The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Trivia night at the Shaskeen Pub. Neal Brown photo.

To think or to drink?
Perhaps both

By Kelly Sennott

 Testing your skills at pub trivia, it seems, is far more rewarding than muttering the answers to yourself while watching Jeopardy. Pub trivia is local, it’s regular, you can do it with friends, and best of all, if you’re good enough, you can rake in some serious (gift card) dough.

Plus, if you attend events like the one DJ Sean O’Brien regularly hosts at the British Beer Co. on Tuesday nights, you can participate in challenges that may or may not include games like Operation and Hungry Hungry Hippos. (We have a particular bias for the latter.) 
O’Brien has been hosting pub trivia across southern New Hampshire and Massachusetts for 15 years now (he owns his own DJ/trivia/event company called 3am Productions), yet, he said, he’s never seen such enthusiastic teams.
“I think it’s become a little more competitive over the years. They’re more serious about winning,” O’Brien said. He’s been seeing more regulars at the weekly Tuesday trivia night at the British Beer Co., especially with the restaurant’s deals and promotions the night of.
Part of it, he said, has to do with the nature of trivia. It’s a way to go out with your friends if you’re not into the club or live music scene. It doesn’t hurt that in his trivia, you get to play old-school toy games in front of a large, lively audience.
O’Brien’s system is kind of like a mix between Family Feud and Family Double Dare. He asks 60 questions per night. The first round of 20 questions are True/False. The second batch are short answer and the last 20 are multiple choice. After each round, the two top-scoring teams compete in a physical challenge — i.e., a children’s board game — for the prize. The only thing missing from this epic night of trivia, he joked, is the Nickelodeon slime.
“We’re not that high tech yet,” he said.
The idea to incorporate these kids’ games, he said, stemmed from his 8-year-old son’s toys.
“I’d find that after playing with him, me and my girlfriend would still play [the games] after he went to bed,” he said. “It’s silly and fun. … And it’s a riot, especially, when you’re playing these old games in a bar with 15, 20 people cheering you on,” he said.
For this kind of trivia, he said, you can’t study. You can’t really prepare, either, even if you do organize your team to include one sports expert, one history expert, one arts/entertainment expert and one person who keeps up on current events, he said. The questions he asks are too random.
“Though usually, everyone knows between 14 and 16 of the 20 answers,” he said. “I take questions from old board games, children’s games or Trivial Pursuit-style games,” he said. “I host very bizarre trivia, useless knowledge that you’ll never need to know. … I don’t think you can study for the way I do trivia. Everyone is at the same fun disadvantage,” he said. (During the Halloween season, the most stumping question, he said, was a true/false about George Washington’s teeth. They were not, as many people think, made from, wood; they actually came from the mouths of corpses.)
Trivia night at the Shaskeen Pub draws crowds too. They also hire a professional trivia master, said bartender Neal Brown, which he says makes a big difference in the flow of the night. Everything is set, ready to go, he said. Bartenders and waitresses only have to think about serving, which is good, he said.
“I usually have to bring in extra staff, an extra server or bartender, during trivia. It gets really busy,” he said.
“There are all kinds of topics. Entertainment, science, sports. It’s a good mix. It’s never biased toward one genre,” Brown said. “There’s a good camaraderie between the teams. Though some people take it really seriously.”
Manchester residents John Rumfelt and his wife, Rebecca, are Shaskeen regulars. At the Shaskeen, he said, it doesn’t hurt having a team with a wide range of expertise.
“Everyone on our team knows something about something. My wife is an expert on music. We have one guy good on sports. We have one guy who’s good at knowing what was on TV last night,” Rumfelt said. 
But it seems that at most places, it’s a night of good fun. Jonathan Emmons, who hosts trivia at the Barley House on Wednesday nights, said that most people are just coming in to relax after work.
“It’s pretty popular. You don’t necessarily see the same people that you see on weekends,” Emmons said. 

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