Next question: What's drawing crowds to lots of local bars and cafes? Come on, you got this . . . Trivia Night!
Mar. 19—It was game time at Obscura Cafe & Drinkery and the people seated at the tables began to stir. There was laughter. A few nervous titters. One man even sung a line from a musical, which was entirely appropriate since the theme of the night was musical theater.
On the screen high above the bar, the first question appeared: "The musical 'Cats' was based on the work of what famous poet?"
More soft laughter. There were a few whispers among the tables, but mostly the teams got down to discussing the question with great deliberation.
"We're pretending that we're smart," said John B. Nutting, "and we're going to see how that goes."
A regular cast member and volunteer at Community Little Theatre in Auburn, Nutting is a fellow who should have a clear advantage in the musical theater category. But everyone who has dabbled in trivia knows that knowledge alone isn't always enough to save you when the pressure is on.
"Theater has been sort of my whole life and musicals I love especially," Nutting said. "I have learned a whole lot throughout my life but will I remember it all tonight? That's a whole different story."
That's the point, all right. When it comes to trivia, it's not always about what you know but about whether you can summon that information when the pressure is on.
Which, of course, is half the fun.
At Obscura, Trivia Night is on Wednesday. Trivia Night events are also held at at least two other local clubs on Wednesdays, a mark of how popular the game has become.
There are at least five clubs in Lewiston-Auburn alone that host Trivia Night on Thursdays, and if you scan out into the smaller towns, you'll find many more still.
Trivia Night, it seems, has come to be what Paint Night was a few years ago. It draws people out to the restaurants and bars whether they have skills for the game or not. Some say the event has become so popular, it's proven a boon to the clubs that might otherwise struggle for business during weeknights.
"Trivia has been a great business development strategy for our local restaurants," says Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline, who personally hosted a "MASH" trivia event in recent weeks. "It provides a social and interactive experience that people are craving for and needing post pandemic."
The people who play the game tend to agree. It's less about whether or not you know the name of Col. Potter's horse from the "M*A*S*H" TV series and more about mingling with friends and strangers after a long period of going without.
Justin Morin, another regular from Community Little Theatre, says he routinely gets to one or two trivia events each week.
"I think it's just that we've all been inside too much," he says. "This is just a chance for everybody to get out and do something that's fun but low impact."
And trivia events can be customized every which way with different themes so that practically everyone will find him or herself an expert sooner or later. You may not do well in sports trivia, for example, but wait a week and try your luck when the theme of the night is Christmas movies or '80s music.
I mean, you do know the name of George Bailey's guardian angel from "It's a Wonderful Life," right?
Angie Lafrance, co-owner of Obscura, really likes to mix things up since she added Trivia Night to the club schedule late last summer.
"Our weekly Trivia Nights have been wildly popular," she says. "We always have regular trivia, but on certain weeks we will do special themes, such as True Crime Trivia, Decades Trivia, 'Golden Girl' Night Out Trivia, etc. We do our own trivia here in-house. I plan out and find the trivia and then create a slide show that can be followed along with on our theater screen above our bar, and I emcee the game. We usually do a picture round and an audio round, and people will often get into the themes and dress in costume. It's a lot of fun."
At the Craft Brew Underground in Auburn, Trivia Night is on Thursdays.
"Trivia has worked out for us overall," said Mike Williams, owner of the business. "It's a good way to nudge people in the door on a night that is generally weaker from a business standpoint. Our crowds vary. We do have trivia regulars who come just about every week. Occasionally we get a packed house.
"The big upside of Trivia Night is that it's always a happy event," Williams says. "Everyone is in a good mood and just looking to have a good time. Our trivia host, Nate, is pretty funny, so he adds a comedic element to the game, which is particularly fun."
That would be local comic Nate White, who was brought in to entertain the crowds as they struggle over their trivia questions.
Some clubs host their own Trivia Nights, while others bring in an outside group to handle the writing of questions and presentation to the audience.
That's right, you heard me. Trivia Night events have become so popular that it has spawned at least one business that deals exclusively with the game.
Behold the Androscoggin Trivia Company, launched in 2021 by Nick Perry and his wife, Kate Sanborn Perry. The couple services eight locations across the region, including Side by Each Brewing Co. and the Hilton Garden Inn Riverwatch, both in Auburn, Baxter Brewing in Lewiston, and the Flight Deck in Brunswick.
There is enough sustained interest in Trivia Night right now that the couple spends most of their time writing up fresh questions and hosting their events all over the place.
It's not a bad gig, when you get right down to it.
"We love all of the venues we host at and the teams that play, some of which play multiple nights of the week," says Nick. "I think trivia is so popular right now for a few reasons, one being that trivia has been, so far as I can tell, a draw for a long time. I once hosted for a different company about 15 years ago and Trivia Nights would always bring in a crowd."
The company also caters to private events, including business functions, graduation parties, family events and the like. Demand for the game is high all around, and has been so for a few years.
"When we first began we were coming out of the teeth of the pandemic and knew people were looking for entertainment," he says. "Also, being trivia players ourselves we were excited to be able to go out and be a part of Trivia Night in any way."
At most bars and restaurants, trivia players gather themselves into teams and give themselves a team name. Often inappropriate names, mind you, but hey, it's an adult game.
Winners of a Trivia Night event are awarded gift cards or passes, typically to other local shows or events. This serves as a little extra motivation when trying to recall who wrote that ear worm song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" back in 1988.
Come on. You know this one.
And speaking of Bobby McFerrin, who writes the questions for these trivia events, anyway?
There are some mega trivia companies that generate questions for clubs to use, but some ardent players don't care for those. When a big company like Sporcle is in charge of an event, it feels less personal to some. It's not as intimate, they say, as being hosted by a local club owner, or by someone like Nick and Kate Perry, whom the players have come to know personally.
What's more, some companies will reuse questions, so that a frequent player might hear the same questions at different clubs. Some conniving sorts, it is said, have even used that fact to cheat their way to a trivia win on occasion.
Tyla Davis of Poland is one of those who prefers her games hosted locally. And Davis is a woman who takes her Trivia Night seriously. The events have become part of the 44-year-old's social structure.
"My entire social life revolves around cribbage, knitting and trivia," Davis says. "I love trivia and I'm selective of where I go. I avoid trivia services like Sporcle because there is so much overlap in the weekly questions."
Her favorite spots for trivia are currently Side By Each Brewing Co. on Wednesdays with Androscoggin Trivia Company, Craft Brew Underground with Nathan White on Thursdays, and the Hilton Garden Inn Auburn Riverwatch, again with Androscoggin Trivia Company.
To Davis, there is human psychology behind the current zeal for trivia — a psychology that speaks to the ancient need for social interaction and for the spirit of community. The technology of the day has changed the way people communicate with one another and those changes aren't all for the good.
"There are not many social settings anymore where people will keep their hands off their electronics," she says. "Trivia forces people to unplug. You can't use your phone, so those are put away and people will actually talk to each other. They'll collaborate with one another and have a good time doing it.
"I think people crave this kind of social interaction," Davis says. "In today's world, it's hard to get that, so these activities that force you out, people are going to gravitate to them because subconsciously, I think that's what we really want."
Trivia mania has been a kind of win-win scenario. Businesses stay busier while cooped up folks get out when they otherwise might not — several people reported taking extra pains to get themselves out for Trivia Night. They hire babysitters and adjust their schedules so they can get out with friends and strangers to seek the answers to obscure questions.
"They grab their favorite people, find a place that has good food and good drinks and they go out," Davis says. "So you mix all those things together: the social camaraderie, the food and drink and all that, and it's going to be a hit. We're supporting local business and it's just a lot of fun."
If you do a general internet search for trivia events in your area, you will likely be overwhelmed by the listings. A quick scan reveals nine in the Lewiston-Auburn area and no doubt some were missed.
At Craft Brew Underground, Mike Williams worries that Trivia Night has become so popular and widespread, it might be an unsustainable phenomenon. Business is still good on Trivia Nights, he says, but there are signs that the overlap is starting to hurt in some areas.
"Occasionally we get a packed house," Williams says. "More recently it hasn't been that great. I think we have hit a saturation point in town and that has led to other establishments holding trivia on the same night as us. Everybody used to have their night and there was no overlap. But that isn't the case now. No animosity or anything, just the reality of the situation. We're looking at ways we can tweak our trivia that could differentiate us from others and we're also toying with the idea of trying out other activities to see how that works out."
For now, Trivia Night continues to be a huge draw in the area and more and more themes are introduced. Obscura has a "Golden Girls" Trivia Night coming up March 23 and who wouldn't be into THAT?
Whatever the theme, almost everybody agrees that it doesn't matter how great or terrible one is at answering dubious questions about arcane concepts. Being lousy at summoning useless knowledge is perfectly OK, since Trivia Night is mainly about the journey.
"I'm not so good at it," Davis admits. "The themed Trivia Nights are better for me."
"I'm terrible at trivia," said Danielle Eaton, who was playing along at Obscura on musical theater night. "But it's a blast."
By the way, Col. Sherman Potter's horse was named "Sophie." Keep that in mind in case "MASH" trivia ever comes around again.
The poet whose work inspired "Cats"? The name of George Bailey's guardian angel? Come on, you got this . . .