In a typical “open question” for Reach For The Top, that is, four questions on one category, the rule of thumb for trivia writers is: one question that most players (i.e. “trivia people”) should know, two questions that half of players should know, and one question that a “specialist” in the topic should know. Put more plainly, that’s one ‘easy,’ two ‘medium,’ and one ‘hard,’ although those are always bad categories for trivia questions since every question is hard unless you know the answer. But who are these elusive “specialists,” and how did they attain such a lofty status? What are the ways that a trivia player can answer that most common of questions: “how the hell did you know that?” In an ongoing series of posts beginning with this one, I’ll explore some of the more common paths through which trivia players come upon their knowledge.
Well, for lots of subjects, it’s usually just that the player likes it a lot. Sports is a good example. Most of the time, the sports expert on your team is also just the sports “guy” (or girl, of course). They like sports, so they watch it, read about it, keep up on the happenings, discuss it with other sports people, and so forth. They’re likely to know the big-name athletes, teams and where they play, stadium names, award winners, record-holders, equipment, rules. All the sorts of things you’d pick up through osmosis just by having a lot of sports info around you a lot of the time. And these little facts tend to get reinforced as a matter of course, as sports people often seek out other sports people in order to talk about whatever sports issues are happening at the moment.
But the sports-osmosis model only applies to some topics. Sports is something of a special case, because sports, through some bizarre fluke of culture, has become central to our North American lives. Sports is virtually impossible to avoid completely. It’s on TV all the time. It’s a billion-dollar industry. It has its own section in the newspaper, while things like “science” and “war” and “other countries” don’t. It’s relatively easy to pick up on sports without putting too much effort into it. The osmosis model is most applicable to the things we’re bombarded with day in and day out – TV, popular music, Hollywood movies, video games for some people, anything that has big marketing teams behind it making sure we’re all acutely aware of what is going on.Of course, that’s not enough in itself – the player also needs to be interested enough in the topic to retain enough information to be considered the aforementioned “specialist.” Questions about sports – or TV, or movies, or such things – are usually not about current events in the field. This, often, is why not everyone who’s into sports can be the sports guy on a trivia team. A sports trivia guy goes beyond just knowing what’s going in all four major sports plus soccer, tennis, and golf (an impressive feat in itself), and also knows a thing or two about what used to go on, and what has been going on since, oh, 1900 (for baseball), or perhaps the mid-50’s (for pop music). What sets the sports guy apart from your run-of-the-mill sports fan is that they’re interested enough in the topic to go deeper, to understand how sports got to the point they’re at today, or maybe just to be able to show off. Either way. It’s knowing the answer that counts.