tough questions

Tough Questions: What’s the Most Meaningless Game You’ve Ever Cheated In?

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Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What’s the most meaningless game you’ve ever cheated in?

Rules are simple: what are you capable of doing to win, even when the chips aren’t down? A story about cheating to win is still a story about winning. A story about cheating in something meaningless — something truly, truly meaningless — is a story about depravity.

Alex Russell

Either only children cheat in games more often or that’s what I tell myself to excuse my shitty behavior. I was ruthless as a kid. I would move pieces when people looked away. I would do anything it took to give me an upper hand. There’s a great term in the world of video games for this now, a euphemism for some kinds of cheating: “clever use of game mechanics.” I’ll take my best moments to my grave, but my dumbest “use of game mechanics” surely has to have happened in a bowling alley. I have a ton of hubris about my bowling (which is dumb in a different way), but like anyone else with too much pride, I fear the fall. I’ll talk in your backswing. As the expression goes, “It is not enough that I succeed, others must fail.” Bowling doesn’t matter, but damn if I don’t forget that instantly in those places.

Jonathan May

Monopoly: the game my mother calls a “marriage ender.” It’s the kind of game where people generally agree upon “house rules” beforehand, but I generally also operate on a few private rules of my own. For instance, I make deals with players concerning property and free passes and such, and I’ve been accused of cheating many times while taking the “Free Parking” money. But I just consider those who call “cheat” to be jealous. Monopoly is totally the kind of game that reveals everything about someone. It should definitely be played with Xanax.

Brent Hopkins

I don’t remember the last time I cheated in a game. I am a bit of a “knight” when it comes to competition and I’d rather get beaten badly than win unfairly. That’s probably why I never accept handicaps in games, also. How else am I supposed to be the very best? Like no one ever was.

Andrew Findlay

I do not resort to cheating. I mostly just yell loudly at whoever is beating me. I am going to tell of the most egregious cheating that has ever been practiced upon me. I was at a wedding in Germany with a lot of good friends and my wife. German weddings are uh, kind of next-level when it comes to festivities. I don’t even mean drinking – I mean all the skits and games the ones close to the bride and groom are supposed to come up with. The groom’s best man, his brother, decided that his contribution would be to introduce dizzy bat to Germany. He was successful, and it was great. It was also girls versus boys. The men stood up, taking this very seriously, most having already tied quite a few on. All of us were very dedicated, and I can definitely say that spinning around on a bat, drinking an entire pint, then running down the room is almost a terrifying experience. I cannot remember any other time in my life where, running, I could literally not tell where the ground was going to be the next time my foot hit it. Anyway, we committed. The women went through their whole relay a split second before we did – damn, we lost! Then we saw five entirely full beers on a table right next to their team. They were just setting the beers to the side, and our entire team was too into competing to even notice.

Gardner Mounce

I’m sure I cheated at games a lot when I was a kid, but nothing sticks out except for this dick move I’d do when my older sister got “Free Parking” in Monopoly where I’d dig my fingers under the board–really get both hands under there, as close to center as possible–and I’d try to make the board hit the ceiling. Then I’d laugh like it was funny, like no one else had been enjoying the game either and I had just livened the mood. Except everyone had been enjoying the game, especially my older sister. It’s okay. I hate myself, too.

Colton Royle

I could insert any video game from the 1990s into this category. In all seriousness though, our family played Bible Trivia, which is just a religious Trivia Pursuit. We would have a weekly bible study and my sister and I would try to convince my parents to play trivia instead. During these games I would do anything I could, whether it was keeping a bible in the bathroom, or just something simple like looking behind a card, to get the “answers.” I can’t tell if I was a either good player for being desperate for answers or a terrible person for cheating at bible games.

Tough Questions: What’s the Best Thing You’ve Seen this Year?

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Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What’s the best thing you’ve seen this year?

Rules are simple: what have we, like, gotta see, man? No, really, what have we gotta see? It’s the middle of the year and nearly everything worthwhile is on hiatus. Wonder if anyone here is writing about that? Is that the first meta-plug in the intro paragraph? Why are you reading this, still? Go find out what you’re missing! What’s the best stuff from your first half of 2014?

Alex Russell

“So Did the Fat Lady” is the episode of Louie that’s nominated for an Emmy, but I’m sticking with the entire “Elevator” saga. I’m Louie‘s biggest fan, and I’m honestly a little surprised every time I realize it competes for Emmy awards as a “comedy.” I guess it is, but the “Elevator” arc from this season is everything the show is supposed to be. There were a ton of thinkpieces written about how it’s not funny anymore, but if you’re watching Louie to laugh then you’re missing the point. It’s all about watching a woman try to explain “hairdryer” to someone with no shared language between them. DAMN this season of Louie was good, y’all.

Jonathan May

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I’d have to say the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado. Clyfford Still was one of the leading American Abtract-Expressionist painters. The Museum houses 94% of the artist’s output, and he stipulated in his will that all of his work should be sealed off from the public (upon his death) until a museum devoted solely to it was built. The Museum opened just a few years ago, so I was lucky to be able to return to Denver to see it this year. Not only is the building itself absolutely gorgeous (concrete and steel), the paintings hang beautifully in chronological order, with many more in careful storage. I’d never been able to see his paintings in the flesh, so to walk through rooms and rooms of them was just heaven.

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Brent Hopkins

I would say the best thing I have seen this year would have to be Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe in Japan. I’ve always been intrigued by Japan as a long time video game and anime fan, and finally had a chance to go visit. (I wrote about the arcade culture there way back when.) You always hear about Tokyo, but the other cities are so vibrant and lively that they shouldn’t be taken for granted either. Kyoto in particular had me feeling like I had lived there forever or could live there forever. Just a breathtaking place with amazing people.

Gardner Mounce

The best thing I’ve seen so far this year is the trailer for Boyhood, the new Richard Linklater film. I’m a huge Linklater fan, having seen all of the Before… movies a dozen times. I was smiling ear-to-ear when I saw that trailer. It looks like it’s going to be like the Before…movies but three hours long and with all the cringiness of puberty. That’s my kind of entertainment.

Colton Royle

Can we just talk about how incredible The Lego Movie really was? I mean here is a movie about a kid’s toy that was somehow also about globalization, free movement of capital, and the possibility for a post-nation state while also adding in a little Marxist criticism for the low income workers?

In all seriousness, the movie is really funny. Each cliché is tweaked just out of reach for comedy. Consider the foreshadowing of Emmit’s fall into the human world (spoilers, but it’s been enough time) with items like the “Blade of Exact Zero” and the enlightened flashes that included a cat poster. Consider how Morgan Freeman’s character Vitruvius thinks that a prophecy is true because it rhymes. And the first five minutes of the film in Bricksburg is the most satirical animated wonder since Shrek. While it definitely shows as not a movie for children, it is philosophical and quirky in a way that had me doing jumping jacks.

Andrew Findlay

The best thing I have seen all year is The Sopranos. I have been on a quest to catch up on all of the universally acclaimed television shows from the last couple decades, and The Sopranos has impressed me the most by far. Mad Men is dripping with style, The Wire is sprawling, complex, and incisive, and Breaking Bad is absurdly exciting to watch, but none quite hit the slow and workmanlike layering of a fully realized network of people. The Sopranos is a show about generational psychosis, the American dream, and family (both the kind you see at Thanksgiving and the kind you order to hijack a semi of fine Italian suits for you). All the shows I listed are amazing, but they are all missing something intangible that The Sopranos has, and I expect it to remain for some time in my top five cultural experiences.

Tough Questions: If You Had to Move Tomorrow, Where Would You Move?

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Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

If you had to move tomorrow, where would you move?

Rules are simple: get out of here. People are obsessed with movement and change. This week we ask everyone to pack their bags and move away. You’ve already got the wanderlust, where are you going?

Alex Russell

I love Chicago and I do not want to leave. It’s about to get to the oppressively hot part of the year here, though, and I’m one of the few people that hates the city in the summer more than I do in the winter. I moved here to get away from the 103 degree summers of the South, so I don’t appreciate when Hoth gets hot for a few months.

I’m not a beach guy, but I was in Santa Cruz, California on July 4th in 2008. This picture does not do it justice, but something about the weirdness of one of the last great beach towns in the country really, really stuck with me. Everyone was what you can only call “specific.” It’s not somewhere I could live for a decade, but there are worse places to turn 30, I think. There are definitely worse places.

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Jonathan May

New Orleans! I love everything about the city: the food, the people, the connection to the water, the art. Since my friend Tyler moved down five or more years ago, I stay with him a few times a year, and it’s always a magical time. I love how close a lot of things are; you can do a lot of great walking and people-watching. The museum has some real treasures in it, and their cafe puts golden raisins and dill in their chicken salad (so good!). But most of all, just being in the city, with the susurrus of the crowd along the sidewalk and in the street, you lose yourself in the beautiful history of people promenading along the boulevards slowly with coffee or booze, in no great hurry to see the world that day, just one beautiful slice of it. I’ll there for July 4th this year, and I can’t wait!

Andrew Findlay

This is confusing to me. Am I being chased? Has a job opportunity opened up? I would either go to Memphis, where rent is about thirty percent of what it is here, or to Paris, where things are awesome. D.C. is great and all, but it’s kind of an in-between city – not as cheap as some, not as astounding as others.

Brent Hopkins

I would probably move to Busan, South Korea if I had to move tomorrow. I have been missing the ocean recently and also generally having a metropolitan area to roam around in. I have been slowly making my way south in the peninsula may as well pull the band-aid off and go all the way south.

Gardner Mounce

San Francisco. Does it matter that I’ve never been? No. I’ve seen pictures and I’ve watched Full House, and everyone agrees that it’s the most beautiful city on earth. This is a picture of me in San Francisco, but as another person.

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See how happy I am?

Tough Questions: What Would Your Yearbook Quote Be Now?

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Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What would your yearbook quote be now?

Rules are simple: what are you going to be remembered for FOREVER? Nah, not really. They feel important, but you’re a teenager so everything feels important. No one takes these seriously, right? This kid quoted Rob Delaney! Now you’re a little bit older and supposedly wiser, so what words are you putting under a picture of yourself in a tux?

Alex Russell

In high school I went with a quote by an African poet who had an album on Ani DiFranco’s record label. It made sense at the time. There is no better line in my mind for the situation of suddenly being back in high school, though, than Louis CK’s line about optimism:

“Why would anything nice ever happen?”

Jonathan May

Stiviano: I’m Mr. Sterling’s right-hand arm man. I’m Mr. Sterling’s everything. I’m his confidante, his best friend. His silly rabbit.

Walters: His what?

Stiviano: His silly rabbit.

Walters: Does he call you that?

Stiviano: That’s what I call myself. I joke around and I make him laugh. I do things that some people find very silly, or I do things that — sometimes people can’t understand our relationship. I’m his everything.

Andrew Findlay

“Fiction is a kind of compassion-generating machine that saves us from sloth. Is life kind or cruel? Yes, Literature answers. Are people good or bad? You bet, says Literature. But unlike other systems of knowing, Literature declines to eradicate one truth in favor of another; rather, it teaches us to abide with the fact that, in their own way, all things are true, and helps us, in the face of this terrifying knowledge, continually push ourselves in the direction of Open the Hell Up.”

This is a quote from George Saunders that I used in a previous article. It encapsulates a lot of what makes reading so important to me, and why I dedicate so many hours a day to it (even on absurdly busy days, I make sure to spend at least half an hour with a good book). Literature is not here to say this is right or that is wrong, that is good or this is bad. It is here to expand the horizon of our experience, to allow us to consider multiple viewpoints across multiple times and places and people, and to help us understand and accept. Like most people who have become famous for putting words together, Saunders says it much better than me.

Brent Hopkins

Distance will end any relationship, good or bad, faster than most arguments will. If you’re afraid of commitment choose a contractual line of work.

Gardner Mounce

I wouldn’t have one for the same reason I don’t have a tattoo. There just isn’t a quote or symbol I could use as representational of me that wouldn’t embarrass me in the future. Maybe I’d quote Monty Python or MST3K as a cop out. But also, does it matter? I don’t remember anyone’s senior quote. Maybe it’d be “senior quote,” all meta and ironic. But isn’t that so something high school me would have done? No, because I didn’t do it. I don’t know who I am.

Tough Questions: What Would You Pick as Your Theme Song?

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Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What would you pick as your theme song?

Rules are simple: what’s your jam? At this year’s NFL Draft, they let the first round picks pick out the song that would play when they went on stage. The results are ridiculous. It got us thinking: what’s your personal theme song? What’s your at-bat music? More sports references! But really, if you’re not gonna go with No Doubt, what’s your theme song? I just assume everyone’s first choice is No Doubt… right?

Alex Russell

Musical tastes have a way of changing every few years. I don’t really listen to as much Ben Folds Five as I did in college, but “Best Imitation of Myself” is still hard to ignore as a candidate here. I think it might be sacrilege for me to not go with a song from my favorite band of my all time, though, so I have to go with “Ox Baker Triumphant” by The Mountain Goats. It’s a song about how you get through some shit and come back to defeat the people who started it all. I think we all have revenge fantasies, even those of us that don’t have revenge to enact. You can listen to John Darnielle explain why he wrote a song about a wrestler who wore a shirt that said “I Like to Hurt People” here, and I highly, highly suggest that you do.

Jonathan May

My theme song is constantly changing. I’m one of those people who listens to one song over and over again until it transcends its original pop intentions and becomes more like musique concrete, which I attribute to years of listening to experimental music and Björk. Currently, however, my song de jour is definitely “Baby’s On Fire” by Die Antwoord (June 2012). Those two crazy South Africans sure know how to make some sick dance music and hilarious videos. After all this time in America, it’s hilarious to me that I’ve become stuck on two Afrikaners and their irreverent, ballsy style of rap. In the particular song mentioned, I don’t actually much care for the chorus, which is comprised of Ninja shouting the same few lines over and over; what draws me in (and has kept me there for a bit now) is Yo-Landi’s infectious verses and voice. She works that little girl insouciance to perverse effect, rapping about her wild child interior and sexual antics. While lacking almost any higher moral value, the song definitely holds up its dance-y proposition.

Stephanie Feinstein

“Better Son/Daughter” by Rilo Kiley.

Andrew Findlay

“Cheese and Dope” by Project Pat. It’s not really my theme song (not about that life) as much as a song I listen to all the time. It is one of the greats. DJ Paul and Juicy J are two of the greatest producers that have ever been in the game, and it is obvious here. Multiple interwoven, complex beats throughout the song, beat switches, and that sweet Memphis tappity-tap with Project Pat’s smooth smooth flow riding over everything combine to make instant listening transcendence. Listen. Listen.

Brent Hopkins

I worked in a job where we had to do entrance dances and go through an interview process for students who were coming for week-long camps. I was quickly tagged as the guy who liked every woman (a playboy) so my song was Hyuna & Jang Hyun Seung – “Trouble Maker MV“. This lasted for two years and fit the whole time.

Gardner Mounce

I had trouble picking this because I was skating back and forth over the line: do I want my song to be cool like Pixies or TV on the Radio (because I’m so cool, duh) or do I want to be ironic and funny by choosing a song that shaped my formative years, which, sadly, happened to include Creed’s Human Clay. But, no, I’m going to try to honestly choose a song that represents me now. Today. So, I am choosing for my theme song: “Almost Ready” by Dinosaur Jr. First of all, it kicks ass. The guitars scream, the drums thunder, the bass chugs; juxtapose those with J Mascis’s warm drawl and boy, oh, boy. Additionally, the lyrics speak to where I am in life: mid-20s, in a job I like but wonder if, in the larger scheme of things, I’m making a dent. The song’s about that point, about being on the cusp of demanding something more of life, but hesitating, and about the recursive, messy way we all go about finding what the hell we’re doing with our lives, etc. and then, you know, guitar solos.

Tough Questions: What Would You Eat for Your Last Meal?

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Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What would you eat for your last meal?

Rules are simple: What’s that one special dish? This doesn’t necessarily have to be a meal you eat in prison but knowing your kind, it probably will be. I like to think of it as your last meal before you evolve beyond the need for food. Is that better? Hard to say.

Alex Russell

On my Yelp profile (a thing I created at an age when I thought I would need a Yelp profile) I answered this question with the terrible joke “the antidote!” Here I will offer a more sincere answer: a full pound of pulled pork, coleslaw, BBQ beans, and the hottest, smokiest sauce you can get your hands on. Add four fingers of bourbon with three ice cubes and an unsettling amount of dill pickle chips on the side. My plan is to fall asleep in a food coma, because if I’m going out I’m at least gonna be so drunk on pork that I don’t even care.

Jonathan May

I’m assuming this is meant to be my last meal in prison. Given that there exist no special last meal restrictions in Tennessee (in Oklahoma, the cap is $15; Florida $40), I would request the ingredients to make beef bourguignon: cubed tenderloin, onions, carrots, tomato, an herb bouquet, bacon, beef stock, and red wine (preferably something dry and expensive). This dish, made famous by Julia Child, takes around four hours to make, during which time I would drink the remainder of the red wine. Around two hours in, the aroma starts to waft around me, reminding me of all the happier times under which I’d made this fragrant stew. I would request to share the meal with the prison warden; why not dine with the man who signs away your life? For dessert? Ice-cold M&M’s.

Stephanie Feinstein

Soup Course: Tonkotsu ramen (“muddy pork broth”, it is magical) with extra nori and bamboo, with Hana Awaka sparkling sake

Main Course:  My mom’s chicken tetrazzini, that I cannot replicate correctly at my own home, accompanied by pillowy crescent sticks, with Sofia Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine

Dessert Course: a gigantic slice of tiramisu, traditional style, with an espresso dopio to drink.

Mike Hannemann

Last meal is tricky. You can either go comfort food you know you enjoy or something you would never be able to afford had you not done whatever it is you are about to be put to death for (I assume this is a Green Mile scenario). Honestly, I’d go simple: a couple dinner rolls, a small steak filet, maybe some potatoes. The real treat would be a glass of fine, vintage scotch. Not a dinkin’ scotch. One you sip two fingers of, over the course of an hour to experience the moment. It’s how I celebrated the weddings of my brother and two of my best friends so I figure that’s also worthy of my last hours on Earth.

Oh, and maybe the spiral kind of macaroni and cheese, but not the normal kind, because it tastes better.

Andrew Findlay

What a morbid question. My last meal will probably be a rich buffet of fear and confusion as I feel my life leaving my body, which, God, how terrifying. Assuming there is a flawless prediction and I have been told with indubitable accuracy when I will die, I would prepare myself multiple meals:

  1. Ribeye steak cooked rare, roasted asparagus, and Lagavulin.
  2. A nice pinot noir from Burgundy, duck confit, and a plate of Brie, Camembert, and other selections much runnier and smellier.
  3. Like 84 hot wings. Actually, this last one is probably what would kill me.

Brent Hopkins

My last meal would be the best cheeses, meats, and crackers I could find, washed down with a nice red wine. May as well go out classy as F&^*. A cigar would also be on that list, if that counts as dessert.

Tough Questions: What’s the Hardest You’ve Ever Laughed?

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Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What’s the hardest you’ve ever laughed?

Rules are simple: Tell us a time you just full-on lost your shit. Pete Holmes asks this question on his podcast You Made it Weird, and it’s fascinating to hear what people who tell jokes for a living say. To be clear, this isn’t the best joke you’ve ever heard and it’s not the funniest thing that you’ve ever seen. If it was that, it would just be all of us talking about that scene in 30 Rock where Liz Lemon says “chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, ack!” like Cathy from Cathy. I can only talk about that joke for about 45 minutes, so we’ll need to pick other stuff.

Alex Russell

Part of me wants to answer this with Kristen Schaal is a Horse, but it’s more personal than that. On a trip with a bunch of people a million years ago a good friend of mine and I were getting on a girl’s nerves. We were all teenagers, but we already understood the reality that if you go on a vacation with someone, you’re eventually going to want to kill them. She was sick of both of us by day two, and she especially didn’t like being woken up from a nap. This was also back at an age when “quoting a thing” was the same as “telling a joke.” Watch two sixteen year olds talk to each other, that’s all they do. We were quoting Aqua Team Hunger Force bits (again, sixteen) and the quote he chose for the moment she woke up in shaking anger was the moment that pushed me over the edge. Here was this woman, angrily shaking a headband that he’d been flinging at her to try to wake her up, and she just kept screaming what is this what is this WHAT IS THIS? The context of the joke on the show isn’t important, you just have to picture a calm sixteen year old boy telling a girl filled with righteous fury: “Oh, that? That is a sweatband.” I’m surprised I survived that day from laughing so hard, and equally surprised she didn’t explode and form a new galaxy based on pure anger.

Alex Marino

Back in third grade I was on a school field trip to the Barnum & Bailey circus at the Hartford Civic Center. We were all just excited to not be in school so it didn’t matter what we were doing. How many of you have been to the circus? Looking back, it’s a really weird, fucked up event to go to. Every animal has a look on its face like it was just told it was fired and also its grandmother died. One of the few ways these animals could stick it to the man was just to shit everywhere all the time. Remember that I’m in the third grade here, so shitting is HILARIOUS to me and my best friend Matt. So we’re watching these elephants parade around the three rings just shitting the entire time. We’re crying from laughter. We had our own expectations of what a circus would be like. Trapeze artists, a lion tamer, and the elephants were all on the list. But we were not emotionally prepared for the elephants just dropping the biggest shits you’ve ever seen. And after enough time, we started to smell it. Matt remarked that they looked like ice cream scoops and that’s when we lost it. We both were doing that crying, silent belly laugh for a solid minute before we could even recover.

Jonathan May

Recently my friend Michael came back into town for a visit for California. A group of us who all played kickball together arrived at another friend’s house to drink and talk and the usual. One guy from the team had grown out some very slight facial hair, like a mustache/goatee combo. He was going to shave it off the next day, so the host of the party decided tonight was the night to dye it black. They ran down to the store and bought men’s black facial hair dye. The host slathered the purplish-blackish sludge on our friend’s face; neither had ever dyed anything before. After waiting the requisite ten minutes, our friend goes to wash it off. Of course, you’re not supposed to get this stuff on the skin. So he washes his face, and when he looks up, he had this huge black oil spill encasing his entire mouth, and it’s not going anywhere. This guy has a suit and tie job in the morning. Everyone was crying with laughter. I had to leave soon after, but I still wondered how hard he must have scrubbed his face all night.

Mike Hannemann

The hardest time I ever laughed was one of the dumbest moments of my life. There was a cancer awareness walk (this story is starting off terribly) where students were encouraged to walk through a designated path for 24 hours. You could take breaks and shifts and my then-roommate and I took a 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift. This was a college event, but no drinking was involved. We went back to our place at 4 a.m. and instead of going to bed, we turned on the TV. An episode of Franklin the Turtle was playing. I don’t remember what I said, but the joke was dumb we nearly doubled over from laughter and not sleeping. It was one of those rare moments where you’re so exhausted… anything is funny. Including some stupid turtle who blows his life out of proportions.

Brent Hopkins

I think the hardest I ever laughed was a very intoxicated evening in Seoul. My sister was visiting and I wanted to show her how they party in Korea: buckets of alcohol and dancing until 6 A.M. My buddy Gil was fully sauced and we got to talking about chest hair. This guy is smooth as a baby, as are many East Asians, so I started giving him crap. My friend was recording this whole interaction and he proceeded to rip a handful of hair from my chest and run around with it as if it were a victory. Everyone was shocked and everyone laughed about it for the rest of the night. Weird experience, but one I will never forget.

Tough Questions: What’s Your Favorite Competition You’ve Ever Participated In?

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Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What’s your favorite competition you’ve ever participated in?

Rules are simple: You’ve competed. You’ve spent time trying to best those fools that call themselves your peers. When did you get closest to victory? When did you smote your enemies? One of our victories is “eating a lot of ice cream” so we’re not exactly out to one up LeBron James, or anything. But still: Any win is a victory. What’s your favorite one?

Alex Russell

Last year we started a charity event: The Super Nintendo Charity Challenge. Every November we’re dedicating 72 hours to streaming Super Nintendo out of a living room to raise money for Child’s Play, a charity dedicated to buying games and toys for sick kids in hospitals. We raised over $2,100 last year, but my favorite part of it was the $25 I lost on a bet during it. When you play Super Nintendo with nine people for 72 straight hours with almost no sleep, you need to keep morale up. You do this by setting little goals: beat this in X hours, get this done in Y time, etc. I said I could beat Super Punch-Out!!, a weird boxing game I loved as a kid, in under 30 minutes. I put $25 up as a donation, and I fell short by 47 seconds. I’ve eaten spoonfuls of spices and drank gallons of milk and cases of beer and everything else you do when you’re feeling competitive and full of gusto as a stupid kid. Losing that $25 was the best part.

Alex Marino

How can we call this Reading at Recess without a spelling bee story? I was in 6th or 7th grade and had made it to the school spelling bee finals. The whole school came to watch it in the cafeteria. And while it’s not like I would have won the whole thing, I’m still upset about the fact that I got knocked out because of a southern accent. At this point in my life I had lived in the south for only two years, so accents still threw me off. I was asked to spell “repent” but with a southern drawl I had heard “rampant.” And with that, my chances of being a subject of the Spellbound documentary were over. Yes, I could have asked for a definition. Yes, I could have asked for it to be used in a sentence. Yes, I could have asked for the word to be repeated. But this was middle school and I only cared about getting home from school and playing my N64.

Jonathan May

This is going to sound really nerdy, but my favorite competition was German poetry recitation at the University of Memphis Foreign Language Fair for high school students. I competed four years in a row in German, proudly representing Houston High. Our German teacher was this awesome lady who taught me a ton about poetry and life, in addition to the German language. One year in particular, we had to learn “Der Panther” by Rainer Maria Rilke, a beautiful poem if there ever was one. I memorized it in this seductive way, as the poem is, on a very simple level, about a panther pacing behind the bars at a zoo. The judge was this very old German professor, I can’t recall his name to save my life. He eyed me up and down sternly, as if I was a horse he was inspecting. He nodded that I start, and I gave the best, albeit weirdly erotic, reading of a poem I’ve ever given. He gave me this weird stare when I finished; I think I was blushing. In any case, I won first place. Erotic poetics win every time.

Mike Hannemann

In college, I participated in a Fear Factor challenge. I was (and am) an incredibly anxious person in social situations and this was an opportunity to not be an introvert. There was the typical nonsense you’d expect at a student-run gross out context. Bugs were involved. I don’t remember how, but whatever happened to them was definitely not humane. I got called up to do a mayo eating contest. I hate mayo. It’s disgusting. But a $20 Target gift card was on the line. I was against two other people and finished the small tub in front of me with 20 seconds left. The crowd was applauding my disgusting display and cheered for me to keep going. So I grabbed the tub next to me, away from my competitor, and finished that too. I won the gift card and lost some self respect. But those frozen pizzas I bought were worth it, dammit.

Andrew Findlay

My favorite competition in which I’ve ever participated is one in which I technically did not participate at all, and in which two of the writers on this site were intimately involved. Vermonster 2k4.

If you don’t know what a Vermonster is, you should probably eat one with 12 of your closest friends. It is two liters of ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s, and it is delicious:

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Two of the most competitive people I know (excepting me) met, planned it out, trash talked like hell leading up to it, and then announced the contest date. Rules were simple: teams of three, no holds barred, consume the entirety of your bucket before the other person. I showed up, thought “Hey, this sounds cool,” and called a couple of my old cross-country buddies to come join me. They liked the idea, so we sprinted to Target to buy giant spoons, got our own Vermonster, and dug in.

On one team, one contestant almost immediately puked, and the other refused to eat the chocolate that impregnated the entire construct. The trashtalker, the only one left, sat there, not giving up, eating alone and full of rage. It was impressive to see one person attack a Vermonster. Alas, they lost.

On the other team, they tucked in ice cream admirably and won the contest with a time of just under an hour.

On my team, we demolished the entire thing between eight and nine minutes (I do not remember the exact time), and then ran and got Wendy’s combo meals that we ate while watching the others suffer their way through two liters of ice cream. We did the Wendy’s thing because we were, all of us, assholes.

One of the other contestants found out we ordered all frozen yogurt and told us that disqualified us. We did it again later, with all ice cream, and set a faster record.

I love this contest because of the impressiveness of my teammates and the joy I felt at ice cream seemingly magically disappearing as the other teams struggled. I love it because we did it a second time, and we did it faster. Mostly I love it because the official winners logging a time of just under an hour and then us coming in with a sub-10 minute time then eating a meal is like Roger Bannister running the four-minute mile and then, while all the television cameras are on him, some dude wearing jeans and smoking a cigarette running it in 43 seconds.

Stephanie Feinstein

The National Geographic Geography Bee. Complete fluke. It was middle school, and my social studies teacher was in charge of the Bee, so he let myself and another student skip the prelims and jump straight to the written competition. We beat out the rest of the school competitors with a tied score. So, as tie-breaker, we had a geography trivia-off. This lasted over an hour, with both of us guessing for the most part. The final question was in relation to canals. He guessed Panama, totally wrong. The ONLY other canal I remotely knew of was Erie, thanks to folk songs about it. I said it, and won the competition. I still have the medal.

Do not try to have me locate anything on a map or globe, as I am a winner by pure trivia, not concrete knowledge. I didn’t have time to be nervous about preparing or competing, and there was absolutely nothing at stake. But I won, and I pretty much haven’t won anything since.

Brent Hopkins

The competition I most enjoyed spanned two days and two competitions, one of which I was a participant in and the other I was a “spectator” in. The first competition was at Bradley University and it was a case race where the music kids and the news kids challenged one another to drink…cases of beer. I wasn’t really a part of either group, but was friends with both so I went to take in the spectacle. One thing you can’t idly do is watch people drink, so my friend Matt and I went to the liquor store and picked up a handle of Captain Morgan. Matt and I have been and probably always will be hyper-competitive, so as we are sitting with our red solo cups we start draining this bottle. This starts off well but as we won’t let the other outdrink the other and we bought far too little Coke to mix with things turn into straight Captain Morgan swallows. Unfortunately, due to this lack of foresight and abundance of testosterone I failed to pay attention to most of the case race and Matt and I managed to finish our handle much much faster than the beer-drinking folk beside us. We managed to be the drinking undercard to a main event of alcoholism, polishing off a handle in around 35 minutes. We were both belligerently intoxicated, yet functioning, and the remainder of the evening was a blur. 

The second competition took place the following morning starring my roommates, and that was a campus wide Guitar Hero tournament. We all looked like we had faced demons the previous night and almost slept through this event. We went on to be rowdy and belligerent at this Guitar Hero competition, goading all comers and naysaying when we lost. We all fell but Matt, and he ended up winning (seated in a chair no less) with all of us being his drunkover cheerleaders. We celebrated with Wendy’s and a Best Buy run which were both the best trophies one could get.

Tough Questions: What’s the Worst Thing You’ve Paid More than $50 For?

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Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What’s the worst thing you’ve paid more than $50 for?

Rules are simple: What do you regret blowing half a c-note on? We all spend money on things we regret, but when did you really mess up? Did you get into an eBay war and lose sight of just how important collectable glassware is? Did you buy a plane ticket to somewhere you didn’t even want to go? Did you go to grad school, like, at all?

Alex Russell

Every year I go to Vegas with a few friends. We go in March, both because Chicago is miserable in March and because March Madness in Vegas is always full of degenerates, but mostly your happier, saner degenerates. A regret story about Vegas is nothing new, but it’s hard to pin down a “bad beat” any easier than this one. We were early for a dinner reservation, because your life in Vegas revolves around when you’re supposed to be where for what, and there was a roulette table right outside the restaurant. Vegas wants you to play, of course, but they want you to play impulsively. The $100 bet on black because I was hungry and frustrated was straight out of an anti-gambling PSA, and even though I know in my heart that Vegas is smarter than me… it’s rarely that damn obvious.

Alex Marino

Remember netbooks? It was that awkward time between laptops getting smaller and the iPad’s debut. People swore that netbooks were going to be the next big thing. I bought it because I wanted something for taking notes on in graduate school. I only installed what was absolutely essential for school stuff to keep it running fast. Well, it wasn’t fast. It sucked. And now I have a $200 dinosaur collecting dust in my closet.

Mike Hannemann

When you go to Epcot, sometimes you will want a drink. When you want a drink at Epcot, you’ll notice each country the park is divided into has a beer from that country. When you figure this out, you will want to go on a beer crawl of every country. When you do this, you will drink nine beers with high alcohol content. When you complete the beer crawl you will go to the Japan portion of the park and buy a $75 backpack that is a Goomba from Super Mario. When you do this, your parents will think you need to go back to therapy.

Andrew Findlay

I bought a pair of Mephisto shoes for 150 dollars. I was in Europe with a group for my friend’s wedding, and after they went off on their honeymoon we went to Paris. I had a pair of old, ratty tennis shoes, and I was ironically worried about them causing foot pain from the miles and miles I would walk there. My solution was to go to a shoe store and buy those damned Mephistos, which are like the Cadillac of supportive shoes. Seriously, podiatrist-recommended. They felt great for the first day and a half, and then I started experiencing sharp pains in the balls of both feet. One day in particular, waiting in line to go up the Eiffel Tower, the standing for more than an hour really did a number on me. Once we got up there, I immediately sprinted to the nearest bench and sat down without informing my friends of what I was doing. Because there are a shit-ton of people at the Eiffel Tower and because I’m an idiot, I did not see them again until we all made it back to where we were sleeping. I spent the rest of the vacation limping around, complaining about my feet, and being generally annoying to my companions. To this day, the balls of my feet still cause me pain, ranging from slight to significant depending on the day. I’ve bought a lot of crap I regret, but these motherfuckers ruined my vacation and gave me a lasting injury, and I paid out 150 dollars for the privilege. Clear winner.

Brent Hopkins

Fifty dollars was much harder for me to figure out than I would care to admit. I am a fan of saving money and spending it on big purchases, so I rarely have things that I am just disappointed in. There was something recent that didn’t sit well with me, and that was a motel I stayed at when my sister came to visit. Now, this motel was 38 dollars per night and we stayed two nights, so it amounted to over 50 in total, but I would have rather roamed like a vagabond than stay there. There was nothing aesthetically pleasing about this place and the bathroom looked like it had seen the Korean War in its prime. This was supposed to be a relaxing vacation but we were both awake by 7 a.m. and out the door to spend as little time as possible there. I was around there a few weeks ago again and just looking at the facade of the motel made me feel dirty. Never again will I go that far by my purse strings again.

Tough Questions: What’s the Worst Piece of Furniture You’re Still Holding On To?

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Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:

What’s the worst piece of furniture you’re still holding on to?

Rules are simple: Everyone has something they have kept for about three moves too many. There’s some chair that your Uncle Robert gave you that you just can’t help but love, even though it’s filled with wild animals. Which of your possessions is it looking increasingly like you’ll be buried with?

Alex Russell

The sheets are new, but my bed itself is the same bed I slept on when I was a teenager. This same dumb queen mattress and box spring have accompanied me all the way. Every time I move I almost leave it behind just to force myself to upgrade the thing I spent eight hours (six hours? four hours?) with every night, but it just never happens. I need some sort of intervention where my friends force me to go to IKEA, because even that would be an upgrade at this point.

Stephanie Feinstein

A dresser from our first bedroom set. I have managed to cycle out the sleigh bed and the single nightstand, but the dresser still stays. Outwardly, it looks great, dignified, with a lovely cherry finish. But the drawers have never opened properly (they are weirdly short and with a strange catch, so they only open like three inches at most), the handles are falling off, and one drawer also will NOT close. It is not terrible, but I dream about new dressers often.

Jonathan May

couch

This couch is the Craigslist ad you’ll never answer. It sat in my friend Susan’s parents’ house for the longest time. The year was 2009, and I was moving into a new place and had little to no furniture. I was working at Starbucks then. Susan’s parents saw my plead for furniture online and submitted to me this humble couch, available for pickup that night from their curb. So my 5’4″ and 150-pound self drove over after work and stared at the long couch, wondering how the hell I would get it into the back of my truck by myself (it was late). With a lot of finesse, I managed to get the damn thing up there. Then it started to rain. I eventually got it home and unloaded it into my living room. That couch moved with me from house to house over the years, and now it resides in my carport, ravaged by raccoons and smokers.

Andrew Findlay

This Tough Question is probably the first no-brainer I’ve had. I read the question to my wife, and her eyes immediately went to this chair:

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This chair is over half a century old. My grandparents bought it for my father when he was living with them as a child. It included two dressers, a mirror, and a desk. My father did his homework in this chair. I did my homework in this chair. Now, I use it to prop up my feet while I watch TV or play video games. My wife hates it. It’s outdated, it does not match anything else in the apartment, and at this point it might be more Elmer’s wood glue than chair, but a hassock would just be lame, and this chair is bursting with sentimental value.

Brent Hopkins

This might be an odd response, but I technically don’t own any furniture in America or Korea. Every apartment I have lived in here has been fully furnished, so I haven’t needed to buy anything. I haven’t technically lived in my own place in America in years, so when I go home I tend to sleep in the guest bedroom which is full of things that aren’t mine.