Friday, 11 June 2010

Trivial Pursuit

Regular question setters will be familiar with the experience I’m going to describe. Let’s say that you are one of a group of regular setters for a particular quiz, and you take your turn once every three or four weeks. In the weeks between turns, although you probably don’t actually compile your quiz until the last week leading up to your turn, you certainly can’t help thinking about the questions you’re going to ask. So you go to the quiz the week before your turn, and what do you find ? This week’s setter has only gone and used half of your in-the–news questions ! It happens, and all you can do is take comfort from the old saying that great minds think alike.

OK – now, one of those questions which I was keeping back for my next quiz was actually asked in the rugby club last night : -
60 year old Canadian Chris Haney, who died at the end of May 2010, was the joint inventor of what ?
I’m sure that you’re quite aware of the answer, namely Trivial Pursuit.

It certainly made me think. I have mixed feelings about Trivial Pursuit, as do many quizzers of a certain age, I’m sure. I first became aware of the game during a holiday in Greece in 1984. I was backpacking my way down the Cyclades to Crete, then across to Rhodes, and back up along the Dodecanese. Believe me, there’s worse ways to spend a summer when you’re 19 going on 20. I was on my own, and so it pretty much fell upon me to get talking with people and pal up with them for a while before moving on to the next island. While I was on Rhodes I met a group of guys from Toronto – or Tronner as they proudly called it, and they were very much into Trivial Pursuit, which I had never heard of before. It planted a seed in my mind, as it sounded very much my sort of thing, and I resolved to have a look out for it in case it ever made it to the UK.

So, fast forward to the end of the holiday. I flew back from Athens to Gatwick, took British Rail from Gatwick to Victoria, and the tube from Victoria to Northfields station. Walking home along Northfields Avenue, I passed Caves’ toyshop, and looked in the window, where I saw my first ever trivial Pursuit box. I thought now, as I did then, that the dark green colour scheme, and the fancy lettering on the box were strongly reminiscent of the packaging of a box of After Eight Mints. No, if you’re wondering, I didn’t rush in, buy the box, and thence set myself on the path to true quizdom. In fact it was the best part of a year before I played my first game of Trivial Pursuit. One of the guys in my student hall on the edge of Blackheath had bought himself a box, and was desperate for someone to play against. In fact, I probably have never played it more than a dozen times in my life, if that. Deep in my heart of hearts I kind of agree with some of the criticisms of the first British Genus Edition, namely, that the questions were desperately inconsistent, some very dull, and some very wrong.

Well, I’m not writing this to carp on about the negative points of the game. For the fact is that while it never created quiz culture in this country, or, I suspect, in any other, the fact is that Trivial Pursuit made its contribution to its development. I suspect that there's probably quite a number of serious and casual quizzers out there who owe their initial interest in quizzing to Trivial Pursuit.That’s not a bad legacy for anyone to leave behind.


While we’re on the subject of Trivial Pursuit, I came across this the other day. In 1984 Fred Worth, author of the Trivia Encyclopaedia, sued the distributors of the original Genus edition, claiming that many of the questions were lifted straight from his book. He used the example of a deliberately wrong fact that he’d included in his book to catch anyone lifting straight from the book. The question was : -
What is the first name of Lt. Colombo, played by Peter Falk ?
The answer given – Philip, is wrong, apparently. Its actually Frank.
Well, the lawsuit was thrown out. What’s more, Philip has gone on to gain credence as being the correct answer – I’ve been asked it myself and this has been the answer more than once. Well, you know where it comes from now – blame Trivial Pursuit.


I have a great weakness for old quizbooks. Just this week I bought a 1952 book called “General Knowledge Inquisition “. There’s only 49 pages of questions, but into these pages it squeezes over 1000 questions, and some of them really make you think. All well and good. However, that’s not why I write. I write because one of the questions irresistibly put me in mind of one of my favourite old teacher stories, and I’d like to share it with you now.

An old colleague of mine, who worked in a school not so very far away from where I live, was teaching a class of ROSLA kids. This will give you an idea of how long ago we’re talking about. These were the children who would have left school at 15, but had to stay an extra year until they reached 16 , and to say the least were far from ecstatic about it. One day, my friend faced a mini rebellion, when one of the little tykes piped up with,
“Why have we got to do all this stuff about writing letters an’ at ? Why can’t we do stuff like your O Level class does ?
Well, “ replied my friend, “ what sort of thing did you have in mind ?
I dunno, “ he replied , “Stuff like Shakespeare an’ that.
Alright, “ replied Teach, "if that’s what you want. Lets start then. Who can tell me something about Shakespeare ? “
There was silence for a moment or two, then one of the other lads raised his hand hesitantly,
“ His first name was William . “
Teach was most impressed. “Well done ! OK – can anyone tell me what he’s famous for? “
Four hands shot up. Teach picked the most promising, who triumphantly announced,
“He shot an apple off a bloke’s head, didn’t he ? “

1 comment:

Ray Hamel said...

In the 1960s, trivia came along as an answer to the academic questions used on "College Bowl," with quizzes about pop culture -- movies, TV, sports, music, etc.

Trivia Pursuit came along in 1984 and added the academics back into the "trivia" mix with questions about geography, history, science, etc.

I prefer my trivia pure.