Let’s face it. We trivia fans have a reputation as tending toward the odd side. I mean, what word is invariably paired with the word “trivia”?
Quick…name another recreational activity whose aficionados are referred to by that term. “Softball geeks”? Nope. “Dart geeks”? No way. “Hunting geeks”? I doubt anybody would even dare. “Chess geeks”, for God’s sake? No; not even the most cerebral pastime ever devised has its aficionados referred to by the G-word. And, to be honest, it is something of a badge of honor among us; there is even a pub-trivia franchise out there calling itself “Geeks Who Drink”.
But even among the countless ways for one to get one’s geek on, from pub games to game shows and everything in between, there is one competition that, in my opinion, requires a special kind of odd. The World Quizzing Championships have taken place every year since 2003 at various venues worldwide, first coming to the US in 2007; this year’s competition was held in 118 locations covering 38 countries. And the competition consists of…taking a test. Yes, a freaking test. Like you took in school, only most likely more badass; this year’s winner, scoring 161 out of a possible 210 points (more on that in a bit), would have scored a 77 had this been a regularly graded test based on a top score of 100%. (Which – at least when I was going to school – was one lousy point above a grade of “D”.) And, like the tests you probably remember, things are overseen by a proctor at every venue – and yes, “proctor” is the term used. (And, for the record, the similarity between the words “proctor” and “proctologist” is not lost on me; I think it has something to do with pulling correct answers out of one’s ass. Or maybe not.) There is, obviously, no social interaction among the participants while the test is being taken; although this is something of a negative for your humble correspondent, it is completely understandable…although the idea of me keeping my mouth shut at a trivia competition for as much as thirty seconds, much less for an hour, may border on the inconceivable for some. Furthermore, beyond bragging rights – for which I have no chance of staking a claim, incidentally – there are no prizes at stake here…not even for Mr. 161 Freaking Points. Nor do you qualify for anything beyond this; you are simply taking a test for the sake of seeing how well you do taking an effing test.
So, then. For the second consecutive year, I decided to give this thing a shot. This time around, Madison was one of the cities hosting the test; by my calculations, maybe a dozen people showed up (there were just over two thousand participants worldwide). For the record, the turnout in Mad Town was an approximate 1200% increase over last year’s showing in Stevens Point – yeah, it was just me and The Proctor a year ago. Anyhow: Things began at noon, divided into two hour-long segments with a break in between to score the first half of the test. There are eight categories with thirty questions per category, four categories per half, each covering a different subject (sciences, history, sports and games, and so on). And before some of you start drooling at sports (or any other subject, for that matter), please realize that this test is truly international in scope. If your concept of The Whole World lies between the 49th parallel and the Gulf of Mexico, you are going to be in for a rude awakening; you are just as likely to get a question about futbol as you are about ‘Murican Football.
Anyhow…The Proctor said “go”, and I turned to the first page (“Entertainment”). The first question I saw: “Walter White is a high school chemistry teacher with inoperable lung cancer who joins former student Jesse Pinkman to make and sell crystal meth to secure his family’s financial future before he dies. What is this TV show (2008-13)?” Sweet. I can handle this. But things went south on the following question, and – not unexpectedly – I missed two for every one I got right. My favorite question for the day had to be this one, which turned up under “culture” (this question is transcribed verbatim): “Founded in 1997 which European capital city has a museum that is the world’s largest display of penises and penile parts? Its growing collection of 280 specimens (from 93 species) includes whale 55 penises (sic) and 118 from land animals – including, allegedly, those of elves and trolls.” (Helpful Hint from Mike: It was the museum that was founded in 1997; the city is considerably older.)
Looking at that last question (which, thankfully, I got wrong; apparently I did not know what city was home to the most pricks), I am frankly grateful that my knowledge is nowhere remotely near all-encompassing. And so it was that day; my two goals were to score higher on the test than I did last year, and to crack the top twenty-fifth percentile of those taking the test. I succeeded with the former, bumping my score up from 74 to 76 (your score is determined by your top 7 category scores, with the eighth used as a tiebreaker). And, although I did move up in terms of both my percentile and raw numerical rank (from 687th place to 555th, and from 36.3% to 26.7), I still finished out of the top 25%.
So: Why would I enter a competition like this, where I have no remote chance whatsoever of winning? Probably for the same reason so many people enter, say, the Boston Marathon or any other such event; sometimes, you just want to see how you stack up. You see, trivia has always been about more than winning for me. Getting a chance to meet new friends and seeing these friendships grow, as well as hanging out with old friends, has always been a huge part of what makes the pub games so special to me. Sure, winning is fun. But there is a whole lot more to the game than just the win. And the intangibles – the “whole lot more” – is really what it is all about.
That…and the fact that sometimes your Inner Geek calls out in a way that you cannot resist…