I had another great trivia day last Saturday, this time a “Clubhouse Bowl” — just like a Basement Bowl, except held in a guy’s apartment clubhouse rather than a basement. There were trivia bowl-style games along with a bunch of Jeopardy! games run on a magic Jeopardy! simulator created by one of the gang. There was even “Trivia Battleship” — a wild cross of quiz-bowl questions with the classic strategy game. Correctly answered toss-ups would earn one shot against the other team, while bonuses could earn up to four more shots. Very fun.

Predictably, the whole thing primed me to whip up another episode in this series. Since I am apparently an endless font of opinions about good practices for trivia question-writing, let’s get started:

CROSS THE STREAMS

If you’re a Ghostbuster, crossing the streams is a bad thing. If you’re a trivia question writer, crossing the streams, by which I mean mixing the broad categories to find interesting hybrids, can be a very good thing indeed. There are plenty of sports questions, and plenty of movie questions, but how about sports movie questions? How about athletes who played bit parts in movies? How about movie-related nicknames given by Chris Berman to various athletes? The intersections between trivia categories can be fertile ground for some appealing questions, and can allow people who are normally weak in a category to kick ass in unexpected ways.

A great example of this came up at the recent Clubhouse Bowl. Dave Gatch handed out a sheet of movie stills, and asked us to tell him what song was playing during that point in the movie. Sound tough? Take a look at these examples (not the ones he used) and see if you can’t do exactly that:

1.

2.

3.

4.

Combining two categories (in this case movies and music) opens up new avenues of fun, activates players’ brains in new ways, and gives your game a feeling of greater unity.

STRETCH

I am no good at sports questions. Whenever I hear a sports toss-up begin, my hand relaxes on the buzzer, and I know there is very little chance that I will have anything to contribute. I start looking over at our team’s sports guy (yeah, it’s nearly always a guy) with hope and gratitude. I know the basics, but I just do not follow sports enough to know much beyond that.

Nevertheless, I include sports questions in all my regular (i.e. non-specialized) trivia games. Why? Writing sports questions helps improve me, both as a writer and as a player. Writing questions that are outside my comfort zone forces me to research things I don’t already know, some of which I may even remember later on down the line. This research also turns up unexpected gems of information which are quirky enough both to make a great question and to make the piece of information it concerns memorable enough to stick with me. Like, for example, did you know that Guy LaFleur, all-time leading scorer for the Montreal Canadiens (hockey team), recorded a disco album?

Incidentally, I do the same thing on Sporcle, a great site for trivia quizzes. I like to take Sporcle quizzes in areas where I’m strong, like music, movies, and literature. But I also like to take them in my weaker areas, like geography, history, and sports. Generally, I like to take a new random quiz, and then retake an old quiz. I pick which one to retake by sorting the list of quizzes I’ve taken, and identifying the one with the lowest percentage of right answers. Consequently, I’ve taken the NHL all-time team leaders quiz about 10 times so far, and my best score is 26 out of 120. That’s a huge improvement on my first score, though, which was 8 out of 120. And now I can tell you about a bunch of hockey players I’d never heard of before I started in on that quiz. (Which is how I learned the weird fact above.)

Another way to stretch is to try broadening your knowledge of areas in which you’re already strong. For instance, I love movies, and I know some Oscar trivia, but there is so much more for me to learn, and the Academy Awards are a very common trivia topic. So I write Oscar questions in areas I don’t know well, both to challenge players and to make me a better player and writer. (Just as an aside, if you want to improve as a trivia player, be on the lookout for creative ways to strengthen your knowledge. For instance, Windows 7 has a feature which lets you rotate through a set of images for desktop wallpaper, changing automatically at an interval you select. So I went out and snagged an image of every Best Picture winner, dropped them all into a folder, and have the wallpaper machine circulating among them. Now when I use my computer, I also get a little help remembering which movies have won the Best Picture Oscar.)

SPREAD THE LOVE

Something that makes trivia games great fun is their ability to point you to wonderful corners of culture that you never knew existed. I’ve been introduced to lots of great movies, music, TV, and other stuff via trivia, and I try to do the same for others. It’s great fun to write questions on topics you feel passionate about. At the same time, at least for me, that’s too narrow a field. I’m a white guy who grew up in the 80’s, and I have an endless well of questions I could write about cultural artifacts I got attached to in my time. But while I want my games to be fun for me, I also want them to be fun for people other than me. Consequently, I try to include questions about areas of culture that don’t mean as much to me, sometimes even things I actively dislike. As I sometimes point out, inclusion does not imply endorsement. I suppose this might seem like a restatement of the “stretch” point, but there’s a slightly different intention behind it. I try to spread the love among all different kinds of knowledge not just to make myself a better player, but to remember to include a diverse variety of topics so that my games are fun for a wide variety of people.

Okay, that’s all for now. How about those movie songs?

1. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen plays during that scene from Wayne’s World.

2. The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” is the music behind that scene from Ghost.

3. Any boy who grew up in the 80s (see, I told you that was my wheelhouse) is likely to remember The Cars’ “Moving In Stereo” as the soundtrack to Judge Reinhold’s fantasy sequence about Phoebe Cates in Fast Times At Ridgemont High.

4. Before Tom Cruise was famous for being crazy, he was famous for dancing around to Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll” in Risky Business.

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2 responses »

  1. Anonymous says:

    ok, two comments. No, three.

    1) I’m exhausted just reading about how you ‘stretch’ yourself, never mind actually doing it. Hard core, man.
    2) Love the ‘crossing the streams’ idea, and especially love the example.
    3) Nice little dig at Mr. Cruise.

    t

    • paulobrian says:

      1) As you’ve pointed out, me:trivia :: you:piano
      2) All credit to Mr. Gatch
      3) He really is crazy. Deciding to not attend the Oscars because Anne Hathaway made fun of Katie Holmes on SNL may not *quite* vault him into the ranks of the Publicly Insane, but at the very least it makes him a monumental twit.

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