What's the question?

How do you get people in on a slow night?


It’s not quite the phenomenon it was back in the early 1980s but Trivial Pursuit-type quizzes are what some bar owners call a savior for a slow night.

“Saturday night used to be spotty around here,” said Anna Flannery, the manager of the All Stars Bar and Grill on Airport Road on Saturday. “Since we started doing the trivia game, it’s been much more consistent.”

In that respect, Team Trivia, Inc., the company that stages the trivia quiz for the bar has lived up to its promise. A visit to the bar over the Columbus Day weekend produced a rather disheartening sight for any manager. There were maybe 30 people present, including the staff. It seemed that there were just as many people as televisions in a pub that declares itself a sports bar, with a pantheon of sports celebrities hanging on the walls and at least a dozen screens mutely giving accounts of games being played all over the world.

This last Saturday was different. People who were away for the long weekend were back and the dining area of the pub was encouraging the staff and management by being loud enough to make you shout at the person next to you to be heard.

“I come here for the trivia all the time,” said Nancy Marley. “It’s fun, and it keeps my mind from going ‘blue moldy.’”

As a retired salon operator and businessperson, Marley was referring to the accepted wisdom that exercising your brain keeps it from getting dull and stale. Her friend and trivia teammate Jim Armstrong thinks it’s a certain type of person that is drawn to trivia games.

“Do you like crossword puzzles?" he asks. “Do you watch Jeopardy? Then you probably like this game.”

But before you start thinking that the pub quiz is just for older folks, look across the room at a banquette table in the corner. There are no less than nine young people ringing the table and, one booth over, another gang of eight competitive “brainiacs” is settling in for the big game.

Team Trivia’s two “quizmasters” were set up in another corner of the dining area, a man and a woman surrounded by portable files filled with questions and reference material. They have a PA system for reading the questions over the by now dull roar of a busy bar but it is not always enough. They invariably have to repeat the question, which is designed to be reasonably difficult but not impossible to answer. They don’t always succeed, and a frequent complaint is that a particular bit of trivia has transcended what could be called “general knowledge” into the area of esoteric learning.

On this Saturday night, one of the questions was to name the most popular fast food restaurants in America based with less than 5,000 locations, based on a Zagat’s restaurant guide poll.

There is a Five Guys in Rhode Island and there very well may be a Chic-A-Flic or two but this crowd wasn’t familiar with most of the restaurants and didn’t consider them fast food.

“My idea of a fast food place is whether it has a drive-through lane,” said Marley.

Another food question was about the largest submarine sandwich chain and the answer was Blimpie’s. Not many people from Rhode Island recognize the name, let alone the scope of their reach. That, too, was deemed unfair.

Another medical question that had people scratching their heads was the noun for “renal replacement therapy.” The official answer is “dialysis” but many understandably felt “renal replacement” meant “transplant.” The red herring in that question was, does a transplant fall under “therapy” or “remedy?” Therapy led some people to “dialysis.” Replacement led others to “transplant.” Dialysis won, with some grumbling among the contestants about fairness and semantics.

Marley said she played for fun but she still disliked the “cheating” that goes on.

“Some people just want to win and they will cheat to do that,” she said. “They use their cell phones, even though that’s against the rules. That’s not for me. That’s not fun.”

Cheating could become an issue if there were high stakes involved but the grand prize at All Stars was $40 that night and the winning team had nine people on it, so making the proverbial killing at trivia doesn’t hold much financial appeal.

The financial appeal is for the owner of the bar.

“Our mission is simple...to get more people in your bar or restaurant eating and drinking on what would otherwise be a slower night of the week for you,” is what Team Trivia posts on its Website. “Team Trivia was developed over 20 years ago, and has steadily grown to over 800 weekly shows nationwide.”

The financial appeal for the company is selling franchises.

“Your Team Trivia game will be promoted on our national website at www.playteamtrivia.com, on-site in your bar or restaurant with full color banners, flyers and posters, by our live hosts during game announcements, and on the scoresheets used by our Team Trivia players.”

The idea of quizzes in a bar goes back some time. In fact, it was the informal quizzes customers in England and Ireland posed to each other in the 1940s and 1950s that was the genesis for the Guinness Book of World Records, which was first published in 1955 as an authoritative reference to settle arguments in pubs.

But it was the publication of the board game, Trivial Pursuit, which was the product of a couple of editor friends in Canada. “The origins of the TRIVIAL PURSUIT® game can be traced back to a blustery day in Montreal, December 15, 1979, when two friends, Scott Abbott, sports editor with the Canadian Press, and Chris Haney, photo editor for the Montreal Gazette, engaged in a friendly argument over who was the better game player. This led to the friends creating a board game of their own."

The first prototype production test market run of 1,100 games was sold in Canada. The game was first shown in the U.S. at the American International Toy Fair in New York City in February 1982. Only a few hundred were ordered. By the end of 1983, even before the Christmas rush, 2.3 million games had been sold in Canada, and a million more in the United States. In 1984, a record 20 million games were sold in the United States alone. In 1988, Parker Brothers bought the game and it became another property of Rhode Island’s own Hasbro when they acquired Parker Brothers in 1992. That makes a pub quiz like All Stars’ seem penny-ante.

Last Saturday, the team that calls itself the Cosmonauts won the $40, so they each got about $4.45. Leo and Jan Vadnais, Jean Amaral and Scott Vadnais were the second place team and made $20, so they did a little better apiece at $5 each. But the real winner was the All Stars Bar and Grill:

“We’ll just buy appetizers with the money,” said Jan Vadnais.


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