May 13, 2010

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Thinking and drinking
Pub trivia: don’t call it useless knowledge
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

If seemingly useless pieces of ephemera are stuck in your brain — the name of the ’80s sitcom that spun off Family Matters, for example, or the real hometown of the band that made the ’60s hit “Dirty Water” — then pub trivia is for you.

The barroom quiz game is a blend of Jeopardy!, flash mob Trivial Pursuit and high school social studies pop quiz. Consisting of two or three 10-question rounds, pub trivia pits teams united by work, school or simply a love of obscure facts against each other for supremacy and swag — everything from beer cozies to paid vacations. 

Companies like Game Time and Stump send hosts, armed with boxes of question cards and grading pencils, into bars from Concord to Nashua. And there are the independent operations: Jim Bonyman, who runs weekly gatherings on Monday and Thursday at Shaskeen and Strange Brew respectively, and the team of Bill Seney and Cody Booth, the Wednesday quizmasters at Milly’s Tavern.

Bonyman began hosting pub trivia at Penuche’s in Manchester last August. The gathering recently moved to Strange Brew. He moved into hosting after spending more than two years as a contestant: “I replaced a girl who knew a lot about kings and queens,” Bonyman said. “I’m good at pop culture.”

That’s an understatement. Not many people could identify the theme song from the robot sitcom Small Wonder, but Bonyman can. 

“I have a lot of useless knowledge in my head,” he said.

All this information, including an almost unhealthy recall of ’80s television movies is, he said, “the consequence of being a latchkey child.”

Pub trivia at Strange Brew typically attracts 11 to 17 teams, ranging in size from two to six people. Bonyman says there are six teams of regulars that are there most every week. 

The nights are divided into two rounds of 10 questions each, split by a “halftime” when contestants guess visual challenges like movie scenes. Questions are answered in pencil and graded with Bonyman’s red pen. He mixes things up with physical challenges. Last week’s was a spitball contest — hit the target, get a point. 

He frequently does landmark quizzes, most recently an Elm Street scavenger hunt. These are take-home affairs that Bonyman calls “almost like homework — I never pictured myself as a teacher, but it feels like a classroom a lot of the time.”

Team scores are tallied week to week, with the end-of-the-month winner taking home a big prize. A Vermont beer company sponsors the Strange Brew competition, and the grand prize there on May 20 will be a trip to the New England Brew Fest in Lincoln.

Rather than pay for the services of companies like Brainstorm (“they charge way too much,” he said) Bonyman comes up with all his own questions through exhaustive Internet searches and an uncanny knack for remembering things most people never think about.

“Name four of the five remaining Communist countries,” he challenged. Cuba, China and North Korea are easy, but the rest sit just at the tip of most tongues.

“Vietnam and Laos,” he said.

“Jim does a good job of coming up with obscure stuff — movies, music references, theme songs, he stumps us on those,” said Bill Seney, who played a lot of rounds with Bonyman in his Penuche’s days. Seney and Booth are due to wrap up their winter trivia season at Milly’s with a final round on May 12. They plan to take the summer off and return in early September. 

When reached by phone on a recent Monday night, the two were deep into net surfing for material. They look for things that are hard but not impossible to know.

“The success of trivia night depends on answerability of questions,” Seney said. “If you ask hard ones all night, it’s not much fun.”

Top teams at Milly’s include TGP (The Great Pumpkin) and Schaeffer Pounders, and Seney said the crowd is a mix of “twentysomethings to soccer moms.”

Isaac Frangoulis has been playing for more than four years and competes most Thursdays at Strange Brew.

“It’s a way to get out of the house and do something not crazy out of control … to think and drink at the same time,” Frangoulis said. “I like my knowledge being tested. My head’s filled up with random useless stuff, so I get to put it to use and get some swag out of it.”

Frangoulis and his pals Ben Scannell and Joe McGuire team up regularly. “We each have our own specialty,” he said. “I’m a general knowledge guy — history and geography, and we’re all kind of movie buffs.”

The trio call themselves The Warriors, and when they win at trivia, their small size means fewer people share the prizes. Also, said Frangoulis with no small trace of bravado, “it’s satisfying to have the three of us take down an eight-person team.”


Pub trivia
Looking to show off your pub trivia skills? Here are some of the places offering regular pub trivia nights. Call ahead for times and dates.

Monday
• Shaskeen, 900 Elm St. in Manchester, 625-0246, www.theshaskeen.com
• Wild Rover (last Monday of the month), 21 Kosciuszko St., Manchester, 669-7722, wildroverpub.com

Tuesday
• Margaritas, 1 Bicentennial Dr. in Concord, 224-2821, www.margs.com
• Peddler’s Daughter, 48 Main St. in Nashua, 821-7535, www.thepeddlersdaughter.com

Wednesday
• The Barley House, 132 N. Main St. in Concord, 228-6363, www.thebarleyhouse.com
• Milly’s Tavern, 500 N. Commercial St. in Manchester, 625-4444, www.millystavern.com
• Sky Lounge, 522 Amherst St. in Nashua, 882-6026, www.skyloungenh.com

Thursday
• The Derryfield, 625 N. Mammoth Road in Manchester, 623-2880, www.thederryfield.com
• Strange Brew Tavern, 88 Market St. in Manchester, 666-4292, www.strangebrewtavern.net

Sunday
• Margaritas, 1037 Elm St. in Manchester, 647-7717, www.margs.com