Pub Quiz Review: Murphy’s Alexandria, VA

Location: Murphy’s Pub on King Street, Old Town Alexandria, Virginia

Regular Time: 8:15 on Tuesdays

Date: 1/28/2020

This was not a new trivia night for me, far from it. I’ve been to Murphy’s about fifty times. It’s the first trivia night I ever went to in the DC area. At one point, my friends and I had a weekly routine of going to Murphy’s every Tuesday night. That was at a very different time in my life. I was recently out of law school. My wife was in residency and I was looking for a job while we lived in my mother’s basement. We only had one child then. So, I know Murphy’s has been doing trivia night for at least ten years. Come to think of it, I was at Murphy’s pub quiz the first time I used a smart phone to look up a baseball score, which seemed like magic. So, what would that have been, 2006? I was looking up the Orioles score so it might have been earlier. In the world of pub quiz, surviving that long is a rarity. These things pop up and wink out like particles in quantum foam.

We had a regular trivia team back then, five of us who showed up every week. Two were a couple who had just started dating. They’re married with a kid, living in Germany now. Number three had a nervous breakdown and left his cushy job to focus on a career playing those weird giant bells that you have to wear Mickey Mouse gloves to ring. Who am I to judge? So, when I decided to make a return to Murphy’s there was only one of the old crew left. I called him up and he was as excited to go back as I was. There were only two of us, but we weren’t in it to win.

I drove down and parked like I was defusing an IED. Each Alexandria signpost has at least four different signs, each of which seems to directly contradict the others. They make the complicated parking in DC seem like an Idiot’s Guide in comparison. I went to law school, practiced law for ten years, and still can’t decipher when and where I can park in Old Town. And do they enforce? Yes, I’ve gotten hefty tickets in the neighborhood before. It’s not Murphy’s fault, but watch out if you decide to go.

King Street is beautiful in winter, decked out in long strings of white lights, and not just for Christmas. The row houses and brick sidewalks are perfectly designed for the season. Actually, the Christmas carol O Little Town of Bethlehem was written when the author was inspired by Alexandria in the snow. I once worked in the neighborhood. My mother went to nursing school right down the street. Old Town has always been part of my life. It’s easily my favorite part of Northern Virginia. On a sad note, I noticed that Misha’s, the best coffeeshop in Old Town had gone out of business since I moved.

But nothing had changed at Murphy’s. Trivia is at the same time. It’s still held upstairs in the less popular overflow bar. It’s even the same DJ running the game who was there all those years ago. People always flock to the downstairs, traditional Irish bar, and the steady boom of a bodhram gave a little accompaniment to the night. It’s a fun bar, but upstairs you get a bit more space and quiet for conversation. That’s my scene. A few tips might be in order. Sit near the fire, it’s cold upstairs in winter. Also, if you order a burger (half price during trivia), do not get the actual “Murphy Burger”. It has mozzarella cheese (not necessarily a deal breaker) and a slab of ham. Someone needs to tell Murphy’s that a hamburger does not contain any ham because that slice of lunch meat has no business on a red-blooded American’s burger. Also, avoid the potatoes and ask for normal fries. The potatoes are almost as gross as the slab of ham. But the real thing to watch out for at Murphy’s is the men’s room. If you are male, do not go in last. The rightmost urinal is right next to the door in a very awkward position. If you are female, make sure to avert your gaze as you walk by. The ergonomics are a nightmare.

But enough advice, how did trivia go? Well, we struggled over our team name as usual. We considered something to do with the coronavirus, then decided against it. Of course, when the game began we learned that yet another team had called itself coronavirus and lime, making it the third time I have heard that team name in the last two weeks. We had the good taste to reject any Kobe Bryant-related names out of hand. That seems obvious you say? Who would have the gall to choose one? Well, hang on a minute, there’s one born every minute. We were stymied for a name, and finally went with The Attractive Nuisances. Yes, the name of my blog comes from our most frequent trivia team name.

I’ve complained about volume before in trivia nights, but Murphy’s nailed it with a loud PA, and frankly we were sitting too close. When the DJ spoke, we had to just shut up, but that was a small price to pay for clearly hearing all the questions. (I just realized how incredibly old that makes me sound.) The questions themselves are perfect. They don’t have any particularly specialized rounds, and most of the information is just general knowledge. The idea of themed rounds sounds much better than it is in reality. Give me a random selection anytime.

We played well through the first three rounds (out of a total of 7), and surprised ourselves by remaining in the running at least that far. Then we were suddenly a team of three when a woman plopped herself down and joined our team. Apparently, the team she had started with didn’t like her suggested name “Helicopter Justice”. Yeah…

I didn’t want to get into it, so I smiled and nodded politely when she talked about how much she hated Kobe Bryant because she was a rape counselor. I didn’t mention all the other people on the helicopter, including several children, and I certainly didn’t want to get into a discussion of Kobe’s guilt. The fact is, I think most people saw that for what it was. He’s a dick for cheating on his wife, but the woman who accused him is a gold digger who saw her opportunity and took it. He’s not a rapist.

It wasn’t the best introduction to the team for our new friend, whose name I have already forgotten. She went to Vanderbilt law school… Let’s call her Sara, that sounds about right. Immediately after impressing herself into the Nuisances though, she got a question right about Meryl Streep and the movie First Do No Harm which even in hindsight I have never heard of. So, all was forgiven. We needed the points. We had a team dispute about a question about a muscle that moves a limb inward toward the body. Apparently, that is an adductor. I thought we were saying abductor and I wrote that, then blurred the third letter in case there was a close call on the answer. The proctor called us over and made us choose one or the other. I have to say, he may look like he has read about smiles in books rather than having ever seen one, but that was a good catch. We chose… poorly, and got it wrong. “Sara” lost us a point later by being overconfident that a picture of Kim Novak was Lena Horne, but honestly, I would have never gotten that, so I’ll look the other way. I won’t ding her trivia team WAR for that one. My shining moment was when we were asked what Ron Blomberg did first in a major league game on April 6, 1973. We deliberated for a long time, considering answer like die, pinch hit, or wear a batting helmet until I realized he must have been the first designated hitter. Boom.

Amazingly, when all was said and done, we had calculated a score of 74 points, which seemed high, but not high enough to win. As the DJ announced the final scores, we thought they started too high, and began giving our concession speeches to one another. Then, by two points, we were announced as the winners. Here is the best thing about Murphy’s trivia night, and I hesitate to even tell anyone this. You aren’t playing for a bar tab, and you aren’t playing for just pride of places. At Murphy’s you actually get amazing prizes. (I really shouldn’t be telling you this). For years, my favorite prize they had was a row of tickets to the Orioles right behind the home dugout. I won them a few times and they are the best seats I’ve ever had at a baseball game, much less at Camden Yards. We were close enough that one time when Danny Valencia was checking out a girl in the stands, I yelled “Hey Danny, want me to get her number for you?” and he made a goofy affirmative shrug in response.

Tonight’s prize was arguably better. We got two tickets, center ice, to the Caps. This is no 2013 85-win Oriole team. This is the 2018 Stanley Cup winning Washington Capitals. Alex Ovechkin just scored his 694th goal to pass Mark Messier in all time goals. This is the first-place team in the Metropolitan Division playing the second place Penguins. The face value of the tickets was more than two hundred dollars each. That’s a real prize. Our walk on player even let us keep the two tickets to ourselves. So, she’s a hero in my book.

The awesome prizes and the genuinely good chance of winning make Murphy’s my favorite trivia night. A+ all around as usual.

Postscript: We went to the Caps game early on Super Bowl Sunday. They lost a great game 4-3 and we had to watch Penguins fans chanting on the steps of the portrait gallery after the game. Open question- why do some city’s fans behave like that? Can someone enlighten me?

Traveling to the Narcissistic Island Universe of Youth: Part II

As my writing improves in the narrative, a sense of the time period begins to come out of the dry facts. There are a few references to music that have the reek of ancient history. I made my modern self laugh out loud at a description of singing a parody of Sir Mix-A-Lot that went “I like big dogs and I cannot lie” and ended with the line “Lhasa Apso? Maybe if it’s dead”. One of my friends gets revenge on me by “taking back his Psychedelic Furs CD out of spite”. Even the mention of a CD is fossil. Streetfighter 2 probably gets more lines than my mother. I talk constantly about going to Blockbuster’s and watching MTV, both things that lingered on for a few more years and died around the turn of the millennium. It is only through reading my old journal that I can get a proper sense of how important those institutions were to us in 1992. The idea that they would die along with malls would have been difficult to comprehend. Anyone who lived in Northern Virginia in the nineties will remember the Multiplex Cinema in Merrifield. It was the most modern, most elaborate theater in the area. Today it has been bulldozed to make way for the Mosaic Shopping District, an entity I couldn’t have possibly imagined. When I went to Caboose Brewery a few weeks ago, I saw that they had salvaged some numbers from the old Multiplex marquis to make their address. A dominant cultural force of my youth has officially become archaeology. That’s sobering.

This writing is almost thirty years old so there is a bit of problematic language. I use the word “oriental” to refer to someone Asian at one point, but okay, that just wasn’t the rule then. As soon as someone pointed that one out to me, I made the change. I would have thought it was earlier in my life, but the historical record says otherwise. Much less defensibly, I use the F-word one time, and I don’t mean “Fuck”. I wasn’t calling anyone gay that word, I would never have done that, but well into the nineties that was just something people said. We didn’t examine the inherent homophobia of calling a friend that word when we didn’t approve of a friend’s behavior. Nor did we examine why we said something was “gay” when we thought it was lame. It wasn’t until college, when I first started having gay friends, that I realized what an asshole that kind of language made me.

                Some of the picture I unwittingly managed to draw is mirrored in the movie Donnie Darko. It may not be clear from the California footage, but the movie is set in Fairfax, Virginia, the town I grew up in. A few stray shots convey this if you are watching. Donnie wakes up on the golf course near Fairfax High School, there are Virginia plates, and when his father watches football, he watches Doug Williams and the Redskins. The funny way that memory works led me, when reading about watching the Redskins with my father, to picture the Darkos’ living room rather than my own.

                And memory really does work strangely. A painful episode where my mother forced me to go on a blind date with one of her friend’s younger cousin was burned into my memory as being in eighth grade, but there it was in my sophomore year of high school. Other events weren’t just warped, but completely deleted by my memory. One of the things I saw fit to memorialize was just what movies we were watching after those trips to Blockbuster. A few of them (Pure Luck, Permanent Record) left no impression whatsoever. I didn’t recognize the names as movies that exist, and furthermore, when I looked the movies up, even reading a full synopsis didn’t ring a bell. How is that possible? It calls to mind the fact that millions of people remember a Sinbad movie with a genie and swear that Berenstain is spelled with three e’s. Part of it must be the sheer fact of being inundated with TV and movies. It’s shocking how much down time I seem to have had, but I suppose a teenager who was a terrible student really did have a lot of time on his hands. I can’t believe how much school I missed. There isn’t a week that goes by where I’m not talking about staying home “sick”. It was so stupid, but until I met a girl who set me straight in eleventh grade, I would not only miss fifty school days a year but wouldn’t even do my homework when I was there. It’s infuriating to read. I really do think my life would have been completely different if they hadn’t insisted on starting school at 7:00am. To this day I ask myself what the hell they were trying to train me for, the army? No one’s job starts at 7:00. Still, I wish I had toughed it out a bit more.

                On a sadder note, it’s hard to read about the people who are gone: my grandfather, my stepdad, some of the friends I had in high school. It hurt to read my complaints about shopping on Christmas Eve with my stepfather. Yes, it was a drag, I remember that, but what I wouldn’t give to do it again just once. It reminds me of how I always felt when my kids were babies and I was having a hard time of it. I would ask myself how much I would pay twenty years from now to spend an afternoon with my kids as infants. The answer is a huge amount, but it never made it any easier to endure the actual moment. Life is tricky like that. You never enjoy the torture of being with the people love as much as you should. Then they’re gone.

                I couldn’t help but imagine my 1992 journal having a postscript like American Graffiti or some other nostalgic teen movie. This character ended up going to law school, that one died of a drug overdose, this one became a nudist in a gay republican commune in Vermont (true story). I know most of the stories of the characters who were in my life in the early nineties. The sad seems to dominate. Drugs ruined a few lives, laziness a few others. I can’t help but construct a postmortem on each friendship. Some friendships died from catastrophic fractures- a loose, stupid insult or argument- others due to the slow continental drift of life. A smile crosses my face though when I read about friends who I still know. At least three of them are people who I’ve seen in my most recent sojourn in Virginia. One of them introduced me to my wife.

                I’m going to keep going with this project as long as I’m here in Virginia. So, since I had fun writing this little reflection, I’ll probably write again when I finish 1993. Here’s to the dimly remembered, prosaic past.

Traveling to the Narcissistic Island Universe of Youth: Part I

                I’m in the middle of one of the strangest, most quixotic projects of a lifetime of strange quixotic projects. Since June of 1992, I have, with very few breaks in the routine, kept a daily journal chronicling my life. Up until the last decade, I did this in physical, longhand journals. Now they are safely ensconced in a plastic bin in my mother’s basement, protected from the floods and other soakings that have afflicted all the important documents of my life. I’ve had the idea of converting them into digital format for a long time. Now, with time on my hands and nothing much to do while I help my mother through the last stages of cancer, I decided to break ground on the project. It’s mindless, which is a plus in my circumstances, but also strangely escapist, which is an even bigger one.

                So, last week I dove right into 1992. For anyone who’s keeping track, that means I was 14 years old as the chronicle began. As I typed, I couldn’t help reading; processing the words as I wrote. It was strangely reminiscent of writing my master’s thesis. I spent days of that process reading the personal letters of George Washington, Ulysses S Grant, and then William Westmoreland. You delve pretty deeply into a life that way if the writer is prolific enough, and as teenager I was nothing if not prolific.

                Much as I did with the sometimes-insane, always inconsistent orthography of George Washington, I decided to replicate the errors of the original as I copied. My grammar and spellcheck programs revolted, screaming at me and leaving my paragraphs festooned with blue and red, but I kept to it. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been. My spelling was solid, with only a few glaring errors. The worst was a constant use of “cause” for because. Why did I do that? I think it was for the same reason that I insisted on using the construction “me and” with plural subjects. Now I had learned not to do that in formal writing as a small child. I clearly remember a stern lesson from my Aunt Hilda, a former elementary school teacher, when I was seven. I knew better, but I had some idea that you should write as you speak. I wouldn’t have phrased it as such, but I was trying to preserve the parole of my vernacular. Nice thought in a way, but it ends up making me sound like a halfwit; not the effect I was going for. One of the most annoying hallmarks of teenagers is a misplaced sense of integrity about things like that.

                Other things were genuine errors. I refused to underline the titles of movies and books. I tried and failed to consistently apply the Oxford comma. That flies in the face of everything I hold sacred to not fix as I type. Strunk and White set me straight in 12th grade. Amazingly, there is one perfectly wielded semicolon in an early passage. It crops up like some Antikythera Mechanism of punctuation. It defies belief that my antediluvian self could manage it, but there it is, deftly introducing an appropriately tangential subordinate clause.

                Overall, my style improves as the book goes on. I think this came from both a lack of experience with writing in general, and a learning curve about what I was trying to do by keeping a journal. I always objected to the term “diary” and with that in mind, I started out not wanting to delve too deeply into my feelings about things. I was going for a chronicle; a dry historical record of events. For some reason I was obsessed with managing episodes as if they were French scenes. I kept listing who was present and who was coming and going. I have no idea why I thought that was so important, but it probably had something to do with absolutely hating to be alone or bored. I took my historical duties too far and learned that you needed to do more than just write what happened. As I go on through that first year, I began to use foreshadowing. I started talking about the relations between the people around me, characterizing them as human beings. My first-person viewpoint starts to bleed into something broader, edging on an actual narrative.

                It isn’t just my writing that matured over the time of this first journal. I was 14 for god’s sake, I was growing and maturing as a human being too. Of course, this is mostly shown in the negative. There were many things I showed about myself as a callow young man that only time would heal. Oddly, the obsession with girls isn’t as obvious as I would have thought. There are a few references to thwarted infatuation, but maybe I was too embarrassed to talk about it much. Friends on the other loom larger than anything else in life. Everything else, school, family, the larger world, takes a distant backseat. My siblings seem to merit personalities, but my parents are handled at some times like forces of nature to be weathered and endured, and at others as instrumentalities fit only to give rides to the mall. They certainly don’t come across as living, breathing human beings. I mention a few actual historical events: the presidential election of 1992, the war in Somalia, but only as a description of what I watched on TV, as if that was the important thing about them. Changing the layout of my room gets multiple lines and more than one entry, while Bill Clinton doesn’t even merit a mention by name. Like all teenagers, I was a narcissistic island universe unto myself.

Go Ahead and Let the Fates Decide

                I’m obsessed with injecting randomness into my life. Life in the 21st century is too on-demand. You can choose exactly what to eat, exactly who to talk to, exactly what to listen to or watch. It’s a triumph of capitalism. The ability to do all these things is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but the power it gives us is out of control. We’re like the kid in the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life”, or the Krell in Forbidden Planet. We have powers we have no ability or inclination to control. It’s a great feeling to be ability to do exactly what you want, exactly when we want, but we ignore the corollary. We don’t ever have to do anything we don’t want to do.

                That seems great at first glance, but then think about what life was like before (if you’re old enough to remember that is). How many of the movies, books, music etc. that you loved would you have chosen in a world of perfect access to options? I would probably still be listening to Muppet records and watching Star Wars if I hadn’t been forced to try out other things. (Not that those things aren’t awesome of course.)

Does it matter? Personally, I would hate the idea of being in a cultural rut, rehashing the same old movies and music. As a middle-aged guy, some of the times I feel most alive are when I’m listening to new music, and I would hate to give that up. But I could. I could just listen to Pearl Jam and Nirvana all day and fossilize myself in the nineties if I wanted. Aside from the personal, psychological ramifications, there are broader problems with an on-demand culture. Think about the bubbles people live in online and the damage it causes. When we don’t force ourselves out of our comfort zones and only associate with media outlets and people who share our views, it isn’t just lazy, it’s dangerous.

It’s also completely understandable. A nearly infinite multiplicity of options is paralyzing. I don’t remember where I first read about the study (possibly from Daniel Kahnemann or the Freakonomics gang?) but the Journal of Consumer Psychology published a study in 2015 that showed just that effect. When customers were given more options to choose from in selected jam flavors, they actually bought less. It’s paradoxical, right? You would think that providing more options would make customers happier and make them spend more, but there seems to be a point where analysis fatigue sets in. It’s cognitively challenging to choose from large sets of choices, and humans always default to less cognitively challenging methods when they can. Do you like Trader Joe’s? One of the reasons the chain is so successful is that consumers get a broad, but artificially limited set of choices. The options are high quality and diverse, but purposefully limited. People like this and don’t even know it.

Clearly, we would be similarly paralyzed by trying to choose in this world, so what do we do? Don’t get in a rut. That’s the easy way out. I may be slightly insane, but what I have done is to institute little tricks for embracing randomness. Perhaps my comfort with this lies in years of letting the random charts in Dungeons and Dragons books determine the fate of games. For example, I have a small city library that I go to. It’s small, but there are still obviously more books than I could possibly read in a lifetime. I have a tendency, if un-shepherded, to wander time and again to the history or science books, reading about the same topics over and over again. So, what I did was plug the Dewey Decimal System into a (supposedly) random number generating app. Then I forced myself to choose a book from whatever shelf I rolled up. So, I ended up reading one book about the natural history of cactus, and another about the problems of educating boys and girls in the modern world. Maybe that sounds like hell to you, but it really forced me to branch out into something I would have never chosen otherwise. Anyone thinking it through a bit might notice that there is a big bias in this system. There isn’t an even distribution among books; not even close. There are far more books in the .900s for example, and equally weighting the books by simple number favors books in sections with fewer volumes. Fine, I’ll tweak it a bit. Maybe count the actual number of shelves or something. That would work, but I’d look nuts. Come to think of it, I’ll fit in at the public library then, so I’m good.

Or take this example, one I haven’t actually tried yet. Have you ever gotten together with friends and spent an hour arguing over where to go to dinner or for drinks? I know you have if you’ve ever been in a city like New York or DC with a galaxy of choices. Next time I do this, I’m going to suggest rolling randomly between the people there and letting whoever “wins” choose the night’s activities. I’ll even offer to recuse myself the first time. That way we all just go along with a leader who has been chosen in a way that will hopefully curb resentment. A bit of a veto might be necessary, but only for limited abuse of power situations, such as choosing a Brazilian steakhouse for vegetarians, a strip club for mixed company, or that restaurant from The Freshman where they eat endangered animals. Otherwise you have to stick to the leader’s choices, and I think it would defuse an obnoxious situation.

My other idea is to build an app that randomly selects restaurants for you. It could be pre-populated, or you could populate it yourself with favorites. How many times have I sat there trying to decide what I wanted like an idiot, and then ended up going to Dion’s for the twelfth time in two months? This is a genuine question to my readers? Is that something anyone else would be interested in?

Randomness can backfire though. Lately, my friend Andrew Park and I have instituted a system for karaoke nights. We use the number generator to come up with a random page in the artist-sorted book. Then whoever’s turn it is has to sing a song from that page. The penalty if you don’t sing is of course that you have to do a shot. It’s fun at first, but eventually you realize you aren’t singing anything you really enjoy because the pages have too few options. I think my breaking point was when I had to watch Andrew suffer through singing “Since You’ve Been Gone”. Good blackmail material, but not good for much else.

So, the days of passively receiving the media chosen for us by our betters are over. My kids will never have to watch the Muppet Show every night on the off chance that tonight’s rerun is the Star Wars episode. They will never drop everything they are doing at four o’clock because there is a Godzilla movie playing at the same time every day. They won’t see the one movie playing at a theater like my grandparents did, and they won’t listen to whatever is playing on the radio. That’s the reality, but an embrace of randomness can help us to manage it.

The Curse of Stuff

                They say millennials prioritize experiences over physical products. I don’t know how you could possibly test a statement like that, but it feels right; anyway, it has a certain truthful ring to it. In general, I think it’s a bankrupt concept to try and categorize and characterize generations, but this is one area that nails me at least. Of course, I’m not technically a millennial by even the most lenient definition, which I believe places the cutoff at 1980. (I miss it by three years, and thus am neither Generation X nor Millennial. 1977 is a sort of globular cluster drifting outside the generational galaxy and confounding all attempts at classification). Still, the idea of filling my house with chunks of plastic and glass mortifies me. I have to say I am constantly shocked at the willingness of my parents’ generation to admit to wanting… things. Their parents were thrifty (in the case of my mother) or poor (in the case of my father) and denied them things. When they grew up, they bought them. In large part my desire to avoid clutter is based on having seen it run rampant in the lives of my parents. Trying to clean out the house of a baby boomer who has passed away leaves an impression. Why did they buy these things? I once agreed to help a friend with a consignment business sift through the storage bin of a woman who wanted to downsize. I stood there in horror, looking at piles of junk. Nothing could make me feel sicker than someone’s life adding up to a pile of commemorative teddy bears. I had to beg off the project.

                So, my children receive lots of experiences. We travel manically, attend sporting events, watch musicals, and eat exotic food. Right now, the kids love it. But the other day my wife bought tickets to see Les Misérables for herself and my son; in the third row. When she told him, he said, “okay,” and asked what was for dinner. I was taken aback, but I tried to see the world through his eyes. At nine, he has hiked the cloud forests of Costa Rica, stood within fifty feet of a California Condor on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, and cheered on his favorite team at a World Series game. I hate the idea of spoiling a kid with material possessions or luxury, but have I spoiled him with experiences?

                God, I hope not. One of the joys of growing older for me has been the opportunity to see and do new things. I have a firm no video game policy for my children because I believe people should get out in the world and do real things, with real people. But have I overdone it? Should I be denying my son experiences in order to inspire him later in life? I’ve been trying to make him cosmopolitan, to whet his appetite for life by showing him what is out there, but have I run the risk of sating it? The idea that he may grow up bored of life is more terrifying to me than a mausoleum filled with souvenir shot glasses and back scratchers (my grandmother collected those [shudder]).

                We all react to the excesses and prejudices of our parents. I see a cycling between belief systems. For example, our parents (the boomers that is) divorced each other at the drop of a hat. The rates have stabilized as the children of these broken marriages have grown up with the knowledge of the costs of those choices. We choose our values for ourselves in the modern world and I assume this nascent generation born in the 2010s will do so too. But how? They might smoke because we rejected it. They might look at the ubiquity of tattoos today and react with ridicule. Maybe they’ll want to bring back tinsel for Christmas or move to the suburbs in droves.

                Whatever it is, it’s bound to be both unpredictable and revolting. In other words, we’re not going to like the way they react to what we are. Why would we? That’s the point after all. And there’s no way to shape our behavior to avoid it. Whatever we do, they will respond to and reject.

                I’m imaging a visit to a McMansion sometime in the 2050s, the cabinets filled with Hummel figurines, Starting Lineup action figures, and hundreds of boxes of unopened appliances with every imaginable culinary purpose. There goes that shudder again.

                But so far, my son at least seems to be making the right decisions. He piled up gift money from Russian relatives over the holidays. I had a note of how much and had no idea what I might do with it. The stockpile of cash was going to not only most likely be used for more plastic trinkets while at the same time diluted my ability to influence him in doing the things like math practice that earn him stickers. (Those are our family’s currency for rewarding good behavior.) Then he surprised me by suggesting that he use the money to get tickets to a Nets game. He used nearly all of his horde to buy a ticket for himself, and he had a night with his mother all to himself. The Nets came back from behind and beat the Hawks and they got to sit across the court from Kobe Bryant. My son used the remainder of his money to buy a cap. If you ask me, that’s what money is for.

Hocus Pocus Revisited

Disney Plus is giving my family the opportunity to watch some of the lesser luminaries of the Mouse House’s back catalog. For some reason, I have a fascination with catching up on some of the live action Disney movies that I missed as a kid. It probably stems from the opening sequence of ads that ran before the tapes of old cartoons that my sisters and I watched as kids. Right before Donald, Mickey, and Goofy, each tape would run a long ad for movies like Condorman, Escape from Witch Mountain, and Herbie the Love Bug. The completist in me, the part of my personality that still wants to get card number 483 from the 1984 Topps set for no good reason, wanted to watch all the movies in that panoply. Come to think of it, I’ve still never seen Witch Mountain. So, I guess that makes it the Fergie Jenkins of Disney movies.

                We also had trouble coming up with good Halloween movies to watch with the kids. I have a fairly libertine philosophy with my kids, but I stop short of watching true slasher movies with them. There are only a few family friendly movies about Halloween, and we’ve seen Nightmare Before Christmas approximately twelve thousand times. So, the idea of watching Hocus Pocus came to me. I remember going to see the movie back in 1993 at Springfield Mall, right under the giant die number 1. Picture the mall from season three of Stranger Things if you’re under the age of forty. My impressions of the movie were vague, but I would say positive. Then I started to see references to it all over the place. Merchandise at Target, posts on Facebook, etc. Why were people talking about this movie? For me, it was on the same cluster of brain cells that records my similarly happy but unclear memories of My Boyfriend’s Back, a zombie teen comedy that came out that same summer, and that I watched at the same theater. I would never revisit that movie.

                But the consensus out there seems to be that this one deserves a cult-type status, so we watched. Before I clicked on it, my wife and I had to weather a mutiny about watching Adventures in Babysitting instead. I don’t know why, but the kids fixated on it and needed to watch it. For some reason, Disney posts movies on Plus that aren’t available, somehow not understanding child psychology at all despite that being their bread and butter. I probably would have watched it. It holds a similar place in my memory to Hocus Pocus: a positive and vague impression, nearly certain to be debunked upon re-watching. Finally, we got over the revolt, and the movie was on.

                I tried to remember why I liked the movie. I was fifteen or so when I saw the movie. Suddenly I remembered having had a distinct crush on Sarah Jessica Parker in her early career. It’s hard to remember now, with the memories of her on Sex and the City much more prominent, but in Hocus Pocus, despite the crazy makeup and the spider-eating, I could see it. The girl who plays the love interest for Max was also striking. I had to squint to realize she wasn’t Hillary Swank (which I know is a whole debate in itself). That was probably a large part of my positive impression if I’m being honest.

The movie isn’t all that funny, though the kids enjoyed the physical comedy. One good thing; however, is that the parents are multi-dimensional. I think all the best teen movies have that element. Ferris Bueller’s dad gets some of the best lines in the movie. These parents are obtuse, but they seem like real people, which is better than many movies manage. Really though, the best part, the only thing that stands out, is the performances of all three Sanderson sisters. Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimi, and Bette Midler seem to be having the time of their lives hamming it up. They chew up the scenery with odd facial tics, hyperactivity, overwrought accents, and ADD throughout the movie. That alone is worth watching. It’s over the top in a good way.

Historically speaking, the movie was a flop. Probably in large part due to a weird decision to release a Halloween movie in the summer. This movie makes about 1 million dollars a year, every Halloween, because of how limited the holiday’s movie options are. I’m sure it would have done better if it had come out at the right time. The critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes is 34%, which seems about right to me. Roger Ebert said the only good thing about it was the musical number by Bette Midler in the high school dance sequence. Personally, I thought that was cringe-inducing, but whatever. The audience score is 71%. Again, that seems about right. Hocus Pocus is to Halloween cinema as Full House is to nineties sitcoms. Not good by any objective standard, deeply cheesy, yet oddly compelling in a way that is reminiscent to me of the siren song of the Hallmark movies my mother insists on watching.

As we finished the movie, we got a reminder of how much this film is lodged in the public hive mind. My wife leaned over and showed me where one of her Facebook friends had just posted, on January third mind you, nowhere near Halloween, a link talking about her love for Thackery Binx. That’s the name of the cat in Hocus Pocus. What in the double hell?

An Open Question to My Friends

I’m having trouble understanding you all. Back in December, as I cautiously lurked, considering a return to Facebook, I found a flurry of posts about the UK general election. These posts closely mirrored the ones that I remember after both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump; lamentations about the country losing its mind, apologies to the wider world, etc. All these sentiments made perfect sense in 2016, both in June when the United Kingdom made its dreadful decision, and in November when “we” made ours. But I had to do a gut check this time? What were people talking about?

                My first impulse was to ask people directly what they mean. That may seem rational, or even like the more direct, morally correct thing to do. But I have learned through bitter experience that talking to people over the internet is useless when it comes to complex subjects. Face to face, I have found that I can talk respectfully and constructively to people who I deeply disagree with. In contrast, I have found that any online political discussion, even over tiny details with people I otherwise agree with, turns into a fire storm. My hypothesis is that it’s because people feel like others can see them and this destroys any possibility of even the most minor concessions, both to civility and logic. It’s the same phenomenon you see on reality TV, where people get their backs up and fight about issues they would let drop in normal life. So, all I could do was doubt my own sanity and mull things over alone.

                This must have been December 13, the day after the election. The UK had just overwhelmingly rejected Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister, voting with conservative majorities all over the country, even in districts that had historically voted Labour (no, spellcheck, I didn’t screw that up, the Brits did.) The outcome seemed obvious to me. Boris Johnson is deeply unpalatable. Brexit is a disaster. The chaos that has come in the wake of the referendum is a lesson in why major changes of policy should never be left to a simple majority decision. But the fact is that these are the least evil when the other option is a government led by Jeremy Corbyn. Somehow this wasn’t obvious to my Facebook friends.

                So, I had to scratch my head and try to understand where people were coming from. As I saw it, there were three possibilities:

  1. More of my friends than I thought are dedicated, Stalinist Communists or anarchists.
  2. My friends were placing their hopes in the Liberal Democrats despite the fact that they had no legitimate chance of winning the election.
  3. Americans don’t know anything about the United Kingdom.

Let’s consider the first possibility. I do know a few people who have radical views. They may not be troubled by the thought of a leader who gave a glowing eulogy to Hugo Chavez. I know people who still haven’t figured the Venezuela situation out in 2020. Fine. Some may not have a problem with Corbyn meeting with Sinn Fein after the attempt on Margaret Thatcher’s life. Okay, some people preferred Callaghan’s UK. Murder seems like a step too far, and I don’t get it, but I’m aware there are people like that. But are my friends really okay with a “useful idiot” who has appeared on Iran’s Anti-Semitic, Homophobic state news channel? With one who referred to the killing of Osama Bin Laden as a tragedy? With a prime minister who considers North Korea to be the aggrieved party, heroically preventing a reunification that bring about “the real horror” of the spread of a free market to the whole peninsula? Do they support the idea that 9/11 was brought about by Israel? Are they comfortable with calling Hamas and Hezbollah “friends”? Corbyn is. Brexit is bad, but not so bad as to countenance a person who has espoused these ideas as prime minister. I hope most of my friends would agree.

Which leaves me hoping the second option is the case. The Lib-Dems would have been the sanest choice for the UK in 2019. I’d really like to think this is what my friends meant.

But let’s be honest, most of my friends are American. They had no idea what they were talking about. They mapped the American political situation onto the UK, assuming that Boris Johnson was Trump, and that Corbyn was like the American left. The reality is that the United States has no radical left on the national stage. In fact, I’d say you have to shift the entire spectrum leftward to understand the United Kingdom. The farthest right politician in Britain (Johnson I guess?) is nowhere near Trump, while the farthest left on our side of the pond (Sanders) is a pale shadow of Corbyn.

In general, I have to confess to a bit of ignorance about politics, at least as far as the battle between the American parties is concerned. There isn’t a party that reflects my beliefs, and there isn’t going to be. So, I tune out a bit, not really caring about what I see as a contest between two teams who keep score in ways that baffle me. But I do know a bit more about the UK than the average American. I’m a bit of an Anglophile, but the main reason is that I get my news from Britain. The American sources are so biased as to be unusable for a rational person. The combination of social liberalism and fiscal responsibility that I get from sources like the BBC and The Economist is unparalleled in domestic news.

As much as I am disconnected from American politics, and as much interest as I have in the UK, I don’t just bring this up as an academic discussion about an important yet still foreign country. I believe there is a lesson in this for 2020. The latest poll numbers for both Iowa and New Hampshire show Bernie Sanders running neck and neck with Biden. Maybe this reflects some defections from the waning Elizabeth Warren camp, but I think it’s more insidious. I believe it reflects a danger of our party system. The selection process for our two parties is deeply biased in favor of the true believers. The average voter, the person who is going to decide 2020 in the battleground states, does not participate at the grass roots. This is due to both apathy and ignorance. Dangerously, it leaves open the possibility of selecting a candidate who reflects the hardest core of the party, but who is deeply distasteful to the majority of the country. That is how Trump came to run in 2016. I confess, I still can’t understand how it worked for the Republicans. I don’t think it’s going to work for the Democrats this year. I don’t know if Bernie Sanders could defeat Trump. But I do know that only Bernie Sanders could lose to Trump. We need to learn our lesson from what just happened in the UK. If you give the country two terrible options, they will choose the least of the two. Clearly, they didn’t do this in reality in 2016, but reality didn’t matter to these voters. They thought Hillary was eating babies and using pizza parlors to arrange pedophilia. What do you think they believe about Sanders?

Sanders is not Corbyn. To paraphrase Foreign Policy magazine, he is just dumb, not dangerous like Corbyn. I honestly don’t know who is more of a long-term problem as president, Trump or Sanders. One seems likely to kill us quickly, and the other slowly. At the end of the day, I will most likely abstain if that is my choice. Ask yourself though, if someone like me is turned off enough by Sanders to not care whether Trump remains president, what will the average voter in middle America decide? Let’s learn from Britain and make the right choice.

Thoughts on Episode 9: Part Two

My favorite moment from the sequel trilogy is still from VII, when Rey faces off against Kylo Ren in the icy woods on Ilum. When Ren tries to get Luke’s saber from the snow, then watches it fly past into his face to be ignited in Rey’s hands as Luke’s theme comes up; now that’s a perfect moment. Ben’s comeback is good but doesn’t quite hit those notes. Of course, the first time I watched it; I totally missed the great lines he has with Han. When he says, “Dad…” and Han just says, “I know.” Man, that’s good. And it makes you wonder, was that just Ben’s memories of his father? He wasn’t there on Bespin. How did he know what Han said to Leia? Maybe it really was a force ghost of some kind.

That was a good fight, with the waves crashing behind them, but the best moment is when Rey uses the force to project a lightsaber to Ben on Exegol. That little shrug that Adam Driver does before taking on the Knights of Ren was terrific. That brings up a question I had though. Who were all those guys watching them fight from the gallery seats? Are they more Sith? There must have been thousands of them. I think those guys are going to be a problem going forward.

I know the kiss between Ben and Rey got a lot of people heated up, and not in a good way, but I thought it worked. I mean, it’s certainly not what I think made sense for Rey, but there was always a bit of tension there. It felt like something she might do in that moment, and even if it was out of character, the goofy smile on Ben’s face was perfect. Like maybe they didn’t tell Driver she was going to do it. I don’t know what I think about that writing decision, but it didn’t harm my suspension of disbelief.

Overall, I didn’t understand the backlash that this movie caught. I have some quibbles, but they’re minor. The sequences with Leia are a bit off, especially her dialogue, which does seem a bit non sequitur when you’re looking for it. Luke and Leia look very strange in the flashback to post-Endor. And what was going on with Lando and Jannah? I know there aren’t a whole lot of black people in Star Wars, but does he just ask everyone if they might be his daughter. That felt forced, as did the switch-up when Chewie was supposed to have died. I didn’t believe it for a second, but I still told my kids, “If Chewie dies, we riot.” Then there was the way that people kept asking Rey what her last name was. It came from nowhere in a way that led you to know it was going to come up again. It wasn’t as awkwardly shoe-horned into the script as Marty McFly’s sudden preoccupation with being called chicken, but it did stand out.

Still, are people serious in thinking that The Last Jedi was better, or are they just trying to get attention? You never know these days, but I’d say preferring VIII is as close to being objectively wrong as you can get with an opinion on movies. I think any hit at the box office that IX takes clearly has more to do with audience fatigue than it is a reflection on the quality of the movie. What I have noticed is that watching IX has made me able to enjoy VIII a lot more. My kids liked this one, and we’ve got Disney Plus, so there has been some binging and repeat watching the last week. Now that I know that the direction of The Last Jedi is just a temporary diversion, I can hang on to the parts I like in that film and let go of my anxiety that the next movie would be more side trips to Canto Bight and watching BB-8 take down an AT-ST. Of course, I can also walk out of the room during the ten-minute melodramatic death scene of a nobody character in the first part of the film, and that helps. It’s like if my kids want to watch Phantom Menace. I can just come back into the room when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan fight Darth Maul. Those five minutes are pretty good if you don’t have to watch the whole turkey.

One of the biggest weaknesses of Episode IX is the obvious. I used to play a game when I was a kid where we would take turns telling a few lines of a story. Often you would find yourself explaining away or even ignoring something stupid that a friend had come up with. Abrams spends a lot of time doing that in Rise. Kylo Ren gathers up the shards of his broken helmet and has them forged back into a new version with obvious red seams. It’s cool looking. Like one of his admirals says, “I like it.” But the helmet also serves as a visible metaphor for the seams that Abrams had to leave visible in repairing the damage that Johnson did to his good work in VII.

Now that I think of it, the seams are kind of a Rose color, aren’t they?

Thoughts on Episode 9: Part One

Massive Spoilers Ahead…

                So, it took me more than a week, but I finally went to see Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker a second time. I considered writing a piece on what I thought of the movie right away, but I thought it would be smarter to wait a bit; to let the movie marinate in my mind and then when the juices were ready go see it again. Star Wars movies have a tendency to morph in my brain after the initial viewing. It’s embarrassing how important these films are to me, and I suppose that’s why my impressions change so much. I saw The Force Awakens and came out with a really mediocre feeling. Then when I saw it a second time, I was able to let go and enjoy the ride. If I recall correctly, it was the moment where Rey and Finn get on board the Millennium Falcon where I remembered how much fun the movie was despite its faults.

                Which brings me to this one. Yeah, J.J. Abrams has a lot of weaknesses as a Star Wars and Star Trek writer/director. The main one is a total ability to think through the world-building ramifications of his decisions. He solves minor problems in a plot by creating gigantic ones in the mythos. I mean, did he not think through what would happen to a Federation where characters could beam around the galaxy without a ship. Why have a Starfleet the way we know it? In Episode Seven, when Starkiller base fires at the Republic home world, characters all over the galaxy look up to the sky and watch it happen, some of them in broad daylight. I don’t even know what that is supposed to represent or in what world that makes any sense. It’s completely ridiculous to the point of being distracting. I’m not a stickler for scientific realism; I don’t want a space battle to be silent. But we do need things to be consistent enough to understand, and this gaffe took me out of the story. That’s a no-no.

                Abrams is bad at that sort of thing. But the man knows plot, characterization, and emotion. If we’re being honest that’s what you want out of a Star Wars movie. They aren’t science fiction, they’re space opera. Star Wars is the Iliad or the Mahabharata set in space. Family relationships, courage, and sacrifice are the important themes. On some level you have to let go of the expectation of realism. On that level, I was completely relieved to have Abrams back on board. I was only barely sub vocally thanking him throughout the film as I realized how much more satisfying his version of Star Wars is than Rian Johnson’s.

                There were a few good moments in Last Jedi; ones with emotional resonance. I thoroughly enjoyed the sequence where Rey and Kylo Ren turn on Snoke and fight the praetorian guards. It focused on what I cared about, which is the two main characters. They are the meat of the sequel trilogy story and the rest is frankly just window dressing. I know that Johnson is capable. The guy wrote for Breaking Bad for goodness sake. But I think something else was at play. It seems that he didn’t like Star Wars, which made him a bizarre choice to direct it. Of course, that was an apt criticism of J.J. when he helmed Star Trek. It seemed like he would have rather been directing a Star Wars movie and it showed.

                But Rian Johnson seemed determined to destroy much of what is fun about Star Wars and it was hard to watch. It also seemed that there were directives from his corporate masters to include elements in the story that were hard to justify. I know there is pressure to sell tickets in China, and that Star Wars has been getting hammered there, but the opening melodramatic sequence of Rose’s sister’s death seemed to be pandering to the point where it damaged the film. I was supposed to care about a character who was not only unknown to me, but whose sister was still unknown to me. That’s bad writing anywhere, and it’s inscrutably bad in a sequel that already has a stable of characters to draw on.

                I have to admit, it was a cringe-inducing to see Rose reduced so sharply in Episode Nine, especially in the face of the horrible backlash Kelly Marie Tran received after The Last Jedi. That was abominable and unforgiveable, and my heart really goes out to her. People truly suck sometimes. It was awkward to have her romance with Finn completely nixed in this movie, and the claims Abrams made that the reason to tone her down were the low quality of her scenes with Leia are bogus. The simple fact was that her character had no business in that movie, and it was a relief to see her take a backseat to the four central characters introduced in Episode Seven.

Those are the people I care about, and a writer has plenty to do in dealing with four characters. In the triumphant finale sequence (which owes major credit to Independence Day by the way) Poe, Finn, and Rey embrace. Friendship is one of the enduring themes of Star Wars (though it’s entirely missing in the prequels for some reason) and this is one of the best moments in the saga for that reasons. The characters look genuinely relieved and happy to see that they have all survived. John Boyega grates on me with a lot of high-pitched yelling in these movies, but he kills it in that scene for some reason. I’m not sure the original trilogy contained a single scene with the powerful emotion he shows there. Overall that’s true of the sequel trilogy. God help me for saying this, but the acting is superior. There is no one, other than the veteran British guys in Episode IV, who can hold a candle to Adam Driver in these movies. I love Harrison Ford, but he relies on charisma, not sheer acting chops.

Poe was hugely improved in this movie. Oscar Isaac had Ewan McGregor disease in the first two films; a great, charismatic actor who just isn’t being given the opportunity to shine. For one thing, he was taken out of the script of VII for most of the movie. I almost felt like Abrams didn’t know what to do with him. This time, he fills the Han Solo shoes better throughout the plot, acting as a sort of rogue with a checkered past. It’s an old trope, but it’s a fun one, and it worked here. Which brings me to Zorii Bliss (Felicity) and Jannah (Naomi Ackie). These are new characters, introduced only for this film, and my first thought was that we would be dealing with the same problems as with Admiral Holdo and Rose in VIII. But J.J. Abrams is better at this game. Both new characters have reasons to appear, they fit in seamlessly to the narrative, and they serve the purpose of fleshing out personalities we already care about. And not coincidentally, they are both powerful and female, which is a strength in a movie, not the weakness that Rian Johnson turned it into.

Last warning here, I’m going to talk about what happens in this movie, but then if you care what happens, why haven’t you seen it already? This is not one to catch at home or on a plane. As I said before, the best thing about Rise of Skywalker is the emotional notes. One silly moment, when Chewbacca finally gets a medal for his participation, caught me off guard. My kids didn’t notice, and when I turned to tell them what happened, I caught a major lump in my throat and had to shut up. On a similar note, how great was it when Wedge showed up? I thought Dennis Lawson had said he was bored with Star Wars and would never appear again, but there he was in the big fight against Thanos.

Yeah, I noticed it. That last fight was cribbed almost directly from Endgame. The moment where Poe realizes no one is coming to help him could be tracked right onto Captain America standing to face Thanos, knowing he is going to die. Then his commlink lights up and Lando says, “On your left.” Okay, not quite those words, but come on. Lando announces there are more of them than the empire, and you get a massive battle. There are ships from all over the Star Wars universe, like the Ghost from Rebels, and it’s fairly satisfying. There’s another turn in the battle, and a second comeback after Palpatine becomes flesh when Captain Marvel… I mean Rey, starts kicking Sith butt all over the map. It’s fairly satisfying, but it’s nothing like Endgame. I’m not sure anything is going to impact me ever again like the moment when Cap picks up Thor’s hammer. Or the moment when Black Panther and Spider-Man emerge through the wizard holes. That was Luke getting saved by Han over the first Death Star good.

To be Continued…

Pub Quiz Review: City Works, McLean, VA

                In the shadow of the mighty cathedral of cut rate credit known as the Capital One building, there is a new venue for trivia night on Wednesdays: City Works. This Wednesday, a bitterly cold December evening, I went with three friends to check out the competition in Tysons Corner. Walking past the windows of the 31-story building and seeing the lobby decked out in Christmas decorations, I couldn’t help but picture a Huey Lewis lookalike holding a submachine gun at the front desk, or Genghis Khan stealing candy bars from the gift shop. “It’s Nakatomi Towers!” I told my friends. “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring… except, the four assholes coming in the rear in standard two by two cover formation.”

The fact that all four of us understood this reference is not uncorrelated with our love of quiz nights.

We got there half an hour early, usually plenty of time to get a table, and found the place packed shoulder to shoulder. Upon closer inspection though, I saw several tables open. When I asked the wait staff if we could just sit down, they referred us to a host who informed us that those tables had been reserved by parties who had paid. Okay, slightly obnoxious, but if that’s the rules, that’s the rules. The genuinely annoying part was when we realized that the tables remained open all night. In fact, as people left some of the other places, even more tables would get added to the paid/reserved list until there were more than two dozen empty chair yawning at us while we stood at the bar the whole night.

So that’s a strike I’d have to say. On the bright side, the beer list is well curated, and I found a few sour brews that fit my taste. I know that’s a niche thing, but it’s my favorite. My friends were similarly happy with their IPA and Bourbon Barrel Ale selections.

The food was perfect brewhouse fare. We started out with filet mignon sliders on pretzel buns, which combined two of my favorite things: low fat cuts of steak and pretzels. We moved on to a plate of nachos with cheese and duck meat. Not something I would have chosen, but I was glad my friends did. I recommend those. Even the pretzel bits we ordered seemed exceptionally tasty, a hair better than your usual Auntie Anne’s fare anyway.

So, the food and beer were great. Let’s call that ball one and two. 2-1. Trivia at City Works is in a nice hitter’s count.

Confession time. I am terrible at coming up with team names. I was floundering, trying to come up with a pun about impeachment, the talk of the town today as the House deliberated. One of my friends saved me from that by suggesting we make a reference to the fact that we only had one bar stool between the four of us. So, we became Four Guys, One Chair, and No Music. Solid.

The real problem of the night became apparent as soon as the emcee began the announcements. We couldn’t understand a word he was saying. At times we couldn’t even hear that he was speaking at all. The din of the crowd was mostly to blame. Perhaps the table reserving magnates couldn’t be bothered with trivia and had no interest in being quiet. Or maybe it was just the low quality of the portable speaker system the emcee had brought. I brought the situation to his attention, asking if he could perhaps turn it up, and I wasn’t the only one. A woman who got there before me was told that the management would get angry at him if he turned up the volume. So, I suggested that I could turn it up for him and he could blame me: plausible deniability. I reached over and adjusted the main knob to get a few more clutch decibels out of the system. It was a big improvement, but I didn’t win a friend in the emcee. For the rest of the night, he introduced me to people as “the douche”. Fine, I’m willing to fall on my sword there.

I guess City Works was looking for the heat on 2-1, because they got off-speed and whiffed on the volume situation; count even.

City Works can’t really be blamed for the quality of the trivia game itself, but the fact is that they chose District Trivia to run their quiz. District Trivia is not my favorite trivia format. I have the same relationship with Go-Go music and Ben’s Chili. I want to like our local quiz hosting company, but I just don’t. You get five main rounds with several bonus rounds in between. Each round has a bonus question that you have to bet on with your points. None of that is a problem, except that the questions they choose for these bonuses are the kind of thing you have to guess on. What year was the Brooklyn Bridge built? How many moons does Uranus have? (grow up, I hear you snickering). You get a margin of error, which helps, but I’d rather be asked a straight up question that I either know or don’t know. And worse, these questions are incredibly easy to cheat on. I’ve never actually seen someone cheating at trivia. I don’t know if people really stoop that low, but I hate having the feeling they might be. It takes some of the fun out of the quiz.

The music round was fun and included a question where you try to figure out the theme between all the songs. I enjoy that. Tonight’s was fruit, with songs like “Strawberry Fields Forever”, and “No Rain” by Blind Melon as hints. Not exactly difficult, but fun, nonetheless. One bonus round was a picture round, a classic in pub quiz, and one that doesn’t get old. The other bonus; however, was a listing of soft drinks. You had to guess which ones were owned by Coke and which by Pepsi. Again, essentially a fifty/fifty guess, which isn’t fun in my book.

At this point, the District Trivia format was tolerable. They lost me for good on the podcast tie-in questions. Yeah. You have to listen to their podcast to get answers for several of the questions, and this made the difference for us between placing and not. Am I bitter we didn’t win? I can’t deny the possibility, but mostly I just think it’s profoundly obnoxious to ask me to listen to a podcast in order to get answers that are otherwise impossible. So, I think this self-inflicted wound doomed the trivia to a strikeout, perhaps even looking.

That said, I had a great time. I would rather have had a chance to win, but I caught up with old friends, laughed and drank beer. I can’t really complain about that. Trivia night is like sex and pizza. Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.