A few years after I moved back home to Chicago, one of my best friends from college moved to Chicago, too. One night, he invited me out to a night of bar trivia. I was excited.
I love trivia. I used to play with my parents and their friends when I came home for visits and always wished I had a team of my own. Here was my invitation. But it was with a bunch of guys I didn’t know very well. Wanting to reconnect with my old friend and have an excuse to see him every week, I decided to jump in.
It was a great decision. It gave me a chance to make new friendships in a great context. It’s a lively, talkative setting, but one where people try to speak up and listen to each other, one where your strengths and contributions are valued, and one where you can keep coming back to get to know the same people better and better each week. Sure, it engaged my competitive and intellectual side, but it gave me a social setting and a chance to grow friendships that I could more comfortably enjoy.
Find a group
My team is named Andy Dick Tracy Morgan Freeman — fun, right? When I first started going, I was certainly hesitant. These guys were all good dudes from the same dorm at the same college as I attended, but I didn’t know any of them well beforehand and hadn’t kept in touch since college. They were wonderfully welcoming, though. They invited me right into the deep end of all that is trivia night — from the competitive, intense deliberations around questions to the lighthearted banter on the side.
For me, I found my team by leaning on an outgoing, social friend, who roped me into a great group. For others, it may mean starting a team from scratch — look for co-workers looking for something to do together; or friends you wish you saw more often; or maybe, for you extroverts, just going out and asking to join a team you run into.
Find a venue
Bar trivia is an increasingly popular and common way for bars and restaurants to try to drive business from Monday through Thursday. Frequently, bar trivia not only comes with prizes for the winners (or even the top three or five teams of the night) but also offers food and drink specials for the night. Most places fit it into the evening so that you can go after work and wrap up by a reasonable hour.
Venues usually hire trivia companies that run trivia nights every week in several places. It might be worth it for you and your team to try a few different places. Some formats and environments have more a competitive vibe than others; some even let you register your team and compete in special area-wide championships.
Additionally, while most trivia nights span tons of areas of general knowledge across lots of subjects, some places offer specialty trivia nights. A trivia night completely made up of questions about The Simpsons and another entirely about Parks and Rec stand out in my experience. If you’re not sure about starting a routine or committing to a group, maybe finding a themed night that’s right up your alley is the best way to start.
Contribute by drawing on your strengths
When I talk about trivia night, some folks clam up and insist that they would be awful at it. Well, here’s a great element of trivia night — you play as a team (except that one guy at my parents’ bar who played alone under the team name The Village Idiot). While you may not fancy yourself a genius across the board, surely you have a few areas you know very well.
Personally, I struggle mightily when it comes to movies, TV, and music — especially on questions relating to major awards. I watch plenty but just don’t keep tabs on ratings and award shows (yawn). However, I am fairly strong when it comes to American history and politics, religion and spirituality, and a few other little areas. My team could more than carry me through those Oscar, Emmy, and Grammy questions, but needed my expertise in the areas I knew best. For you, something from your school majors, your professional life, or even your random hobbies and interests will help you make meaningful contributions to the group effort.
Think out loud
Trivia teams certainly need a good baseline of general knowledge. What separates the great teams from the merely good teams, however, is the ability to group-think. There will certainly be questions and subjects that leave you scratching your head or having no idea where to begin, but most of the time, there is a path to a decent guess.
If you focus on the category, wording, and key phrases of a question, a group of people can think their way to strong guesses by externalizing their thought processes. Sure, you may not know two of the only three human characters that Fisher-Price Little People® ever produced. But then someone in the group remembers that they made a Sesame Street set. And Sesame Street included live people, not just the puppets. And then someone remembers the veritable old Sesame Street mainstay, Mr. Hooper, and then that one of the adults who lived on the street was named Gordon. And then you get the final question right and win trivia for the evening.
To me, this is the most edifying and tantalizing element of trivia night. While pulling a random item from the deep recesses of your brain feels good, it’s the odd and winding road of thinking out loud together that leads to some delightfully satisfying right answers.
Keep the conversation going
Trivia nights at the bar can be a lot of fun and so is what happens in between — mainly on the team group text. Sometimes my friends would play with other groups and send texts of the best questions they heard. Sometimes while scrolling social media or watching a sporting event, friends would see a good nugget and quiz us on that. Best of all, most of my old teammates play in an online trivia league for the nerdiest of nerds (check out Learned League here), so now we have a steady stream of competitive trivia to chew on.
Trivia night at the bar is a great way to get out, especially on a weeknight. It’s a nice way to have some cheap drinks and give yourself a break from cooking after work. And it’s a fun way to share a social night with friends, old or new, and give yourself something enjoyable to text about from week to week. Give it a shot!