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Winning ‘1 vs. 100’ on XBox Live

1vs100

During the first, beta season of Xbox Live's "1 vs. 100," I probably played about two dozen rounds of the game's half-hour, 37-question Extended Play mode, which pits thousands of live participants against one another in a straight up battle for trivia supremacy. In that time, despite having some pretty strong trivia knowledge (if I do say so myself), I didn't once make it onto the prominently displayed list of top-10 scorers available throughout each round. It didn't matter if I started the round with a string of quick, correct answers -- there always seemed to be at least 10 other perfect players whose faster answers gave them at least a few dozen more points than me. I would often skirt the edges of the top-10 list for 10 or 15 questions before inevitably missing an answer and watching my chances of seeing my name in lights fall away for the rest of the round.

I thought more than once that the people putting up these top scores must be cheating somehow. Their answers were too perfect, their timing bonuses too high, their consistency too ... consistent (the same Gamertags seemed to clog up the list throughout multiple Extended Play rounds). I figured these top scorers must be exploiting a glitch in the game, or using a group of trivia experts and super-fast Google searches to feed them correct answers, or something. There's no way they could do that well without cheating, I thought.

I no longer think that way, because last night, between 11 and 11:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, I managed to defeat all but two of my over 34,000 trivia competitors to secure a third-place finish in the "Video Game Trivia" round of 1 vs. 100.

(Holds for applause)

This performance is quite possibly my greatest achievement in a videogame up to this point in my life. Sure, getting a near-perfect "AA" score on the Heavy version of DDRMAX's "Ordinary World" was gratifying after weeks of fruitless attempts, but there I was only competing with myself (and my body). Defeating dozens of other game journalists at a Nintendo College Media Day "Mario Kart: Double Dash!!" pre-release tournament was a big achievement, but, looking back, the competition there was surprisingly weak. My confirmed world-record score on Game C of "Balloon Fight" has stood for four years now, but I'm convinced that's largely because no one has cared enough to really challenge it. Using M. Bison to defeat my friend and fighting-game expert Jeremy Marcus in a "Street Fighter II: Championship Edition" match comes close to matching last night's "1 vs. 100" performance, but considering I've never, ever beaten him in another fighting game, I think I just got lucky there.

It wasn't luck that carried me across the finish line in "1 vs. 100" last night, though ... it was my encyclopedic knowledge of videogame trivia, a skill that has served me well in my profession as a game journalist, but never really helped me succeed in the games themselves. Sure, a lot of the early questions were ridiculously easy: "What's the name of the princess in the Mario games?" (They were looking for the more modern "Peach," and not the old-fashioned "Toadstool"); "What year did the original Xbox come out?" (If you're having trouble remembering the exact year, consider that two of the three multiple-choice options were "1901" and "2101"); "What is a 'hadoken'?" (You didn't even need to know it was Ryu and Ken's fireball-throwing chant -- knowing it as "a 'Street Fighter' move" was enough); "What fuzzy orange character hopped around a pyramid?" (All but 2,000 or so of the 34,000-plus players knew it was Q*Bert).

But the trivia got pretty ... well, trivial, at points, and these were the points where my experience set me apart from the mob. I knew Nintendo's original name (the Marufuku Playing Card Company) because I've read David Sheff's excellent history of Nintendo, "Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered The World" at least half a dozen times since first picking it up at the age of 12. I only knew the name of Penny Arcade's business manager (Robert Khoo) because I've actually e-mailed the man in an attempt to get an interview with the creators of the strip (more than 23,000 of the 34,000 players didn't have this bit of insider knowledge). I knew which color didn't belong in a list of "Computer Space" cabinets (Black) because I had seen all the available colors arranged at the classic-gaming subsection of a recent E3.

Still, there were some questions that I was forced to work out through the process of elimination. Even though I'd never played "Chili Con Carnage," the game sounded like a better fit for a character named "Ramiro 'Ram' Cruz" than the other choices: the saccharine "Cooking Mama" and "Cookie & Cream." I didn't know the name of the Achievement earned for "spreading the love" in "Fable II" offhand, but "Paramour" made more sense in context than "Paragon" or "Pompadour." And though I've never heard the Beastie Boys song "The Sound of Science," I knew that neither "Sabotage" nor "Fight for Your Right" included the asked-about reference to "Robotron." I felt like I was taking the SATs again, eliminating the answers I knew were wrong until what I was left with had to be right.

For some questions, though, even the process of elimination wasn't enough, and I was faced with a true educated-guess situation. One question asked for the name of the Xbox 360 Achievement earned for creating a player in "Madden NFL 2005" (even if I had played the game, I doubt I would have remembered that one). Another asked me to pick the name of a voice actor in "God of War II" from three people I had never heard of. Yet another stumper asked for the birthplace of Japanese game maker Goichi Suda. Luckily, the game provides a "get out of a question free" option, called a Safety, for every three correct answers placed in a row, so I was able to power through these rare stumpers without losing my point-building streak or my competitive score. I even used a few Safeties on questions I was only 80-percent sure of, like the number of special weapons available in the original Contra (it was four, but part of me thought it was third, for some reason).

This strategy worked wonderfully until Question 25, which was about Wolverine's voice actor in "X2: Wolverine's Revenge." There was really no excuse for my missing this one; this was a game I suffered through from beginning to end for a review in the University of Maryland student newspaper back in 2003, and I remember mentally noting at the time that Hugh Jackman didn't feel the need to reprise his role from the movie in the game version. Still, as soon as Jackman's name popped up as a potential answer, I rang in, totally neglecting the correct answer is "Star Wars" star Mark Hamill. I had a better excuse by the time I ran out of Safeties again for Question 36, which asked for the name of an Achievement in "Saints Row 2," a game I've never played. Since the question said the achievement was for taking out a rival gang, I figured "Crime Lord" made sense. Nope: Apparently the answer was Seppuku, which I still contend makes little to no sense (Wouldn't that be a better name for a ritual-suicide Achievement?).

Surprisingly, these wrong answers weren't enough to knock me out of contention, thanks to poor performances from the rest of the contenders. I had finally broken through to the top 10 around Question 14 or 15 (I don't remember exactly), and was excited to see my Gamertag pop up in the fifth-place slot, despite what I felt were some way-too-slow answers. By the commercial break after Question 18, I had worked my way up to second place, just three scant points shy of the leader. I took the opportunity to grab my camera and record my triumph, sure that I would screw it up before long and fall back down to Earth. That didn't happen, though, and after Question 21, about worldwide sales of Xbox 360s, I found myself atop all 34,000-plus other players for the first time! The X2 question (No. 25) knocked me down to No. 5 again, but I didn't get discouraged, slowly building up my streak and working my way into first place again by Question 34.

After Question 36, when the "Saints Row 2" Achievement question knocked me back down to third place, I knew I controlled my own destiny. The one remaining question would be my moment of truth: If I got it right, I would finish third at the very worst, and get my name and avatar proudly displayed for all the competitors to see. If I got it wrong, I'd drop down, probably to the lower end of the top 10, but possibly out of the visible high-score list altogether! I held my breath as the final question appeared:

"What game did Shigeru Miyamoto 'fix' by converting its hardware to 'Donkey Kong'?"

My obsessive re-readings of Sheff's "Game Over" paid off yet again! Even before the choices appeared, I knew that the answer was "Radar Scope," an obscure Nintendo space shooter that utterly failed to catch fire in America, clogging up Nintendo's warehouses with unsellable, space-hogging cabinets. As soon as I saw the answer I pressed the button and raised my fist in triumph. I picked up my camera, which had been recording video since Question 20 or so on the off chance there was something worth recording, and zoomed in on the screen as it showed my triumphant third-place finish!

Mere seconds after my name showed up, Xbox Live chirped to life with a trio of friend requests from strangers whom I had to assume had been watching my mastery of videogame trivia. I felt at once gratified -- it's always nice to be popular -- and a little weirded-out that these strangers wanted to be friends with me just because I knew a lot of videogame trivia.

The most interesting friend request was from Fr3zhxKiiD, which was accompanied by a remarkably concise, earnest and punctuation-free message: "how u win".

I answered as matter-of-factly as I could: "I answered 35/37 questions correctly."

That's what it takes, folks. Those top players aren't cheating, they just know a lot more trivial stuff than you do. I'm sorry. We. WE know a lot more trivial stuff than you do.

Man, that feels good to say.

COPYRIGHT (C) 2009 CRISPY GAMER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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