Saturday, September 12, 2020

Last dance with Quizzy Jane

My friends down in Southern Illinois never did quizzes in any capacity with their club, the Occupants of the Empty House. I always kinda envied that. They were like monks that way, choosing to live their lives without a particular Sherlockian vice. And after forty years of indulging, I think I've finally decided to join that philosophy and take a vow of living without the Sherlockian quiz.

I should have done so after the locally notorious night of unending tie-breakers back in the eighties, when three of us memorized a story so completely that we couldn't miss a question. A little competitiveness is okay, but when you've hit that point, there might be a problem. But I grew up with siblings, and you tend to get a little competitive from that. And when you're a newbie Sherlockian, trying to prove your mettle, quizzes seem like something that can do that, even though they never seem to impress anyone, really.

The key to any activity is purely how much you enjoy it, and I don't think I've ever really enjoyed scrabbling at the Canon for details to answer queries posed. The casual impromptu verbal quizzery at a picnic or party is fine, if done with a sense of fun, just to see what you hold in your head at any given moment. But to pound away at an obscure question, requiring you to go beyond mere empathy to try to figure out what another human was thinking when they wrote the wording of a question before you can start to look for an answer . . . who has the time? Not I.

So, as one of the two quiz masters of the John H. Watson Society Treasure Hunt for 2020, I found myself split into two people: The kindly fellow who wanted to spare my fellow Sherlockians the grief of a quiz and the evil mastermind who had to come up with challenges for those who actually want to fight the battle. And so, with my partner in crime in agreement, I came up with a second quiz. A friendly quiz, for those who wanted to be a part of the proceedings without taking on an obligation they might never finish.

Still, the harder part had to be written, and during that, I started to feel like a victim of abuse who was turning into an abuser of the next generation. Because coming up with a tough question in the age of search engines can take you to a very dark place, especially if you're short on time and can't fully test out a question with human trials.  Merely posting a disclaimer like "Some side effects may include confusion, begging for an explanation, or loss of interest" seems hardly enough. Warnings still seemed necessary, and would be applied.

And yet, even that was not enough. I think we might have broke some people this year.

Had it not been for the pandemic, 2020 would have seen two happier versions in a similar realm: Pub Trivia. Both 221B Con and St. Louis's "Holmes in the Heartland" were to feature something I put together called "Alpha Inn Goose Club Trivia Night." The con was the hour-long test run, and then St. Louis would have featured the full after-dinner entertainment. And the difference between pub trivia and the standard quiz? The former is meant to be live and social. A good pub trivia question is entertaining even if you don't know the answer. And there's also room in the format to put something fun in there for everyone beyond just answering questions, which can be a lot like a game show from earlier days, where there it's just fun to watch someone taking part. There was going to be a goose!

But, alas, none of that got to happen, and here we are in September, with the final winners of the John H. Watson Treasure Hunt about to come out. Anyone who got a hundred percent score probably has hacked into my computer, because, looking at the answers now . . . this was insanely hard. No one could reasonably be expected to interpret a few of the answers. The final four who actually turned in answers deserve a medal of valor. Look for those names on this week's episode of the Watsonian Weekly, and on the John H. Watson Society website.

As for me? No more quizzes. I'm retiring from creating or taking them. This pub trivia thing, though . . . when the pandemic has calmed, my friends, we are going to have some parties.

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