Journalists can be dangerous when invited to trivia contests.
After all, we’re competitive to a fault, fairly well-read, and we pick up a little knowledge about a lot of things through the variety of events we cover.
So we were a little curious when the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan invited us to assemble a team for a WorldQuest International Trivia Competition on Tuesday.
We thought it might be some kind of trap, there to serve as Royals-esque fodder for impossibly difficult questions kicked back and forth by people who pay close attention to activities beyond our shores. But we were brave — and there was free food and an open bar.
Other than organizing the team, it didn’t appear my skills would be in demand. My areas of expertise are somewhat limited to:
— The Mets
— New York
— U.S. presidents
— 1980s music
— The location of the Diet Coke vending machine in whatever building I’m in.
Good things to know, to be sure. I’m tough on the 1980s music, especially lately after updating my new iPod to include the little album covers so they pop up on the color display screen. You are just not going to sneak a Human League question past me. It’s just not going to happen.
But that's not necessarily the kind of knowledge that will help in an event called "WorldQuest."
The rest of the people on the team were better-suited to the task. Dan is a wire editor who reads a lot of international stories — he could pronounce and spell Mahmoud Ahmadinejed, Iran’s president — Rob covers business; Bart knows a lot of weird things and Julie, my wife, studied the World Almanac.
The competition consisted of questions flashed on a screen, with each team writing down answers. Our sheets were collected at the end of each round, and the teams with the most correct answers would take the crown.
And the questions did indeed seem difficult, at least for me. I was pretty much delegated to spectator status in the early rounds, throwing out guesses and fetching Diet Cokes from the machine in the lower level, which I found in just seconds.
Rob cleaned up in the "match the currency with the country" portion, and we cheered when Dan had to identify Ahmadinejed. Julie somehow knew that Prince Albert of Monaco had recently explored the North Pole.
The section on landmarks and monuments followed. There was a Russian statue, temples in Japan and Egypt, a mountain in Australia where dingoes allegedly eat kids.
Then came my moment of glory.
The screen showed an image of a giant reclining Budda. We had to identify the country. My teammates were stumped.
Then, from the recesses of my mind came the thumping of a synthesized beat, and a slightly mechanical voice.
"Siam's gonna be the witness
To the ultimate test of cerebral fitness
This grips me more than would a
Muddy old river or reclining Buddha"
The classic song "One Night in Bangkok." Sung by Murray Head, it was from the musical "Chess" written by the ABBA guys.
"It’s in Bangkok," I said authoritatively.
"How do you know?"
"It’s in the 1980s song. Trust me. This is what I know."
Of course it was right. My knowledge of all things 1980s finally paid off, my spot on the team justified. Kind of like when Tsuyoshi Shinjo made that magnificent throw in 2003 to nail Chipper Jones at the plate to end the game, preserving a 6-5 victory over the Braves — by far his greatest contribution.
We went on to finish fourth out of 24 teams, and feeling pretty good about it considering it was our first time in such an event, and the top two finishers were World Affairs Council teams. Credit goes largely to the rest of my team.
Apparently we were the loudest team they've ever had -- trash-talking must not have been a part of the previous competitions. And we topped the team from the U.S. Commerce Department, which was a little disturbing when we thought about it later.
Meanwhile, I have a whole year to prepare for the next competition. Maybe "Rio" by Duran Duran or somthing from Terry Nunn and Berlin will come in handy.