catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 24 :: 2009.12.11 — 2009.12.24


A piece of that holiday pie

As a 34-year-old, I fall between generations in my dad’s family. Most of his siblings are in their late forties and fifties, and the majority of my cousins are in their teens and twenties. And age matters when it comes time for our Thanksgiving or Christmas evening ritual, when two dozen or so of our gathered relatives assemble in the roomiest space of the house for a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit.  Age matters because there is that little issue of which version is used — all you Trivial Pursuit players know what I mean. 

When our family first started this tradition about twenty years ago, all the younger cousins were in the basement with their toys, so there was uncontested commitment to the Genus Edition which brought this game into mass popularity in the early 80s.  A few years ago, some of the cousins brought out an edition (Genus V, maybe?) that was a bit closer to the 21st century so that they could gain the upper hand on more of the questions.  But the aunts and uncles took issue with how the modern version seemed to place too much emphasis upon celebrity and entertainment trivia, and worse, how the questions from the more substantial categories were dumbed down.  As a betweener, I hesitated to take sides with either generation.  For the past several years, the group has been using the original game.  

Since the teams are usually divided by gender, not age, the almost-30-year-old boxes of trivia questions do not draw an outcry of “Unfair!” from either side.  The uncles feel more comfortable in a realm of trivia that gets capped off at 1980.  There is only that one, somewhat suspect, pink chip which requires a teammate who paid attention to the entertainment scene of the 60s and 70s.   And the brown and yellow and blue questions — aren’t they all based on the canon of liberal arts knowledge that even the young cousins should be learning in high school and college? 

I missed the big game this Thankgiving, but my husband stayed late to play and told me about the question that brought the liveliest arguments and laughs — for the men, for a green chip: “How many stars are in Orion’s belt?”  The card’s answer was “Three.”  The team had answered a higher number after being led astray by my grad-student brother who was certain that it was a trick question since “three” would be too obvious.  Technically, each visible belt star in this constellation turns out to be multiple stars when viewed with a telescope.  But loyalty to that original Genus edition necessitates that no piece of the pie be awarded unless the team gives the answer that is printed on the card.   Whether or not “three” is still a legitimate answer to the question, the younger cousins saw the debate as proof that there are serious credibility issues with a game in which all the science and nature questions predate the Hubble telescope.

It’s not a Bible translation, or a hymnal edition, it is a pair of boxes full of game cards. But the underlying question and its strain upon orthodoxy is the same:  What happens when time exposes the limits of a beloved text that seems foundational to communal bonds and shared experience?  These are the colors and categories that made our memories, these are the questions that value the athletic achievements and political events that were important when the aunts and uncles came of age.  How can we be sure we’ll stay connected if we allow change to encroach upon our special game?

We are a family that needs our holiday bout of Trivial Pursuit to arouse that sense of joy and togetherness that has historically felt most invincible when we are urging our team dice-roller to “move it to roll again,” or when Dad is lobbying the team to “get on brown, get on brown!”  We need this game to celebrate our broad collective intellect, our good-natured one-upmanship style of yelling out puns, and our knack for repeating a punch line that earned belly laughs over an hour ago and after the tenth refrain can still wring out a few titters.

I’m hoping that the fun of gathering as a family and the enjoyment of playing games together is strong enough to withstand an eventual conversion to a new set of trivia boxes and maybe even some different hues on those pie pieces.  But we all descend from a family tree which is laden with stories of those who have parted ways with kin rather than compromise loyalty to a particular text or document or tradition.  Listen up, Family, here’s the question.  It may seem trivial, but it’s for our yellow piece of the pie:  “When yet another decade challenges us to roll with the changes, will Love run even thicker than Blood?”

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