The rise and fall of Cuba Livres

There are many subjects I know little about, but one thing I do know is literature—or so I had thought. Earlier this week I attended CBC Books Trivia Night, and even though I went in with no expectation of winning, it was a humbling experience.

The night started with me and three friends huddled around a table in the corner of the back room at Clinton’s. We sipped our drinks as we waited to meet the author we would be paired with. There were many authors in attendance that night: Terry Fallis, Andrew Pyper, Kevin Sylvester, Dani Couture,  Andrew Kaufman, Tanis Rideout, Robert Rotenberg, Nora Young and Brian Francis.

As we waited, we tried to settle on a team name. A few suggestions were tossed around, but we didn’t seem capable of making a decision. The only decision we could come to was that we’d make our author choose. When Kevin Sylvester arrived at our table, he’d barely said hello and sat down when we informed him of his task. Not to worry; he was up for it. After giving him our short list, it was decided: we were Cuba Livres.

All of us—Mr. Sylvester included—made a point of saying we didn’t think we’d win. In my mind, this was confirmed when I realized the room was filled with people who worked in bookstores, publishing houses and literary agencies. Yep. We were screwed. But we were there to have fun; winning didn’t matter.

The quiz had three rounds. After the first round, our team was tied for the top spot, which was much to our surprise. To be fair, I must give Mr. Sylvester some credit. He won a lot of those points for us. But, suddenly, winning the whole thing didn’t seem like such an impossibility. Could we actually have a chance at victory?

Unfortunately, that was the closest we came to the top. Our scores for the second and third rounds were much worse than the first. Most of our answers were guesses.

At the end of the evening, host Garvia Bailey announced the winners. We didn’t win the quiz. We didn’t win for best team name. We didn’t win any door prizes.

But we didn’t leave empty-handed. Each Cuba Livres team member received a copy of Mr. Sylvester’s book Neil Flambé and the Tokyo Treasure.


I might be a little older than the book’s target demographic, but I’m still looking forward to reading it.

It was a fun evening, especially for people who love books, trivia and the CBC as much as I do. I recommend coming out next year. But if you’re hoping to win, you might want to start studying now.

The wonderful world of word games

There’s no doubt about it—word games are popular. And while I’ve yet to download any to my mobile phone, I’ve always been a fan of the non-technological variety.

My parents introduced me and my brother to Hangman when we were quite young. It was a great game to know as kids because it’s so portable. All you need is a pen, paper and at least one other player. It certainly kept the boredom out of the backseat during long car rides.

Dictionary was also popular in our household. This game involves players coming up with fictional definitions for real words. All you need for this game is a few people, paper, pens and a dictionary. We also owned store-bought games, such as Boggle and Scrabble.

Word games have also made popular television shows. I have vivid memories of sipping cherry Coke while watching Wheel of Fortune at my grandparents’ house. I doubt I solved many puzzles when I first started watching, but I understood the concept. I wish I could remember if we witnessed this episode together:

A few years ago, I travelled solo to Paris. I stayed in a non-touristy area where few people spoke English. My French was limited and rusty. I had a phrase book with me, but I wanted to do better than that. So I regularly tuned in to La Roue de la Fortune, France’s version of Wheel of Fortune, in an attempt to improve my French. 

To be honest, I’m not sure it made a huge difference. After all, I was there for only two weeks. But it helped a little bit (and I quite enjoyed watching the cute dog).

There are lots of good reasons to play word games. Maybe you want to build your vocabulary or need help with memorization. Or maybe you just find them fun.

Do you have any favourite word games?