It was not missing answers that bothered Dywane Hall when he played Trivial Pursuit. It was all the missing questions.
"I was getting ticked off" at the lack of questions about blacks, Hall said recently. The more he played, the angrier he became, and when he received a trivia game as a wedding present in August 1984, he suggested to his wife Linda that they create a game of their own.
A year ago this month, the Alexandria couple and four friends who joined them as researchers and entrepreneurs sold the first BlacFax game, a box of 3,000 questions about blacks.
Since then, and with no outside financing and no money for advertising, they have sold 12,000 BlacFax games. Although the original plan was to market BlacFax primarily to college-educated blacks, orders have come in from unexpected quarters: schools in Harlem and Philadelphia, community centers in Laurel and Alexandria, military bases in West Germany and even Lorton Reformatory.
Deborah Scott, a teacher at Lyles-Crouch Elementary School in Alexandria, first used BlacFax while teaching summer school for District junior high students last year. "I incited a riot," Scott said, explaining that a BlacFax game she started with her students was overheard by children in other classes who clamored to play until their teachers allowed them to join in.
Scott said she hopes her fourth graders at Lyles-Crouch have similar enthusiasm for the game. "A lot of students still know very little about their heritage," she said. "It seems a shame to me."
Georgia state Sen. Julian Bond, whose name is the correct answer to at least one BlacFax question, rates the game as "just difficult enough to keep you interested." Bond began playing "BlacFax" with two of his children, age 16 and 17. "I had to play with someone I could beat," he said. He added that in any trivial dispute, "Dad is always the final authority."
Hall, 29, an investment broker with a master's degree in organizational behavior, and his wife, 27, a business manager for Martin Marietta who holds a master's degree in business, thought at first that they could do the research for the game themselves. But they quickly realized the immensity of the undertaking and enlisted friends Glen Moore, Larry Brinkley, Caroline Washington and Dexter and Deborah Curry in the project.
Once the facts were gathered, the group considered the next hurdle: cash. "We had exhausted the personal pocket" on research, Hall said. "And after we spent that $2, we started trudging to various banks and found that banks don't fund small, hungry people with ideas and no products.
"Even black venture capitalists said, 'No, it's not a liquor store' " and refused to take a risk, he said with a laugh. "I'm one of those stubborn people. When I'm told it can't be done, I'm going to do it."
So rather than scrap the facts after so much digging, the six dug again -- into their pockets -- and pulled together $30,000.
The initial 5,000 game kits were printed in early 1985, and Hall took the first 100 to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament in Norfolk where teams from eight black colleges were competing. "We took our last $250 and bought a booth," he recalled. The new game sold out, and the group began taking orders.
Last year, WVEC-TV in Norfolk televised a group playing BlacFax. News anchorman Jim Kincaid, a white reporter who covered the civil rights movement starting in 1960, beat Hall and other challengers. When Hall confessed his embarrassment at being beaten at his own game, the veteran newsman said simply, "Son, I lived this stuff."
According to Hall, players seem to be sharing their enthusiasm for the game by distributing the mail-order address. After soldiers at Fort Belvoir played BlacFax, the word reached U.S. military bases in West Germany and orders began coming in from there.
Local shops, such as Common Concerns and Tut's Toy Box, are stocking the game, but most larger stores have so far failed to respond to Hall's sales pitch. "They say, 'Why do we need it as long as blacks are buying Trivial Pursuit?' " Hall said.
Hall markets his game personally, always carrying a few game cards as he goes about introducing himself and describing BlacFax to strangers. Each BlacFax game, which sells for $18.95, contains 500 cards with six questions on each and a sheet that explains methods of playing BlacFax alone or with other trivia games.
Although sales of BlacFax are increasing, the initial $30,000 investment has not been recouped, Hall said. This causes him no great concern, he said, because the game was not born of "a for-profit motive . . . . It was more out of spite" over the the dearth of black questions in the other trivia games.
"Kids come up to me who didn't want to play at first," he said, but they tell him how, after a few games, they have become engrossed in learning about black achievers in science, business, the arts, sports and history, Hall said.
Hall's reward, he said, is seeing "the glimmer in the eyes" of black children who have realized that "we did something also."