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Can pub trivia be hazardous to your health?

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Illustration: Robert Ullman
Molly O’Donnell

When I walk through the door of Murphy’s Law to the tune of the Cranberries’ “Zombie,” my back is up. I’m poised for a knife fight. It has nothing to do with the bar or the staff. The usual people are working: Kitty, the doe-eyed server who looks like she was recently kidnapped off a playing field, pom-poms quivering on the ground; and Russ, the quiet bartender perpetually clad in rugby gear and strongly resembling Eminem. Well, okay, it might have a little to do with Mike, the MC of Sunday’s trivia night, which used to be my favorite night of the week.

A few weeks back Team Alex started out strong. (We don’t know an Alex, but someone called Alex was having his birthday there.) We had a few consecutive wins: $50 bar tabs, bottles of booze, T-shirts. The trick is we have a clutch member: David Boyles knows more about the disparate worlds of, say, film and football than anyone I’ve ever met. He probably missed his calling as a Jeopardy! contestant. The rest of us aren’t totally dead weight, but when it comes to the endless sports questions Mike tosses out, David’s mostly on his own.

One night a couple of weeks ago our winning streak came to an end. As I’m sure some hip-hop star somewhere must have said: It can’t be weird cheese, vodka and gift cards forever. We came in third, a spectacular loss considering there were only four teams that night. We discovered that third place comes with a hidden reward: You get to pick the themed category for the following week.

I was developing a deep hatred of sports given Mike’s commitment to the category and everyone else’s baseball cap-wearing appreciation. So we chose British literature to tip the scales in our favor. Granted, we aren’t experts, but given how many of us are grad students, we figured we’d have a better shot than the team with the word “nipple” in its title.

The following week, when our team was renamed Virginia Woolf Is for Lovers, the people spoke, and never stopped. Mike’s constant apologies to the sports fans as he asked questions about “Thackeraaay” and the crowd’s booing and responses of “Who cares?” were really pissing us off. To add insult to injury, Mike democratically decided that these questions should be multiple choice, an option I didn’t have when the topic was the oh-so-fascinating world of RBIs. When I questioned this logic, a guy at the next table turned to look at me and almost spat.

A normal group of people would take this opportunity to find another trivia night, but Team Alex, er, Virginia Woolf, isn’t made of quitters. We demurely accepted third place again, but this time it was intentional. NPR was our next weapon of choice.

Yet again, though, we were disappointed. We had chased all the sports fans away, but Mike remained. He claimed he could only find six questions related to NPR on the whole Internet. The first-place prize bottle of vodka took the sting out of our defeated dreams of retribution, though, and it did occur to me that not getting stabbed was a really strange thing to be upset about. So, we took our bottle and went home. It was time to give the farm back to the animals. They may have sucked all the fun out of my Sunday nights, but we were walking away with their prize—and the comforting feeling of being well-rounded.

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