I went to a conference in Michigan last week for work, where on a night out with my co-workers, we stumbled upon a pub trivia night at a place called The Bob. I actually let out a tiny, “Yay!” when I heard the news because I spent a lot of Tuesday nights at The Flying Saucer drinking beer and debating what the average person’s walking speed is (4 miles an hour). Trivia games are the only place where I might be able to use some of the weird things I’ve picked up over the years. Like the fact that chess grand master Paul Morphy was found dead in a bathtub surrounded by women’s shoes (I’d love to know why, but Bobby Fischer Goes to War, the book where I picked up that fun fact, doesn’t say). I also know that the reason Marlon Brando’s pants were so tight in Streetcar Named Desire was because the wardrobe lady made them by molding wet denim onto his naked body.
Being the new person in the group, I was glad we decided to play. It would be something we could do as a team and maybe get to know one another a little better. I quickly realized, however, that this was not the trivia I was used to. First of all, you had to submit answers after every question, which meant a lot of running up to the stage and back over the course of the evening. In order to give time for debate, but ultimately keep people from taking too long between questions, the hostess would play a song. Most of them were rock anthems and ballads of my childhood, and the answers had to be turned in before the final notes of November Rain died out. It’s meant to keep things moving, but sometimes it sets aside more time than one really needs to identify the heat source of an Easy Bake Oven (light bulb). During which time, you’re stuck listening to that one song from high school that everyone loved before they all realized it kind of sucked and praying it isn’t stuck in your head for the rest of the night.
I’m not sure if our hostess is what passes for a comedian in Grand Rapids, but she didn’t so much have patter and tell jokes as she just said things loudly and forcefully into a microphone. The loudness is how you know it’s funny. So she “joked” with participants throughout the evening while they mostly just muttered about why the whole process was taking so damn long. Part of it was no doubt the decision to play Bohemian Rhapsody, but the time allotted for her “witty” “banter” with a disinterested audience certainly contributed to the epic-ness of the evening.
Let me take a moment to say a few words about our host in Little Rock whom my friends and I called Trivia Guy, although his real name is Eric something. I have, in the past, sometimes complained that Trivia Guy asked too many questions about presidential trivia and world flags. I complained mostly because I don’t know much about those topics. But, having seen the alternative, I believe Trivia Guy is a leader in his field, the Alex Trebek of bar trivia to this woman’s Howie Mandel. He keeps things moving, asks questions that have provoked good debates (How many states have more coastal land than Florida? One: Alaska), adjusts the questions for level of difficulty, and saves the answers for the end.
He doesn’t take a break to host dance parties or an interminable round of Name That Tune that went on forever only to end with the winners taking away cheesy swag from a well known beer company. Not to mention the fact that because this new trivia I played was sponsored by said beer, two of the questions were about the corporate sponsor. If we had but known, we could have visited their website and gotten the answers to that night’s questions in advance. Trivia Guy never resorted to such shameless shilling. He also seems to have mastered basic math, whereas we got cheated out of ten points because someone forgot to carry the one, and we had to go back and convince them to adjust our total.
My group won in the end, and even there, Michigan failed to live up to what I was used to. After two hours of mostly interminable play (we all wanted to quit but stayed out of a perverse need to see things through, beat a group who called themselves “Team Awesome,” and watch some older ladies at the table next to us finally get so drunk that one of them stood and shimmied in her chair a bit), we won $30, which is less than you’d make at a winning night at The Saucer.
There is a group in Austin who host pub trivia events, and I’m bolstered by the fact that they call themselves Geeks Who Drink. I’m going to check it out with my roommate and a friend of mine who qualified for Jeopardy! But I now know that not all pub trivia is created equal, and if I hear the opening of The Steve Miller Band’s Abracadabra, I am out of there.