One of my favorite activities that I engage in on a semi-regular basis is to play trivia with a circle of friends at a local coffee shop. Four rounds, ten to twelve questions per round with the possibility of some bonus points. A good way to pass two hours on Thursday evenings.
I’ll confess to a general lack of modesty in this area- trivia is, for one reason or another, one of the things I’m really good at. My mind can and does hold onto details, dates and denizens of historic or cultural importance. While our team doesn’t always win, we’re nearly always finishing in the top two or three groups playing (though we do win with enough regularity that we’re sufficiently disappointed when we don’t).
Perhaps before going too far down this path I should clarify the tremendous lack of importance, gravity and seriousness with which I’m approaching the subject- I totally get that this is a rant about extremely low stakes ($1 per player t participate) coffee house trivia and given ongoing events in Gaza, the Ukraine, America’s southern border, etc., that this matters not at all. Hell- in my own life I have far more important concerns about maintaining my sobriety, continuing to treat my depression, etc. So understand that all of what follows is done with complete self-awareness about how small a hill of beans this adds up to and with tongue firmly ensconced in cheek.
Last night out of three teams competing we were three points off of the lead heading into the fourth and final round, comprised of twelve questions worth two points apiece. We ended up losing the game by three points. Here were two of the questions (and thus the four points to win) that the person running the event (and I use the term running the event very loosely) asked, with the answers submitted by my team:
“What is the name for a long tunic worn by men in the near east?”
We answered Dashiki. They were looking for kaftan.
“Another word for a riddle or hard question.”
We answered enigma, they were looking for conundrum.
We argued both answers only to be told that “Yes, while they may be right, they aren’t what I was thinking of.” (Side note: Having spent some time researching this morning, I’m ready to concede the dashiki/kaftan question, and thus the game. But stay with me for my larger point…) We replied that if that was how they were running things the questions may as well be “What number am I thinking of?” as opposed to proper trivia questions that have a definitive answer (such as “What year did World War I begin?” or “Which actor portrayed Louis Renault in the film ‘Casablanca?'” (the answers of course are 1914 and Claude Rains. But I digress)).
Take, if you will, the picture above of the definition of enigma, our answer to the second question, and you’ll note that it is a synonym for BOTH riddle and conundrum. We provided a technically correct answer (the best kind of correct!) but apparently in the mind of this Quiz Master (he said, dripping with sarcasm) our answer may have well been “a mushy banana.” A game of trivia is only fun if it is actually a game of trivia and not an endeavor to read minds. Again, the stakes are meaningless and they can keep the money for all I care, but the game has to have some integrity to it.
Did the situation become heated and tense last night as we argued our point? Fair enough. Would a cooling off period avoiding Creekside Books and Coffee be warranted over the next week or two? It certainly couldn’t hurt. While my friends and I consider carefully and reflect upon the matter I would beseech the new owners of Creekside to do the same. We have been attending the trivia nights there for the better part of almost four years and in that time have been reliable and faithful customers, purchasing many coffees, teas, pastries and books. We go because it’s a (usually) fun diversion from an otherwise typical weeknight. We enjoy the fellowship and the revels of testing our knowledge against the best minds little Skaneateles, New York has to offer. But that continued patronage depends upon both parties holding up their ends of the implied social contract- I will drop a dollar into the prize pot and another three or four or five on a coffee and a sandwich IF I know that the questions that are to be asked have definitive answers which can properly be called trivia.
Because integrity is no small thing.