Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What I've been ______, plus mini-reviews

Reading: Heroines by Kate Zambreno (I'm planning to do a combination review/review-of-reviews of this; stay tuned) and The Pursuit of Love/Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (very funny, Waugh-like; portrays much of the same world as The Stranger's Child but without the bloated prose and generally infuriating what-is-the-point-ness that forced me to abandon after 200 pages ... I also abandoned A Visit from the Goon Squad, which felt, sorry!, a little Claire-Messud-amateur-hour to me, after 40 pp or so, meaning I haven't finished a book of prose yet this year, but these two are finishers).

Watching: The last episode of Downton Abbey (I'm so done with this stupid show!). Return to Oz. MSCL. (Regression Town.)

Eating: Tacos. Lots of tacos. And roasted red potatoes.

Listening: One weekend in December we were reorganizing our bookshelves and John suggested we put on some Christmas music. So I put on Jesus Christ Superstar. We've both had it stuck in our heads pretty much ever since. We told our friend Aaron it's better than the bible.

Sniffing: Samples samples samples! See below. (Thanks to perfume friends Heather F. and Suzanne at Eiderdown Press for setting me up with these!)

Olfactive Studio Lumiere Blanche: The second I sprayed this on, it reminded me of something, and I started racking my brain to figure out what, searching through my bottles for its doppelganger. Then I remembered that all perfumes with a cardamom note remind me of each other. Cardamom isn't as warm as some other spice notes (cinnamon and clove in particular); instead it has a delicate, lemony quality. For whatever reason, the material is less mutable than other top notes – when I smell bergamot or aldehydes, I don't instantly think of every other perfume that contains bergamot or aldehydes. (The closet equivalent would probably be galbanum, which always smells exactly like galbanum.) Cardamom is frequently paired with incense and amber (as in YSL Nu and Ormonde Jayne Woman) as part of rich, unfolding oriental compositions. But here, as the name would imply (White Light – the perfume was supposedly inspired by the photo above), the treatment is pale, each material chosen for its olfactory whiteness (chalky orris, the blanched almond note of heliotrope, clean musk). But the overall impression is an accord halfway between sweet citrus and cedar. The cardamom is so lemon-forward it almost approaches the grapefruit in Bal d'Afrique, though not as juicy; at other times the woodiness makes this feel like a morning version of Dior Dolce Vita. After a while, my nose gets tired of it and it's harder to smell. Victoria at Bois de Jasmin suggests this might be a common problem. 

Montale Boise Vanille: From the name, you'd expect Montale's Boise Vanille to be in the same ballpark as Serge Lutens' Un Bois Vanille – a woody vanilla; a smoky gourmand. You'd be way off though. This inexplicably named perfume is actually an aromatic fougere. It smells like a slice of Third Man, Caron's classic and beautiful masculine from 1985, though not as rich (Third Man is almost overbearingly so) or soapy. But the basic accord is there – bracing, dry lavender and peppery spice with a pillowy backdrop of coumarin and patchouli. No one on earth would smell this blind and pin it as a vanilla fragrance, or a feminine for that matter. Nonetheless, I really like it. I used to find fougeres impossible to wear, about as comfortable as a three-piece suit cut for a 6' man. But lately I've been craving the smell of Third Man – our bottle lives on John's dresser, but hasn't been getting much wear lately, as he's been favoring newer toys (especially Chergui). This Montale is still manly, but seems whittled down in size, cut to my scale, not just comfortable but comforting. Anyway, who needs another vanilla?

Serge Lutens Vetiver Oriental: Months ago Victoria told me in a comment that Vetiver Oriental has a myrrh note, which piqued my interest. Indeed, it feels like a cross between Messe de Minuit and whatever ingredients are common to all Lutens' orientals – various fruity and woody and musky materials adding up to a dusky, boozy haze. I like that smell in most of its incarnations, and I like it here too, though it kind of feels like the naked base of Chergui and/or Santal Majuscule with fewer top notes to distinguish it. Sniffed blind an hour or so in, I'd pin any one of them as a Lutens, but I'm not sure I'd be able to tell the difference. Side by side, Santal Majuscule is a bit higher-pitched, so to speak, with more of an apricot brandy feel, whereas VO at times reminds me of immortelle (maple syrup). I've seen dark, baroque versions of vetiver before – notably in Tauer's Vetiver Dance – but here the vetiver is nearly unrecognizable, so dense and almost chocolatey is the treatment. Unfortunately, if you get too intimate with it (as in making actual nostril-to-arm contact) it smells a bit plasticky. Could that be our friend Mr. Vetiver? Overall, yummy but unnecessary, unless for some reason you'd like to think of yourself as someone who likes vetiver, when in fact you don't.

Robert Piguet Visa: For the first 30 seconds after spraying Visa on my arm I was thinking, Oh hell no. This very post-Angel perfume (Aurelien Guichard's 2007 reinvention of a 1945 classic) starts off smelling like Angel with even more cotton candy, and chewable vitamin -style fruity notes along for the ride as well. I was regretting not spraying it on paper first, but, shockingly, this quickly settles into something rather appealing. First, the worst of the Flintstone-fruit offenders burn off; then, a soft, fluffy, floral-vanillic baby powder accord, much like the one in Mona di Orio's Musc, makes itself known, with impressive projection. This is a gourmand to be sure, but an odd one. It puts me in mind of Mauboussin, a Christine Nagel oriental that I could never get entirely comfortable with – same long, milky-woody drydown, but Mauboussin's vitamin notes don't fade so mercifully quickly, making it much harder for me to stomach. (I swapped that bottle away.) Visa's leather note is subtle, but detectable. It's kind of trashy-sexy, in a baby-talk way. A nice surprise. Note that the drydown has nuclear tenacity – suddenly refreshing itself and becoming obvious again a good 24 hours later.

SOTD: Lush Lust. Metallic jasmine and honey. Smells like blown-out speakers. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Some notes on beauty, Part 2

There was an article on Jezebel recently about the various reasons that women don't (often) describe themselves as "pretty," e.g., they think they're attractive but they don't photograph well, or they think they're attractive but not by accepted cultural standards, etc. A lot of it, of course, can be explained by fear of looking vain, or someone contradicting you (thinking you're attractive doesn't mean you're free of insecurities). It touched on a lot of things I've blogged about before: how surprising it is when women self-identify as "beautiful," even if they obviously are; my belief that most women have a good sense of how attractive they are to the outside world, but are conditioned to both obfuscate and question this knowledge.

I became sort of obsessed with the comments, some of which critiqued the premise and some of which were just confessions, women explaining how they felt about their own looks. A few pointed out that beauty is a privilege, and calling attention to it is tantamount to announcing that you're rich. (But isn't it better to acknowledge your privilege than deny it?) Some addressed the difference between "cute" and "pretty," "pretty" and "beautiful," "beautiful" and the all-elusive "gorgeous." One woman wrote:

Women tell me I am beautiful all the time. Like older woman will stop me in the supermarket to tell me, friends constantly tell me (one friend stopped a conversation with about 6 other people I didn't know as well to tell me how strikingly beautiful I was and forced people to concur, it was horrifyingly embarrassing because how is one supposed to respond to that?), and I've caught women at bars staring at me only to come up minutes later to tell me how beautiful they find me. Men, however, not so much. It is confusing. I think it is because I am black, and women are more likely to tell me because they don't feel intimidated because most men (as I've been told by men I am friends with) I've encountered would choose a white "5" over a black "8".

Jesus. Is that true? (Of course I immediately wanted to see this beautiful woman.) Once at a bar in Houston or Austin, I overheard a woman (a stranger) approach my friend and former roommate Kate, who was talking to some guy (and smoking, I believe; I think you could still smoke in bars then), and say, rather forcefully, "You are a beautiful woman." Kate handled it well, I thought; she said "Thank you" in a "That was weird/awkward" kind of way and went back to her conversation.

Another commenter said: "Women don't say 'I'm pretty' because I know what I look like, and presumably so does anyone looking at me. So why would I be telling someone how pretty I was, when they could see that perfectly well for themselves?" Hard to argue with that, but I don't think anyone is suggesting that women should walk into a room and declare, "I have arrived, and I'm pretty!" There are contexts where it comes up. When we talk about how we relate to the world, and how it relates back, we often state the obvious, e.g., "They were clearly uncomfortable because he was black," or "He never would have treated me that way if I was a man," even though everyone who's sight-privileged can see who is black and who is a woman.

I half-joke tweeted that "Women know how attractive they are, but they don't know how attractive OTHER women are." I kind of believe this? Like, I know how people respond to me, but I don't really know what it's like to be anyone else and what kind of response they get, so I'm not sure where I fit in the "rankings," such as they exist. There are the people that everyone talks about (as in Autumn's comment about her stunning coworker) but surely there are also people that are secretly lusted after, because they don't fit the culturally agreed upon beauty standard but are oozing sex appeal nonetheless? And maybe I'm just not privy to that. I've always wondered what it would be like to be one of those women that gets hit on in bars. Not that I want to get hit on in bars, for Christ's sake, just that I don't have that kind of beauty. At trivia the other night, the name of some divey Irish bar came up and my friend Erin said that a guy once said to her there, "I want to fuck the shit out of you." Classy, I know, but the point is, I suddenly realized she has that kind of beauty. What I had noticed about her is that her clothes always fit really well.

Image via Wikipedia Commons

Friday, February 15, 2013

In the '80s, even Phil Collins knew what sexy sounded like

There was this particular sound to certain "pop rock" hits in the '80s that I think of as smoky. Below are the three songs that, to my mind, exemplify it best.

"Father Figure" by George Michael

"Wanted Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi

"In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins


All three have a long intro that creates a really sultry atmosphere. I love this kind of song. The grainy B&W videos support the mood, but without them I still think the songs sound smoky. Is there some other unifying feature, musically, that is giving me this synaesthetic frisson?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The four things

I have some things to tell you:

1. My latest column on "The Poneme" is live in the new issue of Lemon Hound. I wrote about Catherine Wagner's Nervous Device. Here's a little snippet it from the essay:

Scientists classify tickling as a kind of pain, and Wagner’s intentional mistakes are pleasurable in the way tickling is pleasurable (hurts so good). See “How can I knock be clear about my intentions?” and “I / j’adore your piggy light.” I particularly j’adore this second “mistake,” the double “I” which is crucial in order to Frenchify the word for “love,” which otherwise is boring English. I’m reminded of an old friend who had a real gift for typos, for evocative errors like “seamingly” and “unphased” which I would steal and put in my poems.

2. The excellent poet Jeff Alessandrelli, formerly of Lincoln, Nebraska, and recently of Portland, has a new chapbook out from Imaginary Friend Press: People Are Places and Places Are People. I wrote the intro for this chapbook. Here is a paragraph from the intro:

Knowing exactly what you mean is a sure sign that your poem is bad. It is hard to know exactly what Jeff Alessandrelli’s poems mean, and that’s what makes them waver and shimmer, like the air above a fire. They are approximate, like feelings. If you have tried and failed to describe your own experience to yourself, you know what it’s like to be in an Alessandrelli poem, a place where you can know something but not believe it, and vice versa; a place where understanding is not deeper knowledge but an alternative kind of access.

And here is its pretty cover:

3. I'm participating in a panel at Lighthouse next Saturday, Feb. 23, called "Your Writing Education: To MFA or Not to MFA." If you happen to be in the Denver area and don't know what to do with your life, come, get a drink and ask us questions. Drinks at 6, main program at 7.

4. John and I will both be reading in the Literary Firsts series, hosted by Carissa Halston and Randolph Pfaff, on the Saturday after AWP (March 9). Don't you want to see what happens on the other side of the river? Also, John will be telling uncomfortable stories about his first girlfriend; you won't want to miss that.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A dozen roses, all doozies

A bunch of perfume blogs are listing their top 12 rose-scented perfumes and products (rose jam, tea, etc.) in honor of Valentine's Day. I wasn't officially invited or anything but roses are a favorite of mine and I'm crashing the party. Off the top of my head, here are the dozen rose perfumes I'm feeling especially right now and/or always:

1. Rossy de Palma Eau de Protection (Etat Libre d'Orange) – I haven't actually worn this one in a while, but it's still pretty much my pick for best rose perfume EVAH. I get such a high from a whiff of this stuff. It just smells so clear and true and red; I always picture the curvature of a perfectly buffed vintage sports car, like one of those Ferraris from the '60s with the disproportionately long hoods. You can almost hear it, like a high C on flute. And if you're putting out perfume that doesn't trigger synaesthetic delusions, you're doing it wrong.

2. Pretty & Pink (DSH) – I bought a purse spray of this last spring and drained it in near-record time. Or almost drained it, that is – I don't let myself finish things I love until I've secured backup. This weekend I stopped by Dawn's shop in Boulder and got a full-size bottle at 15% off for Valentine's Day (running online until 2/18 with code sweetheart13), so I'm in the clear to "cash" that purse spray. This is a delightfully frivolous fruity-floral along the lines of Rose Praline, like Hello Kitty with 10 times the budget and brainpower. There's a clarity here, a simplicity of purpose and effect, that reminds me of a pink version of Rossy de Palma's red. Everything's in perfect balance and nothing sticks out. But it smells like candy. And I'm OK with that.

3. Une Rose Chypree (Tauer Perfumes) – If anyone has the chutzpah and generosity of spirit to put some real oakmoss into a contemporary perfume, it's Andy Tauer, but to tell you the truth, this has never smelled like a chypre to me. As far as I'm concerned, it's an amber rose. As in most Tauers, the pyramid structure is on a slow time release, so you get to enjoy the top notes (mandarin, cinnamon, and bay leaf) for a long time before you get to the base of the base, a creamy patchouli-amber that reminds me of my beloved DK Gold. A chewy beauty that lasts all day, at least, and high on my list of things I need to suck it up and buy already. (I've been living off samples for years.)

4. Vintage Rose/Rose Volupté (Sonoma Scent Studio) – Laurie Erickson recently reformulated and rechristened Vintage Rose (not-so-humble brag alert: I named the new version, I win the universe) when the type of labdanum she had previously used became unavailable. Vintage Rose was the deepest, richest, plummiest, most honeyed rose imaginable, among the strongest perfumes in my collection and one of the most all-out gorgeous. The new version is very close, but the addition of some new floral materials and a dose of aldehydes make it brighter and more Joy-like initially, like someone threw some streaky yellow-and-pink roses in with the burgundy blooms. I treasure what I have left of the old stock, but this is still, simply, one of the most beautiful and complex rose perfumes in production.

5. L'Arte di Gucci (Gucci, duh) – Just when you make your peace with doing without some discontinued masterpiece forever, a bit of it finds its way into your life. So it was with l'Arte di Gucci, one of the classic rose chypres. It has a reputation for unholy potency and a barnyard streak but I don't get that at all, maybe because whatever animalia is in here pales in comparison to that of my vintage Joy. To my nose it's a textbook rose-patchouli: a good round fruity rose with just enough aldehydes to make it sing, and a vetiver-patch base just earthy enough to make it dark and nighttime-sexy without going all funkatronic on you. (I'm very sensitive to sweaty-sourness in patchouli, and none of that is happening here.) It shouldn't be that hard to do something like this now, because it isn't an oakmoss bomb – and guess what, somebody is. Lumiere Noire pour Femme by Maison Francis Kurkdjian feels directly inspired by it. (Note that I'm deliberately not including scents on this list that I consider close relatives of each other, hence the absence of Lumiere Noire and Rose Praline.)

6. Broadway Nite (Bond No. 9) – There are a lot of perfumes out there based on the rose-violet accord (Paris, Lipstick Rose, etc.). In my book, Broadway Nite reigns supreme in this category. It's incredibly vibrant and hot pink and loud, with a pillowy plushness from aldehydes and heliotrope, while some well-judged vanilla and tonka in the base give it a cool, almost cola-like character. It's too much for most if not all occasions but so joy-inducing I wear it anyway.

7. Egoiste (Chanel)Egoiste is one of the first perfumes I owned. Like much of my music collection, I bought it after reading about it in Sassy. Then realized I didn't understand it. Not to worry, I get it now. Egoiste is alllllll about the sandalwood, the kind you can't find anymore because it's been overfished. So to speak. But the stuff in the old "Cologne Concentree" editions is real and it's fantastic. It's boozy and creamy and spiced to the nines and dressed up with more rose (sandalwood smells naturally rosy) and some fruity/vanilla/tobacco facets as well. Very rich and all growed up.

8. White Linen (Estee Lauder) – I've written about White Linen before, but it took me years to smell the rose in it, after comparing it side by side with Van Cleef & Arpels First, a dry aldehydic floral of similar vintage with more of a jasmine focus. But of course the rose is there: this is by Sophia Grojsman! I still think this is the most magical use of aldehydes in all of perfumery, like being inside a snowglobe on an 80-degree day. It's about the least appropriate scent for Valentine's Day I can think of, though, unless your significant other lost his/her virginity on starched sheets.

9. Geranium Bourbon (Miller Harris) – Geraniums are to roses as cloves are to carnations. Meaning, geraniol is one of the main things that triggers the "rose" smell in our brains. (Except I think there is more geraniol in rose oil than there actually is in geraniums, so this isn't a perfect analogy. Work with me here.) If you don't know what geraniums (gerania?) smell like, get thee to a Whole Foods or Target and smell Mrs. Meyers' version (my favorite scent in that line, BTW). Geranium often has a minty quality (played up in Malle's Geranium pour Monsieur), but that's downplayed here. What you mostly get, after the lemony zip of the top notes, is an austere, dark woody floral, like a rose-patchouli chypre that's been aged in wooden casks. It's gone baritone. One of those feminines that would work at least as well on a man.

10. David Yurman – I recently watched that documentary on Netflix Instant about Woody Allen, who was a writer and comedian long before he got involved with movies. What's New Pussycat was his first script, and he hated what the director/producers did with it so much he swore he'd never make a movie again unless he had complete control. There's a clip where some British TV personality is interviewing him, and Woody Allen remarks that it was an awful movie. The guy says, "I rather enjoyed it," and Woody retorts, "Yes, but you were mistaken." It seems that nobody else liked this perfume (it even came up on NST's recent poll about "awful perfumes you love"), the first put out by that expenso jewelry store with the B&W ads starring Kate Moss and Gisele, but I think they were mistaken. It's actually a great tart, green, citrusy rose for summer, if you happen to like tart roses, which I do. Given its vintage (2008) and the unknown quantity of the source, you'd expect it to smell like everything else, but it doesn't – I love that it's not overly sweet. It reminds of me your first sip of Campari, which looks like cherry syrup but is shockingly bitter. As they say, more (of both) for me. By the way, the last time I wore this, someone told me I smelled "amazing."

11. Eau Suave (Parfum d'Empire) – Hey, whaddaya know, a sour rose! And everyone likes it because it's from an established niche brand and not a mall store! Seriously though, Eau Suave is a nice rendition of the So Pretty idea: a fruity chypre with red berry/cassis notes, though the actual chypre-ness is more subtle, doubtless due to current restrictions on oakmoss. Since So Pretty is discontinued and impossible to find, this will have to do. See also Ruth Mastenbroek. Now, will someone tell me why "saffron" top notes always have to be so damn sour? The only perfume I can think of that really gets the saffron balance right is Cuir de Lancome.

12. Dita von Teese – DvT is a pretty-pretty floral bouquet, heavy on the white flowers, that I file in the same mental category as the original Juicy Couture and Mary Greenwell Plum. The sheer synth tuberose-jasmine stuff is paired with enough rose to make it pink and girly, and while there are no fruit notes listed aside from bog-standard bergamot, it feels fruity – this isn't a dark, vampy, heady tuberose a la Amarige, but a coquettish flirty one. It smells a little sharp and cheap, but in a throwback way, like the kind of perfume you used to be able to get at Victoria's Secret before they went full-on ho-juice body-spray. Aside from being fun and well-done, DvT is all the more appealing if you like the celeb behind the bottle, which I do – this is how celebrity frags are supposed to work, but pretending to be Sarah Jessica Parker or Jennifer Aniston for a day never much appealed. They seem kind of boring, don't they?

Image via Randy Read 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Some notes on beauty

Most of the comments on my last post addressed the postscript at the end about beauty standards rather than the stuff about games. I guess beauty is inherently more interesting than games? Or at least amateur beauty theory is more compelling than amateur game theory.

First, teens in Southeast Asia start getting "black market braces" to signal status and affluence. Now schoolgirls in Japan are getting fake snaggleteeth. I've got a natural snaggletooth. It's not a bug, it's a feature! My teeth are mostly quite straight from having braces from ages 12 to 14 or so, but the incisor next to my canine on the top right has gone slowly haywire. By college it had rotated enough to occasionally catch on my lip. My ex called it "the fang."

There are features that one convinces oneself no one notices. Three or four people had to comment that they found the snaggletooth cute before I started to think of it as one of my "things," though I'm still not really sure how salient it is. Some people fetishize quirky teeth (Chris Tonelli once told me he loves Patricia Arquette's). Chris "I like you unconditionally" Starkey once called it "my flavor." I seem to remember he physically touched my tooth with his finger when he said it. I sometimes wonder, do most people not notice it? Do some people notice and find it secretly gruesome?

By the way, I found that snaggletooth link on The Beheld, the marvelous blog of Autumn Whitefield-Madrano. Her weekly link roundup does for beauty what Fritinancy does for branding/wordnikhood.

The night I met John, he was wearing a navy sweater with a big toothpaste stain on the front. I remember noticing the stain and thinking, "I really, really approve of that." (That's a line from a Tao Lin story.) You see, I thought it signaled nonchalance. Like, "I'll wear a sweater with a stain on the front to a birthday party, I don't give a shit." Later I found out he didn't know it was there when he left the house. He noticed it in the bathroom mirror and was mortified.

Another thing Chris T. said once: "Amy King's crotch is like great architecture." Can I repeat that? He meant in jeans, from a distance, nothing pornographic.

Have you seen the movie Beautiful Girls? It came out when I was in high school, I remember, but I only just watched it this week. Timothy Hutton plays a struggling piano player from NYC going back to his small hometown for his high school reunion. Most of his old friends still live there, blue-collaring it up (a couple of them drive snowplows) and drinking a lot of beer. They are all afraid to grow up and variously unsatisfied with their girlfriends who don't look enough like supermodels, etc. Hutton's character is sort of in love with the 13-year-old girl who lives next door (played by Natalie Portman). There's a cartoonish scene (the one pictured above) where all the guys are hanging out in the local inn and Uma Thurman, playing the bartender's cousin, walks in. They go all ga-ga and gooey-tongued when she talks to them. In my experience, men never really act like that. Much in the same way that women are trained to pretend they don't know they're attractive, I suspect most adult men learn (when in mixed, polite company) not to reveal how attracted they are (or are not) to women. I even see elements of "pickup artist" culture, where men are vaguely hostile to attractive women, though it's more common that they simply appear indifferent. Of course, this could be regional, my own blind spot, etc. But I find it difficult to believe that Uma Thurman (in a universe where Uma Thurman is not a famous actress), dressed in regular old street clothes, would really turn every head in the room and cause jaws to spontaneously drop open. I've just never seen that happen in the real world, and I've seen some very beautiful women.

Have you seen that project where celebrities are made to look like normal people, i.e. fatter and with worse hair, makeup and clothing? Beyonce and Jay-Z look pretty cool anyway, but in general I think it illustrates how much of beauty or at least "hotness" is about style and perception and stuff you can buy.

Sort of relatedly, I always think it's weird when a character in a TV show is supposed to be super-attractive, like so much so that the other characters are sitting up and taking notice and talking about it. Because everyone on TV is attractive! It breaks the fourth wall in this weird way. Like I'm supposed to believe that in TV land, people can distinguish and agree upon the difference between this actress who is incrementally more attractive than all the other actresses (a 9.1 as opposed to a 9)? Please.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Michael Jordan Effect, or Shallow Specialized Knowledge

The last time I was in Boston, I was chatting with our VP of Product, Will, about games and sports and things, and he mentioned that he watches a lot of Jeopardy, and he can impress his in-laws by calling a lot of the answers. But, he said, knowing the answers on Jeopardy is less impressive than it initially seems due to something called "the Michael Jordan effect" – in other words, the answer in any given category is often as well-known or "mainstream" as Michael Jordan is to basketball. In other other words, you don't need a lot of deep knowledge to be good at Jeopardy; you just need shallow knowledge in a lot of areas. The Michael Jordan of architecture is Frank Lloyd Wright, the Michael Jordans of Russian literature are Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, etc.

I knew exactly what he was talking about because years ago, my brother and I discovered "the Wilt Chamberlain" effect in Trivial Pursuit. At least for whatever edition we had at the time, the answer to any basketball question, something like 4 out of 5 times, was Wilt Chamberlain. So whether or not you "knew" the answer, it was always a safe guess. Similarly, Winston Churchill was always the answer to British history questions. In general, the more Trivial Pursuit you play, the easier it becomes to guess correctly, partially due to the Michael Jordan effect, and partially because the questions often contain little clues as to what kind of answer they'd be looking for. The thing is, Trivial Pursuit writers are mad about irony. For example, when a question seems to suggest a high number based on assumption, the real answer is almost always 0 or 1. And if you get a question like "What is the 17th windiest city  in America?" you don't have to know the top 20 windiest cities in order; you only have to know that Chicago is known as the Windy City, so ha ha that it's not even in the top 10.

Scrabble and crossword puzzles are the same way; there's a perception that you have to be really "smart" to do well at these games, but they're actually specialized skills. Someone who plays Scrabble all the time is going to do better than a very smart person with a good vocabulary who has never played before, because really short basic words often lead to higher-scoring turns, if you know how to play them. With crosswords, the same words tend to pop up over and over again, and as in Trivial Pursuit, the clues have their own conventions.

What other games/skills are prone to the Michael Jordan effect?


In unrelated news, I'm always shocked by which women men do and don't find attractive. There's a woman in Denver who I think of as quite obviously one of the most attractive in our larger social circle. Last night John said he's never even noticed her, that she's "pretty" but fades into the background. In this case, I guess I can see that she's the kind of woman who would be more attractive to other women than men, because she's very small and wears good clothes. But it seems like every time I mention a woman that I find attractive, some man in the room will comment that she's nothing special. In fact, I can remember another time recently that I remarked on another woman in Denver, who again I find obviously beautiful, and two men in the room said something to the effect of "She's the kind of woman only other women find beautiful." But I can't figure out if there's really so little overlap in what I find attractive in women and what men find attractive in women, or if it's just that men have impossible standards – at least when it comes to the abstract question of who is quote-unquote attractive, as opposed to who they might end up sleeping with.