Monday, February 23, 2009

Roll again

I have always played Trivial Pursuits. It's just one of those things we did as a family (after mum had been coerced into it); like going on holiday and reading books at the table. I always have quite fond memories of it because it was never too competitive and we always played it at Xmas with nice, family-friendly rules. For example: if no-one knew the answer to the question, then you got to have another one, and so on.

Subsequently, I'm a real drag to play with, because I'm either remembering answers from the last time I played or appearing condescending for trying to ask people a different question from the impossible one they've been confronted with. It's a curious game because it either makes you appear more knowledgeable than you are because you can remember which city hosted the 1972 Olympic Games, or makes you feel much dumber than you are because you didn't know which shoe Maxwell Smart used for his Shoe Phone, the left or right.

The game has players moving a piece around a board, landing on different coloured squares and being asked trivial questions from a stack of cards. The questions are related to the six different colours of the squares they land on (blue = geography, yellow = history, etc). When you land on a large square, one for each colour, and answer the question correctly, you are given a little plastic piece of pie which you slot into your piece. When you have collected all six pieces, you make your way to the centre of the board and are then asked a question of the opposition’s choosing from the next question card. Answer correctly, win the game.

Sit back and I’ll tell you a tale of deviousness and wrath.

My dear old grandfather is, like me, competitive. However, I’m competitive for fun and can’t really take the idea of winning all that seriously. This, I believe, is because the all consuming drive to crush and destroy has been diluted through generations. I sometimes wonder what great-grandad would have been like with a table-tennis bat in hand. Or a pistol.

One night Grandad, Grandma, my dad and an old family friend, Brian*, who lectures in psychology were playing Trivial Pursuits. The game went back and forth, wine was drunk, questions were asked and answered. Finally, Grandad collected all of his pies and made it to the centre of the board. Brian plucked a question card from the box and, together with Dad and Grandma, poured over the six choices of question to ask.

“He’ll know that one … he’ll know the one …” So goes the final question decision. Finally, they set upon a question that everyone was sure even Grandad, with his long life experience and passion for working things out, wouldn’t be able to answer. The question went like this (and I’m paraphrasing here, but the gist of the question will be clear):

“What,” asked Brian in a friendly, encouraging manner “did John Smith drive across the United States in 17 days in 1919?”

“I can work it out,” said Grandad. The thing that’s worth knowing about Trivial Pursuits is that many of the questions aren’t just random pieces of information plucked from encyclopedias and books of sporting statistics. Sometimes it is possible to make an educated guess and be correct. A question with a seemingly impossible numeric answer, eg. ‘How many kinds of blood platelets does a caterpillar have?’ won’t have any answer higher than 2 because no-one could be expected to be a caterpillar expert and so the obvious, easy answer will often be the actual answer. These questions are designed to be guessed at like this, so that when the guesser (and often the asker) gets over the initial puzzlement brought about by such a strange question, there is a great deal of satisfaction in saying “I dunno … 1?” and being absolutely correct.

Some questions, however, are beyond this kind of reasoning and require you to actually know what Babe Ruth’s real first name was (George) or when the Berlin Wall came down (1989).

“I can work it out,” repeated Grandad, after the other three pointed out that they sincerely doubted that he could and should just give up in the face of such a tricky question.

“No! It must be something like a mode of transport at that time …” and away he went, Brian acting as a sounding board for his musings and calculations.

“Okay, so it could have been a steam train, they had those in 1919 … but he wouldn’t have gotten one all the way across the states …”

“That’s true,” Brian would reply, glancing discreetly at the answer in his palm so as not to put Grandad off.

“Not a car, too obvious … a bike’s too quick … a bicycle too slow …”

“A skateboard?” Brian would suggest.

“No, too early,” mused Grandad.

After a while the booing and calls for time-up grew in volume, but Grandad would not be swayed. He could get this. If everyone would just keep quiet and let him think.

“You’re not gonna get it, Dad,” moaned my father.

“Give it up!” cried Grandma.

He ignored those and many other calls as the evening wore on. Victory was at both hand and stake. Everyone could bloody well keep their mouths shut. Even Brian stopped ‘helping’ after that.

Finally, after a good thirty or so minutes of solid thought, determination and abuse, he had narrowed it down to two things: In 1919, John Smith had driven across America either a) steam-powered car (as a stunt) or b) a hot air balloon (because, with the right wind, 17 days seemed about the correct time).

“Which is it?” asked Brian, encouragingly tapping the real answer on the thin rectangle of cardboard still in his hand.

Grandad furrowed his much-furrowed brow. “It’s not a hot air balloon, because, technically, you don’t drive them.”


“Yep. It’s a steam-powered car!” Victory!

Brian looked at the card. Dad and Grandma watched.


“What? It’s gotta be!”

“Nope. Wrong.”

“Well what is it then?”

“A golf ball.”

And that is why I do enjoy Trivial Pursuits.


GTH - Point to neil for wishful thinking.


  1. Thank God you weren't playing Monopoly, that always ends in drunken violence...

  2. This is odd. How did I know it was a golf ball as soon as I read the question? I don't play Trivial Pursuit, don't follow sports and have never heard of a John Smith or any event from 1919. but as soon as I read "drive" I thought golf ball. Anyhow, my kids play Trivial Pursuit, but they've memorised most of the answers by now, so instead of questions they state the answer and you have to guess which question went with it. Sometimes they'll mix up the categories and award points for the silliest answers. Nobody ever wins, but the fun and laughter coming from the kitchen is great to hear.
    Is that a cricket in your header?

  3. GTH: um .. the cricket that sang the summer away would probably win trival pursuit if playing against the ant because of his reckless disregard for work and willingness to take a punt.

  4. Miles - Don't forget the accusations of cheating.

    River - You would have surprised the hell out of my grandad with that answer.

    MCL - Uh ... maybe ...

  5. Since Neil ever so kindly pointed out my failure to relate my GTH from last week to the blog; I'm relishing my chance to jump to a quick conclusion.

    GTH: The grasshopper although may relate to many a Karate movie involving daniel-son, in this case it relates to the fact that most people that jump at an answer don't always get it right, but then you may spend hours thinking about it, and still end up with the wrong answer such as grandad. I guess that MCL actually wrote a similar thing with such a nicer analogy, although I wonder if an ant is reckless, I think they're meticulous - moving the queen's eggs and making such perfect tunnels. This could also be the bee and his honeycomb.

  6. Why are you making it plural?

    My dad is really annoying to play with because he not only knows everything, he also gives further detailed information that is not even required

  7. I come from a proud Trivial Pursuit family as well but we never played nicely. If you didn't know the answer, move on to the next person on your left. The bastards always gleefully pick orange or yellow if I land in the middle, guessing (usually correctly) that I won't know anything about 1950s US politics or boxing from the same era.

    Business socks -

  8. Oh and Miles is right. Monopoly is a much crueller and more painful game. Especially for my older brother who was regularly whacked over the head with the bank.

  9. Oh and GREAT photos!

    ....I'm assuming that there was also chocolate to go with the game, surely?

  10. Shippy - Ponderous, man ... reeeally ponderous. But well said.

    Squibo - You know, I think this is one of those "Scuz me, while I kiss the this guy" moments. I've always said Pursuits. It even seemed right - because the game is made up of many little, trivial pursuits of knowledge. Maybe the trivial part alluded to in the game is the pursuit of knowledge itself ... oh dear ...

    We also have a family friend who was at first banned from playing for knowing ALL of the answers, and then banned from being within earshot of a game for calling out the answers.

    Kath - I like to think that, thanks to TP, I now know more than I ever would have about pre-70s politics and sub-cruiser-weight boxing.

    No chocolate - only wine and some singing.

    Point well taken.

  11. I always thought it was Trivial Pursuit, singular, because it was the pursuit of trivial knowledge.

  12. OK, so I'm back again.

    To tag you -


An explanation of The Joy Division Litmus Test

Although it may now be lost in the mysts of thyme, the poll below is still relevant to this blog. In the winter of 2008, Mele and I went to live in Queensland. In order to survive, I bluffed my way into a job at a Coffee Club.
It was quite a reasonable place to work: the hours were regular, the staff were quite nice, it wasn't particularly taxing on my brain.
There were a few downsides: In the six weeks or so that I worked there, there was about a 90% staff turnover (contributed to by my leaving). This wasn't seen as a result of the low pay, the laughability of staff prices or the practice of not distributing tips to staff, rather it was blamed on the lack of work ethic among Bribie Island's youth.
However, one of the stranger aspects of the cultural isolation that touched our lives during our time "up there" was the fact that nobody at my work had heard of the band Joy Division.
The full explanation is available here.
But please, interact a little further and vote in my ongoing poll. The results are slowly mounting up, proving one thing: people read this blog are more well-informed about Joy Division than anyone who works at the Coffee Club on Bribie Island.

Have you heard of the band Joy Division?

Chinese food, not Chinese Internet!

Champions of Guess The Header

  • What is Guess The Header about? Let’s ask regular “Writing” reader, Shippy: "Anyway, after Franzy's stunning September, and having a crack at 'Guess The Header' for the first time - without truly knowing what I was doing mind you - I think I finally understand what 'GTH' is all about. At first I thought you needed to actually know what it was. Don't get me wrong — if you know what it is, it may help you. I now realise that it's more Franzy's way of invoking thought around an image or, more often than not, part of an image. If you dissect slightly the GTH explanatory sentence at the bottom of his blog you come up with this: “The photo is always taken by me and always connects in some way to the topic of the blog entry it heads up.” When the header is put up, the blog below it will in some obscure way have something to do with it. “Interesting comments are judged and scored arbitrarily and the process is open to corruption and bribery with all correspondence being entered into after the fact and on into eternity, ad infinitum amen.” Franzy judges it, but it's not always the GTH that describes the place perfectly that gets it. “The frequent commenters, the wits, the wags and the outright smartarses who, each entry, engage to both guess the origin and relevance of the strip of photo at the top (or “head”) of each new blog and also who leave what I deem the most interesting comment.” It generally helps if you're a complete smartarse and can twist things to mean whatever you feel they should mean - exactly the way Franzy would like things to be twisted." - Shippy Blogger and GTH point scorer.
  • Nai - 1
  • Lion Kinsman - 2
  • Will - 2
  • Brocky - 2
  • Andy Pants - 2
  • The 327th Male - 3
  • Mad Cat Lady - 3
  • Miles McClagen - 4
  • Myninjacockle - 4
  • Asheligh - 5
  • Neil - 5
  • Third Cat - 5
  • Adam Y - 6
  • Squib - 6
  • Mele - 6
  • Moifey - 7
  • Jono - 8
  • The Other, other Sam - 14
  • Kath Lockett - 15
  • Shippy - 19
  • River - 32