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Genial Pursuit: Trivia games pack local bars, restaurants

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    It's a packed house during trivia night on April 3 at Doc Watson's.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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  • FEA-bartrivia03p-Dave-Zwayer

    Dave Zwayer gets the crowd pumped as he hosts Dave Z and Branden's Name That Tune! trivia night at Ralphie's on Monroe Street.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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It's a packed house during trivia night on April 3 at Doc Watson's.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
Enlarge | Buy This Image

The least trivial thing about bar-trivia nights? They’re fun. And, because they feed the competitive streak that imprints us, fist bumping is de riguer.

But perhaps the most telling observation about the scene at places such as Doc Watson’s in South Toledo or Ralphie’s in Sylvania on Thursday nights is the wondrous absence of smart phones: not on tables, in hands, or on laps. Smart-phone cheating is simply not tolerated.

Trivia-game nights are packing pubs across the country and in developed countries, in cities and college towns. Geek-friendly, they provide camaraderie, entertainment, and — gadzooks! — a brain challenge in a bar. Better yet, there’s no admission, drink specials as low as a buck, and prizes. What’s not to love?

Some games ask general, Jeopardy-style questions in categories such as movies, sports, and cooking; some are music themed.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here for more photos from a recent trivia night

Gathered to play Name That Tune from 6 to 8 at Ralphie’s on a recent evening were 10 teams ranging from four to 16 players and aged from teens to their 50s. There were families, a couple of female teams, and a bunch of golf buddies who trivialize in the off season.

The team of 16 included slouching teenagers at one end of a string of pushed-together tables and parents at the other. Nine members of a team called The Blind Leading the Blind arrived early (that’s a good idea) to claim a spot near the front. They’ve learned a lesson embraced as much by investors as trivia pursuitists: diversify.

On this team (most of whom are actually blind) is Guy Schlosser, 41, polishing off a burger. He’s strong on Top 40 songs from the 1980s and 1990s. Cindy Shunk, 32, knows the ’60s (her parents’ era) and the ’80s.

“I’ve always loved music,” she says. “This gives me a chance to socialize and have fun with my friends.”

Chris Stearns, 46, is cool with the ’70s. Rachel Spangler, 23, handles the 2000s and her brother, Robert Spangler, 25, and Amber Windle, 28, cover the ’90s and ’00s.


Dave Zwayer gets the crowd pumped as he hosts Dave Z and Branden's Name That Tune! trivia night at Ralphie's on Monroe Street.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
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Running the show are Dave Z & Branden, who don’t miss a beat (they better not). Live wire Dave Zwayer walks the room with a mic, joking and calling each group by name. His parents, wife, daughter, and her buds are here tonight. (No insider information, they swear.) A former registered nurse, Mr. Zwayer’s day job is at a screen printing company. The pair run games at least six nights a week all over town.

“I love it. I’m a glorified game-show host,” he says. “I love the fact that music can bring out so many memories and emotions.”

Branden Clawson, a landscaper, plays the music, identifies songs, and keeps score.

Each team, with Mr. Zwayer at their table, earns five points by correctly naming the tune Mr. Clawson plays 30 seconds of, and another five points for the singer’s name. If they fail, the next table can “steal” those points by providing the answer. (Tip: Get there early to nab a seat between two teams you think aren’t so swift; you might get to steal.) When the golf team, dubbed The Saturated Nuts, flubbed on a song and singer from the ’60s, a neighboring team, House of Cards, knew it was Beyond the Sea by Bobby Darin.

Rock of Ages, a team with brother police officers Tim and Dan Hanus, and their families (wisely, Rachel Hanus, 24, is here to help with the ’90s and ’00s; no pressure Rachel), has another tip: Acquire a copy of the thick Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits and study it. List what you don’t know and listen to songs online. Rock of Ages also plays Name That Tune Wednesdays at another venue and say they’ve “won a lot.” Yeah. They knew the answer to Simon Says by the 1910 Fruitgum Company. Many venues give winners a $15 gift certificate, beer signs, or free Jello shots.

Good for business? You betcha. Name That Tune started at Ralphie’s in a smaller room and grew into a bigger one. At Stone’s Throw Tavern & Grill in Bowling Green, about 60 to 80 people, largely grad students and two-thirds male, show up for trivia on the typically slow nights of Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, says Chris Cox, a manager.

“It’s definitely increased our sales and exposed us to different people, including from Findlay and Toledo,” says Mr. Cox.

Nationally, regionally, and locally, entrepreneurs such as Dave Z and Branden have hopped on the band wagon. The games require minimal investment in exchange for a fee from the bar, sometimes based on the number of participants.

One success story is that of a couple of Detroit-area guys who love trivia and started a game at a brew pub. In 2009, they named their business Great Lakes Trivia, selling it to pubs in Michigan and Ohio. They came up with questions and a format, and hired extroverts to be emcees, said Keith Swayze, director of sales and operations for Sporcle, Inc. Within four years they were running more than 100 games a week and were bought out by Sporcle, a Seattle company specializing in online and mobile-app trivia.

Locally, Sporcle operates nearly three dozen games a week, with two games per venue, each an hour long and starting between 6 and 10.

The emcee’s personality is essential to build a crowd, and energetic Bobby Storm, with more than 600 games under his belt, has it in spades. He recently worked a record crowd of 103 at Doc Watson’s, he says.

By 8:40 p.m., he’s collected names of 20 teams and read categories for the first game: assassins, cooking, sports nicknames, TV locations, celebrity endorsements, 2000 movies, planets, computers, islands, and singers.

This crowd is clean-cut, white, 40 and under, and about 2:1 male, with many University of Toledo grad students. He reminds them that using smart phones to find answers is punishable by something close to death. Indeed, other teams will call out and point at anybody who stoops so low.

At the front of the large room, Mr. Storm, 49, leads games five nights a week for Sporcle. A former carpenter who’s studying medical billing and coding, his first question is who killed Lee Harvey Oswald (Jack Ruby); the second, what food is made from soybean curd (tofu). Teams confer, jot answers on slips of paper, and send a mate to hand it to Mr. Storm, who plays music while entering team scores on a laptop.

“We got a house full of geniuses tonight!” he shouts.

Among the top teams were Amish Rake Fight, Donner Party of Five, and The Infidelities. Other groups fared well, but their team names are unsuitable for a family newspaper.

“It’s just too much fun,” says Mr. Storm.

Contact Tahree Lane at or 419-724-6075.

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