Last December, as the craziness of the holiday season loomed like a cartoon monster with nasty, big, pointy teeth, I awoke one morning and realized that the biannual Williams College Trivia contest was only days, nay hours, away. (Well, hours in the heavy double digits; but hours nonetheless.) I panicked. Trivia is one of my favorite things to do; it's the only reason I pull all- nighters anymore, even if I am in graduate school, and it's probably my favorite way to see people. Now that I'm not a Williams student anymore, I lose sight of the academic calendar -- Trivia snuck up on me somehow.
I don't know about you, but I find that Trivia tends to turn into a weekend thing: people come from far and near to play all night, and we play all night, and we stagger around at five a.m. saying things like "My god, the sun's going to rise" and "Is that William Shatner on the airwaves?" and "Hey, is anybody in here an expert on video game noises from the early eighties?" And then we stumble into Baxter around 8:30 or 9, applaud the team that ran the damn thing, applaud and razz the team that won, and go home to sleep for a day. And then we wake up around nightfall, order Chinese food, and rehash the night's events while we watch bad TV. It's a weekend-long ritual.
The reason I panicked in December was that, as far as I knew, I had no team. For the last few years I've been a proud member of the team known best under the two names we ran contests with, Elvis Needs Boats, and Gentle Tongue- Tongue, He Weeps for He Has But One Tongue With Which To Taste An Entire World. And as far as I knew, Elvis had officially disbanded.
I couldn't figure out what to do. I moped for a while, and panicked, and moped again for good measure. By late afternoon on Trivia Friday I was sitting on the sofa in my New Ashford barn with Sandy Ryan and Kim Cleland, staring at my hands and whimpering because we had no team to play with. I guess I wasn't whimpering, now that I think about it, but I might as well have been. The thing about Trivia is, it's no fun to play with three other people, no matter how much you like those people -- at least, it's no fun if you're used to being on a well-oiled and absurdly goofy team of about twenty. On the other hand, we didn't really want to follow the crowd and join up with the team we figured would win, the gargantuan and ever-growing Mr. Sparkle (later to be dubbed A Dead Postman Doesn't Deliver Much Mail). It's no fun to play with a zillion other people, no matter how much you like them, either -- you don't actually get to DO anything, and there's no sense of profound personal victory when you bring in a perfect hour bonus or when you score the unthinkable six on an Action Trivia.
Our final decision, around nine, was that we'd go to Stop n'Shop -- pick up some food and drinks to sustain us -- and head for campus. If we could find enough cool people to play with, we'd start our own team; otherwise, some of us would join the Sparkle Juggernaut, some of us would wander around disconsolate all night, and one of us was talking about playing a one-man team out of Tripod. It was a pretty grim prospect for a Trivia contest, all things considered. The happy ending to this woeful story is that we somehow managed to hit critical mass, which for us meant twelve people: just enough to scrape through the night and score respectably, but not so many that we were in any danger of winning. We titled ourselves "Sublime Ferret In My Underpants" and came in, I believe, a mightily-respectable third. We had a blast, too. And this brings me to why Trivia and Passover are my favorite holidays.
As I write this, it's roughly 48 hours until the first night of Passover. Two days ago I thought I was going to Boston to have a seder with family; one and a half days ago, I discovered that my plans had fallen through. So there I was, sitting on my sofa and fretting because -- you guessed it -- having seder alone is about as much fun as playing Trivia alone. Except you don't even have the companionship of the radio and the obnoxious music all night. Besides, the Passover meal is supposed to be a chance to see family and friends, a chance to relive old traditions, a chance to tell stories, and a chance to feed everyone in sight. During the traditional seder meal the door is opened, and the seder leader proclaims "Let all who are hungry, come and eat! Let all who are needy come and celebrate the Passover with us." Doing that alone sort of defeats the purpose, especially given how rural our barn is; the only creatures likely to hear me would be the porcupine that's been sniffing around my flower beds, and the family of field mice living in our walls. On the other hand, joining up with a big community seder (crashing the seder at the college Jewish Center, for example) wouldn't be any fun, either. It wouldn't feel like family, and it wouldn't feel like home.
Fortunately for me, Passover and Trivia operate on the same strange cosmic rules. I made a few phone calls, sent out some e-mail, and before I knew it I found a table-full of people who are now planning to come to our house on Friday night for the first seder. We may be a slightly random and motley bunch, but we're friendly, and we're enthusiastic, and there will be lots of commotion and talking and food. Which is what Passover's about, for the most part. In fact, if only it began at midnight instead of sundown, it might be an awful lot like Trivia.
So I've decided that Trivia and Passover are my favorite holidays. They both involve food, and commotion. They both require a certain critical mass to get rolling. And they both involve arcane (but emotionally-charged) information. (If you doubt that, try asking any three of my family members exactly why my Nana, rest her soul, started serving boiled potatoes as the ritual "green vegetable.") Basically, I like Trivia and Passover because they're good for everyone. Anyone who's hungry can come and play. So if I bring matzoh balls as snack food for the next 4 a.m. break, hey, at least you'll understand why.
Rachel Barenblat is an MFA student at the Bennington Writing Seminars, and an avid Triviaphile. As evidenced by the writing of this piece, she clearly has too much time on her hands. There are, in fact, no rabid ferrets in her underpants, but if there were, she'd probably feed them matzoh for the Passover season.