A Battle of Wits, Wills and Whims
Trivia night. By definition, it shouldn’t really matter.
Tell that to the hundreds of players who congregate at more than a dozen Frederick County restaurants and bars six nights a week. For the faithful, trivia, the residue of knowledge once acquired yet no longer useful in any other way, has plenty of value. It provides an activity around which they, their friends and family gather to socialize. It offers a chance to win prizes from the night’s host establishment. And for many, it validates a sticky storehouse of memories that refuse to budge from the recesses of the mind.
There are other trivia leagues in the region, but Pour House Trivia is the standard, hosting 32 games weekly, 13 of them in Frederick County. There are two regular seasons during the year, both of which culminate in the Pour House Trivia World Series, and also a summer series. The most recent series had 83 teams competing for $5,000 in cash, an assortment of other prizes and, perhaps most importantly, prestige. It holds the record as the largest free-entry trivia tournament in the country.
Many of the players who play in the Pour House league have dabbled in trivia elsewhere but swear by Pour House’s structure, questions and hosts, most notably Denny Grizzle, the founder and a crowd favorite. Like the hosts, each venue has its own personality, drawing to it players who seek the ideal setting for a showdown of the minutiae of the mind.
Monday, Il Forno Pizzeria
Pizza pies perched atop metal stands serve as centerpieces for the tables around which the 10 teams competing tonight sit. Music blends with the banter of teammates discussing, laughing, arguing. Tonight’s host, Bill Patschak, plays a mix of upbeat music with familiar lyrics, just loud enough that nobody can hear the conversation at the neighboring table. It’s like a wedding reception where nobody is expected to dance—or wants to. They are here to play trivia.
The 2010 Disney film “Tangled” was an adaptation of a German fairy tale telling the story of this princess. For your wager, name this character. For a two-point bonus, what actress voiced this character in this film?
Just moments earlier, Chad Bartholomew had ambled into the restaurant, seemingly unconcerned that he’s start. None of his regular teammates are here, so he greets Patschak, a familiar face, and sits down to play alone. Playing solo is not easy. It requires one person to have the answer to 20 questions over four rounds, a halftime puzzle page, a bonus question and the final question of the night. Difficult for a team, let alone an individual. This one’s no problem for Bartholomew, though. He has the answer: Rapunzel. The bonus: Mandy Moore.
Even though he is by himself, Bartholomew, 26, a residential counselor during the day, is playing under his team name, That’s So Wes Craven, a bit of wordplay combining the name of the former Disney Channel show, That’s So Raven, and the name of slasher film director Wes Craven. A memorable name is important to a lot of teams. A name is a brand and many are known throughout the league. Some involve clever puns built around pop culture references. Others are inappropriate for publication in a family magazine yet draw appreciative chuckles from those who hear them for the first time.
Up to seven people are allowed on a team. Who are they? Fishmonger, vaccine researcher, English teacher, loan processor, pizza delivery driver, nuclear med technician, high school cheerleader and air traffic controller. Education? Bachelor’s degrees, GEDs, advanced degrees, no degrees at all. The player with a college education might know some answers, Grizzle says, but “he better know Scooby-Doo, as well.”
That’s the allure of trivia. It doesn’t take a photographic memory, a Harvard PhD. or a lifetime of study to excel. While those things can help, the best players are those who simply pay attention and have an innate sense of curiosity, a love of learning for learning’s sake. “Everyone has something that other people don’t know,” Bartholomew says. “Anybody is better than an empty chair.”
Shortly before the halftime puzzle, Bartholomew teams up with an acquaintance. The friend is definitely better than an empty chair, contributing where Bartholomew comes up short. After halftime, That’s So Wes Craven has climbed into third place, despite starting late.
For this question, each of the following people I will describe all share the same last name. For your wager, simply give me the last name. You will earn a two-point bonus if you can give me all three of their first names, as well.
1) American author who was portrayed by Melissa Gilbert in a popular TV series that ran from 1974 to 1983.
2) Actor who directed and starred in the 1984 film The Woman in Red.
3) American playwright and novelist whose works include The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Our Town and The Skin of our Teeth.
Bartholomew can’t come up with the name, Wilder (Laura Ingalls Wilder, Gene Wilder and Thornton Wilder), and it takes its toll. He had chosen the question’s category, We Share a Last Name, as his team’s bonus for that round, worth up to five extra points if answered correctly. Missing the bonus can be the end of a team’s hopes for the night.
“When I missed my bonus in the fourth round, I was really frustrated,” says Bartholomew. “I get competitive.” That competitive nature has taken Bartholomew, Patschak and some of the others in their group of friends far beyond the aroma of pizza at Il Forno. Last year, they competed in Las Vegas at the Trivia Championship of North America, where they faced, among others, Ken Jennings, who holds the record for the longest winning streak on Jeopardy!, and Brad Rutter, the show’s all-time money winner. “You know how you’ve heard of the big fish in the small pond?” says Bartholomew. “There you feel like the minnows in the ocean.”
In addition, Bartholomew and Patschak were once contestants on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Bartholomew walked away with $20,000; Patschak settled for $1,000.
Final question: The Boeing 727 known as the Clipper Goodwill flew this airline’s last set of passengers from Barbados to Miami on Dec. 4, 1991. Until then, it was the largest international air carrier in the United States. Name it.
In the end, Bartholomew’s teammate, the guy who was filling a seat, comes through with the final answer: Pan Am. That’s So Wes Craven finishes third, a disappointment for Bartholomew.
Tuesday, Monkey La La
The vibe in Monkey La La is different than in Il Forno. The lights are dim and the ceiling low. The music is pumping just like last night but the voices are louder, a cacophony not conducive to concentration. The host is Grizzle and his easygoing, polished banter is a hit with the crowd.
In the house is Stink Floyd, the reigning World Series of Trivia champions, aiming for a third straight weekly win. Michael Maccarone 44, a bookseller at Barnes & Noble, is a member of the team but is also a powerful solo player. He holds a Pour House record for winning 19 times on his own at 18 different venues. He has played in the national Geeks Who Drink – Geek Bowl, where his team finished 12th, just four spots behind a team featuring five former Jeopardy! champions, and he tried out for Millionaire, passing the written test but not chosen for the show.
Maccarone doesn’t attribute his skill to anything more than being well-read. “I’ve pretty much always got a book with me,” he says, offering as proof a new one pulled from the Barnes & Noble bag on the table.
This is the only pronoun in the title of a 1940 Hemingway classic, and also the 1985 Metallica song that shares the same title. Name that pronoun.
The answer: whom. It proves that a little education doesn’t hurt; however, it’s not the only road to success. Some players watch Jeopardy! nightly, keep trivia books in the bathroom or test their knowledge on Sporcle, an online trivia site. At least one listens to a daily trivia podcast. Others memorize lists; any player who has been to the world series knows the importance of committing to memory the periodic table, state capitals, the zodiac, U.S. presidents and Academy Award winners.
An undervalued key to success, however, is simply playing a lot. The members of Stink Floyd play at two venues weekly. Last season, they set the goal of being house champions (the season’s winner at a particular venue) at two different locations. They almost pulled it off, too, coming up just short on the last game of the season. “We love playing trivia as preparation for more trivia,” says Chris Hofmeister, 28, a customer service agent for a bank.
For your wager, fill in the blank to this 19th-century quote: “In this sense, the theory of” [blank] “may be summed up in the single sentence: abolition of private property.”
The answer: communism. Stink Floyd wins the night. Three in a row. One step closer to another house championship.
Wednesday, The Valley Grill Sports Bar
Televisions showing sports are wedged onto just about every available wall space at The Valley Grill. Located at Hollow Creek Golf Club in the middle of a housing development, the venue is family-friendly and the makeup of the teams reflects that. Young and old mix at tables, booths and the bar. The host, Ronnie Barrett, keeps that in mind, his humor laced with only allusions to bawdiness, careful to never cross the line.
Shirley Temple had two hit songs that included the name of a food in their title: one first performed in the 1934 film Bright Eyes and the other in the 1935 film Curly Top. For your wager, name either one of these two songs. You may guess at both; you’ll earn your wager if either is correct.
You’ll earn a two-point bonus if both are correct. Kaela Pratt, 17, is a senior at Middletown High School. Her team, Mountain Misfits (a nice, clean name), is mostly high school students. Pratt considers her strength music, everything from classic rock to pop, but she says her team needs older players to handle some of the “generational” questions, not because education makes much of a difference, but life experience does. The Shirley Temple question is one a team like Pratt’s might struggle to answer.
The answer: On the Good Ship Lollipop and Animal Crackers in My Soup. Mountain Misfits’ lack of success doesn’t diminish its enthusiasm. Finishing in the top three is a rarity for the inexperienced team, so it makes the occasions that it does that much more memorable. “I just love it,” Pratt says. “It’s satisfying to get a question right. It’s exciting to work together and get the right answer.”
Final question: Since The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame requires a 25-year waiting period from the time of an artist’s first release, it will be tough to match the feat set by these two people, who were each inducted into the hall at age 38. For your wager, name both of these people, who were inducted in 1989 and 1997, respectively.
The answer: Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.
Pratt—lover of music—and her team get it right. Mountain Misfits sneaks into third place and Pratt is ecstatic.
“It’s like waking up on Christmas morning to a free round of milkshakes,” she says. Nice, clean name; nice, clean prize.
Thursday, Champion Billiards Sports Cafe
There’s a lot going on at Champions. It’s a cavernous space with high ceilings suited to the live bands it hosts on weekend nights. There are darts and pool players in other sections of the restaurant, but the trivia players are hardly aware of them. They’re busy scratching their names on their answer pads while waiting for Grizzle, hosting again, to finish going over the rules.
Even though most players know the rules by heart, giving them about the same attention airplane passengers give flight attendants as they demonstrate how to buckle a seatbelt, every host at every venue reminds players to put cell phones away.
And therein lies what might be the key to the success of trivia night: instead of checking their phones every two minutes, players are forced to interact with each other. Trivia night provides a respite from the compulsion to be digitally connected 24/7. For two and half hours, there’s nothing but the banter and laughter of teammates sharing a table and a notepad. Even disagreements are a chance to look somebody in the eye instead of a tiny display.
“I discovered a social life in addition to the trivia,” says Maccarone.
Bartholomew agrees, calling the social aspect of the game “huge.” “I like to hang out with my friends,” he says. “For the longest time, that’s the main reason I wanted to play all the time.”
That’s what brought Phlitches together, too. The team is a group of parents who were home-schooling their children and used the trivia night as a chance to get together socially. That’s not to say they don’t take the competition seriously, though. “We’re competitive and we like to win. It’s the only thing competitive that we do at this stage in our life,” says Jim Grahl, 45, a project manager. “It’s always fun, but it’s the most fun when you win.”
If you add a letter to this word, you’ll go from the meat from which scrapple is made to a hybrid form of cutlery. For your wager, give me both of those words.
The answer: pork and spork. Phlitches gets it right and the team does not celebrate quietly. “Everybody always knows we’re in the house,” says Marti Grahl, 49, a learning support specialist for writing at Hagerstown Community College.
For your wager, what four-word film title would you have if the U.S. state capital city with the most letters in its name served as the setting for a 1998 romance film in which Seth, played by Nicholas Cage, is sent from Heaven to protect and watch over Dr. Maggie Rice, played by Meg Ryan?
Before reading the answers, Grizzle tells the crowd that the question was a game changer. Many teams had their bonus on the category and bet nine points. Answer slips were completed in a hurry. After all, the answer seems obvious: Oklahoma City combined with City of Angels makes Oklahoma City of Angels. One problem: Jefferson City has more letters. The answer: Jefferson City of Angels.
There is a chorus of groans from the crowd. Heads swivel to see what other teams might have gotten it right. Phlitches, destined for the win this night, is celebrating—loudly; others grimace, knowing victory is lost. As the night nears its end, scratch paper filled with notes litters the tables, discarded, forgotten. The same can’t be said for the questions missed. They’re the most difficult to let go, so they will be stored away, waiting patiently in the subconscious for an opportunity to be useful.
It shouldn’t be that important. But it is. It’s trivia.