The Final Score

This afternoon I accompanied some fine friends including my brother to prove our meddle at bar trivia. This was not just any trivia, though. Oh, no. This was a battle of wits against the fiercest competitors we had ever seen for the largest prize we had ever played for. It was our chance to grab the golden bull by the horns.no_baseball1

A little bit of background: for a few years I’ve been a big fan of Final Score Trivia Maryland. Most of their games are played in the Baltimore area so I don’t get out to them much, but when I heard they were doing a location a little closer by, I was up for it. To sweeten the pot, they were doing a $100 grand prize for the winner since it was the first time at the new location. I e-mailed the crew and they responded. Fiercely.

The location: Buffalo Wings & Beer off of Randolph Road in Rockville. I had never been there before but the service was very excellent and the food was good. The owner was there to greet us and to wish us farewell.

When we started at 7:30, little did we know what we were in for. We went in with the team name “Do you like fish sticks?” Question after question came at us like a starving polar bear stalking its prey, but we held our own. The half-time question: Name the top four countries by population that start with the letter “P.” We got three. Damn Portugal. At half-time we were in third place.

We swept the next two rounds and nearly swept the third. We were on fire. For the final round, you can bet up to 20 points. The scores were announced: we were in FIRST PLACE by 13! We had 69 points, the only teams that could catch us had 57, 54, and 53. YES!

The category was announced: baseball. We hooted and hollered and hung our heads dejectedly. Baseball?!!

Now, let me tell you this: if the game is played how it used to be played, there is only one sports final question per season (a season is 12 games). And this was it. Our first game and the game we have done the best ever in and this is the category we get. We had no idea and bet 0. With $100 on the line, we were so clueless we couldn’t do anything else. We counted on our substantial lead to carry us through.

It came down to the wire. They were about to announce the winner. The tension was palpable. It was either going to be us or “Mission Accomplished,” the team who had just won last seasons “trivia bowl.” They had had 54 points to our 69. Would we take it? Would our team reign supreme?

No!!!!!!!!!!!! They bet 20 and got it right! Baseball!! So frustrating!! EXCLAMATION POINTS! We got second place, ending up 69 to 74. So frustrating and sad. We left our $20 booby prize as a tip for the waitress and skulked away.

….

…but maybe, just maybe. Next week? We shall see. We. Shall. See.

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Welcome to Tinkertown: Population Poob

It's got gears and pullies up the wazoo!

It's got gears and pullies up the wazoo!

(as narrated by poober)

STOP! Collaborate and Listen.  Poob is back with a brand new edition.

What’s up, running crew?  It’s been a while but I’m back with a perspicacious invention (patent pending).  ROCKET CAR!  Mark 2.  Don’t ask about Mark 1.  It’s not really a rocket car, it’s a car that fires rockets.   Soviet rockets, to be specific.

And it’s got six wheels, which kind of makes it a tank, not even a car.  So scratch that.  It’s my new ICBM launcher.

The make-it-go lever was the easy part.  It’s the launch arm that gave me the most difficulty.  The counterweight has to be proportional to the Fibonacci Sequence.  When all else fails, glue a heavy iron weight to the back.

The troublesome counterweight and the rocket's fuel gauge.  Plus, wires.

The troublesome counterweight and the rocket's fuel gauge. Plus, wires.

So, the most enjoyable part was firing the rocket.  The second most enjoyable was building the rocket so everyone should go out and buy model rockets again; it’s a dying art.  If the youth of the nation can’t work with explosive devices, what a bleak future we have.  Tell all the parents to get out there and teach their children explosives.

I’m promoting rockets.  Rocket explosions.  I’m a rocket man.

[Poob continued his patriotic speech for many days without food or drink but luckily you don’t need to listen; you only need to watch this video:]

Please vote in the poll:

Variations on Crab and Wasabi

I promised to post recipes for some of the dishes from the Fel Iron Chef competition, so here they are! You may be able to tell the difference in styles of the two Chefs by looking them over.

The recipe for the most innovative dish by Chef Poob:

Creamy Wasabi Mustard (Camo Sauce)

2 tablespoon cup sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoon wasabi
2 tablespoon mayo
3 tablespoon mustard dijon
dash of onion powder
dash of sugar

Crab Poppers

1 large can Poblano peppers

Filling
1 lb crab
2 tbs fine chopped bell pepper
2 tbs fine chopped onion
1/4 cup cracker meal
1 beaten egg
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup milk
salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste

Breading
2 cups cracker meal
1 cup milk
2 eggs
salt and pepper

cut peppers in half and stuff with filling
bread and dump in boiling hot oil until kitchen bursts into flame

The recipe for the most innovative dish by Chef Orlo:

Crab and Cauliflower Soup (serves 2-4):

Key notions:
We are mixing textures as well as flavors in this dish. The broth is not poured until the very last minute in order to keep the nutty flavour of the cauliflower and the crispy, sweet crab meat distinct and separate. What brings them together is the acidity of the tomato and leek, all under the umbrella of lemongrass and wasabi.

1 head Cauliflower, flourettes chopped into small bits
Fresh Crab meat : 1/2 to 3/4 of however much cauliflower you have
1 glug Olive/Canola Oil
1 glug oil, olive or Canola
1-2 liters vegetable stock or filtered water
1 cup chopped leeks
1 tomato, very thinly sliced (alternatively, you could chop them to cubes half the size of the cauliflower chunks)
3 cloves garlic, roughly crushed
1-2 strands lemongrass, smashed
1 tbsp wasabi paste
1 whole crab (the redder the better, for color and taste. Frozen is OK)

finely chopped chives
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375

2. Begin to boil water or stock in an appropriately-sized pot

3. In a bowl, dress the cauliflower with pepper and salt, and rub in oil until all pieces are covered and salt and pepper are distributed evenly.

4. Spread cauliflower out on a thin baking sheet and place in the pre-heated oven near the top

This is the fun part:
Smash, Bash and Crush the crab and garlic and optional lemongrass into bits. We won’t be eating these directly; they’ll be flavouring our broth for our soup ( But save the crab claws to snack on while cleaning up)

5. place leeks, crab, smashed garlic, wasabi paste and lemongrass into the water/stock.

6. Let stew for as long as you can. The longer the crab stays in there, the redder (and prettier) the stock gets. Taste periodically to make sure you have the desired amount of salt and wasabi . Start with light salt… you can always add more, but you cant take any away!

7. While the soup is stewing, check on your cauliflower. After about 7-10 minutes, or when your cauliflower is just turning golden brown, spread some of the fresh crab meat onto the same pan, next to the cauliflower. By roasting the cauliflower and crab, we are allowing the more complex carbohydrates to un-tangle, making them more receptive (and sweeter) to our tastebuds. Roasting the crab will also give us some bite for when we put it in the soup.

8. While the cauliflower and crab finish, start preparing your soup bowls. Place one or two of the very thin tomato slices in the bowl and dress it with some of the chopped chives.

9. When the cauliflower and crab look ‘toasted’, pull them out and let them sit for a minute, then place them on top of the tomato in the soup bowls. Notice that we have not added any of our crab stock at this point.

10. When it comes time to eat, serve the bowls of tomato, crab and cauliflower, then gently pour in some of the broth around the edges of the bowl, making an effort not to drown our beautifully toasted crab and cauliflower. Garnish with more chives, if you wish, a stalk of lemongrass or a leftover crab claw climbing out of the bowl would look awesome too.

Possible variations:

Try adding some Thai basil or cilantro at the end, to make more of a pho-flavoured dish. Add some broiled or crispy pan-fried white fish just before you pour the broth for a more seafood-y soup.

I Have Way Too Much Leftover Crab

I’ve been meaning to do the wrap-up post for the Iron Chef-style battle we held back in February, but I hadn’t gotten around to it until today. So here it is: the results of the showdown in the Kitchen Arena:

The contenders with their game faces on.

The contenders with their game faces on.

chairman

The Weirdo Chairman

program

Cool Programs: thanks Mom!

The battle was not nearly as intensely fought as it is on television, the competitors were more cordial and atmosphere was a bit more relaxed. As the chairman, I wore a maroon bathrobe along with the longest formal black tie I could find. I tried to follow the program as closely as possible: The introduction, the coin toss, the biting of the pepper (actually very yummy), the unveiling of the special ingredients and the battle itself.

We had three cameras going during the battle. Mine died fairly early due to lack of battery life, but the other two stayed on. The hope is that a video will eventually be produced but that takes a lot more effort and will than a blog post, which has taken me 2 months!

Each contender prepared three dishes.  First up was Chef Poob:

n722117939_1355104_7163 Crab Dip with Pita Wedges A rich and creamy crab dip with cheese on top served with fried pita wedges for dipping and garnished with wasabi mustard sauce.
vlcsnap-6062289 Poblano Poppers Poblano Peppers stuffed with crab and cracker meal, breaded and fried to perfection.
tradpoob Crab Quesadilla A traditional quesadilla stuffed with cheese and crab and cut into strips served with dipping cups filled with wasabi mustard.

His dishes were very well received.

Chef Orlo responded with:

caulsoup Roasted Crab and Cauliflower Soup Roasted cauliflower and roasted crab along with fresh herbs and vegetables with the broth poured tableside to preserve the texture and taste.
cakes Asian-style Crab Cakes with Soy Sauce Lightly fried crab cakes with Asian spices served with wasabi and soy sauce.
crunch Open-faced Crab Quesadilla with Orange Pepper An open face quesadilla on a half-tostada heavy on the crab and light on the cheese with fresh orange pepper and wasabi on top.

His dishes were also well received and analyzed thoroughly by the judges.

The final adjudication was really tough because I didn’t want anyone to lose!  Someone has to in a competition, I guess, though.  Both culinary masters did well but only one came out the winner and the first “Iron Chef.”

Here are the final scores:

Poob Orlo
Judge Taste Plating Originality Taste Plating Originality
Judge 1 9 4 4 8 5 4
Judge 2 7 4 5 9 4 5
Judge 3 7 3 3 8 5 4
Total 23 11 12 25 14 13
46 52

Here’s a video of me announcing the winner:

As I said, a little too low key.  And I got the score wrong, also.

Many thanks to competitors, judges, attendees, and everyone who was involved for making it totally awesome!  On Friday I will post the recipes that the competitors sent me for their dishes.

Some lessons learned for the next battle:

  • It is important to hold the tournament in a neutral location.  If one competitor has cooked or practiced in the location, they have a definitive advantage.
  • Have a better plan for how to do the math.  We used clipboards and score sheets that were a little confusing and I added them up wrong.  We had two accountants at the battle but neither checked my numbers!
  • Buy less ingredients.  I went kind of crazy with the ingredients but since both contenders already sort of had a plan in mind, they didn’t need many of them.  Almost none of the vegetables got used and very little of the cheese.
  • Be more flamboyant.  A flamboyant chairman makes for a more exciting battle.

We already have two possible contenders lined up for the next battle. Chef Orlo is planning the next event (so as to find an adequate challenger) and has already picked a secret ingredient to challenge the competitors.  He is only biding his time before the ingredient is fully in season. You have not seen the last of this culinary tournament!

Code Jamming: Backronyms

jamExcuse me if I reference my first post ever on this blog but it’s right: I am very bad at following through with projects. I am, however, very good at following through with commitments and promises I have made.

Luckily I have friends with good ideas, and one of them came up with this one: every few weeks hold a “code jam” that gets all of us both excited and motivated about projects we could do. If we make it a commitment to each other to work on the projects and just feed ideas off one another, it will mean projects are more likely to get started and to get completed.

We decided to start with something easy. The organizer of the group, Kevin, recently posted about the problem of generating backronyms. There is an internet site out there does this, but it doesn’t do a very good job.

Well, let’s back up: what are backronyms? Sometimes you have a clever acronym you want to create for a project but you don’t know what the letters should stand for. So you invent the words that the letters stand for out of whole cloth! This is a backronym. This is used all the time in government: an example would be the USAPATRIOT act.

Well, the group has met three times and we have come up with three different algorithms for how to do this. I’m the first one to get my algorithm ready to run so it’s up now! On the internet! You can find it at pheared labs. It’s written in Python using django.

At first, it was only able to make sensible things out of 3 letter acronyms (try your initials). I’ve recently improved the algorithm so that it does fairly well with up to 5 letters and I hope to make it better. I also hope my friends will come up with their alternative algorithms so we can have more options.

If you live in or around Silver Spring and would be interesting in attending a Jam, let us know! Exciting!

Review: “The Andromeda Strain” by Michael Crichton

andromedaThis review is my second review for the Guardian 1000 Books You Must Read challenge. It does not count toward any of the requirements other than the 10 books, since it is also in the Crime section. You can also see all the reviews for this challenge.

In The Andromeda Strain, after a spacecraft crashes to Earth a “biological crisis” ensues and certain Top Secret government protocols are initiated. Can the most brilliant scientists in America prevent disaster?

This book is very short and very easy to read. It only took me three days to blow through it. This is in stark contrast to most of Crichton’s other work that I’ve come into contact with (like, say, Jurassic Park). I think this was mainly an artifact of the abrupt ending; the book could have probably been twice as long as it was, it just sort of ends with a twist instead and leaves you to sort out the pieces.

I was also surprised to find it in the “Crime” section on the list: I would have thought it more science fiction, although I suppose the bulk of the book is CSI-style investigation using fairly realistic science. The only unrealistic science (at least, it seems that way to me) is when Crichton extrapolates the technology he feels the government must have in its secret labs based on what technology was available publicly at the time.

Ths book rubbed me a little bit the wrong way on some things, mainly due to my libertarian sensibilities. Crichton appears to put great confidence in the ability of the government and top scientists in the private community to both make and keep secret scientific discoveries for long periods of time. One such example is a pill that causes all bacteria in your body to die that apparently “cures cancer” though with negative side effects. Another example is the existence of the lab featured in the story itself. I don’t feel the government is competent enough to conceal this kind of information.

Overall this is a book definitely good enough and short enough for everyone to enjoy. The Guardian made a good choice here.

Review: “Postmortem” by Patricia Cornwell

postmortemThis review is my first review for the Guardian 1000 Books You Must Read challenge. It counts as the book I had never heard of and as the book from the Crime section. If I want to finish the challenge, I’d better hurry up!

Postmortem, a mystery by Patricia Cornwell, is a dated but still exciting mystery story set in Richmond Virginia. The story is told primarily from the point of view of Dr. Kay Scarpetta, chief medical examiner of the state of Virginia, as she attempts to assist in solving the case of a serial murderer. Other characters include her precocious niece, a grizzled police officer and several politicians doing their normal political maneuverings.

The first thing that struck me about the novel was its inherent feminism. Though it is not incredibly blatant, many of the main characters are strong-willed and competent women. There are Dr. Scarpetta herself, her niece who is a computer whiz, her sister who writes successful children’s novels, the database tech where she works, an intrepid reporter and the first murdered character who is also a doctor. While I don’t think it would be notable today to have women in all these strong roles, they seemed somewhat anachronistic to me because the novel is set in the late 80’s or early 90’s (as far as I could tell).

Additionally, many of the men in the story (including both initially sympathetic characters and fundamentally evil ones such as the murderer) treat women very badly; as either objects of desire to be manipulated and discarded or lesser beings to be ignored and dismissed. This plays into the stereotype of all men as fundamentally rooted in the patriarchy, another aspect of some branches of feminism.

Another thing that felt anachronistic to me was all the smoking in the book; The main character and most of the people she interacts with smoke and do so in their offices and even in the morgue where she works. This brought me out of the story, although it is of course perfectly expected in the time period in which the book is set (especially in Virginia). It also repelled me from some scenes; it not only brought me out of the story but also made me want to leave the room that the characters were in; even to imagine watching the scene in the smoke-filled room was repellent. This is interesting to me because I don’t have any problem watching movies where people are smoking.

The role that the medical examiner plays in the political system and the fact that Dr. Scarpetta’s office appeared to do multiple autopsies a day reminded me of the recent flap among Libertarian circles about Dr. Stephen Hayne, who performed thousands of autopsies a year in Mississippi and Louisiana and served as an expert witness for the prosecution who was willing to back up whatever claims they wanted him to, which resulted in many false convictions. The book helped accentuate the political power and the responsibility that a medical examiner faces; their mistakes or a lack of ethics can cause great tragedy (such as false imprisonment or even execution of the falsely accused).

Overall, ignoring those anachronisms, it was a well-structured and paced mystery story. While I am somewhat unfamiliar with the genre, certainly seems like it could stand as an archetype. This may be why the Guardian selected it for their list of 1000 Books You Must Read. I am reminded of a post I recently read about the fact that the business model for mystery books could be changed in a technologically advanced world: the first 90% of the book could be free, with a charge necessary only to see the final 10%. I think this book would do well with this business model.