Northwestern ranks highly in use of trivia website Sporcle

Sammy Caiola

Can you name the 25 most heavily populated U.S. cities? How about one-word movie titles starring Bill Murray? Or the most popular boys’ names in the past 100 years?

According to NU’s rank on, a popular trivia website, many Northwestern students like to prove they can.

NU placed third on the college leaderboard ranking for the week of Jan. 2-8 and sixth the following week. As of Tuesday, it ranked ninth. Other schools that have ranked in the top 10 for the past two weeks in a row include University of Michigan, Boston College and Penn State.

Sporcle’s college leaderboard ranks the Sporcle use of individual schools by measuring the number of visits per user, the number of games played, the number of page views and the average time spent on the site, wrote Ian Henry, Sporcle public relations associate, in an e-mail. The rankings are updated every Tuesday.

“It’s pretty cool that we’re ranked high,” said Jamie Weil, a Weinberg sophomore. “It kind of shows that our student body is genuinely interested in information and trivia. It’s nice to know that not everyone is on Facebook 24/7. “

Sporcle was founded in 2007 by Matt Ramme and first featured a quiz that had players name all of the U.S. presidents in less than 10 minutes. Since then, it has published 4,792 original games as well as 153,306 user-created games which have been played 442,215,825 times, according to Sporcle’s home page.

The self-named “mentally stimulating diversions” were released as an iPhone application in February 2010 and on the Android in December 2010. The latest quiz, “word ladder,” has players guess buzz words based on a series of clues from the preceding word. It launched Feb. 6, said Derek Pharr, vice president of products for Sporcle.

“These kids probably value the ability to go to a place that is a guilt-free time waster,” Pharr said. “You can get this thing that will stretch your brain every day, but it’s not like taking a major test.”

Though Sporcle could be viewed as just another tempting distraction for procrastinators, it may also be useful as an educational tool.

Weil said she used one of the site’s geography quizzes to prepare for a class about Asia and a friend used it as a study guide for a Middle Eastern geography test.

Even teachers are catching on to the trend.

Medill freshman Alison Decker said the professor of her Contemporary African Worlds class assigns Sporcle quizzes as suggested but ungraded homework.

“Instead of taking notes on something or trying to memorize it, I can speed type all of the countries in Africa and see what I can get,” Decker said. “It gives you a definite sense of certainty on what you don’t know, and it’s a fun, interactive way to learn.”

Pharr said he has received several phone calls from teachers whose schools’ administrators have blocked Sporcle, thinking it was just a time-waster. Educators have contacted Pharr for advice on how to get the website unblocked.

“There’s a real trend toward using the web as an academic resource, like any other knowledge-based website,” Pharr said. “I think social gaming and online learning have become kind of a nexus. If we can combine those two we’ll have the best of both worlds.”

Slivka Residential College hosted a Sporcle tournament Jan. 28 in which teams of three students at most competed to see which group could complete six Sporcle quizzes in the shortest time.

McCormick junior Derek Morris, Slivka’s IT director and organizer of the event, said the idea was inspired when student sent a listserv e-mail prompting residents to get NU ranked first on the college leaderboard.

“We decided it would be really fun because people here waste their time playing Sporcle instead of doing their problem sets,” he said.

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