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Conversation With Sean Kelly

Posted on 10 February 2012

Sean Kelly web

By Annette Hinkle

Sean Kelly, Pierson High School history teacher and trivia aficionado who will act as Quiz Master at Saturday’s Sag Harbor Booster Foundation Fun’raiser and trivia contest at B. Smith’s.

You regularly take on the role of quiz master at a monthly trivia night at Buckley’s in Hampton Bays. Is it fair to say trivia is a big part of your life?

It’s a passion. Trivia nights are a common pastime in Ireland, where I’m from and a form of entertainment in pubs. Both sides of my family are very avid trivia people. My mom and dad instilled a passion for it in me. We’ve had family trivia quizzes at Christmas and other times of year as far back as remember. I still remember the first time I got one right. It was a big deal.

Do you remember the question?

Yes, I do…What was special about the nanny in Peter Pan?

It was a dog.

That’s right.

Is “trivia” too trivial a word for it?

I think so. When people hear that word they might think it’s obscure facts or memorizing the capitals of the world. But that’s not fun as a form of entertainment. A good trivia question is one that’s a combination of some knowledge and just being able to think on your feet.

Can you throw one at me?

Here’s one of my favorites. By what other name would you call the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company? *

Can I phone a friend?


So what else makes for good trivia?

Questions you can figure out are a lot of fun — like those that ask you to look at a commonplace every day item.

Like how many sides are there on a pencil? *

Yeah, or how many ridges on the edge of a dime? * I like using money and alcohol questions at Buckley’s, because there’s always both there.

Where do you get your trivia questions?

Since I was a little kid, my grandparents and parents would buy me books of trivia. I have a collection and I use that. I’ll also get questions off the Internet. When I have to sit down to write a quiz I use those resources for inspiration. One bit of trivia leads to another and another. I probably have 2,000 questions and I keep them in Google Docs.

How do you put a trivia quiz together?

At Saturday’s event, because we’re breaking for dinner and there’s a silent auction, it will be eight rounds of eight questions. I’ll probably have some Sag Harbor specific questions too. At Buckley’s we do 100 questions. Each team has their answer sheets, I read out the questions and once the sheet is filled out we read off the answers. With teams of four or five, everyone’s conferring, though they’re not always in unison. There have been people overruled who should not have.

Has that happened in your family?

We’re all strong trivia players, but my dad especially is very strong. On any given day I’ll be 50/50 with him on an answer. When he and I disagree it’s tough.

So what makes a good trivia team?

You have five people – the best teams have a range of people. It’s good to have someone who reads newspapers, you also need a variety of age ranges — someone in their 20s , 40s and 60s. You need males and females.

OK, I have one for you — who was born 200 years ago today [Tuesday]?

Was it an author?


Is it Charles Dickens?

Wow, you are good. What other questions do you like?

I love word derivations — the fact so many words in the English language come from places you wouldn’t consider. Like the word “shampoo” is Hindi. I’m also very interested in movie trivia, and the first and last lines of books. I had a category of famous first lines — “Call me Ishmael” * or “It was a pleasure to burn.” *

How do you keep people from consulting their smart phones during competitions?

There’s no way to stop it. We always say it’s just for fun. It’s not like there’s a lot of money on the line. Why would you cheat? Are we going to follow people when they go into the bathroom? You just hope you have a good sport.

How about another question.

Who was the first president to have his name placed on the moon? *

What qualities makes for a good trivia player?

I’ve seen all sorts. I think it’s people who are a motley crew. Definitely not someone who is necessarily very well read – who memorizes the phone book. You really have to be a renaissance person and good at different things to be good at trivia. It doesn’t require a college education or good grades in school. You just have to be curious.

How about one more for the road?

Here’s one. In the 1990s, the town of Ismay, Montana changed its name to honor an NFL star. What did it change it’s name to? *

*Answers: 3M; 6; 118; Moby Dick; Fahrenheit 451; Richard Nixon; Joe, Montana.

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