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Interesting miscellany from our events & elsewhere. Earlier Posts

November 14: Call Me, Ishmael!

otd161114Was American Literature (with a capital A and L) born with the November 14, 1851 publication of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; or The Whale? Possibly. (Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published the following year, and sold vastly better, so maybe… let’s just charitably call it a twin birth.)

Certainly, its all-over-the-place narrative, told from the point of view of an unreliable second-hand account, and interspersed with sermons, songs, asides and half-remembrances sprinkled through the central tale is something that feels very “American” in the way we now know it, through writers like Fitzgerald, Delillo, Acker, Pynchon, Fran Lebowitz, & David Foster Wallace*.

Melville’s whale story was culled from his own experiences on boats in the early 19th century, as well as the tales told of a couple of whales that seemed to capture the national imagination: Timor Tom, a whale that became famous sailors for multiple encounters in the Pacific…

Was it not so, O Timor Tom! thou famed Leviathan, scarred like an iceberg, who so long did’st lurk in the Oriental Straits of that name, whose spout was oft seen from the palmy beach of Ombay?

…and Mocha Dick, who (despite the name) was, like Timor Tom, an albino whale that terrorized sailors off the coast of Chile from about 1810 through 1838, when (it is suspected) he was finally killed, yielding a hundred barrels of oil, and a goodly amount of ambergris, which at the time was as valuable per ounce as anything on Earth.

The whaling industry was a large part of the global economy in the 19th century, though it waned fairly quickly in the post-industrial age, and an international moratorium on whaling (except for certain aboriginal societies) went into effect in 1986. (Even the Hartford Whalers moved down the coast 20 years ago.)

Little Irvy was a whale that died in 1997, and was bought by Jerry Malone, a trucker who spent the next 25 years showing it off at county and state fairs around the country.

*This was just off the top of my head; I’m sure there are dozens more that fit this list, maybe better. Which I think kind of proves the point.

QCNY – Final Regular Season Standings

In a week that most of us at TNYC HQ would rather forget, we do have some shafts of light coming through the cracks. (We’re going to talk about what we’re doing to help make the world a little better in a different post. We have a couple of ideas we’re really excited about, and for which we might need some help.)

But for now, the final standings for this season of QCNY are in, and we have our Final Fifteen. (You can click this for a bigger version.)


These fifteen teams have earned the right to participate in the QCNY Grand Final this Sunday, November 20, at Le Poisson Rouge for a shot at thousands in cash, tons of prizes from our widest array of sponsors ever, and free passage to TCONA7 in Las Vegas next August.

But here’s the kicker. These 15 teams aren’t the only people with a chance to win. You can as well. Come on down, watch the competition, cheer on your friends, and play along! We’ve also got tons of prizes for everyone who comes, including tickets, t-shirts, books, high-fives, pins, and tons more. Our hosts will be walking through the audience between rounds, quizzing you at your table, and giving away tons of stuff all night.

The excellent new quiz app Fleetwit will have a special live race for us, with more prizes. Sixpoint Beer has been gracious enough to provide us with some great beer specials. Comedy Sportz, American Geode, Brooklyn Brazilian Ju Jitsu, Sheepshead Design… Really, we’ve been stockpiling prizes for this night, and we may have overdone it. Help us.

This Sunday’s QCNY Grand Final will be a night where ignorance isn’t rewarded. I feel like we all kind of need that right now. If you want to party, there will be a party. If you want to come and just hang out, answer trivia questions, and share some space with some people, that’s fine. Honestly, I’m not 100% back yet myself. I’m really looking forward to this.

Good luck to the finalists, and we’ll see you there.

Quizoween 2016!

This weekend has brought a solid flow of pics from around the TriviaNYC network of quizzers who’ve dressed up like, I’m going to say, people from Frozen/their favorite filmmaker/that person from Stranger Things who was in that one scene in Episode Three/a bag of donuts/your mom/a percocet on a pogo stick/the yawning chasm at the core of all human existence/a sexy bunny/a sexy cop/a sexy chicken/a sexy elephant man/a sexy coffee table/etc. We’ll be ading to this gallery as we get more in, but let this post serve as a testament to the creativity of all you awesome people.

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October 6: You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet

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otd161006There was a time when blackface wasn’t such a big deal. White performers would show up with greasepaint on their faces and sing plantation songs and do dances that as “white folks,” were beyond propriety. If you read Where Dead Voices Gather, Nick Tosches’ brilliant biography of the blackface performer Emmett Miller, you get a great feel for the place vaudeville and minstrelsy had in the entertainment of the early 20th century.

This is the world in which Al Jolson was a megastar. Born in Lithuania in 1886, the young Asa Yoelsen moved to Baltimore as a child, where he wound up at the same reform school as Babe Ruth. He discovered music fairly early, appearing in vaudeville productions of various kinds from the beginning of the century. His star rose steadily through the first decade of the 1900s, and by 1911, when he returned to New York after a few years on the West Coast for his first solo revue on Broadway, he was a full-blown national sensation. Every Broadway production kept his star rising for the next decade, and at the premiere of Bombo in 1921, Jolson received 37 curtain calls.

In a lot of ways, Al Jolson was the first rock star, or pop idol, of the modern era. He was mobbed wherever he went, his performances were so thoroughly over the top that they seemed silly, and he was vulnerable in a way that only certain opera characters were before that time. Granted, no small amount of that was due to his being able to don blackface to get over in ways that he couldn’t as himself, but still, there was no one better. His blackface served as a metaphor for Jewish oppression, and that was how (white, theatergoing) America saw it.

jazz-singer-1927In fact, that was the plot of the original production of The Jazz Singer, which premiered on this day in 1927. Jolson plays Jack Robin, a blackface performer who has to choose between singing for his disapproving parents and the adoring crowd. (I won’t spoil the ending, but you can probably guess how it works out.) The movie is perfectly serviceable, but it does feature the first lines of dialogue ever spoken in a feature film, and the musical sequences (Jolson sings six songs; it’s largely a showcase for his talent) are sung live. This caused a sensation at the time, and to say that this film killed the silent film industry is not inaccurate. (The first-ever Academy Awards were held the following year, and while The Jazz Singer would have been eligible, they excluded it from consideration, so as to give the other movies a chance.)

The 1980 remake starred Neil Diamond as a Jewish cantor who sang with a soul group at night. There is a blackface scene, but they get past that bit pretty quickly. (It’s terrible, though the soundtrack did feature “America” and “Love On The Rocks,” and Neil is still touring today, so I guess it all ultimately worked out.)

These two clips feature the first live-tracked singing captured on film, followed immediately by the first spoken line (“You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!”), sandwiched between two of Jolson’s hits at the time. Although the singing style is rather different than today (it was 90 years ago, to be sure), Jolson’s pantomime & tight vibrato voice still get “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face” over just fine. And the basic rave-up “Toot Toot Tootsie” is an no-brainer of an encore.

October 5: Educating Stephen

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otd161005It kind of sucks, really. Stephen Colbert’s Late Show is actually quite good. It’s got a charm, Jon Batiste’s band, Stay Human, keeps things moving, the bits Stephen does don’t suck and don’t drag, and you can tell he’s really trying to make it work. But The Colbert Report was one of the most inspired pieces of extended performance art in television history, and his nation was legion. He used his his loud-idiot persona to bring out all kinds of viewpoints that weren’t often seen on TV, especially during the George W. Bush administration.

Science was a big deal on those shows from the very beginning, and so Stephen made a point of bringing on engineers, thinkers, mechanical specialists, chemists, physicists and astronomers, to shed light on what has since become known as the fact-based community. We needed that.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Fly AFAnd one of the science professionals who shone in that kind of setup was Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, and quite possibly America’s Most Famous Scientist. He & Stephen would butt heads about the size of the universe, the reclassification of Pluto as a non-planet, plus an wide array of space walks, eclipses, comet appearances, satellite & space station news, and other celestial and semi-celestial events.

Tyson was a natural. A quick wit who could spar with Colbert at the height of his powers, Tyson could speak with passion about any number of scientific topics at will. He knew a lot about a lot, he projected inspiration, and not for nothing, but his effect on drawing out people who looked like him into the world of science, or at least into the world of nerdery, cannot be understated. No one else could have replaced Carl Sagan (an early mentor of Tyson’s) as the host of the revamped Cosmos, and between his numerous appearances on TV and at conferences, as well as his podcast-turned-series StarTalk, and his ongoing research back at his day job, it’s safe to say that no one (with the possible exception of Bill Nye) has had more of a positive effect on bringing science to the younger people of this generation than he has.

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