Sunday, April 30, 2006

Character Issues

As I mentioned in my last post, I don't watch many movies. The last movie I saw in the theater was the 3rd Harry Potter about a year and a half ago. This is kind of stupid, because my student ID entitles me to the free second-run movie on campus every week, and they're mostly popular big screen licks. I could have seen Brokeback or Crash or Willy Wonka or any of a good number of recent films for just the cost of a couple of hours of my time. What I actually spent it on, I do not know, but I'm a weaker quizzer, and quizmaster, because of it.

The writing of movie questions from reference works, rather than from actual viewing of the films, leads to a duller and easier type of question. Let's use the April 2006 issue of Premiere magazine as our source. The cover story this issue is "The 100 Greatest Performances of All Time." This could be fodder for a number of very dull questions of varying challenge.

Who played Jeffery "The Dude" Lebowski in "The Big Lebowski"? (1)

In what movie did Angelica Huston play Lilly Dillon? (2)

Question 1 is okay, but question 2 is free of any kind of context which would make it interesting. We could work an "Oscar-nominated" in there, I suppose. Many of the roles in this article garnered their performers nominations, although in most cases you'd just have to already know that if you were writing the question.

Who won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Sarah Tobias in "The Accused"? (3)

You can tart up the questions in other ways, too, with "title role":

Navin Johnson, played by what actor, was the title role in the movie "The Jerk"? (4)

or by adding the year:

Who won an Oscar for playing the title role in the 1977 film "Annie Hall"? (5)

That question's not too bad, really. Bland, but not as dull as it could be. Then you can throw in some hints,

Ralph Fiennes played concentration camp commandant Amon Goeth in which 1993 film? (6)
Cary Grant played paleontologist David Huxley in what 1938 film? (7)

so if the character name doesn't give it to you, you can work it out by knowing the occupation. It bugs me when questions say that "such and such" an actor did something, when really it was their character who did it. Knowing the character name leads to better questions.

The sidebars have some interesting facts:

What actor played 8 roles in "Kind Hearts and Coronets," including the Parson, the Admiral, and Lady Agatha? (8)

There is a lot of transvestitism in this article, actually:

Who played actor Michael Dorsey, who pretended to be Dorothy Michaels, in the movie "Tootsie"? (9)
Hilary Swank won an Oscar for playing Teena Brandon/Brandon Teena in what 1999 movie? (10)
In what comedy did Jack Lemmon play a musician named Jerry who disguises himself as a woman named Daphne? (11)

If I had seen either of those 3 previous movies, I would be able to write better-phrased questions than those above. I'll fully admit that this is a weakness for me. Nevertheless, there is also a place in quizdom for quick-and-dirty revision, and things will even themselves out in the end, when you play against a real film buff.

Last bit of questioning here.

Who played the following characters with unusual names:
Lili von Shtupp in "Blazing Saddles" (1974)? (12)
Clementine Kruczynski in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004)? (13)
Bill "The Butcher" Cutting in "Gangs of New York" (2002) (14)

And finally, one that would've gotten me an extra $1600 on Jeopardy! if I'd have known the character name 4 years ago:

What was the name of Humphrey Bogart's character in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948)? (15)

Knowing the character name can sometimes make all the difference in the world.

Answers to questions may be found in the comments.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Trivia Book of the Year, 2005

The year 2001 was an embarrassment of riches for trivia book fans. A pair of books were released that were so great they inspired me to begin naming a "Trivia Book of the Year," which I have done sporadically ever since. Earlier this year I picked books to represent 2003, 2004, and 2005.

Last year's winner was "The Great American Pop Culture Quiz Book" by the Editors of Entertainment Weekly. Good trivial trivia is hard to write. And by trivia, I mean not general knowledge questions about movies and TV and music. I mean the kinds of things you know only by immersing yourself in watching movies and TV, listening to the records, and following the tabloids. Or by reading Entertainment Weekly, which any self-respecting trivia buff does, religiously. These questions separate the wheat--the true pop culture connoisseurs--from dorks like me who sit around reading the "Video Hound" and Whitburn's "Top 40 Hits" books instead of going to movies or listening to the radio.

The book also does a great job of alternating between gimmes and hardcore, brainbusting trivia. This was deliberate, as mentioned in the introduction. For instance, these two questions appear next to each other on page 94:

The Beach Boys hit "Kokomo" came from what film's soundtrack? (1)

In his 1987 underground hit "Elvis is Everywhere," who does Mojo Nixon claim is the "Anti-Elvis"? (2)

The first question, for the average player, is the "Hey, I got one." question. The second question is the "How in the world did you know that?" question. Both have their place, and in a book like this one, they, along with over 500 other questions, come together for a delicious trivia stew, simmered for just the right time, and then ladled into the skulls of pop culture consumers everywhere.

The quiz debuted as a feature in EW 3 years ago, and it eventually became (the best) part of their rotating backpage. It would be worth my while to put together an index of the issues that feature the quiz, because the questions are very high quality. The book is apparently all-new material.

If the blogs can be believed, this weekend will see the taping of the "World Series of Pop Culture," a joint effort from Entertainment Weekly and VH1. I'm a big fan of Tournament-style game shows. I loved "Ultimate Fan League", for instance, and I'm nothing of a sports fan. But I love watching quiz players who are good at what they do showing off what they know.

The sample questions at the VH1 casting call website perfectly exemplify the dichotomy between easy and hard questions:

Do you know which college Allie Hamilton attended after leaving her summer love Noah Calhoun behind in the 2004 film “The Notebook”? (3)

Do you know which TV theme song asks you to “take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have…” (4)

And the answer isn't "No.", smartguy. You buy the premise, you buy the bit. Now play nice.

Hopefully, if I'm back in Sioux Falls this summer, I'll be in a situation where I get VH1. Otherwise I'll have to work something out.

Here are some links to articles and blogs about teams trying out for the show:

From the Detroit News: Pop Tarts toast tidbits of triviality
From the blog 27 Years of Sleep Deprivation: The World Series of Pop Culture
From the blog Covering the Spread: World Series of Pop Culture

Answers to the questions in this post can be found in the comments.

What is/what the...? Was that a spoiler I just saw?

Yesterday I saw the first episode of Jeopardy! I've seen this season. My classes/work schedule have prevented me from seeing the show when it first airs, and although I taped a few episodes earlier in the year, I haven't had time to get to them, and the urgency has passed. I follow the episodes online now, either at or at the message board.

I saw the Double Jeopardy round, without sound, at Godfathers Pizza. It's fun to try to guess what the correct response is to a visual clue when you can't hear the Clue Crew reading it. I guessed wrong both times on "buoyancy" and "pineal gland", but I would have known them if I could have heard the clues. It seems that the game is faster paced than it was before. The clues are more tightly written (an aftereffect of the need for faster writing during last year's Ultimate Tournament of Champions, I think), and thus they take less time to read.

As far as the difficulty of the material goes, it's about the same as it ever was. I had trouble with the lesser known senators at the bottom of the board, and I can never remember how exactly Nazareth-Bethlehem-Jerusalem all fit into Jesus's timeline. Otherwise a good general knowledge episode.

The contestants had some trouble with Constitutional Amendments. I think that any American who is smart/educated enough to get on Jeopardy! should know the amendments, especially the Bill of Rights, cold. Although

The one that ends with the word "infringed" (1)

is trivial enough that you might not get it in the 5 seconds allotted for thought. However,

The "cruel and unusual punishments" one (2)

is such basic civics general knowledge that any reasonably well-educated person should know it.

Of course, I got it wrong too, so whaddyagonnado?

Final Jeopardy was a head slapper for me. After I saw the clue, I thought about it for 5 seconds or so, and then it came to me. And then I realized, they just spoiled a major plot point of a currently best-selling novel which is going to become a hit movie in the next month or so. Holy cow. Can we get a spoiler alert here people?

It was also fun to see the show on a high-quality television. I've never really liked the set redesign from 2002, but it looks a lot better on a larger TV with a brighter screen.

The Tournament of Champions is going to air in May, and I'll have to make sure to tape and watch those episodes. I've heard from a former champion who attended the taping that the contestants are evenly matched, and the gameplay is outstanding.

Maybe I'll even break out the old scorecards, to see if I can still play with the big boys. We'll see.

This game can be found at April 26, 2006

Answers to sample questions may be found in the comments.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Slowly the questions come.

I read, even though it makes me feel like a bad Christian sometimes. They're always good for an interesting fact or link, though. Like this one:

What is anthropodermic bibliopegy?

Here's a clue: it's gross, but relatively common.

The answer may be found in the comments.