Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Playing to Lose

I spent a good chunk of tonight at Vendetta, where local radio personalities Cort and Fatboy hosted the bi-weekly Portland Geek Trivia contest. I'm proud to say that I got every single goddamn Star Trek question correct, but I never had any illusions about my chances of winning the grand prize: a trip to San Diego Comic-Con, including passes, airfare, and hotel. (I did, however, sit at the same table as the big winner, Chris Walsh, and his stunned reaction after the announcement was priceless.)

The contest was divided into three rounds of twenty questions each. Teams were allowed, but only solo players could compete for the grand prize, and everyone at my table wanted that trip, so I was on my own. I had fun, but this is not how I prefer to play live trivia events, and here's why:

I'd rather play on a team, not just because more people are likely to know more of the answers among them, but because the discussion over ambiguous answers is a big part of the fun for me. I actually like it more when nobody knows the correct answer to a question, and we all have to make an effort to reason it out using incomplete subject matter knowledge. (This is probably also why I enjoy puzzle hunts.)

As an activity, it's not very interesting if you're just filling in the blanks with things that you pulled out of your brain, and which anyone could have found with a single Google search. It's more of a challenge when the correct answer is the result of some in-depth research, making a web lookup infeasible, and your only option is to deduce a reasonable answer from the given clues. (For example: given four John Williams movie scores, identify the one which did NOT win an Oscar. Unless you have encyclopedic knowledge of Academy Awards history, you'd have to take an educated guess.)

Back in the bay area, I competed for several years running in Project READ's annual Trivia Bee. I was on a team with some fellow Googlers, including a former Jeopardy! champion and a man who was, at one time, banned from comics trivia competition. We never won, but we were raising money for a good cause, and some of my favorite moments involved my teammates arguing about whether "Alaska" was the correct answer to a variety of geography questions.

Of course, from a purely competitive standpoint, it's better to just know the answers outright. I scored 20%, 40%, and 25% in each round tonight, respectively, which wasn't enough to place or win anything. But I was playing for the fun of it--hanging out with friends, enjoying free cake, pirate-people-watching, etc. And when I didn't know an answer, I did my best to supply an entertaining placeholder, so the folks scoring my sheet might at least get a laugh out of it. (Full name of character "Tetsuo" from anime film Akira? No idea... Tetsuo J. Smith, Esq.?)

Thank you and good night!


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