The Reign of Pub Trivia

I’m not sure how or when, but somewhere along the timeline of human history, a genius realized that bars and trivia competitions could go as well together as ketchup and mustard, or fish and chips. The formula that filtered down through the ages is deceptively simple: simply take a weeknight at a bar when business is comparatively slow, add a host with some questions and a rudimentary PA system, toss in some drink specials and a few rules to keep things flowing, and boom – all trivia nerds in the immediate vicinity will get wind of it and swarm the bar in order to claim some share of the glory that comes with knowing more obscure facts than the people sitting around them.

I think this phenomenon is so pervasive, especially in a wonky city like DC, because so many young adults of bar-going age grew up with a love of trivia instilled by watching Jeopardy! Many of these adults, myself included,¬†would die to go on the show. Many of us also know there’s very little chance we’ll ever get to say hi to Alex Trebek in person, so we make do the best we can by trying out our skills in real life when the opportunity arises.

Just such an opportunity arose recently. My friend Gerritt is moving away soon, which has launched a cavalcade of going-away festivities. Gerritt and I met in college, and while we became friends for many reasons, it was apparent early on that our combined trivia knowledge was formidable. It wasn’t long before we were forbidden to be on the same team for any board game involving the faintest hint of trivia rules. But for all that, we never joined forces in a “real world” trivia challenge throughout our whole “adult” lives.

Until now.

The idea really got started with Gerritt and two of my other friends, Matt and Steve, in the early stages of the going-away get-togethers. They realized there was both a convenient venue and a large gap in our lives that could only be filled by forming a trivia team, and they knew that I would be interested.

And so we descended on an unsuspecting bar in DC one fateful Wednesday night in late August, not knowing whether we would live up to our own expectations or suffer an ego-bruising setback as had happened in the past.

I learned a few things during that prototypical outing. First, I learned that choosing a trivia team name is almost as important as answering your questions wisely. We struggled a bit on this score, deciding on a name that fit the supposed weekly theme of Jeff Goldblum movies. However, we quickly realized that to gain the respect of other teams and to make our host laugh, our name would need to hew closer to a political or current events pun with a side order of sexual innuendo. I filed that away for future reference.

Second, I learned that our individual knowledge sets complemented the others’ nicely. The team became more than the sum of its parts, with each of us having an area that proved to be a strength, such as Matt’s memorization of sports championships or Gerritt’s deep music game. We also overlapped enough in other areas that if one of us wasn’t sure of an answer, we could often back them up with words of encouragement ranging from “that sounds right” to “YES, that’s it” to “I have no idea, just put anything down.” In the end, this worked out to our advantage more often than not – we certainly talked ourselves out of a couple of correct answers, but not many, and being honest about our own senses of certainty proved useful.

Third, I learned that hey, this trivia thing is pretty fun!

The fourth thing I learned is that we finished the night victorious, besting teams that were mainstays and full of trivia vets. I was admittedly surprised. We led after a few rounds but fell behind in a couple of mid-game slumps. We agreed that we owed our come-from-behind victory to a conservative betting style and the honesty with ourselves that I mentioned above, since some questions involved wagering points and we did not “go big” when we didn’t feel good about an answer. We strolled out of the bar one $30 gift certificate richer.

Standing out on the streets of DC on that warm summer night, the four of us realized we were really onto something and that we should get the team together at least one more time before Gerritt left town. There’s something to be said for going out on top, but we had to prove that this one particular week was not a fluke, that we weren’t just lightning in a bottle.

It took some serious planning, but we made it happen a few weeks later. Having one successful outing under our belts, we acted like pros this time. We chose our very fitting team name using equal parts punmanship and lasciviousness. We used our gift certificate to offset the cost of dinner. We didn’t stray from the strategy that worked well for us the first time.

And dang us if we didn’t win again! Two time international world champs! Two for two!

Despite the euphoria over trouncing all the other teams, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness. I knew that there wasn’t enough time left for all four of us to manage to get together for another round before Gerritt left. As we were paying our tab, the trivia host announced that this session was to be the last for that particular bar. It seemed fitting.
And so ended the shortened, but perfect, season of our pub trivia team. I won’t say I’ll never try out trivia again, but losing an irreplaceable player means that this version of the team is at an end. Indeed, we shall not see its like again.
As for Gerritt himself, well, this is just a parting of the ways. Moving across the country isn’t as big of an impasse as it used to be. Until next time!