Jan. 26, 2010

26 Jan

9:30 am

Doughboy’s

1/2 red velvet cake

This was the leftovers from yesterday.

2 pm

ham and cheese sandwich on wheat

1 glass of water

4 pm

Porto’s Bakery

1 papas rellenas

1 guava and cheese pastry

1 small coffee

There are better bakeries in Los Angeles, but few are as dependable as Porto’s. What was once a quaint Cuban bakery in Glendale is now a massive organization with an endless stream of employees on deck like the USS Enterprise. There’s are several service stations that try to anticipate any of your needs. They turn out numerous birthday and wedding cakes, and it’s the most reasonably-priced option in LA. I’ve graced many a birthday celebrations with a large $14 Porto’s sheet cake. There’s also a cafe with a full coffee menu and large pastry case, a kitchen that turns out pressed cuban sandwiches and full dinners, and even a balloon and party supply store on the second floor. Porto’s has long been an LA institution with many words already written about them, and I’ll eventually add to that after I eat a proper meal there. Today, I stopped by for a quick snack, guava-and-cheese pastry and a cup of coffee. I added a papas rellenas out of impulse. It’s salty and the deep-fried mashed potato crust tastes like the instant dehydrated flakes. But it’s satisfying for the two bites it provides. And I got to chase it down with the slightly sweet, slightly tart and cheesy tart that’s become a regular habit in my life.

8 pm

chicken teriyaki with white rice

1 bottle of Lipton’s iced tea

9:30 pm

Irish Times

several onion rings

handful of nachos

2 chicken wings

5 bottles of Coor’s Light

This is my first pub quiz night appearance at Irish Times in a year. i’ve written about it in my blog’s previous incarnation. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a huge trivia nerd. My lifelong dream is to appear on Jeopardy! and I take the test every year. I’ve actually passed it once, in college, but wasn’t chosen to appear. The annual test is this Thursday and I’ll have a lot more to say about it then. I think I love trivia for two reasons. One, it tests my vast knowledge of random, useless facts. As a kid, I often read encyclopedias out of boredom. It’s geeky, I know. I still have scars from childhood trauma to prove it.

But my main draw to trivia is it’s ability to test our cognitive thinking skills in pressure situations. I think of it as the same as going to the gym for your brain. I’m a junkie for behavioral science books and did my part to make Malcolm Gladwell a NY Times best-selling author. I’m especially fascinated by the concept of hunches and educated guesses. Often times, a hunch is a rapid reaction where a person subconsciously draws upon their life’s experience and education to make the most appropriate reaction. Even if our choices seem random, it’s not. Trivia quizzes often asks for educated guesses, and answers often come from eliminating possible choices. It’s a good way to tests our fast-response thinking skills. I tend to do a lot better at Jeopardy!, where a contestant only has a few seconds to come up with an answer, then pub trivia, where the full minute allows our mind to come up with multiple reasons to disprove our original ideas. In other words, we second-guess ourselves. Both Blink and Joseph Halloran’s Why People Make Mistakes cite a behavioral experiment with practice SAT test takers. The second intuition often led to the most right answers, while test-takers who spent the most time reviewing their answers scored the worst. Overthinking things isn’t always the smartest thing to do.

And with that, tonight’s trivia led to the most ridiculous example of over-thinking imaginable. Going into the last question, we were down 19 points. We had up to 20 points to wager and a wrong answer gets the same number of points deducted. The final question was, “outside of hydrogen and oxygen, what is the most plentiful element in seawater?” Now the obvious answer is sodium or chlorine, since the chemical makeup of salt is NaCl, or sodium chloride. After coming up with that answer, the following conversation took place:

Joel: Sodium seems too obvious.

Maxine: It seems too easy.

Me: If the answer’s sodium, we’re not going to win because everyone’s going to get it right. Our only chance is to go against the grain.

Ryan: Are you guys fucking kidding me? It’s sodium! Put the answer down!

But after much debate, we decided our only chance to win is by thinking “outside the box” and going after the 1% chance that it’s an answer no one else would get right. So we answered with nitrogen. The final answer was of course, sodium. “At least we went for the win,” Maxine said. “I’d rather go out in a blaze of glory like Emilio Estevez and Kiefer Sutherland. All or nothing. Fourth of 12th is the same to me if it’s not #1,” I concurred. “You guys are all idiots,” Ryan said. “Why would we willingly chose a wrong answer when we know the right answer? This makes no sense to me!” And after typing this explanation out, it was incredibly stupid. How does it make sense to try and win by willingly giving the wrong answer? By over-thinking, we lost sight of the most basic goal of trivia, answer the questions correctly. How does a wrong answer help us? Afterward, the quizmaster walks up to us and asks, “why did you guys answer nitrogen?” I explained to him our circular piece of logic and he walked away shaking his head. You know what you call people who are too smart for their own good? Dumbasses. That was us last night.

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