PEORIA — Slowly walking in between four tables in a conference room at Liberty Village of Peoria retirement community, Scott Norman faced a collection of people that possessed roughly 3,200 years of cumulative knowledge. Then he asked a question.
"If you could put the planet Saturn in a tub of water, would it float or sink?"
Within seconds of Norman finishing his query out loud, a voice on the other side of the room fired back.
"Why would I want to?"
The room erupted in laughter at Annette Mayback's remark, and Norman joined in, too. She sat at a table with several others, on a team fittingly called the Sassy Seniors. That team was one of four taking part in a trivia session held every other Thursday at Liberty Village. Once every team had written down its answer, Norman revealed that, in fact, Saturn would float in a tub of water.
Norman presides over trivia contests at 12 such retirement or assisted living residences in the central Illinois area. He thought up the concept during his time as the quizmaster at local restaurants and bars — the seniors who happened to be eating there the night he was hosting trivia enjoyed playing. But Norman wondered if other seniors would also enjoy playing, especially those who couldn't stay up that late at night or couldn't travel to a restaurant to play.
The bi-weekly trivia contest at Liberty Village quickly cemented itself as one of the most competitive. The group was sharp to begin with, but Norman said that most of the seniors who play now watch "Jeopardy" and pay attention to current events in case he asks a question about it the next Thursday.
"They are aggressively learning and preparing for next week's match," Norman said by email.
Trivia at Liberty Village resembles the pub trivia commonly practiced at many establishments in the Peoria area, right down to the Miller Lites and Moscato offered to the seniors. The match is split into four rounds, with the team assigning point totals to the answers it feels most confident about. There's also a halftime question, points doubling after halftime and a final question worth a whopping 25 points.
Norman said there's a rhythm to the questions he asks, alternating between the easy, the difficult and the moderate. At the most recent contest, the teams found the question about the World War II war crime trials easy (answer: Nuremberg) but were stumped by how many television commercials Elvis Presley did (one). Questions that involve tactile or visual elements are also interspersed into some rounds, such as a mystery photo or passing around an object for the teams to name.
As the quizmaster, Norman inhabits the role as if he were a stand-up comic, deploying witty jokes and gently teasing his audience. And that audience is prone to responding in kind with a shrewd remark of its own.
"He doesn't ask the right questions," 93-year-old Dorothy Harlan said with a laugh after the most recent trivia.
After three rounds, the Sassy Seniors were tied with the Mud Squad at 71 points. Teams Burnt Popcorn and Too Old to Know trailed several points behind. However, by the end of the final round the Mud Squad had taken the lead at 109 points, then aced the final question about the Duke of Wellington, giving them a grand total of 134 points to win the day. Gene Schierer, 84, of the Mud Squad said his team had established good chemistry and had won three out of the last four contests.
But that's not the entire point of the trivia session at Liberty Village. All of the residents described how much they enjoyed socializing with the other residents as well as having something fun to look forward to every other week. Harlan said she particularly relishes the opportunity to participate in something competitive.
And it's not something Norman takes lightly. With about 40 people participating at an average of 80 years old, the 3,200 years of knowledge is an intimidating and astounding fact to consider. Schierer marvels at the performance from each team every time the residents convene in the conference room.
"It's unbelievable to see the intelligence of everyone here with their age," Schierer said.
Thomas Bruch can be reached at 686-3262 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasBruch.