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Trivial Competition

Continued from yesterday.

Circa 1984: There was one guy in my high school class with whom I had a little unannounced competition going. (I had a personal competition with him, but I don’t think he knew I did or cared if I did.) Maybe a reason for the competition was that he was also an aspiring writer. He was smart and articulate, and for some reason I wanted him to think of me as smart and articulate.

One time he and I were in the library on a computer — an Apple IIe, with a green text monitor, pre-Internet — playing a trivia game. The game would show a question and we had to press our assigned key on the keyboard (on the same keyboard, as we sat next to each other in front of the monitor). Our score was tied when the program showed the final question: “What was the largest dinosaur?”

I knew the answer to this question: Brontosaurus. (Yes, I know it’s more correctly Apatasaurus, but at the time it was best known as Brontosaurus.) Unfortunately my competitor hit his button first.

“Tyrannosaurus,” he said.

He’s wrong! I thought. The game rules allowed both players to answer the question, but the first to press in got first answer, and if he was right, it didn’t matter what the other player answered. He was about to press the spacebar to reveal the answer, but I stopped him. “That’s wrong,” I said, and I gave my answer. In my excitement I then immediately hit the spacebar.


“I win,” I said.

“You said Tyrannosaurus, too,” he said.

Oh my God! I thought. I had, indeed, said “Tyrannosaurus.” In my excitement — elation at being able to beat him at this game of knowledge — I had just repeated exactly what he had said. Oh. My. God.

He chuckled, but I believe he thought I was just joking by repeating what he said and then claiming victory. He said, “That was fun,” and got up and left the computer.

I sat there, staring at the green text, still showing on the monitor. I had completely blown my chance to win over this guy. My gut wanted to curse and swear, but my brain couldn’t form a thought.

That was the one and only chance I had ever had, and would ever have as it turned out, to definitively impress this guy that I was smart. That one screw up has stuck with me my entire life. It taught me to never throw out an answer to anything substantive unless I give it a second thought. Even now, 25 years later, that event and that lesson haunts me.

To be continued.


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