Thursday, April 27, 2006

Trivia Book of the Year, 2005

The year 2001 was an embarrassment of riches for trivia book fans. A pair of books were released that were so great they inspired me to begin naming a "Trivia Book of the Year," which I have done sporadically ever since. Earlier this year I picked books to represent 2003, 2004, and 2005.

Last year's winner was "The Great American Pop Culture Quiz Book" by the Editors of Entertainment Weekly. Good trivial trivia is hard to write. And by trivia, I mean not general knowledge questions about movies and TV and music. I mean the kinds of things you know only by immersing yourself in watching movies and TV, listening to the records, and following the tabloids. Or by reading Entertainment Weekly, which any self-respecting trivia buff does, religiously. These questions separate the wheat--the true pop culture connoisseurs--from dorks like me who sit around reading the "Video Hound" and Whitburn's "Top 40 Hits" books instead of going to movies or listening to the radio.

The book also does a great job of alternating between gimmes and hardcore, brainbusting trivia. This was deliberate, as mentioned in the introduction. For instance, these two questions appear next to each other on page 94:

The Beach Boys hit "Kokomo" came from what film's soundtrack? (1)

In his 1987 underground hit "Elvis is Everywhere," who does Mojo Nixon claim is the "Anti-Elvis"? (2)

The first question, for the average player, is the "Hey, I got one." question. The second question is the "How in the world did you know that?" question. Both have their place, and in a book like this one, they, along with over 500 other questions, come together for a delicious trivia stew, simmered for just the right time, and then ladled into the skulls of pop culture consumers everywhere.

The quiz debuted as a feature in EW 3 years ago, and it eventually became (the best) part of their rotating backpage. It would be worth my while to put together an index of the issues that feature the quiz, because the questions are very high quality. The book is apparently all-new material.

If the blogs can be believed, this weekend will see the taping of the "World Series of Pop Culture," a joint effort from Entertainment Weekly and VH1. I'm a big fan of Tournament-style game shows. I loved "Ultimate Fan League", for instance, and I'm nothing of a sports fan. But I love watching quiz players who are good at what they do showing off what they know.

The sample questions at the VH1 casting call website perfectly exemplify the dichotomy between easy and hard questions:

Do you know which college Allie Hamilton attended after leaving her summer love Noah Calhoun behind in the 2004 film “The Notebook”? (3)

Do you know which TV theme song asks you to “take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have…” (4)

And the answer isn't "No.", smartguy. You buy the premise, you buy the bit. Now play nice.

Hopefully, if I'm back in Sioux Falls this summer, I'll be in a situation where I get VH1. Otherwise I'll have to work something out.

Here are some links to articles and blogs about teams trying out for the show:

From the Detroit News: Pop Tarts toast tidbits of triviality
From the blog 27 Years of Sleep Deprivation: The World Series of Pop Culture
From the blog Covering the Spread: World Series of Pop Culture

Answers to the questions in this post can be found in the comments.

1 comment:

Myron said...

1. Cocktail
2. Michael J. Fox
3. Sarah Lawrence
4. The Facts of Life