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Volume 41 Issue 2 • May 12-25, 2011
now in our 41th season

Nantucket Trivia Quiz

by Pimney Trimtab, Donor of Daft Details

From time to time, just for the sheer mad joy of it, we present to readers a Nantucket Island trivia quiz.  Give yourself 10 points for every correct answer Answers are at the bottom of the article - no peeking.  If you answer them all correctly, you get all the fame and glory that a Nantucket Trivia buff deserves (and you should definitely attend the Friday Trivia Nights at the Rose & Crown).

1. Which definition best fits “Haulover”?

a. A now seldom-used method of dragging houses cross-island with an elaborate system of carts, horses, and logs—a trick that many Nantucketers used in the days when moving dwellings was even more common than it is today.
b. Cargo left on the docks to be transported into town, particularly when ships arrive late at night and had to offload before the tide changed.
c. A narrow place on the sandbar just pat Wauwinet where fishermen used to haul their boats across the sand spit and into the Head of the Harbor.
d. Nantucketalk; an expression used by old-time islanders to denote the means used to get someone back home after an evening of tippling.  As in “Did a haulover on old Zebediah Friday night last, and his missus were not too happy as his mis’rable state.”

2. What is a tombstone transom?

a. A carving on the backside of a gravestone in the shape of a small window, said by 18th-century islanders who were members of an arcane and much-maligned secret society (which has reputedly long since disappeared) to allow a spirit of the departed to waft out into the world when it so chose.
b. An astounding combination of seven different kinds of alcoholic beverage available at a certain Nantucket nightspot, but serve only upon the performance of a secret combination of hand signals followed quickly by a 16-sylable password.
c. The crossbeam of a hangman’s apparatus which existed for a number of years in the late 17th century in Gallows Field, just outside the Town Gate.
d. The transverse beams attached to the sternpost of a wooden ship, causing the bow to form the shape of a tombstone.

3. What is a trypot?

a. The three-leggedy thing upon which you try (usually unsuccessfully) to perch your camera or telescope.
b. The large iron pot on board a ship or on the “dirty shore” of the harbor in which whale blubber was boil and rendered to separate out the oil.
c. A porcelain or metal utensil placed under the bed for use on nights when inclement weather eliminated the likelihood that anyone in his or her right mind would go out the back door and head for the little square half-moon-decorated building out back.
d. From Ecumenus tripotulariam, a three-lobed poisonous plant bearing annually in late October a dark brownish-mauve flower.  Its blossom was much sought after in the late 1800s for a groom’s lapel ornamentation, provided he was marrying a woman from Martha’s Vineyard.  (It is said that this rare species still appears now and again amidst the poison ivy on the south shore of the island, just between Great Mioxes and Weweeder Ponds.)

4. What is “foopaw”?

a. A serious goofup.
b. A type of footwear designed by L.L. Bean to be worn by participants in Nantucket’s annual Figawi Race.
c. The name of a dry-goods store proposed for Tuckernuck.
d. A cornmeal-based bread or pancake made with crushed cranberries and served with beach-plum sauce.

5. What is moonraker?

a. A smallish, very strong fore-and-aft sail that is raised when the other sails have been lowered, to keep a ship’s head to the wind during a storm.
b. The name assigned in jest by moon-landing astronauts to the last person to climb aboard the capsule before liftoff.
c. The slantendicular and tallest portion of a tripartite weathervane atop a major municipal building within a city having a population of over 700,000.
d. A lightweight square sail set above a skysail on a ship of the 1800s.

6. What be a screecher?

a. A baby who’s been up all night yelling her or his lungs out for no reason at all except to keep you thoroughly reminded of who is really the boss in the household.
b. The parent of the baby, either father or mother, who has had to get up to check up on the yelling back throughout the night and who crawls out of bed the next morning only to find that there’s no coffee left in the house.
c. A serious gale o’ wind.
d. The guy or gal in a rock band who can’t really play any instrument but the tambourine but it a featured performer nevertheless because he or she can blow out every window in the Chicken Box with the…er, um…the “song” being presented to the admiring audience.

7. What does “Polpisy” mean?

a. A peculiar and unexplainable condition involving repetitive yawning.  The entire Nantucket police force was stricken by Polpisy on February 16, 1924 and almost totally incapacitated; members of the Federal Street Merchants’ took up the patrol of the town for four days.
b. A transmuted term; originally “Polpis Sea,” referring to a small body of water that appeared and disappeared during the late 1800s in the area of Shawkemo Hills.
c.  An expression used by early Nantucketers to denote a measure of naiveté or even “hickishness” possessed, it was said snidely, by anyone who live in the Polpis part of town.
d. An elaborate and expensive fishing lure used by experienced Nantucket shore fishermen and –women during bluefish season.

8. What in heck is—or are—Numida meleagris?

a. Funny-looking and loony-acting fowl with small, featherless heads, usually bearing an alarmed and foolish expression, and with a ridiculously out-of-proportion fate body, dark spotted or sometimes all-white feathers, and the most raucous voice you’ve heard this side of a crew of large crows.
b. A variety of cornflower that grows only in the moors and is much enjoyed by short-eared owls, also said by Nantucket Natives to have medicinal properties if gathered by the light of a full moon.
c. Rare black, shiny shells in the shape of a heart and sometimes still found among the scallop shells on Pocomo beach; use by Native Americans before 1700 as jewelry for marriageable young adults.
d. The name proposed, presumably tongue in cheek, for a half-mile of beachfront property just north of Quidnet found in 1992 to have no recorded owner.

9. Speaking of Latin names, what is Toxicodendron radicans?

a. A radically painful tooth.
b. A mixture of crushed garlic, green tear, and ketchup mized with salt water and sprayed with hollyhocks to discourage aphids.
c. An elated condition affecting the early-morning Milestone Road jogger, causing him or her to perceive time as moving 50% more slowly and ultimately resulting in lateness to work.
d. Poison Ivy

10.            What means “scrag”?

a - Verb: to choke, throttle, or wring the neck of.
b - A lean, scrawny animal.
c - A thin, stunted tree or plant.
d - An old-timey name for whale.

1. Haulover: The answer is (c). No, “Haulover” is not a clever Yankee technology of moving houses, although this house-hauling was and is still done amazingly often on the Faraway Isle. (MM awoke one morning last year to find that an entire four-room dwelling was parked on its wide carrier just behind her car, right in the middle of the street.)  Nor is it the way to get a tiddly person home, or cargo awaiting removal from the wharf.  It is that spot on the long, narrow sandbar that leads to Great Point where fishermen traditionally saved time by pulling their dories across the sand to the waters of the inner harbor.  This saved them from having to travel clear around the point (which they called Nauma) and then down along what’s called the embracing harbor.  Occasionally there’s a storm that makes Great Point itself an island by breaking through this point in the barrier beach.  That whole strip from Wauwinet to Great Point used to be referred to as the whale’s tail.

2. Tombstone Transom: The answer is (d).  If you checked (c) you’re not too far off, because one of the several meanings of “transom” is “the horizontal beam of gallows,” and there really was a Gallows Filed on the island way back when, although we’ve never been about to ascertain that anyone ever met their end on the device for which that section was named—perhaps it was only meant to scare people into behaving themselves.  Tombstone transoms could be found in the 1700s and 1800s on certain wooden ships frequently sailing into and out of Nantucket Harbor.  Called a “pinkie,” this type of boat was defined as “a sharp-sterned vessel with bulwarks carried abaft of the sternpost, rigged as a ship, brigantine or sloop.”  The pinkie was a double-ender weighing about 30 tons that was aid to ride “like a duck on the water,” since it could sail so close to the wind.  Its transom, on the bow, was shaped like a tombstone.  Just over 40 feet long and with a 14-foot beam, the pinkie usually carried quite a small crew and went on fairly short voyages—say, a weeklong fishing expedition or a semi-piratical mission to capture and/or harass ships belonging to the enemy, whoever that happened to be at the moment.

3. Trypot: If you guessed (a) go immediately to your dictionary and look up “tripod.”  If you guessed (c), you have a weird and wacky mind.  If you checked (d), find this plant and Pimney will teach you the 16-syllable word that’ll get you a Tombstone Transom to know your socks off at the nearest pub.  But if you knew—or guessed—(b), right you are.  And if you wonder about that “dirty shore,” you should know that in the days or yore the odor of rendered whale blubber along the edges of a particular section of old Nantucket Harbor, plus the decaying bits and pieces of that misunderstood and mistreated mammal, was so potent and terrible that you couldn’t have sold a house lot there for tuppence.

4. Foopaw: While a cornmeal pancake with beach-plum sauce actually sounds pretty good, the word “foopaw” was first used in Nantucket’s early whaling days to denote a mistake; hence (a) is the correct answer.  Thought to be a corruption of the French term faux pas, this colorful word, according to A Brief Story of Nantucket’s 300 Years, meant that someone “had made a mess of it, as when a harpooner missed his whale.”  The word apparently persisted into recent times; some senior island Natives (those fortunate people who were born here) recall its use by their parents to denote an embarrassing mistake.

5. Moonraker: You may have guessed, this being a nautically oriented island long connected with ships and sails, if not sealing wax, that (a) is the answer, but though your instincts were commendable, the sail described in that choice is actually what was called a “spanker.”  Possibilities (b) and (c) are, of course, pure nonsense, but (d) is correct.  Sam Svensson, in jis book Sails Through the Centuries (Macmillan, 1965), lists the order of the sails, from bottom to top, on a ship of the 1800s: main course (mainsail), main lower topsail, main upper topsail, topgallant (called “t’gallant” by sailors), royal, skysail, moonraker.  A ship that was full rigged, he says, was capable of carrying more than an acre and half of canvas! Interestingly, “moonraker” is not in too many dictionaries, but one old reference book defines it in two ways: “1. chiefly Brit: a stupid fellow, simpleton. 2. MOONSAIL, a light square sail set above a skysail and carried by some clipper ships in light winds.” (Haven’t you always wanted to know this?)

6. Screecher: Pronounced “screechuh” by some seafarin’ folk, this word has been used to describe the types of stawms Nantucket has experienced a couple too many of in the last several years.  So (c) is your answer.  “Gale o’ wind” is another Nantucket way of describing high winds.

7. Polpisy: Yes, it’s true—the answer is (c).  Polpis was probably the first farming settlement on the island.  Those Nantucket farmers worked long and hard and they didn’t put on airs; certain in the old days of horses and wagons and unpaved roads, it didn’t make much sense for them to dress up fancy to take their goods into town.  At some point in Nantucket history, certain of the more narrowminded townspeople took to calling those industrious residents “Polpisy,” because they were considered to be unsophisticated.  Today Polpis is one of the most beautiful areas of the island, and to be called Polpisy might, in fact, be a compliment.

8. Numida meleagris: How brilliant of you if you chose answer (a).  Nantucket guinea fowl are the most peculiar-looking birds living on the island, and their feathers, which they tend to lose as they run hysterically about, may be the only thing that’s beautiful about them.  “They’re dumb, dense, stupid, and goldang noisy, and I hate ‘em!” os the way one islander describes them.  “If they do manage to get up into a tree, they sometimes been known to freeze up there and fall out of the branches on their heads!” he adds.  Despite this, they are forgiven for two reason: (1) they set up such a cacophony when someone approaches their main residence (to which they usually return in the evening in follow-the-errant-leader fashion) that for some people they function as “watchfowl”; and (2) their main culinary delight is suppose to be ticks.  They don’t fly, and year ago they used to be raised on special grains for Nantucket’s gourmet kitchens.

9. Toxicodendron radicans: Right, it’s (d), poison ivy, which is, strangely enough, part of the cashew family.  P.I., grows in great abundance in Nantucket’s sandy areas, doesn’t seem to be bothered one iota by inclement weather or salty air, and can give you great discomfort.  It used to be called “cow itch.” If you find a great blueberry patch somewhere on the island (and there are indeed many), beware, because the two plants seem to be great friends and often grow closely together.

10. Hah! Tricked you all, betcha.  All four answers are correct.  However to the true Nantucketrivia buff, the most relevant answer is of course (d).  Obed Macy, island historian of old, said that “the first whaling expedition in Nantucket was undertaken by some of the first purchasers of the island… A whale of the kind called ‘scragg’ came into the harbor and continued there three days.  This excited the curiosity of the people, and led them to devise measures to prevent his return out of the harbor.  They accordingly invented and caused to be wrought for them a harpoon, with which they attached and killed the whale.  This first success encouraged them to undertake whaling as a permanent business, whales being at that time numerous in the vicinity of the shores.” And that’s how whaling came to be the main industry and focus of attention for Nantucket Island.


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