In the days before video gaming, we used to gather together face to face to socialize and play games made of paper and plastic. No kidding. In the mid-80s, a new board game, Trivial Pursuit, swept the nation, to the puzzlement of many. What was it about this game, so similar to the TV game shows such as Jeopardy and Concentration which had been staples for a generation already, that drove over 20 million to buy copies in 1984 and led Time Magazine to declare it the "biggest phenomenon in game history?"
One answer, in my experience, was that the questions did not lean heavily on information you should have learned in school. A player was just as likely to be rewarded for knowing who recorded Under the Boardwalk ( The Drifters) as who fought who in the Punic Wars. (Rome and Carthage). The questions were delicately balanced between challenging and moronic, so that no player ever left the board feeling like an idiot.
The questions were also wisely weighted toward the Boomer Generation's experiences, which distinguished it from more staid competitors. Playing Trivial Pursuit, then, became as much an opportunity for groups to share memories as compete. The game developers also took care with the physical design, offering a colorful and intuitive board and pie-shaped rewards (and who doesn't love pie?)
It's success led to a multitude of versions targeting different niches, such as The Vintage Years (1920's-50s), the Master Game, Warner Brothers, Star Wars Episode 1, Lord of the Rings, and many others. (I suspect that for someone not interested in the theme, a game of Trivial Pursuit Star Wars Episode 1 would be more nightmare than enjoyment.) A TV version of the game had a two-year run on The Family Channel in the mid-90's, while a new version for syndication was unveiled in September of 2008.
The high/low spot of the game's fame, however, occurred on an episode of Seinfeld, in which George Costanza, playing against a boy in a bubble, refuses to credit the boy's answer of The Moors to the question "Who invaded Spain in the eighth century?" because the answer card has been misprinted to read The Moops.
Our love of trivia has resulted in many popular entertainments, and it seems that each decade or so someone successfully repackages it to make it seem fresh and new. None did it better than the inventors of Trivial Pursuit. For a yellow wedge, name them.
A. Scott Abbott, Chris Haney, John Haney and Ed Werner
B. Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard
C.Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and Ron Francis
D.Georges Braque, Juan Gris, and Marcel Duchamp
Like most board games, the enjoyment wasn't in the questions or the answers, but in the fellowship it brought to those of us who still preferred spending time with people rather than video simulations. And that's no trivial pursuit.
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