Team Slippery Armadillos has fun during bar trivia at G. Willies Bar and Grill in St. Clair Shores. Playing are Lance and Carolyn Geddes, of Clawson;  Angela Dobbins, of St. Clair Shores; and friends.

Team Slippery Armadillos has fun during bar trivia at G. Willies Bar and Grill in St. Clair Shores. Playing are Lance and Carolyn Geddes, of Clawson; Angela Dobbins, of St. Clair Shores; and friends.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Bar trivia serves up competition with a twist

By: Mary Beth Almond, Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published June 18, 2019

 During a strategy session to figure out a trivia answer, Nick DeFauw, of West Bloomfield, and Amber Hamilton, of Royal Oak, dissolve into laughter at a suggested response. The Sporcle semifinal tournament took place at Augie’s Bar and Grill in Madison Heights June 8.

During a strategy session to figure out a trivia answer, Nick DeFauw, of West Bloomfield, and Amber Hamilton, of Royal Oak, dissolve into laughter at a suggested response. The Sporcle semifinal tournament took place at Augie’s Bar and Grill in Madison Heights June 8.

Photo by Brandy Baker

 Judith Boyle pens her guess to a question during a trivia game at Augie’s Bar and Grill June 6.

Judith Boyle pens her guess to a question during a trivia game at Augie’s Bar and Grill June 6.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

 Part of team Silver Spoons includes Bill and Sandy Atkinson and Pat Walsh, all coming from Harrison Township for trivia night at G. Willies Bar and Grill in St. Clair Shores.

Part of team Silver Spoons includes Bill and Sandy Atkinson and Pat Walsh, all coming from Harrison Township for trivia night at G. Willies Bar and Grill in St. Clair Shores.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 Pajama Dan, a host for Quizzo! trivia nights, keeps the fun rolling between questions June 6 at G. Willies Bar and Grill in St. Clair Shores.

Pajama Dan, a host for Quizzo! trivia nights, keeps the fun rolling between questions June 6 at G. Willies Bar and Grill in St. Clair Shores.

Photo by Donna Agusti

METRO DETROIT — At 6:45 p.m. on a sunny, warm Thursday in June, Augie’s Bar and Grill in Madison Heights is close to empty. It’s just too nice outside.

But by 6:55 p.m., the dining room is full.

Thursday at Augie’s means it’s time for some bar trivia — two hours’ worth of questions read off by a host, while players on teams write down their answers and turn them in for points. Each correct answer is worth a certain number of points, and the highest-scoring team wins.


They drink and they know things
Tonight, the first-place prize is a $20 gift certificate to the bar, and half of that for second place.

An entertainment company called Sporcle runs two games a night, four days a week at Augie’s, and each event sells out, Augie’s co-owner Steve Howcroft said. Venues that host Quizzo!, Geeks Who Drink or other games draw similar crowds.

St. Clair Shores resident Mike Yum created the Michigan-based pub trivia company Quizzo! in his basement in 2007.

“He had all his equipment down there,” said “Pajama” Dan Sylvester, the company’s creative director. “He was hosting at one specific bar, and he noticed it was catching on and wanted to expand.”

Today, over 60 bars across the state rely on the company to help host trivia nights — often multiple times a week.

As a trivia night host, Sylvester goes by Pajama Dan.

When he’s not entertaining the masses, Pajama Dan writes each week’s Quizzo! games with help from his creative team.

“It’s general knowledge trivia, so it could be anything from pop culture to politics to geography to astronomy — which the players don’t like,” he said. “I like it, so I try to sneak it in.”

As lead writer, Pajama Dan basically lives online, researching questions for each week’s categories.

“I think Quizzo! players are the type of people who just latch on to tidbits, really,” he said. “I do.”

While some bar trivia groups say venues can bring in up to 300% more revenue by hosting an event, Howcroft insists that’s an exaggeration. Sales are good during trivia because traffic is high, but the tabs are tame.

“It’s really pandemonium for the first hour. You blink your eyes and your section is full, and almost all of them eat, so there’s some stress in the kitchen. But then it’s done,” he said. “By the second hour, people are done eating and they’ve probably switched to water so they can drive home by the end. But it started as a way to get new people in here.”


A league with no phones
On this Thursday evening, most participants have been playing for years, and they know the drill. Servers greet guests and take orders at tables reserved under silly or almost nonsensical team names, like That’s a Load-Bearing T-Rex, a reference to the NBC comedy “Parks and Recreation.”

At that table of 30-somethings — we’ll call them T-Rex — there’s an American history buff, a car guy, a trivia podcast aficionado and a Troy Public Library staffer.

“It’s just kind of nice to have an excuse to put away your phone for a minute,” said T-Rex’s Samantha Hartman, 32, of Warren.

Oh, that’s another thing. No cellphones. If you get caught looking up answers on your smartphone, you’re disqualified.

Sitting across from T-Rex is Smarter Than We Look, a team of players who are slightly older than their competitors, and definitely more raucous.

“We started playing because of our kids,” said Bill Pace, of Sterling Heights.

He and his wife are in their late 50s, and their daughter invited them to play bar trivia with her future husband a while back. Said fiancé is the son of Judith Boyle, age “none of your business.” Once their betrothed offspring stopped coming to trivia, the parents kept meeting up to play.

“It’s a great way to get out of the house,” said Mary Beth Pace. “And we love Sarah.”

That’s Sarah Pruner, the night’s trivia host. By day she works in finance. She said hosting trivia is an outlet to engage with people.

Quizzo! host Jesse Mackensen, of St. Clair Shores, hopped on the trivia train in 2012 after subbing for a friend and has now hosted more than 1,000 events.

“You’re kind of responsible for helping people have a good night out — that’s probably the best thing about it, because most jobs need you to produce something,” Mackenson said. “With this, you’re just hanging out with people and keeping them entertained.”

Despite seven years of hosting trivia, Mackenson said he’s no mastermind.

“It goes in one ear and out the other. I don’t feel like I retain it. I don’t know if one day I will have a crazy epiphany and have all this information, but it hasn’t really happened yet,” he joked. “I’m not any smarter than I was when I started.”


Get smart
On this Thursday, Pruner is ready to roll, and she hits the mic, introduces herself, explains the rules and reiterates her usual warning: “Put your phones away. If you feel like you need to cheat at bar trivia, you might want to rethink your priorities.”

The first question shows up on the bar’s televisions: “The song ‘Ninja Rap,’ by Vanilla Ice, was performed in a 1991 sequel film starring what title characters?”

This clearly gives the millennials an edge. Enter Post Grad Drunks, who are quick to write down “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” They’re right, and when Pruner reveals the answer, a round of high-fives circulates at the table of mostly male Central Michigan University alumni.

The next question is better suited for Smarter Than We Look, asking for the title of a popular ladies magazine from the 1950s. Mary Beth Pace writes down “Good Housekeeping,” while Boyle thinks the answer is “Better Homes and Gardens.” They agree to write down the former and, wouldn’t you know it, both answers are correct.

As the game continues, most teams have just one suggestion for the reporter bopping around between tables: Go talk to Moby Grape.

The group of older gentlemen sits away from the rest of the crowd on the other side of the bar. They’ve been playing every night for years, and most of those have resulted in league championships and cash prizes.

Myron Kamp, 56, of Warren, doesn’t take his eyes off the screen while the game is in play. He’s on team Moby Grape, and they’re all business.

“The strategy is we just try to think it through logically,” said Kamp. “That’s why we have a team. We think it through and come up with the best answer.”


Riddle me this
When Pajama Dan first became a writer for Quizzo!, he sought questions that no one could answer.

“But people didn’t like that,” he said. “They don’t want to go to the bar to take a test. They want to go to the bar to play a game, so that’s a new perspective I have,” he said.

Now he focuses on making the game enjoyable for all ages.

“Sometimes I’ll put weird or funny things into the game. I want it to be fun,” he said. “I like to mention Danny DeVito a lot.”

Comedy helps Quizzo! hosts keep the game lighthearted, especially in the company’s competitive league division, which has approximately 40 teams.

“A lot of league teams can almost get a perfect score every night, while just a casual player might completely tank it,” Pajama Dan said.

One of the most divisive trivia categories — believe it or not — is sports.

“We get a lot of kickback about sports questions,” said Pajama Dan. “Most people either don’t want it or don’t do well at it.”

Whatever the category, the great thing about pub trivia is it doesn’t matter if you’re a first-timer, a casual player or a leaguer — it’s all about having a fun night out.

“Not only is it a way to challenge yourself, which I enjoy doing, it’s also an opportunity to work together on a team. I mean, I can’t play sports anymore, but I could sure be on a trivia team,” Pajama Dan said.

When the final question of the night rolls around, Moby Grape is in first place, followed by Smarter Than We Look in second and T-Rex in third.

No one is upset — or, frankly, surprised — and as servers clear pizza trays and pint glasses, players shake it off and get ready for the next game. The whole thing starts over again in 10 minutes.

And the following night. And the Saturday after that.

The trivia nights that Howcroft tried out years ago have now turned his business into a destination for trivia lovers across metro Detroit, and there are plenty of them.

“It took a while, but it’s like a garden. You put a seed in the soil, and eventually you get this big-ass sunflower. And that’s kind of where we’re at now,” he said.   

 


Sample questions

1.) Cowboys that want to get a long little doggie should get what dog breed, also called a wiener dog, which has a long body, teeny legs and a German name meaning “badger dog”?

2.) Despite popular belief, the Earth is actually at its closest distance to the Sun in which month?

3.) Hidden inside the “B” and “R” of Baskin Robbins’ logo is what number representing how many daily flavors they offer each month?

4.) How many total NFL championships have the Detroit Lions won?

5.) In 1935, what Detroit-born aviator invented the “Model T” glass-chambered perfusion pump, a device that kept organs alive during transplants and surgeries?

6.) How many head-to-toe laying-down Danny DeVitos would it take to wrap around the Earth at its equator?

 

ANSWERS:
1.) Dachshund
2.) January
3.) 31
4.) 4 (pre-Super Bowl championships)
5.) Charles Lindbergh
6.) 27,202,195.862 Danny DeVitos
(DeVito 58 inches, equator 1,577,727,360 inches)