Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Trivia Study Versus Memory

A friend retired at work, and because he had started in 1969 there was a trivia contest about that year. I wasn't at the party, so I didn't participate. It is unknown whether I would have won, because reading the questions later is not the same as answering them on the spot. I would have been close. The winner was, not coincidentally, about my age and a pal of mine.

There is one the winner got wrong, which I would have gotten wrong also, and I suspect for similar reasons: What Beatles' album came out in 1969? Two younger trivia buffs got it immediately. Abbey Road.  They weren't there, but the progression of Beatle music is apparently something you have just got to know if you are going to compete in various pub trivia events.

But I did it from memory.  The summer of 1969, the White Album was very big.  I can remember it on the radio around specific events in May and June, and know who was working on the guitar riffs over the summer to be ready for the coffeehouse and concert circuit in the fall. My memories of Abbey Road start in February of 1970. Remember that, as I recently mentioned, music and fashions tended to hit NH a few months later than NYC or LA.  The White Album came out in November of 1968, Abbey Road in September of 1969.* So yes, Abbey Road is technically the correct answer.  But in the actual year 1969, start to finish, the White Album was of enormous importance and influence, Abbey Road rather a late entry.

This particular example is a detail, but is interesting in terms of general knowledge contests and quizzes.  I can list the countries of Europe and their capitals (except I can never remember Montenegro's capital.  Begins with a P and has "r's" and "o's" in it.) Half of them I picked up along the way just reading history and news.  I didn't know Brussels was the capital of Belgium, but I would have guessed it. I would have wildly guessed Minsk for Belarus and been right, wildly guessed Zurich for Switzerland and been wrong.

But once I started to play, I looked 'em up. Yerevan/Armenia.  Nicosia/Cyprus.  Vallarta/Malta.  I would not have even included those countries, let alone known the capitals. It just seems that I shouldn't get as much credit for ones that I went back and intentionally learned versus those that I got as part of the corpus of my general knowledge.

This comes up because a young friend at church is the captain of his Granite State Challenge team, and they rehearse, research, review, and refresh all year in order to compete. His school picks the team by direct competition, unlike, ahem, some other schools I have known, and he is as deserving a participant as you have known.  (Go on.  Take a guess at his ethnicity.) Yet it still seems not quite sporting, somehow.  Not quite the straight bat, Chauncey.  I feel like the English gentleman complaining in "Chariots of Fire" that Harold Abrahams had hired a coach.  It just isn't done.

*Yellow Submarine came out in January of 1969.  I don't know what to do with that in the context of the trivia contest.  Had it been the answer, it would have seemed a trick. It ran on a parallel track to the Top 40 music, but was undeniably important.

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