Jul. 19th, 2010

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I don't know exactly happened, but somehow Goodreads has sucked me in in a way that similar literary networking sites have not. Visual Bookshelf, for example.

Goodreads is fun. Besides, they list me as an author, based on one self-published travel story - about New Zealand, which, unsurprisingly, I am wholly positive about - and a couple of pamphlets masquerading as NaNoWriMo novels without the really awful bits. Just the awful bits.

But perhaps the most fun is the trivia quiz. In a neat Web 2.0 setup, users are invited to submit trivia questions for "The Neverending Quiz".

Q. Which Shakespearean character is Juliet's paramour?

A. Macbeth
B. Hamlet
C. King Lear
D. Romeo

You write the question, submit multiple answers, indicate which is correct, and the thing goes live. Other users answer (or skip) the question in their bid to get as many questions correct.

It's like a wonderful great trivia night. Best of all, you get to see how your friends fared on the same questions. Jane answered correctly, Frank fluffed it, and Ophelia skipped it.

There's also a heap of statistics for each question, for your individual progress, and for your standing within the Goodreads community. On that last point, I'll just say that a lot of people have a lot of time to read books and answer trivial questions about their contents.

Great fun!

I decided that I'd write a question or six, and I turned to that delightful saga, Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin for material.

The whole point of trivia is that questions should exercise the mind. Not too much - the answer should be something that an attentive reader will know, or that an inattentive reader will suddenly recall on being informed. Or something that a nerd might puzzle out, without having read the book itself.

Something like the Romeo and Juliet question above would be beneath my dignity:

Q. Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series deals with straight, gay, and transgender relationships in which city?

A. Salt Lake City
B. Horton, MO
C. Springfield
D. San Francisco

But with a bit of thought, one can be fiendish. For example, one of the early scenes in the first book is set in the best supermarket in the world, the Marina Safeway. The motto of the store echoes the reputation of the place as a pickup joint:

A dozen cardboard disks dangled from the ceiling of the Marina Safeway, coaxing the customers with a double-edged message: ‘xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx.’
And friends were being made.
As Mary Ann watched, a blond man in a Stanford sweatshirt sauntered up to a brunette in a denim halter. ‘Uh… excuse me, but could you tell me whether it’s better to use Saffola oil or Wesson oil?’
The girl giggled. ‘For what?’

So I wrote a question based on this well-known motto:

The motto of the Marina Safeway, famous as a place to find a date, is quoted in Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City as:

A. "Ingredients for Life"
B. "Everything You Want from a Store and a Little Bit More"
C. "Safeway: Where You Get a Little Bit More"
D. "Since we're Neighbors, let's be Friends"

The correct answer is, of course, D, which was Safeway's slogan back in the Seventies, when the series began. However, since then, Safeway has used a number of slogans, each of which would be likely to be more familiar to contemporary American quiz-takers, as well as being faintly suggestive of getting spice with your soda.

I've written a few similar questions, each with four plausible answers. You've got to know the book, otherwise you are just guessing, or succumbing to my gentle misdirection. Notice how two of my (wrong) answers above are very similar. The temptation is to assume that the correct answer is one of the two.

The questions may be dressed up, with links to books and authors, book cover illustrations and author pictures. There's even the chance to add some explanation, revealed after an answer is chosen, as to why you got it wrong. It's all good fun.

Here are my questions. So far!

Next week: How to get 100% correct answers. Without cheating!


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