Think quick: What Italian river — famously crossed by Julius Caesar — is now synonymous with a risky venture?
Not sure? You just lost critical points in the game of trivia. (The answer, by the way, is the Rubicon.)
Round robin-style contests draw crowds of trivia enthusiasts to venues throughout Salem on otherwise unassuming weeknights. Best played in teams with family and friends, trivia nights typically are accompanied by beer (or Shirley Temples for the kiddos) and something battered and fried. Fuel is required to help recall random tidbits from high school social studies, the media, pop culture and life in general.
Popular across America and Europe, trivia nights in bars may have originated as the “pub quiz” in 1970s England, according to trusty Wikipedia. The game also has early roots in American universities. Wisconsin’s Lawrence University has hosted an annual 50-hour trivia extravaganza since 1966. Last year’s event drew 900 players representing 86 teams trying to answer 408 obscure questions.
In Salem, the game is decidedly less intense, according to my observations at recent trivia nights at Gilgamesh Brewing and Half Penny Bar & Grill, two of the multiple bars in town that offer the events. Both venues attract 10 to 20 teams on a given Tuesday, with winning teams taking home beer schwag and gift cards put up by the bar. At Gilgamesh, branded ponchos are a popular giveaway, and the last-place team leaves with a bag of rocks.
No one sweats an incorrect guess, though friendly rivalries do exist among regulars. Overall, it’s about socializing and having fun.
“It doesn’t matter what age you are or what walk of life you come from, you can enjoy trivia,” said Gilgamesh’s emcee, Katie Jean Vanderbrook, 35, of Salem.
So if you are new to the game and looking for a casual weeknight activity, here’s my guide to “10 Strategies for the Game of Trivia.”
1. Develop a creative team name.
There’s no evidence that this will help you win, but it is part of the fun. Some groups stick with the same name each week; others rotate based on spontaneous inspiration. Some of my favorites: Tron Javolta, Trivia King and the Tagalongs, Tequila Mockingbird and Bearcat Beaver Buckeyes.
2. Be prepared for anything.
You could be asked about the acreage of Vatican City, the name of a distant galaxy or the phrase that completes these lyrics: “I’ve got so much honey, ___________.” (“The bees envy me,” from The Temptations’ hit “My Girl.”) There could be a spelling round, a visual round with pictures to identify or a sports round with questions requiring knowledge of Super Bowl history, Olympic records and South Korean baseball stats.
The list of potential questions is endless. Just as you should be prepared for anything, there’s also no real way to prepare. Which is why it’s best to …
3. Have a photographic memory.
Or have Dave DuFault on your team. The 70-something retired English teacher is a member of the top-scoring Gilgamesh team Trivia Busters. DuFault’s teammates — his wife, two grown sons and their wives — claim he does, in fact, have a photographic memory. And their only strategy for winning, they joke, is to rely on his smarts.
The team added a ninth win for the year on a recent Tuesday after DuFault was the only person out of some 70 players on 19 teams to answer this question correctly: “What two cities link the Orient Express?”
Laughter and grumbles filled the room. “We have no idea,” said someone from a table of attorneys. “We need your dad,” a wife said to her husband. Someone guessed two cities in China. DuFault wrote down his answer without hesitation and marched it up to Vanderbrook.
“‘Murder on the Orient Express.’ Paris to Istanbul,” he said smugly, referring to a 1974 movie based on an Agatha Christie book. “I saw it in Paris.”
Which brings me to my next tip …
4. Have smart friends.
You may not know a Dave, but smart friends can come in many forms: computer programmers, teachers, plumbers, homemakers, office workers — you never know what sort of obscure knowledge people may have. The more diverse your team is in terms of age and interests, the better.
“It’s best when we have more people. We all bring some knowledge to the table,” said Dana Fromherz, 25, who competed recently at Gilgamesh.
5. Join forces.
No problem if you lack trivia-minded friends — you can team up with other solo players. The Bearcat Beaver Buckeyes began as a duo, but the pair quickly realized their mistake and began scanning the room for “orphan” players they could adopt. Now the Half Penny regulars have eight core members.
6. Think like a sixth-grader.
Or, better yet, bring one with you. Andrew Kosydar, 11, of Salem, is a self-described expert on popular video games and Harry Potter. On a recent Tuesday at Half Penny, he was the only one from the 10 teams to know the answer to a question related to the video game Minecraft.
He plays on a family team, the Dempster Divers, comprising three generations of players from ages 8 to 73.
“We can bring everybody, and everybody can play,” said Andrew’s father, Ray Kosydar, 39, owner of Raymond James Plumbing in Salem. An added bonus: “You don’t see anybody on their cell phones.”
Cell phones aren’t allowed, of course, forcing players to interact and socialize face-to-face.
7. Be decisive with your answer.
I talked to a dozen or more players, and they all said the same thing. “If you think long, you think wrong,” warned John Wesche, 34, while playing at Gilgamesh.
But decisiveness is easier said than done, said Cynthia Kendoll, 61, of the Bearcat Beaver Buckeyes.
“We get a good answer, we all agree on it, we talk ourselves out of it, we talk ourselves back into it, and we go with it,” she said.
8. Be discreet.
Trivia etiquette predicates that teams keep answers to themselves. Players debate in whispers and pass notes. But every now and then, an obnoxious player blurts out an answer, and sometimes it’s accidentally or deliberately wrong.
“Far and away, the most likely thing to elicit a yelled-out answer is a song clue that cuts off right before the hook,” said Greg Kendoll, 30, host at Half Penny and founder of Oregon Trivia Company. “There’s some kind of a universal language in ‘Sweet Caroline’ or ‘Livin’ on a Prayer.’”
9. Be kind to your host.
A lot of work goes into researching some 20 to 60 questions for a given game, depending on the host’s format. When Vanderbrook isn’t working at her main job as a waitress, she enjoys scouring the internet for new questions and categories for her six-round game.
Kendoll, of Albany, is an engineer by day. His business partner and brother, Andrew Kendoll, 26, teaches fifth grade in Salem. The duo are former trivia players who decided to start Oregon Trivia Company in May with their gig at Half Penny. This month, they’ll expand to Deluxe Brewing in Albany and Spirit Mountain Casino.
“It’s crazy fun. I love doing it,” Greg Kendoll said. “I like being up in front of people, making them laugh.”
10. Have fun.
“Don’t take it too hard if you lose,” said Tristina Manriquez, 25. “It’s part of the fun.”
Her team of four to six friends, called the Paper Mates, meets at Gilgamesh most Tuesdays to swap gossip, catch up on each other’s lives and occasionally celebrate a correct answer. On a recent Tuesday, they were in luck. Vanderbrook announced one of their top-scoring categories: the audio round.
“You’re going to name the character who sings this Disney song,” Vanderbrook said. “I’m only going to play the song one time.”
The girlfriends exchanged knowing looks. Around them, the room settled; the players focused and listened carefully to a cheerful song minus the vocals. With bent heads, players conferred in whispers, wrote down their best guesses, and passed their slips of paper to Vanderbrook. Once all teams had turned in their answers, everyone in the room started singing along with Sebastian the crab.
For “The Little Mermaid” generation, or for anyone who shared a home with a child younger than 10 in the 1990s, the answer was a piece of cake. Manriquez and her friends swapped high fives for a round well played. I found myself humming “Darlin’ it’s better, down where it’s wetter, take it from me!”
Vanderbrook surveyed the room with satisfaction. She adores these moments, she said.
“I like it when the whole room gets involved,” she said. “That’s what this is all about.”
Diane Navarrete writes professionally for Oregon State Parks about outdoor adventures. After visiting two trivia nights, she realized that she remembers almost nothing from high school social studies, but she knows all the words to “Under the Sea.”
Diane Stevenson is a freelance photographer and videographer who specializes in candid portraits and landscapes. On weekends, you can find her pouring wine at Left Coast Cellars and Methven Family Vineyards.