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The Categorical Imperative
This article discusses "trash," a commonly used term for popular culture in Quiz Bowl. For information regarding Testing Recall About Strange Happenings, the organization also known as TRASH, see TRASH.

Trash is the common name for popular culture (sports, movies, TV, video games, non-classical music, comic books, etc) in quizbowl. Though probably a derogatory term when it was first coined, it has been embraced by the most vocal supporters of popular culture content in quizbowl, and the term no longer contains any value judgment.

In mainstream academic quizbowl tournaments, trash usually takes up between 0 and 5 percent of the distribution. There are no trash questions at all at ACF Nationals, the PACE NSC, or NASAT, though ACF Fall and most high-school level regular-season events including HSAPQ Tournament Sets have 1 to 2 trash questions per round.

NAQT has somewhat more trash (6.6% in their high school sets when pop culture and sports are treated as a unit [1]). In small amounts, trash questions can help keep rounds lively and increase retention of new players, but a preponderance of trash in an otherwise-academic tournament is considered bad quizbowl.

Trash tournaments

Trash tournaments are tournaments involving questions exclusively on trash.

In the peak trash tournament era of the mid-00s, there were many teams that devoted the majority of their time and money to trash. Clubs such as NYU, Villanova and Boston College played exclusively in trash tournaments for many years in the late 2000s. This phenomenon of trash capture has become markedly less pronounced since the demise of in-season trash tournament.

The number of trash tournaments has declined significantly since the late 2000s, while participation at academic events has remained constant or increased. From spring 2011 to fall 2013, there were only four full-length, standalone trash tournaments held, all of which took place in the summer.

The decline in the popularity of trash can mostly be explained by the fact that trash was invented and played by a pre-existing social group of 1990s quizbowlers, and once that group moved on to other things in life, the true level of interest in trash at about one tournament every six months has emerged. There was constant tension not only over trash's deleterious effect on academic participation but also about its negative influence on question quality, as trash tournaments tended to be very rough in question structure and self-indulgent in answer selection.

The trash paradox

Teams and players who are extremely enthusiastic about playing trash to the exclusion of playing academic questions are, generally, not very good at trash.

Trash teams

While trash was, like academic quizbowl, largely organized through campus clubs and played by teams representing a particular college, its open nature meant that dedicated teams of people well past their college days could remain together as a playing unit indefinitely. Long-term trash squads included:

Great trash players

People who have been dubbed "the greatest trash player ever" by someone other than themselves include James Dinan and Dwight Kidder. Trash was, generally speaking, a format that required a balanced team to succeed at high levels, due to its elevated difficulty and the unlikelihood of one person being an expert at both, e.g., video games and hip-hop music, combined with the fact that few people were willing to study to become better at trash, so teams needed to be formed from the natural interests of individuals.

Historical trash tournaments