Cheaters

“Let me tell you a story.”

The girl stared at the ceiling, and as her father sat on the edge of the bed she scooted back to keep her distance. She sighed meaningfully while her father began talking.

“When I was in high school they had a big Trivial Pursuit contest out on the quad.” The girl had never played the game, and probably didn’t know what a quad was, but she didn’t ask for clarification so her father pressed on. “We had a pretty good team. We were all honors students.

“The way it was set up, there were two teams seated on either side of a podium, and the moderator was standing, and he would turn from side to side reading the questions from the cards. It was always at lunchtime–a different round each day–and this was Southern California so it was usually sunny.” The girl met his gaze but gave no other indication of interest.

“We did well in the early rounds, but one boy on our team noticed something. He was this tall blond good-looking kid–went to Stanford the next year, I think–and he noticed that as he looked up at the moderator reading the question, he was in a perfect position to read the answer on the back of the card. If he squinted it was only because the sun was in his eyes, he could say. He said we might as well use every advantage, and the rest of us did not object.

“So we made it to the final round, and through judicious and discreet back-of-card reading we eked out a win. Well, it was just a game, right? I don’t remember what we won.”

“So, you cheated.”

“Yeah, we cheated.” He let that sink in.

“But see, the other team had noticed the blond boy reading the cards! Before we knew it we were in a dark room defending ourselves. It was the room where the color guard stored their flags, so blue and gold lined the walls, but the lights were low. We denied cheating of course. We were all honors students, the cream of the class, and it was a little incredible that we would stoop to something like cheating. There was no evidence, either, except the word of the opposing team, who were probably the only ones besides us with a good view of what happened.

“But they were insistent and finally it was resolved that we would offer them a rematch.” The girl finally got up on an elbow and allowed her jaw to drop slightly.

“The day of the rematch the moderator was careful to cover the back of the card with his hand. Then a funny thing happened: I started to know all the answers. I’m not generally great at trivia–I was a good student but not so great at memorizing facts–and I had contributed less than average up to that point. But you know how it is, all of a sudden I seemed to know the answer to every question. We opened up a huge lead and won the game by more than 10 points.

“After the game the other team congratulated us and apologized for having doubted our trivia prowess. All suspicion of cheating was gone.”

The father smiled sheepishly at his daughter. Televised laughter reached them from the other room.

“Uh, dad, aren’t you supposed to be telling me how cheating never pays and stuff?”

“Yes, sweetheart. Yes, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”

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