Living: Pac-Man for Smart People

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The creators of Trivial Pursuit roll out a sequel

One Los Angeles fan took the game with her on a Kenya safari. At President Reagan's ranch near Santa Barbara, visiting journalists play the game when not filing reports. An octet of New York trivia junkies spends every available weekend hour on the game. "We've played through till 4 a.m.," says Ringleader Holly Thorner, "then started again first thing in the morning. We've played at meals and eaten off the game board. When there was a power failure we played by candlelight. There's still wax on the board."

Not so much a board game, more a way of life—this is Trivial Pursuit, the hottest cardboard entertainment since Scrabble, a flash-flood fad that looks to become an agreeable long-term habit. And as millions of informaniacs from the Hamptons to the White House West were testing their trivia wits this summer, the three Canadians (two former journalists and a retired hockey goaltender) who dreamed up the game in 1979 were secreted in a motel on the outskirts of Toronto, crash-coursing the last 2,000 or so questions for the Genus II U.S. edition of Trivial Pursuit, due out next January. Scott Abbott and the brothers Chris and John Haney, multimillionaires and still in their mid-30s, could afford plusher accommodations, but, as Chris notes, "nobody bugs us, the phone doesn't ring, and we're only 20 feet from the motel bar." Strewn about the room are a globe, dozens of reference books and more than a few glasses of beer. In their rumpled clothes and their mood of heroic distraction, the young moguls look like harried grad students the night before finals.

Psst! They passed with honors. Trivial Pursuit has already sold more than 11 million copies in its Genus, Sports, Silver Screen and new Baby Boomer editions, bringing in $400 million for Selchow & Righter, which is now manufacturing a million games a week to meet the demand. This fall stores will be inundated with Trivial Pursuit calendars, cartoon books and pencil caddies. ABC-TV is planning to air a Trivial Pursuit special. And in January the Queen Elizabeth II sets sail on an eight-day Trivial Pursuit cruise, with Abbott and the Haneys aboard.

Success seems not to have spoiled the Trivial Trio; it has only increased their obsession with the money monster they created. Like proud parents with baby pictures, they push morsels of arcana on their visitors. "Who is the only U.S. President to have worn a Nazi uniform?" asks Chris Haney with an anarchic chortle. (Their answer: Ronald Reagan, in the 1942 movie Desperate Journey.) Then they turn back to their work, the Haneys calling out sample questions they have researched in advance, and Abbott, perched at the keyboard of a small computer, tinkering with the wording. ("I'm the only one who can chew gum and spell at the same time," he explains.) The choice of questions to be included depends entirely on their creators' reaction to them. "We trust each other's opinions," Chris says. "If everyone laughs, it's a winner. If half the room laughs and the other half is mad, it's probably still a winner because it's controversial."

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