Monday, September 6, 2021

The Watsonball Run

 Let me start by saying this: I hate quizzes.

Not that fond of trivia nights, either. This is 2021. In 2021, the sheer width and breadth of human knowledge is greater than ever before, and our little brains just can't hold it all. They haven't been able to do that for a long time. And, you know what? Simple memorization is over-rated. I was always good at it as a kid, repeating things, drilling things into your head. But these days the real skill isn't what you can hold in your head, it's what you can access quickly. Sherlock Holmes had the right idea with his brain-attic, lumber-room thoughts.

Which brings me to the John H. Watson Society's annual Treasure Hunt. Rich Krisciunas came up with a pretty good one this year, the key to any good Hunt being that a person can understand the questions, for the most part. Yes, I few I didn't quite get what he wanted, but there was a reason: I was doing a speed test. A race. A "Watsonball Run."

Where as the JHWS Treasure Hunt is supposed to be a month-long affair, my own procrastination whittled that month to a single day. And for me, a habitual procrastinator, that sort of tight deadline is where the fun starts. Did I have all the info in my head? No. But were there enough clues tucked away in the gray, gray matter of my brain to navigate the Sherlockian highway at a high rate of speed?


But it's not just the driver, it's the tricked-out car in these things. Apple's "Preview" software has a pretty decent PDF search capacity it turns out.  And the true secret weapon of this race: a little (actually large) book called The Canonical Compendium by Steve Clarkson. "But that's a concordance," one might protest. "Searches made those obsolete." Yeah, you'd think that. Who needs Doubleday page numbers any more?

No, what you do need, however, is a list of every newspaper mentioned in the Canon and the story it appears in. A list of every surname in the Canon and its tale. Amounts of money. Housekeepers. Details you can scan and hope it triggers a memory or is something you can plug into that damned search engine and bring up the passage in question to see if it's the thing you need.

It's a new day in Sherlockiana, but the old tools have uses.

And you know what's really fun about racing through an open-book quiz on the Canon? You get to see so much of what makes those sixty stories fun, fit, and fab, and maybe catch some new thoughts along the way. Even though a one-day race through as much Canon as I could pass to get as many answers as possible might seem to be about the goal, it's the high-speed journey that was fun. There'll be time for leisurely appreciations on other days.

So thanks to Rich Krisciunas for putting together this year's Treasure Hunt, and I hope you had the chance to enjoy it, however you dealt with it. It's still on the JHWS site if you just want to peruse it. Just scroll down a bit. 

Oh, and I definitely did not come close to one hundred percent. Fun comes from knowing when not to do certain things, as much as what things to do. Have fun!

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