Now and again over the twelve years of my trivia career, I get a piece of hate mail. Often it is a complaint about the wording of a question, or the appearance of preferential treatment for a particular team or player. A few times even — when I was but a player — I was referred to as “the guy who either is or isn’t really good with computers” and found “Die Thomas Die” scrawled on the pub’s bathroom chalkboard. While I can assure you that I’m neither deceased nor good at computers, it’s always fun to own real estate in other people’s heads.
So fancy my luck when six months into this Virtual Trivia endeavor, I get my first unsolicited email. Just from a cursory glance of the title — “An Action Plan” — and the first few sentences of text, I know that this letter is distinct in nature. “Unpleasant”, “domineering”, and “embarrassed” catch my eye, as I hope they do yours when you read the text I’ve provided below. But, to my amazement, the ire of the letter is not directed at the venerable host. Rather this is a cry for help, an avowal that failure will not be tolerated and a house divided against itself cannot stand (Lincoln). Honestly, just read it for yourself:
Dear Mr. Todd,
I had sincerely hoped not to have to bring up this bit of unpleasantness to you but I am forced to do so. As you may have noticed, my trivia team, Pot Springs Eternal, finished your Wednesday night "experts" competition in a distant fourth place out of four teams. Some of my teammates (and they shall go nameless as they include two alleged children and a domineering spouse) were deeply embarrassed by this performance. I would be as well but my role is one of coach and leader, not player. Does Bill Belichick throw the football? Does he wrestle 300-pound linemen to the ground? Does even know the name of the Cleveland Browns coach who cut Bernie Kosar from the roster and thus required FBI protection from distraught fans for a time? At this point, probably not, the old coot in raggedy-ass clothing. But my point is that no matter how you look at this, there's obviously a problem and I am not at fault. But I digress.
Here's my point. Something is clearly amiss. One theory (and I'll admit it was initially a popular one in certain circles) was that our opponents are too smart. And I'll confess we were a bit rattled when the list of top medical schools was recited as if memorized by an opposing player during Wednesday's contest. But, unless you start mandating pre-game tranquilizers for brilliant players (my wife, the psychiatrist, does have prescription pad at the ready if you choose to go this route), I don't think this can easily be addressed. We can't blame you for attracting nerds. And we can't blame them for their excess of grey matter and the hours they have obviously dedicated to memorizing medical school ratings. How our family ever chose Monopoly over list memorizing on Game Night is, of course, for us to forever regret.
But then it occurred to me. Let's not raise the bridge, let's lower the river (all my best ideas are triggered by obscure 1960's Jerry Lewis film titles). This isn't my problem at all. This is a clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. You must make accommodations for teams that lack trivia skills. Otherwise, victory would unfairly go to smart people all the time. I ask you, Thomas Todd, where is the fairness in a level playing field, in victories going only to those who demonstrate that they are adept at this game? I think you'll agree that a world the favors smart people is not a world designed for the Jensen family. I don't wish to get lawyers involved. Mainly, that's because the team lawyer tends to only play Friday's game. But I'm willing to write him a stern email, if necessary, and bribe him with a six-pack if that's what it takes. Oh, we're locked and loaded.
So here are the options as I see them. You could send us the answers in advance of each competition. You may see this as an unfair tilting of the playing field but I can assure you that just because we have the answers in advance, there is absolutely no guarantee we can muster the intelligence to use them. Admittedly, the other teams may find it curious if Pot Springs Eternal suddenly starts answering questions before they are asked but I have that covered (tell them our newest team member is Agatha, the pre-crime clairvoyant from "Minority Report"). Still, here's an even better idea: Just start asking questions that touch on our knowledge base. See how simple that could be? All I'm asking is that you shift your entire structure to accommodate our slender and receding field of knowledge.
So what would questions in the bailiwick of Pot Springs Eternal look like? I'm glad you asked. After considering the backgrounds of our motley assortment of players, I'm suggesting the following topics:
1. Things to do in Baltimore that California residents who play trivia seldom know about.
2. Top strategies for commuting on Caltrain between San Jose and Palo Alto that can significantly reduce your risk of coronavirus transmission.
3. University of Maryland dorm ratings
4. Fifty ways to get away with murdering your husband (I can't tell you who insisted this be on the list. Seriously, I can't. I think she's watching).
5. How to live in your parents' basement while minimizing contact with them.
6. How to comfort distressed Orioles' fans.
7. Best "365 Everyday Value" items at Whole Foods Market as compiled by a certain couple living in San Jose, California.
8. Driving directions to Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
9. The definitive history of Baltimore Sun editorials that describe President Trump as a rat.
10. How to remove the meat from Chesapeake Bay steamed crabs in minute detail with or without a mallet.
I would mention, just in passing, that we continue to admire the job you do not only in creating interesting and challenging questions but in your smart and friendly approach to hosting. I trust you are enjoying the experience as much as your competitors obviously are.
Nevertheless, please consider this a threatening letter. We are intent on winning. That's the bottom line. It's a mad, mad, mad world (thanks again, Jerry Lewis, national treasure of France). Don't make us turn you into our errand boy (ditto).
Founder, coach and recording secretary
Pot Springs Eternal (not affiliated with marijuana)
Yep, these are my players. Here are your errand boy’s nuggets for the week:
5 Trivial Items You Should Absolutely Know:
Basketball icon Julius Erving -- Dr. J -- won or shared the last three ABA MVP trophies before the league merged with the NBA
William “Boss” Tweed was a corrupt and powerful landowner in New York City, and headed the Tammany Hall political machine
In 1984, Hulk Hogan became the WWF Champion by becoming the first wrestler to escape the Iron Sheik’s signature move, the “Camel Clutch”
Two memorable quotes attributed (by Plato) to Greek philosopher Socrates: “I know that I know nothing” and “The unexamined life is not worth living”
The peninsula occupied by Turkey has been called at times “Anatolia” and “Asia Minor”
Bonus: Maryland was founded on a charter by George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore
5 Things I Learned This Week:
Jet packs peaked with James Bond, appearing in the 1965 movie Thunderball
Wind speed can be measured on the Beaufort Scale, which has some niftily-phrased descriptions of humankind’s relationship to the wind
The intense rivalry between Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli
A hunter’s method for scoring white-tailed deer bucks is called the “Boone & Crockett” system, named for a hunting club which itself was named for American pioneers Daniel & Davy
Little League Baseball was “boys only” from 1951-1973, only reintegrating after a lawsuit was filed by the National Organization for Women on behalf of Maria Pepe