This coming weekend, I’ll participate in the fifty-third staging of The World’s Largest Trivia ContestTM. As per tradition, this week is filled with idle reminiscing about memorable answers in past years.
In the fairest methodology I can conceive of, 90FM’s Trivia uses the number of teams that provide the correct answer to set the point values for those responses. The more teams that answer a question correctly, the lower the number of points awarded for giving that correct answer. With hundreds of team participating in the contest and most of them using the plentiful digital resources at their disposal to successfully dredge up even incredibly obscure facts, most questions wind up with fairly modest point values, maybe in the range of of twenty to forty points. The real trick to being competitive is collecting as many answers that are elusive enough that they are assigned a point value in the triple digits. The most coveted answer of all is one that nets five hundred points. That’s the top point value available in the contest. Five hundred points means that only one team got it right. It’s a rare, difficult feat, and few things are more exciting than discovering some bit of research or preparation yielded that jackpot figure.
If the five hundred–point answers comes off the top of the head? Well, that’s downright magical.
Late in last year’s Trivia, my team was clinging precariously to a top-ten finish, the placement that results in an invitation down to the radio station to collect a trophy. We’re never going to win this nutty contest; making the top ten is the win we’re after. In the waning hours of the contest, the DJ read a question that went more of less as follows: “A short-lived television series with a star-studded cast had a promotional still that featured that cast, most of them wearing t-shirts with a first name on them. The lead cast member wore a shirt that had the name ‘Herb’ printed on it. What is the name of that series, which was also printed on the supporting cast members’ shirts?”
Without any real sense of the difficulty level of the question (despite the fact that most of my teammates were still very reasonably trying to puzzle out what was even being asked, a not uncommon occurrence as questions are deliberately written to dodge terminology that will prove handy in an internet search), I said to no one in particular, “Well, that’s Mary, right?”
My longstanding appreciation for David Letterman’s work included a special fondness for the more peculiar showbiz byways he traversed before landing correctly in his late night home, so I was very familiar with the disastrous 1978 variety show starring and named for Mary Tyler Moore. Letterman was part of the singing, dancing, and joshing troupe that backed up Moore. I think it’s possible that network television cameras have never captured someone in more pure agony than Letterman during the production numbers he was occasionally charged with performing in, and I’m including Lee Harvey Oswald at the moment Jack Ruby shot him in that assessment.
Mary did genuinely feature an star-studded cast (Michael Keaton, who was, like Letterman, a regular at The Comedy Store at the time, was also among the supporting players), so the mildly baffling promo still was easy enough to pull up. Once we verified that Mary was indeed the answer, we called it in and didn’t think much more about it. As noted, that photo was easy to find. Certainly other teams found their way to it, too.
They didn’t. Mary became the third five hundred–pointer in our team’s history. Not too long after we found out just how many points we nabbed with that answer, we drove to the campus radio station and got that trophy.
More info about 90FM’s Trivia can be found at its official website or at the radio station’s online home. There’s also a feature documentary about the contest, but it’s fairly hard to come by these days.