In the beginning there was TP
I confess, my title went for a small play on words. I also confess that I love trivia games. Ever since I was about 13 years old, and we got the original Trivial Pursuit, I have played trivia games out the wazoo. I don’t care if it is done competitively or cooperatively or even solely, I like the Q&A formats.
I liked watching Jeopardy, particularly as it has lots of questions in a row, but it is almost too fast at times. In a few cases, I’d like to think about the answer for a couple of seconds to talk myself out of some stupid random guess. Alternatively, a lot of online trivia and even the pub offerings by Buzz are the opposite problem — too much delay in between rounds and questions.
Flash forward to the late 1990s
A little over 20 years ago, I was doing a lot of stuff by email list. Movie reviews, humour, book reviews even. But I was also running a weekly trivia game. I ran it on and off for about 4 years in total, spread over 5 years, and it varied in format a bit. Sometimes it was 10 questions, all week to answer. Other times I tried 5 questions a day, different categories. And the format that worked the best for me was three questions a day. People were encouraged NOT to Google answers. Or Babelfish / Alta Vista answers since Google didn’t exist. But I was averaging about 60 players a week, most of whom I had never met.
From time to time, I would get overwhelmed with life and think, “Why am I doing this?” It was fun, but it was taking too much time. Even with a lot of workflow automation, I still had to mark scores relatively manually. And one day I got a thank you note from one of my players that I had never met.
She and her husband had low vision. And so they loved getting the trivia questions by email rather than off a website. They could use their assisted reading devices to print out the emails on a braille printer, and then they would sit down for breakfast. They would discuss the questions, estimate what they thought the answers were together, and then, after breakfast was over, they would try to confirm or refute their guesses. Using encyclopedias that were printed in Braille. She said that sometimes it would take them half a day. Going from topic to topic, getting distracted by other interesting info that would lead them somewhere else in their search. They didn’t care if they got the right answer, they just cared that they could do it together and it was FUN trying to figure it out.
I saved that email for a long time so that any time I felt like it was taking too much time to run the game (20-30 minutes some days, maybe 2 hours on weekends to wrap up the scores), I could have a reality check that here were people spending 3+ hours per day just PLAYING by game, searching and learning and having a grand old time. It was like they had a joint puzzle to solve, just like you see people working on crossword or jigsaw puzzles together.
Am I bringing back PolyWogg Trivia? Or it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Super Quiz(let)?
Eventually, life intervened. I have always wanted to get my trivia game going again on my website and have people come on the site, play questions, get scores, etc. Of course, on a website, you need to alter the format probably to multiple choice, otherwise I’m back to the same issue of having to mark stuff manually. Several times in the last 15 years, I’ve played with formats to try to get it working on my site, but never quite found my solution. Maybe it’s an app instead of a website, I’m not sure. My favorite part of the game was when I introduced a feature I called Quizlet. Five clues to name a person, place or thing, with clue one on Monday, clue two on Tuesday, etc. Each day, the value of the Quizlet dropped. It was VERY hard for anyone to Google those answers, you either had to be inspired somehow or you’d likely NEVER guess it in the first couple of days. Usually Wednesday was the tipping point. It was great and I enjoyed it WAY more than the regular trivia game. Some players HATED it because they couldn’t get perfect every week.
And with all the work I’ve done on my site in recent months, you might think this was leading to some big announcement that PolyWogg Trivia Is Back, Baby! But it’s not. I’m really just talking about the role Trivia has played in my life for a long time.
I’m still the 13-year-old kid sitting at the trailer out at the lake, reading card after card by myself because nobody wanted to play anywhere near as often as I did. Later, when we were a bit older, we bought Super Quiz. Kind of pitched at times as “trivia for regular people, not Einsteins”. The benefit of Super Quiz was that there was no board, so you got points for each right answer (not wedges just on specific spots on the board) AND you had a choice of level of question — level 1 was supposed to be undergraduate level; level 2 was supposed to be graduate level; level 3 was supposed to be Ph.D. And the harder the question, the more points you could get. You had to get at least 3 points in each of 6 categories and 35 overall to win, with no more than 10 in any one category. But there also came SQ II and SQ III, and we had all of them in one box. So when we played as a family, we could choose 6 categories out of 18 possible ones, and we didn’t have to play the same ones. For example, there was one we called “Movies – Green” because it was in a green box, and had movies from the 80s and onward, so it was good for me. “Movies – Pink” were about older movies, often pre-1970 and often 1940s and 50s, and so was good for my Mom and Dad.
We relied on the honour system that we wouldn’t choose 6 easy categories. Usually we figured that 2 had to be harder for you. My wife would have loved the format as she is good in Geography, and we had a Geography Category (from Super Quiz I), Worldwide (from Super Quiz II), and Travel and Leisure (from Super Quiz III).
One other difference from Trivial Pursuit was that some categories had built-in clues…so if you took Famous People (SQ1) or Celebrities (SQII), it would give you the first letter of the last name of the answer. So maybe you would try for a higher-level question.
We also implemented a rule we called “drop-down” to encourage ourselves to go above only Level 1 questions. If you choose any of the three levels and got it right, you got the points and could go again. However, for drop-down, if you chose a level three question, and got it WRONG, you could try for level two. If you got IT right, you would get your two points but you couldn’t go again. Sometimes we played that you could drop down again to Level 1, but sometimes we thought that was too many chances and only did one drop down level. Usually we would divvy up the various boxes amongst all the players so we all had 3-4 categories to read. If we had one of the categories we wanted to answer at some point, we would just swap boxes with someone when we got to that category.
Did I already confess that I loved trivia?
Researching trivia options for work
And so, as part of our workplace charitable campaign, it seems only natural that I am organizing a trivia game for our branch. I had only done one virtual game recently, so I went looking for others online. Andrea knows of one that a friend runs, and I’ll hopefully be able to check that out one night. In the meantime, a friend invited me to join one run by a guy in the U.S. who used to run bar trivia in a pub and now offers it online with weekly games.
I played tonight on my friend’s team, and it was a lot of fun. We were considering having the guy run a game for us, but alas, the cost is too high and we’ll have to do it ourselves, plus I’ll need the Qs to be bilingual. We’ll work on the format over the next week or so and beta test some options, but I’ll try to keep it simple.
Yet even with tonight, I’m already seeing some of the challenges. The game tonight was six rounds, and each round was about 10 questions with 8 minutes to respond to them all. The guy uses a Google doc to share the Qs and track / score the results, and while it isn’t “pretty”, it functions just fine. For me, the real challenge was the eight-minute limit. It practically invites you to Google answers. Which is not really trivia, more like puzzle-solving. Which is fun too. But it often is what turns me off in online games. Too much time between questions and/or rounds.
I also noticed that even between Canada and US, and all of it in English, there were a few cultural centricities that will only be amplified when it comes to all players being Canadian but the game needing to be bilingual. Certainly there are pop-culture questions that would work just fine for the anglophones that would leave the francophones scratching their heads, and some easy ones for francophones that anglophones would have no chance at answering without Alexa or Siri on their team.
Jacob and I played on the team for the first hour or so and then he went off to bed, and I continued for another hour. Plus lots of opportunities to just chat between rounds. Almost too much in a normal world, but in a COVID world? A great way to spend the night. Definitely outside my limited bubble of late.
Today I choose to embrace the trivial, and play virtual trivia with a friend.
What choices are you making today?