M-m-m-my TCONA! [Day 1]

If you tend to read what I write here, you’ll know that this has been quite a trivia year for me. The most recent highlight is that I played in another pub quiz tournament with the Anti-Social Network (renamed The A-OK’s for this event), i.e. the same team that won The Geek Bowl. And we won again! This time the purse was $1000. It is astonishing, weird, and wonderful to be part of such a high-performing group.

The highlight before that, though, was the Trivia Championships Of North America, or TCONA. This event is poorly named, according to me — it sounds like it’s going to be some kind of culmination of a long season of North American trivia contests, when in fact it’s more of a triviapalooza, a big convention of trivia hobbyists who get together to compete in and/or watch a variety of events. The “championships” of anything else is not something that just anybody can buy a ticket to, show up, and participate in the competition, but TCONA was open to anybody who cared to pay the ($100) admission fee and get themselves to Las Vegas, where the event was held.

Economic times are a little tight in my family right now, so I would not have been one of those people, but for two things. First, organizer Paul Bailey reached out to us Anti-Socialites and offered to waive the admission fee if we’d provide some material for the weekend: a 100-question seeding test for the quiz bowl tournament event. Secondly, also because of the Geek Bowl, I had some winnings set aside, to be used for a special occasion. I decided that TCONA was just such an occasion, and booked my ticket. However, I still tried to cut corners, which is how I found myself getting up at 3:30am on July 8th, preparing for a 6am flight to Las Vegas.

I got myself on the plane without incident (unlike my last airplane adventure), and by 9am I was in Vegas. (This delay brought to me by a layover in Phoenix, another cost-cutting measure.) I’d never actually been to Vegas before. It is a strange, funny place. One of the first things I noticed is that it is totally the land of women-as-things. I mean, every place in America is at least a little bit like that, but Vegas is really like that, in little things like magazines and bus advertisements, and in big things like enormous billboards. Or this — pretty much the first sight that greeted me when I walked into my hotel, the MGM Grand, was an enormous bank of screens, all projecting one massive image: a long line of women, framed against a black background. Then, the women turned around, and revealed the backs of their outfits, completely black from head to toe, blending into the background, all except for their asses, which were left perfectly bare. Picture it — as I walked in the door, my greeting committee consisted of an extensive queue of disembodied asses, hanging in the air and twitching tartly back and forth, with military precision.

Anyway. The hotel staff was very nice about letting me check into a room early so I could get a nap before the trivia festivities began that afternoon, and they also gave me an extra key for my awesome sister Jenny, who was flying out from L.A. later that night to join me for Vegas partying. I headed up to the room for a much-needed nap, and afterwards explored the hotel, so that I could figure out the lay of the land. Trrish gave me some excellent advice about Vegas, which is that everything is much further away than it looks like it’s going to be. That is so, so true of the MGM Grand. I swear I did about 45 minutes of walking each day, just within the hotel! It’s like a huge hotel combined with a huge casino, a huge mall, a huge conference complex, and another huge hotel. Finally, I scoped out where the events would be held, though it was all barricaded because nobody was ready yet. After I snagged some lunch, I returned and got my nametag, program, and cute little swag bag.

Prior to the TCONA kickoff, my Colorado trivia colleague Bill Schantz hosted some mock-Jeopardy games in his room. Bill wrote a cracking J-simulator, and I went on a long Jeopardy-question-writing jag last year, so I was one of people who provided material for this unofficial event. Thus, around 3:30 on that day (more like 3:45 once I’d figured out I was at the wrong room and took the 10-minute hike to the right one) I got to do a very enjoyable trivia warmup, both as a reader and as a player. My “The Onion Rates The 2010 NFL” category was a hit. (Sample question: “After giving up 50 sacks in 2009,” this team‘s “offensive line appears to have forgiven Aaron Rodgers for whatever he did.”)

I did do a little gambling. I’m not a fan of slots — they feel more like just rolling a die than actually playing a game. And I don’t have nearly the skill, interest, or bankroll required to play table games. But I do enjoy video poker, and I’ve had a little practice at it too — Colorado has a few mountain towns in which gambling is legal, and I’ve been there enough times to learn the basic video poker ropes. My mom had given me some casino mad money — thanks Mom! — and I sat down at a poker machine and spent a very enjoyable 90 minutes turning $5 into $50! That was as lucky as I was ever going to get that weekend — turns out I’m much better at turning $10 or $20 into $0, though I have a reasonably good time on the way there.

Finally I sauntered down to the main event room — basically a big conference room with tables and chairs set out — around 5:30. Lots of trivia compadres were there, and it was fun to catch up with them. At 6pm, the first event began: a solo “kickoff quiz.” This was a pen-and-paper test, one of my least favorite trivia formats, at least when I’m not by myself. Also, I found it ridiculously hard. The gimmick was that all the answers consisted of a two-letter abbreviation for a US state, US territory, or Canadian province. Given the “North American” theme of TCONA, this made some sense, though obviously Mexico and Central America were conspicuous by their absence. Mr. Bailey explained that this was because nobody from those countries was attending this time, though he’d love to recruit anybody who’s interested. You can see the quiz here. (It is a bit annoying to read because it is “intentionally presented as an image, and with disruptive background to deter OCR,” per Mr. Bailey. I’m not sure why the copyright anxiety, but whatever.) Answer key is here.

After the kickoff quiz was an event called “Smarty Pants,” hosted by Paul Paquet. The deal with this game is that it sets up two opposing teams of four players each. Three members of each team are famous game show winners or trivia “celebrities” in some way. Players in this edition included Ken Jennings, Ed Toutant, Kevin Olmstead, and Bob Harris. All the “civilians” in the room got handed a card with a number on it, and then Paul picked random numbers for people to come and play on the all-star teams. I wasn’t one of those picked, but I had fun watching, and found the questions pretty interesting and clever.

The next event was a “pub quiz mash-up.” Representatives from four different pub quiz companies — Geeks Who Drink, King Trivia, TriviaNYC, and the aforementioned Paquet — brought a couple rounds of trivia each, and took turns quizzing a roomful of teams, 11 in all, with one extra made up of the quizmasters. Moreover, the teams themselves were randomly selected, with an eye toward geographical distribution. Each was captained by some kind of trivia celeb, so as to ensure that no one team marshaled an unreasonable amount of firepower, and they were constructed to ensure that each would have someone from outside the USA, someone from the west coast, someone from Colorado, etc.

The selection process for these teams was painful — rather than having the teams assigned beforehand, they were constructed on the fly, which meant about 45 minutes of tedious “Okay, please come to the front if you came here from California. Hm, only 8. Okay, California, Oregon, or Washington, please come to the front. Can everybody hear me?”, etc. However, once the teams were settled and the questions began, this was one of the most fun events of the weekend. I was on a team captained by Jerome Vered, called “Veredable Smorgasbord.”

Everybody on the team was extremely nice, and nobody was overly uptight about scores and answers, which was great, since nothing kills a good time at trivia like the guy who takes the whole thing too seriously and gets emotional about things going wrong. The questions were a lot of fun too. One group just did category questions, like “There are 11 NFL teams whose helmet graphics include some kind of writing or lettering. Name 10 of them.”, and “There are 10 people who are in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame both as a solo artist and as a member of a group. Name them.”

My favorite round was presented by Geeks Who Drink, an audio “before and after” round in which two different songs were played blending into each other, and the answer was a blend of the two titles, hinging on the common word. Examples: Tori Amos & The Beatles “Precious Things We Said Today”; Guns ‘n’ Roses & John Mellencamp “November Rain On The Scarecrow”; and Wu-Tang Clan and M.I.A. “C.R.E.A.M.I.A.” Probably this was my favorite round because Adam Villani and I teamed up to kick ass on it, and brought our team back from the doldrums to a solid middle-of-the-pack showing.

Somewhere around the middle of the pub quiz, Jenny (my sister) showed up, and watched from a back table. After it was over, she and I headed out to explore the strangeness of Vegas. We ate a little, gambled a little, and walked a lot. She was looking specifically for a slot game she loves called Invaders From The Planet Moolah, which has a fun cascading reel effect, a bit like Bejeweled. We finally found it at Excalibur, but occupied, so we stalked the person playing until she left. By which I mean, we casually hung around playing neighboring machines, until finally she split, and we pounced on the moolah!

In true Vegas fashion, we suddenly realized it was like 3:00 in the morning, and headed back to go to sleep. Thus ended Day 1 of the Vegas trivia adventure. More to come, but for now, the answers to some lingering questions.

NFL Teams with lettering/writing on their helmets

  1. Baltimore Ravens (a raven’s head with a “B” inscribed)
  2. Chicago Bears (The letter “C”)
  3. Green Bay Packers (A big “G”)
  4. Kansas City Chiefs (A “KC” inside an arrowhead)
  5. Miami Dolphins (The jumping dolphin is wearing a little helmet with the letter “M” on it)
  6. New York Giants (A stylized “NY”)
  7. New York Jets (The word “Jets” with an outline of “NY” in the background)
  8. Oakland Raiders (The word “Raiders” at the top of the shield icon)
  9. Pittsburgh Steelers (The word “Steelers” by the logo)
  10. San Francisco 49ers (The letters “SF”)
  11. Tennessee Titans (A comet bearing a “T”)

People in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame both as a solo artist and as a member of a group

  1. Jeff Beck [The Yardbirds]
  2. Eric Clapton [The Yardbirds and Cream]
  3. George Harrison [The Beatles]
  4. Michael Jackson [The Jackson 5]
  5. John Lennon [The Beatles]
  6. Curtis Mayfield [The Impressions]
  7. Paul McCartney [The Beatles]
  8. Clyde McPhatter [The Drifters]
  9. Paul Simon [Simon & Garfunkel]
  10. Neil Young [Buffalo Springfield]

Good Questions, part 3

I had another great trivia day last Saturday, this time a “Clubhouse Bowl” — just like a Basement Bowl, except held in a guy’s apartment clubhouse rather than a basement. There were trivia bowl-style games along with a bunch of Jeopardy! games run on a magic Jeopardy! simulator created by one of the gang. There was even “Trivia Battleship” — a wild cross of quiz-bowl questions with the classic strategy game. Correctly answered toss-ups would earn one shot against the other team, while bonuses could earn up to four more shots. Very fun.

Predictably, the whole thing primed me to whip up another episode in this series. Since I am apparently an endless font of opinions about good practices for trivia question-writing, let’s get started:

CROSS THE STREAMS

If you’re a Ghostbuster, crossing the streams is a bad thing. If you’re a trivia question writer, crossing the streams, by which I mean mixing the broad categories to find interesting hybrids, can be a very good thing indeed. There are plenty of sports questions, and plenty of movie questions, but how about sports movie questions? How about athletes who played bit parts in movies? How about movie-related nicknames given by Chris Berman to various athletes? The intersections between trivia categories can be fertile ground for some appealing questions, and can allow people who are normally weak in a category to kick ass in unexpected ways.

A great example of this came up at the recent Clubhouse Bowl. Dave Gatch handed out a sheet of movie stills, and asked us to tell him what song was playing during that point in the movie. Sound tough? Take a look at these examples (not the ones he used) and see if you can’t do exactly that:

1.

2.

3.

4.

Combining two categories (in this case movies and music) opens up new avenues of fun, activates players’ brains in new ways, and gives your game a feeling of greater unity.

STRETCH

I am no good at sports questions. Whenever I hear a sports toss-up begin, my hand relaxes on the buzzer, and I know there is very little chance that I will have anything to contribute. I start looking over at our team’s sports guy (yeah, it’s nearly always a guy) with hope and gratitude. I know the basics, but I just do not follow sports enough to know much beyond that.

Nevertheless, I include sports questions in all my regular (i.e. non-specialized) trivia games. Why? Writing sports questions helps improve me, both as a writer and as a player. Writing questions that are outside my comfort zone forces me to research things I don’t already know, some of which I may even remember later on down the line. This research also turns up unexpected gems of information which are quirky enough both to make a great question and to make the piece of information it concerns memorable enough to stick with me. Like, for example, did you know that Guy LaFleur, all-time leading scorer for the Montreal Canadiens (hockey team), recorded a disco album?

Incidentally, I do the same thing on Sporcle, a great site for trivia quizzes. I like to take Sporcle quizzes in areas where I’m strong, like music, movies, and literature. But I also like to take them in my weaker areas, like geography, history, and sports. Generally, I like to take a new random quiz, and then retake an old quiz. I pick which one to retake by sorting the list of quizzes I’ve taken, and identifying the one with the lowest percentage of right answers. Consequently, I’ve taken the NHL all-time team leaders quiz about 10 times so far, and my best score is 26 out of 120. That’s a huge improvement on my first score, though, which was 8 out of 120. And now I can tell you about a bunch of hockey players I’d never heard of before I started in on that quiz. (Which is how I learned the weird fact above.)

Another way to stretch is to try broadening your knowledge of areas in which you’re already strong. For instance, I love movies, and I know some Oscar trivia, but there is so much more for me to learn, and the Academy Awards are a very common trivia topic. So I write Oscar questions in areas I don’t know well, both to challenge players and to make me a better player and writer. (Just as an aside, if you want to improve as a trivia player, be on the lookout for creative ways to strengthen your knowledge. For instance, Windows 7 has a feature which lets you rotate through a set of images for desktop wallpaper, changing automatically at an interval you select. So I went out and snagged an image of every Best Picture winner, dropped them all into a folder, and have the wallpaper machine circulating among them. Now when I use my computer, I also get a little help remembering which movies have won the Best Picture Oscar.)

SPREAD THE LOVE

Something that makes trivia games great fun is their ability to point you to wonderful corners of culture that you never knew existed. I’ve been introduced to lots of great movies, music, TV, and other stuff via trivia, and I try to do the same for others. It’s great fun to write questions on topics you feel passionate about. At the same time, at least for me, that’s too narrow a field. I’m a white guy who grew up in the 80’s, and I have an endless well of questions I could write about cultural artifacts I got attached to in my time. But while I want my games to be fun for me, I also want them to be fun for people other than me. Consequently, I try to include questions about areas of culture that don’t mean as much to me, sometimes even things I actively dislike. As I sometimes point out, inclusion does not imply endorsement. I suppose this might seem like a restatement of the “stretch” point, but there’s a slightly different intention behind it. I try to spread the love among all different kinds of knowledge not just to make myself a better player, but to remember to include a diverse variety of topics so that my games are fun for a wide variety of people.

Okay, that’s all for now. How about those movie songs?

1. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen plays during that scene from Wayne’s World.

2. The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” is the music behind that scene from Ghost.

3. Any boy who grew up in the 80s (see, I told you that was my wheelhouse) is likely to remember The Cars’ “Moving In Stereo” as the soundtrack to Judge Reinhold’s fantasy sequence about Phoebe Cates in Fast Times At Ridgemont High.

4. Before Tom Cruise was famous for being crazy, he was famous for dancing around to Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll” in Risky Business.

Good Questions, part 2

As promised/threatened, here’s another installment of “Paul’s Random Thoughts About Trivia Questions.” Carrying on with question-writing principles:

BE MORE FUNNY!

In my last post, I spent some time harping on the fact that trivia games are supposed to be fun. Your job as trivia question writer is to provide an enjoyable experience to your players, and humor is a crucial tool for that job. On its most basic level, it can liven up a somewhat bland question, like this bonus from the 2005 TRASH regionals:

Given clues, name the subjects of the following celebrity biographies, all of whom share a favorite hobby, for ten points each.
1. A Paper Life details her adventures with her allegedly abusive actor father, with ex-husband John McEnroe and with heroin.
2. Don’t Try This At Home, his chronicle of the year he decided to turn his house into a crack den, details his struggles with bandmates, his record label and heroin.
3. Scar Tissue recounts his life from toddlerhood and his drug dealer dad’s felonius additions to his mashed bananas, through forming a band with best friend Hillel Slovak, to his long standing affairs with Ione Skye, Sinead O’Connor and sweet, sweet heroin.

This question boils down to, “Name the celebrities based on the titles of their autobiographies and maybe some clues about their connections to other famous people,” which is just fine, but when you tie them together by their heroin addictions, dryly understate that as “all of whom share a favorite hobby”, and hurl a fastball zinger punchline at the end like “long-standing affairs with Ione Skye, Sinead O’Connor, and sweet, sweet heroin,” a run-of-the-mill question turns into one of the best ones in the game. (Though in my opinion the second part needs another clue or two.)

The other thing that the humor in that question does is to tone down a fairly dour topic. There’s a bit in the crosswords documentary Wordplay in which puzzle creator Merl Reagle explains that there are some words that you don’t see in crossword puzzles, even though they might be very useful cruciform words, just because their content is too distasteful. He calls this “the Sunday morning breakfast test”: “They’ve waited all week for this. They’re sitting there relaxing…and here comes RECTAL? I don’t think so.” Trivia games allow a wider latitude, especially when written for an informal event like a Basement Bowl, but still, you don’t want to offend, disgust, or annoy your audience. So when you find that question that you just have to write but whose subject matter is a little questionable, a little humor smooths the way.

Something about being in a Billy Wilder movie frequently makes people want to kill themselves. Fortunately, they rarely succeed. I’ll give you an actor and a suicide method, you tell me the Billy Wilder-directed movie, for five points each, 40 points for all 7:
1. Audrey Hepburn, carbon monoxide poisoning
2. Shirley MacLaine, an overdose of sleeping pills
3. Gloria Swanson, slashed wrists
4. Ray Milland, handgun
5. Marthe Keller, jumping in front of a train
6. Carol Burnette, jumping off a building
7. Jack Lemmon, hanging

That’s a question I wrote for the Basement Bowl a couple of years ago. I’d just come off a Wilder-watching jag and was amazed at the number of suicide attempts in his movies. It was great trivia fodder, except that quizzing about suicide after suicide is kind of heavy. Thus, I lead with a joke to lighten it up.

Perhaps the best reason to joke liberally is to relieve the tension that can sometimes build in trivia competitions. Relaxed players not only have more fun, I think they play better too.

CUDGEL THY BRAINS

Trivia games can and should be more than memory and speed tests. Yes, of course, those two skills (in varying proportions, depending on the format) constitute the backbone of a trivia game, but crucial to the art is creating opportunities to connect recall with thought. One of my favorite recent examples of this was invented (as far as I know) by Bill Schantz:

I’ll give you the year and the first letter of each word in its title, you name the 80’s pop song, for 10 points each:
1. (1983) E.B.Y.T.
2. (1983) O.T.L.T.A.
3. (1984) W.M.U.B.Y.G.G.
4. (1984) O.N.I.B.

You may have awesome recall of 80’s songs, but that by itself won’t get you very far with this question. Instead, you have to use part of your brain to generate plausible strings of words based on a breadcrumb trail of letters, while another part of your brain tries to connect those words to song titles that you know from that era. Even better is when you hear the letters, feel a moment of instantaneous synthesis, and just know what the answer is. Hitting this answer is even more satisfying than the average trivia pull, because of the additional solving effort necessary. Of course, in any kind of timed competition, it’s imperative to balance the time constraints (and attendant pressure) against puzzle elements in your questions. If they require too much thought, they’ll bog the game down.

Puzzle questions like this make regular appearances on Jeopardy!, and that show’s writers are particularly good at coming up with clever new ways to keep contestants on their toes. Generally the twist is in the nature of the category. Some recent examples, courtesy of the J! Archive:

Category: FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Clue: Riesling, Syrah
[A fairly gentle example, in which the puzzle is to figure out how the category is working. The first clue in any Jeopardy! game is usually easier than its successors, but in a category like this, there’s generally a pointedly clear indicator in that first clue.]

Category: ALPHABET HOMOPHONES
Clue: In Romania they say “da”, in Japan, “hai”, & in Panama, this
[Here’s the flip side — a clue that can be answered on its own, but the category narrows down the set of possible answers. Jeopardy! does this all the time with its “quotation mark” categories, in which some piece of the category is in quotes, meaning that correct answers must start with or contain the quoted string of letters. A clueful category like this, though, is much more fun to discover.]

Category: GOD SPELL
Clue: Vulcan is the Roman equivalent of this Greek fire god (10 letters)
[There’s no puzzle element to this one — Alex makes clear at the beginning that contestants will have to spell their answers. It’s notable, though, because it exercises a different sort of recall than the average trivia question.]

Category: ALPHABETICALLY LAST
Clue: Of presidential surnames
[This is an example of a question in which contestants must recall a set of data and then do some kind of processing on it. And because of the high-pressure nature of Jeopardy!, they must do it very quickly, leading to the sort of intuitive pulls that supply the pleasure of answering this style of question.]

Category: OF ORDER
Clue: U.S. cities, from west to east: Newport News, Milwaukee, New Orleans
[In this one, they provide the set of data, but the answer is still the result of some processing on the part of the contestant.]

This could go on and on, and does, but I trust the point is made. Finding new angles from which to challenge the player is a great way to increase the fun of the game.

SENSES WORKING OVERTIME

Another surefire way to make your game more fun is to write questions that step outside the typical text format and engage some of your players’ senses. This is one of my favorite things to do, and consequently my Basement Bowl games have been littered with visual clues:

Logo design is an art, and sometimes it takes a few tries to get it right. Given the defunct logo, tell me the NFL team it represents for five points each.
4 different old-time logos for NFL teams

I find images via Google Image Search, copy and paste them into a Word document, resize as necessary, then print out a couple of copies on the color printer. I hand these out to players before I read the clue. A couple of things I’ve learned: make two copies (since in the Basement Bowl missed bonus answers can transfer over to the other team), and make the pictures large enough that they can be seen in a dimly lit basement.

Then there’s the audio. I’m a huge fan of the audio. For instance, I’ve written a couple of all-audio games of one-hit wonders, another one of mellow gold tunes, and another couple of all female artists. Thanks to the wonders of digital audio and the fabulous Audacity, it’s extremely easy to create mp3 song clips and burn them onto a CD. I bring my nifty mini-boombox to the basement, and play the game as all tossups, no teams. Each person has a buzzer, and they score points by buzzing in first to correctly identify a song, generally both the title and artist.

Sometimes I’ll even go a little more complicated. For instance, with my female artists game, I recognized that for a number of the clips, someone might be able to identify the artist even if they couldn’t name the song. So the rules were that if you buzzed in before the clip ended, you had to identify both the title and artist. Correct answers scored two points, with a bonus point for naming the singer in the case of groups (e.g. if I played The Pretenders you could get a bonus point for naming Chrissie Hynde.) If you buzzed in after the song was over, you could name the artist for one point.

One thing I learned for my second round of this type of game was to end the clip with a distinctive sound, like a ding. The first time, nobody was sure when the clip would be over, so there was some hesitation from people who didn’t want to get penalized for buzzing too early.

I’ve done audio toss-ups in regular games too, and not just music. There’s plenty of great fodder in movie clips, comedians, interviews, and miscellaneous distinctive sounds, such as the sound of Pac-Man dying. And there is further sensory fun to be had. I once wrote a bonus in which I handed out soda-pop flavored Jelly Bellies, and had players identify the soda from each one. I’ve had players get up and dance the Batusi. Another quizmaster had people do 4 different dances from A Charlie Brown Christmas, which I thought was brilliant.

The point is that you can add a lot of variety and excitement to your game by creatively extending your questions into nonverbal (or more-than-verbal) realms. Not only that, these kinds of questions can bring out hidden strengths in your players, allowing them to have more fun by kicking ass in new ways.

That’s enough for tonight. More installments to come. But never fear, I would never sign off without providing the long-awaited answers:

Sweet, sweet heroin:
1. A Paper Life: Tatum O’Neal
2. Don’t Try This At Home: Dave Navarro
3. Scar Tissue: Anthony Kiedis

Wilder suicides:
1. Audrey Hepburn, carbon monoxide poisoning: Sabrina
2. Shirley MacLaine, an overdose of sleeping pills: The Apartment
3. Gloria Swanson, slashed wrists: Sunset Boulevard
4. Ray Milland, handgun: The Lost Weekend
5. Marthe Keller, jumping in front of a train: Fedora
6. Carol Burnette, jumping off a building: The Front Page
7. Jack Lemmon, hanging: Buddy Buddy

80’s initial songs:
1. (1983) E.B.Y.T.: Every Breath You Take by The Police
2. (1983) O.T.L.T.A.: One Thing Leads To Another by The Fixx
3. (1984) W.M.U.B.Y.G.G. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham!
4. (1984) O.N.I.B. One Night In Bangkok by Murray Head

Jeopardy!:
Category: FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Clue: Riesling, Syrah
Question: What are grapes?

Category: ALPHABET HOMOPHONES
Clue: In Romania they say “da”, in Japan, “hai”, & in Panama, this
Question: What is “si”? (Homophone with “C”)

Category: GOD SPELL
Clue: Vulcan is the Roman equivalent of this Greek fire god (10 letters)
Question: What is H-E-P-H-A-E-S-T-U-S?

Category: ALPHABETICALLY LAST
Clue: Of presidential surnames
Question: What is Wilson

Category: OF ORDER
Clue: U.S. cities, from west to east: Newport News, Milwaukee, New Orleans
Question: What is New Orleans, Milwaukee, Newport News?

Olde-tyme NFL logos:
1. New York Giants
2. Buffalo Bills
3. Denver Broncos
4. Washington Redskins

Oh, and finally: Each heading in this edition is a cultural reference.
“Be more funny!” is a classic Simpsons gag.
“Cudgel thy brains” is from Hamlet by Wiliam Shakespeare
“Senses Working Overtime” is a song by XTC.

Giving 110%

This is something I sent out at work, and it got a good enough reception that I decided to post it here as well. We’re in the midst of a massive project at CU, replacing the student system and a bunch of peripheral systems with Oracle PeopleSoft products. There is a lot of pressure, a lot of intensity… and a lot of status reporting. Some of that, especially as it travels up the chain, takes on a glossy, nonspecific quality. In talking about it with Laura, we were reminded of another place where that kind of status reporting happens…


My ESPN-loving spouse started this train rolling, and it became unstoppable. Now I just have to write it all down. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:

Project Status Report, consisting entirely of clichés from sports interviews. (With substitutions, where appropriate.)

  • It is what it is.
  • There were factors beyond my control.
  • We came to code, but I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a tough match so far.
  • This time around, the software problems just wanted it more.
  • But I’m just gonna settle down, focus on doing my best. I can only control myself, you know what I mean? I’m gonna step up, and from this point forward, I’m just gonna focus on my game. I mean, work. That’s what matters, sticking with my guys, doing my work. I’m gonna do everything I can to get this project to the Superbowl. I mean, completion.
  • I’m a team player. It’s not about me, it’s about the whole team. We have to pull together.
  • It’s been tough out there, but we’ll get our game back. It’s still early in the project. We’ve got a lot of go-lives after this one, and we’re just gonna take it one go-live at a time. We’ve still got a long timeline ahead of us. We’re not circling any go-live on the calendar. Every go-live is important.
  • Replacing student systems is a professional business, you’ve gotta understand that. Stuff that happens out there, it’s not personal.
  • It’s easy to see the things that went wrong in this go-live, but there were things that went right. Anyway, this go-live is not over. We’re gonna get back out there and give it our best, stay focused, and take it to the next level.
  • We’re gonna get back into the office next week, practice the things we need to practice, take another look at the PeopleBooks, and keep working hard.
  • I’m only thinking about the next go-live on the schedule. It’s not about momentum — the project happens one go-live at a time.
  • I’m just glad to be here. I want to help the project any way I can.