Get Smart

Anyone who has raised a son is probably familiar with the Fact Phase of boyhood. The Fact Phase usually begins around age 4 or 5  and can last for several years before they eventually grow out of it or become a more entrenched know-it-all. Boys in the Fact Phase only like reading non-fiction books. They love absorbing information almost as much as they love sharing information. Most sentences out of their mouths begin “Did you know that…”

My kindergartener is currently in this phase of life, but seeing how his oldest two brothers grew out of it, there’s still a chance he’ll move on as well. I’m not so sure about my fifth grader. I’m starting to think we’ve already passed the point of no return on the path to becoming Cliff Clavin.

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I don’t want to assume this only applies to boys. It’s just that I don’t have any daughters and I was never into fact collecting so in my mind it’s a boy only kind of thing and I’m probably wrong. I wasn’t into it then and at my age, I don’t think I’d be able to remember anything if I tried. I can’t remember anything I learned in school and my boys never ask for help studying so I’ve never had to refresh my memory.

But when I heard on the radio that The Leonardo museum hosts a monthly Trivia Night, I thought, “Awesome! This will make Fun April even better.” I’ve watched enough British television to know how trivia night works so I made plans to attend, all the while forgetting that I don’t know things.

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What exactly was I thinking? Like “I’d like to climb Mt. Everest if I could ever find a spot on my schedule to get over there. It sounds fun.” Or “What should we do this weekend? Run a marathon?” Did I think I could just decide to know stuff and it would suddenly happen? Not smart.

But the thing about a trivia night is that it’s a team event. I just had to get the right five people to join me and everything would be fine. So I asked my husband, my sister-in-law Michelle and her husband, and my two smart, Trivial Pursuit-loving parents to come with me. This was going to be so fun! I was so excited!

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But then I made the mistake of trying a few practice quizzes online like this one just so I didn’t go in cold. And then I freaked out because after attempting a few of them, there was one thing I knew for certain: I am as dumb as a box of rocks! Apparently I needed to know everything about everything – history, geography, mythology, religion, sports, pop culture, science, more stuff, and even more stuff, and I was going to look like such an idiot.

But then I remembered that on all the shows, they divide up the subjects among the players according to areas of expertise. Okay, what could I contribute? I made a list:

  • Children’s Literature (but only the books my boys like)
  • Classical Music (except my dad and husband know more than I do)
  • Pop Culture (as long as it’s something I like)
  • Science (as long as there’s a song about it by They Might Be Giants or Schoolhouse Rock)

So, so sad.

I figured I could study up on the long drive downtown so I borrowed fact-y books from my fact-y boys before we hit the road. We crammed in all the information we possibly could and hoped for the best.

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We arrived in time to check out who we were up against. The room was filled with mostly young, hip people you would expect to see at Trader Joe’s. One team was discussing their rankings from the previous month, another was made up of complete strangers being introduced for the first time, and the most noticeable was the team consisting entirely of bearded men. I didn’t think to count, but I think there were 10-12 teams gathered in the museum’s atrium and I just hoped we weren’t the lowest scoring team.

Each team was supposed to come up with a name so my sister-in-law combined parts of each of our three last names and came up with the mythic-hero-sounding name Robin Grimlander.

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The game consisted of six rounds with ten questions each round, two points per question, with a few bonus questions. Each trivia night centers around a particular theme and I was instantly relieved when they announced the evening’s theme would be “Kids”. I know about kids! I raise them and teach them. Things were looking up!

And once we got started we realized we worried for nothing – the questions were not nearly as scary as those on the online quizzes and many of them centered around pop culture from the ’80s and ’90s. And it was clear that we had a secret weapon on our team. This lady:

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I knew Michelle was sharp and remembered every detail of every movie she’s ever seen and every book she’s ever read but I wasn’t prepared for just how quickly she was able to pull random trivia facts out of her brain. When we heard a new question, we would each think about it, then those on the team who had an answer would say it out loud only to see that she had already written it down on the answer sheet and was holding it up for verification. Then there were the many times none of us could think of an answer and we looked to her to save the day. And we just sat with our jaws open like:

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Each round was centered around a different topic: Things You Learned in School, Kids in ’80s Television, Child Prodigies, etc. Michelle’s greatest moment had to be when she not only got the correct answer but when she identified the question before they even asked it. They announced that the next round would be Kids in Sports and she said, “There’d better be a question about Mary Lou Retton in there…” and what do you know, she was right.

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Although we consulted and agreed on many of the answers, we each had our moment of glory at some point during the game: My husband was possibly the only one in the room who knew that the first song by the Osmonds to reach #1 on the Billboard chart was “One Bad Apple.” My brother-in-law knew the name of the high school from Saved By the Bell. My dad identified Tony Bennett’s “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” on the listening portion. My mom deduced from the multiple choice question how many pin curls Shirley Temple could possibly fit on one head by measuring on my husband’s head. I knew with every fiber of my being that the scandalous game that came out in 1966 was Twister. And Michelle knew everything else.

The secret to a good Trivia Night team is that it all comes down to trust. Do I trust my own memory? Do I trust my teammates? This was especially evident with the question: “Name the first movie Corey Feldman and Coery Haim starred in together.” Obviously Michelle and I were the only two on the team who would know or care, so we discussed whether it was Dream a Little Dream or Lost Boys. We went back and forth, me remembering exactly where I was the first time I saw both movies, she remembering a specific song on a soundtrack. She was sure it was Lost Boys, I was pretty sure it wasn’t but I also trusted her crazy accurate memory so we went with Lost Boys. And surprise, surprise, she was right.

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The trickiest round was the last because it was all name-that-tune/artist and many of the songs were pop songs. Luckily my husband has taken to listening to a lot of Top 40 female empowerment ballads lately (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write) so he helped us a lot.

So what about my list of skills I wrote before Trivia Night? Well, the three literature questions I answered were from books my kids like; we did nail the classical music question but it was a group effort; I did well on many pop culture questions but I was a failure at any questions about boy bands or Beyonce because I never liked them; and I was able to answer three questions thanks to They Might Be Giants and Schoolhouse Rock.

I bet you’re dying to know how we did, aren’t you? Not only did we not fail, but we almost won the whole thing! We only lost by three points — that means if we had gotten two more questions right, we would have been the first place winners. But the Mister Wives were very gracious about their victory.

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As second place winners, we each received two tickets to return to the Leonardo, which isn’t bad at all, but the first place winners got memberships to the museum. If only we had known which square in Four Square was the highest ranking! If only we had guessed 1939 instead of 1936 as the year of the first little league game! We might just have to study up some more and return next month. Watch out, Mister Wives, here comes Robin Grimlander!

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