The Ones Who Quiz
If there’s one conversation you are going to overhear this week around the water cooler or at the bar or even in line for groceries it’s how Breaking Bad is coming to an end. There are moments when a show can seep into the cultural consciousness it seems everyone becomes an expert on it. Did you see this in the latest episode? Did you realize what that event signified? Then there are those moments when people having the conversation get facts about the show wrong, even though they seemed so obvious to you. Listeners not as enamored with the subject manner will often roll their eyes, look for a way out of the conversation, or make a comment about how if there was a way to earn money of that particular set of knowledge, the know-it-all in question would make a nice chunk of change. As it happens, there’s an event this week offering just that sort of opportunity.
Geeks Who Drink, a Denver-based company that hosts quiz nights all across the United States, is having a theme night this Wednesday, September 25, focused entirely on Breaking Bad: Los Geek Hermanos. It’s not the first time they’ve hosted a theme-specific event. This year has seen nights devoted to Arrested Development, Game of Thrones, and a Mafia event focused on Goodfellas, The Godfather, and The Sopranos. I was lucky enough to attend the Arrested Development quiz in Rochester, NY, where the bar was crowded with fans who were betting (there’s a $5 entry fee for theme-specific nights, normal quizzes are are free) that they knew enough about the show to walk away with the satisfaction of having proved their superior knowledge, as well as that nifty cash prize. Los Geek Hermanos promises more of the same, with the company releasing some well-made advertisements about the event.
I recently spoke with Geeks Who Drink company president John Dicker about what goes into the theme-based quiz nights as well as Geeks Who Drink in general. The theme nights, while having the same format (eight rounds, two of which are audio, one that is visual, and bonus questions after a select few), are a little bit different than what you’ll find on a normal quiz night.
“I think we go a little bit harder on the theme quizzes, especially when the material is finite. You can really study,” Dicker said. “If we made the difficulty the same as a regular quiz the chances of having a three-way tie for first are significantly higher…We assume these types of quizzes attract a certain kind of fan that really knows their shit so we have to go to a level of minutiae that we don’t like to put in a regular quiz.”
The night I attended in July was indeed full of minutiae about Arrested Development, but the difficulty never took away from the mood. I asked Marianne Veneron, Rochester’s premiere Quiz Mistress, about the appeal of themed-based nights. “The people that come to theme quizzes are sometimes new to the Geeks Who Drink format, coming to quiz because they’re excited about the theme,” she told me. “It’s always exciting to get new people coming to quiz and discovering how great it is. And it’s always awesome to see regulars come and play. Either way, I’m happy when people come to any of the quizzes I host.”
Theme nights are old hat for Geeks Who Drink, and others are planned for the future, both new ones and those that have drawn crowds in the past. “This year we took a break from two very successful nights, Seinfeld and Harry Potter, just because we had other things we wanted to try and felt the audience would still be there so why play it out?” Dicker told me. “We have not mastered the art of it by any means but we try to find stuff people are talking about, shows that people are talking about. Shows that people watch a lot. Ones you watch and rewatch.”
Breaking Bad certainly falls into that category of show, with fans online constantly posting Easter eggs and connections to earlier episodes that are hidden in the final season. Certain shows lend themselves to that sort of viewing and reviewing. Dicker agrees. “We did one right before the finale of Lost that was pretty successful,” he said.
I asked him how, with a nationwide event being put on by a company with a large social media presence if there is the fear of people spoiling the answers before cities in later time zones have a chance to play. “That’s an issue for sure. But it hasn’t happened yet. We were doing these multiple nights a week but now we are trying to do them all on same night,” he said. “We don’t have many cheaters. You may have a team that’s pissed they didn’t get first but they still want to see how they scored in relation to other teams across the country. So why would they spoil it?”
It could be something about the nature of attendees, who, in my experience, are there for the fun of the night more than the competition. That being said, some people still have trouble with their competitive nature at times, as is likely to happen at any event. “Sometimes we’ve had the odd person who can’t control their competition problem that they’ve had to stop playing,” Dicker said, “usually at the request of their teammates.”
The company shows no signs of slowing down in expanding to more cities. “Absolutely, we’re still adding more venues,” Dicker said. When referring to this summer’s Arrested Development quiz he told me “This year we did 21 locations, which is the most we’ve ever done for a theme quiz.” That record still holds, with the Breaking Bad quiz taking place in 18 venues nationwide (click here to see if you have one near you).
It doesn’t take a big city to pull in these events, either. My former quizzing grounds of Rochester, NY is proof of this. Veneron, who hosts two nights a week in Rochester out of the six that run every Monday through Thursday, told me, “Rochester has a great following. We may not have as many quizzes as some of the other states, but I’m pleased with every quizzer that comes out to partake in GWD. I love supporting the company I work for. It’s one of those jobs that doesn’t feel like a job.”
Nor does it look like one. As Dicker told, regarding the hosts, “We trust them to make it fun.” And they do. It’s that enthusiasm on the part of the Quizmasters and Mistresses, both for hosting the event and the material covered, that draws people in week after week. In Rochester, Veneron’s enthusiasm and skills behind the microphone are no doubt part of the reason the company’s events have caught on in that city. She not only has the ability to make you feel like you belong to a special community when you attend quizzes, but has a particular sense of humor that makes any crowd interaction, whether splitting up teams of more than six members or, during this summer’s Arrested Development quiz, promising to ban anyone using a cell phone to the “Bluth’s Corner of Shame” while dressed in a dominatrix outfit, her personality makes every night memorable. “Honestly,” she told me, “I love everything about being a Quiz Mistress. There is nothing I would change.” Attendees of nights she hosts will no doubt agree.
A strong Quiz Master or Mistress isn’t the only thing that contributes to a successful quiz night, having a good location also helps. As Dicker explained, “If we did these in a hardware store, it wouldn’t fly. Even if we did it in a coffee shop or a place that feels more like a restaurant and not enough like a bar, it can be harder. The atmosphere is really important, where it’s about socializing and not just eating a meal and leaving.”
On nights I’ve attended, few teams cleared out directly after the quiz ended, many staying around to talk or congratulate one another. There’s such an appeal to these quizzes that you can sometimes find the hosts spending their nights off at a different venue as a participant. “I always go to a few quizzes,” Veneron told me. It’s that love for quizzing that brings others back each week, myself included.
A strong online presence also adds to the allure. Each night is blogged about on the official Geeks Who Drink page by the host and includes pictures of the event. Doing so gives the nights a sense of community and inclusiveness, where participants can revel in trivial knowledge with others of a similar ilk.
Thanks to this presence, if you’re in one of the areas that don’t have the theme night or even a regular quiz schedule, letting the company know online can rectify that for the future. As Dicker told me, “Sometimes we wait on the Facebook page and see what the response is and see if people are posting: ‘Hey, why aren’t you doing it in blank city?’ And we’ll think, we’ve had over five people contact us, maybe we should do it there.”
If you are fortunate enough to be in one of the 18 locations hosting Los Geek Hermanos this Wednesday night and want to test your knowledge before the series finale airs next Sunday, I cannot recommend it enough. Even if you don’t, there may be a normal night of Geeks Who Drink in your area, and you’ll never look at trivia night the same way again. Nor will you want to. You’ll be hard pressed to find another quiz night where a tie for second can be decided by a dance-off. That much I know from experience. I never stood a chance.
Also, on a personal note, if you’re at Tommy Doyle’s in Kendall Square, the designated Boston venue for Los Geek Hermanos, I’ll be there as well. Let’s form a team.Close