The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Budd McLaughlin

August 5, 2013

Competition proved I’m not so smart

— The defeat of this rebel group in second-century B.C., followed by the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem form the basis of what we call Hanukkah. What was the name of the rebel group?

My teammates and I stared at each other in bewilderment over the question. Two tables over, a group raised their folded-up answer in the air, seemingly before the moderator had finished.

“Israelites?” I asked, knowing fully it was the wrong answer. Had the question been, “What was the name of a 1969 top-40 hit by Desmond Dekker & The Aces?” I would have been golden.

It was just one of the five or 10 questions I didn’t know the answer to last weekend as part of Challenge Entertainment’s Mid-South Trivia League finals in Tunica, Miss.

The wife and I were late additions to a pre-existing five-person team from Birmingham. After two of its members were unable to make it to the finals, we were recruited to help secure a victory.

Our strengths were obvious. I’m an idiot savant when it comes to useless knowledge about music, baseball and classic movies, while the wife excels at science and modern pop culture.

The grand prize winner was assured a giant check for $10,000, while the second-place team would go home with $7,500. It seemed like a good incentive to go, though I had my doubts winnings would be evenly split, considering we were a late addition.

Crammed into the music hall at Sam’s Town casino were 108 other five-person trivia combos, all with team names as unique as their personalities. Most of the names don’t bear repeating in a family-friendly publication such as this.

There were plenty of nerds, dweebs, dorks, men in business suits, women who looked like prostitutes, girls with piercings and guys with tattoos. It was a cornucopia of personalities, to say the least.

Before the trivia could begin, we wasted a few hours (and roughly $50) playing the cheaper slot machines. Lensey sat down at a “Lord of the Rings”-themed machine with $3 on her ticket and hit a small jackpot. She was up $80 on one spin, but was forced to cash out because the trivia was about to begin. Had she not repeatedly hit the cash-out button, there’s no telling how much she may have won.

The Smith family’s unlucky streak stayed on me like a fungus. Not only could I not hit it big on the slots, the wife’s luck would take a turn for the worse whenever I walked up. In Las Vegas, they would call me a “cooler.”

Back inside at the big trivia game, I felt my prospects could be slightly better. I knew the name of the actress who played on “Everybody Loves Raymond” (Patricia Heaton) and I knew the name of the 2010 Jennifer Lawrence movie (“Winter’s Bone”).

The moderator also asked the name of the “British Invasion” band that scored a top-40 hit in 1965 with “I’m Into Something Good.” Knowing the answer was Herman’s Hermits before the question was finished, I threw my arms up in disgust, begging to be REALLY challenged.

The challenges would soon come hard and fast, but not in categories I was familiar with.

Question: What element on the periodic table has an atomic number of 33?

We all laughed when we heard the question, because my wife has a PhD in chemistry. She, however, had a panicked look on her face.

“I think it’s phosphorous,” she said. “I’m pretty sure.”

Then we had panicked looks on our faces.

She feverishly began drawing out a periodic table on some scrap paper provided by us. She then convinced us all it was phosphorous, and we submitted that as our answer.

The correct answer was arsenic.

Lensey looked crestfallen, like she had let the whole team down. Granted, she did spend almost eight years in school learning about this one subject, but we were pretty forgiving.

At “half-time,” we were midway through the pack of 109 teams. Two hours later, at the end of the game, we were in the same place.

Members of the team sitting directly behind us walked out of Sam’s Town at the same time we did. While we were carrying our disappointment, they were carrying an oversized check for $7,500.

However, we all left with a, “We’ll get ‘em next time” spirit, which may be just as important as winning $7,500.

And just in case you didn’t know the answer to the Hanukkah question, the correct answer was the Maccabees. But I’m sure you probably already knew that.

— Managing editor and genius of useless stuff Adam Smith can be reached at adam@athensnews-courier.com.

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