Trivial Knowledge

By Sammy Roth

Three seniors crowd around a computer in Munger Tech Center. Jeff Kim ’10 types rapidly, and Gina Goldberg ’10 says, “Sleepy, Grumpy, Sneezy, Happy, Dopey, Doc—what’s the seventh dwarf?”

Goldberg, Kim and Jay Bhatia ’10 are playing the “Seven Dwarfs,” quiz on The popular website boasts more than 2,000 trivia quizzes in topics ranging from geography, to television, to sports, to religion. The site’s founder, Seattle resident Matt Ramme, 33, said that Sporcle is especially popular on high school and college campuses.

On each quiz, users must type the answers within the time limit. Afterwards, they can see statistics comparing their score to everyone else’s scores.

“[That day] in Munger Tech, we learned that [Kim] knew all of the ‘Sex and the City’ girls, first and last name,” Goldberg said. ”It’s fun when everyone can contribute random information that would probably be completely useless otherwise.”

But Sporcle also has an educational use, history teacher Nini Halkett said. Halkett, who teaches AP Geography, said that certain quizzes could be useful for geography students, such as the quiz on which countries have the highest HIV infection rates.

“I can see where it might be useful as not really in-depth research, but you might be able to find research information on there,” Halkett said.

Jacob Gindi ’10, a regular Sporcle visitor, repeatedly played the “U.S. Capitals,” quiz to study for an actual United States History quiz last year.

“It’s better than multiple choice because you actually have to know the things,” Gindi said. “You have to type them out.”

Gindi told his U.S. History teacher, Greg Gonzalez, that Sporcle was a useful study tool, and Gonzalez passed on the information to the rest of Gindi’s class.

Gonzalez has been a Sporcle aficionado ever since. He said he mostly takes sports quizzes, but that he has seen useful history quizzes, such as the, “World War I Battles,” quiz.

The site’s four most popular quizzes are all related to history or geography. Each of these quizzes—”U.S. States,” “U.S. Presidents,” “Countries of Europe” and “Countries of the World”—has more than 1 million plays.

Julius Pak ’12 discovered Sporcle when a friend bet him that he could not beat the “Countries of the World” quiz.

Pak won the bet on his second try, taking just eight minutes to type the names of all 195 countries, including little known nations such as Nauru, Mauritius and Burkina Faso.

“It’s not straight memorization,” Pak said. “You’re given the map so you kind of have an idea which [countries] you’re missing.”

Dr. Laurie Post (Natalie ’10), a clinical psychologist, said that part of Sporcle’s appeal probably lies in the informal nature of its quizzes and the different types of quizzes from which users can choose.

“[Sporcle] allows people to test their knowledge in an environment where they have choice of the material and immediate gratification, and that is very satisfying,” Post said. “And in addition, it allows each person to control the level of difficulty in how much they want to challenge themselves.”

Sporcle began in 2007 as a sports predictions website. But Ramme said he was inspired to turn Sporcle into a trivia game site while trying to memorize all 50 United States. He had tried using flashcards, but found that method to be “slow and painful.”

“So I went looking for something online that could do a little better,” he said. “But finding none, I made one myself.”

Ramme called Sporcle a combination of education and entertainment.

“You’re coming away with more than you started with,” he said. “You feel good about the time you wasted/spent.”

“It’s fun,” Halkett said. “If it interests students in the material, then it has value.”

But while Sporcle is good for memorizing useful information, it cannot replace more thorough learning, Halkett said.

“If your goal is to be able to recite to your friends the ten largest countries, then [Sporcle’s] great,” she said. “But one of the things that we want to do at our school is encourage more analysis and critical thinking, and Sporcle isn’t going to help you with that.”

Gonzalez agreed that Sporcle’s educational uses are limited, but said that Sporcle is still a relatively good way for students to spend time.

“As opposed to being on ‘MySpaceBook’ or some other social networking site, I’d say it’s pretty good,” he said.