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Thursday, March 18, 2004 10:35 pm

Grace about town 3-18-04

Geek alert!

I'm terrible at Trivial Pursuit -- really, really awful. Sometimes I answer a literature or entertainment question correctly, but to me the game is a painful thing that's easily avoided. When I was younger (and just as bad at the game as I am now), we played with Mom's friend Margaret, who knows pretty much everything. Not only did she cream everybody else, she was flabbergasted at how horrible I was. "You don't know that?" she kept asking, incredulous that my parents had raised such a cretin. My sister Amy was just as bad. Amy and I once had a great time playing because we turned it into a multiple-choice thing.

So although I've been seeing these trivia nights advertised all over town, I've kept my distance. I didn't want to touch a trivia night with a 10-foot pole.

But then my mom helped put one on. She's the assistant director of the central Illinois affiliate of theChildren's Miracle Network, an awesome organization that raises money to help sick kids. All the money raised here stays right here, helping patients at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and St. John's Hospital. I've participated in different CMN events over the years -- someday I'll tell you the tale of being an assistant host of a telethon -- and have always had fun supporting this worthy cause.

But I didn't want to do any trivia night. Mom convinced me it'd be fun -- lots of people, refreshments, fun fun fun. The thing that finally tipped the balance for me is the fact that you don't play by yourself; you have a table full of handpicked teammates to lead you to victory.

At least that's the theory.

Besides me, my team consisted of my sister Amy, who is brilliant now; her boyfriend, Jim, who watches lots of TV and reads a lot; my dad, who loves a good game, especially when refreshments are involved; my friend Randy, who knows everything about music; and my friend Brad, the only teammate who had done this before.

The master and mistress of ceremonies were Brian Pierce and Kellie Michaels from radio station WNNS (98.7 FM). They, too, are staunch CMN supporters, and I like them a lot. Brian told me he's played on trivia teams and has never lost. Next time, I'm going to lure Brian onto my team.

My friend Brad said when he'd played the game before, his team had finished next to last. I pitied him; he's a smart guy but clearly must have had unknowledgeable teammates. I was sure that if we didn't actually win, we'd at least do very well.

We were horrible -- really, really bad.

This trivia night comprised 25 tables, each holding a team of six to 10 players. We should have found four more people -- four people with extensive trivia knowledge.

There were 10 categories with 10 questions each. The questions were read aloud, one of us wrote down our answers and at the end of each round the scores were tabulated.

The game started with a torturous category called "Somewhere in Time." The emcee rattled off a list of events, and we had to decide what year all this stuff happened. For example: "Name the year in which Johnny Parsons won the Indy 500, Ethel Waters was the first black lead character on a TV sitcom (it was called Beulah) and Peanuts debuted in nine papers." The answer: 1958.

We got a few questions right. Mostly, we were one year off.

The funniest moment for our team came during round two. The category was "Just a Spoonful of Sugar" -- medical questions. One was "What does 'CAT scan' stand for?" Amy, sure she knew, scribbled "cation arterial topography" on the answer sheet. She hemmed and hawed about it, but none of the rest of us had any clue; we were just sure we'd at least gotten that one right.

"CAT" stands for "computed axial tomography." It did make us all laugh, which helped our sagging morale.

After round two, we were in second-to-last place.

Round three -- "It's Raining Cats and Dogs," words with "cat" or "dog" in them -- was our shining moment. We got "doggerel" and "Dogpatch" and "dogleg." Eight of the 10 questions right. Sweet.

At halftime, we were ahead of six teams. The second half was much like the first. Amy said there were seven von Trapp children in The Sound of Music, but I said there must be eight. We wrote down "eight," which was wrong. (Seven.)

At least we weren't as bad as the team next to ours, Table Nine. They were in last place but didn't care. When a question was asked about the singer of "You Light up My Life," one of their team stood up, grabbed the microphone and sang the song. She was eager to keep singing, but the judges made made her sit down. Near the end of round eight, Table Nine folded a bunch of money up with their answer sheet in an admirable attempt to bribe the judges.

When it was finally over, there were three teams behind us and we were tied with two others -- not the worst showing ever, but not so good. I overheard a woman saying, "It was a good game, but the questions were too easy." I need to recruit her next time -- her and Brian Pierce and my friend Tim, who also knows everything but chose to go to the opera instead of helping us win.

Next time.

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