Going through hoops: 9 alternatives to March Madness

college-basketball-tournament-bracket-graphicWhat drives Americans’ March Madness mania? Is it a love for the game of basketball — or merely a love of games? Team bragging rights or one person’s need to be always right?

We humans are compelled to make choices. When presented with empty boxes to check or blanks to fill in, we cannot resist. Combined with social media madness, our penchant for picking and sharing is off the charts. Facebook itself has its roots in a simple either/or flow chart, with Mark Zuckerberg designing a program consisting of a face-off among “hot”Harvard chicks.

democracy---people-votingIf only such selection fever would translate to 100% voter turnout at election time. Maybe the key is going 100% digital with democracy.

In the meantime, to fill the void before Round 3 of the NCAA basketball tournament begins Thursday, I’ve scoured the universe for interesting alternative brackets for non-hoops fans to play favorites.

 

ENTERTAINMENT SHOWDOWNS

 

  1. Only hours to go before the Philadelphia-area public media provider WHYY wraps up its NPR vs. PBS “Public Media Madness” contest. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey host Neil deGrasse Tyson seems on top of the edutainment world lately. Can he rule as brainy talking head? Your other three Final Four contenders: Mister Rogers, Terry Gross and Peter Sagal. I pick Tyson over Rogers because he’s a LIVING legend (or soon to be).new-trailer-for-cosmos-featuring-neil-degrasse-tyson
  2. Minnesota Public Radio steps up the pace with music match-ups every half-hour from 9 to 5 through Friday’s final round. “The Current March Madness” started with 64 recording artists, featuring close shaves between such bands as U2 and Hüsker Dü, The Roots and Public Enemy. Today, see who challenges Elvis. Keep in mind: Times listed are Central Time.
  3. Pearl JamBeckA catty rivalry pits female characters from a defunct TV drama. The “Dallas” Divas Derby will keep you occupied through April 14. Or not. Like life down under in Dallas, it moves pretty slowly.DallasDivas

ANIMAL MAGNETISM

It’s not quite natural selection. These two popularity contests are playing out on Facebook, where you simply “Like” the picture of the species you prefer. Trash-talking takes place in the comments sections.

4. You’d think there’d be more kittehs at odds in the cybersphere, but drooling dogs drool in NatGeo Wild’s “Doggie Breed Bracket,” licensed by Cesar Millan of “Cesar 911.” This inaugural struggle is pretty much an ad for his show.

DoggieBreed

5. Anyone who knows or reads me knows I’ve plugged Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “March Migration Madness” before. But someone over there finally listened to my complaints: In previous years, organizers picked birds who don’t actually migrate. This year, there are nifty baseball cards detailing the birds’ feats. Visit today for a chance to vote in the “Airborne 8″ round between this year’s vastly popular snowy owl and the spectacular painted bunting.

MarchMigrationMadness

6. OK, OK. I found a bracket featuring cats. But it’s something you need to register for, and we all learned our lesson with the Warren Buffett-Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket, did we not?  A glimpse of Apartment Therapy’s Pet Madness entrants, just to satisfy you rabid pet owners.

PetMadness2

FOOD FIGHTS

7. Sweet! This is just a sampler of what’s out there.  Foodsided.com’s “Starch Madness” will surely whet the appetite. In fact, this game can be played alongside the NCAA tourney. Spread out a spread of these and watch your points spread. Recent highlights from the blog:

  • In the Entree Region, an epic battle of cheese. 4-seed Grilled Cheese takes on upstart 5-seed Mac & Cheese, who is coming off a decisive, yet somewhat unexpected, Round One victory over Boneless Wings.

  • After years of being paired together in perfect harmony, Peanut Butter and Chocolate will face off as Peanut Butter Anything takes on Chocolate Cake in the 4/5 match-up in the Dessert Region.

Starch madness8. Somebody alert Chris Christie. The Trentonian is sponsoring an eat-off among New Jersey pizzerias. This one requires some insider knowledge. You wonder if it’s helping to boost the newspaper’s restaurant ad sales.

Pizza

 TOURISTY

9. That last one was touristy, but no one can trump The Washington Post‘s“Monuments Madness” for places that place. This civil, civics war features 15 statues and one obelisk. The Elite 8 begins today, and a champion will be crowned on April 1. Which begs the question … why?monumental

Sheer madness.

P.S. Go, Spartans.basketball_data

 

 

 

 

 

Woody or wouldn’t he? Only Mel Blanc knows for sure

No disputin’, Rasputins, that Tweety Bird is a canary. Cock-sure Foghorn Leghorn’s a rooster. And the Road Runner? Sold, even if live-action Greater Roadrunners don’t make any sort of “beep-beep” sound (the male sounds alternately like an owl playing maracas, the female like a yapping monkey); they aren’t remotely blue — well maybe a little on the crown and around the eyes; and any self-respecting wily coyote would snap one up as a dessert in a hot desert minute.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So it’s time to settle once and for all the mystery of Woody Woodpecker. In March 2009, NPR’s All Things Considered bird commentator, Julie Zickefoose, first considered it was “obvious, with his shaggy crest, long beak and wild laugh, that Woody was supposed to be a pileated woodpecker” until, by the end of her column, she regurgitated evidence ascribed to creator-illustrator Walter Lantz — evenly corroborated and refuted on Wikipedia — that he was modeled after the acorn woodpecker. The story goes that Lantz was either entertained or annoyed by acorn woodpeckers on his honeymoon making that hilarious sound …when, in fact, he wasn’t even married on that famed trip, and the sound we associate with Woody was vocal artist Mel Blanc’s sloppy seconds, originally designed for Bugs Bunny.

What’s up with that?

The Birdchick blog followed up with her own investigation:

"As a kid, I always thought he was an ivory-billed woodpecker.  Okay, the ivory-bill isn’t blue and Woody’s white patches don’t match up, but you can’t argue with Woody’s size, his crest and his light colored bill.  When I worked at a wild bird store and we had to listen to bird identification CDs all day, I heard an acorn woodpecker call and it gave the “Ha ha ha HAAA ha” call.  I realized that sounded a little familiar.  Here’s an example that you can hear over at Xeno Canto."

Pretty remarkable that she was pondering ‘toon taxonomy as a kid, when I had trouble keeping Daffy and Donald straight. Turns out that Sharon’s instincts were on target, as she goes on to credit Chilean birding expert Alvaro Jaramillo with solving the mystery by digging through Looney Tunes cartoon cells to find, in a 1964 episode called “Dumb Like a Fox,” Woody’s own discovery that he is of the species Campephilus principalis, or the ivory-billed woodpecker – almost as storied and elusive as Sasquatch, but with far more documention.

I bring it up because, in today’s Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “March Migration Madness” face-off between the pileated woodpecker and the great blue heron, I wouldn’t want anyone voting for the woodpecker on the basis of preschool propaganda alone. Woody is that rare bird, an amalgamation of our imagination that also most closely resembles the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Ha-ha-ha-HAA-ha!

Related articles

Just ducky: A bird bracket buster

Birdwatching at Nestucca Bay NWR

Sporting their team colors are birders at Nestucca Bay NWR (Photo credit: USFWS Pacific)

The white-breasted nuthatch’s 12-vote margin over the peregrine falcon in Game 5 has the birding world ruffled today. Someone’s demanding a recount — an examination of Florida’s hanging chads. Someone else is flinging accusations that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “March Migration Madness” is somehow rigged. My, my! Do you think there’s no basis for these upsets? Take a look at Lehigh over Duke, you’ll get your answer.

This passionate rivalry is more exciting than the “real” March Madness, because in birding, everyone wins. How can you not be happy for the creeping nuthatch, dressed up in his little butler suit, hanging upside down for his bow? The peregrine falcon looked nifty in jumper suit and goggles, but you can’t fault science. I mean math.

I’m proudly 4 for 5 in my brackets, but today’s duel between two painted trollops, the wood duck and cedar waxwing, has me waffling. Adult daughter Cassy, who first added the CWW to her life list last December looking out my dining room window while she was Baby-sitting (pet cockatiel named Baby) — grrr, I have yet to collect one for my own life list — is pressuring me to stick to my guns and the waxwing, as she waxes poetic about the bird she has picked to win it all. It didn’t choose me, I protest.

Wood Duck

Look! It's a Wood Duck. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then I look at this duck, all spit-shined, helmeted and ready for battle. I salivate. Sure, I didn’t originally have it winning Game 6, but can’t I change my mind? As the only poultry in the competition, it needs to carve out its own niche. Who would know if I just scribble out the waxwing and pencil in the wood duck? That, my friends, is a mighty fine duck. I still have the winner of Game 6 losing to the nuthatch in Round 2, anyway.

As of this writing, this flashy duck is sitting at 594 to the waxwing’s 844 points and could use a little goosing. Is it not impressive that these baby ducks can jump from their nesting cavity high up into a tree? That they live in trees at all. That they fought their way back from the brink of extinction in the late 19th/early 20th centuries after crazy hunters, coveting them for their home decor, tried to beat them down for good.

The cedar waxwing has enough fans. Am I lame or daffy for wanting to “slum it” in the scum with the duck?

Or desssssspicable for switching midstream. Oooh, got a little wet there. Ain’t called Mommy Tongue for nothin’.

As a decoy while I stall, here’s a photo my sister texted me on her road trip from Baltimore to Delaware yesterday. You know the old joke: Why did the peacock cross the road …? Not gonna vote until someone provides a punch line.

A wild peacock crossed my sister's path, causing her to consider turning this year into her Big Year. (Maybe just a Big Day.)

Reminds me of my favorite Elephant Joke.

Q: “How do you get down from an elephant?”

A: “You don’t. You get down from a duck.”

Of course, the joke was on me, because when elephant jokes were in fashion, I was very young and laughed at them even if I didn’t get them. That was the point, right? Not to get them. So I used to picture someone climbing down from a ladder leaning against a duck. Isn’t that sad? Don’t you feel sorry for me … and my duckie?

Tweet THIS: March madness for bird brains

A Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) perched ...

Superhero Cedar Waxwing. Image via Wikipedia

While the chirp of squeaky sneakers, sports commentators flapping their gums, the howl of the crowd and shrill buzzers and whistles invade our home this month, I’ll heed a different breed of calls: the call of the wild.The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reminds us it’s not only peak hoops season but peak beak season … something for the rest of us grousers. It will unveil its organically “seeded” brackets  March 12 (tomorrow!), for a March 13 tip-off of its second annual “March Migration Madness.”

Last year, the Black-Capped Chickadee ruled the roost, fending off a full-fledged threat from the wild card Cedar Waxwing. Who will horn in this year — an actual Gamecock? A mutant Jayhawk? An Oregon duck?

I’ve traditionally been pretty flighty filling out my NCAA brackets — picking my favorite colors and mascots first. But an entire bracket dedicated to colorful birds? Close to eaven. The beauty is, Cornell plucked the top 8 seeds from last year’s fittest and tossed in 4 wild cards, leaving the rest of the Tweet 16 up to us fair/foul-weather fans. We’re being asked to nominate our top bird, then move the flock through its paces with “likes” on Facebook, all the way to choosing the Final Feathered Four and ultimate Chirpion.

Don’t wanna ruffle any feathers here … so which bird is my pick?

Lately I’ve become enamored with the Carolina wren, but as an anti-Tar Heels fan, that’s bad karma. Looking at the actual NCAA brackets provides little inspiration: Louisville Cardinals, Long Island Blackbirds, Creighton Bluejays, Temple Owls, Lehigh Mountain Hawks, Marquette Golden Eagles … hmm.

What birder can forget the thrill of spying an unknown species through the glass? That happened when I first recognized a yellow-bellied sapsucker out my bay window. But as the official mascot of the Cornell site, that cries fowl.

Most recently, my eyes and heart were opened to a lowly (not really) sparrow — dismissing what at first I thought was a song sparrow, until the wondrous jolly beard and clownish crown of the White-Throated Sparrow materialized in my backyard, then again in my mother’s backyard this past weekend. Let’s lift up this sparrow to the Tweet 16. (Below, is the discovery as seen in my mother’s Norfolk, Va., yard yesterday. S/he eventually hops up onto the little pedestal s/he so deserves.)

Meanwhile, back to the NCAA mating dance. One thing’s clear: My birds and I are rooting against all cats — domestic and wild. (Sorry, Hubby, whose Kentucky Wildcats are top-seeded; I’ll overlook the whiskers on the mascot of my own alma mater — good ol’ Sparty of Michigan State — who is both top-seeded and seedy.)

Perhaps this year I’ll have more than March Migration Madness to crow about. Comparing the view outside the window to my husband’s 60-inch flat screen, though … no contest.

Click here (starting March 12) to view the full Cornell Tweet 16 bracket. And here’s an early halftime show: