Friday, June 29, 2007

Yes, there will be quizzes July 3rd and July 4th

Celebrate the nation's independence the way the Founding Fathers would - with trivia and beer!

Tuesday, July 3rd
Ray's Happy Birthday Bar
1200 E. Passyunk Ave. (near 9th & Federal Sts.)
Subject Round: NATIONAL PARKS & HISTORIC SITES

Wednesday, July 4th
Dirty Frank's
13th & Pine Sts.
Subject Round: AMERICANISMANIA

Answers to last week's Secret Theme rounds

The theme from Ray's last week was Major League Baseball teams.

Ray's:

1) What 1998 film is a remake of Wings of Desire? City of Angels
2) What 1997 Johnny Depp-directed film was not released in the US owing to poor response from American critics at Cannes? The Brave
3) Amur and Sumatran are sub-species of what mammal? Tigers

4) What were known as Cadet Scouts in Singapore until 1995, when the country started calling them the common name used in other countries? Cub Scouts
5) What famous Italian priest claimed to bear stigmata for 50 years until his death in 1968? Padre Pio
6) From what famous poem are these lines: As Idle as a painted ship / Upon a painted ocean ? "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
7) What 1981 film starred Warren Beatty as John Reed? Reds
8) What's the name of the student-run newspaper at the University of Maryland? The Diamondback
9) What Beatles song begins with the line "There's a fog upon L.A."? "Blue Jay Way"
10) What 2005 Oscar-nominated film had the working title Unchain My Heart? Ray


Frank's:

The theme was tennis.

1) What NBA team began playing home court games at the Brendan Byrne Arena in 1981? New Jersey Nets
2) Which planet in our solar system has the hottest surface temperature? Venus
3) What classic Brit-com featured jokes about "Mrs. Slocumb's pussy?" Are You Being Served?

4) For what film did Judi Dench win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1998? Shakespeare in Love
5) Which amendment to the US Constitution bars voting discrimination based upon race, color or previous condition of servitude? 15th Amendment
6) Name the actress who played Alice the maid on The Brady Bunch. Ann B. Davis
7) What 1988 ABC TV drama won the Emmy for Best Prime Time Drama (it won only this one year)? thirtysomething
8) What celebrity gave a very candid interview to Vanity Fair in 1992 which caused an uproar over her fitness to be a mother? Courtney Love
9) What 1979 football movie starred Nick Nolte and Charles Durning? North Dallas Forty
10) According to Article I of the US Constitution, how old must you be to hold a seat in the Senate? 30

Note that the numbers are those of tennis' unique scoring system.

Sofa Kingdom wins clash of titans at Frank's

Multi-league quizzo champs Sofa Kingdom managed to edge Group W by less than a single question, 142-140, on Wednesday night in a difficult quiz that jumped all over the place subject-wise.

W, pictured at right, was stymied by the Subject ("Beer") round, in which I asked
teams to correctly identify the home nations of 10 different brews. They could only manage 2 correct. They shone, however, in the Unreasonably Difficult round with 6 correct answers, but this was too little too late, and the mighty Kingdom held on to their thin lead. The visitors were helped along by a football-centric Speed round in which their 7 correct topped the rest of the field and put them in the lead for good.

It was great to see people come out despite the high temperatures and humidity, and the violent thunderstorm which flashed and boomed through much of the game. In case you were wondering,
yes we will do quizzes at both venues July 4, both the 3rd at Ray's and the 4th itself at Frank's. I can't promise a lack of thunderstorms this time, but I can promise two great sets of questions!

Captain America finished last by a
wide margin and therefore earned a used copy of the book 101 Uses for a Dead Cat.

Scores:

Beautiful Gold: Sofa Kingdom 142
So-So Silver: Group W 140
Shameful, Shameful Bronze: The Sun Never Sweats 128

Also-rans:

Captain America 26
Nine Eleven Was an Inside Job 25*

* indicates team started late &/or quit

Crackaritaville wins low-scoring contest at Ray's

Crackaritaville a.k.a. Crackburgers in Camdendise, a team named in honor of Jimmy Buffet's Tuesday-night Tweeter Center concert, edged out the crowded field of regulars at Ray's to take the top position. You can see from the photo that these guys came out to kick a little butt.

Strange game; both one of the lowest winning scores and highest mean scores for all teams, ever.

Buffet was given his own day recently by the Pennsylvania legislature, which appears to be more concerned lately with tackling the problem of "not enough Jimmy Buffet days" instead of working on, say, funding SEPTA.

Wastin' away, again, in Harrisburg...

Your scores:

Beautiful Gold: Crackaritaville (Crackburgers in Camdendise) 111
So-So Silver: Johnny Gloryhole 103
Shameful, Shameful Bronze: Kisses for Kittens 101

Also-rans:

Cosine of Two 93
Grimace 92*

* indicates team started late &/or quit

Monday, June 25, 2007

Last week's Secret Theme questions

As always, answer the two sets of 10 questions, then try and figure out what the themes are to each bar's round of 10 answers. Naturally you can work your way back to individual answers to questions if you figure out either theme. Answers will be posted in a few days; I was a bit slow to do that this week owing to illness. I feel much better now, thank you.

Ray's:

1) What 1998 film is a remake of Wings of Desire?
2) What 1997 Johnny Depp-directed film was not released in the US owing to poor response from American critics at Cannes?
3) Amur and Sumatran are sub-species of what mammal?
4) What were known as Cadet Scouts in Singapore until 1995, when the country started calling them the common name used in other countries?
5) What famous Italian priest claimed to bear stigmata for 50 years until his death in 1968?
6) From what famous poem are these lines: As idle as a painted ship / Upon a painted ocean ?
7) What 1981 film starred Warren Beatty as John Reed?
8) What's the name of the student-run newspaper at the University of Maryland?
9) What Beatles song begins with the line "There's a fog upon L.A."?
10) What 2005 Oscar-nominated film had the working title Unchain My Heart?

... and what was the theme?

Frank's:

1) What NBA team began playing home court games at the Brendan Byrne Arena in 1981?
2) Which planet in our solar system has the hottest surface temperature?
3) What classic Brit-com featured jokes about "Mrs. Slocumb's pussy?"
4) For what film did Judi Dench win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1998?
5) Which amendment to the US Constitution bars voting discrimination based upon race, color or previous condition of servitude?
6) Name the actress who played Alice the maid on The Brady Bunch.
7) What 1988 ABC TV drama won the Emmy for Best Prime Time Drama (it won only this one year)?
8) What celebrity gave a very candid interview to Vanity Fair in 1992 which caused an uproar over her fitness to be a mother?
9) What 1979 football movie starred Nick Nolte and Charles Durning?
10) According to Article I of the US Constitution, how old must you be to hold a seat in the Senate?

... and what's the theme of the 10 answers?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Your QuizMaster turns down question-swapping offer

FYI, I just had an email inquiry from a quiz host elsewhere in PA to swap questions, and I turned it down. He said he was having trouble coming up with new questions himself, as he hosts 4 of them per week (how this would work to my advantage if he's running a deficit already was left unstated...).

Personally, I'd love to have that sort of problem. Four quizzes/week is good money; if you have in mind one or two more bars in the area that are looking to host quizzes, let me know! Send them to the site! I'd happily take the business.

As it stands I come up with 102 questions/week, not including themes, while doing another job more than 30 hours/week. I don't find that to be too tricky, although sometimes concocting a decent Secret Theme round that's neither too simple nor impossible can take a little while longer than the others.

I want everyone to know that I research all of my material so that I can be personally responsible for the content, and so I can control the theming and the round difficulty. I never take questions from trivia books or games, but from original sources, and I take some pride in that. I know my references (as a professional researcher in other capacities I acutely appreciate the importance of this), I rarely make errors (1 problem in 1,700 questions thus far), if i have to I can rephrase a question accurately and so on down the line.

I figure that this original work is a large part of what I'm paid for and a big reason why regulars play my games as opposed to their many other options in the city. Any bozo can read things off of a page. It's like the difference between being a college professor and a standardized test proctor; which would you rather do? Other hosts are of course free to "steal" my leftovers that I post weekly; maybe some do. Let 'em; I'll just come up with better original questions each week.

Quizzo: the cheaper than skeeball summer gaming alternative!

Our game is free to play and the prizes are better. None of those long streams of tickets to count, either.

Tuesday, June 26, 9pm
Ray's Happy Birthday Bar
1200 E. Passyunk Ave. (near 9th & Federal Sts.)
Subject Round: FOREIGN FILM

Wednesday, June 27, 9pm
Dirty Frank's
13th & Pine Sts.
Subject Round: BEER

Call Us the Lightning wins at Frank's with impressively high score

Call Us the Lightning, a somewhat awkward reference to the great Who song "Call Me Lightning," edged out Group W at Frank's last week, 167-162 (both scores make the All-Time Top Ten list). Their most impressive round was the Subject round, in which they answered 10 of 10 questions about Central America correctly. Yowsa. Call them the winners!

These guys have now won 3 times, and are one of only 3 teams to have beaten Group W at the venue. Good to see the newcomers Hershey Highways, who actually are transplants from Hershey, PA. That weird smell here ain't chocolate, but you'll adjust eventually.

Once again the 9-11 conspiracy team won Last Place among teams who stuck around for all 6 rounds. No offense, guys, but if I'm going to take advice on world affairs from a pub quiz team it's likely to be from one who scores triple what you do. Curiously the team also won a spot prize, a paperback copy of the first volume of The Book of Lists. This week's Last Place prize was a 2004 copy of the Guinness Book of World Records, so that they can read what the world's tallest building... was.


Beautiful Gold: Call Us the Lightning 167
So-So Silver: Group W 162
Shameful, Shameful Bronze: Hershey Highways a.k.a. 322 111

Also-rans:

Schuessels 87
The Muff's 'n' Stuffs... [sic] 65
Team America 64
9-11 Was an Inside Job, Osama bin Laden Is Innocent 55
Daedlus' Gift* 49
The Skinny Bitches* 27
The Tanukis* 9

* indicates team started late &/or quit

Satanic teachers conquer Ray's


666 - Sign of the Beast, a team comprised primarily of teachers who have just gone wild on summer vacation, edged out the competition at Ray's for the first place position. Would you let these people near your children? The top scores at Ray's continue to be a good 40 points below the top scores at Frank's, thus Ray's still has no scores in the Top Ten. I'm looking to one of the teams of regulars to remedy this; you guys are too good to be the AAA-ball of QuizMaster quizzo!

Beautiful Gold: 666 - Sign of the Beast 119
So-So Silver: Johnny Gloryhole 111
Shameful, Shameful Bronze: Cosine of 4 (-2) 106

Also-rans:

Kisses for Kittens 93
Bodiners 61

Answers to last week's Secret Theme rounds

Ray's:

The theme was traditional anniversary gifts (steel, wool, diamond, etc.)

1) What comic book character is the alter ego of multimillionaire industrialist Tony Stark?
Iron Man
2) What West African nation has the capital Yamoussoukro?
Cote d'Ivoire
3) In what sea will you find Australia's Great Barrier Reef?
Coral Sea
4) Who played Screech on Saved by the Bell?
Dustin Diamond
5) What 1973 movie was based upon Harvard Law grad John Jay Osbourne Jr.'s 1970 book of the same title?
The Paper Chase
6) In the film Zoolander, what is Derek Zoolander's signature look (i.e. the one in the early stages of the film)?
Blue Steel
7) What highly-rated 1984 TV mini-series gave us the immortal line "Which one of you bitches is my mother?"
Lace
8) What actor was nominated for Best Actor for Salvador in 1987, nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Ghosts of Mississippi in 1996, has not won an Oscar, and had a very odd real-life experience in 2001 which gained some media attention?
James Woods; check out his bizarre 2001 terrorism experience
9) What influential Puritan minister founded Yale University?
Cotton Mather
10) The US paid compensation to this country after bombing their embassy in 1999, killing 3 diplomats, while bombing the Serb capital Belgrade (we maintain this was accidental). Name the country.
China (People's Republic of)

Frank's:

The theme was the number 7. As reviewed last week, I screwed up and included Saturn when I meant to ask a question about Uranus (fill in your own joke; failing that, fill in your own anus).

1) What four-letter abbreviation did the Roman Republic (and later Empire) use as a motto?
SPQR, all letters on the 7 key of a cell phone.
2) Name the comedian who was born David Atkins, but uses a stage name we know him by.
Sinbad (he of the 7 voyages)
3) For two weeks in 1965, Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs had their best-selling hit song at #2 in the pop charts. Name the song.
"Wooly Bully"; wool is the traditional 7th anniversary gift, and the lyric includes "let's not be L-7"
4) What major league baseball team plays home games at Qualcomm Stadium?
San Diego Padres; SD is the 7th largest city in the US
5) Who was US president in between John Quincy Adams and Martin van Buren?
Andrew Jackson, our 7th president
6) The Cassini space probe was launched by NASA in 1997 to eventually set itself in orbit around which planet?
Saturn
7) Male Olympic athletes participate in the decathalon. What event do female Olympic athletes participate in as a substitute?
Heptathalon, which has 7 events
8) For which month is the modern birthstone ruby (the traditional one was onyx)?
July, the 7th month
9) Name the British officer who famously led an Arab revolt against the Turks in World War I.
T.E. Lawrence ("of Arabia"), who wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom about the experience
10) What chemical element, as a gas in its free state, comprises over 60% of the air we breathe?
Nitrogen, atomic weight 7

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ray's off Top Ten List again

That fantastic score of 186 by Group W at Frank's last week bumped a few 159s from the 10th position on the All-Time Top Ten Scores list. Jet Czech was among those sent to obscurity, just two weeks ago the first and only team to crack the Top Ten from Ray's.

As you can see in the righthand column, only a lone Finn McCool's score from months ago stands between Dirty Frank's and a clean sweep, 5 of those scores by W alone.

Where's our Ray's champion? I need a Ray's squad to, as I understand the urban youths are fond of saying, represent.

National passport disaster affects local quizmaster; adoring masses cry out in sympathy

I've admittedly been a bit slow on the draw doing my quiz blog duties this week. Been busy. The most traumatic part of the week by far was getting my passport renewed, which essentially required me to put in a work day, about 9:30am- nearly 5pm at the US Customs House at 2nd & Chestnut, last Friday. This doesn't include the time it took to do the paperwork and get all of what I needed together. The US government, seeking to keep us safe from The Terrorists changed the law regarding travel to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda; basically starting January 1 tens of millions of Americans who never needed a passport before in their lives suddenly needed one for their usual business or vacation, and the agency just wasn't prepared to deal with the logjam.

(This law has just been temporarily repealed for the summer - several months too late to set things right in sufficient time for most travelers - in order to let the airline industry do its usual business and take some pressure off of the US State Department's Passport Agency, which shows what a load of crap it was in terms of keeping us safe in any way to begin with. Presumably the terrorists who were poised to attack us via Bermuda on or after January 1st won't do it while school's out..?)

Amazingly getting your passport (or getting it renewed), which used to take just a few weeks by mail without paying any rush surcharge, now takes as long as 3 months or more with the $70 "rush" fee (over and above the $67 fee for renewal or $87 for your first). In addition they suggest
you pay $15 each way to have the darn thing overnighted round-trip. Yes, your new passport might now cost in the range of $210 and take up to 3 months!

What country are we in? When I mentioned all this mess to a friend he suggested we check our money to see if the current ruler was on it yet.

The Passport Agency tests to see if you're serious about wanting to be allowed to leave the country by letting you call a perpetually-busy phone number and make an appointment via a (poorly)
automated system at one of the handful of emergency centers in the US. I was given the time 11:30, but when I happened by the building early we saw a line already stretching around the block, and we jumped in line immediately. The catch is that you need to be leaving within a couple of weeks of the appointment, you are very lucky (as we are in Philadelphia) to live near such a center, and you're willing to shell out the extra $70. If you need a passport in, say, two months, you're kinda screwed in limbo. If you mail it, even paying the $200+, it might not make it back to you in time. Now, do you want to wait another 6 weeks and gamble on getting an appointment then..? These are your options. (Remember that you need to present the expired passport to get a new one, meaning you only get one shot at this!)

We're paying an additional $12 as a Homeland Security tax, which at the Customs House manifests itself in ill-tempered foreign-accented (oh the irony!) rent-a-cops screaming at citizens attempting to access their own federal building. Much of this happened outside, as the agency is not equipped to let everyone wait inside the building. Making people wait outside and around the block for government services isn't supposed to be happening in an industrialized nation.

I supposedly had an 11:30am appointment at the agency, but this was a joke. Even with two separate lines I was customer #155 for the day for my group, and was "lucky" to actually get my documents back about $150 and 7 hours later. This is lunacy.

If you plan to take a trip within the next year - no joke, a year, some countries don't let you in unless the passport's good for six months - now's a good time to start the renewal process. Welcome to Oceania!

In case you've guessed that this means I'm leaving the country shortly, for the first time in almost two years, you are correct. Arrangements have been made to have my additional pre-written quizzes administered by Deputy Quizmasters of the highest rank and training status while I'm away for a brief research sojourn. Details forthcoming.

Monday, June 18, 2007

What's the worst show on TV these days?


Just curious to see if I can finally get people using the Comments section. After 150 posts the only conversation that really took off in that feature of my site has followed when I dissed The Sopranos. I'm curious to see what people really hate on the tube, and it might be fun to watch my quiz regulars fight like on that freaky planet in the original Star Trek when they wanted Spock and Kirk to off each other gladiator-style. (You pretend not to know the reference, but that's just your superego protecting your inner geek.)

Last week's Secret Theme rounds

I think working the day job plus running two quizzes/week consecutive nights is catching up with me; for the first time I made an outright error in the quiz. The answer to the question itself was correct, however I shouldn't have asked that question in the Frank's Secret Theme round as I somehow miscounted the order of the planets in our solar system. Apparently a couple of days into my weekly cycle of sleep deprivation I have trouble counting to single-digit numbers, and therefore should have all of my quizzes written by Monday night when I'm still fairly fresh.

Thus in trying to figure out the connecting theme of the Frank's round, feel free to answer the question on the Cassini space probe but don't factor it into the Secret Theme. One team still collected the 8 bonus points and I gave another team half credit for barking up the right tree, giving the benefit of the doubt that their correct answer to that question helped sink their chance of earning the bonus points. I feel bad that I can't claim a record of perfection any longer, some 1,600 or so questions into this venture, but I haven't asked a question yet in which I demanded a wrong answer, and that's not a bad track record at all.

Ray's:

1) What comic book character is the alter ego of multimillionaire industrialist Tony Stark?
2) What West African nation has the capital Yamoussoukro?
3) In what sea will you find Australia's Great Barrier Reef?
4) Who played Screech on Saved by the Bell?
5) What 1973 movie was based upon Harvard Law grad John Jay Osbourne Jr.'s 1970 book of the same title?
6) In the film Zoolander, what is Derek Zoolander's signature look (i.e. the one in the early stages of the film)?
7) What highly-rated 1984 TV mini-series gave us the immortal line "Which one of you bitches is my mother?"
8) What actor was nominated for Best Actor for Salvador in 1987, nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Ghosts of Mississippi in 1996, has not won an Oscar, and had a very odd real-life experience in 2001 which gained some media attention?
9) What influential Puritan minister founded Yale University?
10) The US paid compensation to this country after bombing their embassy in 1999, killing 3 diplomats, while bombing the Serb capital Belgrade (we maintain this was accidental). Name the country.

Frank's:


1) What four-letter abbreviation did the Roman Republic (and later Empire) use as a motto?
2) Name the comedian who was born David Atkins, but uses a stage name we know him by.
3) For two weeks in 1965, Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs had their best-selling hit song at #2 in the pop charts. Name the song.
4) What major league baseball team plays home games at Qualcomm Stadium?
5) Who was US president in between John Quincy Adams and Martin van Buren?
6) The Cassini space probe was launched by NASA in 1997 to eventually set itself in orbit around which planet?
7) Male Olympic athletes participate in the decathalon. What event do female Olympic athletes participate in as a substitute?
8) For which month is the modern birthstone ruby (the traditional one was onyx)?
9) Name the British officer who famously led an Arab revolt against the Turks in World War I.
10) What chemical element, as a gas in its free state, comprises over 60% of the air we breathe?

... and what were the secret themes for each set of 10 questions? Answers will be posted in a few days.

Weekly sound-off

This is the place to post or discuss anything that doesn't fit anywhere else. Comments? Questions? Concerns..?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Long-overdue announcements of next quizzes

The first announcement is that there will be no special guest appearance by Col. Sanders, who is dead.

Sorry, I had to get your attention somehow.

Second announcement:

Tuesday, June 19, 9pm
Ray's Happy Birthday Bar
1200 E. Passyunk Ave. (near 9th & Federal Sts.)
Subject Round: HUMAN ANATOMY

Wednesday, June 20, 9pm
Dirty Frank's
13th & Pine Sts.
Subject Round: CENTRAL AMERICA

Group W one point off of all-time record at Dirty Frank's

Group W won for the 10th time in 15 attempts at Frank's on Wednesday. They scored a 186, one point off of the all-time highest score in my format (also theirs), depicted on the right-hand column of the site. This is two people doing this, week in and week out. If you're not impressed you darn well should be.

The last place prize went to a team called 9-11 Was an Inside Job, Osama bin Laden Is Innocent. Note that these guys weren't right about much of anything in the quiz, either... as always, "consider the source."

I gave the team a copy of The Bathroom Digest, which I made sure to first dip in Anthrax. (Not the germ, the band.) It turns out Scooter Libby loves Anthrax from way back, "before they sold out, dude." In happier times Scooter and I would sometimes shoot some Cambodian smack at Davos, and that's when I last got my marching orders to take this Frank's quiz team out before they brought the truth to the youth. "FNORD!"

I would point the conspiracy people to the excellent lefty newsletter CounterPunch, which has taken apart the 9-11 conspiracy BS quite effectively in this dispatch, this one and most especially this one, by a lefty scientist. These aren't "government dupes," these are people who understand how basic physics works, who can do applied math, who aren't racist enough to assume that Arabs can't briefly fly airplanes well enough to crash them, and who haven't derived their worldview of all things Newtonian from what happens when Jerry hits Tom with a billiard cue.

For my part, I was living in Qatar at the time of the attacks. My work contract ran out coincidentally on 9/12/01 and I had plans a few days later - plans I kept as nothing else made sense - to visit Nepal after some sightseeing in the United Arab Emirates. Upon arrival at Abu Dhabi, the Emirati government put me up gratis in a swank hotel with free meals and free transport. Why? "There are people here who are not your friend, sir." Thus they wanted me to be OK, put me somewhere where people could keep an eye on my well-being. The Emirati government knew that a few of its own citizens helped perpetrate the attacks, why should that be hard for the rest of us? (After proofreading it occurs to me that this sequence of events seems to anyone who doesn't know me about as likely as the Scooter Libby tale, but trust me that's what my 2001 was all about...)

Here's a little guideline: if you can't find the UAE on an unmarked map of the region, you don't have a clue what you're talking about, and should likely stop talking about it before you say something extremely embarrassing.


Rant over. Your scores:

Beautiful Gold: Group W 186
So-So Silver: Sun's Not Yellow, It's Chicken 158
Shameful, Shameful Bronze: Prufrock 114

Also-rans:

Silo 99
Flatutory Apes 88
Totally Rippin' 85
Crackheads with Pirate Hats 70
Nick Is Alone Peeing in Her Butt 61
9-11 Was an Inside Job, Osama bin Laden Is Innocent 50

Johnny Gloryhole repeats at Ray's

All this time, I thought Johnny Gloryhole was a reference to a typical gloryhole user. As it turns out, he appears to be the mascot of the National Gloryhole Awareness Board. "Hey kids, July is Gloryhole Month!" The team was kind enough to draw us a depiction of JG this week.

They won by over 30 points. Good to see Kisses for Kittens return to Ray's! In the first photo we see an upset KfK member uncharitably giving back-to-back champs Gloryhole the ol' one-finger salute. As we see in the next filmstrip slide ("Boop!"), everyone made all happy lovey-dovey-like by the end of the evening.

Turtle Spaz Monkey Robot shocked the room by leading for the first four rounds before dropping to second. It was a world turned upside-down for a while there. This earned the miscreants a photo on the blog.




Scores:

Beautiful Gold:
Johnny Gloryhole 134
So-So Silver: Turtle Spaz Monkey Robot 101
Shameful, Shameful Bronze: Kisses for Kittens 100

Also-rans:

Cosine of Four (-3) 70

Monday, June 11, 2007

Mafia Minstrel Show: Good riddance Sopranos

I hate mafia media. Always have, always will. This stems in part from hating to see any group of people clumsily live down to ethnic stereotypes. ("Gangsta" anyone? Who'd have thought that 40 years after the Black Panthers you could sell prison clothes to black kids voluntarily? We have, collectively as a nation, learned nothing over the past few decades.)

This also stems from my partial Italian heritage; seeing your own genetic brethren acting like dago apes for cash always puts the boot in a little harder.
My maternal grandfather was an Italian immigrant who grew up speaking the language at home. His father died when he was very young, he dropped out of school in his pre-teen years, taught himself to read English better through newspapers, and worked two jobs even after the first heart attack to earn an honest living for his family. He got all of about 3 years' retirement in before the second heart attack killed him.

This was the Italian-American experience for the most part, typical of just about any immigrant group; an honest, hard-working life with small rewards when you were fortunate. This is not the way the group is portrayed in the media. More than anyone other group of "whites" (a group Italians were excluded from in the early 20th century), it's more than OK for Italian-Americans to be portrayed as brutal, ignorant, criminal apes. Worse, most of the people doing the writing and acting are Italian-Americans, at least genetically if not culturally, which lets everyone feel good about the venture in the way that having a handful of tapdancing watermelon-munching darkies and pancake-griddlin' Mammy characters in the movies at one time made the average American feel pretty secure in their anti-African racism. Note that I didn't say that The Sopranos is the precise same thing as Al Jolson... it is, however, a lot closer than most would like to admit.

Imagine a TV series called Those Eternal Jews!, in which we track the fortunes of Morty Schwarz and his ever-kvetching wife and princess daughter, all trying to schlep their way through the day in the family pay-day money-lending business in a redlined neighborhood. Naturally there are two sets of books, oy vey is mir. But don't worry, folks, these are really intricate characters and intriguing plotlines, thus the show "transcends cliches."

Shame on the lot of them. For starters, any organized crime group targets its own ethnic group first. The Italian mob hurt honest Italian immigrants more than anyone else. These people aren't heroes, they were/are scum. My grandfather was a hero of sorts; he built America. His brother helped kick the Nazis out of France. You like organized violence, Scorsese? Make a fuckin' movie out of that, you minstrel monkey! In fact, make a movie that isn't about organized crime once every 5 years why don't ya. You know who makes a killing from the mafia? Scorsese and Coppola! (My grandfather had an improperly set broken hip from being hit by a truck on a bike while delivering clothes my great-grandmother laundered. He walked with a limp the rest of his life and thus wasn't drafted into WWII. Needless to say these were not people with "connections" who leeched off of society.)

Criminals? By and large they're not smart, not dapper, not charming and not even really all that interesting as individuals. For the most part they're
complete cowards ("... as Mafia boss Angelo Bruno and his driver John Stanfa sat in a car outside Bruno’s row house in South Philly chatting and smoking cigarettes, a gunman stepped out of the shadows, leveled a shotgun behind the "Docile Don’s" right ear and pulled the trigger...Bruno was getting old and losing control of the family and needed to be moved aside... Scarfo would eventually be brought down by his own people. From 1987 to 1989, five made members of the Philadelphia mob would become government informants. ... Louis Turra killed himself early in 1997 while awaiting trial on racketeering charges.") and total incompetents ("Scarfo gunman Salvatore "Wayne" Grande approached and pumped five bullets into the little man. Incredibly, Riccobene wrestled the gun away from Grande who was 100 pounds heavier and nearly 50 years younger. ... A shotgun blast from Pedulla knocked Testa off a wooden crate he was seated on, and nearly severed his left arm. Although in critical condition, Testa survived and looked forward to the day he could return to the fray. ... Meanwhile, Harry, who had made a quick recovery from his wounds in June, was the target again in August. As he was sitting in his automobile, a gunman, disguised as a jogger, ran by and emptied his gun into the car. Miraculously none of the bullets hit Riccobene.")

The history of the Philadelphia Italian mob in the past few decades in particular is one of an inability to fire a loaded gun at a usually unarmed person from close range and kill them. "Scarfo gunman Nick Caramandi ... talked about stalking Harry [over 70 at the time!] and later Mario Riccobene all over the city. He said the hit team would sometimes work from 7 a.m. until late into the night. They staked out Riccobene’s stepmother’s home, girlfriend’s apartments, the homes of friends and business associates, all in hopes of getting an open shot at their adversaries." The Riccobenes weren't The Flash and the Green Lantern mind you, they were septagenarians without bodyguards.

In short, the mafia was real, were uninteresting scum, they were a tiny minority of a law-abiding ethnic group, are increasingly irrelevant and don't deserve our attention. The macho ape stereotype is BS, the pinstriped suits and greasy hair are BS, the empty claims of some 20 year old Cherry Hill-born dangling cornucopia-wearing prick having some Sicilian - it's never a Sardinian, is it? - cousin somewhere who'll "take care of you" for him if someone scratches the paint job on his Honda because that's all the media has taught all of us about his genetic heritage is BS. I wince when I see these representations in the media and idiots feeding off of it the way I imagine African-Americans flinch when Mike Tyson talks.


All of this is better expressed by the wonderful piece The Legacy of the Mafia Minstrel Show by Steve Antonuccio, and by this awesome letter to a North Jersey paper.

If you really feel the need to be entertained by Italians, read The Decameron while listening to Verdi.

Thor: The Legendary Rock Warrior

Another weird sideline that came to mind when putting together the Secret Theme last week was Thor. I asked about the comic book character, based obviously upon the Norse god, but I have to chuckle when I think Thor owing to the "Legendary Rock Warrior." (Link to the band's site; they're still active!)

John Mikl Thor is the only bodybuilder to have won both the Mr. Canada and Mr. America competitions ( is there a Mr. St. Pierre et Miquelon..?). More than that - oh so much more than that - he's a glam/metal/disco frontman of a band... also called Thor. Why, it makes me want to start a band called QuizMaster Chris.

The shirtless, leather-clad Thor performed on TV for the ladies (?) in the '70s and possibly early '80s, but never took off commercially. He just didn't have the chops of the likes of the Starland Vocal Band. His performance on Merv Griffin's show in 1976 was jaw-dropping; a little song (with the house band, who don't do rock well), a little striptease, a little turn on the catwalk, a little comedy, a little Festivus-style Feats of Strength. You should also enjoy the video of "Keep the Dogs Away" from 1977 (title track of what's considered his best LP), or the similar "Sleeping Giant." Wow.

Thor is also an actor, in the sense that Paris Hilton is both a singer and actress, and starred in the 1987 turkey Rock'n'Roll Nightmare, which managed to get an average rating of 3.0 on a scale of 10 from a sample of 236 people on the IMDB. I'm no statistician, but those sound like damning numbers to me.

For some mp3s of Keep the Dogs Away, check out this WFMU Beware of the Blog entry from last November. Give your ears something new to hear, by Odin! I have to say I've heard worse. This is somewhere in the mid-ground of disco-era KISS, T. Rex, Spinal Tap and the garage band down the street. Later albums have, I've read, followed the trends in hair metal and post-hair metal, both poorly.

The Periodic Table of... Comics?!

While doing some research for last week's Secret Theme round I came across this awesome site, the sort of thing that the internet was invented for: The Periodic Table of Comic Books! This pastiche of the use of elements and chemistry in comics was put together by a couple of supergeeks in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Kentucky.

This amuses me far more than it should, which is why I'm the one in the goofy hat asking the trivia questions.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Answers to last week's Secret Theme round

The answers to this set of Qs follow, the theme was chemical elements. Almost every team figured this out at both bars; expect this week's themes (there will be two different ones) to be a bit less easy.

1) Oxygen

2) "Lithium"
3) Iron Chef
4) Krypton
5) Mercury
6) Aurora, which led to the Latin name for gold and chemical symbol Au

7) Alfred Nobel, honored with nobelium
8) Thor, the Norse god being the namesake of thorium

9) Silver Surfer

10) Arsenic and Old Lace

Answers to the visual arts identification round

Here are the artists and titles of the paintings in this post, covering Ray's last week and Frank's the week before. I awarded 2 points for the artist and 2 points for the correct title in English or in the original language. Titles that were suitably close received partial credit.

1) Peaceable Kingdom - Edward Hicks
2) La Joconde or La Gioconda for 2 pts., Mona Lisa earned 1 - Leonardo da Vinci
3) Guernica - Pablo Picasso
4)
Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte or Un dimanche après-midi à l'Ile de la Grande Jatte - Georges Seurat
5) Liberty Leading the People or
La Liberté guidant le peuple - Eugène Delacroix
6) The Starry Night or its Dutch equivalent Sterrennacht - Vincent van Gogh
7) Composition in Red, Yellow and Blue - Piet Mondrian

8) Adele Bloch-Bauer I - Gustav Klimt; this painting sold at auction for $135 million in 2006, the highest price ever for a painting
9) The Scream - Edvard Munch
10) The Gross Clinic - Thomas Eakins, the painting all the fuss was about. Here's an interesting editorial from Arkansas kissing some Wal-Mart heiress ass. "Yee-haw, I done bought me some class!"

Friday, June 8, 2007

When I say Baby, you say Safe Haven

Who knew that making the choice between abandoning your infant in a bathroom stall or handing it over to the proper authorities could be so catchy?

The photo is from a sarcastic Onion article from 1997 which became reality by 2005. I suppose there are times when "the stork brought you" is a preferred origin story well into the child's middle age...

Bring the whole family to next week's fun quizzes!


Tuesday, June 12, 9pm
Ray's Happy Birthday Bar
1200 E. Passyunk Ave. (near 9th & Federal Sts.)
Subject Round: AFRICA

Wednesday, June 13, 9pm
Dirty Frank's
13th & Pine Sts.
Subject Round: FAMOUS PAIRS

Weekly sound-off

This post is the weekly posting forum for any questions, comments, etc. that don't fit elsewhere. All of the posts on this blog are open for comment by the by, and this is welcome.

This week's Secret Theme round

In another rare instance of repeating a round, I used the same Secret Theme round this week at both venues. My original Frank's round had a similar level of questions but a harder theme to figure out, and after a horrible Speed round for almost everyone I figured I should let most people get the extra 8 points else the crowd begin to turn on me. I read about unhappy boisterous wine-drinkers going ugly really quickly in the Bible, with rather negative results for the protagonist, and thus work toward pleasing a crowd whenever possible.

The Speed round at Frank's this week, incidentally, was to name any 10 of the 15 stars who made cameos in The Muppet Movie (1979), which I thought was a widely beloved and viewed classic. I erred...

Answers to these and the theme linking the 10 will be posted in a few days. There are 3 comic book-related questions, but that's not the theme.

1) On what cable network will you find Bad Girls Club and The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency?
2) What Nirvana song begins with the line "I'm so happy, 'cause today I found my friends"?
3) What TV show is hosted by Takeshi Kaga?
4) On what planet was Superman born?
5) What car company makes the Milan and the Mountaineer?
6) Who was the Roman goddess of the dawn?
7) Name the Swedish chemist who invented dynamite.
8) What comic book character eventually landed his own comic, but debuted in 1962 in Journey Into Mystery? He was created by Stan Lee to be equally strong as the Incredible Hulk.
9) What comic book character had origins as an astronomer named Norrin Radd on the planet Zenn-La? Hint: The character has been all over TV lately.
10) What classic 1944 film starred Cary Grant as Mortimer Brewster?

... and what theme links the 10 answers?

Group W back on top at Frank's

The dynamic duo known as Group W won at Frank's for the 9th time in 13 attempts this week, defeating two-time champs Lil' Roy Screams Again 150-136 and topping 9 other teams in a heavy turnout, high-energy game. As always my attempt to photograph them went awry, and although I snapped a shot of the pair enjoying their winnings at a booth, when I developed the negative I ended up with what appears to be a promo photo of America's most favorite '70s mime couple, Shields & Yarnell.

I Don't Know! had a miserable 39, and then screwed up further by leaving before I announced winners, depriving themselves of the Last Place Prize. This was then awarded to the one-man force known as
Alex, I'd Like to Buy a Vowel for $200, who went home with a copy of Quarto. This was the second week in a row that the Frank's Last Place Prize was a game beginning with "QU-." Here we see Alex... displaying his Tiger Style Quizzo Sucking technique. Grrrr. In the other extreme, third-place Prufrock played largely on his own and scored a 110.

Scores follow:

Beautiful Gold:
Group W 150
So-So Silver: Lil Roy Screams Again 136
Shameful, Shameful Bronze: Prufrock 110

Also-rans:

Chamavaly 102
All Mixed Up 91
Paper Chase* 90
Circle Jerk of One 85
Peter's Choice 79
I'd Pee in Her Butt If Rob Was Here 63
Alex, I'd Like to Buy a Vowel for $200 59
I Don't Know!* 39

* indicates team arrived late &/or quit