Why do we use the term trivia to mean general knowledge? If a question like this piques your interest, then an evening at one of Chiang Mai’s pub quizzes may be for you.
Let’s start with a brief look at the history of the pub quiz. Anthropologists have long held that bar-based trivia first emerged as a popular pastime in the North of England in the 1960s. For many months of the year a lack of sunshine and a propensity for heavy rainfall meant the local pub, with its open fire and readily available bar snacks, was a literal lifeline. For those not wishing to huddle around a pen and paper there was often a dartboard available. However pub quizzes in the north were often poorly organized on an ad hoc basis and, according to sociologists, often ended in a scuffle between village elders, or something. And so it was up to a couple in the South of the country to introduce a bit of order. In the mid-70s Sharon Burns and Tom Porter saw an opportunity to replace the usual conversations about land boundaries and cheese making practices by establishing leagues and publishing sets of questions to be sent out to aspiring quizmasters in sealed envelopes. The Sunday night pub quiz was established. Over subsequent decades trivia nights spread to all corners of the globe on every conceivable night of the week, not least to our little expat enclave in the north of Thailand.
The weekly quiz-night is also popular with publicans and bar owners for one very simple reason – people like to get pissed when trying to remember the capital of Azerbaijan or which element comes fifth on the Periodic Table. Quiz nights for many are now the most lucrative night of the week. Those setting the questions can also do well out of an hour or two behind the microphone. Here in Chiang Mai, and in bars around the globe, rewards for pulling a few questions together might, at the very least, involve free beer for the night.
For those unfamiliar with the general layout of the pub quiz, here are some bullet points:
- Politely ask a friend or two if they would like to form a pub-quiz ‘team’, and decide on a night and venue on which to meet up. Go to that venue on the night specified.
- Establish a team-name. Preferably something childish that sounds a bit filthy.
- Dress smartly – smart people are clever people. Even better, get a team ‘strip’. Pub quizzing is a sport, after all, in the same way that F1, horse-racing and golf are sports.
- Turn off your phone.
- Order a drink.
- Answer the questions, ideally correctly, or at least in the order the quizmaster is asking them.
- Have an argument with your team-mates about at least one of the answers.
- Have another drink.
- You may be asked to play a joker. Play it for the round for which you think you answered the most questions correctly.
- Have another argument and a drink.
- Repeat until a) your team is triumphant and awarded the prestige of having guessed the greatest percentage of questions correctly, or b) Your team is not triumphant, in which case award yourselves with another drink for giving it your best shot.
Ostensibly a bit of fun, a pub quiz should never be entered into lightly. Although pretty straightforward, as I have mentioned above, there are rules. Possibly the nicest of which is the blanket ban on the use of smartphones in order to prevent any cheating. What a joy to spend a couple of hours not having to hear: ‘Sorry mate, just got to reply to this’ or watch the person opposite try to remember what the hell it was you just asked him as he slips his little computer surreptitiously back into his pocket. Nope, it’s usually instant disqualification for those caught feeding their social media habit or having a quick look at a popular search engine in the bar on trivia night. Plus it’s a pub quiz – the feeling of self-loathing that comes from diddling one’s fellow competitors by cheating is unlikely to be assuaged by the prize of a voucher or jug of cheap lager.
So, the next time you find yourself twiddling your thumbs of an evening why not contact your local Chiang Mai bar and find out if they put on a night of trivia. Or offer to set one up (most bars already holding a quiz are more than happy for guest presenters to pick up the microphone). Write to Thailand’s Ministry for Bar Entertainments and demand a pub quiz be organised in your tambon, or invite some like-minded trivialists round to your place for an evening of quiz. After all, in a world that appears to be nudging us ever onwards towards idiocracy, what better salve than a couple of hours celebrating knowledge for the sake of knowledge, however seemingly trivial?
Which brings us neatly to the answer to my question – Why the term trivia? Well, as the Latin boffins among you have already discerned the word translates as ‘three roads’ and refers to the disciplines of grammar, logic and rhetoric. In classical times these were considered the lower of the Seven Liberal Arts. Since then the word has come to mean commonplace, vulgar or ordinary and represents inconsequential knowledge that is general, random and throwaway. Pop along to a quiz night and this will all become abundantly clear.