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Tour guides flock to a trivia competition that demands encyclopedic knowledge of NYC

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The Panorama Challenge is one of the fiercest trivia competitions in New York City. It takes place at the Queens Museum, which houses a scale model of New York that was first created for the 1964 World's Fair. This annual trivia challenge requires encyclopedic knowledge of the city and attracts those who know it best, mostly tour guides. Earlier this month, reporter Emily Malterre attended the 2024 Panorama Challenge.

JONATHAN TURER: How many people in the room have been to Panorama Challenge before?

(CHEERING)

EMILY MALTERRE, BYLINE: Quizmaster Jonathan Turer welcomes the crowd.

TURER: How many people have one Panorama Challenge before?

MALTERRE: Two hundred New York City nerds are ready for a cutthroat competition. It's the first year back from the pandemic.

MEGAN MAROD: Well, so we're all a part of team GANYC Panic. It stands for the Guides Association of New York City.

MALTERRE: Megan Marod is a proud, licensed tour guide. This eight-member team has never won the Panorama Challenge since it started in 2007.

MAROD: I think everyone's happy. It's a lot of history fanatics and New York City fanatics all, like, at a history and New York City fanatic party.

MALTERRE: The competitors are all standing on walkways above the Panorama exhibit. They look down on 895,000 miniature buildings, plus trees, roads, even a tiny plane on a string that continuously takes off and lands at the airport. It gives you the feeling that you are looming over the city. The model includes all five boroughs - Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island. Ayinde Stevens is a guide who specializes in the subway and gives tours of Grand Central Terminal. He says he's mostly prepared.

AYINDE STEVENS: I feel really good tonight except for one category - Staten Island. I love New York City to death, but I barely go to Staten Island.

MALTERRE: The competition includes some general New York trivia, but half of the questions are extra niche, like this one, which starts with a clip from the movie "Enchanted."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: The finale of this musical number takes place in front of a sculpture created by the first woman to receive a public art commission in New York City. Pros, name the sculptor.

MALTERRE: If you didn't immediately have sculptor Emma Stebbins on the tip of your tongue, don't worry, neither did I. And some questions get quite technical.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Pros, from 1951 to 1953, which agency ran the subways from the offices located above the tracks at Jay Street?

MALTERRE: There are people here who actually knew the answer...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Wow.

MALTERRE: ...The New York City Board of Transportation, which existed only until the 1950s. Sixty questions later, the judges tally up scores. David Madore, a tour guide and Broadway musician, was hopeful about GANYC Panic's chances.

You had concerns about Staten Island. How did that go?

DAVID MADORE: Well, we still have concerns about Staten Island regardless, but we seemed to come through on a few of those questions.

MALTERRE: Then it's time for the big reveal from Quizmaster Turer.

TURER: In first place...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Oh, God.

TURER: ...With 57 points, GANYC Panic.

(CHEERING)

MALTERRE: The prize for winning the Panorama Challenge? Their team name carved on a plaque and bragging rights for the rest of the year.

For NPR News, I'm Emily Malterre in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF ZIPS SONG, "HEARTLESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emily Malterre