibur, but occupied, so we stalked the person playing until she left. By which I mean, we casually hung around playing neighboring machines, until finally she split, and we pounced on the moolah!
In true Vegas fashion, we suddenly realized it was like 3:00 in the morning, and headed back to go to sleep. Thus ended Day 1 of the Vegas trivia adventure. More to come, but for now, the answers to some lingering questions.
NFL Teams with lettering/writing on their helmets
- Baltimore Ravens (a raven’s head with a “B” inscribed)
- Chicago Bears (The letter “C”)
- Green Bay Packers (A big “G”)
- Kansas City Chiefs (A “KC” inside an arrowhead)
- Miami Dolphins (The jumping dolphin is wearing a little helmet with the letter “M” on it)
- New York Giants (A stylized “NY”)
- New York Jets (The word “Jets” with an outline of “NY” in the background)
- Oakland Raiders (The word “Raiders” at the top of the shield icon)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (The word “Steelers” by the logo)
- San Francisco 49ers (The letters “SF”)
- Tennessee Titans (A comet bearing a “T”)
People in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame both as a solo artist and as a member of a group
- Jeff Beck [The Yardbirds]
- Eric Clapton [The Yardbirds and Cream]
- George Harrison [The Beatles]
- Michael Jackson [The Jackson 5]
- John Lennon [The Beatles]
- Curtis Mayfield [The Impressions]
- Paul McCartney [The Beatles]
- Clyde McPhatter [The Drifters]
- Paul Simon [Simon & Garfunkel]
- Neil Young [Buffalo Springfield]
I had another great trivia day last Saturday, this time a “Clubhouse Bowl” — just like a Basement Bowl, except held in a guy’s apartment clubhouse rather than a basement. There were trivia bowl-style games along with a bunch of Jeopardy! games run on a magic Jeopardy! simulator created by one of the gang. There was even “Trivia Battleship” — a wild cross of quiz-bowl questions with the classic strategy game. Correctly answered toss-ups would earn one shot against the other team, while bonuses could earn up to four more shots. Very fun.
Predictably, the whole thing primed me to whip up another episode in this series. Since I am apparently an endless font of opinions about good practices for trivia question-writing, let’s get started:
CROSS THE STREAMS
If you’re a Ghostbuster, crossing the streams is a bad thing. If you’re a trivia question writer, crossing the streams, by which I mean mixing the broad categories to find interesting hybrids, can be a very good thing indeed. There are plenty of sports questions, and plenty of movie questions, but how about sports movie questions? How about athletes who played bit parts in movies? How about movie-related nicknames given by Chris Berman to various athletes? The intersections between trivia categories can be fertile ground for some appealing questions, and can allow people who are normally weak in a category to kick ass in unexpected ways.
A great example of this came up at the recent Clubhouse Bowl. Dave Gatch handed out a sheet of movie stills, and asked us to tell him what song was playing during that point in the movie. Sound tough? Take a look at these examples (not the ones he used) and see if you can’t do exactly that:
Combining two categories (in this case movies and music) opens up new avenues of fun, activates players’ brains in new ways, and gives your game a feeling of greater unity.
I am no good at sports questions. Whenever I hear a sports toss-up begin, my hand relaxes on the buzzer, and I know there is very little chance that I will have anything to contribute. I start looking over at our team’s sports guy (yeah, it’s nearly always a guy) with hope and gratitude. I know the basics, but I just do not follow sports enough to know much beyond that.
Nevertheless, I include sports questions in all my regular (i.e. non-specialized) trivia games. Why? Writing sports questions helps improve me, both as a writer and as a player. Writing questions that are outside my comfort zone forces me to research things I don’t already know, some of which I may even remember later on down the line. This research also turns up unexpected gems of information which are quirky enough both to make a great question and to make the piece of information it concerns memorable enough to stick with me. Like, for example, did you know that Guy LaFleur, all-time leading scorer for the Montreal Canadiens (hockey team), recorded a disco album?
Incidentally, I do the same thing on Sporcle, a great site for trivia quizzes. I like to take Sporcle quizzes in areas where I’m strong, like music, movies, and literature. But I also like to take them in my weaker areas, like geography, history, and sports. Generally, I like to take a new random quiz, and then retake an old quiz. I pick which one to retake by sorting the list of quizzes I’ve taken, and identifying the one with the lowest percentage of right answers. Consequently, I’ve taken the NHL all-time team leaders quiz about 10 times so far, and my best score is 26 out of 120. That’s a huge improvement on my first score, though, which was 8 out of 120. And now I can tell you about a bunch of hockey players I’d never heard of before I started in on that quiz. (Which is how I learned the weird fact above.)
Another way to stretch is to try broadening your knowledge of areas in which you’re already strong. For instance, I love movies, and I know some Oscar trivia, but there is so much more for me to learn, and the Academy Awards are a very common trivia topic. So I write Oscar questions in areas I don’t know well, both to challenge players and to make me a better player and writer. (Just as an aside, if you want to improve as a trivia player, be on the lookout for creative ways to strengthen your knowledge. For instance, Windows 7 has a feature which lets you rotate through a set of images for desktop wallpaper, changing automatically at an interval you select. So I went out and snagged an image of every Best Picture winner, dropped them all into a folder, and have the wallpaper machine circulating among them. Now when I use my computer, I also get a little help remembering which movies have won the Best Picture Oscar.)
SPREAD THE LOVE
Something that makes trivia games great fun is their ability to point you to wonderful corners of culture that you never knew existed. I’ve been introduced to lots of great movies, music, TV, and other stuff via trivia, and I try to do the same for others. It’s great fun to write questions on topics you feel passionate about. At the same time, at least for me, that’s too narrow a field. I’m a white guy who grew up in the 80’s, and I have an endless well of questions I could write about cultural artifacts I got attached to in my time. But while I want my games to be fun for me, I also want them to be fun for people other than me. Consequently, I try to include questions about areas of culture that don’t mean as much to me, sometimes even things I actively dislike. As I sometimes point out, inclusion does not imply endorsement. I suppose this might seem like a restatement of the “stretch” point, but there’s a slightly different intention behind it. I try to spread the love among all different kinds of knowledge not just to make myself a better player, but to remember to include a diverse variety of topics so that my games are fun for a wide variety of people.
Okay, that’s all for now. How about those movie songs?
1. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen plays during that scene from Wayne’s World.
2. The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” is the music behind that scene from Ghost.
3. Any boy who grew up in the 80s (see, I told you that was my wheelhouse) is likely to remember The Cars’ “Moving In Stereo” as the soundtrack to Judge Reinhold’s fantasy sequence about Phoebe Cates in Fast Times At Ridgemont High.
4. Before Tom Cruise was famous for being crazy, he was famous for dancing around to Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll” in Risky Business.
That post about the art of the trivia question is still brewing, but I got sidetracked this week by another event in the trivia world. You may have heard about it. Watson, an IBM supercomputer, played two games of Jeopardy! against that show’s most famous champions, and thoroughly trounced the both of them.
A number of friends who watched the match complained that it was boring. If what you were looking for was a tense, movie-like contest with the drama of close scores or a come-from-behind victory, I can certainly see why you’d be disappointed. It had all the drama of the 49ers annihilating the Broncos 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV. On the other hand, if what you were looking for was a glimpse of the world to come, in the form of a breathtaking technical achievement, this match absolutely delivered the goods.
See, some people tend to think computers are smart, and that of course a computer could beat a human at Jeopardy!, given a sufficiently broad knowledge base for its answers. But really, that’s a case of misplaced signifiers. Many human brains find rapid mental arithmetic of large or complex numbers difficult, and therefore associate it with intelligence. Computers happen to be fantastic at this kind of thing. The chess club is full of smart kids, and therefore chess must be a smart person’s game. Knowing that a computer could defeat the chess world champion must mean that computers are smart, right?
Here’s the thing, though. Computers are great at one thing: computing. Arithmetic is computation. Chess, at a sufficient level of abstraction, is also computation. The further away from numbers you move, the dumber computers become, meaning that for the vast majority of tasks our brains do each day, computers are extremely stupid. “Natural language”, aka the way we humans talk to each other, is an enormous challenge for a computer to deal with, as anyone playing interactive fiction for the first time could tell you. (Though the idea that better parsing of natural language will automatically make for better IF is another case of misplaced signifiers — better understanding of language is great and everything, but the more important part of IF is its model world. Advancing the parser just means the model world’s seams show more quickly.) Because computers lack human experience, they are stunningly bad at dealing with linguistic context, and are therefore capable of spectacular misunderstandings when faced with any language outside the very limited domains for which they’re programmed.
Watson is no exception to this, but it has a few advantages that other machines lack. For one thing, there’s an enormous amount of processing power behind it: some 90 servers, over 21 terabytes of data, 15 terabytes of RAM, and 80 teraflops of throughput. More important, though, are a couple of its conceptual approaches to knowledge.
First, through a paradigm called machine learning, Watson learns by example, getting better and better at the game as he sees more and more Jeopardy [leaving the exclamation point off from here on out] clues and their correct answers. It would be ridiculously impractical to try to construct a set of rules that would allow a computer to recognize every possible Jeopardy question, so instead Watson’s creators gave it a framework for recognizing associations between question words, answer words, and source texts, then fed it tens of thousands of Jeopardy clues as examples. This technique enabled Watson to make a huge leap in its Jeopardy prowess.
The other key aspect of Watson is its embrace of uncertainty. Watson doesn’t deal in right answers and wrong answers. It deals in answers that are more likely to be right vs. less likely to be right. Thus, when faced with the clue, “The parents of this 52nd governor of New York immigrated to the United States from Salerno, Italy,” we see its top three answers thus:
Watson was quite certain that “Mario Cuomo” was the correct answer, but hadn’t entirely ruled out the far crazier answers “motorcycle club” and “Marine Corps.” Indeed, if what you’re seeking is comedy, look no further than Watson’s runner-up answers.
Laughs aside, though, it’s this uncertainty which makes Watson so formidable. In a frequently-cited example, Watson can look at the name “Alice Cooper” and weigh the evidence that Alice is a woman’s name against the evidence that Alice Cooper is a man, give each pile of evidence a score, and come to its own conclusion. A strictly rule-bound computer would have to be given a specific exception to handle this case. Watson can generate its own exception, thereby improving its knowledge base. As a co-worker of mine pointed out, isn’t this a hallmark of intelligence? The capacity to allow for the possibility that we may not know everything or fully understand the world is an incredibly powerful tool in the search for truth.
So as a computer, Watson rocks. But Jeopardy is an entertainment program, not a science program. Is it fun to watch Watson play Jeopardy? George Doro, my teammate in the Anti-Social Network, called it “more fascinating than exciting,” and that’s right on target. IBM branded the hell out of this show, and it would have been a black eye for them had Watson lost. Consequently, a few gameplay decisions were made which helped Watson win, but made the show a little less fun.
First off, Watson was allowed to be lightning-fast on the buzzer. People think of Jeopardy as a purely mental game, but unlike chess, there’s a physical component of Jeopardy. People (and computers) with faster reflexes do far better on the show — it doesn’t matter if you know 100% of the answers when you’re getting outbuzzed 80% of the time. Trying to play buzzer-beaters against a computer is like running a 500-yard dash against a car. Watson didn’t have to be this quick — just subtract a little of that processing power until the computer’s average buzz-in time equals the average human’s buzz-in time (or even Ken Jennings’ average) and you’ve got a fairer battle, but instead, when Watson was certain enough of its answer, no human thumb could possibly outrace its mechanical plunger. (There were a few exceptions, but overall it was clear that Watson’s buzzing speed was what allowed it to dominate the match.)
Secondly, there’s the fact that each human had not only Watson to contend with, but also another top-notch Jeopardy player! Consequently, anytime Watson doesn’t pick up a clue in time, the two humans tended to split the points between them. I know Jeopardy is traditionally played by three contestants, but there was plenty about this match that was non-traditional. I would be very interested to see how Jennings would do against Watson by himself, especially if the buzzer advantage were corrected. As he put it in an NPR interview: “It’s the worst of both worlds, you know? The ideal scenario would be to have a human versus a computer, or maybe a computer versus a very good human and a lousy ‘Jeopardy!’ player. I don’t know if you saw Wolf Blitzer on the show, but I’d like to have Wolf back.”
That’s not to say that Watson was flawless. One of its major weaknesses was its inability to see or hear. Instead of listening to Alex Trebek read the clue, Watson was fed the clue via (essentially) a text message, so it saw and started processing the clue at the same time as Ken and Brad saw it. The show neutralized the most obvious disadvantage of this blindness and deafness by eliminating the audio or visual clues it often features. Jeopardy has made this sort of accommodation before, to serve disabled human players, and while it’s certainly true that Ken and Brad could have whomped the computer on those clues, that’s really not what Watson was built to do, so it would rather miss the point. A more pertinent disadvantage was that it could not hear what the other contestants were answering. It was told whether its own answer was correct, and told the correct answers provided by humans, but was not told of wrong answers, leading to this exchange:
Ken: “‘Name That Decade’ for a thousand.”
Alex: “The first modern crossword puzzle is published & Oreo cookies are introduced.” [Ken buzzes in] “Ken?”
Ken: “What are the ’20s?”
Alex: “No.” [Watson buzzes in] “Watson?”
Watson: “What is 1920s?”
Alex: “No. Ken said that.”
[The correct answer was “The 1910s.”] Trebek’s schoolmarmish correction of a machine that had just that moment proven it can’t hear him was amusing, and perhaps reflexive. Watson’s error was the kind of mistake that humans rarely make, though it’s not unheard of. When a human does it, though, it’s a sign of frazzled nerves. With Watson, it’s an Achilles heel. Well, maybe an Achilles toenail.
Another major weakness Watson displayed was its difficulty leveraging the category title to come up with the answer. Humans completely dominated that “Name The Decade” category — Watson was having trouble processing quickly enough to outbuzz them, and at one point its top guess for one of the clues was “2002,” even though it did come up with decades for the others. Most famously, in the Final Jeopardy round of the first game, it encountered the category “U.S. Cities,” and the clue, “Its largest airport is named for a World War II hero; its second largest, for a World War II battle,” which it answered thus:
(This inspired the funniest Watson joke I’ve yet seen: “Me: Hey Doc, I’ve got this pain in my left arm and an awful headache. Doc: What is Toronto?????”) The answer was in fact “Chicago,” but even if a human didn’t know the answer, he very likely would have guessed an actual U.S. city based on the category, rather than a Canadian city.
As some of the IBM guys pointed out, Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy are a tough area for Watson, because it has to guess something, and therefore risk looking stupid. When it’s not sure about its answers on a regular clue, it can just refrain from buzzing in. Watching the show, I thought perhaps that Watson’s creators forced it to simply focus on the question, more or less ignoring the category. Turns out this isn’t quite true. In fact, it considers the category in its approach, but it’s learned from its thousands of Jeopardy clues that category is often only weakly tied to the answer. For instance, that Chicago question could have been reworded, “Chicago’s O’Hare airport is named after a World War II hero; this airport, its second largest, was named after a World War II battle.” The question still would have fit the category, but the answer would have been an airport, not a city. Watson has seen that scenario play out many times, and is thus wary of assuming that the answer in a “U.S. Cities” category will always be a U.S. city.
In the end, Watson defeated the humans soundly, with a score of $77,147 to Jennings’ $24,000 and Rutter’s $21,600. A lot of the press coverage has focused on the “man vs. machine” angle, and of course the match was set up to emphasize that. In fact, it was rather poignant to see Watson beat one of its human practice match opponents on the clue, “This African-American folklore laborer: ‘Before I let that steam drill beat me down I’ll die with my hammer in my hand.'” I guess there’s this sort of pastoral vs. industrial thing that gets set up when machines attempt a traditionally human activity, even though people holding buzzers and answering trivia questions doesn’t exactly fit neatly into the pastoral mold.
I don’t feel much solidarity with the OMG SKYNET IS HERE!!!!! response. As somebody who works in IT, I’m fascinated by the achievement. I think about how satisfying it must have been to have worked on the team that created this. Those people just finished a massive four-year project, and the result was an incredible leap forward in information processing, with a world-famous, historic, televised, wildly successful debut. I just finished my time as a team member on a three-year project, and the result is a shakily implemented student system whose portal is currently driving everyone crazy with how incomplete and slow it is. I’m sure there is mental, emotional, and physical damage associated with both project teams, but wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have been on the one whose final product worked so well?
In his Final Jeopardy answer, Ken Jennings wrote, “(I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.)” It’s a reference to a hilarious moment on The Simpsons. And interestingly, it may not have been one Jennings thought of himself. Here’s an excerpt from his NPR interview with Neal Conan:
Mr. JENNINGS: Maybe it’s just my own ego, but yeah, I feel like I’ve somehow, through some weird coincidence, been elected as the champion of carbon-based life on Earth against, you know, our new future oppressor.
CONAN: Silicon, yeah.
Mr. JENNINGS: And I would like to strike a blow while I have the chance.
CONAN: I, for one, welcome our robot overlords.
Mr. JENNINGS: You may have no choice, Neal.
Then again, it’s quite possible that this interview was taped after the Jeopardy round was taped, so who knows? But whether Jennings was lifting a joke or simply making a reference, isn’t this the skill for which we celebrate him? He gathers knowledge from various sources, and retrieves it quickly, using it when it can make the most impact. His graciousness and humor in that final moment certainly set him apart from his predecessor in IBM challenge history, Garry Kasparov, who famously stalked away in an enormous huff after being beaten by Deep Blue. But in that graciousness and humor, he also subtly made the point that for all Watson’s skill and speed at information retrieval, humans can still wield that information with a precision and effect that Watson could never hope to achieve.
Okay, so some of this is covered in my review of Wordplay, but here it is from a slightly different angle. But before we go there, answers to the last entry’s questions:
Following in the footsteps of Anthony Michael Hall and Jason Lively, he played Rusty Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. More famously, he appeared as David Healey, Darlene’s boyfriend and eventual husband, in 92 episodes of Roseanne. Name this actor who currently stars as Dr. Leonard Hofstader on The Big Bang Theory.
Answer: Johnny Galecki
In the 1960s, Marvel Comics loved to liven up its titles by throwing in an extra adjective. I’ll give you a comic book title, you fill in the missing adjective, for five points each.
1. The Incredible Hulk
2. The Amazing Spider-Man
3. The Invincible Iron Man
4. The Uncanny X-Men
5. The Mighty Thor
6. The Astonishing Ant-Man
During CU‘s 2001 revival of the Trivia Bowl, I heard rumors of this thing called a “Basement Bowl.”
Q: James Rado, Gerome Ragni, and Galt MacDermot were the writers behind what song medley, which won Record Of The Year, topped the charts for six weeks in 1969, and was the biggest hit in the 5th Dimension’s career?
Answer: “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In”
I’ll name a fictional computer from a movie, you name the movie, for ten points each.
1. MU-TH-R 182 model 2, the ship-board computer on the space ship Nostromo, known by the crew as ‘mother.’
2. Deep Thought, a computer created by a pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent race of beings who look to us exactly like white mice.
Answer: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
3. EMERAC, a room-sized computer recently acquired by the Federal Broadcasting Network, whose worth is advocated by inventor Richard Sumner and doubted by reference librarian Bunny Watson.
Answer: Desk Set
4. WOPR, or War Operations Plan Response, a military simulator housed at NORAD.
Now for my trivia autobiography