The art of the scam, or why I cheated during a quiz night


Armaan Mumtaz/Senior Staff

I entered the trivia party with a belief in fairness. I left like a demon.

I cheated. To do this successfully, I crafted a narrative that night. I created a version of myself that could possibly win the quiz.

I had no intention of ruining the competitive integrity of the event. I have become a hater. I like putting myself in situations where I know I won’t have fun. The flip side is my inherent discomfort at events where I feel like I’m supposed to have fun. A series of grievances led me to practice the art of cheating. The sequence of events was admittedly minor. I was mostly interested in seeing if I could pull it off.

I arrived at 6:30 am on a roof that I could have physically jumped on from the roof of my own apartment. The sun was in a bitter mood, hitting the one spot in my ear that I had missed when applying sunscreen. There was no water. I only brought a can of cider because when I bring more, I end up giving it away, and I try to be less generous.

About 15 minutes after I arrived, the instructions began. I cannot listen to instructions given outside of a work environment. There’s probably nothing worse than having to listen to long, endless instructions for something I’m not getting paid for. The host of the night included a plea to refrain from cheating, which I ultimately ignored.

I started getting annoyed with the concept of trivia pretty early in the night. Successful candidates are what stupid people think smart people are. Also, it’s rude to ask me a question I can’t answer.

Somewhere halfway through, I became vocally miserable. Our team, dubbed Megan Fox’s Thumbs, was mediocre, far from the bottom but an insurmountable distance from a top three. The questions have narrowed to become more and more niche. My only canister was gone and there was no more water to be found. Was I in hell?

It was time for the last question. In the hope of overtaking a meager 4th place, we decided to bet all our points on this last shot of the podium. The question read, “What is the official bird of the city of Berkeley?”

My group realized that none of us had a potential answer. This sudden realization of defeat shifted our strategy from responding with random birds to the question, “Should we just cheat?” Just like Eve in the Garden of Eden, our group wanted knowledge.

Prizes were guaranteed mediocre, making fame the only real reward. I did a quick Google search, biting into the apple.

It turns out that Berkeley’s official bird is the barn owl. Oh man, was the sweet forbidden fruit. As I quickly cleared my search history in case of a post-victory audit, this newfound knowledge passed through me.

Googling was the easy part, now came the hard sell – we had to create a backstory to get to know the city bird of Berkeley, and also maintain the behavior of honest, sane people who wouldn’t cheat on a trivia party at 18 hours.

We talked among ourselves, deciding which of us has the most grounded lie to know the answer to the final question. We fabricated a story where one of my teammates has an uncle living in Berkeley who was also an avid birdwatcher.

After that, we produced a loud chatter to show how much we think about the matter. We all took turns saying things that amounted to “I feel pretty confident about this,” setting the stage for our upset victory.

When the time came, we were announced as the winners. I am not able to show my enthusiasm publicly, but my teammates insisted. God’s garden was on fire, but Megan Fox’s Thumbs would rule in hell.

As we took the prize, mini golf tickets, barn owls hooted in despair. The assortment of snacks turned into crickets in our mouths. Plants, once full of life, have shrunk – their life fading alongside the age-old integrity of competitive trivialities.

After potentially compromising my personal ability to be buried in a Jewish cemetery, we all had to fight our way to credibility. The answers to trivial questions from the old nights were screaming over each other in my brain. I had to act naturally and everything would be fine. Act like a winner.

Cheating to first place at a trivia party was a dark art. What happened was nothing short of an “Ocean’s Twelve” operation. Like Danny Ocean, I’ve perfected the art of heist. I am an honest person. But that night, I learned that it’s easy to cheat. It’s actually the sequel, the little series of lies and the hours of play that ensue that are hard. But not impossible.

I don’t even think I like mini golf.

Ryan McCullough writes the Monday A&E column on exploring the irritations of art. Contact him at [email protected].


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