Geek Bowl XIV question recap

Saturday! With the Geeks! I think it was the seventh of March! Actually, scratch that, I know 100% it was the seventh of March — put that down and let’s move on to the next question.

This year’s Geek Bowl was in Chicago, hence my attempt at a Chicago parody up there. Our team name was a Chicago parody too, albeit a different Chicago: “When You’re Good To Mothra, Mothra’s Good To You”. We also had a bit of team tumult this year.

Mothra-morphosis

Larry Ferguson, who had been a member of my Geek Bowl team for all 10 years I’d participated in the event, was unable to join us in Chicago this year for medical reasons. This was hard news, and precipitated a whole lot of Mothra discussion about how to fill the gap. In the end, we were able to recruit one Jason Freng, who brings these qualities among others:

  • Co-founder and former president of the CU Boulder quiz bowl team.
  • Serious dedication to trivia — dude has a plan where he focuses on a new topic each month for five years. Like, in March he’s learning one new pop music artist a day. Prior to that he watched a movie a day for two months.
  • 24 years old, and dialed into the last 20 years of pop music, much more so than the rest of us.
  • Most of all, the ability to focus on fun rather than ego, which helped him mesh beautifully with our team — nary a squabble in sight. He’s a great teammate, which is the number one thing we were looking for, even above covering any missing pieces from our knowledge domains.

You can’t really replace someone on a trivia team. All you can do is occupy the void they left and hope that the new team approaches the synergy and skill of the last one. On that count, Jason was a fantastic addition, and was super fun to hang out with on the rest of the trip too. We ended up placing 13th out of 231 teams, which was amazing but not amazing enough to be in the money winners, since prizes only go to the top 5 teams. (I think it’s high time Geeks Who Drink spread that prize pool out a bit more, but more about that later.)

Also, by my count we scored 93 points, but the final tally showed us at 92. Hmmmm. It doesn’t really matter since that point wouldn’t have gotten us into the money, but it is confusing. In any case, we had a blast and placed very respectably, considering how stacked with talent Geek Bowl has become. For myself, Geek Bowl 14 contained both my happiest moment of any Geek Bowl and my most disappointing — details about both in the answers post. Dear readers, I give you the 2020 Mothra team, “When You’re Good To Mothra, Mothra’s Good To You”, wearing blue ribbons in honor of Larry:

Team pic of When You're Good To Mothra, Mothra's Good To You
L to R top row: Jonathan, George, me. Bottom row: Brian, Don, Jason

Our shirts say, “Are You There Godzilla? It’s Me, Mothra” — possibly my favorite Mothra name ever but one we haven’t used yet at Geek Bowl because people keep thinking of brilliant city-themed ones.

There was plenty of fun to be had before Geek Bowl too. After our flights got in on Friday, we headed to an airbnb in Bronzeville where most of the team was staying. Teammate Brian set up Playshow Jeopardy via his Apple TV, which replays actual Jeopardy! episodes and lets players buzz in via their phones and speak the answers (uh, questions) into the phone itself. It was glitchy, crashy, and had some design flaws — felt very much like a beta — but also tons of fun when it was working.

After that, most of the team converged on a cool arcade bar called Headquarters, where an amazing listener of Brian’s podcasts not only bought appetizers for the whole gathering, but paid for our bar tabs too! WOW. On top of that, the whole place is stuffed with arcade games and pinball machines set to free play mode. And let me also throw some love to the very kind manager who took pity on me after I realized that I’d taken out my ID to show with my boarding pass at the airport, stuffed it into my luggage, and left it in Bronzeville, a 40 minute Lyft ride away. Whew.

After a while we found our way to the much quieter 25 Degrees, where we quizzed each other with old Trivial Pursuit cards. We’d been doing this all day, actually — it’s a warmup method that offers the added challenge of keeping in mind that every question really starts with “As of 1981…”

On Saturday, Jason and I had breakfast together while Don & Brian headed to Fadó to watch Don’s beloved Norwich City F.C. play Sheffield United. (They lost — “boo hiss” as Alex Trebek would say.) The full team converged on Pizzeria Due for a fantastic warmup game written by George, and then headed to dinner at Safehouse, an incredibly fun spy-themed restaurant. It was there that the annual reading of the rules took place.

Mothra’s Rules Of Pub Trivia

Our team has been playing together, in one configuration or another, for many years now, and in that time we’ve had lots of opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them. At Geek Bowl 9 in Albuquerque, George formally codified some rules we’d all been talking about, and ever since then we’ve made it an annual ritual to read these rules.

We also tend to modify them a bit every year, continuing to refine what we discover among the many pitfalls of team trivia. In the weeks leading up to Geek Bowl 14, we ran a team Discord server, which was a superb way to discuss strategy, coordinate practice meetups, and quiz each other. That process yielded a few changes to this year’s rules:

  1. Read/listen to the damn question.
    1. Read it again.
    2. Pay attention to the category.
  2. Don’t interrupt the question/audio; let it finish before guessing out loud.
    1. If you know the answer with 100% certainty, you can indicate that silently while the question is still being read.
  3. If you think of an answer, say it/write it.
    1. Make sure at least two other teammates hear/see it.
    2. If you heard a teammate suggest a good possible answer that’s not being discussed, throw it out there again.
  4. Everyone look over each answer sheet before turning it in.
  5. If the answer is a name and surnames are enough, we don’t need to write the first name.
  6. If spelling doesn’t count, don’t sweat it. Likewise for punctuation.
  7. If an answer is used once in a quiz, nothing prevents that answer from being used later in the same quiz (the Quincy Jones Rule).
  8. Avoid facetious answers (the Ernie Banks Rule – so named after we got a question wrong in a practice round when somebody jokingly said that Ernie Banks, aka “Mr. Cub”, was “obviously from the Mets,” and then our non-sporty scribe dutifully wrote down “Mets.” Heh.)
  9. Put an answer for each question, even if the whole team believes it’s probably/certainly wrong. You can object to that bad answer, but be specific about why it’s wrong, and try to provide an alternative.
  10. If you are 100% sure that your answer is right, say so.
    1. For that matter, try to indicate your confidence level on all answers.
    2. One team member with partial certainty about an answer, seconded by another team member, is as good as one team member with 100% certainty, barring objections.
  11. Focus discussion on answers that aren’t “locked”.

After dinner, it was off to the main event. Geek Bowl this year was held at the Aon Grand Ballroom, which is part of a larger attraction called Navy Pier, basically a bunch of shopping and restaurants and rides and boat stuff. And a ballroom. The ballroom was a beautiful venue, and while 231 tables with six chairs each were pretty well jammed in there, it had the advantage of no fixed seating, unlike the arenas of the past few years, while retaining good sightlines and audio quality. Plus, the whole gaming area was circled by bars and concession vendors, which was cool. It wasn’t nearly as dark as Vegas had been, but even if it were, Brian found some awesome pens with built-in lights to help illuminate things.

The Geek Bowl Format

This is the part where I copy and paste (mostly) the same information from previous years about how Geek Bowl works. For those of you who already know why there would be 231 tables with six chairs each, feel free to skip to the Tiebreaker section. For those who don’t, read on.

As I’ve done in previous years, I’m going to recap the questions and answers here. A few caveats about this, though. First, the Geeks are pretty careful about their intellectual property, and the agreement we’ve worked out is that I won’t post these recaps until at least a week has elapsed since the Geek Bowl. (Though all things considered I’d have a hard time getting this together in less time anyway!)

Second, I consider these recaps a tribute to the excellent question writers of the Geek Bowl, and an advertisement for a really fun event, but I am in no way officially associated with Geeks Who Drink. However, thanks to Geeks editor-in-chief Christopher Short, I have been supplied with question material this year! Prior to Geek Bowl 12, these recaps were based off notes, memories, and photos of question slides, and in fact many of my descriptions will still suffer from this circumstance, but at least the wording of the questions will be correct. Huge thanks to Christopher for the help, and anything remaining that sucks is my fault, not the Geeks’.

The GWD question material leans heavy on pop culture and light (though not zero) on sports. In between, there is plenty of academic trivia: history, geography, science, and so forth. For years, their tone was what I called “self-consciously edgy”, but they’ve really left that behind. Instead, the questions are written in a freewheeling style, certainly not afraid of a little toilet humor or an f-bomb here and there, but no rounds of vintage porn or penis-themed rebuses wedged in there anymore. In my opinion, Geeks Who Drink now just writes their questions to be as fun as possible while covering a wide range of topics and retaining just the right amount of clueing and precision, and they do a damn fine job of it.

Here’s the format: each team has its own small table, with 6 chairs. Quizmasters read questions from the stage, and the questions are also projected onto large screens on either side of the stage. One round is all-video, meaning that rather than anyone reading questions, the whole round is encapsulated in a video presentation on the screens. Once all the questions in a round have been asked, a two minute (usually) timer starts, by the end of which you must have turned in your answer sheet to one of the roaming quizmasters.

The game consists of 8 rounds, each with its own theme. Each round contains 8 questions. Usually, each question is worth one point, so there’s a maximum possible score of 8 points for each round. However, some rounds offer extra points — for instance, Round 2 is traditionally a music round, with 8 songs played, and one point each awarded for naming the title and artist of the song. (Though this year our answer sheets were labeled “Song” and “City”. Hmmm.) In a regular GWD pub quiz, it’s usually only Round 2 and Round 8 (always the “Random Knowledge” round) that offer 16 possible points. However, in this year’s Geek Bowl, Round 4 also offered 16 possible points.

Finally, a team can choose one round to “joker”, meaning that it earns double points for that round. Obviously, you’d want that to be one of the 16-point rounds, unless you really believed you wouldn’t score above 8 in any of them, which is highly unlikely. We discussed our jokering strategy ahead of time, and decided on thresholds. Our threshold for the music round was 14, and our Round 4 threshold was 13. Failing either of those, we knew we’d have no choice but to joker Round 8.

Tiebreaker

7pm was showtime, and host Jenna Riedi took the stage, saying, “Hello, and welcome to America’s last public gathering!” (It was funny at the time, but now it’s just over a week later, and this line feels pretty much perfect.) An opening number ensued — Riedi parodying various songs from the musical Chicago, including her name in lights, a la Roxie. Riedi is an able and appealing host, as evidenced by the fact that she keeps doing it — this is her third Geek Bowl as host. And despite the joking self-adoration of her song, she’s clearly there to serve the event rather than the other way around.

After the opening number came the tiebreaker, read by the Geeks’ charity partner for the year, a group called Women Employed, a Chicago charity whose mission is to improve women’s economic status and remove barriers to economic equity. A couple of WE representatives got to read the Geek Bowl XIV tiebreaker question.

The format for this question is to take a few questions, all of which have numerical answers, and combine them into a formula. Some of these questions are nearly impossible to know exactly, so you have to approximate. The Geeks then use these answers to determine placement among teams whose overall scores are identical — the closer you get to the correct final number (on either side), the better.

As is often the case, this question was tied to the host city, and with it the question recap officially begins! As always, I’ll describe our team’s experiences inside [square brackets], and provide the answers in a separate post.

Take the number of regular-season games won by the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. Subtract from that the current age of former First Lady Michelle Obama. Multiply that difference by the total number of airports you can fly to on United or United Express. Take that product and divide it by the number of Oscars won by the 2002 film Chicago. Or, expressed as a formula:

([B – M] x U) / C

Where B = Bulls regular season wins, M = Michelle Obama’s age, U = United/United Express airports served, and C = Academy Awards won by Chicago.

See the answers

After that, it was time for…

Round 1: “Second” City

Chicago is known as the Second City. Some claim this is because it rose from the ashes after the 1871 fire, but the Chicago Reader seems to establish pretty definitively that the nickname, coined by New Yorker writer A.J. Liebling, meant “in second place to New York.” In any case, for this round, we were told, every answer would have the word “second” in it. This allowed us to invoke rule 10(b) 8 times in a row, saying “I second that answer,” which never stopped being funny.

1. According to the American Lung Association, 41,000 annual U.S. deaths can be attributed to what stuff that’s also known as “sidestream”?
2. Smokey Robinson showed a good working knowledge of love and parliamentary procedure, in what hit 1967 single?
3. Ask Natalia Makarova: What’s the name of the stance where your feet are pointed 180 degrees from each other, with a small step between them? [Jason was first to the gate on this one.]
4. A high schooler eventually won an Ig Nobel Prize, after confirming the scientific validity of what dropped-food guideline?
5. Smack-dab between “velocity” and “jerk,” acceleration is the most commonly cited real-world example of what calculus operator? [Thank you Jonathan for jumping on this one.]
6. Sweden, the Maldives, and Estonia are among the countries that have maintained actual embassies in what Linden Lab virtual world?
7. Garret Hobart’s wife Jennie may have been the first to use what title, also held by Ilo Wallace and Muriel Humphrey?
8. In the Disney movie, Peter Pan says you can get to Neverland by following what 10-word directions?

[A pretty easy round overall, and we aced it with 8 points.]
See the answers

Round 2: Here Come The State Capitals!

Round 2 is always the music round, and in Geek Bowl, that means live music. They’ve had some great acts in the past, but they really outdid themselves this year by booking They Might Be Giants! Not a Chicago act, but certainly one beloved by geeks and Geeks. TMBG came out to raucous applause and delivered a round based on their “Here Come” series of children’s albums.

Here comes the concept: Each question takes a song and changes the lyrics. The new lyrics describe a state capital. The song itself is by an artist who comes from that state capital. Our mission: name the songs for one point each, and the capitals for another point each. Each song would be played only once, but the lyrics would appear on the big screens at either side of the stage.

I hope the Geeks post video of this round at some point, but until they do, it’s going to be pretty impossible to avoid giving away at least the song. So for now, I’ll list the lyrics, and indicate what the song was in spoiler text — if you want to try to recognize the song based on the cadence of the fake lyrics (and may the trivia gods bless you if you do), go for it. Otherwise, highlight the spoiler block to see the song name, and apologies to those using screen readers. The cities will appear in the answers.

1. (To the tune of “Hey Ya!” by OutKast)
Clark Gable don’t mess around when he sees Vivien Leigh up on that second floor.
He’s gotta go fight for Dixie, but when he comes back, they gonna do-si-do.
Real soon their daughter’s gonna try to jump her horse, and break her neck for sure.
Too bad that Scarlett figures out that she loves Rhett when Rhett just knows that he’s not happy here.

2. (To the tune of “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper)
Well, I got Trump’s pardon
For my felony
Election Day you’ll see
Civil rights ain’t free
I’ll lock up illegals, I’ll help build the fence
Round up reporters, and put ‘em in tents
I’m Joe Arpaio!

3. (To the tune of “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars)
Got Tom Selleck out the Navy
Beach bum on the daily
Moki serve Campari
Higgins, bring the Ferrari
‘Cause he’s solvin’ all the drama, solvin’ all that drama
Magnum solvin’ all the drama, it’s all orchids and mahalo now

Put on the Tigers hat
(Meet me at the Robin’s Nest)
Call up T.C.
(He’ll fly us out to Diamond Head)
You deserve it, baby, you deserve it all
And I’m on CBS Thursdays for you

4. (To the tune of “Do You Realize??” by The Flaming Lips) [And shining moment to George for both recognizing the song and immediately knowing the hometown.]
And instead of saying, “that’s a boring town,” let them know
There’s roses at Will Rogers Park
The Skydance Bridge glows in the dark
And if you still have your per diem
You can visit the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
And there’s lots of cows.

5. (To the tune of “Girl Crush” by Little Big Town) [Don picked up on this song very quickly as the rest of us were just looking at each other.]
First, brine your chicken
Then take buttermilk and
Some hot sauce that’s kickin’
Coat it like so.
Then while that’s fryin’
Take butter and cayenne
Brown sugar and onion
Cook it real low

And here’s what you do next:
Rest your cooked chicken while
You take the sauce you made
And add in some frying oil.
Whisk it till it’s combined
Use it to coat that bird
Serve it with pickles, sliced
And maybe a piece of bread
You’ve got hot chicken

6. (To the tune of “Candy Girl” by New Edition) [Another big contribution from Don, who recognized New Edition right away, debated between two different songs, and then settled on the right one.]
My boy’s like Teddy, he rakes so hard
He knocks me out when he goes yard
He’s so productive as can be,
He was the 2018 MVP!

Mookie Betts,
He’s the best it gets
You know he rules
With all five tools

But the very day
I wrote this down,
Mookie Betts
He just left town.

7. (To the tune of “Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill)
That girl thinks she created Portlandia
I’ve got news for you – she did!
She’s in a band with Corin Tucker
They’ve sold like a half a million albums!

Sleater-Kinney
Sleater-Kinney
Sleater-Kinney did not write this song
Sleater-Kinney
Sleater-Kinney
It bears repeating: This is not their song.

8. (To the tune of “On The Road Again” by Willie Nelson)
All this barbecue
Can’t stop eating all this barbecue
“Keep it weird” is something someone else can do;
We’re just eating all this barbecue.

All this barbecue—
Keep your Stetson hats and bats and Longhorns touchdowns
Every afternoon,
We’ll be crushin’ Shiners by the Whole Foods downtown
To wash down
All this barbecue.

[As usual for Geek Bowl, we had 2 minutes to turn in our answers. The unusual part was that TMBG played loud during those two minutes, which made discussion extremely difficult. I hope this was a mistake — Geek Bowl has never had loud music during answer periods before, and it kinda sucked. In any case, we felt very confident about 7 of our 8 state capitals and 7 of our 8 songs. This met our jokering threshold, so we jokered. As it turned out, we got the capital right (there were really only a couple of choices we were debating between) and the song wrong (since we didn’t have a clue about it), for a total of 15 points for this round. Doubled that makes 30, so our new point total was 30 + 8 = 38.]
See the answers

Round 3: Crossing Jordan

For years, Round 3 at Geek Bowl was 50/50 questions, sometimes combined with a speed round or, God help us, that one time we all had to sniff horribly scented dick-shaped candles. Last year the Geeks upped the ante with a very clever blackjack-themed round, but this year they truly outdid themselves, for one of the most memorable Geek Bowl rounds ever.

The quizmaster took the stage and announced that taped to the underside of one team member’s chair, we’d find a bag of Scrabble tiles. This obviously set off a bunch of scrabbling under chairs to find these bags and empty them onto the tables. The tiles themselves were gorgeously made, with a Geek Bowl logo on the back and everything. The quizmaster explained that for this round, we would use all of those tiles to form our answers, and that each answer would add up to 23 Scrabble points in honor of #23 Michael Jordan. Consequently, for this round only, spelling counts.

In addition, there would be one blank tile, which would be used just like a blank tile in Scrabble — as a wild card to stand in for any letter. On our answer sheets, we were to put an empty square where we’d used the blank tile. This was a fantastic concept for a round, but I do have one criticism of it, which is that this rule about the empty square was a) needlessly picky (would putting a square around some letter really have indicated the meaning any less?), and b) announced while everybody was grabbing tiles from under chairs and clattering them onto tables. If you want to enforce a brand-new and unusual convention, it needs to be followed up on multiple times, and reinforced in big text beside the end-of-round timer countdown.

That’s a minor gripe overall though, and I don’t mean to take anything away from how fantastically fun this round was to play. Now, if you like to play along with these recaps, this round is a bit more challenging to recreate than most other Geek Bowl rounds this side of scented candles. If you really want to do it, I suggest you print out the image below of all the tiles we were given, cut them out, then set your kitchen timer for like 12 minutes — after the questions were read, we had an 8-minute countdown to turn in our answer sheets.

Scrabble tiles for Round 3. Quantity, letter, and point values are: 9 A (1), 1 B (3) 6 C (6), 1 D (2), 8 E (1), 1 F (4), 1 G (2), 1 H (4), 7 I (1) 1 J (8), 2 K (5), 6 L (1), 5 M (3), 6 N (1), 4 O (1), 1 P (3), 1 Q (10), 5 R (1), 2 S (1), 2 T (1), 3 U (1), 2 V (4), 2 W (4), 2 X (8) 2 Y (4), 1 Z (10), 1 blank (no points)

1. Who played sudden numerology enthusiast Walter Sparrow in The Number 23?
2. In 1966, young activist Maulana Karenga created what weeklong end-of-year celebration? [I jumped in first on this one.]
3. More than 180 feet tall and 1,000 feet long, what haunted-ass Cunard Line ship now lies moored as a hotel in Long Beach?
4. The title roles in Ma and the upcoming Madam C.J. Walker are both played by what Oscar-winner from The Help?
5. Naturally, there’s no epitaph on the Vermont grave of what quiet U.S. president who died in 1933?
6. Also the host of many U.S.-Mexico games, Mapfre Stadium is the home pitch of what Midwest MLS charter team? [Thank you Don for knowing soccer.]
7. In Roman numerals, Master Archie Mountbatten-Windsor was born in what year?
8. According to country musician Greg Bates, “We could [conspicuous pause] with each other on the river bank. I’ll leave it up to you, baby.” What’s the title of that song?

[We aced this round — more details in the answers post. Our total now stood at 38 + 8 = 46 points.]
See the answers

After this round came a scoring break and some more TMBG numbers, including a scorching trumpet/trombone performance by Curt Ramm on “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”. There was also a comedy bit with Riedi putting ketchup on a Chicago Dog, to the horror of locals.

Finally, the scoring was done and the rankings rolled — we were in 9th place. On to more questions!

Round 4: Welcome to Midway

This was the other 16-point round. The concept: the Geeks would provide the midway point in a list, and we needed to give the first and last entries in that list, for one point each. So, for example, if the clue was “The Lord Of The Rings trilogy: The Two Towers”, our two answers would be “The Fellowship Of The Ring” and “The Return Of The King”.

1. Official languages of Belgium, by number of Belgian speakers: French.
2. Members of Migos, alphabetically: Quavo. [Thank you Jason for knowing the Migoses!]
3. The original Seven Sisters colleges, listed alphabetically: Radcliffe. [Jonathan really saved us on this one.]
4. Major sections of the small intestine, starting at the stomach end: Jejunum.
5. Words in the body text of 1984, not counting chapter headings and “The End”: Only.
6. Queer Eye’s current Fab Five, alphabetically by first name: Jonathan. [Oh dear. This was a knowledge gap for us.]
7. U.S. Olympic gold-medal gymnasts in the Women’s Individual All-Around, chronologically: Nastia Liukin.
8. Big-screen Shafts, oldest to youngest: Samuel L. Jackson.

[We thought we had 13 on this round, but a last-minute shift (detailed in the answers post) took a point away, so we ended up with 12. Our new point total, 46 + 12 = 58.]
See the answers

Round 5: Take The “L” Train

As usual, Round 5 was a wonderfully clever video round, this time with a wordplay angle along with its Chicago theme. And lucky for me, the Geeks have posted the video.

Fair warning: answers are included in this video, though thankfully not interspersed as they’ve been in previous years. The answers start at 5:49, so pause there and give yourself two minutes if you want to recreate the Geek Bowl conditions.

[This round was almost easy, but we slipped up a bit on one question, for a total of 7 points. New point total: 58 + 7 = 65.]
See the answers

Round 6: Deviled In The White Cities

Erik Larson’s book The Devil in the White City looked at the serial killer who attacked the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Geek Bowl round 6 took a little lighter approach, focusing on egg recipes and, uh, white cities.

1. Tart up a hollandaise with vinegar, shallots, tarragon, and chervil, and you’ve got what traditional steak sauce?
2. Brandon Teena was born in Lincoln, Nebraska – as was what actress who won an Oscar for portraying him?
3. Which came first, the Egg McMuffin or Moons Over My Hammy? [This sparked an entertaining debate, with significant contribution from George, who worked at McDonald’s in 1977-78. 🙂 ]
4. Lexington, Kentucky native Thomas Hunt Morgan was known for his genetics work with the melanogaster species of what fruit fly genus? [Jonathan slam-dunked this science question.]
5. Popularized by Filipinos, what fertilized egg snack takes its name from the Tagalog word for “wrapped”?
6. She never wanted anyone like this: Set and shot in Spokane, the 1985 film Vision Quest was renamed in some markets for what Madonna song? [Brian was all over this.]
7. If Miley Cyrus were salsa roja, Liam Hemsworth were salsa verde, and their respective fried eggs were separated by some beans, they’d be what variation on huevos rancheros?
8. Madison, Wisconsin-born Stacey Abrams served as student government president at what all-female HBCU in her current home state?

[Another 7 for us on this one, giving us a total of 65 + 7 = 72.]
See the answers

At this point it was time for another scoring break, more They Might Be Giants, and more Riedi comedy at the expense of Chicago foods. They also showed the traditional “In Memoriam” video including both real-life icons and fictional characters. TMBG played “The End Of The Tour” behind this video, which was surprisingly touching.

The Geeks usually post this video, but they haven’t done so yet. I’ll be sure to include it when they do.

At the end of the scoring break, we stood in 16th place.

Round 7: Fuck It, We’ll Do It Live

Something I love about Geek Bowl is that they are always experimenting. Every year they try new ideas, from a youth dance troupe re-enacting movie scenes to street performers, uh, re-enacting movie scenes. This year in the re-enacting movie scenes category, they leaned into Chicago’s improv tradition, with a round wherein improv performers had taken suggestions from the audience via Twitter and performed fresh scenes around them. The twist is that each of these scenes would have inserted three verbatim quotes from a movie. We had to name the movies.

As an additional level of clueing and Chicago-ing, the 8 movies were themed around the 8 groups that see Ferris Bueller as a righteous dude, according to Edie McClurg: sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, and dickheads. Lucky for me, the Geeks have put this up on video too, because I couldn’t possibly recap those scenes — I was too busy focusing on the quotes, which also appeared on the screens as the scenes played out. This highlights the weakness of this particular experiment — I think the improv parts were largely ignored by teams who saw them as basically distraction in the way of the actual question. But like I said, respect to the Geeks for experimenting — they can’t all be home runs.

[We got all of these, for a new score of 72 + 8 = 80]
See the answers

Round 8: Random Knowledge

Round 8 of Geeks Who Drink is always, always just “Random Knowledge.” In a regular pub quiz, 16 points are spread out irregularly through the questions, but in Geek Bowl they’re pretty much always two points each. This year, there was just a little extra twist, as will become apparent in the answers post.

1. a) Since around 1960, what seven-letter plural has referred to a type of rubber rain boot? b) Since around 1980, what seven-letter plural has referred to an everyday plastic shoe?
2. a) Dribble was a pet turtle swallowed by Farley Hatcher, that literary character known by what nickname? b) Ghost gal Kayako Saeki made Americans dribble out pee for the first time in what 2004 film?
3. a) A Game Boy sequel subtitled “Six Golden Coins” was the first appearance of what sometimes-villain? [Brian had this almost immediately.] b) The online game Simraceway was co-developed by Ashley Judd’s then-husband, a four-time IndyCar champ. What’s his first name?
4. a) What American figure skater was 15 when she won Olympic gold at Nagano? b) What Russian founder of abstract painting didn’t even start art school until age 30? [I’ve been working on art as a category, and was proud to know this, but it turns out I didn’t even need to, because Don got there first.]
5. a) Traditionally, what type of bread do Jews eat at the beginning of Shabbat? b) What ceremony marks the end of Shabbat? [We were only Jewish-adjacent enough to know one of these, sadly.]
6. a) In 1981, slavery was finally officially outlawed in what Atlantic-huggin’ country that’s spooned by Mali? b) What Baltic-caressin’ country launched a 2018 tourist campaign touting its capital as “The G Spot of Europe”?
7. a) An L Word bathroom makeout sesh was inspired by hotly discussing what Autobiography of Red author? b) Sexuality and race are themes in what Harlem Renaissance author’s Passing?
8. a) Politicians are always fighting over the taxation of what term for profits made by liquidating an investment? b) “All production is for the purpose of ultimately satisfying a consumer.” So said what influential British economist?

[13 points for us on this round, for a final score of 80 + 13 = 93. Like I said at the top, the Geeks’ final score tally had us at 92. I’m very curious where that discrepancy happened, but likely will never know, and in any case it doesn’t affect anything but pride of placement.]
See the answers

Once the final score tallies were displayed, we were in 13th. Which was great, but not great enough to get us up on stage with the money winners. The final prize ceremony was also handled a bit weirdly. In past years, all five teams got up on stage and their placements were announced one-by-one, though of course announcing second place pretty much implies first place, so one would rapidly follow the other. This year, for whatever reason, they brought the teams up on stage one by one, so when second and first were announced, both teams were still offstage, where they were grouchily told, “Stop hugging and get up here!” This didn’t work. Geeks, please go back to having all teams on stage for the placement announcements — watching people experience joy is vicarious fun!

And as long as I’m throwing out unsolicited recommendations for Geek Bowl adjustments, let’s talk about that prize pool. Geek Bowl prizes have grown year over year. When we won Geek Bowl 5, I think the prize was around $3,000. For Geek Bowl 8, it was $6,666. This year’s top prize was $14,000. Second place got $7,000, third place $3,000, fourth $1,500, and fifth $600. So that’s just over $26,000 in prizes. I think there was also an amateur prize, and maybe some cash associated with that one.

I think the amateur prize is a great idea, but beyond that I feel like the prizes have grown and grown but stayed concentrated among the same number of winners. Would it be so bad to offer, say, $12,000 and $6,000 (which by the way splits way easier among six people) to the top, then give the top ten winning teams at least enough to cover their entry fees? And yeah, I acknowledge that this is often Mothra’s finishing place, so I can’t claim to be unbiased. Still, the event is lots of fun and very successful, and I’d love to see it become just a little more rewarding for say the top 5% rather than the top 2%. End of speech.

After all the offstage hugging was over and the prizes had been distributed, there was one more thing: the now-traditional video announcing next year’s location. There were some shots of buildings I didn’t recognize, but which caused excited cheering from a few tables. Then we heard a new version of “All This Barbecue,” (with extra lyrics!), sung by Geeks EIC and esteemed author Christopher Short. So I’ll see you next year at the answer to Round 2, question 8!

Geek Bowl XIII question recap

Vivaaaaaa Geek Bowl! Though it started out in Denver (and returned there for its tenth anniversary), the Geek Bowl has bounced all over the nation since 2012, and this year it landed in fabulous Las Vegas. It was a great location — plenty of fun stuff to do and an excellent venue in The Joint, which is the theater attached to the Hard Rock Hotel. Travel and lodging there are also pretty cheap, unlike last year in Boston, which was equally fun but a much more expensive destination.

I’m a little startled to notice that this year was my own 10th anniversary of Geek Bowling. I keep coming back because Geeks Who Drink puts on a fantastic event, and I somehow have found myself on an incredible trivia team. We won Geek Bowl VIII in 2014 as “How I Met Your Mothra”, and have stuck with variations on the Mothra theme ever since. This year we were “A Mothra Day In Paradise”, because (trivia!) much of what we call “Las Vegas” is actually located in the town of Paradise, Nevada. Plus, the Hard Rock Hotel itself is located on Paradise Road.

Mothra had a phenomenal run of success a few years ago, placing first, second, and second in three consecutive Geek Bowls. We had (for us) a bad year after that, coming in 15th, then battled back in Boston to claim 6th place. No cash prize for that one (money only gets awarded to the top four places), but still a showing to be proud of. This year we had seven great rounds and one really rough one, and still managed to place 7th! On the one hand, it’s frustrating, because we were within a question or two of cash. On the other hand, 7th out of 240 teams is astonishing, especially when you consider the competition.

Concentrated Brainpower

See, Geek Bowl has become a premier, elite event, and that means that it attracts the cream of the trivia world — people who run their own trivia companies, people who construct puzzles for a living, people who’ve had legendary runs on game shows like Jeopardy! and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. I stayed at the Hard Rock and the guy who checked me in said, “Yeah, right before you I checked in the first woman to win the million dollar prize on Millionaire.” There was a video that surfaced from the weekend (taken by a member of the winning team, as it turned out), of a crowd gathered in a bar watching the Jeopardy! All-Star Tournament. In the crowd: many of the same faces from the tournament itself. In fact, Geek Bowl has gathered such momentum that there are now supplementary, unaffiliated trivia events attached to it, such as America’s Quizzing Championships (AQC) and the Toutant Trivia Tournament. The Geeks have recognized this trend by instituting the “amateur prize” — cash for the highest-placing team that includes no previous Geek Bowl winners and nobody who has won more than $10,000 on a game show. This year, the team that won that prize came in ninth overall.

To me, this gathering of trivia royalty has become a very cool side benefit of the annual weekend — a chance to hang with some of the best of the best, and sometimes get creamed competing with them in buzzer games, should the chance present itself. That in fact happened in Vegas, and contrary to the rules I’m going to take it out of Vegas by posting it here, but not just yet. First, I would like to give it up for some of the smartest, funniest, and friendliest teammates ever to grace a trivia table. Ladies and gentlemen, A Mothra Day In Paradise:

Team photo of A Mothra Day In Paradise

From left, that’s me, Don, Jonathan, George, Larry, and Brian. As is our habit, we spent some pleasant time together prior to the Geek Bowl, quizzing each other with warmup questions — some rounds we wrote, some name-that-tune, and some prefab trivia cards. Five of us got together Friday night (Don wouldn’t arrive til Saturday morning), along with Brian and George’s wives, and ate at Block 16 in the Cosmopolitan, where one of podcaster Brian’s listeners very graciously comped our dinners. Woo, just got to Vegas and winning already!

Then Larry, Jonathan, and I headed to the Toutant Trivia Tournament, which turned out to be many rounds of five-person simulated Jeopardy!, thanks to Bill Schantz and his marvelous J! Simulator, as well as the many excellent writers who submitted questions for the event. At the Tournament (which was really more like a Basement Bowl) were some of those trivia celebrities, either famous from TV or just famous to me because they’re some of the best in the nation and I see them ply their craft on LearnedLeague and elsewhere. So much fun getting to play against a crowd like that, and I have to say I did okay, considering.

Saturday was lunch at the Wicked Spoon Buffet, again in the Cosmopolitan, which involved standing in line for 45 minutes so that you could get in the 30 minute line, but once inside the food was ah-MAZING. So many things, so unbelievably good. Just fantastic. (Also, winning $100 on the Simpsons slot machine just before lunch was pretty sweet too.) That time there were still five of us (plus spouses) — we’d gained Don but lost Jonathan to the AQC, which took place all morning and afternoon on Saturday.

After noshing all the nosh we could possibly nosh, we headed to a quiet back room in the Hofbräuhaus, a German-style beer hall across the street from the Hard Rock. The staff there was reasonably gracious about the fact that we were drinking but not really eating anything, because we couldn’t possibly. (We left ’em a nice tip.) We did a lot of audio and question warmups, joined by Jonathan once he was done AQC-ing for the day, and then headed over to enter the Geek Bowl!

Mothra’s Rules of Pub Trivia

We found our table, which had the unexpected bonus of being draped with flags honoring our two championships. (Larry, George, Brian, and I were on a team that won Geek Bowl V.) Also on the table was this plate of cheese and crackers:

A plate of crackers with various cheeses. And, uh, the crackers are shaped like penises.

Oh, Geeks. Dick-shaped crackers. Maybe couldn’t afford the vegetables for a crudités platter, so went for a crudity platter instead? Though no doubt such “specialty” crackers don’t come cheap either — pretty sure the Masterpiece Cakeshop gave ’em a hard pass. (As it were.)

No, I knew what it was about — this was a punny edible tribute to the night’s musical headliners, Richard Cheese and Lounge Against The Machine. These guys are a comedy/music act, crooning various popular songs Sinatra-style, especially songs from the worlds of hard rock and explicit rap. Imagine the lyrics to Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” sung by Bill Murray’s Nick The Lounge Singer character, except backed by a full band playing well, and you’ve pretty much got the gag. It’s fun. A bit repetitive, but fun.

Anyway, once we were at the table, it was time for the annual reading of Team Mothra’s trivia rules, though it turned out to have been a tactical error to have waited, because the music in there was really fucking loud. Nevertheless, we persisted, with me belting ’em out to the back row:

  1. Read/listen to the damn question.
    1. Read it again.
    2. Pay attention to the category.
  2. Don’t interrupt the question/audio; let it finish before guessing out loud.
  3. If you think of an answer, say it/write it.
    1. Make sure at least two other teammates hear/see it.
    2. If you heard a teammate suggest a good possible answer that’s not being discussed, throw it out there again.
  4. Everyone look over each answer sheet before turning it in.
  5. If the answer is a name and surnames are enough, we don’t need to write the first name.
  6. If spelling doesn’t count, don’t sweat it. Likewise for punctuation.
  7. If an answer is used once in a quiz, nothing prevents that answer from being used later in the same quiz (the Quincy Jones Rule).
  8. Avoid facetious answers (the Ernie Banks Rule – so named after we got a question wrong in a practice round when somebody jokingly said that Ernie Banks, aka “Mr. Cub”, was “obviously from the Mets,” and then our non-sporty scribe dutifully wrote down “Mets.” Heh.)
  9. Put an answer for each question, even if the whole team believes it’s probably/certainly wrong. You can object to that bad answer, but have a better answer at the ready.
  10. If you are 100% sure that your answer is right, say so.
    1. For that matter, try to indicate your confidence level on all answers.
    2. Focus discussion on answers that aren’t “locked”.

That last rule is a new one, meant to help address a weak spot from last year, where we didn’t realize that one of our answers needed more discussion. Geek Bowl rounds are high-pressure, with only two short minutes from the time the last question is read to the time when all answers are due. These rules give us our best shot at quickly sifting through our thoughts on the questions, putting our heads together in the most efficient and effective way possible.

With the rules freshly read, we were ready to Bowl! And for those of you uncertain as to what that means…

The Geek Bowl Format

This is the part where I copy and paste the same explanations and disclaimers I include in this post every year, with a few alterations as appropriate. If you already know the drill, feel free to skip down to Tiebreaker.

As I’ve done in previous years, I’m going to recap the questions and answers here. A few caveats about this, though. First, the Geeks are pretty careful about their intellectual property, and the agreement we’ve worked out is that I won’t post these recaps until at least a week has elapsed since the Geek Bowl. (Though all things considered I’d have a hard time getting this together in less time anyway!)

Second, I consider these recaps a tribute to the excellent question writers of the Geek Bowl, and an advertisement for a really fun event, but I am in no way officially associated with Geeks Who Drink. However, thanks to Geeks editor-in-chief Christopher Short, I have been supplied with question material this year! Prior to Geek Bowl 12, these recaps were based off notes, memories, and photos of question slides, and in fact many of my descriptions will still suffer from this circumstance, but at least the wording of the questions will be correct. Huge thanks to Christopher for the help, and anything remaining that sucks is my fault, not the Geeks’.

The GWD question material leans heavy on pop-culture and light (though not zero) on sports. In between, there is plenty of academic trivia: history, geography, science, and so forth. There’s also generally a certain amount of edgy (or sophomoric, depending on your point of view) content each year — witness the dick-shaped crackers. However, they’ve moved beyond the place where this feels like an obligatory part of the evening, and are moving towards a tone where (most) anything goes, but there isn’t a raunch quota they always have to meet. I heartily approve of this direction. I don’t have a problem with filth and profanity, or else I wouldn’t have kept coming back, but it’s lovely to feel like they’re no longer a compulsory part of the brand.

Here’s the format: each team has its own small table, with 6 chairs. (Except for a few teams who ended up in fixed seats. As always, I salute you, fixed seat teams!) Quizmasters read questions from the stage, and the questions are also projected onto large screens throughout the venue. One rounds is all-video, meaning that rather than anyone reading questions, the whole round is encapsulated in a video presentation on the screens. Once all the questions in a round have been asked, a two minute timer starts, by the end of which you must have turned in your answer sheet to one of the roaming quizmasters.

The game consists of 8 rounds, each with its own theme. Each round contains 8 questions — usually, each question is worth one point, so there’s a maximum possible score of 8 points for each round. However, some rounds offer extra points — for instance, Round 2 is traditionally a music round, with 8 songs played, and one point each awarded for naming the title and artist of the song. In a regular GWD pub quiz, it’s usually only Round 2 and Round 8 (always the “Random Knowledge” round) that offer 16 possible points. However, in this year’s Geek Bowl, Round 3 also offered 16 possible points. (Actually, the pre-printed answer sheets made it look like there were going to be five 16-point rounds, but this turned out to be an error.)

Finally, a team can choose one round to “joker”, meaning that it earns double points for that round. Obviously, you’d want that to be one of the 16-point rounds, unless you really believed you wouldn’t score above 8 in any of them, which is highly unlikely. We discussed our jokering strategy ahead of time, and decided on thresholds. Our threshold for the music round was 14, and our Round 3 threshold was 13. Failing either of those, we knew we’d have no choice but to joker Round 8.

Tiebreaker

Usually Geek Bowl opens with a big splashy number, but this year the first thing that happened (after a video warning everybody not to cheat) was related to the Bowl’s charitable partner, Opportunity Village. For the last few years, Geek Bowl has been a “Quiz For A Cause”, with some proceeds going to a local charity. Opportunity Village’s mission is to serve people with intellectual and other disabilities, creating opportunities for them to participate in society at large to the fullest extent possible. In that spirit, a few of the Village’s beneficiaries were invited to read the official Geek Bowl XIII tiebreaker question.

The format for this question is to take a few questions, all of which have numerical answers, and combine them into a formula. Some of these questions are nearly impossible to know exactly, so you have to approximate. The Geeks then use these answers to determine placement among teams whose overall scores are identical — the closer you get to the correct final number (on either side), the better.

This year’s tiebreaker had a bit of Vegas flavor, and since I’m about to report it, I guess the question recap has officially begun! As always, I’ll describe our team’s experiences inside [square brackets], and provide the answers in a separate post.

Take the year that Haiti declared independence from France. Add to that the number of Foot Locker stores in the world. Now multiply that sum by the number of legal brothels in Nevada. Now divide that product by the number of human figures in the MySpace logo. Or, to put it a bit more formulaically:

[(H + F) x B] / M

Where H = year of Haiti’s independence, F = worldwide Foot Locker stores, B = legal brothels in Nevada, and M = human figures in the MySpace logo.

See the answers

Now it was time for the big number, and out came Richard Cheese, who in turn introduced our host for the evening, Fort Collins quizmaster Jenna Riedi. The two of them did a funny song parodying everything about Las Vegas. The whole thing wound up with the full Vegas treatment, including a parade of featherheaded ladies dancing behind the performers. (Well, maybe not the full Vegas treatment, but at least a PG version thereof.)

Soon enough, it was time for…

Round One: You Just Ate This Round

[Now, this was a proud moment for me. Remember how I said that the Mothrans were quizzing each other with homemade warmup rounds? One of the things we try to do in those is to pretend that we’re Geek Bowl writers and anticipate what sorts of rounds may be written. Somebody wrote a round with all 13-related answers, for Geek Bowl 13. Somebody wrote a round in which all the questions related to different Vegas casinos. And I wrote a round in which every question mentioned a different kind of cheese, in honor of the musical guest. Well, I was pretty damn close.]

1. Suburban housewife, junior college student, and Zoya the Destroya. That’s on the TV résumé of what adorable star?
2. The multi-culti cartoon dog Ren Hoëk has a Dutch-ish name, but belongs to what breed that descends from Toltec times?
3. The rhyming nickname for Martina Hingis, and a shitty hot chocolate brand that’s not even from the Alps. What name refers to both?
4. Kumail Nanjiani culture-clashed in The Big Sick when he met his sorta-ex-girlfriend’s parents, played by Holly Hunter and what whitest man ever?
5. A company started by Muhammad Ali’s wife, an L.L. Cool J album, and a bunch of obnoxious Tom Brady fans have all used what acronym?
6. Some 5,000 miles west of the Netherlands, you’ll find what 1940s structure that Woody Guthrie once sang about for the Bonneville Power Administration?
7. Narrated by the daughter of intergalactic refugees Alana and Marko, an Eisner-winning comic series by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples goes by what generic-ass title? [All three comicbook geeks at our table (me, Brian, and George) locked in on this one.]
8. Barely ten weeks after the whole black-guy arrest thing last spring, another Starbucks employee got fired for mocking a customer’s speech impediment, in what East Coast shithole town?

[Also, I guess it turns out that the cheeses on the plate were the 8 cheeses named in this round. In any case, we aced it. Great start!]
See the answers

Round 2: You Win Some, You Lose Some

In the pub version of Geeks Who Drink, Round 2 is always a music round, asked via mp3 clips. Sometimes the recordings are a little askew (e.g. lullaby versions of songs, or slowed-down versions of songs, or 8-bit versions of songs, etc.), and sometimes the theme is a little different (e.g. name the song and then figure out what chemical element abbreviation is made by the artist’s initials), but one way or another, there are 8 questions worth 2 points each, requiring some music knowledge, and Geek Bowl is no different. This means that Geeks Who Drink in general selects pretty distinctly for geeks with popular music knowledge, and generally our team is quite strong in this category. But tonight, hoo boy, tonight was a different story.

We really struggled in Round 2 this year, and I think it comes down to a few different factors. First among these was the musical act itself. Now, Geek Bowl has been doing a live music round for as long as I’ve been attending it. For a while there it was a different band/act for every single question in the round (whew!), and for the last few years it’s settled into one headlining act doing the whole round. That’s how it was this year, but having Richard Cheese be that act added a new dimension of challenge to the music round. See, we’ve had crazy acts before (a mariachi band, a heavy metal mariachi band, The Dan Band, etc.), but all of those acts have more or less kept the musical portions of their covers intact from the original, albeit reinterpreted. Cheese, on the other hand, throws out a lot of the instrumentation and melody of the original song when he does a cover, replacing the tune with crooning or talk-singing, and taking the arrangements in wildly different directions. This is great for fun and originality, but it tends to turn name-that-tune into something more like identify-these-lyrics. That cuts out the strength of a couple of our music stalwarts.

Secondly, unlike many previous years, Cheese only did each song once, which made the lyric thing even more challenging as we’re trying madly to scribble down words we know we won’t get a chance to revisit, in clips that often felt very short indeed. Not to mention, the house lights were turned way down, so we could barely see the words we scribbled. Finally, the songs chosen just hit a bunch of weak genre/era areas for us. And that’s nobody’s fault but ours.

The Geeks have now posted video of this round, but the Cheese slices (sorry) are right up against the answers, which makes it hard to quiz yourself. So here’s what I’m gonna do. The video will go in the answers post, but here you just get my lyric transcriptions. (Which are now much better for having seen the video.) I swear listening to Cheese himself doesn’t give you much more information. Watch the video and see if you don’t agree.

This was allegedly a round about winning and losing, but in our experience (and really, based on the songs too), it was mostly about losing.

1. Snap back to reality, ope there goes gravity, ope
There goes Rabbit, he choked, he’s so mad but he won’t
Give up that easy, no, he won’t have it, he knows
His whole back’s to these ropes, it don’t matter, he’s dope
[“Hey, this won’t be so hard.”]

2. Consider this, consider this
The hint of the century
Consider this the slip
That brought me to my knees, failed
What if all these fantasies come flailing around?
Now I’ve said too much
[“Awesome! We are going to kill this round.”]

3. Hit me!
I put it right there made it easy for you to get to
Now you act like you don’t know what to do
After I done done everything that you asked me
Grabbed you
Grind you
Liked you
Tried you
Move so fast
Baby now I can’t find you
[Annnnnd here’s where it all started to fall apart.]

4. I just fell, I don’t know why
Something’s there we can’t deny…
And when I first knew
Was when I first looked at you

5. A day late, a buck short, I’m writing the report
On losing and failing, when I move I’m flailing now

6. Got so much to lose
Got so much to prove
God don’t let me lose my mind

7. We belong together
And you know that I am right
Why do you play with my heart?
Why do you play with my mind?
Said we’d be forever
Said it’d never die
How could you love me and leave me
And never say good-bye?

8. I was in my room and just staring at the wall
Thinking about everything
But then again I was thinking about nothing at all
“Mom, just get me a Pepsi, please? All I want is a Pepsi”
And she wouldn’t give it to me
Just one Pepsi
[This one we knew, at least. Not sure how it relates to the theme, but whatever.]

[Eee-yikes. That’d be 6 points, out of a possible 16. Not good. Combined with our previous 8, we now had 14 points.]
See the answers

Round 3: Don’t Be A Buster

Round 3 at Geek Bowl (and in Geeks Who Drink broadly) is usually some kind of gimmick round — true/false, this or that, speed round, etc. The past few years at Geek Bowl, it’s been 7 true/false questions and an 8-point speed round on the final question, for a total of 15.

This year, we could see it was going to be different. The answer sheets marked it as a 16-point round, with 8 questions, each of which had a pre-printed “A”, “B”, and “C” on it.

It turned out to be a blackjack-themed round, and the second-cleverest concept from this year’s Geek Bowl. Here’s the Geeks’ explanation:

We’ll give you three questions with numeric answers. Two of those will add up to 21. If you hit 21 on the dot, you get TWO points. If you’re under, you get ONE point. If you’re over — or if you don’t circle exactly two choices — you get NOTHING.

EXAMPLE:
A. The age of Shirley Temple when she signed her first film contract.
B. The age of Barron Trump right now.
C. The legal smoking age in Nevada.

Shirley Temple was 3 when she got her first contract. Barron Trump is 12 today. The legal smoking age in Nevada is 18. Thus, A and C are the two-point answer. A and B would be a 1-point answer. B and C, or any other answer, is worth zero.

We loved the concept of this round, though it turned out to be a very intense experience, with basically triple the usual number of questions to answer.

1.
A. Lakers’ NBA titles.
B. Steelers’ Super Bowl titles.
C. Brazil’s FIFA World Cup titles.
[Thank you to sporty Mothrans Don, Larry, and Jonathan.]

2. Billboard Hot 100 #1 singles as a lead artist:
A. Madonna.
B. Rihanna. [Larry was very confident on this one, which gave us a great anchor.]
C. Katy Perry.

3.
A. Number of TV seasons for Gunsmoke [Somehow I just knew this number. Not sure why.]
B. Number of TV seasons for Wonderfalls
C. Number of TV seasons for Numb3rs

4.
A. Number of human pituitary glands.
B. Number of human baby teeth. [Jonathan had this cold.]
C. Pairs of human cranial nerves.

5.
A. Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon novels. [Don had a confident answer on this one, not locked but confident.]
B. Books in the main “Left Behind” series. [George had the same on this one. (Not the same answer — the same confidence level.)]
C. Books in the main “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series. [Nope, nobody had this one.]

6.
A. Number of Canadian provinces.
B. Number of Canadian teams in the NHL.
C. Total number of astronauts recruited by the Canadian Space Agency.
[We were very clear on the first two, which was all the guidance we needed.]

7.
A. British Commonwealth nations in Africa.
B. African U.N. member states that start with Z. [Several people locked this part.]
C. African nations in the top 100 on the 2018 Human Freedom Index.

8. Including straight-to-video:
A. Hellraiser movies.
B. Land Before Time movies.
C. Police Academy movies.

[This round was super duper fun, and we loved the concept, but the time limit was very, very challenging. We were pushing hard to get our answers nailed down for all the questions within the two-minute window, and as the proctor came up to collect our answer sheet, I was shouting, “ARE WE JOKERING? ARE WE JOKERING?” We very quickly made the decision that we didn’t feel confident enough that we had 13, so we didn’t joker, meaning that we would definitely be jokering Round 8.

As it turned out, this would have been a great round for us to joker. Thanks to an outstanding team effort, Mothra ended up with a perfect score on this round, for a total of 30.]
See the answers

After Round 3, it was time for a scoring break, which meant that Richard Cheese came out to play some of the songs from his regular repertoire. Then he played some more. He seemed to play for an unusually long time. We started to feel the shades of much earlier Geek Bowls, in which scoring breaks stretched to crazy lengths. The Geeks seemed to have whipped this problem in recent years, so the extended Cheese-fest was feeling like a throwback. Not only that, it made the lack of repetition in Round 2 and the harsh time limit (considering the number of questions) in Round 3 feel a little more frustrating. If there’s any knock on this year’s Geek Bowl, it’s that there were pacing problems throughout — a lot of “hurry up and wait.”

One thing that ameliorated this, though, was the fact that the Geeks have really stepped up their PowerPoint joke game. For many years, the Geeks have had a PowerPoint slideshow playing before the Bowl, after the Bowl, and between rounds, generally with lots of gags relating to the host city, but this year there were both more jokes and funnier jokes, or so it seemed to me. A couple of my favorites:

A slide with the heading "Casino Confidential" and a body reading "Texas Hold 'Em is also now the motto of the Department of Homeland Security."

A slide with the heading "True Las Vegas Facts", and a body reading "Edge Of Seventeen is actually about Stevie Nicks' blackjack addiction."

There was also time to check out the incredible food spread. This year’s Geek Bowl was a giant leap forward in terms of the food provided, including mini-cupcakes with the Geek Bowl 13 logo on them. How cool is that? Anyway, the scores finally rolled. A Mothra Day In Paradise was in 45th place, out of 246 teams listed.

Round 4: Splitsville!

Vegas is the divorce capital of the world, so this round is called Splitsville!

1. Square peg Tris Prior is the main character in what oddly-best-selling young adult series? [Great team effort puzzling this one out. I think it was Don who finally hit upon the right answer.]
2. The very first atomic fission experiment karate-chopped uranium into what other, more enema-tastic alkaline earth metal?
3. Having peaced out in 1847, the Missouri Synod now ranks behind the ELCA as the second-largest U.S. body of what Protestant branch? [In a Slumdog Millionaire moment, this question related directly to Don’s childhood.]
4. Good look, guys: What 1896 Supreme Court case gave a judicial-branch imprimatur to “separate but equal” facilities?
5. Fred Martin may have created it, but Bruce Sutter definitely popularized what breaking pitch?
6. Tammy Wynette had a hit with “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” around the same time she split from Don Chapel and married what other country legend?
7. The breakup of Czechoslovakia was pretty amicable, but it did cause the resignation of what playwright-president with way too many V’s in his name?
8. Hanumanasana is the original Sanskrit name for what beastly yoga pose that’s literally just a split? [Jonathan, bless him, got this from the Sanskrit.]

[Another perfect round for us, taking our score to 38.]
See the answers

Round 5: FrankenBarry Manilow

Round 5 in typical Geeks Who Drink is a visual round, meaning a half-sheet of paper with some image-oriented challenge on it. Round 5 in Geek Bowl raises the bar up to video, and the Geeks’ video productions have been top-notch for a while.

Lucky for me, they’ve posted this video, so I don’t have to try to describe it. Fair warning, though, that the answers are interspersed throughout, so exercise that pause button if you want to try guessing them yourselves.

[7 out of 8 for us on this one — more details in the answers post. Anyway, our total now stood at 45 points.]
See the answers

Round 6: We’re Here, We’re Querying

The Geeks recognize that their core audience is a lot of white dudes, and so they’ll often try to add a little challenge (and maybe do a little education) with rounds on minority groups and topics. This time, it was a round on LGBTQ+ people in the sciences and humanities.

1. Before predicting a few election outcomes, Nate Silver worked with what 12-letter realm of baseball stats that have nothing to do with swords? [I usually know zilch about sports, but somehow I knew this. Perhaps from seeing the movie Moneyball? Like 3 other teammates were on it before I opened my mouth, but I was a little pleased with myself anyway.]
2. At the forefront of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes used repeated phrasing and syncopated rhythms to bring us what musically-inspired poetry form?
3. Cooked up by pathologist Louise Pearce in 1919, tryparsamide saved millions from what tsetse-borne disease?
4. Pearce’s roommate, medical researcher Sara Josephine Baker got her greatest claim to fame in 1907, helping to identify what famous Patient Zero?
5. Alexander von Humboldt is best known for a big 19th-century science treatise, which resurrected what ancient word for the whole ordered universe?
6. Sally Ride was famously the first American woman in space, duh. She went there on what shuttle named for a 19th-century British research vessel? [We started to go wrong on this but Jonathan steered us back to the correct course.]
7. Revelations is the signature work of what alphabetically advantaged New York dance icon, who once worked in a nightclub duo with Maya Angelou?
8. AIDS researcher Bruce Voeller set up a foundation whose name was what Spanish word for “butterfly,” that’s also Mexican slang for “gay”?

[Another 7 on this round, for a total of 52.]
See the answers

After this was a scoring break and more Richard Cheese. Quite a lot of Richard Cheese, which ended at some point, leaving Riedi to kind of helplessly vamp up on stage. Timely score tabulation was definitely an issue at this year’s Geek Bowl. They did throw in some “Jay Walking” style videos with Riedi on the street accosting passers by and asking them questions from previous Geek Bowls. Here’s an example.

They also did a lovely In Memoriam video. This is a Geek Bowl tradition — it starts out with various pop culture figures who’ve died in the past year, then moves on to fictional characters who died in the past year’s worth of TV shows and movies. Richard Cheese accompanied it with his version of Metallica’s “Fade To Black”. Here it is, but spoiler warnings for the following: Arrow, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Good Place, The Conners, Black Panther, A Star Is Born, and Avengers: Infinity War. If you’re spoiler-allergic, you can watch up to 3:28, then pick it up again at 4:09.

For those of you who didn’t watch it: this year’s video included a very touching tribute to Ed Toutant, a quizzing legend (and CU Trivia Bowl winner) who won $1.86 million on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in a remarkable comeback story. I met Ed a number of times at various trivia functions, and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy. He is very much missed, and I loved that the Geeks tipped their hats to him.

At last, the scores rolled once again. A Mothra Day In Paradise was at #21! Considering that we hadn’t jokered yet, we were very pleased to be ranked that highly.

Round 7: Street Theater

Remember how I said that Round 3 was the second-cleverest idea at this year’s Geek Bowl? Well, this was the best one. The Round 7 quizmasters started off by talking about the Fremont Street Experience in Downtown Vegas, and then explained that they were going to bring that experience into this year’s Geek Bowl. For those not in the know (which included me), this means street performers! Every question in this round was presented by a different street performer, each of whom did a little of their act, in a way that each time was a hint to the answer.

There is video of this round as well, but as with the Round 2 video, but the clips of the performers are a bit abbreviated, and the answers are in the video. Once again, you’ll find it in the answers post, and I’ll just leave my original descriptions here.

1. Three Elvis impersonators come out, one of whom is a little person. The larger two sit down to get to his level, then the three of them exchange this dialogue:
“You don’t even know what’s inside these bunkers, do you?”
“Rolexes.”
“Rolexes are swell, but I’m talking about Kuwaiti bullion.”
“You mean the little cubes you put in hot water for soup?”
“No. Not the little cubes you put in hot water for soup.”
“Gold bricks.”
“5 kilos each, $50,000 in today’s market.”
“For one gold brick?”
“I’m sure Mr. Hussein has divided his bricks into many different hiding places, but just one hiding place should be easy to take, and that would be enough to get us out of our day jobs.”

At this point, a slide comes up reading, “Name the 1999 movie.”

2. A guy sets up a bunch of overturned buckets, then plays an awesome drum solo on them. He is handed a mic, and reads:
“Drive a Shelby Mustang. Kiss the most beautiful girl in the world. Get a tattoo. Skydiving. Visit Stonehenge. Drive a motorcycle on the Great Wall Of China.”

Slide: “Name the 2007 movie.”

3. This was the most amazing one of all. There’s a safe — not a big one — on stage. Out comes a guy in a full-body suit with an alligator print on it. Turns out the guy is a contortionist. In some inexplicable, astounding way, he gets himself into the safe, reaching out through a little trapdoor to spin the wheel locking it from the outside. A Geek holds a mic up to the side of the safe, and out comes the guy’s voice:
“WHAT’S IN THE BOX???”

Slide: “Name the 1995 movie.”

4. A magician makes things appear and disappear, including a wineglass, handkerchiefs, etc. While he’s doing this act, he says this:
“Rule number one, this is the, what can you touch and not touch. Can you touch this? Can you touch this? No no no no no no. Second touch. Can you touch this? Can you touch this? No no no no no no no. And finally, last one ladies, can you touch this? Can you ever touch this? Well that too the law says you cannot touch. But I think I see a lotta lawbreakers up in this house tonight.”

Slide: “Name the 2012 movie.”

5. Three women come out and do a jump rope act. During the act, they read the following lines:
“We’re reviving a canceled undercover police program from the ’80s and revamping it for modern times. You see, the guys in charge of this stuff lack creativity and are completely out of ideas, so all they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us all not to notice.”

Slide: “Name the 2012 movie.”

6. A ventriloquist act. The ventriloquist and his dummy sing part of Gene Pitney’s “Town Without Pity.” Finally, the dummy says:
“Now that’s entertainment!”

Slide: “Name the 1989 movie.”

7. Three people in full-body animal costumes dance and sing to “Shout” by the Isley Brothers.

Slide: “Name the 1978 movie.”

8. Two more little people, this time dressed in quasi-Game Of Thrones garb. They fight, and dialogue:
“I want to know what’s going on. No one just gets as good as you do. Especially you. Start talking! Are you training with someone?”
“Uh, uh, training? I didn’t–”
“It better not involve this.”
“I, I know, this… looks really bad, but, you see, this is uh… Uh, you’re right! You’re right, you’re right. I, I’m through with the lies, I’ve been making… outfits! So, you got me. It’s time everyone knew. Drag me back, go ahead… here we go… OW! Why would you do that?”
“That’s for the lies! And that’s… for everything else!”

Slide: “Name the 2010 movie.”

[We really struggled on #6, but otherwise did well on this round. 7 out of 8, for a total of 59 points.]
See the answers and video

Round 8: Random Knowledge

Time at last for the final round, and our inevitable joker. Round 8 in Geeks Who Drink is always themeless, or rather I guess I should say each question has its own theme. In Geek Bowl, the questions in this round are always worth two points apiece.

1. a) “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” was a Mustafa-rific slogan for what personal-care brand? b) What big-ass company owns that brand?
2. a) A citrus fruit called the tumbo was the traditional fish-curing agent for what Peruvian national dish? b) And according to their creation myth, the Aztecs got chocolate from what feathered-serpent god? [I didn’t track who got part A of this question — I just had a moment of feeling very grateful for my team, because somebody had it locked.]
3. a) What robot-fighting game character bizarrely debuted as an air freshener in Sega’s 1991 arcade racer Rad Mobile? b) In 2018, Styx concerts finally included what operatic prison-break anthem? [Thank you Brian for being dialed into video game questions. George and I debated through the Styx part and did hit on the correct answer.]
4. a) In November 2016, Jayna Zweiman and Krista Suh co-founded what yarn-based activist movement? b) And a main character bailed on an intervention and got 20 years for grand theft auto, in what 1908 kid-lit classic? [Jonathan nailed part B, and I came up with a reasonable guess for part A.]
5. Two Creed points: a) Long before The Office, Creed Bratton played on the #5 hit “Midnight Confessions” for what band? b) What do Christians call their still-repeated statement of orthodox faith against Arianism?
6. Since 2000, Jeff Bezos has founded a space tourism company and bought up a major newspaper. Name both ventures.
7. Two Ramsay TV questions: a) Did Hell’s Kitchen originally air in the United States or Britain? b) Actor Iwan Rheon starred in what failed Marvel show that’s also a fair description of his Game of Thrones character? [Part A was essentially a coin flip — we debated, voted, came up with the wrong answer. Oh well.]
8. I’ll name a sports tournament, you name the current reigning runners-up: a) FIFA World Cup? b) Stanley Cup Final?

[We had a very good Round 8 — 14 points, doubled by our joker to 28. We ended Geek Bowl XIII with 87 total points.]
See the answers

There was one last long, long scoring break, so long that Richard Cheese was cracking jokes about how many more songs he’d have to do. Brian, who has actually hired Cheese before for a podcast event, had no doubt that Cheese was charging them extra for the additional time. Oh well, it was more enjoyable than nonplussed quizmasters would have been. Also, I should mention here that various people approached me throughout the night to let me know that they enjoy these recaps, which was quite touching. They’re fun for me to do, and I love knowing that they provide a little entertainment to others as well.

At last, the final standings were ready, and Geek Bowl 10 winners Shiny & Chrome emerged victorious once again. Huge congratulations to those trivia titans, to everybody else who came out and played, and to Geeks Who Drink for putting on another extraordinary live trivia event. The final video let us all know that Geek Bowl XIV will take place in Chicago! See you then and there!

Geek Bowl XII question recap

I’ve been immersed in the trivia world for a while now, and I think it’s safe to say that Geek Bowl has become the premier team trivia event in America. I’m open to counterexamples if somebody wants to take issue with that statement, but for my money there is nothing else that matches the scale, ambition, and sheer quality of the show that Geeks Who Drink puts on every year for trivia teams. I come from an area with a rich trivia bowl tradition, but at this point I think Geek Bowl has surpassed the CU Trivia Bowl even at its height. It’s obviously a completely different format, so perhaps that’s not a useful comparison, but in any case I remain spellbound by the excellent writing, smooth logistics, and stellar production values of this event, not to mention the ever-increasing cash prizes.

All those factors have made Geek Bowl an annual destination for elite teams of players, so much so that for the first time this year, the Geeks instituted a special “amateur prize” for the highest placing team containing no previous Geek Bowl winners, and nobody who has won more than $10,000 on a TV game show. The team that won that prize this year came in… ninth. And it turns out even that was an error — the team had a guy who’s won $85K on Jeopardy!. They’re still figuring out the real top amateur team, AFAIK.

Championship banners from previous Geek Bowls, including The Anti-Social Network's win in Geek Bowl V and How I Met Your Mothra in Geek Bowl VIII

My own team came in 6th place this time around, and we weren’t eligible for the amateur prize because we happen to be previous Geek Bowl winners ourselves. In fact, four of us were also on the team that won Geek Bowl V. Although we weren’t in the money this year, we felt very pleased with our standing, especially seeing that we came out above a couple other previous winners. (Well, tied with them really, but apparently we got closer on the tiebreaker question. More on that later.) Sixth place out of 231 teams is a performance to be proud of, methinks. We certainly felt a lot better than last year, in which some venue flaws, some missed coin flips, and a badly blown round made for a much more disappointing night.

Those venue flaws were nowhere to be found this year. Boston’s Agganis Arena was a great place for a Geek Bowl — tons of space, clear sight lines, excellent audio, and a fine layout. (Though once again I feel for the teams who had to sit in the fixed arena seats rather than at a table. I salute you, arena seat teams!) Boston itself was a surprise location — the first time a Geek Bowl has been east of the Mississippi — but a great town and a fun, albeit expensive, destination. The Geeks took full advantage of the area’s rich lore when setting up round themes, but once again, more about that later. Cool as well is the fact that Geek Bowl XII was a fundraiser benefiting Artists For Humanity, a Boston nonprofit that employs teens to use their creativity in their communities.

Mothra’s Rules Of Pub Trivia

The year our team won, we were “How I Met Your Mothra”, and so now every year we find some Mothra variant for our name. This time around, as a nod to Boston, we were “Mothra’n A Feeling”. The full team was in town by Friday night, so we all got together at Roxy’s Grilled Cheese and Arcade to hang out, eat food, play video games, and get our heads pounded by SUPER loud music. Teammate Brian is podcast-famous, so the site doubled as a meetup for his listeners — a lovely friendly bunch.

The next day some team members did a bit of sightseeing, but it was cold and I was sleepy, so I opted out. Instead, I met the full team at a downtown theater to see Black Panther, which was AWESOME. Then it was over to a seafood place for some lobster-related lunches, followed by practice questions in a hotel lobby. Finally, we hiked it to the arena, where we found our table and performed the solemn yearly reading of Mothra’s Rules Of Pub Trivia:

  1. Read/listen to the damn question.
    1. Read it again.
    2. Pay attention to the category.
  2. Don’t interrupt the question/audio; let it finish before guessing out loud.
  3. If you think of an answer, say it/write it.
    1. Make sure at least two other teammates hear/see it.
    2. If you heard a teammate suggest a good possible answer that’s not being discussed, throw it out there again.
  4. Everyone look over each answer sheet before turning it in.
  5. If the answer is a name and surnames are enough, we don’t need to write the first name.
  6. If spelling doesn’t count, don’t sweat it. Likewise for punctuation.
  7. If an answer is used once in a quiz, nothing prevents that answer from being used later in the same quiz (the Quincy Jones Rule).
  8. Avoid facetious answers (the Ernie Banks Rule – so named after we got a question wrong in a practice round when somebody jokingly said that Ernie Banks, aka “Mr. Cub”, was “obviously from the Mets,” and then our non-sporty scribe dutifully wrote down “Mets.” Heh.)
  9. Put an answer for each question, even if the whole team believes it’s probably/certainly wrong. You can object to that bad answer, but have a better answer at the ready.

These rules are not always easy to follow, but we’ve integrated them pretty deeply into our team dynamic, and I believe they’re an enormous help in keeping our little family functional. There can be quite a lot of pressure at Geek Bowl, what with challenging questions and merciless time limits. Ensuring that we’re functioning smoothly means we keep having fun through the whole thing rather than wiping out into anxiety or angst. Of course, it also helps to feel like you know a lot of answers, and we finished most of our rounds this year feeling pretty great, sometimes a little better than we turned out to have merited.

As much as I praise Geeks Who Drink for the amazing job they do on this event, my favorite part remains the experience of answering trivia questions with these five guys, who are funny, warm, and just really frickin’ smart. May I present Mothra’n A Feeling, bathed in the blue light of the pre-Bowl arena floor:

Team picture of Mothra'n A Feeling

From left, that’s Larry, George, me, Jonathan, Brian, and Don. As far as teamwork is concerned, we did exactly what we said we’d do this year. While it’s always easy to look back with regret at the answers we might have changed given sufficient time for discussion, I believe we played up to our potential just about the whole time.

The Geek Bowl Format

This is the part where I copy and paste the same explanations and disclaimers I include in this post every year, with a few alterations as appropriate. If you already know the drill, feel free to skip down to Opening Ceremonies. (Though note there is one big change: I have been provided with official question material this year. Woo!)

As I’ve done in previous years, I’m going to recap the questions and answers here. A few caveats about this, though. First, the Geeks are pretty careful about their intellectual property, and the agreement we’ve worked out is that I won’t post these recaps until at least a week has elapsed since the Geek Bowl. (Though all things considered I’d have a hard time getting this together in less time anyway!)

Second, I consider these recaps a tribute to the excellent question writers of the Geek Bowl, and an advertisement for a really fun event, but I am in no way officially associated with Geeks Who Drink. However, thanks to Geeks editor-in-chief Christopher Short, I have been supplied with question material this year. In the past these recaps have been based off notes, memories, and photos of question slides, but this time around I’ve got the official question wording! Huge thanks to Christopher for the help!

The GWD question material leans heavy on pop-culture and light (though not zero) on sports. In between, there is plenty of academic trivia: history, geography, science, and so forth. They have also always tried to make a point of being edgy, often self-consciously so. This year, though, it feels like a corner was turned. While there were certainly f-bombs to be heard, and a question here or there about matters sexual, Geek Bowl for the first time in my memory did not contain its usual quota of raunch. Not coincidentally, I think this was the best Geek Bowl ever. I don’t have a problem with filth and profanity, or else I wouldn’t have kept coming back, but it’s lovely to feel like they’re no longer a compulsory part of the brand.

Here’s the format: each team has its own small table, with 6 chairs. (Excepting the aforementioned arena seat heroes, who had clipboards instead.) Quizmasters read questions from the stage, and the questions are also projected onto large screens throughout the venue. Two rounds are all-video, meaning that rather than anyone reading questions, the whole round is encapsulated in a video presentation on the screens. Once all the questions in a round have been asked, a two minute timer starts, by the end of which you must have turned in your answer sheet to one of the roaming quizmasters. (Though round 3 had a 4-minute timer, for reasons that will become clear in the recap.)

The game consists of 8 rounds, each with its own theme. Each round contains 8 questions — usually, each question is worth one point, so there’s a maximum possible score of 8 points for each round. However, some rounds offer extra points — for instance, Round 2 is traditionally a music round, with 8 songs played, and one point each awarded for naming the title and artist of the song. (Though there was a bit of a spin on that this year, 16 points were still available in the round.) In a regular GWD pub quiz, it’s usually only Round 2 and Round 8 (always the “Random Knowledge” round) that offer 16 possible points. However, in this year’s Geek Bowl, two other rounds offered additional points: we could see from the pre-printed answer sheets that question #8 in Round 3 would have 8 answers, for a total of 15 answers in the round, and we found out in play that 2 points were possible for each Round 6 question, for a total of 16 points available in that round.

Finally, a team can choose one round to “joker”, meaning that it earns double points for that round. Obviously, you’d want that to be one of the 15 or 16-point rounds, unless you really believed you wouldn’t score above 8 in any of them, which is highly unlikely. We discussed our jokering strategy ahead of time, and decided on thresholds. Our threshold for the music round was 14, and our Round 3 threshold was 13. Failing either of those, we knew we’d have no choice but to joker Round 8. (Or so we thought! It wasn’t apparent from the answer sheets that Round 6 was also a 16-point round.)

Opening Ceremonies

The night began with the American national anthem, sung by Irishman Ciarán Nagle. Then Geek Bowl’s first-ever female MC, Fort Collins quizmaster Jenna Riedi, took the stage for a funny number about how great it is to be in New York. She was interrupted at last by a stagehand whispering in her ear, after which she exclaimed, “We’re in Boston? Fuck!” After a couple more merry verses invoking a bunch of other cities, she dashed off with a “Be right back, I gotta go Google.” Nagle came back out, this time joined by his band ISHNA and some step-dancing quizmasters. After a few minutes, Riedi returned, this time fully bedecked in Boston sports gear, and finished up the musical comedy number with lots of Boston facts.

It was a more muted opening than many Geek Bowls have seen, but still lots of fun and well-crafted. After that, it was time for the questions! As usual, I’ll describe our experiences inside [square brackets], and provide the answers in a separate post.

I’ve noticed that ever since the Geek Bowl started traveling to non-Denver cities, the first round in a new city will often tie into the theme of that city in some way — questions about Austins in Austin, questions about dukes in the Duke City of Albuquerque, questions about sounds while on Puget Sound in Seattle.

This time, though, the Geeks outdid themselves with fully six Boston-themed rounds! But lest you think that gave undue advantage to the locals, read on. While the rounds may have been Boston-themed, the questions were as wide-ranging as ever. Take, for example, Round 1…

Round 1: Eight Quick Questions Not About The T

For those that don’t know, “The T” is Boston’s nickname for its fine subway system, and this question took inspiration from the stops on those lines. Every question contained the name of a T stop — I’ll bold and ALL-CAP the stop names.

1. You know him better by his honorific title, but QUINCY is the Christian name of what bumbling cartoon character who debuted in 1949? [George, our scribe for the night, knew this one right away. Off to a strong start!]
2. Because of one random, really loud G-major chord, Haydn’s 94th SYMPHONY is called by what name?
3. Though headquartered in New Jersey, some 3,600 miles west of there, the PRUDENTIAL Financial logo features what Pillar of Hercules?
4. RIVERSIDE, California is the hometown of what Arrested Development actor who also played a mean Drunk History Hamilton in 2016? [This one we were unsure of — took our best guess.]
5. Famous for a Cinderella run at the 2010 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, BUTLER University is in what Midwest capital city? [Thanks to Don and Larry, our sports guys, who were immediately atop this one.]
6. Simon BELMONT is a whip-wielding hero in what old-school Konami game series that got a Netflix show in 2017? [Thank god Brian plays video games. I mean, I do too, but only like one a year so I’m not much help.]
7. Which Alice in WONDERLAND character was name-dropped in Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”: The Caterpillar or the Mad Hatter?
8. The 1886 HAYMARKET Affair and the 1968 DNC riots are two examples of those dang liberals getting into trouble in what city?

[We got 7 out of 8 on this round. Satisfactory!]
See the answers

Round 2: Letters, Not To Cleo

For the past several years, Geek Bowl has had a headlining musical act. This started in Albuquerque with The Dan Band, continued into Denver with Metalachi, and turned away from novelty acts in Seattle with Escort. This year, the band was the biggest yet — Boston’s own Letters to Cleo, who had a couple of cool modern rock hits in the 90s.

As is traditional, the headlining band not only played during intermissions, they also brought us the musical round. These rounds tend to be 8 covers, where you have to name the title and artist (for a point each), and the selections have some connection to the band — Metalachi played songs about metals, Escort did songs/artists that mention professions, etc. So we wondered if perhaps this round would be something like “songs about the mail”, or “songs with initials in the title.”

But when we looked at the answer sheet, it was clear that the Geeks had something much more creative up their sleeves. Instead of blanks for artist and title, this sheet had blanks for author and musical artist. You see, it turns out that for round 2, the Geeks took actual correspondence from famous people, and set it to music from popular songs. And in fact, each song related to the content of the letters, though I didn’t realize that until later. All these tunes were performed by Letters to Cleo, and our challenge was to name the authors and artists. It was a brilliant, amazing, and supremely creative round.

The Geeks have posted the video for this round, hallelujah! As you’ll see, they took a few liberties with the text of these letters in order to clue the questions a little better, and to fit the meter of the songs. Much appreciated! Word of warning that unlike in previous years, this year’s video has the answers included at the end of the clip. So if you’re reading through this post and playing along at home, you may want to pause there. I’ll link straight to that part in the answers post.

[Looking at our totals here, we believed we had 14. We nailed all the authors, and six of the artists. And so believing, we jokered the round. Only belatedly did we realize that one of the author answers we confidently handed in was, in fact, wrong. More about that in the answers post, but the upshot is we in fact had 13, which doubled to 26, bringing our total points to 33.]
See the answers

Round 3: Celtics vs. Bruins

Round 3 at Geek Bowl is pretty much always 50/50 — each answer is multiple choice, in which that multiple is two. Frequently, the 8th question is an 8-part speed round, in which teams have a set amount of time to provide 8 members of some category. We could see from the answer sheets that this year would be no exception.

In keeping with the Boston-themed questions, this year’s Round 3 paid tribute to a couple of Boston sports teams by framing 7 descriptions that either fit bears (hence the bruins) or Celts (hard-c Celts, early inhabitants of Britain). We were instructed clearly: just write down “Bears” or “Celts”.

1. The Greek root of the word “arctic”.
2. Namesake of the largest lake located entirely within Canada.
3. The hero of the legend of Cu Chulainn.
4. Known to live in earthen dwellings called “hill forts.”
5. Ate the Salmon of Knowledge, in a famous myth.
6. The subject of a famous aphorism uttered by Sam Elliott in The Big Lebowski.
7. Played Squire Trelawney in Brian Henson’s 1996 adaptation of Treasure Island.

Then, for the 8th question, they brought the categories together:

8. The 2012 film Brave, of course, was about a Celt who turns into a bear. OK, fine, I guess they were Gaels, but just go with it. Anyway, Brave was one of the nine most recently released Pixar films, so for this question, you’ll just name the other eight.

We had a four-minute timer, with musical accompaniment by Boston street performer Keytar Bear.

[Well, this is the one we coulda shoulda woulda jokered. We aced it — 15 points, for a total of 48.]
See the answers

Round 4: I Got Her Number, How Do You Like Them Apples?

It’s a round about math and apples!

1. Noted as one of the most popular by the U.S. Apple Association, what variety of apple came from 1930s Japan?
2. Of The Geometric Spirit is the main math-philosophy work by what seventeenth-century Frenchman with a famous namesake triangle, barrel, and wager?
3. Located in center field, the Home Run Apple is the only thing worth watching at what Major League Baseball stadium? [Jonathan was in the driver’s seat for the first two questions — now over to Larry and Don.]
4. The first major theorem to be proven with a computer, in the 1970s Kenneth Appel and Wolfgang Haken showed you can color any map, with no adjacent areas the same color, using how many colors? [Back to you, Jonathan. All you, Jonathan.]
5. Distilled from apple cider, Normandy’s Calvados VSOP is what kind of booze?
6. If you shaped your apple into a perfect sphere with a six-inch diameter, what would its volume be in cubic inches? (Hint: Your answer should have a a Greek letter in it.)
7. In Greek myth, Eris’s golden apple sparked the Trojan War by causing three goddesses to fight for the approval of what mortal?
8. Born in 11th-century Persia. Found a geometric method to determine all real roots of cubic equations. Credited with some famous quatrains called “Rubaiyat.” Who’s that?

[Another perfect round, for 8 more points. Our total was now 56.]
See the answers

At this point, it was time for a break. Letters to Cleo played, and GWD ran some comedy videos, dramatic readings of letters from conservative Texans who complain about their liberal quiz. Then came answers to rounds 1-4, and the standings. We were in 11th place, with the top spot held down by the Philly team everybody loves to hate, Independence Hall & Oates.

Kay Hanley of Letters To Cleo, singing

Tiebreaker

A recent and effective Geek Bowl innovation has been the numerical tiebreaker question, in which several facts combine into a formula, and teams try for an answer as close as possible to the actual one. For some reason, this year the Geeks placed that tiebreaker question just before round 5 — in fact on the back of the round 5 answer sheet. So we turned both in at the same time. The Geek Bowl XII tiebreaker question:

Add up all the days served in the U.S. Senate by John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Edward Kennedy. Multiply by the number of nations containing Dunkin’ Donuts stores. Subtract from that product the population of Massachusetts as of the 1790 census. Or, if you’re like me and prefer your trivia expressed formulaically:

[(J + T + R) x D)] – M

where J = John Kennedy’s Senate days, T = Ted’s Senate days, R = Robert’s Senate days, D = Dunkin’ Donuts nations, and M = Massachusetts’ 1790 population.

[We guessed about 18,000 for the Kennedy total, 25 for D, and 300,000 for M. Since we like to turn in jagged rather than round numbers on questions like this, we submitted 156,789. Must have worked well, too, because we ended up at the top of our score cohort.]
See the answers

Round 5: Paul Revere’s Other Midnight Ride

Round 5 in typical Geeks Who Drink is a visual round, meaning a half-sheet of paper with some image-oriented challenge on it. Round 5 in Geek Bowl raises the bar up to video, and this year threw in some verse narration as well. Oh, and more Boston theming, and more charming and ingenious writing.

Thanks to the Geeks for putting this video on YouTube! Once again, answers are in the same video this year, so pause if that’s how you roll.

[Fantastic team effort on this one led us to another perfect round. Our total stood at 64.]
See the answers

Round 6: One if by Land, Two if by “C”

Here was the round in which 16 points were possible, but there was only one blank per question on the score sheet. This is how they explained it to us:

This round is worth 16 possible points. For ONE point, answer an easy question about someone with “land” in their name. OR, for TWO points, answer the harder question whose answer starts with the letter C. You can choose all 1-pointers, all 2-pointers, or a mixture of the two – but only give ONE answer for each question number. If you try to answer both, you will get ZERO points for that question. Finally: On the 2-point question, if it’s a person’s name, real or fictional, it’s the FIRST name that starts with a C.

I’ll indicate our choices in [brackets] after each one.

1. One point: Martin Landau played Rollin Hand on what action series that debuted when Tom Cruise was four?
Two points: He also played Rufio in what Oscar-winning 1963 period piece?
[We jumped on the “C” question immediately, and then almost as quickly started to (correctly) doubt our answer. We ended up falling back to the “land” question for one point.]

2. One point: Former NOW president Patricia Ireland penned a 1996 book with the same title as what Mel Gibson/Helen Hunt movie?
Two points: In 2004, Ireland managed a presidential campaign for what first black woman in the U.S. Senate?
[We were convinced about our “C” answer on this one.]

3. One point: In The Empire Strikes Back, Lando betrayed Han Solo on what planet?
Two points: What planet was Han’s birthplace?
[A confident chorus of people, including Star Wars superfans George and Don, rang in with the “C” answer here.]

4. One point: The daughter of an AFC cheerleader, living ballet legend Misty Copeland originally hails from what Midwest town that was also a chart-topping song in 1959?
Two points: Spelling question! “Sashay” is a secondary definition for what word that is also a ballet step? And yes, “spelling question” means you have to spell it correctly.
[No clue on the “C” answer here, but we felt good about our “land” answer.]

5. One point: Monty Python and the Holy Grail featured Carol Cleveland as sisters Zoot and Dingo, who tempted what chaste knight?
Two points: According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, King Arthur was born at Tintagel Castle in what English county?
[I think this may have been my favorite team moment this year. We knew the “land” answer for sure, and had a “C” answer that we felt maybe 75% certain about. We initially put down the “land” answer, but during the post-round countdown, Don pitched that since we were in 11th place as of the last standings, maybe it was time to take a risk or two. The team conferred, agreed, and put down the two-point answer. We got it right.]

6. One point: For her unlicensed portrayal in Feud: Bette and Joan, in 2017 Olivia de Havilland sued FX Networks and what American Horror Story producer?
Two points: De Havilland had a 1952 turn as the titular wife of a preacher, in what Shaw play?
[Jonathan and I are the literature guys on this team, but we were both clueless on the “C” answer, so we went with the “land” answer on this one.]

7. One point: Tom Holland’s Peter Parker attends a high school named for what part of Manhattan that’s home to the Chrysler Building?
Two points: As seen in Amazing Spider-Man #360, what was the full name of the first person to become Carnage?
[George, Brian, and I are all comic book guys. I think I was first to the gate on the “C” answer here — I knew it cold.]

8. One point: A Green day album, a Power Rangers villain, and the production team behind Kelly Rowland’s solo debut single “Dilemma”: All three share what biblical hunter’s name?
Two points: Ham’s eldest son founded a whole nation, plus he was the dad of the guy in the one-point question. Who is Ham’s eldest son?
[Once again, we jumped on the “C” question immediately. Unlike in question #1, we didn’t question ourselves. We should have, because we got it wrong.]

[1 + 2 + 2 + 1 + 2 + 1 + 2 + 0 = 11, bringing our total to 75.]
See the answers

Round 7: Goodnight Mook

Geek Bowl XII had a lot of clever rounds, but this one was my favorite. The video speaks for itself. You know the drill by now — answers in the video, pause if you want, direct link in the answers post.

[More awesome teamwork led us to a 7 in this round. Nobody on this team has a child young enough to have bought kid’s books during the B.J.-Novak-writing-kids-books era. Our total was 82.]
See the answers

Time for another intermission. We had more Letters to Cleo live, and more Letters From Texans video. We also had a Fenway Park tradition — just before the final round, the crowd sung an enthusiastic version of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”, led by the former quizmaster at my local bar, Jeanette Cerami. After that, we got our standings. We were in third! And Independence Hall & Oates had dropped to ninth. There was much rejoicing at table 133.

Round 8: Random Knowledge

At last it was time for the final round. Round 8 in Geeks Who Drink pub quizzes is always “random knowledge” — no theme, questions from all over the place for varying point totals, always equaling 16. In Geek Bowl, the questions in this round are always worth two points apiece.

1. Name the two army generals who have been appointed U.S. Secretary of State since 1980. [We knew one right away, and Larry talked us into a correct answer on the second. Thanks, Larry!]
2. a) What buzzword does Webster define as “a job, usually for a specified time”? b) Defined as “any of several lively, springy dances in triple rhythm,” what similar word spawned French and Italian variants?
3. Adjusted for inflation, two 1965 films are in the domestic billion-dollar box-office club: a musical and a Soviet-banned epic drama. What are those?
4. First and last names: a) At last year’s British Open, who shot the first 62 in the history of the four golf majors? b) What Cubs first baseman had the major leagues’ most hits in the 1990s?
5. In the Himalayas, near the heads of the Indus and Brahmaputra, Mt. Kailash is a pilgrimage site for four religions: Tibetan Buddhism, the related Bon, and what two others? [We debated three answers around, two of which turned out to be correct. We put down one right one and one wrong one.]
6. a) Set in Boston, what 2015 Bethesda game lets players join the post-apocalyptic Minutemen? b) Joel and Tess work as smugglers in Boston, in what 2013 game about a different kind of apocalypse? [Brian was the man once again, getting us one of these points.]
7. a) What ’80s pop star composed Broadway’s “Kinky Boots”? b) What aughts pop star composed “Waitress”?
8. a) In 2017, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic became the first female, and first openly gay head of government in what Balkan country? b) The party of new Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir is named for the political left, and what related color that is not on Iceland’s flag?

[By my reckoning, we got 11 of these. However, the final standings had us at 94 rather than 93, so I’m speculating that one of our answers on question #8 was close enough to count.]
See the answers

Time for that final scoring break, and another Geek Bowl tradition: the In Memoriam segment, this year accompanied by Ciarán Nagle and ISHNA’s version of “Danny Boy.” The Geeks always do a great job with these, but they are always also chock full of spoilers. So, warning before you watch this video: it contains spoilers for Sherlock, Orphan Black, Supernatural, Doctor Who, Coco, The Walking Dead, Game Of Thrones, Stranger Things, and The Last Jedi. If you want to avoid the spoilers, pause the video at the Trump section.

At last, the final standings appeared. Mothra’n A Feeling stood in 6th place, happily above Independence Hall & Oates and Geek Bowl 10 winners Shiny & Chrome. (Turned out we were actually all 3 tied.) There was also a tie at the top! For this they don’t use the tiebreaker question, but instead had a sudden-death face-off. Verbatim from the Geek Bowl sheet (thanks for including it in a video, Geeks):

We have a list of things. Your job will be to name those things, one player at a time, alternating between teams. If you give a wrong answer, if you give an answer that’s already been given, if you don’t answer in five seconds, or if you try to consult your teammates, you are out. The last team with a player standing will be the champions of Geek Bowl Twelve. Here’s the question.

At the end of each year, a Billboard chart lists the top 100 songs of the year, the Year-End Hot 100. We’re concentrating on the top 40 spots. On the 64 charts since it began in 1954, the year-end top 40 has featured a total of 37 singles with the word “girl” in the title — either by itself, in the plural “girls,” or in a compound word. The list includes two pairs of different songs with the same title — on those songs only, you can give the same title twice. Again, we’re looking for the 37 singles that have made Billboard’s Year-End top 40 that have “girl” in their titles. Go!

This was an exciting showdown, and not without controversy, though I think the proper team did emerge victorious. Let’s go to Christopher Short, Geeks editor-in-chief, with the Errorogenous Zone report:

And that was it! Congratulations to Last House On The Jeff, and HUGE congratulations to Geeks Who Drink for pulling off another triumph. I look forward to seeing you all again next year in Las Vegas!

Geek Bowl XI question recap

By the numbers: I’ve been going to Geek Bowl for 8 years now, the last 4 of which my team has been made up of the same 6 people. Ever since that team coalesced, we have placed either first or second in every Geek Bowl we’ve played in… until now. Geek Bowl XI was not our night, and we ended up in a 4-way tie for 15th place. Now in perspective, that is 15th out of 212 teams — still a damn good showing! But it’s not where we’ve been, and not where we wanted to be. As I recap the questions and answers, I’ll narrate where we misstepped — it was a lot of going the wrong way on coin flips, and a lot of almost-but-not-QUITE-right answers, along with some plain knowledge gaps.

Before that, though, I’d like to raise a glass to my team, who this year was named Mothra Hoople:

Group photo of Team Mothra

Going clockwise from the top left, that’s Don, Jonathan, Brian, George, me, and Larry. This shot was taken before all of us were fully decked out in our MOTHRA t-shirts, but it does showcase the pink hats we wore to honor Brian’s wife Tina, who’s currently undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Part of what makes Geek Bowl so enjoyable for me is the chance to play trivia with these five guys, who are all smart, funny, and good company. Wherever we end up placing at the end of the night, Geek Bowl is always a great time because I’m on this team.

Part of what I love about us is the teamwork, synergy, and trust we’ve got going. Those qualities were put to the test this year, as things started to unravel for us and we struggled against difficult conditions to find our way towards answers. There are some fierce, intense competitors in this group, and it’s tough when we start to feel the game slipping away from us. But you know what never happened? Bitching. Finger-pointing. Sarcasm. Pettiness. There was some self-recrimination going around, but nobody ever got pissy with anybody else about an answer, even when people (myself included) had fought for answers that turned out to be wrong. Believe me, that is not a given in a team trivia game.

Part of what helps us hold things together are the rules we’ve evolved over the years. Here now in their annual presentation:

Mothra’s Rules Of Pub Trivia

  1. Read/listen to the damn question.
    1. Read it again.
    2. Pay attention to the category.
  2. Don’t interrupt the question/audio; let it finish before guessing out loud.
  3. If you think of an answer, say it/write it.
    1. Make sure at least two other teammates hear/see it.
    2. If you heard a teammate suggest a good possible answer that’s not being discussed, throw it out there again.
  4. Everyone look over each answer sheet before turning it in.
  5. If the answer is a name and surnames are enough, we don’t need to write the first name.
  6. If spelling doesn’t count, don’t sweat it.
  7. If an answer is used once in a quiz, nothing prevents that answer from being used later in the same quiz (the Quincy Jones Rule).
  8. Avoid facetious answers (the Ernie Banks Rule – so named after we got a question wrong in a practice round when somebody jokingly said that Ernie Banks, aka “Mr. Cub”, was “obviously from the Mets,” and then our non-sporty scribe dutifully wrote down “Mets.” Heh.)
  9. Put an answer for each question, even if the whole team believes it’s probably/certainly wrong. You can object to that bad answer, but have a better answer at the ready.

These may sound easy to follow, but they are not. I personally failed on rule 3A this year, as I’ll explain below. Rule 1B is incredibly easy to overlook when focusing on a single question. And rule 9 can be a tough standard to live up to when time is very limited and ticking down before your eyes. Still, this overall structure gives us the best shot at effectively pooling our collective knowledge in a way that is quick and efficient. We had a rough go of it this year, but I know we’ll be back, because this is an excellent team that works very well together.

But enough about Mothra, how about the event itself? Geek Bowl was held in Seattle this year, in a bit of a strange venue. We convened in a cavernous building called “Smith Cove Terminal.” Near as I can tell, this is a place you go when you and 1,000 other people are getting ready to go on a cruise. Everybody gathers in the terminal building, which is pretty much a huge long rectangular hangar (though without the super-high ceilings) and mills around until they board the ship.

The way Geeks Who Drink used this building was to set up a stage at one end, and screens throughout, placed strategically among the couple-hundred tables set up for the teams. There were four bars placed around the edges of the rectangle, and six food trucks parked outside. At the other end of the rectangle from the stage were chairs set up for spectators, who pay the same price as contestants.

At this point, the Geek Bowl organizers have earned a reputation for a smooth, well-run event, and while most of that still held true, I feel like the venue was a miss this year. Every year prior to this one, Geek Bowl has been held at some kind of theater or arena, a space physically and acoustically set up to focus attention on a stage. The cruise ship terminal had none of these properties, and as a result, sound was muddy and distorted while sightlines were dismal, especially for teams placed behind us (we were about a third of the way back from the stage.) I think the intent was that cameras would film the stage action and that therefore teams wouldn’t need to see the stage directly, but the cameras were placed oddly, generally capturing side-views of the action, and for some reason the director repeatedly delayed cutting away from PowerPoint slides to the camera feed. Add to that the long, slow lines at the food trucks (most of which left before the first break), and the fact that one of the two men’s bathrooms on our level was closed shortly after the first round ended, and you get a fairly frustrating participant experience.

I feel for the Geeks — this event has gotten bigger and bigger, and I’m sure it is a major challenge to find a place that can provide a stage, sound system, and video clearly visible to all areas, and can also provide enough space to set up a couple hundred tables and 1200 chairs. Geek Bowl 10 was in an arena, and even so a number of teams weren’t able to sit at tables, having to make do with fixed arena seating instead. Along with that, the venue must provide some kind of food and drink options (alcohol a must, given the the company’s name and reputation), and not charge an exorbitant amount for rent on a Saturday night. And the flooded bathroom thing this year was just bad luck. But nevertheless, I hope next year returns us to more of a theater/arena type configuration — it just works better for this kind of event.

The Geek Bowl Format

For those of you who aren’t familiar with how Geek Bowl works, not to mention my recaps of it, I’ve got some explanations and disclaimers for you. This is pretty much copy-pasted (with a few adjustments) from previous years’ posts, so if you already know the drill, feel free to skip down to Opening Ceremonies.

As I’ve done in previous years, I’m going to recap the questions and answers here. A few caveats about this, though. First, the Geeks are pretty careful about their intellectual property, and the agreement we’ve worked out is that I won’t post these recaps until at least a week has elapsed since the Geek Bowl. (Though all things considered I’d have a hard time getting this together in less time anyway!)

Second, I consider these recaps a tribute to the excellent question writers of the Geek Bowl, and an advertisement for a really fun event, but I am in no way officially associated with Geeks Who Drink, and I have not been supplied with question material. The recap below is not a verbatim representation of the Geek Bowl 11 questions. It is reconstructed from my notes and memories, which are very fallible. I do take photos of some of the question slides — cameras are allowed at Geek Bowl as long as they can’t receive data. However, even those slides are very frequently paraphrases rather than verbatim reproductions of the questions as read. I am certain I have left out some of the cleverness, some of the humor, and some of the pinning precision. Anything in the questions and answers below that is wrong or crappy is my fault, not theirs.

The GWD question material leans heavy on pop-culture and light (though not zero) on sports. In between, there is plenty of academic trivia: history, geography, science, and so forth. They have also always tried to make a point of being edgy, often self-consciously so. This has evolved over the years from “We insist on sex, cursing, and gross-outs” to “Don’t be surprised when you encounter sex, cursing, or gross-outs.” Especially at Geek Bowl, it used to feel like there was some obligatory raunch, and that those questions were kind of pandering, lowbrow stuff that didn’t really match the rest of the quiz. Now the raunchy stuff is just as erudite and clever as anything else in the question set, and its prominence has been toned way down, but it’s also always still there.

Here’s the format: each team has its own small table, with 6 chairs. Quizmasters read questions from the stage, and the questions are also projected onto large screens throughout the venue. One round is all-video, meaning rather than anyone reading questions, the whole round is encapsulated in a video presentation on the screens. Once all the questions in a round have been asked, a two minute timer starts, by the end of which you must have turned in your answer sheet to one of the roaming quizmasters. (Though round 3 had a 4-minute timer, for reasons that will become clear in the recap.)

The game consists of 8 rounds, each with its own theme. Each round contains 8 questions — usually, each question is worth one point, so there’s a maximum possible score of 8 points for each round. However, some rounds offer extra points — for instance, Round 2 is traditionally a music round, with 8 songs played, and one point each awarded for naming the title and artist of the song. In a regular GWD pub quiz, it’s usually only Round 2 and Round 8 (always the “Random Knowledge” round) that offer 16 possible points. However, in this year’s Geek Bowl, two other rounds offered additional points: we could see from the pre-printed answer sheets that question #8 in Round 3 would have 8 answers, for a total of 15 answers in the round, and that there were two answer spaces for each question in Round 4, for a total of 16 points available in that round.

Finally, a team can choose one round to “joker”, meaning that it earns double points for that round. Obviously, you’d want that to be one of the 15 or 16-point rounds, unless you really believed you wouldn’t score above 8 in any of them, which is highly unlikely. We discussed our jokering strategy ahead of time, and decided on thresholds. We used to have a threshold of 14 for the music round, but a super-tough round 8 in 2015 made us back off from that. So this year our threshold for Round 2 was 13, and the threshold for Rounds 3 and 4 was 12. If we felt confident in getting at least that amount, we’d joker the round, and if we didn’t feel that good about any of them, we’d wait for Round 8.

Opening Ceremonies

This year the show began with “Principal Dicker” (John Dicker is the CEO of Geeks Who Drink) introducing a Seattle history pageant staged by a faux 5th-grade class, actually a bunch of GWD quizmasters. This consisted of a bunch of mini-skits portraying events like Captain Vancouver’s arrival and Jimi Hendrix learning to play guitar, each of which bizarrely ended with square dancing. This felt a little flat to me, though I can’t tell whether that’s from the aforementioned audio/video issues or because it just wasn’t that funny.

The fun factor went up a few notches after that, though, with this awesome thing:

With that, let’s start the recap! Our team’s experiences are listed in [square brackets], and the answers are provided in a separate post.

Tiebreaker

After the Love Boat video, some Geek I couldn’t see very well mentioned that there were 212 teams playing this year, and that the event was sold out, but there was one more Seattle guy who had wanted to participate, so they invited him to say a little something onstage… and out walks Ken Jennings! Not sure why I didn’t see this coming, given that Jennings lives in Seattle and is no stranger to big trivia events, but for me it was a very pleasant surprise. Jennings was his usual witty and charming self, as when he got in a dig at the top prize money — “$11,000? So, that’s like a Daily Double for me, I guess.”

Jennings then read the “ceremonial first question.” As they’ve done the past few years, the Geeks asked a tiebreaker question whose answer is a number calculated from various trivia answers. Unlike the past few years, the tiebreaker was the very first question asked, probably to give Jennings something meaningful to do. The question was this:

Take the sum of the current ages of Donald Trump’s wives, and multiply it by the number of commercially available varieties of Newman’s Own salad dressings. Subtract from the result the number of sites administered by the National Park Service. Or, to put it another way:

(W x D) – P

where W = Trump’s wives’ ages summed, D = number of Newman’s Own salad dressing varieties, and P = sites administered by the National Park Service.

See the answers

Round 1: Sound Off

With the tiebreaker out of the way, we launched into Round 1. The Geeks love wordplay, and they love bringing together unexpected categories, hence Round 1, whose title was “Sound Off” and whose subject was “noises and inlets.”

1. Slick Goodlin was Bell’s sound-barrier test pilot, before the Air Force took over the X-1 project and filled the seat with what captain?
2. The Inside Passage is a handy way — and in fact pretty much the only way — to get to what U.S. state capital?
3. In 2016, what microblogging company invested $70 million in Soundcloud? [This was the one question in this round we really struggled with, debating back and forth between two answers before finally settling on… the wrong one. Sorry to say, I was one of the people arguing for the wrong answer.]
4. Bahia de Cochinos is the local name for what inlet that was newsworthy for a few weeks in 1961?
5. Dr. Dischord collected all sorts of terrible noises, in what classic kids’ book by Norton Juster? [Amusingly, one of our warmup topics from earlier that day was kid-lit. I would say “Preparation FTW!”, but since we came in 15th I guess it’s more like “Preparation For This One Question!” FT1Q!]
6. Dionne Warwick still can’t tell us how to get to what city of 1 million at the southeast tip of San Francisco Bay?
7. Orfield Labs maintains a room so quiet it will make you hallucinate, in what Central Time city that is also home to U.S. Bank stadium?
8. The laryngeal inlet connects your larynx to what similarly named other part of the throat?

[We ended up with 7 correct answers in this round. So far, so good!]
See the answers

Round 2: Not The World’s Oldest Profession

Round 2 is always a music round in a GWD quiz, and for the past several years at Geek Bowl, they’ve hired one band to cover the 8 songs in the round (in snippets of around 30 seconds), as well as to entertain the crowd during scoring breaks. In past years, the band has had some kind of comedy or novelty quality — The Dan Band from 2015 is an all-male group that foulmouths its way through all-female songs, and Metalachi from 2016 is, well, heavy metal mariachi.

This year, however, the Geeks played it straight by hiring the Brooklyn disco-flavored band Escort, who are fronted by Adeline Michèle and feature choreographed backup singers and the works. It was clear that Escort is a good band, but the acoustically hostile room really worked against them, at least from where we were sitting. We could barely make out a word Michèle was singing much of the time, and our attempts to lip-read from the screens were foiled by the video director’s strange reluctance to cut from a static slide reading something like “Question 5” to an actual feed of the band. We’d generally get to see them perform each song partially and eventually, but it was frustrating to be stymied in our attempts both to see and hear what the band was doing. Our only hope was to recognize a melody or bass line, which worked some of the time. On the other hand, the Philly team Independence Hall And Oates was at the table right behind ours, and they ended up taking 2nd place in the whole Bowl, so maybe acoustics wasn’t our biggest problem.

In any case, the theme of this round was professions — either the title of the song or the name of the artist would contain the name of a profession. That name may or may not be spelled correctly, and that profession may or may not be legal, but it would be in there somewhere. When I first posted this recap, all I could do was list the answers, since I had no way of recapping the questions. However, since then the Geeks have posted video of Escort (sounding much clearer than they did to us.) Thanks, Geeks!

[We got a total of 11 on this one, missing #3 and #5 completely, and getting the song wrong on #8. We certainly didn’t feel good enough about it to joker. So combined with our previous round, that gave us a total of 18.]
See the answers

Round 3: Justice Is Served

Round 3 of a typical Geeks Who Drink quiz is typically some sort of gimmick round, but the vast majority of the time, they boil down to either a round of 50/50 (i.e. “this or that”) type questions, or a speed round in which you have something like 2 minutes to name 8 members from some category. In Geek Bowl, round 3 is pretty much always 50/50, and sometimes is combined with something else, as was the case this year. The questions were on the topic of justice:

1. Who sought justice in the form of a “pound of flesh”: MacBeth or Shylock?
2. If you go to jail looking for justice, that’s what you’ll find: just us. This is a paraphrase of a quote by whom: Richard Pryor or Tupac?
3. Yes or no: is the Department of Justice headed by the Secretary of Justice?
4. Who is directing this year’s Justice League movie: Ben Affleck or Zack Snyder?
5. That statue of a blindfolded lady you see in front of courthouses: did the Romans call her “Justitia” or “Prudentia”? [We were so sure about our answer on this one. Too bad we were wrong.]
6. Who was married to 1990s baseball star David Justice: Halle Berry or Holly Robinson?
7. Poetic Justice was the sophomore film from what director: John Singleton or Mario Van Peebles?

Then question 8 was in fact a speed round. We had an additional 2 minutes on top of the usual 2-minute timer to answer the following question: “From 1991 to 2016, eight justices left the U.S. Supreme Court, one way or another. Name them.”

[We felt really good about all our answers to this round, and confidently jokered. Then we found out later that we’d gone the wrong way on #2 and #5, as well as misstepping on one of the eight justices. So we ended up with 12, doubled to 24, and added to our previous tally of 18 for a total of 42. Well, even if we’d known in advance we were only getting 12, we still would have jokered per our agreed-upon threshold. But it was a bummer to do worse than we’d anticipated.]
See the answers

Round 4: I Once Was A Man From Nantucket

This was my favorite round from this year’s Geek Bowl. The premise was that each question was a limerick that described a memoir written in the last 15 years (with the publication year provided in the question). We had to name the title and author of each book, for a total of 16 possible points. The questions were tough, but so cleverly written that I enjoyed them even as they were killing us.

1. (2013)
I grew up educated as hell,
And I told other girls to as well.
The Taliban fussed,
And they shot up my bus —
Now please, may I have a Nobel?

2. (2011)
I guess I’ll just come out and say,
Since I know that you’ll ask anyway:
A dude with a knife
Cut my face; I was five.
Now let’s talk Sarah Palin, OK?

3. (2003)
While rehab unscrambled my brain,
I got root canals sans Novocaine.
Too hardcore for AA
I was — oh, by the way,
I made most of this up on the train.

4. (2014)
I hope I don’t sound like a whina —
I’m obsessed with myself and that’s fine-a.
Surely no one will mind
If I talk of the time
I found rocks in my sister’s vagina.

5. (2011)
Once I threw my kid out in the cold
for not listening — she’s three years old.
I’m a bad Chinese mama
(From west Indiana),
But hey, controversy is gold!

6. (2008)
If you’d like to write undeterred,
The running shoe sharpens the word.
But six miles a day
Isn’t easy, I’d say —
It’s not like I’m some wind-up bird.

7. (2016)
My friends quit their jobs ’cause they’re bored,
And got cell phones that I can’t afford.
This redneck malaise
Fosters social decays —
How’s the South gonna rise up? Good Lord!

8. (2012)
I don’t make child porn, I’m no creep —
But my settlements never come cheap.
And if you think twice,
You’ll see it was nice
When I likened that girl to my Jeep.

[As much as I enjoyed the writing in this round, the results for us were quite brutal. We got a total of seven points. In a 16-point round. OUCH. Added to our previous tally of 42, that brought us to 49. This is a great example of the Geeks trying to shake up the results by pouring a lot of points into one topic area, which some people in the room were inevitably going to nail, but many others were going to flail. This time, we were in the latter group.]
See the answers

At this point, the Geeks took a scoring break. Escort played, and men stood in long lines for the bathroom. After the scores were tallied, answers were shown for rounds 1-4, and then the team rankings were displayed onscreen. We were in 30th place.

Round 5: Checks And Phalluses

Remember how I mentioned that although the raunch has been toned down, it’s also always there? Well, here it is, once again presented in an ingenious and fun way. Round 5 was a video round, in which the Geeks presented 8 different rebuses whose answers were world leaders. They provided the years in which the leader was in power, but other than that we were on our own. Each of these rebuses (well, all except one) hinged on a dick joke — a key to each one was some slang for penis.

Previously I had just listed the answers here, but now the Geeks have posted the video, so I can just present that. Thanks, Geeks!

[The was the one and only round we aced in Geek Bowl 11, and about half of those answers are thanks to Jonathan, who was not only lightning-fast at figuring out the rebuses, but was also aware of some world leaders about whom the rest of us were clueless. Thank you Jonathan! So 8 points on that brought our total up to 57.]
See the answers

Round 6: Muppety Womenfolk

There are quite a few women who participate in Geek Bowl, but they are still a minority — I’d say the room averaged about 70%-75% men. In response to this, the Geeks often try to include female-friendly categories, and this year that meant a round about feminism. Well, half about feminism and half about the Muppets, because, um…

1. In 1975, Jim Henson created a weekly bit called “The Land Of Gorch” for what nascent TV show?
2. Though they most likely wouldn’t be friends with each other, both Richard Nixon and Lucretia Mott belonged to what historically Christian sect, which was also called The Society Of Friends?
3. The least essential of their early movies, The Muppets Take Manhattan featured a cameo by what then-Mayor of New York City?
4. The second-wave feminist cornerstone The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, and the third-wave classic Gender Trouble by Judith Butler both drew on the 1949 book The Second Sex, by what renowned social theorist?
5. Kermit The Frog made an unexpected cameo as a shopper at Dustin Hoffman’s titular store, in what 2007 box office bomb?
6. Rebecca Walker coined the phrase “Third Wave Feminism” in 1992, ten years after her mom published what Pulitzer Prize-winning novel?
7. The Muppets used a dream to weigh in on the Duncan family’s house-rebuilding decision, on a 2013 episode of what Disney Channel series? [Talk about a topic we have no idea about. Half of us have no kids, and the other half’s kids are either too old for the Disney Channel or are uninterested in it.]
8. We all know women only make 78 cents for every male dollar, but which group makes a measly 54% compared to white men: Black women or Latinas? [This was the first coin-flip of the day we debated on and actually landed on the right answer.]

[We blanked on #7, and had yet another EVER-SO-CLOSE but wrong answer on #5 (see the Answers section), leaving us with 6 points in that round. 57 + 6 = 63 as our running total.]
See the answers

Round 7: Geek Kune Do

A couple of years ago in Albuquerque, the Geeks hired a dance company to perform famous dances from movies. This year was a variation on that — they hired actors with expertise in stage combat to re-enact famous fight scenes from movies. Unfortunately, while the dancers at Albuquerque were very easy to see, the long rectangle of Smith Cove terminal made it quite tough to make out details of the fight scenes, and the side-angle camera views and garbly acoustics didn’t help matters. Not only that, each fight scene was performed only once for some reason, making the visual/audio even higher stakes than normal. We muddled through nevertheless.

It’s tough to describe these scenes without giving away the answers, so I’ll just give the answer first and then a brief description of the fight scene.

1. Shaun Of The Dead (the scene where the characters fight a zombie with pool cues, to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”.)
2. Bridget Jones’ Diary (the scene where Colin Firth fights Hugh Grant, to The Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men”.) [We were not familiar with this movie, so guessed “The Adventures of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert” based on the musical accompaniment.]
3. Oldboy (the scene where a hammer-wielding character takes on 25 guys.) [Okay, here’s where I screwed up rule 3A. We didn’t know this scene automatically, so we were discussing it under a lot of time pressure. I knew there was a famous fight scene in Oldboy where one guy takes on a lot of other guys. So as everybody was throwing stuff out, I said, “What about Oldboy?”, but did not do a good job of making sure everyone knew that answer was on the table. Because the discussion was fast-paced and a little chaotic, nobody else heard me. I had not seen the movie, and did not know that the solo fighter was carrying a hammer, or else this would have been a lock. Instead, we cued off the hammer and went down a different path, guessing Avengers: Age Of Ultron, thinking of a Thor hallucination scene. George had remembered him being overcome by enemies in that scene, which does happen but in a fairly different way.]
4. Fight Club (the scene in which Edward Norton kicks the crap out of himself.)
5. Kill Bill, Vol. 2 (Uma Thurman vs. Daryl Hannah in a trailer.)
6. The Karate Kid (come on, could there be any doubt which fight scene it is?)
7. Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (This was an amusing twist on the “fight scene” concept — a bitter argument between George and Martha in which no blows are exchanged but plenty of blood is drawn.)
8. Happy Gilmore (Adam Sandler vs. Bob Barker)

[Brian rocked the dance questions in Albuquerque, and he was great at these fight questions too. Given that his main gig is a podcast about cover songs, I have to wonder if his expertise extends to covers of movies as well. Anyway, we whiffed on #2 and #3, giving us 6 points for the round and a total of 69 for the game thus far.]

After this was another scoring break, during which Escort played again, and the Geeks showed a couple of videos, starting with the annual “In Memoriam” tradition. Let’s watch it, and then let’s talk. Warning, though, there are spoilers within for: Stranger Things, Supernatural, Westworld, Orange Is The New Black, The Walking Dead, Star Wars: Rogue One, and Game of Thrones. If you’d like to avoid those, you can skip to 4:47 for the part that’s relevant below.

So, the woman at the end was Cindy Stowell, who won an incredible six times on Jeopardy! while suffering from Stage 4 cancer. I didn’t know Cindy personally, but she was a frequent Geeks Who Drink player in Austin, and a participant in my online trivia league. Between the many testimonials I read there and the fundamentally moving nature of her story, her episodes were very emotional for me. Her appearance as the capstone of the Geek Bowl In Memoriam video was absolutely perfect, and devastating. Anybody with any connection to her story was misty-eyed to say the least. Well done, Geeks.

After that was a silly fake movie trailer for “Geeks Who Drink: The Movie”. This couldn’t help but fall a little flat after the emotional peak of the In Memoriam video, and it was also quite difficult to hear for various reasons. Oh well. At last scores were tallied, the answers shown for rounds 5-7, and the ranks displayed: we’d moved from 30th to 23rd.

Round 8: Random Knowledge

As I say every year, Round 8 is always “random knowledge”, i.e. no particular theme, and questions that can span any domain. In the pub quiz, the point values vary from question to question, but in Geek Bowl each round 8 question is always worth two points.

1. Other than Jesus Christ himself, which two Old Testament dudes are the first two people mentioned in the New Testament?
2. a) The bark of the cinchona tree gives us what anti-malaria medicine? b) Usually it’s cassia bark that you’re actually buying when you pick up a jar of what common spice? [We were all pretty on top of the first question, but I think it was Jonathan who got part two for us.]
3. Besides the University of Connecticut, what two schools have won the NCAA Women’s Division 1 Basketball Tournament in this decade? [We had some debate about whether “this decade” meant “in the last 10 years” or “in the 2010s.” This is the one question on which GWD’s writing could have been a little sharper. It turns out to have meant the latter, since there are actually a whole three non-UConn teams that have won in the past 10 years.]
4. After the split from the chimpanzees, but before the rise of Homo, there were two genera of bipedal hominids, whose names start with a vowel. In fact, they start with the same vowel. Name them.
5. a) In 2017, Rockstar Games is publishing a much-anticipated sequel to what old-timey 2010 game? b) However, despite our letter-writing campaign, they are still not updating their XBox 360 launch title about what indoor sport? [We had no idea on part two, so we tossed around bunches of indoor sports, and ended up perfectly nailing the right one. Too little, too late, sadly.]
6. Name each popular, bygone blog from its final three post headlines. a) “My So-Called Life”, “Roller Derby”, and “The TED Conference”. b) “How Things Work”, “Letters From Our Exes”, and “How Guilty Should I Feel?” [We could only think of one popular, bygone blog, so we filled it in for both blanks.]
7. a) What German composed the famous wedding march for his suite from A Midsummer Night’s Dream? b) The characters getting married in the play were what Athenian duke and Amazon queen? [Happy to say our answer for part two was my contribution.]
8. a) Editor Anna Wintour’s proxy in The Devil Wears Prada went by what name? b) Wintour cut her teeth as a fashion editor at a Guccione-owned erotic magazine for women, which shared its name with what brand of paper towels? [Jonathan got us to part one, and George nailed part two. That guy really knows his… consumer products.]

[Not a terrible final round for us — 12 points, same as Round 2. But it would have taken a lot more than that to get us on stage. Our final total by my reckoning was 81 points. Interestingly, the final standings of Geek Bowl showed us at 83, which makes me wonder whether they took some of our close-but-not-quite answers after all.]
See the answers

I’ll end with the one video the Geeks have released thus far, which is actually an amalgam of two videos played at Geek Bowl. The first part, in which Marty Walsh (the mayor of Boston) welcomes Boston teams and announces the location of Geek Bowl 12, actually played right after Ken Jennings’ opening question. The second part, with the Neil Diamond music, played as teams were leaving the terminal.

Looking forward to it, Boston!

Geek Bowl X question recap

Ahhhhh… Geek Bowl. It has become one of my favorite days of the year. And this year, it was held in Denver once again (as it was for its first 5 years, before moving on to Austin and then Albuquerque.) So I saved a little travel money, and didn’t have to ask Laura for as much childcare time. Woo!

Geek Bowl would be super fun even if I was terrible at it, but enormous good fortune has landed me on an incredible team of trivia players. Two years ago, at Geek Bowl VIII, we won the whole thing as “How I Met Your Mothra“. Last year we came in 2nd place as “The Mothras Of Retention.”

This year we were going to be “Mothra Hoople” (my personal favorite Mothra joke so far) but then our team captain got a peculiar message from Geeks Who Drink CEO John Dicker: “Hey Brian – weird request… any chance I can talk you into having your Geek Bowl team be named How I Met Your Mothra? I can’t explain why, but it will make sense at the event. Trust me, you’ll understand and be happy I asked.” Who are we to refuse a request like that? So we were “How I Met” again, and it did indeed make sense at the event. More about that in a bit.

This year we decided to splurge and get ourselves some team t-shirts — 6 shirts, each with its own letter to spell out “MOTHRA”. You know what, it’s just easier if I show you. Here we are in our MOTHRA t-shirts.

Team MOTHRA in our t-shirts.

From left to right, that’s Larry, me, Don, Jonathan, George, and Brian. And here we are in our MOTHRA t-shirts holding the oversized novelty check that came with our SECOND PLACE FINISH!!!

Team MOTHRA holding a big $5000 check

For perspective, last year we came in 2nd out of 134 teams. This year we came in 2nd out of 228 teams. Did I mention it’s an incredible group? Wow. The team we lost to last year came in 3rd this year. Who came in 1st? And 4th? And lots of other places? Little story there.

TCONA Story

Five years ago I went to the first annual TCONA, or “Trivia Championships Of North America”, which they aren’t really. It’s more like a big woolly 3-day Basement Bowl, but with lots of different kinds of trivia events, held in Las Vegas, and attended by some of the real elites in the American trivia world — people who run trivia companies, kick ass at quiz bowl, and/or have won life-changing money on Jeopardy!, Millionaire, and elsewhere. Obviously, not everybody there is at that level, but enough are that it’s pretty heady company.

TCONA has been going on for 5 years now, and it has created a community among these players. Most of my teammates have been to it multiple times, and in fact that’s how Larry connected with and later recruited Jonathan for our team. (I’d have been happy to go back, but can never quite justify the money + time commitment to myself each year. Hopefully as Dante gets older, summer will get less complicated.) Geek Bowl has now become a big enough deal that it draws quite a few people from that TCONA community, who travel to wherever it’s held and compete in teams.

In fact, for the last couple of years the estimable Bill Schantz has hosted a Geek Bowl Eve get-together for this group, in which everybody converges on a rented house and quizzes the night away. This year, the game was a Jeopardy-inspired buzzer format called “5×5” — 5 players compete across 5 categories. So, I spent my Friday night getting absolutely slaughtered on the buzzer by a bunch of game-show/quiz-bowl champs, and loved every second of it. I also got to read/host a number of games, which was fun, and spend a little social time with trivia rockstars. Awesome.

On Geek Bowl night, many of those same faces graced the stage, and no surprise: they are really good. It’s quite a privilege to be up in that company, and I think part of how Mothra gets there is through its excellent team dynamic. There is a whole lot of mutual trust and respect there — everybody gets a voice, nobody puts their ego on the line, and we’ve gotten really good at sifting quickly through a large number of inputs to find the output we collectively feel best about. We’ve also got some good ground rules in place, refined a bit from last year:

Mothra’s Rules Of Pub Trivia

  1. Read/listen to the damn question.
    1. Read it again.
    2. Pay attention to the category.
  2. Don’t interrupt the question/audio; let it finish before guessing out loud.
  3. If you think of an answer, say it/write it.
    1. Make sure at least two other teammates hear/see it.
    2. If you heard a teammate suggest a good possible answer that’s not being discussed, throw it out there again.
  4. Everyone look over each answer sheet before turning it in.
  5. If the answer is a name and surnames are enough, we don’t need to write the first name.
  6. If spelling doesn’t count, don’t sweat it.
  7. If an answer is used once in a quiz, nothing prevents that answer from being used later in the same quiz (the Quincy Jones Rule).
  8. Avoid facetious answers (the Ernie Banks Rule – so named after we got a question wrong in a practice round when somebody jokingly said that Ernie Banks, aka “Mr. Cub”, was “obviously from the Mets,” and then our non-sporty scribe dutifully wrote down “Mets.” Heh.)
  9. Put an answer for each question, even if the whole team believes it’s probably/certainly wrong. You can object to that bad answer, but have a better answer at the ready.

Having these rules in place, and following them as consistently as possible, allows our scores to become a true measure of our collective team knowledge without any distortion or missed opportunities from arguments, confusion, or miscommunication. That really helped us out this year, because with the Geek Bowl time limits in place, there’s no room to get sidetracked. We also worked out a joker threshold in advance, which really really helped. (If the words “joker threshold” mean nothing to you, see the Geek Bowl format info below.)

The team met at Ernie’s Pizza on Saturday afternoon for lunch, and warmed up with some homemade questions. Since it was the 10th Geek Bowl, Don thought they might ask about various 10s — 10th Academy Awards, 10th Super Bowl, etc., so we brushed up on those. (Of course, they did do 10-themed rounds, just not anything we’d thought to study. Heh.)

Jonathan brought a sheet he’d made, listing #1 songs from the 80s forward, anagrammed. Some examples:

Me Fattier Item
Pecans Balk
Avalanche Heater Ponies
Salsa Bathtub Alto
Airplay Reek
Yellowing Mothra

(Answers provided in the answers post.) After a fine afternoon, we headed to the Magness Arena, where the Geeks had set up tables, stage, screens, and so forth. As in the past few years, Geek Bowl was extremely well-run. They’ve figured out that if hundreds of teams are playing (and paying), but only 5 are getting money, everybody else had better have a great time. Consequently, they make the entire night very entertaining, and reduce tedium (i.e. during scoring breaks) as much as they possibly can. It’s amazing to me that they processed as many answers as they did and I still never felt like I was waiting too long.

They also bring in talent to provide musical entertainment during those scoring breaks, and this year the featured band was Metalachi, self-proclaimed as “The World’s First And Only Heavy Metal Mariachi Band”. They lived up to their billing — lots of fun, with legit musicianship underneath. This Geek Bowl was also the first to have a semi-celebrity host, in the person of Eugene Mirman, comedian and voice of Gene on Bob’s Burgers.

This, in my opinion, was less successful. I hope he didn’t charge the Geeks very much, because he did virtually no comedy material, and in fact occupied his sections with all the panache of a middle manager on “Beyond Casual” Friday. Every time he came out, the best he could do was stuff like, “Who here is from Vancouver? Raise your hands! Wow, how about that. Who’s from Arizona? Great to see you!” He tried to engage the longstanding GWD animosity against Philadelphia (not going to try and explain that one here), but just landed on (paraphrasing), “Aw, Philly is a sort of nice place!” Sheesh.

The Geek Bowl Format

This is the part where I copy and paste the Geek Bowl info, rules, and disclaimers from previous years, slightly updated. Feel free to skip to the Opening Ceremonies section if you know all this already.

As I’ve done in previous years, I’m going to recap the questions and answers here. A few caveats about this, though. First, the Geeks are pretty careful about their intellectual property, and the agreement we’ve worked out is that I won’t post these recaps until at least a week has elapsed since the Geek Bowl. (Though all things considered I’d have a hard time getting this together in less time anyway!)

Second, I consider these recaps a tribute to the excellent question writers of the Geek Bowl, and an advertisement for a really fun event, but I am in no way officially associated with Geeks Who Drink, and I have not been supplied with question material. The recap below is not a verbatim representation of the Geek Bowl 10 questions. They are reconstructed from my notes and memories, which are very fallible. I do take photos of some of the question slides — cameras are allowed at Geek Bowl as long as they can’t receive data. However, even those slides are very frequently paraphrases rather than verbatim reproductions of the questions as read. I am certain I have left out some of the cleverness, some of the humor, and some of the pinning precision. Anything in the questions and answers below that is wrong or crappy is my fault, not theirs.

The GWD question material leans heavy on pop-culture and light (though not zero) on sports. In between, there is plenty of academic trivia: history, geography, science, and so forth. They have also always tried to make a point of being edgy, often self-consciously so. This has evolved over the years from “We insist on sex, cursing, and gross-outs” to “Don’t be surprised when you encounter sex, cursing, or gross-outs.” Especially at Geek Bowl, it used to feel like there was some obligatory raunch, and that those questions were kind of pandering, lowbrow stuff that didn’t really match the rest of the quiz. Now the raunchy stuff is just as erudite and clever as anything else in the question set, and its prominence has been toned way down, but it’s also always still there.

Here’s the format: each team has its own small table, with 6 chairs. (Though some late registrants had to sit in the fixed arena seats, which had to be a bummer. I salute you, arena seat teams!) Quizmasters read questions from the stage, and the questions are also projected onto large screens throughout the venue. Some rounds are all-video, meaning rather than anyone reading questions, the whole round is encapsulated in a video presentation on the screens. Once all the questions in a round have been asked, a two minute timer starts, by the end of which you must have turned in your answer sheet to one of the roaming quizmasters. (Though rounds 3 and 4 had a 4-minute timer, for reasons that will become clear in the recap.)

The game consists of 8 rounds, each with its own theme. Each round contains 8 questions — usually, each question is worth one point, so there’s a maximum possible score of 8 points for each round. However, some rounds offer extra points — for instance, Round 2 is traditionally a music round, with 8 songs played, and one point each awarded for naming the title and artist of the song. In a regular GWD pub quiz, it’s only Round 2 and Round 8 (always the “Random Knowledge” round) that offer 16 possible points. However, in this year’s Geek Bowl, one other round was upgraded from 8 potential points to 15 — we could see from the pre-printed answer sheets that question #8 in Round 3 would have 8 answers, for a total of 15 answers in the round.

Finally, teams can choose one round to “joker”, meaning that it earns double points for that round. Obviously, you’d want that to be one of the 15 or 16-point rounds, unless you really believed you wouldn’t score above 8 in any of them, which is highly unlikely. We discussed our jokering strategy ahead of time, and decided on thresholds. In previous years, our Round 2 threshold has been 14 — in other words, if we felt very confident about 14 out of 16 answers in Round 2, we would joker it. However, last year’s Round 8 was really freakin’ hard, so in fear of that we lowered the Round 2 threshold to 13. We didn’t do a good job of settling on a Round 3 threshold — that’s a note for next year, because it did cause some unnecessary debate. In any case, if we didn’t joker Rounds 2 or 3, we would automatically joker Round 8.

Opening Ceremonies

The doors had opened at 6pm, and at 7pm, the event began! Three runners carrying huge red flags bearing a “G”, “W”, and “D” sped around the perimeter of the arena, heralding the entrance of a miniature marching band, complete with drum major. Behind this legion came the rest of the quizmasters, dozens strong, all carrying little pennants and wearing sashes. Some carried effigies of the GWD logo characters, who have names that I can neither remember nor Google at the moment. These official Geeks ascended the stage to sing the GWD fight song, which was hilarious but on which my memory also fails me. My note-taking mojo was not yet in gear! Hopefully GWD will release a video of it at some point.

Speaking of video, the next event was a special video welcome from Colorado’s head geek, John Hickenlooper. That one, we do have:

Gubernatorial shout-out for How I Met Your Mothra! Totally worth keeping our old name. As Gov Hick said, the first round was homecoming-themed, since this was Geek Bowl’s triumphant return to Denver. So let’s jump right into the recap! Our team’s experiences are in [square brackets], and as with previous years, answers are in a separate post, since this one is already too long.

Round 1: Hormones On Ice

The homecoming round was a bunch of questions about, well, coming home. The questions themselves were adorned and interspersed by little skit vignettes depicting moments at a homecoming dance: teens dancing, a sleazy DJ, kids hanging out around the edges and chatting, a misfit yelling at popular classmates, everybody making out, etc. These sketches didn’t really have a whole lot to do with the questions themselves, and they went by too fast for me to take really detailed notes, so I’m not going to attempt to recap them. Just envision a little bit of high school drama between each question and you’ll get the picture.

1. First and last name required: What name is shared by the authors of You Can’t Go Home Again and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test?
2. In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, C.J. goes home to fix shit in what L.A.-lookalike city that was also the setting of Grand Theft Auto V? [Some of us are gamers, but none of us are GTA-ers, so we tried to cobble together a guess based on what tiny scraps of knowledge we do have.]
3. Young adult Jews can get dirty in the Dead Sea through what 10-day heritage trip program that has been sponsored by Sheldon Adelson? [Oy. No clue on this one.]
4. Which Star Trek movie was subtitled The Voyage Home? [Here, on the other hand, is a wheelhouse question for all 6 of us.]
5. The Prodigal Son’s homecoming story appears in which gospel, the only one that is purportedly written by a medical doctor? [Very grateful for that “medical doctor” clause, which led us in the right direction.]
6. In his 2001 essay “On The Justice Of Roosting Chickens,” University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill infamously compared 9/11 victims to what Holocaust organizer with the same first name as the Führer?
7. Allegedly mistaken for an elk, which explorer was shot in the ass on his way back from the Pacific: Lewis or Clark? [Lots of pooling general knowledge to weight the coin flip towards one side or the other.]
8. What was the name of the Sean Combs-led band that did the poignant Top 20 single “Coming Home” in 2010? [And here we fall into another knowledge gap: Puffy bands. Took a wild guess.]

[This was a dispiriting round. We ended up with 5 correct answers.]
See the answers

Round 2: Metalachi

Round 2 is always a music round, and at Geek Bowl, always a live music round. This time the featured artist was Metalachi, who performed a variety of non-metal songs in heavy metal mariachi style. Well, not exactly non-metal songs: each song had the name of a metal in its title or artist.

The funny thing about this is that the last time Geek Bowl was in Denver (for Geek Bowl V), the Round 2 artist was also a mariachi band, albeit a traditional one. In fact, my team that year (The Anti-Social Network) won partly on the strength of a team member recognizing when the band played Johnny Cash’s “Orange Blossom Special”, which very few other teams got. So perhaps this was yet another callback to Denver Geek Bowls of ages past.

Previously I just listed the answers here, because I couldn’t describe the round without giving them away. But in 2017 the Geeks posted a video recap of the round, so now I can just embed that! The answer summary has moved, appropriately enough, to the answers post.


[We felt good about 12 of our answers, but that was below our jokering threshold, albeit only just. We stuck to our guns and did not joker the round. So we ended up with 12 points, plus our previous 5 made 17.]
See the answers

Round 3: A Bag Of Dicks

Round 3 in the pub quiz generally has some kind of gimmick to it — true/false, multiple choice, speed round, a choice between hard clues and easy clues, etc. At Geek Bowl, most of the pub-sized stuff is hard to pull off, so it almost always ends up being a 50/50 round, and this time was no exception. The theme was all about bags, sacks, and so forth. Was the title just a case of GWD giving the round a gratuitously X-rated name? Put that thought on pause for a minute, while I recount the first 7 questions.

1. Who was the last named owner of Bag End: Meriadoc Brandybuck or Samwise Gamgee?
2. Dimebag Darrell Abbott was best known for playing in what band: Pantera or Sepultura?
3. Which purveyor of tea bags is genuinely based in jolly old England: Bigelow or Twinings?
4. Who has the NFL career record for getting sacked: Brett Favre or Peyton Manning?
5. Otherwise known as that bag you can’t afford, the Birkin handbag is named after someone. Is that person a designer or an actress?
6. What did Oliver Sacks primarily write about: neurology or paleontology?
7. Satchel Paige’s Major League Baseball debut was on the same team that broke the American League’s color barrier. Was that team the A’s or the Indians?

So far, so ordinary. But on the answer sheet, there was a section below the questions, saying that each team would be given a bag, that we were not to open the bag until instructed, and that there would be instructions inside the bag for what to do. Perhaps you might have an inkling of where this is going. The sheet had 8 spaces, with a color next to each: Green, Yellow, Teal, White, Red, Pink, Purple, and Orange. 8 points’ worth.

So. We were given a brown paper bag. Once we were allowed to open it, we discovered that yes indeed, it was a bag of dicks. Or, to be precise, dick-shaped candles, individually bagged in Ziplocs, and each with its own color and special, special scent. Like so:

Penis-shaped candles in small ziploc bags. I'm not exactly doing you a favor with this alt text, am I?

The instructions in the bag told us that the challenge was to determine the scent of each candle, from the following list of 12 possibilities:

BACON
BRUT MEN’S COLOGNE
CHANEL NO. 5
CHARDONNAY
FENNEL
GINGERBREAD
HEINZ 57 SAUCE
NACHO CHEESE
PUMPKIN PIE
ROSEMARY
SLIM JIM
SRIRACHA

People, these candles were horrible. Not because they were dicks, but because they smelled so, so awful. They ranged from merely unpleasant to “brutal assault.” About the ony one we felt sure on was “fennel” — the rest were brave attempts, especially given that some of the options (e.g. slim jims and bacon) aren’t terribly distinct from each other, odorwise.

Not that the smells are meaningful to anyone reading this recap (well, I suppose with the exception of other unfortunate dick-sniffers), but I’ll provide them in the answers post, along with the answers to the more traditional questions.

[No way did we feel good enough about this round to joker it. And rightly so: while we did well enough on the regular questions — 6 of 7 — we just barely scraped above 50% on the candles, getting 5 out of 8 correct. So 11 points, added to our running total of 17 for a grand total of 28. Or, as I stupidly wrote on the sheet and told people at first, because math is hard, 38. But really, 28.]
See the answers

Round 4: Mother’s Little Helper

Back on familiar trivia territory, this was a round about parenting and mind-altering substances.

1. Mommy’s Time Out and Dad’s Day Off are pandering brand names for what beverage?
2. With a runtime of just six minutes, Samuel L. Jackson recorded the definitive audiobook of what Adam Mansbach bestseller? [I think I was first with this answer, but I’m sure other teammates knew it too.]
3. To help induce labor contractions, women are sometimes given Pitocin, a synthetic version of what pituitary hormone. [Jonathan nailed this science question.]
4. Apparently, Dare To Discipline is a popular pro-spanking manifesto by what Focus On The Family asshole? [Gosh, it’s almost as if GWD has a point of view on this. Anyway, we struggled toward the name, and eventually Jonathan got it.]
5. In public restrooms nationwide, and perfect for snorting cocaine, what alliterative brand of wall-mounted changing stations has a cuddly brown-on-blue logo? [Thank goodness for that cocaine reference or I might have thought GWD was losing their edge.]
6. The 2008 documentary The Business Of Being Born featured a water birth — specifically a healthy baby boy emerging from what former talk show host?
7. This is a spelling question, so unlike most Geek Bowl questions, SPELLING COUNTS! That bald four-year-old Canadian fuck who’s had his own shitty cartoon since 1997: How do they spell his dumb French name? [Again, detecting a subtle non-neutrality here. Also detecting the awesomeness of Jonathan, who pulled out this name and its correct spelling.]
8. Starts with a D: In the Rolling Stones song that gives this round its title, what is the generic name for the “little yellow pill” mentioned in the lyrics? [The lyrics themselves don’t actually cite this D-word, or I might have had a shot at remembering it. We tossed out several candidates, and in the end, Mothra went with Jonathan’s answer. Good call as usual, Mothra.]

[Finally, a round we could feel unequivocally good about! We aced this one, for a total of 36.]

After round 4 but before the scoring break, there was one more question: a tiebreaker. In early Geek Bowls, ties would be broken by asking extra questions on stage to the teams involved, but that kind of left everybody else out of the fun. So recently GWD has taken to asking a complicated question with a numerical answer, and using it for a tiebreaker. This year they made a further improvement by asking that question at the end of Round 4, rather than at the end of Round 8 when everybody’s brains are fried. The question was this:

Take the number of kittens (K) in the children’s book Goodnight Moon, and multiply by the number of dog breeds (D) that compete in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog show. Subtract from that product the number of women (W) currently serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, and multiply the resulting number by the number of Sharknado movies (S) that have been made. Or, in other words:

[(K x D) – W] x S

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After this it was time for a scoring break. Metalachi played, people hit the restrooms or got food, and I went to check in with some geek friends on other teams. Let’s break up this post now with one of the excellent videos GWD made to kill time during scoring breaks. (They didn’t actually show this one until after round 7, accompanied by drag queen Bianqa LeGata and Harmony Chorale singing “My Way”, but I’m spreading the video love here.) Note that the following video has spoilers for: Arrow, Supernatural, True Detective, Inside Out, Hunger Games, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Mad Max: Fury Road, Agents of SHIELD, The Flash, Gotham, Jessica Jones, The Walking Dead, Game Of Thrones, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. You’ve been warned.

After the scores had been tallied, they scrolled through the standings on screen. We were in 55th place.

Round 5: X Gon’ Give It To Ya

It’s Geek Bowl X, so how about a visual round that’s X-themed? Or, I guess, kind of lightly X-themed: iconic images missing a key component, to the tune of DMX’s “X Gon’ Give It to Ya.” Thanks to the Geeks for posting this very fun video:

[This was a relatively easy round, and we got full points, for a new total of 44.]
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Round 6: Continental Fight Club

This round was, by the Geeks’ description, “highfalutin.” Basically, the theme was fancy things and ideas from France and Germany.

1. Headquartered near Dresden, NOMOS and A. Lange & Sohne are well-regarded makers of what luxury accessory? [We really talked this one out. People started throwing out luxury accessories — handbags, watches, jewelry. Don offered that Dresden was an industrial city, so perhaps machinery like watches was more likely than something like handbags. Then George recalled that Dresden is famous for china. While this didn’t precisely fit the bill of an “accessory”, it seemed plausible that the question could be referring to it as such, i.e. a home accessory, and we felt better about it than any of the other answers we’d discussed, so we went with it. Too bad we were wrong.]
2. If your wine tastes like elderberries or your weed smells like lavender, it’s due to what French T-word that describes a crop’s environmental conditions? [Thank you, Jonathan, for knowing yet another thing.]
3. Recorded by both Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin, what song about a stealthy serial slasher is the most famous number from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera?
4. If your horse is doing a piaffe or a pirouette, you’re probably taking part in what specific competition?
5. Not to be confused with the capital of Lebanon, what Bavarian city is home to a very famous festival for the music of Richard Wagner? [Thank you Jonathan.]
6. Named for the color of all the costumes, what term refers to a classical 19th-century ballet style? [Another one we hashed out. We considered ballet blanc, ballet noir, and ballet rouge. Ballet rouge sounded slightly familiar to me and George, though Jonathan rightly inquired whether we were mixing it up with Ballet Russe, the Russian ballet company. Don argued that 19th century culture, with its Victorian love of purity, would be more likey to embrace blanc rather than noir or rouge. Good argument, Don.]
7. The Phenomenology of Spirit is the magnum opus of what 19th-century German philosopher, who revived the ancient Greek concept of dialectics? [Thank you Jonathan. I would have gotten there, but not as fast as you.]
8. Grand Central Terminal and the New York Public Library are examples of what architectural movement, named for a French school that taught exactly what it’s called? [Once again, thank you Jonathan.]

[We got 7 of 8 on this round. Thank you Jonathan. That brought our total to 51.]
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Round 7: Children Of Ten

This was another video round, this time focused on movies. Thank you Geeks for posting the video, because no description of mine could have possibly come close to communicating how much fun this was.

[Once again, we got 7 of 8, bringing our total to 58.]
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At this point, there was another scoring break. Metalachi played for a while, and then once again Bianqa LeGata and Harmony Chorale took the stage, this time to sing “Rocky Mountain High”, accompanying this glorious Colorado tribute video:

At the end of this break, the standings once again scrolled onscreen: we stood in 23rd place.

Round 8: Random Knowledge

Round 8 is always “random knowledge”, i.e. no particular theme, and questions that can span any domain. In the pub quiz, the point values vary from question to question (at first unpredictably, but now in a stable pattern of 1 2 1 3 1 3 1 4), but in Geek Bowl each round 8 question is always worth two points.

1. a) Who created the TV series Scandal? b) How about the TV series Orange Is The New Black?
2. a) What is the easternmost African nation that straddles the equator? b) Though it does so several times, what’s the only Asian country whose land is crossed by the equator?
3. a) In Japan, what is the only profession that still rocks the traditional chonmage haircut? b) What Unilever brand makes the Bed Head line of hair products? [George had a star moment on Bed Head — rocked it when the rest of us were clueless.]
4. a) Bill Simmons was removed in 2015 as chief editor of what ESPN web site that folded soon after? b) What other ex-ESPN guy once got shoved by Jim Everett for basically calling him a woman?
5. Math time! a) Express the base-10 number 69 in hexadecimal. b) Find the product of the following terms: (2x + 7) and (3x – 4).
6. a) Which Grace and Frankie title star married longtime partner Jane Wagner in 2013? b) What eight-letter hashtag trended highest after the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges?
7. a) A maar is a common landform caused by what geological rupture? b) The Smiths’ Johnny Marr more recently did a three-year stint in what Issaquah, Wash. band?
8. The only multi-time winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction are Booth Tarkington and what other two dead white guys? [We debated this one a lot, throwing out a variety of names. In the end, one of our guesses was right but not both.]

[We ended up with 14 correct answers in this round, and boy were we glad we’d saved our joker, giving us 28 points for the round overall. That brought our final Geek Bowl score to 86. I’ll note that our 2nd place score last year was 91, in a quiz with the same number of points available. Must have been a harder quiz this year, since we dropped 5 points and still retained 2nd place!]
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There you have it: the questions of Geek Bowl X! Thanks again to Geeks Who Drink for a fun night, a finely-wrought quiz, and that big, gorgeous check. See you next year in Seattle!

Post-credits stinger: For posterity and those who are interested, here are the rest of the #1 song anagrams:

Clef Rodent
Homeward Snort
Hide In Plots
Eek! Hurry Batman!
Spirited Hook Tilt
Black New Girl
Ephedrine Gin Toll
Madam Coke User
Africa Rolling Us
Rebid Sell Run
A Static Poet Ports
Mama Bye Cell
Mitts Redefine a Mop
Hebrew Toggle Note
Eyes Furl Solo
Whitish Wood Ties
One Puny Vinegar Vogue
A Fleece Photo Stat Hitler
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