On September 10, 2015, CCI Dean Mike Wirth presented Scott Abbott (MS/C&I ’78), best known as the co-inventor of the incredibly successful board game Trivial Pursuit, with the UT Accomplished Alumni Award. Additional notable accomplishments by Abbott include: his work as a sports journalist with the Canadian Press and other journalistic outlets, his long-time ownership of the North Bay Battalion OHL junior ice hockey team (formerly the Brampton Battalion), his service as a member of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Board of Governors, his ownership of C. Scott Abbott Racing Stable LTD, his ownership of two world-ranked golf courses (Devil’s Pulpit and Devil’s Paint Brush) in Caledon, Ontario and his 2005 induction into the Brampton, Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.
In telling his story to the assembled group of CCI students, faculty and staff, Abbott shared that he came to UT from Montreal in 1971 to pursue a one year master’s in journalism. After completing the required coursework in 1972, he returned to Montreal ABT (all but thesis) where he took a job as a sports journalist with the Canadian Press. In 1977, he realized that time was running out to complete his degree, so he contacted Professor Kelly Leiter who agreed to serve as his thesis advisor. Abbott’s thesis focused on the relationship between professional athletes and the press. This allowed him to take advantage of the many contacts he had developed with professional athletes while working at Canadian Press to complete his thesis and graduate from UT in 1978.
While at the Canadian Press, Abbott met Chris Haney, a photo editor with the Montreal Gazette, and in December 1979, they co-invented Trivial Pursuit. Abbott captured the audience’s attention with his story about the day Trivial Pursuit was created. The creation of the game’s basic concepts only took about 45 minutes. Writing the 6,000+ questions for the game took much longer. Abbott explained that questions needed to be designed in such a way that they were hard enough so that people would find them somewhat challenging but not too difficult to answer. To illustrate his point, he said that he contacted the famed Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry’s administrative assistant to find out Landry’s hat size. Once he had this information, the Trivial Pursuit question became, “What NFL coach with a hat size of 7 1/4 hails from Mission Texas?” rather than the impossible to answer question “What is Dallas Cowboys' head coach Tom Landry’s hat size?”
The descriptions of how Abbott came up with the trivia questions and how he worked to promote and finance the publication of the game drew correlations back to his roots as a reporter, fact gatherer, writer and strategic thinker. “Scott Abbott’s co-invention and subsequent marketing of Trivial Pursuit is a remarkable achievement,” said CCI Dean Mike Wirth. “He is truly one of our most accomplished alumni. Hearing Scott describe how he and his partner created Trivial Pursuit, took it to market and built it into a world-wide phenomenon, really drives home the point to our students that their imagination and creativity in combination with their education can be the catalyst for a very bright future.”
Abbott was the subject of an article published in Torchbearer magazine, a publication of the Office of Alumni Affairs. The article can be found here: http://torchbearer.utk.edu/2015/10/the-not-so-trivial-pursuits-of-scott-abbott/.