You Don't Need to Be a Genius to Pass This Knowledge Quiz, but It Would Help

Torrance Grey

Image: VANDAL Photography / DigitalVision / Getty Images

About This Quiz

The word "trivia" comes from the Latin words meaning "three ways" or "three roads." Because small bits of news were posted at the places where roads converged, the word "trivia" eventually came to mean "bits of information." Of course, the Romans would be surprised at what big business trivia has become. Nowadays, quiz shows award millions of dollars in prize money, and in the UK, there's even a "quiz circuit," on which players are ranked by their wins. 

You don't have to be pursuing a financial windfall to love trivia. There's another benefit to exercising your brain: you're, well, exercising your brain and keeping it young and flexible! But it's not enough to passively absorb information through books, articles or documentaries, you need to put your knowledge to the test by answering questions and solving problems. We're here to help, with a quiz that spans a number of subjects: books, biology, geography, history, health science, vocabulary and more. Whatever your walk of life, you're likely to be challenged by some of these questions. If you're still fairly young, you're likely to remember all those things you learned in school (and felt certain you'd never use), like what a "Golgi apparatus" is, or the capital of Brazil. But if you're over 40, there's good news on that front, too. While the brain itself peaks in your early 20s, studies show that general knowledge continues to accrue throughout one's lifetime. 

Are you ready to take your brain over the hurdles? Let's do this!

Which of these is known as "the City of Light"?

Need to Know Dept: The city is named for an early people, the Parisii, who lived on the Seine. There is no connection to the Paris of Greek legend, although he was undeniably obsessed with beauty: he asked Aphrodite to grant him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Troy.

The study of societies and patterns of social interaction is called what?

Ever notice how many people you met in school who studied sociology, compared to how few sociologists you meet in everyday life? Still, there is a demand for sociological research; it influences political and economic policy, among other things.

What astronomical object has an "event horizon"?

Technically speaking, a black hole is not an object, it's a phenomenon or an area of space. A black hole is created when a neutron star collapses in on itself and begins to suck everything into the space where it used to be. The event horizon is the point at which even light cannot escape.

What is the Gulf Stream?

The Gulf Stream is a warm current that begins in the Gulf of Mexico, follows the eastern coastline of North America, and crosses the Atlantic. Fun fact: Benjamin Franklin was pivotal in its official discovery (we say "official" because sea captains knew about it already; in fact, Franklin found out by asking them). Franklin took it on himself to investigate the discrepancy in the speed of ships crossing the Atlantic, some of which had the help of the Gulf Stream, and some of which did not.

True or false: Sodium has no health benefits; the only reason to consume it is because it improves the taste of food.

In fact, sodium is essential to health. It moves water into cells, and potassium moves it out again; they work in conjunction. More than one elite athlete has succumbed to life-threatening hyponatremia after over-hydrating without consuming any sodium. The effect is much the same as dehydration.

Dian Fossey was noted for her research on what animals?

Dian Fossey loved horses as a teenager and young woman, but it was when she went to Africa and learned about mountain gorillas that she found her calling. Fossey moved to Rwanda and lived there until her murder, possibly by a poacher, in 1985.

Julius Caesar was famous for crossing which river?

When Caesar was young, and his military power was growing, the Senate ordered him not to cross the Rubicon River with his army (he had been on a campaign outside Roman-controlled territory). Caesar did not disperse his army as requested but led it across the river, saying "Alea jacta est (the die is cast)" and starting a civil war.

True or false: Volcanoes are a phenomenon found on other planets.

The solar system is divided into terrestrial and gaseous planets. The terrestrial ones, which include Mercury, Venus, and Mars, are known to have eruptions of magma. Once magma is on the surface, it is called lava.

Roughly how many galaxies are there in the observable universe?

To reiterate, this is in the universe that astronomers can observe from Earth or space-based telescopes. There are undoubtedly more galaxies beyond that. Then we have the problem of dark matter and the possibility of other universes... All of this makes us feel the need to have some hot cocoa and watch cat videos now.

Who wrote "The Four Seasons"?

Vivaldi was a baroque composer whose life straddled the 16th and 17th centuries. "The Four Seasons" is his best-known work. Sidenote: We didn't get Mahler's first name wrong. Composer Gustav's wife, Alma, wrote music as well.

Where would you find the city of Uppsala?

Uppsala is Sweden's fourth-largest city. It is known for its gorgeous cathedral, named after the city. We recommend visiting in the summertime because in midwinter the city receives fewer than six hours of sunlight a day.

The island of Hispaniola is home to which two countries?

Hispaniola is one of the large islands in the Caribbean Sea. Somewhat unusually, it houses two sovereign nations, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Haiti is known for being the only country in history founded on a successful slave revolution.

The philosopher Nietzsche proposed the idea of what?

In Nietzsche's native German, this concept was called "the ubermensch." He was the ideal man who made his own fate and grasped all the opportunities this world has to offer, instead of relying on salvation through religion and a life after death in paradise.

Which of these is the name for the chambers of the heart?

If you paid attention in health science class, you knew this one. The human heart has four chambers: two atria (singular "atrium") and two ventricles. Contrary to what some people might tell you, it is not these chambers that get clogged with cholesterol in the case of heart disease. It's the arteries that feed the heart muscle.

This U.S. president had a history of saying very little. Who was he?

Explaining his "Silent Cal" nickname, Coolidge wrote, "The words of a president carry enormous weight, and ought not to be used indiscriminately." Coolidge was also known for his dry wit.

Which city was the birthplace of the Renaissance?

Florence, in the heart of Tuscany, is still a popular destination for art and culture lovers. The Italian Renaissance was an explosion of art, architecture, and scientific discovery, thanks to the efforts of thinkers like Dante Aligheri, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

Which element on the periodic table is the lightest?

Hydrogen, represented by the symbol H, has an atomic weight of only 1.008. Hydrogen is also distinguished by being the most abundant element in the universe, and of being one of the two components in water (oxygen being the other).

This state has never given the U.S. a president. Which is it?

If Sarah Palin had somehow ascended to the presidency, Alaska probably would have claimed her (though she was born in Sandpoint, Utah). If you were tempted by Hawaii, not so! It was the birthplace of Barack Obama.

During Ramadan, what are Muslims forbidden to do?

Ramadan is a period of strict fasting, which is broken daily at sunset. This makes Ramadan very difficult to observe in the northern latitudes in the summertime, or the southern latitudes in winter.

What was Coco Chanel's first name?

Her full name was Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel; the middle name is French for "pleasure" or "happiness." There are several accounts of how she acquired her nickname, one of them being that it referred to the French word "cocotte," for a kept woman. Chanel did rely on the generosity of lovers in her early years.

If you are "impecunious," what do you lack?

"Impecunious" means having little money, while "pecuniary" is "of or related to money." (Thanks to our go-to site on vocabulary, Merriam-Webster, for including this one in a quiz about finance terms. That quiz also pointed out that the word "mortgage" essentially means "death pledge" in French ... perhaps sage advice disguised as etymology.)

Which of these public intellectuals has written for Marvel Comics?

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an African-American journalist and writer; his name is an Egyptian word for "Nubia," an ancient kingdom in Africa. Coates has written Black Panther titles for Marvel and is planning a Captain America series.

During the Soviet era, which of these was the Communist version of NATO?

The Warsaw Pact was a military and defense pact among the Eastern bloc nations, led by Soviet Russia, and named for the city in Poland. It dissolved in the late 1980s when movements like Poland's Solidarity and Russia's Glasnost undermined the very idea of a united Communist bloc.

The Nuremberg Trials prosecuted criminals from which war?

The trials took place in the city of Nuremberg, Germany. Several key Third Reich leaders had already committed suicide or been killed, chief among them Adolf Hitler. But ten defendants were sentenced to death and hanged.

An "agrarian" society is one very involved in what?

Both the words "agriculture" and "agrarian" are based on the Latin "ager," meaning "field." So is the English word "acre," which is a unit of land. While most societies today are at least in part agrarian, the word is used in contrast to hunter-gatherer groups or industrial societies.

The rights read to a suspect at the time of arrest are called what?

While "Miranda" is a common woman's name, the Warning is named for Ernesto Miranda, a suspect who was not told he had a right to remain silent and to have an attorney. He challenged his conviction in Miranda v. Arizona.

Who was the first African-American justice on the Supreme Court?

Marshall was appointed to the Court in 1967 and remained on the bench until 1991. His life and career have been commemorated by a play, "Thurgood," and a movie, "Marshall." (Not the most inventive names, eh!)

In George H.W. Bush's name, what do the initials stand for?

Before the 2000 election, he was only referred to as "George Bush." Only when his son George W. Bush rose to political prominence, becoming the U.S. president, did the double-initial name stick. Other people liked to call the presidents "Bush 41" and "Bush 43," respectively, for their order in the presidential lineage.

"A Moveable Feast" is about Ernest Hemingway's life in what city?

"A Moveable Feast," about Hemingway's first marriage and his "hungry years" in Paris, is a beautiful read. However, don't take the memoir at face value: His depictions of Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald have been widely challenged (and border on slanderous).

Endocrinology is the study of what process in the body?

Endocrinology is the study of the body's glands, the hormones those glands create, and their activities in the body. An important sub-field within endocrinology is the study of insulin and glucose regulation, which includes diabetes.

A "stalagmite" grows from what part of the cave?

We sympathize with you if you chose option number four. For some reason, everyone's got a nerdy friend who believes that knowing the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite is really important, and will usually cite the following mnemonic: "You have to hang on *tight* to a stalactite, while you pull with all your *might* to wrench a stalagmite up from a cave floor." Okay, got it!

How many tectonic plates does the Earth have?

It's easy to guess "seven" because of the seven continents. But Earth has about fifteen major plates, which are responsible for phenomena like earthquakes. The Earth's tectonic plates are about 62 miles deep, extending into the upper mantle.

One of these countries is NOT in the Fertile Crescent. Which is it?

The Fertile Crescent is a boomerang-shaped region in the Middle East with better farming than the surrounding deserts. It includes the countries above, along with the Palestinian Territories and part of Egypt ... but not Morocco, which is in northwest Africa.

Which of these is the best definition of "abnegation"?

"Abnegation" is most often used in the form "self-abnegation," so much so that people are starting to drop the word "self." Perhaps speeding up this trend was the "Divergent" series of books, in which "Abnegation" was the faction of citizens who live by the principle of self-denial.

A cell's "power plant" is which of these structures?

As much as we like anything called an "apparatus," it's the mitochondria which create a substance called adenosine triphosphate, which powers cellular activities. Mitochondria are also involved in regulating cell growth and death.

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