Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Trivial Matter

NOTE: The following originally appeared in the Connecticut Post a few years back when I was still writing their "Get Out" column. Every week, the editors would remind me that they just wanted me to review restaurants and hit spots, but as you'll notice, I rarely mention them!

As a child of the 70’s, and an avid viewer of VH-1’s addictive “I Love the 70’s” and “…80’s” series, I can say with some authority that the 70’s were much more fun, and much less competitive, than the 80’s.  At least as far as games went.
Back in the 70’s, when my friends and I wanted to play, we could simply Sit and Spin or bounce around on our Hoppity Hops – fun pastimes with no real challenges (other than the ability to suppress ones urge to vomit.) They didn’t even come with instructions - their names told you all you needed to know. And when these store-bought toys inevitably broke, we managed to produce the same dizzying effect by rolling down hills.
Then along came the 80’s, and suddenly all the good hills had houses on them  - and the fun toys had “WARNINGS” on them - and we were left either breaking our knuckles with Kerbangers or busting our brains over Rubik’s Cube. Toys were no longer being made for fun, they had to have an educational purpose or an inherent challenge. And they were stressful! Just mention the game Perfection to someone my age and you’ll get an immediate visceral response. Others sounded more like admonishments than games: Don’t Spill the Beans, Don’t Wake Daddy, Don’t Break the Ice. And to think I used to find Chutes and Ladders too preachy.
In the 70’s I could spend a couple dollars and hours in an arcade mindlessly blasting away at Space Invaders or Asteroids, but once the 80’s brought Q-Bert and Zaxxon, their “lives” and my quarters disappeared faster than the Susan B. Anthony dollar. Talk about frustrating. I couldn’t even get my Zaxxon pilot through the first wall, never mind the first level – and cute little Q-Bert, under my control, had a suicidal tendency to leap off the pyramid. This was supposed to be fun? All I can say is Pong never left me feeling like a murderer.
But, one thing I did like about the 80’s was Trivial Pursuit. My family would spend hours playing the game (and I do mean hours, since we only knew the answer to maybe 1 out of every 10 questions.)  We’d pick teams, fight over whether the playing pieces should be called  “pie” or “cheese,” and feast on imitation crab legs (we ate our weight in that stuff back then – yuck!)
The best part about the game was that no one expected you to get the questions right, but when you did…instant hero status.  Twenty years later and I’m still reaping the rewards for knowing that “Mickey Mouse” was the codename for Operation Overlord - although I still have no clue what Operation Overlord is -  but that’s the beauty of trivia; you don’t have to be smart to sound smart, you just have to have a good memory for obscure facts.
And that memory was put to the test recently at Anna Liffey’s in New Haven, where for the past several years, the popular Irish bar has been hosting a Tuesday night trivia contest.  My friends said to get there early, and they were right, as the cozy bar was filled to capacity by quiz time. But we made the most of our early arrival by having dinner and a couple properly poured pints.
The menu offered both traditional Irish favorites (Shepherd’s Pie, Fish and Chips, Bangers and Mash) and typical pub grub (burgers, wraps, and salads.) For the calorie un-conscious, they also serve fries with cheese and gravy, deep fried sausage(!), and onion rings with French fries.
The quiz started promptly at 9:00, with teams picking their names (apparently, the raunchier the better, as most were not fit for print) and paying their ten dollar entry fee.  Answer booklets and pencils were passed out, rules were read, and the game began.
I never knew the true meaning of “serious fun” until that night –we had a good time, but the people there take their trivia very seriously. You could hear a pin drop (or, a rookie like me making poorly received jokes) during the nine rounds of questions. Unlike Trivial Pursuit, where answers can be called out with reckless abandon, the Pub Quiz requires quiet, as the answers must be discussed and written down within earshot of the other teams, who are more than willing to steal a right answer or shush a stupid comment (trust me, I know.)
The questions ranged from the incredibly easy (“What kind of animal is the Trix cereal mascot?) to the extremely difficult (“What book was President Bush reading when he first learned of the 9/11 attack?) to the should be easy but aren’t (“How many eyes does a bat have?”)
Standings were given every third round, with the top three winners sharing the prize money at the end of the night. Unfortunately, we were not among them, but the five of us did pretty well, considering it was our first time – plus, we had the best name (“Sir Kumsizion and the Four Skins”) and we knew the answers to all three of the above questions: rabbit, My Pet Goat (thanks to Ed), and two.
So if you are in pursuit of some trivia, head on over to Anna Liffey’s…just leave your imitation crab (and loud voices) at home.


  1. Love it, like the part about all the houses having good hills on them.

    We used to play it all the time (tp) and I would do fairly this day, I prefer putting the pieces in upside down or alternating them :)

    Once upon a time I used to astound on jeopardy, but that was the 80s and then came the 90s....and well I'm just going to have to blame rock music for everything else :)

    Invertedly cheesewedgedly yours, me :)

  2. I'm pretty infamous in my family for knowing useless information. They always pick me first for Trivial Pursuit and last for any type of sport. :( But I do have a sit-and-spin in my classroom - the kids still love it!

  3. Thanks Anonymous (Robin? Amy?) - I take it you're Team Cheese and not Team Pie?

    Erica, do you have your original Sit&Spin? My mom bought Eli a new one, and they've pretty much taken all the fun out of it. It's real flimsy (we used to do double and triple rides) and you can barely crank it up more than 5 or 10 RPM

  4. I'm a bookish type so Trivial Pursuit was always much more fun than Sit and Spin. That said I can recall a junior Disney version of Trivial Pursuit my cousin's used to own where there was a pop music category and the answers seemed to alternate between Madonna, Michael Jackson and inexplicably the J. Giles Band.

  5. :) well i had some canoli pie last night so i guess i'm on the fence...kinda like how a nun berated me for liking both the red sox & the yankees :)

  6. That is awesome LOL! What book was Bush reading? ;)

    My brother used to bring me to the Nickle Cade all the time. We'd play Joust for hours ;)

    On a side note, I wanted to ask you about your book (which looks really good by the way.) Would you recommend self publishing?

    P. S. I knocked another thing off my list. I made a spud gun and it actually works!!! Yahoo.

  7. One of my current stories is from the seventies. It is so strange to revisit it.

    No cell phone. Characters must phone from home or a booth. No internet. They have to go to the local library or newspaper to research.

    The list is quite long.

  8. Very interesting Blog.I remember all of it.
    I can't stand imitation crab now.
    Dad was the one who really enjoyed it.
    Life was so much easier then no car seats for the little ones ,just throw the little darlings in the car.
    I have to agree they are a lot safer now.

  9. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Except that now the brand new versions of many of the toys/games you mentioned are in my house as of Christmas and a February birthday. I thought your mention of the pub was adequate. I'd go there if I lived nearby. christy