Wow, I’m so happy I do these public writeups of my experience in the Learned League, so that when I make an INCREDIBLY STUPID MISTAKE, I get to share it with all of you. For my next trick I shall strip naked and go stand on the town green.
My one consolation is that if I hadn’t made my gaffe, I would have lost anyway. (I guess it’s a bit of a stretch to call this a “consolation.”) In two out of the four days so far, there has been a question in my opponent’s strongest subject… and yet placing the zero on that question turns out to be poor defense. Maybe I should start assigning defensive points at random.
All right, let’s do this…
1. Identify the American Neo-expressionist artist and filmmaker responsible for this work.
Art questions for me are consistently know-it-or-you-don’t: There is no gray zone containing hidden knowledge that might get dredged up with a little more pondering. I’ve heard of Julian Schnabel, but that’s about all I can say about him. This question was a no-hoper. Impressive piece of work, though.
2. In modern usage, the term “bulge bracket” refers to a group of investment banks considered the world’s largest and most profitable. During the financial crisis of 2008, three bulge bracket members ceased to exist as independent entitites — name any two of the three.
Bah, guessed wrong. Apparently Michael Lewis’s very enjoyable writeup of the financial crash, The Big Short, didn’t stay with me as much as I thought. Lehman Brothers I got right, but I thought Smith Barney was another one. Nope. Should have gone with Bear Stearns or Merrill Lynch.
3. In 1994, three films were released starring Jim Carrey which became box office hits: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber, and what other film, which was also Cameron Diaz’s feature film debut?
Of those three films, The Mask is the only one I’ve seen. Jim Carrey is a decent actor when he’s not trying to prove to us how far over the top he can go — but man, when he takes his foot off the brake, the results are downright painful. At least the title character of The Mask is supposed to be a cartoon character, so it kinda works.
4. What is the term in geometry, Latin for arrow, which is defined as line segment drawn perpendicular to a chord in a circle, between the midpoint of the chord and the circle’s arc?
My opponent today is Jackie Anderson, who for a few years I knew only as the quiet girlfriend of my friend Dan Katz. A few months back, I was able to amend that to quiet and very smart girlfriend (not that I hadn’t suspected this). I joined Dan and Jackie’s team for the Boston Area Puzzle Hunt, and watched Jackie solve a mindbending puzzle involving cryptograms and math and logic, a puzzle I hadn’t been able to get the smallest possible fingerhold on. Add in her 11/11 Learned League record in math, and what you wind up with is a pretty easy decision about which question gets the zero. And she missed it.
That should give you a pretty good idea how much hope I had on this question. Personally, I do not believe I have ever heard the word “sagitta.” I answered “radius,” knowing it was wrong.
I’m still taking that online class in the American Revolution. After that I hope to take a series of math classes, including geometry. At which point, look out, Learned League! (Maybe.)
5. This is a promotional photo of the cast of what television series?
First thought: Uh-oh.
Second thought: Wait, look: They’re on a stage. So this must be that new show about the making of a Broadway musical. Smash, that’s it.
Elapsed time between “Uh-oh” and “this is a gimme”: 2.7 seconds.
6. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are also the five countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states under the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Russia and the United States are two; name the other three.
And now we get to it.
I knew one of the countries immediately: China. Russia and China have been much in the news lately, because they have blocked any attempt by the Security Council to do anything regarding the horrors in Syria — not allowing the council to so much as waggle a reprimanding finger. (On top of that outrage, you’ve got Venezuela sending supplies to Syria in support of Assad. Is it me, or are the major villains of the world — Putin, Chavez — becoming more and more cartoonish? They are to statesmanship what Jim Carrey is to acting.)
All right, so. China — that’s one. What are the other two? I wasn’t entirely sure. I jotted down a few possibilities: Japan. England. France. I was leaning heavily toward those latter two countries but I wanted to think about it some more.
Unfortunately, the place where I jotted down my possible answers was the answer blank on the Learned League submission page. I then wandered away from the page so I could mull it over. I read some blogs, I answered some e-mails. When I came back and looked at my answers, I saw that everything was in place… AND HIT SUBMIT. Really.
I can’t entirely explain the complicated mechanics of my thought process here, but somehow I simultaneously (a) had confidence that I knew this answer AND (b) failed to notice I had not actually put in the answer I believed I knew.
It didn’t cost me the win — my loss was sealed long before question 6. But, wow. A goof like this is an excellent way to feel like you’re made out of high-grade dumb.