The plagiarism lawsuit that rocked the trivia world: Trivial Pursuit’s journey

Un tema muy poco trivial

The plagiarism lawsuit that rocked the trivia world: Trivial Pursuit’s journey
Randy Meeks

Randy Meeks

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If we talk to you about the color pink and you think “Shows” and blue and a part of you says “Geography”, you’re one of us. And the fact is that ‘Trivial Pursuit’ has sold more than one hundred million copies around the world. To put it another way, it is as if every inhabitant of Spain had a couple of units at home… And some even three. The figures are dizzying, but how did the world’s most famous game for giant brains come about? The answer is, to say the least… surprising.

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To Scrabble lost, Trivial set

December 15, 1979. Chris Haney, a photographer for the Montreal Gazette, and Scott Abbott, a sportswriter for The Canadian Press, get together to play their weekly game of Scrabble. Some say the game was missing pieces, some say they were simply asking each other general cultural questions as they put the letters on the board. It doesn’t matter: in any case, one thing leads to another and soon they are wondering how much money the company that distributes the game will make. The answer: millions.

So they made a decision: to create their own board game. How? Very easy: by cutting out different colored rectangles, using an old game board, writing general culture questions like crazy and dividing them into six categories well known to all: geography, entertainment, history, arts and literature, science and nature, sports and leisure. That same night, Trivial Pursuit was born.

No more and no less than the creators of the game

But of course, it’s one thing to have the idea of the century and another to get the money to manufacture it. They got two partners into the business, did a little crowdfunding of the time (that is, asking for money practically house to house) and managed to raise $40,000 from 32 investors. All or nothing. Success or failure. We’re not going to get more excited about it, because we all know how the story ended.

Few cheeses

Each set cost about $40 to make, so they could only make 1100 copies. In order for them to make a profit, they needed to sell them for $75. They took one more chance: stores would sell it for $40 and buy it for $20. They had already lost money before they started, but it makes sense. After all, what adult in their right mind would buy a board game? 2023, wave your hand wryly, come on.

The creator of the board with his prototype!

On November 10, 1981 the game was registered as a trademark, but it was of little use if they were going bankrupt at full speed and couldn’t even pay back the money to those who lent it to them, right? Luckily, the following year, stores started asking for new units, and they saw a ray of hope: they borrowed $75,000 as a loan from the bank and dared to release 20,000 units that could have been perfectly eaten up.

However, by the end of that same year there were hardly any Trivials left on the shelves. The project had been a success, and the following year Selchow and Righter bought the game to sell it in the U.S. Do you know what Selchow and Righter’s most famous game was? That’s right: ‘Scrabble’. That there hasn’t been a movie made about it is insane. Trivia began to make its way into dinner parties and adult gatherings proving that you’re never too old to stop playing. Or are you? There was still a twist at the end of the road….

Objection, by Colombo!

As much as we may want to believe that the authors of ‘Trivial Pursuit’ had a privileged brain to put 6000 questions of all kinds, the truth is that most of the answers were taken from the typical books of absurd facts, such as ‘Trivia’ (the first one, from 1966) or ‘The complete unabridge super trivia encyclopedia’, created by Fred L. Worth and that became a best seller. The problem? All the other books in the same format clearly copied it.

The author’s solution to not miss a single one and prove that he had been copied was to create a fake one and sit back and wait for someone to screw up. But it wasn’t a fact book that did it, it was… ‘Trivial Pursuit’. Worth went through all the Trivial Pursuit questions one by one until he finally found the one they had taken the bait on. Pink section: “What was Colombo’s first name?”. The false answer, “Phillip.” Worth sued the creators for 300 million dollars with the excuse of having copied his intellectual property.

Indeed, both confessed the truth: they had taken data from his books… And from dozens of others. Matthew Byrne, the judge, dismissed the case and it did not even go to trial. In fact, he thought it convenient to clarify that the board game was nothing like the book, leaving the author humiliated and the authors of Trivial more at ease than ever. Oh, in case you’re curious: Colombo’s name was Frank, and we know it thanks to the box set that compiled seasons 1 to 4 on DVD. Now you can sleep peacefully.

Randy Meeks

Randy Meeks

Editor specializing in pop culture who writes for websites, magazines, books, social networks, scripts, notebooks and napkins if there are no other places to write for you.

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