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Chapter 7 - Ken

A typical Trivia Master teams is composed of four individuals drawn from the same social circle, usually friends or close acquaintances. When a team is comprised in its entirety of one’s friends, the recruitment process is simple and informal. The offer – when it is not simply implied by the friendship – is extended casually in the social environment of the team leader’s choosing. For a serious contestant, this simple procedure is not an option. They know that to succeed, they must seek recruits from outside of their normal social circles, and this introduces a host of new challenges along with an entirely new procedure.

I am lucky enough to have one of the finest trivia minds in the state as my close personal friend, which leaves two slots to be filled. Some individuals with less strategic inclination may be tempted to occupy these slots with less–skilled individuals, believing that their own skill is sufficient to carry them through to victory. They may choose individuals from higher up in the social hierarchy, hoping a broadly popular team will help them win with the crowd; or they may choose individuals with whom they want to have a closer relationship; or, wishing to expedite the process, they may simply fill those slots with whatever friends are readily available. These people are setting themselves up for failure, for while such a team may be successful in the early rounds, it will be easily crushed by any properly, strategically composed team.

By ourselves, Paul and I are more than capable of defeating most teams. The typical team at this level is capable of correctly answering 50% of the question list. The two of us come close to 80%, so by the numbers it is very unlikely that we will fail. This changes at the higher levels. Scholar’s Bowl caliber teams can answer over 95% of all questions, and they do so with far greater speed and confidence than the lower–level competition. This means that at the higher levels, that 20% gap can easily add up to forty or fifty points, enough to secure a victory for the other side.

Put simply, if I wish to succeed at a top–level competition, it will require a team with a more robust base of knowledge. If my own circles lack that knowledge, I must go outside of them. I must recruit people who are mere acquaintances or even total strangers. This is not, by any means, an easy process, nor a simple one. If the recruit is well outside my own world, I must step into his world. I must learn about his interests, his goals, his friends. For a brief period, I must become his closest friend.

So what did I know about Scott Carroll, our all–important final recruit? He is a performer in the local Amateur Dramatics troupe – the Drama Club, to use the more common parlance. I do not know of any interests outside of this – he seems truly dedicated to his craft. Such a zeal is both a hindrance and a boon. On the one hand, his narrow dedication to one activity makes it much more difficult to draw his interests to an activity outside of his normal experience. On the other hand, there are ways for a clever negotiator to redirect that dedication. understanding his clique, their lingo and mores and structure and, above all, what they wish to achieve. A serious challenge to most people but, fortunately, understanding others happens to be a specialty of mine.

Timing was on my side, as the Drama Club puts on no major productions this early in the year. They still meet regularly to plan and practice for smaller competitions, in the auditorium on those occasions they can secure it. Knowing this, I charted out the Drama Club schedule and decided on a Thursday afternoon to make my appearance. I timed out the schedule precisely and arranged to arrive a few minutes before the meeting was to begin. I am not one to make a scene, so I quietly integrated myself into the room.

“Hey fatso, this is a closed meeting!” My ingress was interrupted when a short but very loud young woman spotted me. Drama Club kids, like many nerds, can become hostile when outsiders broach their territory. This would demand persuasion.

“It’s okay. I’m here to talk to Scott Carroll.”

“Wait until we’re done,” she said.

“But you haven’t started! And this really can’t wait. It’ll only take a few minutes, I promise.”

“Piss off.”

“Come on!” It was time to do some acting of my own. “Would you turn away a poor lost soul seeking council? Would you slam shut the gate in the winsome face of a seeker of knowledge? Would you – ”

“Oh, stop it. Are you for real?” The woman studied me carefully, no doubt trying to decide if I was to be believed. Finally, she let out an exaggerated sigh – for my benefit, no doubt. “Hey Scott, someone here for you!”

Somewhere in the front of the auditorium, a young man looked up from his script. “Who is it?”

“It’s Ken.”

“Ken who? I don’t know anyone named Ken.”

“Ken Greevey.” I waved to him. “You know me.”

He stared blankly. “Is that name supposed to be familiar? Because I can’t place you at all.”

“You remember me. We had an art class together freshman year. I was the one who painted those things with all the eyes and tentacles? I was kinda into a Lovecraft thing at the time?”

“...Vaguely?”

At that moment, as I approached the stage, it occurred to me that I had never actually spoken to Scott in person. I had some academic contact with him, as I had with most of the school, but this was literally the first time I had spoken to him at all. It was too late to concern myself with such trivialities, though. This was my one golden opportunity to recruit this very valuable candidate to my side, and I could not waste it.

“I remember you were doing a lot of things with dragons because you had that friend who gave you those Asian art books. Right?”

Scott stepped away from the stage. “Have you been stalking me?”

“Oh no, not at all. Is that what you think? I just wanted to have a quick word.” I extended my hand, but he did not reciprocate. “Anyway, I am really sorry to interrupt you, but I was hoping I could talk to you for a minute about the upcoming trivia competition.”

“Yeah, I don’t do trivia.” Scott leaned back against the stage, looking up at the ceiling, part of his well–orchestrated plan to look bored. “If that’s why you came, then you should really just take off.”

“Now hold on a minute.” It was going to take more persuasion to bring him around to my way of thinking. “I realize that you’ve never done anything like this, but if you really think about it, it’s a great opportunity. The rules are straightforward, I can teach you everything you need to know in just a few – ”

“Look, man,” he said, cutting me off. “I’m an artist. There’s no art in trivia. It’s just a bunch of boring virgin dweebs memorizing fact sheets.”

“No offense taken.” A bit of levity can be very effective in these situations. “And you’re wrong about one thing. There is absolutely art in trivia. For example, last year, one of the matches hinged on a question about...what was it? ‘Hair’?”

“’HairSPRAY.’” That awoke the passion in the man. “I can’t believe none of you got that one. It was so obvious.”

“So you watched us! Man, it’s a shame you weren’t on our team. We might have won the whole thing.”

Immediately, Scott tried to dial back his enthusiasm. “So I like watching the damn thing. Doesn’t mean I want to participate, or that I even can. You have any idea how many exhibitions we have coming up? I don’t have time for any of this.”

“Time? All you’d have to do is show up at one test and four rounds, and they’re all during class time. Paul and I will take care of all the other little details on our own time. I certainly wouldn’t expect you to go as deep as we do.”

Scott had to think about that for a few seconds. “I can’t be thinking about this now. It’s all we can do to keep interest up. Our attendance numbers suck.”

I nodded my head, a simple gesture of deference – albeit one with a subtle sardonic edge that any actor would catch. “You make a very good point. I certainly can’t see how participation in a high–profile public competition could help with attendance. I’ll let you get back to your meeting.”

Needless to say, I had anticipated this argument. To drive the point home, I turned to walk away – often the best way to make a point in any negotiation. I had taken perhaps four steps when Scott spoke up. “I’ll be in touch, all right?”

Scott was hedging his bets, but it was a very successful negotiation. He saw what he could gain by working with me and saw no reason to do otherwise. And with that, our masterfully balanced roster was complete.

All that remained was to speak with Paul about the team. I had planned to tell him later, at a time and place where I could assuage his anger. Unfortunately, I had just departed the auditorium when Paul found me.

“You son of a bitch! What did you do?”

It was an unusually volatile reaction. I had predicted this as well.

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