“What is that? A marmot?” says Guy Townsend, as we scrutinize a photo of a brown, fuzzy animal resembling a beaver. But it couldn’t be a beaver. That’s too easy. “Or is it a marmoset? Just put marmoset. Write it down.”
Wrong. A little later in the evening, we find out it’s…
“A mongoose!” we moan. “Of course!”
There are similar exclamations of defeat around the room—and cheers, as well, from the teams who were up on their mammal identification skills. Our foursome fared better on other questions: Barbara Millicent Roberts was introduced to the world in 1950. By what name is she better known?
“Barbie,” reads quizmaster Chris Brown. We nod and smile. Piece of cake.
We are a few riveting rounds into trivia night at Anna Liffey’s, held every Tuesday at 9 p.m. The tables are packed with participants grouped into teams—five people or less if they’re in it to win the prize money—ordering draught beers and such from the busy waitress and scrutinizing their scores so far.
“We came to drink…and conquer,” jokes Brian Michael, who says it’s his second time participating in the weekly event. In addition to the newcomers, there are diehard regulars, and the crowd that’s gathered at the Irish pub for trivia night this evening seems to take its trivia seriously.
Also, not so seriously. Take the witty team names. Michael’s group calls itself “The Drunken Inquisition”; others participating in Tuesday’s event include “The Titanic Swim Team” and “E=MC Hammered.” These are just the family-friendliest monikers.
Beyond the infectious good spirits of the upbeat crowd, there are other factors that make the Anna Liffey’s production a pub trivia standout:
Longevity. The traditional Irish bar (on non-trivia nights, get a pint and a Shepherd’s Pie) has been going strong with weekly trivia for fifteen years, so they’ve got the formula down. The evening features seven rounds of questions, including a picture round (hence the incorrectly identified marmoset) and music round: snippets of songs are played over the loudspeakers and contestants must name the artists. Teams write guesses down on sheets of paper, which are collected every couple rounds before answers revealed.
The questions. Supplied by Brainstormer Pub Quiz, a San Francisco-based company, they aren’t easy, and range in subject from current events to general knowledge to pop culture. What primetime TV show was number one in the 1998-1999 season? ER (we got that one right).
The stakes. Having bragging rights isn’t the only reason to go for the win. Buying into the contest is $10 a team and the winners take home most of the pot, with lesser prizes reserved for other accomplishments; the second to last placing team gets their entry fee back, for example. Think it sounds like a pittance? Consider that as many as 50 teams show up some Tuesdays.
The hosts. Perhaps most crucial to the night’s ambiance are Brown and his quiz-night partner Derek Green, who helps keep tally throughout the evening. The two first started out as quiz night participants—both members of a team called “Rehab is for Quitters”—and, a few years ago, began administering the game themselves. The duo is now a fixture at the weekly event.
Brown is completely at ease on the microphone, a natural comic with impressive command of his voice; he sounds like a public auctioneer as he speed-reads team scores at night’s end.
He says they’ve made maybe two mistakes in their years at the helm, messing up the wording of an answer, for instance, and that people called them out on it both times. “They want to make sure we’re 100 percent on,” he says, adding that he likes how seriously this crowd takes their trivia, even in the midst of so much fun.
Congenial competition makes for an excellent night out, but, of course, you’ve got to be able take the losses with the wins. When the 1970 hit “Joy to the World” hits the speakers in the music round, I can feel my brain working as it struggles to remember the artist. “I know this,” I tell my teammates. But I don’t—not in time, anyway. It’s Three Dog Night.
I knew that. But there’s barely time to mourn before the next round of questions—and drinks—is upon us.
Anna Liffey’s Trivia Night
Tuesdays at 9 p.m.
17 Whitney Ave, New Haven (map)
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.