So I recently joined a trivia contest through work. It was just a lunchtime thing, through Zoom, hosted by the work’s “environment committee.”
It wasn’t in “buzzer format”, which was good — you can’t do timed responses when the connection’s erratic. No, you just went down the line. Each person answered a question. If you didn’t get it, the next person could try to answer for half-credit. If they got it wrong, the next person got to try, and so on.
I joined because I thought, fuck it, why not. I like trivia. Climate change is an unusual topic for a Q&A contest and it’s not exactly my strength… okay, I’d say I’m pretty weak. I lean toward the pop culture and entertainment colors of pie.
What kind of questions they could ask? Because most times I read about climate change, it’s steeped in numbers. X tons of carbon in the atmosphere. Y number of cut-down trees. Z years since the last temperature change. I guess people love information like that, even though I can’t comprehend numbers above a certain magnitude. There are thousands of multicellular critters in my eyebrows right now, but I couldn’t feel one. What does 3.3 billion metric tons of CO2 mean? It’s an impressive number but is that a lot? A little?
Which brings me to my topic.
There is a right way and a wrong way to write trivia questions. And it’s easy to get it right — just look at Trivial Pursuit. None of the questions in that game have numbers as answers. And if they do, they’re multiple choice.
Now this might sound like sour grapes because I didn’t win, but one of my questions was “How tall is the Eiffel Tower… in meters?” (because it’s a British company). Another was “How many tons of trash is on Mt. Everest?” No more information than that. No range. No margin of error. All the host said was “higher” or “lower” before the next person got to guess. So then it became a binary search to find the answer. It’s supposed to be trivia, not “The Price is Right“. Every answer was a number or a country (e.g. “Which country is the cleanest?” Well, gee, there’s only three hundred countries. Could ya narrow it down a touch?).
The questioning format was especially bad because there WERE true and false questions. That’s a 50/50 shot for one person and an automatic point for the next contestant. Same for the multiple choice.
Now it’s not exactly like we were playing for a new car (in fact, we didn’t win anything. I guess it was just for “awareness”.) And trivia’s one of those things where you either know it or you don’t. It’s not like a math problem you can figure out.
But if you’re making a trivia contest, you should still review your work with a critical eye and the audience in mind. Say to yourself “could the average person answer this?”