If you tend to read what I write here, you’ll know that this has been quite a trivia year for me. The most recent highlight is that I played in another pub quiz tournament with the Anti-Social Network (renamed The A-OK’s for this event), i.e. the same team that won The Geek Bowl. And we won again! This time the purse was $1000. It is astonishing, weird, and wonderful to be part of such a high-performing group.
The highlight before that, though, was the Trivia Championships Of North America, or TCONA. This event is poorly named, according to me — it sounds like it’s going to be some kind of culmination of a long season of North American trivia contests, when in fact it’s more of a triviapalooza, a big convention of trivia hobbyists who get together to compete in and/or watch a variety of events. The “championships” of anything else is not something that just anybody can buy a ticket to, show up, and participate in the competition, but TCONA was open to anybody who cared to pay the ($100) admission fee and get themselves to Las Vegas, where the event was held.
Economic times are a little tight in my family right now, so I would not have been one of those people, but for two things. First, organizer Paul Bailey reached out to us Anti-Socialites and offered to waive the admission fee if we’d provide some material for the weekend: a 100-question seeding test for the quiz bowl tournament event. Secondly, also because of the Geek Bowl, I had some winnings set aside, to be used for a special occasion. I decided that TCONA was just such an occasion, and booked my ticket. However, I still tried to cut corners, which is how I found myself getting up at 3:30am on July 8th, preparing for a 6am flight to Las Vegas.
I got myself on the plane without incident (unlike my last airplane adventure), and by 9am I was in Vegas. (This delay brought to me by a layover in Phoenix, another cost-cutting measure.) I’d never actually been to Vegas before. It is a strange, funny place. One of the first things I noticed is that it is totally the land of women-as-things. I mean, every place in America is at least a little bit like that, but Vegas is really like that, in little things like magazines and bus advertisements, and in big things like enormous billboards. Or this — pretty much the first sight that greeted me when I walked into my hotel, the MGM Grand, was an enormous bank of screens, all projecting one massive image: a long line of women, framed against a black background. Then, the women turned around, and revealed the backs of their outfits, completely black from head to toe, blending into the background, all except for their asses, which were left perfectly bare. Picture it — as I walked in the door, my greeting committee consisted of an extensive queue of disembodied asses, hanging in the air and twitching tartly back and forth, with military precision.
Anyway. The hotel staff was very nice about letting me check into a room early so I could get a nap before the trivia festivities began that afternoon, and they also gave me an extra key for my awesome sister Jenny, who was flying out from L.A. later that night to join me for Vegas partying. I headed up to the room for a much-needed nap, and afterwards explored the hotel, so that I could figure out the lay of the land. Trrish gave me some excellent advice about Vegas, which is that everything is much further away than it looks like it’s going to be. That is so, so true of the MGM Grand. I swear I did about 45 minutes of walking each day, just within the hotel! It’s like a huge hotel combined with a huge casino, a huge mall, a huge conference complex, and another huge hotel. Finally, I scoped out where the events would be held, though it was all barricaded because nobody was ready yet. After I snagged some lunch, I returned and got my nametag, program, and cute little swag bag.
Prior to the TCONA kickoff, my Colorado trivia colleague Bill Schantz hosted some mock-Jeopardy games in his room. Bill wrote a cracking J-simulator, and I went on a long Jeopardy-question-writing jag last year, so I was one of people who provided material for this unofficial event. Thus, around 3:30 on that day (more like 3:45 once I’d figured out I was at the wrong room and took the 10-minute hike to the right one) I got to do a very enjoyable trivia warmup, both as a reader and as a player. My “The Onion Rates The 2010 NFL” category was a hit. (Sample question: “After giving up 50 sacks in 2009,” this team‘s “offensive line appears to have forgiven Aaron Rodgers for whatever he did.”)
I did do a little gambling. I’m not a fan of slots — they feel more like just rolling a die than actually playing a game. And I don’t have nearly the skill, interest, or bankroll required to play table games. But I do enjoy video poker, and I’ve had a little practice at it too — Colorado has a few mountain towns in which gambling is legal, and I’ve been there enough times to learn the basic video poker ropes. My mom had given me some casino mad money — thanks Mom! — and I sat down at a poker machine and spent a very enjoyable 90 minutes turning $5 into $50! That was as lucky as I was ever going to get that weekend — turns out I’m much better at turning $10 or $20 into $0, though I have a reasonably good time on the way there.
Finally I sauntered down to the main event room — basically a big conference room with tables and chairs set out — around 5:30. Lots of trivia compadres were there, and it was fun to catch up with them. At 6pm, the first event began: a solo “kickoff quiz.” This was a pen-and-paper test, one of my least favorite trivia formats, at least when I’m not by myself. Also, I found it ridiculously hard. The gimmick was that all the answers consisted of a two-letter abbreviation for a US state, US territory, or Canadian province. Given the “North American” theme of TCONA, this made some sense, though obviously Mexico and Central America were conspicuous by their absence. Mr. Bailey explained that this was because nobody from those countries was attending this time, though he’d love to recruit anybody who’s interested. You can see the quiz here. (It is a bit annoying to read because it is “intentionally presented as an image, and with disruptive background to deter OCR,” per Mr. Bailey. I’m not sure why the copyright anxiety, but whatever.) Answer key is here.
After the kickoff quiz was an event called “Smarty Pants,” hosted by Paul Paquet. The deal with this game is that it sets up two opposing teams of four players each. Three members of each team are famous game show winners or trivia “celebrities” in some way. Players in this edition included Ken Jennings, Ed Toutant, Kevin Olmstead, and Bob Harris. All the “civilians” in the room got handed a card with a number on it, and then Paul picked random numbers for people to come and play on the all-star teams. I wasn’t one of those picked, but I had fun watching, and found the questions pretty interesting and clever.
The next event was a “pub quiz mash-up.” Representatives from four different pub quiz companies — Geeks Who Drink, King Trivia, TriviaNYC, and the aforementioned Paquet — brought a couple rounds of trivia each, and took turns quizzing a roomful of teams, 11 in all, with one extra made up of the quizmasters. Moreover, the teams themselves were randomly selected, with an eye toward geographical distribution. Each was captained by some kind of trivia celeb, so as to ensure that no one team marshaled an unreasonable amount of firepower, and they were constructed to ensure that each would have someone from outside the USA, someone from the west coast, someone from Colorado, etc.
The selection process for these teams was painful — rather than having the teams assigned beforehand, they were constructed on the fly, which meant about 45 minutes of tedious “Okay, please come to the front if you came here from California. Hm, only 8. Okay, California, Oregon, or Washington, please come to the front. Can everybody hear me?”, etc. However, once the teams were settled and the questions began, this was one of the most fun events of the weekend. I was on a team captained by Jerome Vered, called “Veredable Smorgasbord.”
Everybody on the team was extremely nice, and nobody was overly uptight about scores and answers, which was great, since nothing kills a good time at trivia like the guy who takes the whole thing too seriously and gets emotional about things going wrong. The questions were a lot of fun too. One group just did category questions, like “There are 11 NFL teams whose helmet graphics include some kind of writing or lettering. Name 10 of them.”, and “There are 10 people who are in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame both as a solo artist and as a member of a group. Name them.”
My favorite round was presented by Geeks Who Drink, an audio “before and after” round in which two different songs were played blending into each other, and the answer was a blend of the two titles, hinging on the common word. Examples: Tori Amos & The Beatles “Precious Things We Said Today”; Guns ‘n’ Roses & John Mellencamp “November Rain On The Scarecrow”; and Wu-Tang Clan and M.I.A. “C.R.E.A.M.I.A.” Probably this was my favorite round because Adam Villani and I teamed up to kick ass on it, and brought our team back from the doldrums to a solid middle-of-the-pack showing.
Somewhere around the middle of the pub quiz, Jenny (my sister) showed up, and watched from a back table. After it was over, she and I headed out to explore the strangeness of Vegas. We ate a little, gambled a little, and walked a lot. She was looking specifically for a slot game she loves called Invaders From The Planet Moolah, which has a fun cascading reel effect, a bit like Bejeweled. We finally found it at Excalibur, but occupied, so we stalked the person playing until she left. By which I mean, we casually hung around playing neighboring machines, until finally she split, and we pounced on the moolah!
In true Vegas fashion, we suddenly realized it was like 3:00 in the morning, and headed back to go to sleep. Thus ended Day 1 of the Vegas trivia adventure. More to come, but for now, the answers to some lingering questions.
NFL Teams with lettering/writing on their helmets
- Baltimore Ravens (a raven’s head with a “B” inscribed)
- Chicago Bears (The letter “C”)
- Green Bay Packers (A big “G”)
- Kansas City Chiefs (A “KC” inside an arrowhead)
- Miami Dolphins (The jumping dolphin is wearing a little helmet with the letter “M” on it)
- New York Giants (A stylized “NY”)
- New York Jets (The word “Jets” with an outline of “NY” in the background)
- Oakland Raiders (The word “Raiders” at the top of the shield icon)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (The word “Steelers” by the logo)
- San Francisco 49ers (The letters “SF”)
- Tennessee Titans (A comet bearing a “T”)
People in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame both as a solo artist and as a member of a group
- Jeff Beck [The Yardbirds]
- Eric Clapton [The Yardbirds and Cream]
- George Harrison [The Beatles]
- Michael Jackson [The Jackson 5]
- John Lennon [The Beatles]
- Curtis Mayfield [The Impressions]
- Paul McCartney [The Beatles]
- Clyde McPhatter [The Drifters]
- Paul Simon [Simon & Garfunkel]
- Neil Young [Buffalo Springfield]