In an earlier life I hosted an annual New Year’s Eve party. It had the usual party elements: holiday decorations, elaborate food, and refreshing beverages. It also featured a trivia game, something that started as a simple mixer to help our eclectic set of friends from the different avenues of our life to meet and engage, with the intent of adding to the good will and good cheer of the evening.
We created a series of “stations” throughout the house, each with a set of questions. Our guests were organized in teams of two and they would do their best to answer them. The questions were selected and designed to fall in the category of “common knowledge” and “things everyone should know”. It was surprising how many we don’t, and the newly formed duos would try their best to compete for the “fabulous prizes” (usually a trophy coffee mug) presented to the team that got the most right.
The annual trivia game was often described as a frustrating or humbling experience, but as embarrassing as it might have been to our guests when they could not answer our simple questions, they kept coming back each year. Perhaps they thought that next year they would be partnered with someone who would actually know the figures featured on each bill of US currency, or the numbering convention behind the interstate highway system, or the counties that make up the metropolitan mosquito control district. I eventually learned that everyone wanted to partner with my friend Rich, who may not be up on the latest trends, but seemed to know the other questions on topics we all learned in grade school but somehow forgot.
Over the years I retained the materials that contributed to the annual trivia game: the background research, the questions at the stations, and the answer sheets filled out by each team. It accumulated, eventually consuming a large fraction of a file drawer. My current needs for space (there’s always more stuff to file away) caused me to question the value of my archived trivia from two and three decades ago, so I decided to “thin the files”.
The effort became a nostalgic trip through the 1990s and 2000s that resulted in discarding most of it, but retaining those categories of questions that seemed “universal”, meaning that they weren’t tied to the current issues of the day. At the time, many guests could identify the seven supermodels of 1995, but today that topic is not even good nostalgia. Celebrities and newsmakers were in the category of common knowledge of the time, which might be of interest to historians, but are useless for any future revival of a trivia game of this type. They were abandoned.
I now have a single file folder of questions that would be good in a game of common knowledge trivia. I won’t reveal all of them—you might be invited someday—but here are a few of my favorites.
Thanks for the free ride to Stupidville….