July 22, 2021

An Astounding Trivial Pursuit Comeback Story

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Trivia

The date of this post marks the twenty-year anniversary of I what I regard as my most remarkable trivia competition performance in my life.

The location was The Cubby Bear, just across the street from Chicago's Wrigley Field. The date and time were Sunday morning, July 22, 2001. I heard about a charity Trivial Pursuit tournament from work, so I signed up, paid my entry fee, and came to play.

The first round featured about a dozen of us participating in groups of four, with each group playing a game of Trivial Pursuit for about 40 minutes. The top two players in each game qualified for the finals. I started out slow but finished up strong (I remember giving a correct answer in one question for "Heimlich" as in the "Heimlich Maneuver"), and I think I finished in second in my group.

But the real game was the final round. There were six of us for the finals: one game of Trivial Pursuit, timed to about 30 minutes, and whomever had the most points (wedges) after 30 minutes would win the tournament. One gentleman named Paul started out red hot -- after just 5 minutes Paul vaulted out to an astounding 5-0 lead. Needless to say, all the other participants felt understandably deflated. The game was over after it barely begun. At this point, I resolved to myself to fight, to play on, to do what I can. Maybe the game was over, but I'd be damned if I didn't give it my all.

I scratched and clawed my way back for the duration of the game (I remember correctly answering Ann Rice for one of the questions). Unbelievably, it worked. With just five minutes left in the game, I had taken a 6-5 lead over Paul. But what wound up being the game's final question came to Paul, for a yellow History wedge (the last wedge he didn't have). He needed to get the question correct to force a tie and send both of us into a tiebreak round. I was in a great spot; I'd go into a tiebreak round or win the tournament outright after an astounding comeback. He simply waited the last five minutes to think of an answer and/or run out the clock. Just as time was about to expire, Paul gave his answer: "Mikhail Gorbachev".


The tiebreak round was nowhere near as dramatic, nor as long. It was just Paul and myself answering the same set of six questions from a single random Trivial Pursuit card. They read the questions in turn; we each wrote down our responses, and whomever got the most correct from that set would win the tournament. As it happened, Paul got six, I got three. (I remember missing George Lazenby as one of the answers.) I congratulated Paul and shook his hand once the final score was announced. He offered to buy me a beer.

I didn't win, but considering how the day transpired, it was, as I said, my most remarkable trivia competition performance in my life. And that's how the day started; later that same day, I treated myself to a big delicious dinner at the Chicago Diner, and then after that I went to see the movie Memento. It was a great day for me overall, and I still regard that day as one of the very best days of my life.