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Making Bar Trivia Virtual

  • November 29, 2020

Having proliferated on Zoom, Twitch and Facebook Live, quizzes look and feel different now, of course. While a few enable remote socializing — via chat functions or breakout room — you still can’t share jalapeño poppers or hunch around the same worksheet. But that’s the price paid for not having to share a table (and aerosols) with people outside your household as you try to recall China’s major rivers. Asynchronous quizzes, available daily, weekly or whenever, are enjoying a rush of popularity, too. Some still offer cash prizes, but many function as fund-raisers for struggling bars, food banks or the quiz companies themselves.

David Gallic, the director of content at King Trivia, which had games at 190 bars across the West Coast and the Southwest before the coronavirus intervened, misses the personal interaction of bar trivia. “On Twitch, when I’m hosting, it’s me on camera, and everybody else in a little chat box,” he said. But he enjoys the multi-timezone reach that an online format provides. Lynn Yu, a co-founder of Trivia LA, which generates monthly trivia question lists and offers private livestream games for a fee, likes that she doesn’t have to dress up. “They’re only seeing the top half of me,” she said.

O’Brien’s, a pub in Santa Monica, Calif., that hosts a weekly quiz thronged with “Jeopardy” champs, held its last quiz on March 11. The following Wednesday the quiz reappeared online and hasn’t missed a week since. “This is a way that maybe gets us to 90 percent of the feeling of being there live with people with basically zero percent of the risk,” said Dave Shukan, an occasional O’Brien’s writer and host.

Once a month, its rotating hosts present what they call a “Frankenquiz,” a best-of edition designed for a popular (if scarily knowledgeable) audience. On a recent Sunday, 17 teams handily fielded questions about film directors, sports teams, Ibadi Islam and a British foreign secretary, anagrammed. “It’s not a question of being smart,” said Paul Paquet, a longtime player and trivia columnist. “It’s just a neurological quirk where we remember things.” Debatable.

Admittedly, Google remembers what we may forget and the online format makes cheating easier. (Most outlets use the honor system; some ask players to keep their hands visible onscreen.) Quizzes have also altered form and methodology to make answers less searchable. America’s recent racial reckoning has also provided a moment to rethink quiz content.

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