Saturday, September 17, 2005

Whad'Ya Know?

Yup, if you listened to Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know, broadcast over NPR from Cleveland this morning, that was me at the end of the first hour. I'd always hoped to get to play trivia on Michael's show, and came pretty close during his last trip to Cleveland seven years ago.

So I was excited to play...

More excited to win...

But, the biggest thrill for me was completely accidental. I got to insult former FEMA director Michael Brown while trying to get my phone-player teammate Tom to agree with me on the answer for a particular question. Even better - a packed house laughed at this.

First, a little background.

I've been a longtime trivia fan. I've flunked the Jeopardy test twice so far, but I did make it to the University of Pittsburgh College Bowl team in 1979. College Bowl hasn't been televised in years, it still existed as a series of regional tournaments. The Pitt team placed second in our region. I have way too many versions of Trivial Pursuit and other trivia games in my house.

In about 1996, I started listening to Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know on NPR. It's an amusing radio show that's part short-interviews, part humor and part trivia. While the show is usually broadcast live from Madison, Wisconsin, Michael takes the it on the road probably a dozen times a year. In 1998, he brought the show to Cleveland. Jim and I went. I really wanted to participate in the quiz part of the show. I even got Michael's attention just before he started the quiz. Unfortunately, it was before he was ready to invite someone from the audience to participate in the quiz. So, when he started talking to me, I just talked about the old Cleveland-Pittsburgh rivalry.

And I got booed. A little. But that was to be expected.

So Michael brought the show back to Cleveland today. Jim decided not to go (his uncle is in town), so I drove up to Cleveland early this morning. When this radio show travels, they decorate the theater stage with some large props relevant to the area. The stage had two large guitars on one side (from the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame), and bunch of space-related displays and a space suit (from the local NASA office) and a race car (I wasn't sure why, but there was probably a reason for that). I wound up with a seat in the middle of the audience. However, I timed myself much better this time, and Michael called on me to come out and participate in the quiz.

"Y'know, Michael, you and I have exchanged E-mail recently," I said.

Michael Feldman


"I'm the curator of Dead People Server, and you sent me a correction on your birthday."

He thought about that for a moment and grinned. "Right," then briefly explained my site to the audience. "And why do you want to play the quiz?"

"Because I've been dying to."

So he invited me to join him on the stage.

Onstage, we talked about my Web site, my unemployment and my novel. He then invited callers, as the quiz involves two people - someone from the audience, and a caller who answer questions as a team. If you want to participate as a caller, you need to answer a trivia question. Unfortunately, almost all the trivia questions that morning were related to Cleveland. In fact, I can't even tell you what the qualifying question was, or what its answer was. I only remember that, after several calls, a lawyer named Tom answered the question and became my partner. Luckily, it turned out he was from the Cleveland area, so at least we had a chance.

Michael asked, "What is the female to male ratio of the students at Case Western University: 4:4, 4:5 or 4:6?"

"Hmmm..." I responded. "I know it's still a pretty big engineering school, so it's probably either 4:5 or 4:6. Tom, do you have any idea?"


"4:5," I guessed.

"Oh, sorry, it's 4:6." So we missed the first question. In the Whad'Ya Know quiz, you have to answer three questions correctly to win, but if you miss two of them, you've lost.

Michael asked, "Does the ambassador to Germany need to speak German or have any diplomatic experience?"

The audience giggled, a sure sign that the answer was "No." That would have been my answer anyway, but it's good to have the audience back you up.

Tom said, "Yes, he does."

I responded, "I don't think so."

"Of course he does."

"Look, we just had a director of FEMA whose sole experience was that he ran horse shows, so I don't think an ambassador needs any experience."

The audience laughed. (Hey, I wish I could be consistently funny - I've always been something of a frustrated class clown. So having about 2,000 people laugh at a joke that I told so fast I didn't even think about it was a thrill for me.)

Tom didn't say anything, but I don't think he was convinced. However, one advantage of being the "live" player rather than the "phone-in" player is that you can give the final answer. "I'm sure the ambassador needs no experience."

"You're right!" said Michael, ringing his bell. (Ambassadorships, whether for Republican or Democratic administrations, tend to be major sources of politcal payback. It's simply wrong, no matter which administration does it. It turns out that the new ambassador to Germany is from the Cleveland area and doesn't speak German or have any diplomatic experience.)

Michael asked, "What percentage of Clevelanders have been photographed in the nude, 9%, 14% or 20%?" (I don't remember the actual percentages, but they were something like that.)

I said, "I have absolutely no idea."

Tom immediately jumped in with "9%."

I didn't disagree, and that turned out to be the right answer.

The last question turned out to have no Cleveland connections and was something of a major gift. "A study at Princeton proved that bar snacks like peanuts and pretzels make you want to drink more. True or false?"

"True, because they're salty and make you want to drink more," I said.

Tom agreed.

We won. I forget what Tom won, but I won a Great Lakes Brewery jacket, a soft-sided Great Lakes brewery cooler and five pounds of organic fertilizer. Two of the three gifts were very fitting as Jim and I tend to go the Great Lakes Brewery whenevery we're in Cleveland. And, in fact, I had plans to go there after the show, which I did. I ran into more people who'd been to the show there, and we chatted a little.

After lunch, I drove back to Pittsburgh and went to a Pirates game. The weather was perfect for baseball (it had been raining and dreary in Cleveland and for most of my drive) and the Pirates even won.

Here's a page with a link to the Real Audio version of the show. I'm on at about the 15 minute point of the Part B. I found the episode where I met Michael the first time. I'm on Part D, about 3 minutes into the segment (this show was taped in June 1998, and rerun in March 2002)

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on Whad'Ya Know?'s show from Cleveland. The paper apparently included a photo of me, but that didn't seem to show up in the online edition.

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