Trivia mania: the triumph of useless information
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Trivia night is more than just a gimmick to boost meal tabs on slow nights. In many places, trivia contests have become community events.Skip to next paragraph
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For 13 years, Family and Children's Services of Tulsa, Okla., had held a Black Tie Bingo fundraiser. This year, organizers tried a "Brainiac Ball." They raised a record $124,000.
"The most we ever raised before was $92,000," says director of development Susan McCalman. "In an economy in Tulsa that's not actually booming, that's pretty good."
Still, she has a ways to go before she reaches Jennings' "Jeopardy!" total, which is nearing the record of $1.15 million. In this, the first year that "Jeopardy!" has allowed champions to stay until they lose, Jennings has become a phenomenon. (Before, winners were limited to five shows.) This is not "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" Jennings didn't win $1 million in one sitting. His run began June 2.
In other words, he has earned it - as much as you can earn anything on a game show. Steve Calechman knows that. The Boston-area stand-up comedian once played "Jeopardy!" - and finished second despite studying Shakespeare, the classics, and presidential history for 3-1/2 weeks straight to prepare.
"That's a full month!" he says of Jennings's mark. "He's probably gotten into [his opponent's] heads, like [boxer Mike] Tyson did at his peak. They were shaking before he got into the ring."
Yes, a moon-faced Utahn has now become America's reigning heavyweight, and back at The Kinsale, challengers are already lining up. Eventually, M squared loses out to a team ominously named The Great Unknown, but it didn't finish too far behind. So there is still hope.
"I've toyed with the idea of going on 'Jeopardy!' " Mr. Trefethen says. "The guy who won last night is Ken Jennings. He's a software engineer. Graduated from Brigham Young. And he's a 31-day champion."
You see, Jennings himself has already become trivia.
1. First designed as a surgical disinfectant, in 1895 it was available to dentists, and by 1914 it was sold over the counter. (What is Listerine?)
2. In the NATO phonetic alphabet (alpha, bravo, etc.), the two that are title Shakespearean characters. (Who are Romeo and Juliet?)
3. In 1582 the man born Ugo Buoncompagni proclaimed this solar dating system still used today. (What is the Gregorian Calendar?)
4. Josephine Cochrane's 1886 version of this consisted of a copper boiler, wire baskets, and a pump. (What is a dishwasher?)
5. The almost four-decade collaboration of these two Germans began in Paris in 1844. (Who are Marx and Engels?)
6. In 1826, Daniel Webster eulogized these two men by saying, "They took their flight together to the world of spirits." (Who are Jefferson and Adams?)
7. This 1973 thriller was re-released in 2000, with extra footage including a scene in which Ritalin is prescribed. (What is "The Exorcist"?)
8. In 1901 US surgeon general Walter Wyman helped establish a hospital in Hawaii for this disease. (What is leprosy?)
9. "I am the rose of Sharon," and "When you know your name you should hang onto it," are from two different books with this title. (What is "Song of Solomon" from the Bible, and by Toni Morrison.)
10. This title character's full name is Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs. (Who is the Wizard of Oz?)