By CYNTHIA FUREY
University of California, Irvine
Quick, what’s California’s official state fossil? You don’t know? Neither did many of the teams at AAJA-LA’s Trivia Bowl IX, the chapter’s signature fund-raising event at the Japanese American National Museum on Oct. 17. The 22 teams competing this year for the coveted Rice Cup answered 100 tough trivia questions read by KABC anchor and Trivia Bowl emcee David Ono, ranging from current events and entertainment to geography and sports.
While museums generally have a reputation for being quiet, Friday’s event would have had curators and docents frantically putting their fingers to their lips in an effort to quiet the fired-up and ready crowd. The cheers, boos, hisses and occasional expletives were not what one would find in a typical museum outing, but then again, this event was anything but typical.
“I’m really competitive and I hate to lose. My best advice is to look at other teams and show no mercy,” said LA chapter president Anh Do in a statement before the competition began.
Each of the five rounds consisted of 20 questions which Ono would read aloud. Teams were allowed a mere two minutes to discuss and finalize their answers in each round. After answer sheets were collected and tallied, running scores were given. Answers, including the answer to the California state fossil question, were also read aloud.(Give up? The state fossil is the saber tooth.) Contestants warmed up and took their places amid a sea of red-cloaked round tables as the official theme from the Olympic Games filled the room with an aura of competition.
“As usual, and this is my third or fourth year, I can’t answer but one or two out of 20 questions in each round,” said Dave Weaver, city councilman of Glendale and a judge for the competition. “We all sit here and start answering the questions and then we just give up. It’s real trivia. It’s interesting to watch collective minds working.”
A panel of seven judges scored the teams’ answers to mind-stumping questions while game monitors patrolled the room, making sure contestants were not cheating. While in previous years there were a few practical jokes, such as the rumor of KTTV team members removing pens from other teams’ tables and a team bringing six-pack of alcohol into the event, this year’s jokes came from none other than emcee Ono.
“Top Ramen is what we give to the last place team,” Ono said. “For the last few years, it has been KTLA, and they say they have perfected the perfect Top Ramen recipe.”
But in the end, it was not KTLA who finished in last place, to their relief. The team who sat closest to the exit, the members of team Cathay Pacific and the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, including the princesses of the Chinatown royal court, finished last in all five rounds of trivia.
“This goes to the beautiful people in the corner, and may the stereotype live,” Ono said while presenting an economy case of chicken flavored ramen noodles.
Two-time defending champions of the Japanese American Bar Association hoped of walking away with a three-peat despite of a lot of eyeball-rolling and ill-will wishes from journalists at other tables. The team came prepared with not only members from last year’s winning team, but with an actual Jeopardy champion to boot.
“There’s a lot of tough competition out there,” said Mark Uyeda, vice president of the Japanese American Bar Association. “We’re going to take it one step at a time and give it our best shot.”
But what do you get when you throw 12 lawyers into a room full of journalists? A lot of booing and hissing, and a whole lot of lawyer jokes. For a few years, stated Denise Poon, chairwoman of the Trivia Bowl IX organizing committee, the common mantra has just been to “Beat the attorneys.”
“This is supposed to be a journalism event, and the lawyers came to spoil our fun,” Ono said, jokingly.
One of the only teams worthy of beating JABA was none other than team Los Angeles Times, which had come in at second place for as long as they can remember. Last year, the JABA team had beat out the L.A. Times by a 6-point margin.
“I think we’re just going for second-place again. It’s a good team, this is a diverse group of people from all around the Times’s newsroom, we certainly hope to win, but there’s a lot of talent in the room,” said Henry Fuhrmann, copy editor for the Los Angeles Times.
One of Furhman’s most vivid memories of past competitions was one of two years ago, when the L.A. Times tied with JABA at the end of round five. The question was, “Name a work by Dante,” and team L.A. Times answered with the “Inferno,” while the JABA came up with the “Divine Comedy.”
“We lost the tiebreaker, and it was heartbreaking, kind of like that Cubs game the other night. It was the bottom of the ninth, and we lose it. We were not given credit for that answer because the ‘Inferno’ was part of the ‘Divine Comedy.’ It was sort of a technicality and we thought, should we challenge it? But I said, ‘you know, it’s a long night, we had a lot of fun, we’ll never win an argument with a bunch of lawyers anyway,’” Fuhrmann said. “And then the next day, I went to the bookstore and I found you can actually buy the single volume of ‘Inferno.’ It felt like a moral victory.”
But by the end of the first round, however, team L.A. Times I and the JABA were tied for first place in an eerie likeness to the tie of two years ago. Would this be the L.A. Times’ shining, breakthrough year, or would the team leave here again as a bridesmaid, never a bride?
“We feel great about how we did in round 2. We’re a little worried about the sports part of the event, but as far as current events, history and geography, we got it down,” said Marla Dickerson, a staff writer at the L.A. Times. “I think we’re going to give the lawyers a run for their money.”
First-time competitors from the Hollywood Reporter were the butt of many of Ono’s jokes, but that didn’t stop them from finishing a consistent ninth-place in all rounds of the competition.
“We just didn’t want to be last, and we’re not, so I think we’re doing as good as we had hoped,” said Robert Ford, production director at the Hollywood reporter. “We’ll definitely come back next year, but I don’t know if we’ll beat the pants off the lawyers.”
Round three of the competition was a frantic round for many of the teams, including members of the Union Bank and Black Journalists Association of Southern California. The round included questions regarding science and literature, including the question, “Name the three ‘Powers that Be’ that David Halberstam names in his book, “The Powers that Be.”
“Make up your minds!” said Lois Pitter-Bruce, president of the Black Journalists Association of Southern California, while vigorously scratching out an answer.
In the end, it was revealed by Ono that the three named “Powers that Be” were Time Magazine, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. Team L.A. Times I missed the question, but they did know they were one of the said powers.
“We put down New York Times instead of Time Magazine,” Fuhrmann said.
Over at the KABC tables, reporter Denise Dador helped her team, while also “helping” the opposing teams surrounding her with the question, “What is the symbol on the Periodic Table of Elements for potassium?”
“When I read this question, I heard Denise yell out ‘K!,’” Ono said to the crowd.
The end of round three revealed team L.A. Times I had edged out JABA for first place. Things were looking up for the journalists, as well as the Asian Business Association Online, a team comprised of high school Academic Decathalon students from El Camino Real High School. The team finished in fifth-place out of 22 teams at the end of round three.
“It feels great [to beat adults] especially since we’re high school students,” said team member Adam Singer. “We’re going to win first for sure.”
By round four, however, things took a wrong turn for team L.A. Times I, which missed most of its answers by an unfortunate scoring sheet mistake.
“We we’re off by a line,” Fuhrmann said. “A lot of our answers weren’t counted because we put them on the wrong lines.”
The JABA was again in first place, but this time, they were tied with team L.A. Times II. However, the team to be reckoned with now was team Orange County Register, which had shot up to second place.
“Last year we only had six people show up so we’re hoping with a bigger team, we’ll do a lot better,” said Chris Reed, an editorial page editor for the Orange County Register. The team came in 10th place last year, according to official Trivia Bowl records.
Yet another team who seemed to be doing well was the team from Asian Pacific American Legislative Staff and State Farm Insurance. Many of the team’s members looked to the ceiling in confusion after each question was read, perhaps in hopes of receiving signs from heaven. However, it was all just part of their strategy: the team finished in seventh place after round one.
“There’s no confusion here, we’re just trying to throw everyone else off,” said Stacey Todd, a field representative of State Farm. “We’re making everybody confident by making them think we’re confused, and then we’re going to sneak up on them.”
In between rounds, items went on the auction block, including an autographed editorial cartoon by Paul Conrad which depicted the Bill of Rights being shredded under the heading, “From Ashes to Ashcroft.” KCBS newswriter Mimi Toberman bought the framed cartoon for $200.
Raffle ticket winners were also announced. This year’s raffle prizes were a basket of handmade notecards and stationery from Nishikawa Designs, a basket full of books autographed by authors from the L.A. Times and the top prize, two round-trip tickets on Cathay Pacific Airlines to Asia. Eerily, the top prize went to a team member from the Korea Times, which team had won the prize of two round-trip tickets to Asia for the third year in a row. During the evening, competitors dined on Chinese cuisine donated by the Panda Restaurant Group, boba tea donated by Relaxtation and fortune cookies courtesy of Amay’s Bakery in Chinatown.
To the satisfaction of every journalist in the room, it was team Orange County Register, which beat two-time defending champions of the Japanese American Bar Association. It is the team’s first win at Trivia Bowl. In addition to making claim to the Rice Cup trophy, Orange County Register team winners went home with tickets to an East West Players performance of their choice and complimentary admission to Universal Studios Hollywood. JABA members went home with LA Dodger game tickets. Third place, the winners of $5 gift certificates to Target, went to team L.A. Times II. After the L.A. Times I unfortunate drop in rankings, the team finished in fourth place.
“It feels good to beat the lawyers,” Reed said. “We hope to have the same team back next year.”
Reed also stated that overall, the team was glad to have finally beaten the L.A. Times teams as well.
The L.A. Times I team, which had come so close to first place yet again, jokingly crossed out their team name on a sign and underneath, wrote “Cubs,” in reference to the Chicago Cubs who lost their chance at winning baseball’s National League Championship Series pennant to the Florida Marlins. But winning isn’t everything, it’s how, or even why you play the game.
“We’re here to raise money for a worthy cause,” Furhmann said. “For the scholarships and internships for the chapter.”
2003-04 Chapter Scholarship winners
2003 Trivia Bowl program PDF (819 kb)