The History of Trivia

Today I Found Out has teamed up with Jeremiah Warren to start showing his awesome “trivia” videos here, along with Bonus Facts included after the video by me. I hope you enjoy his videos as much as I have.

Bonus Trivia Facts:

  • “Trivium” in Latin, the plural of which is “trivia”, literally means “triple way”: “tri-” (triple) and “via” (way).  This word was used referring to areas where “three ways meet” (e.g. roads and rivers).
  • This original Latin definition of “trivium” is probably how the educational usage of it mentioned in the above video first came about.  During medieval times, a basic liberal arts education from a university consisted primarily of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, called a “trivium”.  After the trivium was completed, students would then be commonly taught the quadrivium, consisting of geometry, astronomy, music, and arithmetic.
  • Before creating Trivial Pursuit, Chris Haney was a photo editor at The Gazette in Montreal.  The co-creator of Trivial Pursuit, Scott Abbott, worked for The Canadian, as a sports editor.
  • Chris Haney and Scott Abbott supposedly came up with the idea for the game Trivial Pursuit after attempting to play Scrabble, but finding many of the pieces missing in their game set, so started trying to come up with ideas for a different game.  This “origin” was contested in a 1994 lawsuit by David Wall from Nova Scotia.  Wall claimed that he told Chris Haney of an idea he had for a trivia game back in 1979 when Haney picked Wall and a friend up when the latter two were hitchhiking. Wall claims Trivial Pursuit is almost exactly like the game he described to Haney.  Haney, on the other hand, claims he’s never met Wall. Wall’s further “evidence” that he did in fact invent Trivial Pursuit was that he once possessed drawings of his proposed trivia board game, though he no longer had them at the time of his lawsuit.  However, his mother testified under oath that she had seen the drawings before Trivial Pursuit came out…  The case wasn’t ultimately decided until 2007 when the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, not surprisingly, ruled in Haney’s favor that he had not stolen the idea from Wall.
  • Another lawsuit that plagued Trivial Pursuit, this time with much more credence behind it, was filed by Fred Worth in 1984.  Worth is the author of various trivia books and claimed, legitimately, that around 1/4 of the questions in the Trivial Pursuit game were copied from his works.  He was able to back this claim up with the fact that he intentionally would put typographical errors in his work, as well as certain choice incorrect information, so that he could track if someone was directly copying his work; not unlike how map makers will intentionally put fictitious roads in their maps to track if people are copying them.  Worth’s intentional errors appeared in Trivial Pursuit.  However, his $300 million lawsuit was dismissed by several judges up the legal ladder, stating that trivia type facts cannot be protected by copyright.  This case went all the way to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court chose not to review it and so Worth lost the lawsuit.
  • Merv Griffin states that the idea for Jeopardy! came from his wife.  In his own words: “My wife Julann just came up with the idea one day when we were in a plane bringing us back to New York from Duluth. I was mulling over game show ideas, when she noted that there had not been a successful ‘question and answer’ game on the air since the quiz show scandals. Why not do a switch, and give the answers to the contestant and let them come up with the question? She fired a couple of answers to me: ‘5,280’ – and the question of course was ‘How many feet in a mile?’ Another was ’79 Wistful Vista’; that was Fibber and Mollie McGee’s address. I loved the idea, went straight to NBC with the idea, and they bought it without even looking at a pilot show.”
  • The original name for Jeopardy! was going to be “What’s the Question?”, but Griffin decided to change the name after a memo from one of the network executives stating that the show needed more “jeopardies”.
  • Contestants on Jeopardy! are penalized if they ring in before the host finishes reading the answer.  If they do, their buzzer stops working for 1/4 of a second.  This was to combat the fact that in the beginning contestants would often start ringing in right away after they’d finished reading the answer, even though the host would often still be reading.  This was particularly problematic when it would take more than five seconds for the host to read the answer, thus the contestant would never get a chance to provide the question.
  • Contestants who finish with $0 or less still get a prize after the show, currently set at $1,000.  The second place contestant receives $2,000 and, of course, the winner gets to keep their total accumulated dollars on the day.  This wasn’t always the way it was though.  Up until 1984, all contestants got to keep their total amount they’d won on the day. This created a problem of contestants ceasing to ring in once they had reached the amount they wanted to win, or otherwise being more hesitant to ring in when they weren’t sure of their response, due to the potential loss of some of the money they’d accumulated that might occur for answering incorrectly.  This was particularly problematic when it came to Final Jeopardy!  By allowing only the top scorer to keep their money, this created much more competition and less hesitancy on the part of the players to try to give a correct response to an answer.
  • A three way tie has happened just once in Jeopardy! history.  This occurred in 2007 when Anders Martinson, Jamey Kirby, and returning champion Scott Weiss all finished the game at $16,000.  Going into final Jeopardy!, they were at $13,400, $8,000, and $8,000.  All three contestants were invited back for the following episode for a rematch.
  • There was also once a $1 Jeopardy! winner in January of 1993 with all three contestants answering the Final Jeopardy! question incorrectly dropping their scores to $0, $0, and $1 respectively.
  • During Ken Jennings record 74 run on Jeopardy!, he won a total of $2,520,700.  His total Jeopardy! winnings overall came to $3,172,700 after subsequent $2000 runner up prize on the game that snapped his streak, a half a million dollar prize in the Ultimate Tournament of Champions, and $300K prize for his participation in the IBM Challenge.  However, Jennings is not the current Jeopardy! total winnings record holder, losing out to Brad Rutter in the Ultimate Tournament of Champions, which netted Rutter $2M, bumping his total Jeopardy earnings past Jennings.  That being said, Jennings does currently hold the record for the most total money won as a contestant in game shows, with that total still rising as he occasionally makes more game show appearances.
  • The answer that Jennings got wrong in Final Jeopardy! that resulted in him snapping his winning streak was “Most of this firm’s 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year.”  Jennings’ answer was “What is FedEx?”  A fair response, but doesn’t fit with the “white-collar” part of the answer.  The correct response was “H&R Block”.
  • All total, Jennings 75 game appearance streak lasted a total of 182 calendar days and in the latter portion of it gave Jeopardy! a 22% boost in ratings.
  • Alex Trebek’s first name is not Alex, but rather “George”.  His middle name is Alexander.
  • Out of college, Trebek originally was interested in a career in news, and first worked for CBC as a general newscaster, as well as briefly working as a sportscaster.
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  • My friend was talking about hiring a trivia service that will come to her venue and provide the game. I was curious about trivia’s history and was surprised to learn that Jeopardy was come up with on a plane ride. It is so interesting to learn these cool pieces of knowledge.