La Trivialata

Earlier today, Chris Haney, co-creator of Trivial Pursuit passed away in Toronto, aged 59. Condolences to his friends and family, and much respect to Mr. Haney’s invention of a game I actually stand half a chance of winning.

I’m an information junkie. You want to lay some obscure knowledge on me? Go right ahead, I’ll be your friend for life. Unfortunately, I’m the worst kind of information junkie, the kind with an atrocious memory, the kind of memory that would make an absent-minded goldfish shake his head at me in disgust. And then promptly forget he did – in yo’ face, goldfish! I swear, if my brain had enough room to store all the random facts I’ve learned over the years… I’d probably forget how to drive, or eat. Nevertheless, tell me that a volcano may have been responsible for the invention of the bicycle and it’ll lodge in there more securely than, say, my mom’s birthday. Which is utterly disgraceful, but I blame genetics.

I’m also a member of a pub quiz team. I say ‘team’, we’re probably more of a collective. Well, I say ‘collective’, what I actually mean is ‘a bunch of people who never all manage to get in one room at the same time’. We’re still undecided on our name – it’s either going to be ‘Danger! Contains Nuts’, ‘Snowball’s Chance in Hell’ or ‘The Large Hadron Collider Doesn’t Work’ (it’s a tough call but my vote’s with the latter). We’ve actually spent more time on the name than, you know, preparing for the quiz.

Being in that team can be disconcerting, of course, because pub quizzes show you the painful limits of your knowledge. I always knew my sporting knowledge was pretty catastrophic, but I also know next to nothing about music beyond the last twenty years and anything to do with cinema prior to Star Wars. I’m not bad on history in general, but ask me what year something happened in and I’m stumped. On the other hand, I’m pretty good on the Bible and Entertainment. This would be more helpful if our team a) didn’t have a habit of arguing ourselves out of the right answer, and b) wasn’t saddled with a member who expects the quizmaster to get things right. If you say the most expensive TV series ever made was a British production when, in fact, it was a British co-production then people are going to get the answer wrong! Obviously!

(That member is me. You probably already guessed that.)

Thing is, ‘trivia’ does all this a disservice. Sure, individual facts taken in isolation don’t amount to much, but give them context, put them alongside all the other facts, look for the links and draw connections and use them to inform what you know about all that other knowledge and suddenly trivia becomes something bigger and more important. Sooner or later it may even develop into wisdom.

So in tribute to Chris Haney, have a go at the Trivial Pursuit Experiment. I was having a good run on it until my mojo collapsed and I gave up in a strop. Right now the over-thirties need you…

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