The pursuit of trivia

Off the Beat

The summer before I came to college was an exciting and turbulent period of my life, but more than anything, it was the summer my friends and I took Wednesday trivia nights at Social Tap Ventura by storm.

We absolutely did not look like the typical trivia team at Social Tap. Nearly all of us were under the age of 21, which meant that we approached the competition with a decidedly more focused attitude than did our, shall we say, more relaxed counterparts. And if our looks didn’t give our ages away, our team name did: We called ourselves the True Journo Kids, a nod to our all-too-recent high school journalism days.

But our sobriety can only explain so much, and there’s no getting around it — we were good. Really good. Most weeks, there were upward of 15 teams, and there was not a single week when we didn’t place first or second. Shana, the emcee of trivia nights, became familiar with us; our primary rivals, the stupidly named Twerk Dem Titties, probably feared us. We kicked ass and took names.

The key to a good trivia team is a healthy balance of expertise between different topics, and that was exactly what we had. Some people knew an incredible number of details about the French Revolution, some were walking records of top-40 music charts, some could recall the names of almost all of Quentin Tarantino’s films, and so on. The True Journo Kids were more or less invincible (except for the weeks when we came in second).

Since I moved to Berkeley, I have yet to make an appearance at any of the local trivia nights — but that’s not to say that my passion for general knowledge has abated. These days, I pick up a copy of The Daily Californian not to look at the headlines I’ve written, but to do the crossword puzzle. And if that fails to quench my near-insatiable thirst for recalling facts, I find more crosswords to attack on the internet. As I’ve moved from Southern to Northern California, my love of trivia has moved from dimly lit rooms full of cramped tables to grids of numbered black-and-white squares.

I’m aware that knowledge of trivia does not equal intelligence. Knowing a bunch of random facts really has little bearing on one’s capacity to make an impact on society. It’s highly unlikely that remembering which country St. Nicholas hailed from had anything to do with important innovations such as the telephone or the polio vaccine. It doesn’t take a linguist to know that trivia is indeed trivial.

But while these tidbits of information may have done little to change the course of world history, they tie in powerfully to our personal histories. Accompanying each factoid that I blurt out at trivia night or that I pencil in to 45 down is a memory of how I came across that information in the first place. When I’m able to answer a particularly esoteric question, it usually warrants a “How the hell did you know that?” from someone around me — and more often than not, I know how the hell I knew that.

Maybe it came up in something I read for a class with an exceptionally wonderful (or exceptionally terrible) teacher. Or perhaps I first encountered the information in a museum on a memorable family vacation, or it was something my parents told me when I was little. Whatever their provenance, these facts exist as intangible souvenirs of the experiences that caused me to absorb them. Recalling them is akin to looking through a photo album or reading an old yearbook.

Trivia’s place in our personal histories, however, extends beyond the realm of the past. The activity of rehashing these factual souvenirs gives us a pen with which to continue writing these histories, catalyzing the formation of new memories with the people around us.

One night at Social Tap, for example, a drunken grown-ass man started yelling at the True Journo Kids after I bumped into his table, issuing periodic insults to various members of our group throughout the rest of the night. Maria remarked that he was spending his time harassing a bunch of 19-year-olds and asked him whether he wanted us to have our dads come fight him. As the man was on his way out, Max bumped into him on purpose. Who could forget such innocent frivolity?

When I shifted to crossword puzzles as my method of choice for getting my trivia fix, the creation of memories continued. Last year, Friday afternoons came to mean frantically working on crosswords in the Daily Cal office with Olivia and Maisy and Ryan and Ketki. As we filled in the tiny squares with answers to the clues — both correct and otherwise — they filled my days with their friendship and humor, their brilliance and grace.

Trivia, then, serves as a connector across time — it calls forth seemingly useless bits of knowledge that were absorbed in the past in order to accomplish tasks in the present, and to forge friendships and memories that will persist well into the future.

Not so trivial after all, is it?

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.