Day 3: I am glad it’s still early in the season

My opponent was Joon Pahk, my colleague in the puzzle world and teammate at the MIT Mystery Hunt. He became something of a folk hero in my house during his tremendous run on Jeopardy! My daughter’s admiration is generally reserved for the fairies in Pixie Hollow who collect the most morning dew or whatever. (“She’s a super Water Talent Fairy, Daddy! I hope I have that much water talent one day!”) So watching her become impressed with Joon and his amazing breadth of knowledge was definitely a step in the right direction.

It didn’t take psychic ability to know that Joon was going to be a tough opponent, and things got tougher still when I saw the questions. Am I allowed to count it as a personal, minor victory that I only lost by one point?

1. Ten youngsters tell ten stories each over ten days in what 14th c. allegory, whose name comes from Greek and alludes to the nature of this peculiar frame story technique?

Absolutely. No. Idea. Nothing about this question rang any bells for me at all, and yet I couldn’t stop rummaging through the English-major part of my brain, hoping against hope that I might find the answer in some dusty, forgotten corner. Nope, wasn’t going to happen. And because I had never heard of this, I also did not know how to rank the question: Was this a legitimately tough question, or was it something semi-famous that I just happened never to have heard of? I ultimately assigned this a 2, and thus sealed my own doom.

Oh, the answer? The Decameron. I guess I should have paid more attention to my friend Mark Halpin’s annual puzzle extravaganza.

2. The Haber process is used industrially to react hydrogen and nitrogen (using a catalyst) for the manufacture of what?

Despite not having even a trace of the background necessary to answer this question, I ran myself like a hamster in an exercise wheel, trying to come up with possible answers: Fuel? Coolant? Helium? Oxygen? Sunshine? Chocolate? Lincoln Logs? Nail polish remover? Bad pulp fiction? Yarn? Rogaine? Polenta?

Obviously, this was hopeless. I went with “coolant,” zeroed the question in deference to my opponent’s awesome science background, and moved on. Correct answer: Ammonia.

3. In addition to the tenuous Muslim Dervish state in inland Somalia, at the turn of the 20th c. (early 1900s) there were only two independent states on the continent of Africa. Name them both.

I thought I had half a shot at this absolutely impossible geography question, and that turned out to be exactly the case: I named one of the countries but muffed the other. Liberia was the easy one, since I knew it to be a state founded by former slaves. As for the second one, I felt mighty good about my answer of Egypt. That country was mentioned in the Bible, yo. But I guess at the start of the 20th century, Egypt wasn’t fully independent. So they were a colony of some other country? Really? What’s the story here?

Anyway, the other country I wanted was Ethiopia. Joon is 11/11 in World History, but I nonetheless wasted no time assigning this a 3. Naming one country, sure, but both? Major kudos to anybody who got this one.

4. The historical region of Transylvania is located within what modern-day European country?

Gimme. Romania. Why can’t that be the difficulty level of all the geography questions?

5. The 2000 Year Old Man is a comedy skit created by what two comedy writers and performers?

A gimme even more gimmeable than the previous gimme. Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner.

6. Chevon is a term used in culinary circles occasionally to refer to the meat of what animal?

I first looked at this question through half-shut eyes in the middle of the night, after my dog woke me up for a 1:00 a.m. walk. I saw the word “chevron,” and thought… huh? Pass me a slice of that chevron? When I looked again later, the R was gone, but the symbol of the chevron remained large in my mind. What possible animal could that symbol represent? It doesn’t look like anything! What the?

And then while taking my morning shower, some part of my mind chimed in, like an important special news report interrupting an idiotic television show: “Chevre” is the word for goat cheese. Oh, right. Ergo, goat. Okay, then!

Joon and I both went 3/6, but he defended perfectly and I did not. I sure am looking forward to my first victory…

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  1. zebraboy
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Despite having four correct, along with my opponent, he out-defended me by a point.
    1) A bit of a gimme; see above :)
    2) Arrgh, said fertilizer. Since science is one of my opponent’s lowest categories I gave him the 3 here , but he got it correct.
    3) First thought was Egypt, which I foolishly thought was the easy part. I went with that and Liberia, Ethiopia never having occurred to me.
    4) A gimme.
    5) Brooks was easy; I guessed Reiner correctly though was only about 80% on it.
    6) Was going back and forth between goat and horse (“chevalier” etc.), but goat kept sticking, fortunately. I think in hindsight I was dimly thinking of the cheese Eric mentioned.


  2. Mr. Sparkle
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    1) I just knew this for some reason, but I think you could have started to enter the question with the 10’s and the Greek bit.

    3) I did the whole “list out every possibility” thing and then decided it was South Africa but I guess they were still a crown colony? Ethiopia/Eritrea were my other two options besides the (obvious) Liberia because from their news coverage they seem like places that the imperial powers wouldn’t have bothered much with.

    6) I knew “cheval” was horse, so then I started thinking of other animals that might fit a similar bill. The cheese sealed the deal.

    I need to find a good way to enhance my knowledge of theater/film. I wouldn’t have gotten the Brooks/Reiner question in 10 years. (Though I knew the Haber process instantly.)


  3. Eli
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    I went 5 for 6, missing ammonia. The Africa question is actually on my World History Jeopardy almost verbatim. This was my shining moment though, as today I got spanked.


  4. Posted February 28, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I could swear I said fertilizer for #2, but got credit for a correct answer. My opponent granted me zero points for it so it didn’t help me–but my three-not-two correct answers earned me 0/1/2 while my opponent’s three correct answers earned 0/1/1. I love it that I’m getting only 2 or 3 right answers a day but am 3-0. (Comeuppance coming soon. I’m supposed to be in C, not B.)


  5. Kath
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Somewhere along the line, I got into my head the piece of information that Ethiopia has the longest history of independence in Africa (except for the short Italian phase). So that one was actually straightforward for me, and helped me to my first win of the season. So far I’m not doing well in my usually successful categories (have missed the science ones), but I’ll take my points where I can get them.


  6. Avram
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    1. Knew the Decameron.
    2. Knew the Haber process.
    3. Knew Liberia, guessed Egypt as well. Ethiopia did not come to mind.
    4. Obviously Romania. I may have zeroed this question without looking at my opponent’s score.
    5. Got to Brooks, couldn’t remember Reiner. I haven’t actually heard this.
    6. Remembered “chevre” was a thing, but convinced myself it was the French word for a horse.

    Somehow got my defense right, won 4(3)-2(3).


  7. Foggy Brume
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Yesterday was my first win ever (1-2, whoo-hoo), and I did the same exact thing for the Africa question. I got lucky in that my opponent picked the goat question as a 2-pointer (I knew it from having eaten it in the Dominican Republic…it’s not overly pleasant, and rather bland in terms of flavor) and the Decameron question as a 3-pointer (which I knew from Mark Halpin’s extravaganza).


  8. Posted February 28, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    you know good defense is being played with both players don’t bat an eyelash at giving a 0 to a question that we missed. eric rightly 0ed me on ammonia (an absolute gimme), and i 0ed him on the comedy thing that i had absolutely no idea on.

    in retrospect i feel dumb at getting neither half of the africa question, but i still think it was a ridiculously hard question because both halves were pretty tough, and you had to give both.

    i talked myself out of goat and into horse, which i’m still kicking myself about. horse meat? really, joon? ugh. bailed out by defense, i guess.


  9. Posted February 28, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Fertilizer is indeed a correct answer for #2–that’s what the Haber process was used for. (Also explosives, later.)

    I also went with Liberia and Egypt, and remembering that “cheval” is French for horse, guessed that #6 was “horse.” Oh, well.

    My opponent was the mighty GoodeM, who is currently trouncing the rest of Rundle R Pacific, having gotten five right three matches in a row. If I had ever heard of the Decameron, things might have been different, but in the real world, I lost 6(5)-3(3).


  10. zebraboy
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Sorry, I misspoke. “fertilizer” was an afterthought; my actual “arrg” answer was too stupid to publicize.


  11. AmesGames
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Wow, I got 5 again, missing only the African countries (both of them). I can quote you verbatim from some of the 2000-year-old man (cave anthem: “Let ’em all go to hell except Cave 76!”), not to mention the 2013-year-old man (really). I do not expect to beat both Joon and Eric again simultaneously any time soon.


  12. Posted February 28, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    This episode of the excellent program Radiolab is how I knew about the Haber process:

    Well worth an hour of your time, as is Radiolab in general.


  13. Posted February 28, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    And apparently Egypt was occupied by the British at the beginning of the 20th century, gaining their independence in 1922.


  14. Eric Berlin
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Hell, I listen to Radiolab regularly but happened to have skipped that episode. {headdesk}


  15. Posted February 28, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    1: Knew it started with deca-. Was worried for a minute that it was “decalogue”, AKA The Ten Commandments, but settled on the right answer.

    2: Had no idea–was tempted to put something cheeky like “hydrogen nitrite”, but finally decided, hey, ammonia’s probably got that stuff in it, let’s try that. I am doing great so far this season with my barely-educated guesses.

    3: Put me down for Liberia & Egypt also. Once I saw the answer, I had a faint feeling that I should’ve known it.

    4: Almost overthought this one; glad I didn’t.

    5: *Almost* submitted Mel Brooks & Buck Henry, before remembering that their character was 1,914 less than that. Was not at all sure about Carl Reiner, but that was the only other name that kept coming to mind.

    6: Every time I see a trivia question that relies on knowing the animal associated with “chev-“, I guess “horse”. Every stinkin’ time.

    I won 6(4)-0(F)! Boo forfeit boo!


  16. Dave Shukan
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I had a good day, going 5/6, missing both halves of the Africa question. (Combo of geography and world history? Yeah, that’s a miss.) Somehow all of the others fell cushily into my knowledge banks, though Decameron only thanks to ZB’s extravaganza. I had a tough time assigning the 3 to my opponent — it could have gone in about 5 places. Ultimately, seeing that he was low in most things pop-cultury, I gave him the 3 on the comedy question. Doing so, I violated my own primary rule of defense: assign scores without looking at stats, then look at stats and adjust by at most one point. Had I abided by the rule, I would have given comedy a 2 and Africa a 3, though in the end nothing would have changed (my opp kindly missed both of those questions).

    Hadn’t heard specifically of the Haber Process, but ammonia is NH3, so it seemed a reasonable guess. (I realize that knowing ammonia is NH3 in the first place is no walk in the park.)


  17. Posted February 28, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Huh, what about Morocco? It was a colony/protectorate of France, but not at the turn of the century…


  18. Eric Suess
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    I feel very lucky so far in terms of the questions asked, but AWest is full of major talent. I’ve answered 17/18 Qs yet have only a 4-point differential. Three of those came today in a 9(6)-6(5) game.

    1. I knew The Decameron cold. A manager at a bookstore where I worked used to go on and on about it.

    2. I’d never heard of the Haber process but NH3 came flashing into my head from college chemistry. Yay Freshman Chem! (now *that’s* something I never thought I’d say…)

    3. Was excited to get this one. Liberia was immediate, but I really spent some time on Ethiopia. I seem to recall that Italy tried unsuccessfully to colonize it (still not sure if I have that right) and couldn’t think of an occupying country. I gave this my 3 and my opponent missed it.

    4. Gimme

    5. Son of Gimme and I love those sketches!

    6. Combination of chevalier and cheese did it for me.


  19. Alaric
    Posted February 29, 2012 at 3:35 am | Permalink

    I had kind of a crazy weekend so I didn’t make a timely comment on Day 2. I was pleasantly surprised by tying BawdonG, five correct each, and perfect defense for us both. I’m now 1-1-1 against him, for which I count myself lucky as he answered ten more questions correctly than I did in LL51. But, day 3:

    1. I’ve never read the Decameron but I knew it was written somewhere around that time period, and the “ten” clue in the answer sealed it.
    2. I remember learning about the Haber process but couldn’t remember what exactly it did. Thankfully I was able to reverse-engineer it from the “hydrogen and nitrogen” part. It seemed so obvious once I figured it out.
    3. Geography is one of my best categories, but this had a bit of history thrown in as well. Thankfully I was aware that Ethiopia was independent for a very long time (with the exception of the Italian occupation in the ’30s. Liberia came immediately to mind. I realized this was a very tough question, though, and gave it a 3.
    4. Boom.
    5. This was probably very easy for people of a certain age group, but it took me forever to remember Carl Reiner’s name.
    6. Complete whiff. Should have thought about this one longer. If I had, I might have remembered Chevre. As it was, my though process went something like “That sounds like ‘cheval.’ ‘Cheval’ means horse… Must be horse!” Oops.

    My opponent somehow assigned a 3 to the question I missed, making it the second day in a row that both my opponent and I have played perfect defense. He missed 1 through 3, and I took it 6(5)-2(3).


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