9.7% ABV on draught
Everyone stands or sits chatting in small groups. Three. Four. Never more than six or so. They drink cheap light beer on “special,” the kind of deals that seem like good ones until you actually do the math. “Hey wait a sec, $20 for a bucket of ten pony-bottles is NOT that good of deal!” Bars are great at using prestidigitation to make consumers think they are getting to imbibe on the cheap. Luckily for the watering holes, people usually just accept the fact that they are getting a good deal if they are simply told that they are. Other folks drink Diet Coke or even water, after all it is a Wednesday night. Patrons snack on greasy but delicious platters of fried food which they dip into sauces–mozzarella sticks into marinara, jalapeño poppers into Ranch, chicken tenders into honey mustard. For the most part, the groups don’t inter-mingle, except during the pardon-me dosadoes one must do to get through the packed crowd and toward the bathroom or bar. The men never hit on the women and the women never flirt with the men. Then again, these aren’t typically the kind of ladies a man would have any interest in hitting on. Nor are these the kind of fellas with the testicular fortitude to make a seductive salvo.
And then, with the tension palpable, some unseen person, the moderator, taps on a mic connected to a small amp. The crowd immediately hushes, hundreds of drinkers and you’ve never seen a bar so silent.
The moderator clears his throat of post-nasal drip and speaks:
“What was once known as Max Crossett’s X-tra Fine Salad Dressing?”*
Immediately, with a cacophony of hushed whispers, every group of friends swarms together with each other like a tight football huddle and begins to debate the answer to the aforementioned question.
Friends, this here is trivia night, pub quiz, and I’ve been playing it several times a month, pretty much every single month, since pretty much the age of 21. I don’t know if you have it in your town, but being that I’ve played it in Syracuse, Hoboken, and 60% of the NYC boroughs, I’m assuming it’s just as big of semi-sensation where you live as where I do.
If you’ve never participated before, here’s how it works:
Trivia nights are almost always on Tuesday and Wednesday, the two lamest going-out nights of the week. Bars are obviously too busy on Fridays and Saturdays to have them. Monday usually means Monday Night Football, and Sunday and Thursday are usually out of the question as well for a variety of reasons.
Having a good seat for your team is of the utmost importance. You don’t want to have to debate answers while leaning against the revolving bathroom door or standing in the route the barback always take to discard slop. Thus, people like to get to the bar early to score a coveted table or corner bar seat putting them in a safe haven from distractions.
Prizes are almost always in the form of a bar tab which usually breaks down to something like $50 for the winner and perhaps $20 and $10 for the runners-up.
Most quizzes last about an hour and a half, maybe two, with five to seven rounds of five to ten questions. Most of the rounds consist of a basic question-and-answer Trivial Pursuit format, stuff on history, pop culture, current events, and the like. Alas, there are rarely questions on sports as these quizzes are often created by huge nerds that don’t admire the sporting life and answered by hipster dork participants that have hated football every since the junior high QB made fun of their lisp in biology class. The maybe one time every hundred questions that you do get one on sports, it is always a piece of cake (”Who was the MVP the last time the Jets won the Super Bowl?”) yet amazingly no one besides you will know the answer.
Other rounds usually include an identify-the-picture game whereas grainy Xeroxes of nobodies, somebodies photographed in a strange way, or semi-known locations perhaps, are presented for identification. Finally, most quizzes usually opt to make the last round a “Name That Tune.” This ain’t like “Jeopardy!” so there’s almost never a final question you can wager on, though sometimes there is.
People, including me–not surprisingly an ultra-over-competitor in everything in life–take this shit far more seriously than you could ever imagine**. Cheating via shared answers or use of a phone call to a roommate that stayed home or by looking up the answer on a Blackberry is an easy way to make one persona non grata. Yelling out the answers is another. Oh how many times I’ve been playing bar trivia when some drunk stumbles into the bar, no idea that some game is going on, certainly no idea of its importance, and shouts out “Joe Namath!” only to see an entire bar of nerds turn to him with great scorn. You want to see nerds angry? Go to a pub quiz and yell out answers. It’s scary, my friend, scary.
My team is quite small for a pub quiz squadron. There’s me, the de facto captain. I’m a dictatorial micro-manager so I pretty much demand that I get to hold the answer sheet and pen and write down the answers. Luckily, I’m very skilled at trivia so my teammates passively accept this. These teammates include a good friend and his wife. Every so often a wild-card will join us, maybe my girlfriend of the second, but they are rarely blessed with any trivia prowess and quickly find that they don’t exactly enjoy sitting in a bar on a Wednesday night and answering questions. Admittedly, pub quiz isn’t exactly fun per se. Then again, no competition is fun to me unless I win. Lombardi was right.
I’m forced to ambiguously call them “my team” because we don’t have a team name. Or at least the same team name. That’s an underrated good or bad aspect, depending on how you look at it, of pub quizzes. That one needs to think of a new team name each and every week. Some teams stick with the same ones. We will on occasion if we’ve thought of a particularly funny one or built up a win streak. But, usually, and we hate this part, we have to come up with a new name each week. In the half-hour before the quiz we debate and debate, what would be the perfect name. Of course, most teams try to be funny. Unfortunately, most humans are decidedly not funny and the team names suck, rife with references to once- and never-funny shit such as Chappelle’s Rick James bitch, Michael Vick and his canine issues, and anything and everything Britney. The best names are slickly related to funny current, current events. For instance, we scored hyoooooge laughs and nerd feting when we named our team “Don’t Tase Me, Bro” mere hours after that story first broke. Of course, merely a week later had one named their team that, they would have just seemed out of touch if not pathetic.
Over the last year or two we’ve played at and grown tired of countless bar trivias for a variety of reasons. There was the place in Murray Hell that had an egotistical moderator that thought he was the fucking man, all the questions relating to him in some way (”My favorite band is Pink Floyd, I recall losing my virginity to Sherry Evans in the 10th grade as ‘Comfortably Numb’ played on my stereo. For two points, who is the bassist in Floyd?”), and who also always fed his fat mustachioed friend the answers, allowing the slob to win 9 out of 10 quizzes in a row before we got fed up.
There was the place on the UES that had a dickhead moderator with a Napoleon complex which I’d probably have too if I was unable to fully see over a standard-sized bar. He didn’t police cheating or illegally large teams effectively and each week’s quiz was won by a group of participants that looked like they were hosting a banquet amongst themselves, fifteen people seated at a put-together table as long as a bowling lane.
There was the place in the Village that brought out the nerds par excellence. Nerds that made these other places look like Studio Fifty-fucking-Four. Nerds that refused to even have a single beer less the alcohol start impairing their total recall one iota. Nerds that ceaselessly debated the semantics of certain questions after their answers were deemed incorrect (”Look Ken, I’m not debating that Xenon is a noble gas, I’m just saying that it’s also an inert element! I deserve credit, darnit!”). Nerds that left the bar the second the winner was announced, too nerdy to even stick around for a few minutes post-quiz just to chill. It was all too much for me.
Moderators in general suck. It’s inherent to the job. Just think of the kind of person that would actually want to use his spare time to craft a trivia quiz, then go to a bar and sit there — without drinking mind you, can’t start slurring the Q’s and A’s — reading questions to a bunch of strangers and then grading answer sheets like some schoolteacher. As you might predict, these moderators are usually guys that think they are some sort of comedian simply lacking a venue, pedantic losers that like to try and show off what marginal cerebralness they have, dorks that wish to command a large room but who have never been able to in a normal setting by simple force of will, and those that wish to rule over their fellow man even in a most meager way.
We tried a new place last week, a place with $1 glasses of beer. Of course, they utilized a deceptive mug with overly-thick Harry Carey glass making it appear to be about twelve ounces when it was merely ten and with a rapid tap pour the brews had enough head that by the time they subsided you really had only about seven ounces of liquid. It still ended up being a marginally good deal though.
Before the quiz I had a meeting with my producer at The Ginger Man. I didn’t plan on drinking there, but, aw shucks if they didn’t have something I’d been wanting to try for quite a while, Lagunitas GnarlyWine. One of the most fragrant beers this Jew has ever dipped his schnoz into. And sweet fancy Moses do I love the sweetness of it. Candy tastes explode to the front but it’s also packed with fruits, especially oranges, berries, and cherries. This is a near flawless barleywine, my one complaint being that despite the high ABV, it lacks an alcoholic bite, which you may actually consider a good thing. It’s a great barleywine, no question, but, sorry Dave, it’s not THE best one around. Though it’s admittedly damn close to Old Guardian’s glory.
I should have never drank several high-ABV barleywines as I showed up at the quiz overly-lubricated and my mind now mush. I have no problem getting loaded once a pub quiz begins but I usually like to at least show up to the bar stone cold sober, chugging a huge can of energy drink or soda to give my brain a kickstart for answering questions. On this day my team got epically trounced by some loser male nurses fresh of shift and still in scrubs (great look by the way!), some older women that could only dream of being called MILFs, two LARPer-looking dudes with questionable facial hair that each ordered an entire appetizer sampler platter as a meal, and some young girls with terrible hairdos who unapologetically spilled red wine on my friend’ s new jacket.
Oh well. We’ll be back. We’ve won countless quizzes in the past and we’ll win countless quizzes in the future. The VBer guarantees it.
*Oh…and the answer was Miracle Whip.
**I regretfully recall making my last girlfriend cry after one quiz when I told her that, during the trivia, “You are my teammate, not my girlfriend.”