Test your trivia: Knowledge games help bars boost mid-week crowds

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 8:51 p.m.

Years of “Jeopardy,” old movies and grade-school geography come down to this for Sharon Senchur and Colleen “Wink” Hunter — Tuesday night at “Rumpshakers” in Trafford.

On weekends, this friendly neighborhood bar on Cavitt Road is jammed with 20- and 30-somethings unwinding with a brewski or two while tunes by Pink and Bruno Mars blast from the jukebox.

The crowd's different tonight.

That's because it's trivia night.

Trivia nights have long been popular in Western Pennsylvania; most players take pride in being fountains of useless information.

But some bar owners say they've noticed stronger-than-usual midweek crowds this year, a trend they credit to the NHL lockout.

About five or six dozen taverns, restaurants, pizza joints, even VFW halls have trivia nights.

Some hold it more than once a week.

“It's addictive to people,” says Milo Warner, president of Team Trivia, an Atlanta entertainment firm that runs about 40 gigs in central and Western Pennsylvania.

Some establishments go it alone, using a bartender or manager to run the show. But more and more tend to hire DJ companies, like Warner's, that provide equipment for the event and promote it.

Some give away gift cards or cash to winners. Although that's not always the case.

“The prizes you get are great, but it's the bragging rights that are more valuable,” Warner says. “It's like hitting the home run in a softball game. You want to be the one who comes up with that answer that stumps everyone else.”

“You want to use that useless knowledge at some point.”

Senchur and Hunter channel their inner Alex Trebek every Tuesday without fail.

The pair make their way through a sea of hugs, waves and joking teases from other Rumpshakers regulars before they settle in at the far end of the bar. And, after a few swigs of Molson Canadian and Coors Light, they're ready for whatever strange, brain-twisting question DJ Chris Bell throws at them.

He kicks off the night by asking for the name of the movie in which one of the characters starred in a failed TV pilot called “Fox Force 5.”

Hunter and Senchur huddle with Jenn Grimm, another Rumpshakers regular.

But not for long.

“I know movies,” Hunter says, as a grin spreads across her face.

Not even a minute passes before they come up with the answer. (It was “Pulp Fiction,” for those of you who weren't as quick).

“We kind of balance each other out,” says Senchur of Trafford. “She knows movies, and I know fashion.

“The rest of the stuff, we just sorta answer as we go.”

Ad libbing worked on this night; they finished second to a team of ladies who called themselves “Oh, snap!” They earned the name because they snap their fingers, instead of applauding, whenever they get an answer correct.

Lauren Taylor organizes trivia gigs for about a dozen DJs in the region for Last Call Productions. The Cincinnati-based company provides DJs and sound equipment for some trivia nights around the city.

Before jumping into Pittsburgh's trivia game, she and her husband, Prescott, lived in San Francisco. Trivia is to the Bay Area what karaoke is to Tokyo.

“It's everywhere, on every corner,” says Lauren Taylor, of Beaver.

She wanted to bring that energy to Pittsburgh. Today, many of the trivia games Last Call arranges in the region are qualifiers for league tournaments that are held seasonally.

“(Trivia) gives you something to do at a bar,” she says. “You're not just drinking. You're thinking.”

Keeping up with the times in the pre-Internet days meant leafing through dusty history books, repurposing sports magazines and watching hours of TV shows to come up with enough grist to ask players compelling questions.

The Internet has made things easier; pretty much anything you need to look up, on pretty much any subject, is archived somewhere on Google, Yahoo!, Bing and other search engines.

The challenge nowadays, Warner says, is writing up that gobbledygook in a way that's usable for games and game nights. Team Trivia employs five people whose job it is to research topics and come up with noodle-twisting trivia questions.

Each person comes up with about 300 new questions every week.

“In the bar business, you can't just have wings, beer and pizza ... and say, ‘That's it.' You have to try and find new ways to stretch your business, even on the slow days midweek,” says Warner, who grew up in Wheeling, W.Va.. “(Trivia) brings in a higher-educated clientele that sometimes has more disposable income to spread around.”

Or, at least, that's what Will Patterson hopes.

He was looking for a way to boost midweek sales at the Beer Hive, the Strip District tavern he opened with his brother 18 months ago. General-trivia Thursdays and music-trivia nights on Saturdays worked best, where DJs and theme-music nights didn't seem to fit.

“It's become standing-room-only some nights,” Patterson says. “Regulars, huge groups, teams. Everybody seems to get into it.”

The James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy in historic Deutschtown has developed a reputation as a go-to place for cool jazz and calming, toe-tapping acoustics.

Word is getting out that it's also becoming a trivia hotspot.

“It's different, and that's what people like,” owner Lisa Saftner says. “People can come ... and have a lot of fun two hours to forget about real life.”

The time flies fast at Rumpshakers, especially for Senshur and Hunter, who says her trivia skills developed as a youth, while watching episodes of “Jeopardy” with her uncle.

Her affinity for movies, especially the old black-and-white classics, also helps.

“I'm one of those people who reads credits at the end of movies. I just like to know who did what and where (a film) was made,” she says. “I guess knowing some of that comes in handy on Tuesdays.”

Chris Ramirez is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at cramirez@tribweb.com or 412-380-5682.

Did you know ... ???

The word “Trivia” evolved from “Trivium,” which was used in the 15th century in reference to the study of the liberal arts. “Trivium” in Latin also meant “a place where three ways meet.”

In the 16th century, the word took on new meaning that suggested unimportance or frivolity, and the first known use of the word “trivial” in English came in 1589.

The board game “Trivial Pursuit” was introduced in 1979. It was designed by Scott Abbott, a sports editor for the Canadian Press, and Chris Haney, a photo editor for the Montreal Gazette. More than 100 million copies of the game have been sold since then.

Television was a bit ahead of the curve, however.

TV quiz shows like “The $64,000 Question,” “Twenty-One” and “Beat the Clock” were hot in the 1950s.

“Jeopardy!,” the brainchild of media mogul Merv Griffin, hit TV screens in 1964 and ran until 1975. It was revived in 1978, but the run ended in 1979 after 108 episodes. “Trivial Pursuit's” success in the 1980s fueled a resurgence that led to the show's return in 1984, with Alex Trebek as the host.

More than 9,300 “Jeopardy” episodes have aired since its inception.

Where to go

There are dozens of bars offering trivia nights throughout Western Pennsylvania. To find one near you, two websites to check out are www.teamtrivia.com and www.lastcallusa.com.

The contests are particularly popular Mondays through Wednesdays when bar business tends to be slow.

Here are just a few of the places to test your trivia:

James Street Gastropub & Speakeasy, North Side, 8 p.m. Wednesdays

J&L Grille Co., South Side, 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays

Barley & Hops, Bethel Park, 7 p.m. Tuesdays

Rumpshakers, Trafford, 8 p.m. Tuesdays

Beerhive, Strip District, 7 p.m. Thursdays.

Holiday week schedules may vary

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