I placed 79 out of 600 at this past weekend’s crossword tournament — not too shabby. Indeed, it was my best showing ever. On top of that, at the ACPT, I possess some small degree of fame: I’m not one of the A-listers, but I’m still a recognizable name. People will stop me to say they enjoyed some old puzzle of mine, or that they had read the Winston books with their kids. (I had ample opportunity to show off the hot-off-the-presses copy of the new book, which my editor had sent to the hotel.) It’s very flattering, although it reached an unusual apex when a fellow I’d been sitting next to on Saturday apologized the next day for not recognizing me. “I mean, you’re a celebrity!” he said — which may be the first time that word has ever been applied to me. The surreal part: The fellow in question is a Broadway producer.
So! I came back from the tournament feeling both smart and ego-massaged. And on Monday morning, the Learned League put a fast end to that.
1. What heavy metal legend replaced Ozzy Osbourne as lead singer of Black Sabbath after Ozzy’s departure from the band in April of 1979?
I thought I might be able to get this, given due time — the man, after all, is a heavy metal legend, which means awareness of his existence may have seeped through the borders of the heavy metal world. But as the minutes ticked by, I became aware that I couldn’t think of a possibility, much less the assuredly right answer. Finally I gave up and said Nigel Tufnel. I’ll bet I won’t be the only one. Actual answer: Ronnie James Dio. I never had a prayer.
2. Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, two song cycles based on the poems of German lyricist Wilhelm Müller, are the works of what Austrian composer of the Romantic era?
With more hopefulness than outright knowledge, I went with Strauss. (I am vaguely aware there is more than one composer named Strauss, so I didn’t get more specific than that.) Correct answer: Schubert. Bah.
3. The Greek Acropolitan temple known as the Parthenon was completed in 438 BC as a dedication to what mythological deity?
ARRRGH, I CONSIDERED ATHENA!! I really did. I typed it in the blank and everything. And then I took it out and replaced it with Hera. I would explain to you my rationale for doing this, but I didn’t technically have one. This one is going to sting for a while.
4. This island, the world’s fourth-largest, is the largest to be (with some tiny peripheral islands) its own independent nation.
Left it blank — I think geography has demoralized me to the point that I give up too soon. If I had just brainstormed a few islands, I surely would have named Madagascar, and maybe there is even a chance I would have tried it as an answer. Next time I’ll put in some effort.
5. A New England prep school, where students confront adolescent jealousy, rivalry, self-identity, death, and the looming presence of WWII, is the setting for what American novel, the author’s debut, first published in the U.S. in 1960?
And we conclude, blessedly, with a pair of gimmes, starting with a book I first read in high school and keep meaning to pick up again: A Separate Peace.
6. This is a screenshot from what film?
I had to think about the previous question for a moment — it still qualifies as a gimme, but there was that initial hesitation while I double-checked with my brain to make sure there weren’t any other possible answers. This one, however, was a gimme and a half, with no thought whatsoever required: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.