GeekDad and the Quzzing North America are teaming up for five days of Father’s Day trivia to celebrate the fifth year of the Trivia Championships of North America. This annual trivia contest brings in quizzers from around the world to match wits in a weekend of competition August 7-9 in Las Vegas, NV.
Every day this week, we will be asking three Dad-themed trivia questions and randomly choosing one winner from all of the correct entries to receive a limited-edition TCONA5 t-shirt & poster as well as a pair of books from the Astoria Bookshop in Astoria, NY (a volume from Shonen Jump’s One Piece manga series plus an additional random book). At the end of the week, the highest-scorer (or, in the case of a tie, a draw among the top scorers) will net one lucky player a free registration to TCONA5 (a $219 value).
I had a chance to chat with Tony Hightower, musician and karaoke host turned Jeopardy! champion, and Executive Director & Host of TriviaNYC, New York’s best and longest-running weekly trivia series, about the TCONA5.
GeekDad: The QNA TCONA5, run by TriviaNYC LLC, kicks off August 7-9 in Las Vegas, NV. That’s a lot of abbreviations. What do they all mean? (You can skip “NV”, I think I have that one figured out.)
Tony Hightower: Quizzing North America is a group that’s in charge of putting on the Trivia Championships of North America, or TCONA, every August in Las Vegas. It’s a three-day festival of everything quiz-related: game show simulations, demos and castings, panel discussions, new apps and board games, product launches, and of course trivia. Tons and tons of trivia, in all its forms, all weekend long, wall to wall.
GeekDad: So, basically, the world’s biggest pub quiz?
Hightower: Not the biggest in terms of players — there are a few one-big-contest-style trivia contests out there that have more actual participants — but in terms of the sheer breadth of quiz styles, types of players from all over the world, and opportunities for casual players and multiple Jeopardy! Champions (and everything in between) to come together and play with and against each other as equals, there’s nothing on the planet that comes close to it. And we’re still young. This is only our fifth year.
GeekDad: Who comes up with all the questions?
Hightower: It’s not just the best players in the world that come to this. Local bar trivia providers can come and bring their own material to showcase their particular styles, the TCONA Quiz Bowl tournament has close to a dozen of the best writers in the business, the Team Trivia Championship has its own team of bar quiz specialists, the game show simulators are often populated by career game show professionals, and that’s not even mentioning the specialty quizzes, one-offs, novelty matches and special events. We’ll go through close to 10,000 questions in dozens of different styles over the weekend, and putting all that together requires a bunch of people who really know what they’re doing.
GeekDad: Were there any questions that stand out in your mind from last year’s contest that might give contestants an idea what they’ll be up against?
Hightower: Last year, one of the rounds in the Team Trivia championship had the theme of: Six Degrees of Ken Jennings, where we asked a series of questions that were somehow related to the life and times of Jeopardy’s longest-lasting champion. We asked questions about the speed a windstorm has to be (according to the NOAA) before it’s officially considered a hurricane* and the Louisiana-based blues-pop artist responsible for the hits “Blue On Black” and “Everything Is Broken”**. We announced the round, and everyone (Jennings himself included) thought it would be a cakewalk, and then the questions started coming, and, well, watching people who’ve won the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions scramble for answers is always fun.
*74, the same number as the number of wins Ken had during his streak
** Kenny Wayne Shepherd, for Kenneth Wayne Jennings
GeekDad: How do you address everyone walking around with the sum knowledge of the human race in their pocket? TSA scanners at the entrance?
Hightower: This is always going to be an issue, and cheating can absolutely take over a bad trivia event without a certain amount of vigilance on the part of the hosts.
Individual bars around the country have different ways of handling cheaters, from the friendly to the harsh, but generally, people avid enough about trivia as a hobby (let alone a career) understand the sheer joy of pulling an answer out of your head, or your butt, instead of out of your phone. A huge part of the fun of trivia is finding facts inside of yourself that you didn’t realize were there, or which you work out on the fly. Cheating takes that fun away, and the prizes on offer — medals, sponsor prizes, the esteem of your peers — aren’t enough to justify that. There are enough trivia professionals and game show experts at TCONA that cheating patterns are recognized pretty quickly, and you’ll get found out. No one is as sneaky as they think they are.
Besides, it took a hard-wired specially-built supercomputer to beat Ken Jennings & Brad Rutter. You and your smartphone have no chance.
GeekDad: What’s in it for the winners, besides serious bragging rights?
Hightower: There are medals given out in many of the competitions, and the champion of the Quiz Bowl tournament is officially the best Quiz Bowl team in America. Our LearnedLeague Live tournament is the American solo trivia championship, and those bragging rights matter in the community. Prizes are coming next year, but beating the best, face to face, is a special feeling. Trivia is an inexact science, but the cream always rises to the top, and it’s a real thrill to watch.