Tuesday, December 15, 2015

COLUMN: Trivial

(Kitchens of Distinction. They're a real band.)

Ooh, yikes. It's that time of the week again already?

Let's see, umm... How 'bout those Bears, everybody?? Oh, that's right, they kinda stink this season. Hrrm... you know what I hate about airplanes? Good, because I sure don't... Wow, this is not going well. Oh, I know -- MY CATS DID THE CUTEST THING TODAY! Wait, no, I just wrote about my cats last week. Darn it.

Truth is, I've got nothing for you people this week. You see, I've been a little distracted by some trivial matters.

For over a decade now, charity trivia nights have been all the rage in the Quad Cities. What started as a monthly effort by the town of Bluegrass to raise money for their community center has now become the go-to fundraiser of choice for many a fine organization. If it's a Saturday night, you can rest assured that somewhere in the Quad Cities, teams of 8 are gathering for fun, frivolity, and the chance to finally do something with all that useless knowledge in their brains.

This kind of timewaster is right up my alley. Under most circumstances, I'm not an especially useful person. When it comes to general life skills, I operate somewhere just above the minimal line of basic human survivability. I know how to get out bed, put on clothes that kinda-sorta match, place food in my mouth, and make my way to work. Beyond that, everything else is kind of a dice toss.

Some people are filled with what we call know-how. MY brain, on the other hand, is filled more with know-what. My father, if given the right materials, can use his brain to build a house -- whereas I, if given the right record collection, might be able to use my brain to recommend some good house music. If a comet right now were heading on a crash course towards Earth and humanity could only cherry-pick a few people to survive in an underground bunker and rebuild society, we'd naturally want to stock it with builders, laborers, scientists, doctors, and ridiculously smart people. I don't think anybody would go, "Hey, we need that one guy who's really good at watching TV and making snarky comments about Phil Collins."

But when I'm playing at a charity trivia night, something weird happens: I become, at least on occasion, useful. It's that one shining moment when a lifetime of pop culture consumption comes in handy. As it turns out, usefulness is kind of a fun sensation to experience now and again, so you can frequently find me at area trivia events. Worse yet, I'm usually on that one team that everybody hates because we usually win most of the events we enter. Our captain, the unsinkable Kim Crandall, invites players based on their specialty. On any given night, our team has a history buff, a sports buff, a geography buff -- and if I'M there, my job is to handle pop culture. Challenge accepted.

So a couple years ago, I got a crazy idea in my head. If PLAYING in trivia nights is great fun, emceeing one has to be DOUBLE fun, right? Since then, my friend Linn and I have offered our services as trivia hosts on a variety of occasions -- not just running the night, but coming up with all the questions ourselves. Our most recent one was a private event for City of Moline employees this past Thursday. Except I need to break the fourth wall here a little. I'm writing this on Wednesday night, and our trivia night hasn't happened yet. I'm hoping it goes/went well.

Coming up with 100 well-rounded trivia questions is a lot harder than I ever expected. It definitely makes me appreciate the folks who do these events regularly with success. I'm only responsible for coming up with half the questions for ours, and it's been enough to about do my head in.

The challenge is coming up with a well-rounded mix of questions that aren't too easy but aren't too tough, and making sure those questions cover a wide enough range of topics to engage players of all ages, sexes, and interests. This is no easy task. In a perfect world, I'd have 100 questions about British indie shoegazer music, 1990 to present, and I could ask classic questions like, "Name the socially conscious band responsible for the anthemic 'Quick As Rainbows'," at which point you'd all go -- say it with me -- KITCHENS OF DISTINCTION.

What's that? You've never heard of the critically acclaimed UK rock group Kitchens of Distinction? Well, I guess that explains why Moline was left off their 2014 reunion tour. Along with, well, all of North America. But that's my point - I can't just write questions about stuff I know, because it might not be the stuff you know. And the stuff YOU know might not be the stuff I know... you know?

So my entire week has been spent banging my head against the wall trying to come up with questions that are fun but not impossible. Nothing ruins a trivia night like a crazy hard category, or questions that are little more than multiple guess: "How many M&M's are produced in factories every day? Is it (a) 360 million, (b) 340 million, (c) 440 million," etc., etc. (For the record, it's B. Don't say I never teach you people anything.)

I think we're gonna be okay. So far, I've got a sports category, a music category, and a TV category. This weekend, I drove around town taking pictures for a "Where In Moline is This?" category. As for my fifth, I'm thinking about a category on famous crime scenes, like O.J.'s house and the Jon Benet Ramsey house. Oh, and just as a public service announcement, never Google "famous crime scenes" should you wish to retain the contents of your stomach. Just sayin'. Did I get the right mix? I guess I'll find out tomorrow/four days ago.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a Powerpoint to create. I need some music to relax. Where'd I put that Kitchens of Distinction CD?

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