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Sunday, December 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 36.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Trivial pursuits

Here's a question for you: When does Isthmus publish five issues in the month of February? The long answer is when there is a leap year, but only if the first day of the month falls on a Friday. (Isthmus' official date of publication is Friday.) The short answer is, this year! As a matter of fact, you hold the fifth issue for February in your hands right now.

Okay, so I'm no Ray Hamel. So who's Ray Hamel? He's the subject of our cover story this week, "The Answer Man," and he is truly a luminary in the world of trivia and crossword puzzles. He is revealed to us by contributor Jason Albert, who spoke to the man for whom no fact is too arcane to retain in his west-side Madison home. Albert has a thing for intellectual athletes, it seems; his last cover story for us, in July 2004, was "Letter Heads," about the folks for whom Scrabble is a compulsion.

Hamel, who is a librarian (why am I not surprised?), specializes not just in answers; he is also a prolific creator of questions and a leading constructor of crossword puzzles. He is also one of the afflicted who spend a weekend every April in Stevens Point participating in the world's largest trivia contest. That phenomenon was memorialized in the film Trivia Town, featured last year at the Wisconsin Film Festival.

What kind of fun is it reading about crosswords and trivia if you don't get a chance to try out your stuff? Not much. That's why we have a short trivia quiz for you accompanying the article (page 15), as well as a crossword puzzle (page 16). I've tried the quiz, and it isn't too daunting. As a gauge, I got seven out of 10 in my first read-through of it. I'm sure you can do better.

If you're an aficionado of crosswords, in addition to the Hamel-penned puzzle, we indulge you every week on that score. Our crossword is called "Jonesin'" and is produced by a fellow named Matt Jones. A lot of folks seem to like it, and some skill combined with a bit of luck can win you a prize for your effort. You'll find "Jonesin'" back in the classifieds; this week's puzzle is on page 41.

Like many people, Ray Hamel found he had a talent for trivia, an activity he enjoyed. Unlike most, he devoted the time to become truly outstanding in his chosen field. It may not ever make him rich, but it certainly entitles him to a share of fame. And who knows? He may someday become the answer to a trivia question - a fitting form of remembrance.

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