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What Makes a Great Trivia Question? 7 years ago

My father has been consistently giving my family, and anyone else who happens to be in the car, trivia quizzes known as "The Questions" during car rides since I was about 4 years old. My two sisters found these quizzes largely annoying and embarrassing for years, but I always loved them. As we got older, it became apparent that these quizzes weren't embarrassing: our friends fucking loved them.

They begged for them. They would actually would request to ride with my father despite the knowledge that he (a terrifying man when he wants to be) might tear apart their very existence at any moment with his words, just for the chance to answer "The Questions".

Now he sends us a series of questions daily via email, and I've started posting them at and at - and predictably my friends are delighted.

But why? Why his questions? People like trivia, but they LOVE his trivia. The answer, according to my father, is simple:

"The goal of a trivia question is to elicit exactly one reaction: 'Oh, shit, I know this... hold on.....' Whether they ultimately get the answer is immaterial: designing questions that can elicit that reaction is all that matters."

His questions get that reaction a lot. "Which US President was born the farther South," for instance, is an easy question to answer once THINK OF the answer. But before you think of the answer, it is maddening. If you don't think of the answer and then hear it (I'm embarrassed to say this is what happened to me) you will kick yourself for not knowing it, further increasing your thirst for more trivia.

This is making something people love, making something that draws people back. I've been seeing this since I was 4: I just didn't know.

Follow me @istommydrunk HN Discussion here

(It's Barack Obama. )