Oh, the shame. Went to the pub quiz at Lush bar this week, which I suppose you could call our corner pub because it is, technically, on the corner. Lush is a bar run and patronized almost entirely by foreigners, with a menu all in English that offers things like tuna melts and cosmopolitans.
There were three of us, and we knew that our small number put the team at a disadvantage. But since we were all Ph.D. candidates, with something like thirty years of higher education among us, we thought we’d easily overcome the handicap and roar past the college kids and good-time expats in the standings. As it turns out, though, the many years of higher education did not equip us to answer questions about who was currently the highest scorer in the British premier league or who played the 40-year-old virgin in the movie of the same name. Just when things were looking dismal, the MC announced that the next round would be the “China round.” Hooray! The three China historians in the corner perked up, our pencils poised in anticipation. Our moment for glory had finally come.
Imagine our horror when the China round turned out to be our worst yet– we scored three points out of a possible ten. Even now I’m not sure what happened; it is a time I don’t care to remember. I do recall that we bickered for a while about what to write in response to the question, “What are oracle bones, China’s earliest written records, written on?” Should we say “ox bones and turtle shells,” or “ox scapulae and turtle plastrons”? The former is incorrect (they used the stuff on the turtle’s belly, not the shell) but who apart from a China historian knows what a turtle plastron is? And we were almost cheated out of a point because the MC thought the Ming was the earliest dynasty for which Beijing was the capital (when in fact it was the Yuan)– he looked it up later and we ended up getting credit. But still: four out of ten. And this is, um, what we DO (or are trying to do) for a living. A hard reminder of the fact that no matter how much you learn, there’s always much more than you can ever know…and other people who know it, however randomly.
In the end, we were not among the top three teams, who won various amounts of free drinks, but we were not dead last either. Good thing too, since to be dead last we’d have had to do worse than the team that identified Ronald Reagan as Richard Nixon in the photo round. Sure, we’ve got some lacunae in our knowledge, but none big enough to throw Reagan through, thank goodness.