Brain Bowl 

The relentless pursuit of trivia

Brain BowlIf you have been to any one of the many trivia contests hosted by local schools, churches, fraternal groups and other organizations, you have seen them. They enter quietly. They sit. They don't bring much food or drink, unlike some of the more casual parties, and, most characteristically, they don't talk much. That's because they don't want folks at neighboring tables to overhear them discussing potential answers -- and because they are focusing hard on beating the tar out of you.

They are the trivia mercenaries.

Watching football on TV is challengeless and passive. Drinking in a bar is worse. The trivia hit squad takes pride in possessing and exercising active minds. Trivia contests are their milieu. They want the prizes, sure, but most of all they want the glory that comes after a good slaughter of lesser intellectuals.

The serious groups know that trivia contests usually permit a maximum of eight or 10 people per table. So they assemble a crack team: Bill knows American history. Jean is a professor of music. Larry knows so goddamn much about sports, it's obscene. Somebody else can handle questions about early TV programs or rock & roll or local history. All areas are covered.

Until now. The ringers will be up against their own kind at the 2000 St. Louis Trivia Championships, which double as a fundraiser for the Parkway North Chess Team. It's not just that the most cutthroat trivianiks in the area will descend on this event, billed as a championship. Prize money, $1,400 worth, is at stake, too.

In a departure from the usual setup, contest organizer/chess coach/history teacher/trivia buff Bill Moushey has released a list of the question categories to invitees before the event. The trivia categories include U.S. presidents, death in the movies, baseball, World War II, American literature, TV in the 1950s and '60s, music, American figures, famous movie quotations, sports, St. Louis baseball and American history. The championship also features weighted questions, some worth more points than others.

This is not the kind of trivia contest with beer for sale or some patrician silent auction. It is hardcore. It is not for the weak. It will be a war.

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