Does it Mean You’re Dumb if You’re Bad at Trivia?

Does it Mean You’re Dumb if You’re Bad at Trivia?

This question has been on my mind lately – by that I mean every Wednesday night, as I contribute next to nothing to a trivia team I go to mostly because it’s an excuse to eat chicken fingers.

Let me back up: I like the idea of trivia. Learning while drinking? Those are two of my favorite things to do – why not do them together? The thing is, I’m extremely bad at it.

I used to think it was because trivia was tailored to dudes at dude bars, and that because I knew little about cars or sports I couldn’t keep up. “If only trivia was just about foreign languages and 90’s TV shows targeted at women,” I thought, “Then I’d dominate.”

But slowly, all my excuses were proven wrong. I went to a Lady’s Night Trivia, where I got zero questions right. Then I played trivia questions on a road trip, sober, challenging the excuses that a) drinking just made me bad at remembering stuff b) I would be good at answering questions about TV. While I was thinking, “Ok … Murphy Brown … that was a show ….” my friend would shout out the answer before the question was over.

Realizing my lack of talent became even harder when I had learned how impressed I am with people who are good at trivia. I consider my boyfriend’s friend a gifted guru for showing up late to trivia and immediately answering 20 questions that had left us stumped. His insane reservoir of memories of presidents’ running mates and composers of hair metal songs is downright mystic.

I don’t think I’m bad at trivia because I’m generally stupid – I do pretty well at multiple choice tests – or because I am disconnected from culture. In fact, I am so addicted to pop culture that I have a Hulu Plus and Netflix subscription because all I do after work is watch TV online. I think it’s about eliminating the idea of smart vs. stupid and realizing that there are many kinds of intelligence, and this is one that I don’t have. Here are the mental facilities that I would imagine trivia would involve:

Rapid recall ability with specific memories. This means that your brain is generally good at organizing minute memories in a way that stores them over time and gives you quick access to them. I know my brain is bad at this cuz I rarely remember the names of characters in shows.

Ability to quickly parse a request. A trivia question is a request to retrieve information. First, you must break down the question, shake out its written-in-clues, and analyze it. I do not necessarily think I am bad at this, but when I am surrounded by stimuli such as chicken fingers, alcohol or friends, this process is basically ruined for me.

Democratic prioritization of memories. I imagine there are certain people whose brains are careful to remember each tidbit they hear, should it come up later. Sort of a “better-safe-than-sorry” procedure. On the other hand, there are people so preoccupied that their brains try to prioritize the information that will be most relevant to their every day lives, and keep that at the top, at the sake of more rarely-used information. I’m the latter.

Well-rounded ability to create memories of aural, visual and written events. I’m good at foreign language trivia because I remember words I see written down. I’m horrible at “the sound round” because the part of my brain that analyzes music is installed backward or something. I would imagine that people who are the best at trivia have a very rare type of brain that is almost “photographic” in memory over several senses.

Basically, I admire people who are amazing at trivia because they are savants. But if you’re continually wrong, question after question, it doesn’t mean necessarily mean you’re unemployable.

Becky Lang

Photo by JonDissed