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The battle against trivia

Observer Viewpoint | Monday, September 19, 2005

Quick, name for me all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, including their colors and weapons of choice. Now, tell me how to get to the warp zone on the first level of Super Mario. And finally, be a pal and sing the theme lyrics for the Nickelodeon classic, “Salute Your Shorts.” In fact, I’ll help you out by starting it off. “We run, we jump, we swim and play …” You can take it from here.

Everybody done? Good. I’m assuming that most of you could successfully answer two, if not all three of those questions. Now here’s one more question: When has that information ever proved beneficial to you? That one is a little tougher to answer.

Here at Notre Dame, we pride ourselves on the top-notch education available to students. However, how much of that information is getting into our heads? They say that the human brain only uses 10 percent of its ability, but as far as I’m concerned, upwards of nine percent of that is taken up by useless trivia factoids.

We’ve all been in this situation: You’re sitting in Stepan Center with 250 of your closest friends, taking a big departmental exam in Calculus, Biology, Accounting, whatever. You’ve signed the Honor Code and filled out your Scantron, and now it’s time to get to work on the exam that kept you up all night. As you work through the test once, you come back to find a few questions left blank. I can guarantee that some of those questions are ones that you could have sworn you knew, but cannot remember no matter how hard you try. You recall seeing it in the textbook last night while piping Starbucks in via IV, but the information is nowhere to be found. However, while crammed in your little desk in the Stepan Center, you could rattle off all the Ben Folds Five albums in chronological order or name who has won the Heisman Trophy the last 5 years. I highly doubt any of that information is required on the exam, unless you happen to be taking “Piano Rock & College Football Stars 101,” but I’ve heard that’s impossible to DART into.

These little tidbits of information that serve no applicable purpose latch onto chunks of your brain and never let go, whereas things like Organic Chemistry mechanisms or proper Accounting procedures can’t wait to leak out your ears.

It’s almost as if quotes from “The Simpsons” are brain bullies, taking up all the space for themselves and mercilessly giving noogies and swirlies to Calculus derivatives until they can’t take it anymore and flee right before your exam.

However, trivia’s stranglehold on our cerebellum doesn’t end with things we should learn in the classroom, they also push out all sorts of useful life lessons. For example, I don’t know how to change the oil in a car. I’ve been taught how to do it several times. But apparently my brain is the Bermuda Triangle of Useful Information, and as soon as I learn it, the information disappears never to be seen again.

Conversely, I can state for you right now the top speed of the peregrine falcon, the Earth’s fastest creature. For those of you wondering, it’s 120 miles per hour. Now the question is: What situation will come up first, needing to know how to change the oil, or someone demanding the maximum speed of the Earth’s fastest animal? Unless I’m kidnapped by a crazed ornithologist and I have to prove my worth lest he sic his trained squad of attack flamingos on me, my money’s on needing to change the oil first.

What can be done to fight this trivial menace? I believe that the most effective way of ensuring that useful information stays in our heads would be to disguise it as trivia in the media. During Sportscenter, the “Did You Know?” section would be less about obscure batting average anomalies, and more along the lines of, “Did you know, pouring a Coke down a clogged drain is an effective remedy, as the carbonic acid eats away at the clog? Booyah!” We’d watch shows on VH1 like “I Love Properly Filling Out Tax Returns!” or shows on Comedy Central like “Chapelle Shows You How to Cook a Quiche.”

Of course, this occurrence is highly unlikely. As such, we must be proactive in taking a stand against the mental monarchy of factoids. After serious consideration, I believe I’ve put together a strategy that could work for everybody. You would just have to … uh … hold

on … Leonardo was blue and had a sword, Donatello was purple and had a bo staff, Michaelangelo was orange and had nunchaku and Raphael was red and had sais. Crap.

Peter Schroeder is a senior English major. His favorite word is “ennui.” He can be contacted at pschroed@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.