31 March 2014

Tourist Trap Tournament: The Supreme Sixteen

Round 3 begins with sixteen competitors--that's the Supreme Sixteen to you (because, trademarks)--and ends with a Most Excellent Eight. All the recaps below! And if you're just joining us, you can relive all the excitement, game by game, round by round, over at Tourist Trap Tourney Central

The current bracket! Click for full size.

Pyramids at Giza v Sydney Opera House
Mascots: Pharaohs v Avenging Arias

The crowd-pleasing Avenging Arias soared early once again, but came out flat after the intermission, their long run ending on a bad note. The Pharaohs, meanwhile, had their day in the sun, with an epic Ra-Ra-Ra spirit—they’re gods now.

Manneken-Pis v Easter Island
Mascots: Wee Whizzers v Furious Foreheads

Purists may cry foul over the Wee Whizzers’ style, but there’s no question that the little lads of Brussels have their eyes on the prize, Number 1 in their sights. Problem is, they’re atrocious at long range. And though some teams get distracted by the Wee Whizzers’ antics, no one keeps a stiff upper lip like the Furious Foreheads, the enigmas of the islands, the face of Pacific exceptionalism, long a regional secret but quickly becoming world-famous, and rightly so.

Running of the Bulls v Oktoberfest
Mascots: Stampeding Hemingways v Drunks

You have never seen such a chaotic bloodbath. The Drunks finally stumbled—and how. They could barely keep upright, their communication was off, and everything they threw up was awful, a case study in what not to do. The Stampeding Hemingways ran right through their opponents, showing no hint of mercy. They’ve taken a circuitous path to get this far, but they’re in the home stretch now—the question is, Can anyone stop them?

Hagia Sophia v Forbidden City
Mascots: Mosaics v Dynasties

It was a classic showing by the Mosaics: unquestionably stylish, but mighty complicated. If there’s one knock against them, it’s that they’re the very definition of Byzantine. They sure looked it against the Forbidden City and their renowned guards and penchant for order—in the Dynasties’ hands, the venue became a Hall of Supreme Harmony,  

Lake Atitlan v Fjords
Mascots: Holistics v Haddock

The magic finally wore off for the Holistics of Lake Atitlan, its famous towering threesome all but dormant while the Haddock made waves with their outlet passes and world-class spread.

Maasai Mara v Petra
Mascots: Big Cats v Obodas

The pride of Kenya pounced again, with the Big Cats working their Mara Triangle offense to great effect, thanks to their Big Five. The Obodas showed off with some Siq moves, but it wasn’t enough.

Great Wall of China v Las Vegas
Mascots: Earth Dragons v Sinners

Nobody puts on a show like the Sinners, proof that with cash comes flash—and a reputation for offensive powers. So it was an incredibly close contest with the Earth Dragons and their famed defense, until the Great Wall showed some gaps and lapses, and the luck ran out, as always seems to happen against the Sinners.

Times Square v Dubai
Mascots: Bright Lights v Shiny New Stuff

With famous cheerleaders like Frank Sinatra and Jay-Z, the Bright Lights are big-city ballers with pedigree, and were their usual impressively frenetic selves, with ceaseless action in the lane. But in this showdown of two decidedly unsubtle competitors, the Bright Lights hit a roadblock in the form of the Shiny New Stuff and its dizzying excess—all height and go-for-broke style—led by its famed “seven-star” all-star. 

* * *

That leaves us with eight teams, with the regional finals coming up next. Make your picks in the comments!

Art & Architecture final:
Pyramids at Giza v Easter Island

Culture (or Something) final:
Running of the Bulls v Forbidden City

The Natural World final:
Norway’s Fjords v Maasai Mara National Park

Cities & Squares & Markets final:
Las Vegas v Dubai

30 March 2014

Tourist Trap Tournament: Cities & Squares & Markets, Round 2

Sure, the Tourist Trap Tournament proceeds at a slower pace than its basketball-centric imitator, but travel just plain takes longer than tossing a plaything around little ol' room. In any case, Round 2 has just finished up, and here's where things stand, with recaps from the Cities & Squares & Markets Regional below.

Click for full size.

Great Wall of China v Piazza San Marco
Mascots: Earth Dragons v Gondoliers

The Earth Dragons have had their ups and downs, but their talent stretches clear to the horizon—and it doesn’t hurt that they’ve recently acquired a famous fan in First Lady Michelle Obama. If only they could get over their tendency to put up bricks over and over again, as they did on this occasion. No matter, though--the Earth Dragons slowly found their footing and eked out a victory over the Gondoliers, whose smooth strokes (and snazzy outfits) weren't quite enough.

Las Vegas v Red Square
Mascots: Sinners v Embalmed Lenins

As the Embalmed Lenins learned all too well, the Sinners are a tough team to read. Cool and calculating, they know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em; they know when to walk away and know when to run. The Embalmed Lenins were left lying lifeless, seeing tsars.

Angkor Wat v Times Square
Mascots: Dancin’ Asparas v Bright Lights

The real American Hustle? That would be Bright Lights, known for their skill and flash. The Dancin’ Asaparas were their usual splendorous selves, all timeless elegance, but they we no match for Times Square, who last night shot the lights out for an hour. [Topical! -Ed.]  

Dubai v Machu Picchu
Mascots: Shiny New Stuff v Altitudinous Alpacas

Known for their sheer height and innovative formations, the Shiny New Stuff are establishing a wide gulf between themselves and their challengers (although there are also quite a few whispers of scandal behind their sudden rise).  The Altitudinous Alpacas remained a mystery, Inca-trailing the whole way.

28 March 2014

Tourist Trap Tourney: The Natural World, Round 2

Lake Atitlan v Iguazu Falls
Mascots: Holistics v Naipís

After a pep talk by superfan Aldous Huxley, the Holistics erupted stunningly, continuing their improbable run and leaving the Naipís utterly drained. The oft-overlooked Holistics are quickly turning into cult favorites to usher in a new age in this competition.

Great Barrier Reef v Fjords
Mascots: Bombastic Coral v Haddock

The Bombastic Coral had the crowd support from all their swimmer friends--the whole school, in fact, but the tide was simply stronger for the Fjords. The Haddock were efficient [say it out loud … -Ed.] in their efforts, and impressed with their skerry guards.

Copacabana v Maasai Mara
Mascots: Tan Lines v Big Cats

The Big Cats came in with something to prove to the world—namely, that despite their internal rifts and reputation for spottiness, they’re still the pride of the Africa, and prey to no one, certainly not the oh-so-vain Tan Lines. The result: a thorough Brazilian waxing. [Yup. -Ed.]

Petra v Grand Canyon
Mascots: Obodas v John Wesley Powells

The rugged Americans entered this match-up as heavy favorites, and they quickly showed why, as they ran wild with their dapper, speedy starting line-up—nicknamed the Class Five Rapids. The Obodas had impressive staying power, but were slowly worn down and left, as one commentator put it, “rose-red as if the blush of dawn.”

27 March 2014

Tourist Trap Tourney: Culture (or Something), Round 2

Running of the Bulls v Graceland
Mascots: Stampeding Hemingways v Gyrating Hips

Perhaps the sequined outfits were a bad idea for the Gyrating Hips, who faded fast, their early vigor giving way to something more melancholy and bloated, a desperation that said “Don’t be cruel.” To which the Stampeding Hemingways taunted, “A little less conversation, a little more action,” and showed the way with a terse, urgent, no-frills style that nonetheless captivated the crowds—a noble effort, indeed.  

Oktoberfest v Terracotta Warriors
Mascots: Drunks v Mount Li Legends

The party’s only just begun for the pride of Munich. Against all expectations, the Drunks stumbled to victory, unfazed by the Mount Li Legends’ seeming ability to be everywhere, all the time—perhaps the Drunks are simply used to overwhelming numbers due to their tendency toward seeing double, or triple (and, anyway, their Party Zone defense negates any concern about man-to-terracotta-man coverage).

Blarney Stone v Hagia Sophia
Mascots: Kissers v Mosaics

The Kissers are a one-trick team, but what a crowd-pleasing trick it is. They found their sweet spot again and again against the Mosaics—who seemed like they were having a bit of an identity crisis about how their very foundational identity, and could be seen raising their hands to the heavens for guidance.

Wall Drug v Forbidden City
Mascots: Jackalopes v Dynasties

In a classic showdown between East and Old West, the Dynasties were the emperors of the court, using some 8,886 box-out moves to keep the Jackalopes at bay. The South Dakotans looked flat-footed and lethargic, causing many fans to yell, “Why not rush more?!”

Tourist Trap Tourney: Art & Architecture, Round 2

The Pyramids at Giza v The Parthenon
Mascots: Pharaohs v Athenas

The Pharaohs made a strong showing in the first round, but it turns out they’d kept some of their secrets under wraps, and they came out shockingly strong, albeit with an odd lurch in their stride, as though they’d been resting for a millenia or two. The Athenas’ showed an impressively diverse skill set, from wisdom to craftiness, keeping things close, but for the Pharaohs, the writing was already on the wall, in their native hieroglyphics.

Sydney Opera House v Edinburgh Castle
Mascots: Avenging Arias v Mighty Tartan

The Avenging Arias were flat at times but left this one on a high note after settling into a good rhythm. It was all too much for the Mighty Tartan, who fell short by a Royal Mile.  

Bilbao Guggenheim v Manneken-Pis
Mascots: Starchitects v Wee Whizzers

The Wee Whizzers are a team everyone either loves to hate or hates to love, the pint-sized scamps with the hot hand and the titillating reputation. Quite the contrast to the Starchitects, with their refined, even haughty sensibility—well-earned, given the hardscrabble roots—and penchant for going almost out of bounds before slyly pulling back. The irreverent little chaps from Belgian pulled it out when no one else expected it, though, and got the W.

Easter Island v Taj Mahal
Mascots: Furious Foreheads v Marvelous Minarets

After toppling Stonehenge in the first round, the Furious Foreheads were expected to have another strong showing, although there were concerns that they’d get [wait for it, you know what’s coming …] big heads. But leading up to this match-up they remained tight-lipped, even while the Marvelous Minarets grandiosely waxed poetic, evidently as a tribute to a deceased loved one. When it came to the actual face-off, the Furious Foreheads were rock-solid, using a Hack-a-Pishtaq strategy to great effect against the Marvelous Minarets.

25 March 2014

Tourist Trap Tourney: Cities & Squares & Markets, Round 1

The first round of the Tourist Trap Tourney concludes with the Cities & Squares & Markets regional, featuring several closely-watched match-ups, like the Piazza San Marco against famous imitator, Disney World. 

Great Wall of China v World’s Largest Truck Stop (Walcott, Iowa)
Mascots: Earth Dragons v Bulldogs

With both teams in it for the long haul, this was a match-up for the ages. The Earth Dragons’ defense was a bit shoddy in places, contrary to the reputation, but no matter, they lived up to their reputation as a dynasty to watch, and truly one of the world’s rising superpowers. The Bulldogs suffered breakdown after breakdown, and had continual problems driving the lane.

Piazza San Marco (Venice) v Disney World (Orlando, Florida)
Mascots: Gondoliers v Ridiculous Lines

As many an observer has noted, Disney World copies many of its signature moves from Piazza San Marco. But nothing compares to the real deal, and the Gondoliers in their trademark striped shirts glided right past the slow-moving Ridiculous Lines and their cartoonish ways.

Las Vegas v Asakusa (Tokyo)
Mascots: Sinners v Scarlet Gang

The Sinners are renowned for their secretive if wild ways, but enigmatic as they are, they’re a solid bet. The Scarlet Gang looked great down low, and clearly picked up some samba style pointers from the Copacabana Tan Lines, but just couldn’t compete with the Sinners’ stacked deck and penchant for rebounding.

Red Square (Moscow) v Blackpool (England)
Mascots: Embalmed Lenins v Peerless Piers

The Embalmed Lenins are known for their long line of stoic strongmen (and, it must be said, for their creepy mascot), and their current leader follows the trend, claiming territory and ceding nothing despite pressure from all comers. It’s all slash and no flash—unlike the Peerless Piers, who showed a razzle-dazzle flash of a million watts in this close contest, leaving the ticket-buyers giddy and sated.

Angkor Wat (Cambodia) v Mall of America (Minnesota)
Mascots:  Dancin’ Apsaras v White Walking Shoes

Pity the Dancin’ Apsaras, who clearly tried to take the moral high road when the White Walking Shoes offered up all manner of steals—to prey so much undoubtedly seemed like bad karma. And yet the gentle giants from the Midwest insisted, evidently believing that it would pay off in the long run. Not so. The Dancin’ Apsaras don’t have the mass of the White Walking Shoes, but they’re towering nonetheless.

Times Square (New York City) v Thamel Shopping District (Kathmandu)
Mascots: Bright Lights v Singing Bowls

Despite shedding its longtime reputation for dirty stuff, Times Square still has its detractors—some of whom miss that old grit. In any case, the Bright Lights stole the spotlight from the Singing Bowls, in spite of the latter’s laudable cooperative efforts and artistic moves.

Dubai v Medina of Fez (Morocco)
Mascots: Shiny New Stuff v Labyrinth

Another close battle here—the trendy Shiny New Stuff, who are generating buzz for their make-no-small-plans boldness, versus the truly timeless and multi-faceted stalwarts of the Labyrinth. Dubai’s efforts seemed unsustainable, but the Moroccans couldn’t start their engines at all, and at times looked lost out there.

Machu Picchu (Peru) v Bến Thành Market (Saigon)
Mascots: Altitudinous Alpacas v Hagglers

In this surprisingly tight match-up, the Hagglers showcased an impressive stinginess, using a series of cunning moves to keep the Altitudinous Alpacas at a disadvantage and shuffling between twos and threes. Once the Peruvians settled in, though, it was a clinic in precision work—truly masterful. 

* * * 

Through our first round of competition, here's where things stand: 

Click for larger version.

Don't forget: You can still submit your picks, which maybe possibly will affect the outcomes of the remaining games. Fill out your bracket right here and email it to doug@douglasmack.net.

Tourist Trap Tourney: The Natural World, Round 1

The competition's heating up, with bracket-busting upsets left and right, including one absolute stunner ... 

Mount Everest v Lake Atitlan
Mascots: Oxygen Tanks v Holistics

Mount Everest came in as a heavy favorite to win it all, thanks to its peerless size and legendary might. But the scrappy Holistics had some tricks up their tie-dyed sleeves, and pulled off the upset of the tournament, although there have been some questions about what substances, precisely, were in their pre-game smoothies. The Oxygen Tanks showed fortitude but also a whole lot of cockiness, as though their wealth and snazzy outfits alone gave them bragging rights.  

[In light of this shocking defeat, here’s a guest commentary about Mount Everest’s planned changes to improve its core Tourist Trap strengths and reputation.]

Igauzu Falls (Argentina/Brazil) v Niagara Falls (Canada/USA)
Mascots: Naipís v Honeymooners 
Two very evenly-matched teams, formed of the same stuff, both known for their thrilling flow and thundering dunks. While the Honeymooners draw the crowds, the funhouse atmosphere can be more of distraction than anything else. The Naipís keep powering along with that famous South American style. This match-up goes way, way back, and that famous call of announcer Eleanor Roosevelt still holds true: “Poor Niagara!” [Actual fact! - Ed.]

Great Barrier Reef (Australia) v Table Mountain (South Africa)
Mascots: Bombastic Coral v Cable Cars

In a game packed with highs and lows, the Bombastic Coral simply outnumbered the Cable Cars time after time. The South Africans had the smooth style, to be sure, with swing plays galore, but in the end, it was the Aussies and their surgeonfish precision that won the day.   

Fjords (Norway) v Victoria Falls (Zambia/Zimbabwe)
Mascots: Haddock v Thundering Smoke

Employing a variation of the Amoeba Defense that they call the Haddock Hold-‘em, the Fjords claimed the victory thanks to their absurdly long reach and careful maneuvering that was simultaneously weaving and steady. Most of all, it was a strategy of containment—the exact opposite of the Thundering Smoke, a porous defense if ever there were one, with everything slipping right past.

Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) v Copacabana (Rio de Janeiro)
Mascots: Snowballs v Tan Lines

In a different era, the Snowballs were justly famous, a sight to behold. Today, they’re fading fast, a widely-lamented sign of a changing climate. Against the ascendant Tan Lines and their hotter-than-hot samba style, Mount Kilimanjaro stood, well, a snowball’s chance, its three-point efforts continually cratering.

Maasai Mara (Kenya) v Equator Park (Quito, Ecuador)
Mascots: Big Cats v Latitudes

No question that the Latitudes’ attitudes are winningly optimistic, but the South Americans couldn’t quite hit the mark, while the Big Cats prowled and pounced at every opportunity. It wasn’t so much a motion offense as a swarming feeding frenzy, with many a fast break as the crowds went wild and flashbulbs popped.

Petra (Jordan) v Dunn’s River Falls (Jamaica)
Mascots: Obodas v Dr Nos

The Dr. Nos like to play the villains, with their slippery ways and devious misdirections and cryptic trash-talking. And with the Obodas’ charms initially hiding from view, this was a tight one. But by the end, the outcome seemed predetermined, the Obodas’ emerging magnificence well worth the wait, and the Dr. Nos tumbled hard down that rocky slope of defeat,

Grand Canyon (Arizona) v Torres del Paine National Park (Chile)
Mascots: John Wesley Powells v Gallopin’ Guanacos

This stunner of a match-up offered a whole raft of jaw-dropping delights, with the John Wesley Powells carving out a victory in the end, thanks to a series of fast breaks. Torres del Paine is one to watch in the future, to be sure—step by steppe, it’s sure to be a contender soon. 

* * *

20 March 2014

Tourist Trap Tournament: Culture (or Something), Round 1

More heart-stopping thrills in Day 2 of the Tourist Trap Tournament, as competition got started in the Culture (or Something) regional. And if you're just joining us, we suggest that you start from the beginning and also fill out your own bracket so as not to miss any of the action.

Running of the Bulls (Pamplona, Spain) v Kimchi Museum (Seoul)
Mascots: Stampeding Hemingways v Fermenters

The Stampeding Hemingways, in their trademark playoff beards and red bandanas, came out strong, with energy and movement like they were being chased. The Fermenters, meanwhile, took too long to really get going, and quickly found themselves in a pickle, while the Stampeding Hemingways kept charging with a bullish optimism.

Graceland (Memphis) v Mardis Gras (New Orleans)
Mascots: Gyrating Hips v King Cakes

In a closely-watched match-up between two American favorites, the Gyrating Hips proved to be King-Cake-Eaters (or is that King Cake-Eaters?). The King Cakes showed an impressively wild style, but had a terrible time finding their famous little guy in the middle, and their famous coconut throws routinely missed their targets and fell to the ground.

Oktoberfest v Kyoto Golden Pavilion
Mascots: Drunks v Monks

It was a tale of two styles: the plastered versus the placid. The Monks showed off a refreshingly zen approach, meditative and deliberate. But no one drains ‘em like the Drunks of Oktoberfest, and in the end, they were toasting themselves after stumbling to victory thanks to their sneaky Belgian’s triple-dubbel.

Terracotta Warriors v Avenue of Stars
Mascots: Mount Li Legends v Paparazzi

The Legends are known as visually imposing but ultimately flawed defenders, their movement nonexistent, like their feet are stuck to the ground. This time, though, they lucked out by drawing an opponent who happened to be not only equally lethargic but notably vain, spending all their time posing for the cameras. The Legends got a major assist from their deep bench, the skills equal from the sixth man to the six thousandth.

Blarney Stone v International Museum of Toilets
Mascots: Kissers v Crappers

Gross. This was a tough one to watch, with the Kissers flopping all over floor and the Crappers’ #1 and #2 generating all kinds of foul problems. The Crappers had some unstoppable runs, and their truly international line-up was awash in global styles. But those legendary Kissers were coasting on a bit of residual Luck of the Irish from Saint Patrick’s Day, and they flushed the Crappers for good.

Hagia Sophia (Istanbul) v Full Moon Beach Party (many locations)
Mascots: Istan-Bulls v Glassy-Eyed Bros

What was billed as a transcendent, almost spiritual match-up turned out to be a bust, as the Istan-Bulls—formerly the Constantinoples, but that’s nobody’s business but the Turks—showed simply more staying power, more determination than the Glassy-Eyed Bros, who spent much of the competition staring at their hands and giggling. It was like comparing a chandelier and a glow-stick: no contest, really.

Phallological Museum (Reykjavik) v Wall Drug (Wall, South Dakota)
Mascots: Super Schlongs v Jackalopes

Pity the Super Schlongs—where once they were symbols of vigor and power, here they looked as lifeless as museum pieces. The Jackalopes, though, hopped all over the place, racking ‘em up and well-hydrated by their famous Free Water. Throughout the night, the Super Schlongs’ ball-handling was as impressive, but try as they might, they just couldn’t get their happy ending. [I’m so sorry. -Ed.]

Forbidden City (Beijing) v Currywurst Museum (Berlin)
Mascots: Dynasties v Saucy Sausages

Keep your 1990s Bulls and your early-Aughts Lakers—for a true dynasty, look at, well, the Dynasties. The pride of Beijing from Ming to Qing, they’re quite the Thing, with particularly strong guards. The Saucy Sausages will never get far with all the double dribbling going on, and though they do have a tendency to come back on you, the outcome of this contest was never in doubt.

* * * 

Next up: The Natural World! 

Make your picks in the comments.

18 March 2014

Tourist Trap Tournament Round 1: Art & Architecture

Competition in the Tourist Trap Tournament kicked off today with the first round of the Art & Architecture regional. And what a day it was! There were lots of close ones, with a few upsets and a certain favorite still standing very tall indeed. Recaps below! And if you're just joining us, we suggest that you start from the beginning and also fill out your own bracket so as not to miss any of the thrilling action.

The Pyramids at Giza (Egypt) v Spring Temple Buddha (Henan, China)
Mascots: Pharaohs v Fightin’ Pacifists

The young, upstart Fightin’ Pacifists seemed to have the upper hand in this match-up, but even their impressive size couldn’t match that of the Pharaohs. The pride of Giza simply outlasted their competitors, with their square-meets-triangle offense building a strong, enigmatic base that simply proved too hard to figure out.

The Parthenon (Athens) v Washington Monument (Washington, DC)
Mascots: Athenas v Georges

In a game with more post players than would seem possible, the Athenas seemed to have the power of the gods behind them, and also played with such teamwork and constant communication that it was almost like they invented the very idea of democracy. The Georges stood tall and proud, to be sure, and strived to emulate their Mediterranean competitors, but height and swagger were about all they had to offer—certainly no match for the Athenas’ box-and-actually-a-whole-lot-more-than-one defense.

Sydney Opera House (Australia) v Little Mermaid (Copenhagen)
Mascots: Avenging Arias v Almost-Humans

Oh, the heartbreak of the Almost-Humans! The almost-humanity! The plucky innocents moved beautifully but just couldn’t bring out the knives against the Avenging Arias of the Sydney Opera House, who had a few bold moves of their own. This one was over long before the fat lady sang. And the skinny tenor, too.

Sistine Chapel (Rome) v Edinburgh Castle (Scotland)
Mascots: Cherubic Cherubs v Mighty Tartan

Despite the pointers from their bearded, all-powerful boss, the Cherubic Cherubs fell down to earth hard against the Mighty Tartan, which withstood all sieges with a quiet grace. The Scots showed a fiercely renegade, independent spirit in their rebounding (and some impressive military tattoos, too).

Leaning Tower of Pisa (Italy) v Bilbao Guggenheim (Spain)
Mascots: Tipsy Engineers v Starchitects

It came down to a matter of form: the elegant rigidity of the Engineers and the free-flowing charisma of the Starchitects, who pulled off all kinds of show-stopping moves that left the crowd stunned, artistry in motion. The Engineers, meanwhile, were notably askew—a charming sort of haplessness, to be sure, but they might as well have been tilting at windmills.

Eiffel Tower (Paris) v Manneken-Pis (Brussels)
Mascots: 1889ers v Wee Whizzers

It goes without saying that the Wee Whizzers can dribble like no one else and also sport the finest uniforms around. But the 1889ers, like Napoleon before them, put up a hell of a fight, and the young Belgians surely felt like their climb to victory was one of 1,665 or more steps. Someone must have slipped some Château Barreyres into the French cooler, because by the end, they were as wild as the traffic at the Arc de Triomphe, while the Wee Whizzers’ arcs were on-target every single time.

Stonehenge (England) v Easter Island
Mascots: Ambling Druids v Furious Foreheads

The Ambling Druids seemed to have their timing off, as though they were not even half-ready for their big day in the sun. The Furious Foreheads’ blunt, lumbering style triumphed easily, their destiny written in stone.

Taj Mahal (India) v Merlions (Singapore)
Mascots: Marvelous Minarets v Spittin’ Harbormasters

The Spittin’ Harbormasters showed signs of life now and then, with the periodic burst of long-range excellence. But it was all gun and no run, and the Marvelous Minarets—resplendent in white and showcasing a dashing, even romantic style—offered a pointed rebuttal every time.

* * *

Thanks for joining us, and we'll see you next time as the competition begins in the Culture (or Something) regional. Here's a preview. Who will win these match-ups? What will their mascots be? Make your predictions in the comments! 

17 March 2014

The World Tourist Trap Tournament

It's that time of year when the brackets bloom, the season of March Madness Mimickry. (For non-Americans and non-sports fans, March Madness is a big ol' tournament in which college basketball teams compete to see who's the best at decreasing office-worker productivity.)

Does the world need another goofy bracket of Sixty-Four Things Competing Against Each Other? Sure does. 

Way back in 2011, this blog hosted the European Tourist Trap Finals, pitting sixteen of the continent's biggest travel destinations against each other in a friendly competition.

Now it's back, but with an expanded field spanning the whole dang world, and a full slate of 64 entrants, divided into four regions, featuring head-to-head match-ups between the finest-slash-tawdriest destinations the planet has to offer. Some of them you know. Some of them you probably don't--like any good tournament, there are heavy favorites and obscure-but-plucky underdogs. (Thanks to the many travelers who offered suggestions on Facebook and Twitter.)

Travel fans, I hereby present to you the 2014 WORLD TOURIST TRAP TOURNAMENT. 

Or, even better, here's a PDF form version all ready to be filled out. If you email a filled-out bracket to doug@douglasmack.net, I'll post it here. If you include your mailing address, I'll also send you a postcard.

Or! Travel by map: 

View the full-size map here.

Will the heavily-favored Eiffel Tower win it all? Will the much-anticipated Red Square vs. Times Square match-up come to fruition? Will we see any big upsets from a quiet-but powerful upstart like the Kimchi Museum, or even the Spring Temple Buddha, an oft-overlooked giant in the field? 

We'll soon find out. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll watch the exciting action and recap it with full commentary right here on this very blog. 

So. What determines the results of each match-up? Well, as with an actual athletic contest, fan support plays a huge role. In other words: 

By popular demand, your votes will help specific places advance. 

Pick a match-up and cheer for your favorite place. Extra points for giving reasons why it should defeat its opponent, and providing commentary on the competition as it unfolds. What does that match-up look like? What's the back-and-forth? Points also awarded for heartfelt and/or creative cheers or fight songs, etc., like at actual sports events. 

Of course, the role of the officials cannot be underestimated, either. The referee, while susceptible to the opinions of the crowd (not to mention bribes), is ultimately kinda biased and likely to push some of the outcomes a certain way, based on his own whims, preferences, and general amusement. (Spoiler: No matter how hard you lobby, it's highly unlikely the Mall of America will advance very far, although by all means, try to convince me otherwise.)


Hey, you forgot [­That One Place I Really Like]! What's the deal?!

Just like the real-life tournament that inspired this bracket, there are some surprises, and not all the usual suspects make the cut. I decided not to have more than one tourist trap per city (so, for example, Times Square is the only representative of NYC), and I wanted to have a broad range of tourist-trap types: museums, statues, entire cities, famous landmarks, obscure icons, etc.

Dude, [My Favorite Place] is awesome and amazing. IT’S NOT A TOURIST TRAP, YOU SNARKY JERK.

I’m using the term “tourist trap” lovingly. I promise. And, actually, “tourist cliché” would be a much more accurate word for these places, "trap" being somewhat more pejorative and implying innate tackiness, which is just not something I'd pin on many of these esteemed destinations. 

So if it helps, think of these as clichés--places that happen to be very popular, for better or for worse. But, well, I'm a sucker for alliteration. Ergo, Tourist Trap Tournament. 

As discussed in my book, Europe on Five Wrong Turns a Day, and in many posts on this blog, I happen to think the beaten path gets a bad rap and that tourist hotspots are generally popular for a very good reason--and that more often than not, the essential coolness and intrigue transcends the crowds and souvenir shops and so on. This goofy little exercise is intended as an absurdist salute to these places. 

Of course, the distinction between magnificent and tawdry is always in the eye of the beholder, and there are certainly some places I happen to find pretty damn appalling. (Hello, Mall of America.)

Okay, so how do the match-ups work? Are we supposed to vote for the tackiest one? The one that’s actually pretty cool? The one that's most famous? 

How do you judge a cooling breeze versus a lovely shade of green? A majestic rainbow versus the beguiling scent of spring? The sound of a baby laughing versus the majesty of the night sky in the desert?


Exactly. Just vote already.

03 March 2014

A Modest Proposal for Publishing, Inspired By the Oscars Pizzas

Last night, there was pizza at the Oscars. Because, you know, even movie stars get hungry. It was a funny gag--well played, Ellen. And nice plate-passing, Brad Pitt.

But it also underscored the American sensibilities that, OMG, it's been like three whole hours since I ate, I'm staaarving and--more notable for purposes of this post--that it's not Real Entertainment without food. Think about it: hot dogs at the baseball game, popcorn at the movie theater, beer at a rock concert. Hell, these days, Americans can barely even drive without some sort of calorie-heavy comestible in our hand or at least at arm's reach in the cupholder--grease and sugar as security blanket, if not co-pilot (KFC Go Cup, take the wheel!). 

As a writer, I'm always wondering how I can sell books, how I can make this writing thing work in an economically sustainable way. It's rough out there, not gonna lie, not least because we live in an era in which many people recoil at the idea of paying more than $9.99 for a book (even though they'll gladly shell out $11 for ninety minutes at the multiplex), a time when, as publisher Dennis Johnson of Melville House recently told The New Yorker"Amazon has successfully fostered the idea that a book is a thing of minimal value. It's a widget."

And there are tons of ideas out there about how to fix this and make publishing sustainable and profitable. But there's one I haven't heard floated.


Publishing industry, hear me out. The path to success is marked by a trail of sticky, greasy, unidentifiable-but-oh-so-tantalizing crumbs and splotches. Movie theaters have known this forever. Snacks. Snacks make the money; the movie's just the thing that gets the consumers there.

First of all, books should come with cupholders. I think this goes without saying. Everything has cupholders these days. Strollers. Bikes. Lawn chairs. I bet there are even big cupholders with little cupholders attached. In 2014, not having them is a major design flaw, and one that could easily be remedied by simply die-cutting the back cover. (For e-books, you'll have to sell them separately, obviously. Presumably suction cups would be involved.)

Second, we need an iconic snack that goes with the literary experience. Not kale chips or edamame or quinoa balls, don't give me any of that Wimpy Book Nerd Stereotype stuff. We need hard-core junk food. If Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser aren't clutching their heads in disapproving agony when they hear about it, then it's not good enough. If they'd serve it at your standard Upper West Side book club meeting, it's definitively a no-go. My first idea is Candy Coated Deep-fried Mountain Dew. I'm sure our technology and manufacturing sectors are up to the task. But, anyway, that's just a brainstorm. I'm willing to continue the discussion. For some reason, I kinda feel like Gary Shteyngart would have some great ideas.

Third, and most of all, hard-copy books should come with snacks. At least for a little while, in this start-up phase of what we should probably just call the Snacking to Save Publishing Program (SSPP). You know, to really make it a whole Package Experience, and to hook 'em on the pairing, like how I eat popcorn and suddenly want to watch a movie. Remember how all those commentary tracks got us to switch from video tapes to DVDs? Also, you didn't hear this from me, but if you include snacks in the experience, you can charge extra. Americans. Love. Snacks.

To this end, America, allow me to start things off by offering you ...


Yes, for the low, low price of just $35 (plus shipping & handling), you get:

- A signed and personalized copy of Europe on Five Wrong Turns a Day! (Wow!!)
- A can of Coke! (Golly!!)
- A bag of tortilla chips--with one chip also signed by the author! (Phenomenal!!)

- A printed preview of my next book! (Just like the movies!!)

Email doug@douglasmack.net to place your order today!! 

Act now and you'll also get a free can of nacho cheese!! (Yumm!!)

... AND A PAPER NAPKIN!! (Whaaat?!)

Remember, that's doug@douglasmack.net. Order now!!