Things To Do At Bars: Pub Trivia

I don’t remember Pub Trivia being a big thing when I was younger, but it’s right up there with intramural kickball and Facebook as the new hotness amongst the “old enough to drink but still wear ironic T-shirts” crowd. Kara and I hit the local bar for dinner one night and found ourselves surrounded by the entire summer population of Boston College, waiting for 9 p.m. and the start of round one.

But Pub Trivia is actually a very good time, and there’s nothing wrong with working a little competitive knowledge-slinging into your weekly booze-up. It’s also a great activity for a group of friends, like a monthly poker game without the tears, recriminations and debt.

Be warned: it can be a little disconcerting if you’re trying to drown your sorrows quietly at the end of the bar, only to have somebody yelling questions about winning sports teams and Oscar recipients into the mic every few minutes. So keep that in mind if you’re in a bar on an “off” night…a lot of bars are using trivia as a (very smart, I might add) way to drum up business on a slow night, like a Sunday or a Tuesday. You can certainly be a team of one, but up to six is kosher (you can have more, but if you do, your team can’t win first place).

There’s a company called Stump! that does most of the trivia nights around here, and they run in a standard format. Here’s how it works:

You have four quarters, each with its own topic (sports, pop culture, geography, etc.), and there’s a halftime between the first two quarters and the last two. Each quarter in the first half, there are 4 questions, and you get 4 point values to “wager” on an answer: 1, 3, 5 and 7. Every time you answer a question, you give it a point value based on how certain you are of your answer: the catch is, you can only use each point value once. So, if you’re really sure that South America is south of North America (it is), you give it 7 points. Then, if you don’t know the capital of Austria (Vienna), you give it 1 point. Of course, you can only give the remaining questions a value of 3 or 5. So if you get another really hard question, the lowest you can give it is 3 points. For every question you get right, you get the points you wagered. The second half uses the same format, but with values of 2, 4, 6, or 8 points.

There’s a special multi-part question at the end of each quarter, which might involve, for example, looking at a bunch of actor photos and naming the character they portrayed and the name of the movie. The halftime question starts with one clue, and if you answer the question in the first clue, you get 10 points. If it takes you two clues, you get 8 points, and so on.

For the final question, you wager a number of points. Get it right and get the points, but get it wrong, and lose half the points you wagered.

At the end of each round, team scores are announced, and at the end of the game, the team with the highest score wins–usually something like a gift certificate to the bar hosting the event. Teams coming in second or third might get prizes as well, depending on the night and the venue.

Perhaps the most creative part of the night is coming up with an original team name, which can range from the lame (Trivia All-Stars) to the witty (Optimus Prime-Rib) to the unprintable. Most tend to err on the “blue” side, which makes it all the more amusing when you’re getting destroyed by a team called “I Love Boobs” or the like.

The trivia tends to be more pop culture than Jeopardy; it’s probably better to know the winner of Survivor: Fiji (Earl Cole) than the current Secretary of Transportation (Ray LaHood). You almost certainly need a sports buff, as there will definitely end up being some questions about the pitcher with the lowest ERA in the 1984 American League (Mike Boddicker of Baltimore, 2.79). Winning the last game of Trivial Pursuit at home might not automatically make you a winner here, and the guy who watched the Oscars is probably going to have a leg up on somebody who read BusinessWeek instead.

But, it’s a fun way to turn an evening of killing brain cells into an educational experience, and you just might learn the name of the show that preceded The Hills on MTV (Laguna Beach).

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