Trivia Bowl: History & Lore

The Ancient Games: 2000 Trivia Bowl VI held at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center.

2012: Frank Buckley enthusiastically cheers on Team KTLA.  (Photo credit: Michael Palma for AAJA-LA)

2012: Frank Buckley enthusiastically cheers on Team KTLA.
(Photo credit: Michael Palma for AAJA-LA)

Trivia Bowl is the signature, team trivia competition fundraiser creation of the Asian American Journalists Association, Los Angeles Chapter (AAJA-LA).

Starting in 1994, proceeds from the event — held every year but two since then — support the chapter’s scholarship, internship and professional development programs.

Initially, this unique, increasingly ultra-competitive, team quiz-style game was created and conceptualized as a low-budget, low-tech, minimally planned local fundraiser, run by volunteers. What started as a modest whimsical effort has matured into a popular trademark community “fun-raising” experience- completely elevated on the shoulders of volunteers. Journalists, media groups, corporate sponsors, community partners and students participate to support AAJA-LA and to continue their “cross-town” rivalries in this unparalleled arena.


The inaugural competition took place at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. It was the brainchild of Dickson Louie, then AAJA-LA Treasurer. Ten teams gathered for this unconventional fundraising experience, and chapter leaders were thrilled when the event brought in $2,200.

In the beginning, Trivia Bowl became an annual event under the leadership of Richard Fruto, who was the chapter president in 1994 and Yet Lock, executive vice president of City News Service and one of the founders of East West Players. Throughout the late 1990s, the competition continued in the community meeting room at the JACCC, drawing as few as five teams in Trivia Bowl III but 8-11 teams most years. For the “ancient games,” the emcee was Mario Machado, and the scoreboard was a flip chalkboard. One year, the competition was held during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in a ballroom at a downtown hotel.

2001: L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich presents 20th Anniversary Proclamation to AAJA-LA Board

The event, game and “fun-raising” evolved from its humble beginnings at the JACCC. In 2001, Trivia Bowl expanded tremendously under the direction of Denise L. Poon, then chapter President to mark AAJA’s 20th Anniversary. In honor of the special occasion, there was added emphasis on increased community participation and sponsorship. The event more than tripled, when 43 teams competed in Trivia Bowl VII, hosted by ABC7.

That year, TBVII took place a little over two weeks after 9/11. Concerns about general safety, especially with a room of high profile people in a major broadcast facility, resulted in increased security precautions for the nearly 500 guests. The event was successful and great focal point for the community to gather to note AAJA’s second decade.

AAJA-LA Trivia Bowl emcee David Ono (Photo credit: Steven Lam for AAJA-LA)

AAJA-LA Trivia Bowl emcee David Ono
(Photo credit: Steven Lam for AAJA-LA)

Following the previous year’s extensive effort, Trivia Bowl moved to the beautiful Japanese American National Museum in 2002, where it has been held over five times. Approximately 22 teams have capacity-filled the marble George & Sakaye Aratani Central Hall.

The “modern games” have evolved in many ways. ABC7 news anchor David Ono has taken over the duties from Machado. Ono’s trademark routine includes his natural quick wit and humor and our 2013 Trivia Bowl, marks the 13th time he will encourage the event’s competitive tone.

The event includes a raffle and live auction, which traditionally features donations from Cathay Pacific and Southwest round-trip tickets, Staples Center luxury box tickets and other treasures.

2012: Tweet-off, Social Media and Scoreboard Teams are hard at work. (Photo credit: Michael Palma for AAJA-LA)

2012: Tweet-off, Social Media and Scoreboard Teams are hard at work. (Photo credit: Michael Palma for AAJA-LA)

Gone are the chalk and blackboard used for scorekeeping and team placement. The scorekeepers now use laptops, a spreadsheet program to add and tabulate the scores, and PowerPoint to display the scores on a large projection screen. Creative, interactive and engaging activities such as a live Twitter wall, “Tweet-off” and informal livestream, bring social media to the competition.

“Real” Bench Officials— current sitting Judges and Commissioners from the Los Angeles and Orange County superior courts and U.S. District Court review the  answer sheets and officiate the competition results.

2012: Trivia Bowl XVII Bench Officials (Photo credit: Michael Palma for AAJA-LA)

2012: Trivia Bowl XVII Bench Officials
(Photo credit: Michael Palma for AAJA-LA)

Gone are light snacks. The event is generously catered with hosted food and beverage donations, originally by Panda Restaurant and currently by Wahoo’s Fish Taco, which donates dinner- some years personally served by  Co-Owner, Wing Lam . Coca-Cola  compliments our celebration with soft drinks and water.

Teams have 10 players. Members of each team collectively fill out an answer sheet during different trivia rounds. No team has ever achieved 100% correct answers.

2012: Team SoCalGas celebrates competitive performance. (Photo credit: Michael Palma for AAJA-LA)

2012: Team SoCalGas celebrates competitive performance.
(Photo credit: Michael Palma for AAJA-LA)

The competition is frenzied. Participants whisper answers excitedly when there are questions for which they know the answers. Participants groan when the emcee reads a question on arcane matter, or something they should know.

The whispered answers and discussions at team tables while a round is in progress are replaced with roars of acclamation or moans of frustration when the emcee of reads the right answers after the answer sheets are collected and scored. Months after the competition, participants will sometimes still hash out what happened.

Over the two decades of Trivia Bowl history, stories, some apocryphal, have developed about the competitive nature of the event.

Did someone in the “ancient” games really use a cell phone to call their work research library for an answer? Did one team actually sabotage the complimentary pens from other tables so the competing team players would not have anything to write with and fill their answer sheets? How often has a team had an answer mouthed from a sympathetic spectator? How often has a team pretended to shout out loud the wrong answer in order to mislead the competition?

The rules have also evolved to prevent any team from having an unfair advantage over others. Thus, the ban on any type of communication between team tables and spectators, the use of any PDAs, cell phones, online or satellite access during a round, and any sort of unapproved printed materials at team tables. Game monitors have become strict to the point that teams cannot bring their own scratch paper and must use only those approved by the International Trivia Bowl Federation Organizing Committee.

Full house at Trivia Bowl 2012.  (Photo credit: Steven Lam for AAJA-LA)

Full house at Trivia Bowl 2012.
(Photo credit: Steven Lam for AAJA-LA)

Indeed, officials scrutinize anything that can give a team an unfair advantage in a competition that is often decided by 2-3 points.

Through four generations of Quiz Masters (question developers), one question has recurred year after year since Trivia Bowl I. Still, return participants forget to brush up on the correct answer.

The perpetual “Rice Cup“ trophy is awarded to the champion team with the highest score at the end of the final round. Six student teams compete in “College Bowl” for the “Grasshopper Cup.”

Every year, teams are seduced by the glory of year-long championship bragging rights and the honor of having their name engraved on the Rice Cup. City News Service won Trivia Bowl I and Trivia Bowl V, and Daily News won in consecutive years–Trivia Bowl II and III. NBC4 in 2004 became the first and only broadcast team to win Trivia Bowl X.

To the chagrin of all journalists, in the “modern games,” teams primarily consisting of attorneys and said to be stacked with Quiz Bowl competitors, have dominated the event. Powerhouse team, The Japanese American Bar Association (JABA) that prevailed six times, starting in 2001 in Trivia Bowl VII and most recently in 2012 Trivia Bowl XVII and Asian Americans Advancing Justice (now AAAJ, formerly APALC) have become the teams to beat.

2012: Team JABA, Rice Cup Champions (Photo credit: Michael Palma for AAJA-LA)

2012: Team JABA, Rice Cup Champions
(Photo credit: Michael Palma for AAJA-LA)

Always a strong supporter of the event, The Los Angeles Times has become the heartbreak kids of Trivia Bowl. The Times has competed in all but one Trivia Bowl and has had a team finish in the Top 5 over 10 times. On the other hand, its local print competitor, The Orange County Register prevailed in Trivia Bowl IX.

Recently the “Spirit Award” was introduced and is awarded to the team that demonstrates the most positive engagement, animated enthusiasm and team uniform, in spite of non-competitive Trivia Bowl competition scores. The winning Spirit Award team has won a years’ supply of instant noodles.

For Trivia Bowl XVIII, who will earn the respect and accolades of all?

As the journalism clichés go…”Stay tuned and read the fine print.” Game on!

Trivia Bowl Commissioner and founder of the

Trivia Bowl Commissioner and founder of the “modern games”: Denise L. Poon

Trivia Bowl Co-Commissioner: Henry Fuhrmann

Trivia Bowl Co-Commissioner and 2013 AAJA-LA chapter co-President: Henry Fuhrmann

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