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Brain Games: Popularity of Geeks Who Drink pub quizzes continues to rise, create camaraderie

Dillon Barton, center, reacts to a question during the Geeks Who Drink pub quiz at O’Niell’s Pub in the heights. Barton attends every week with his brother, father and grandparents. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Trivia games have been around for decades but harnessing one’s brain power while chugging a beer is a relatively new phenomenon.

Most people don’t associate flexing the brain with drinking but that’s exactly what participants in the popular Geeks Who Drink pub quiz are expected to do. Bars and breweries around the state host weekly trivia nights that allow participants to test their obscure knowledge about random topics. If attendance is any indication of popularity, it seems the weekly quizzes are here to stay.

Geeks Who Drink takes place in approximately 1,000 establishments in the United States and Canada. Ken Brill, director of marketing for Geeks Who Drink, said participation isn’t always tracked but during a recent week 500 people participated in the event in Albuquerque alone. The trivia game is also played in Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Las Cruces and Los Lunas.

Brill said Geeks Who Drink was founded in Denver in 2006 and came to Albuquerque in 2007, making the city the first outside of Colorado to host the weekly quizzes.

Quizmaster AJ Brown, left, asks a question during the Geeks Who Drink trivia night held at O’Niell’s Pub. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

(Editor’s note: The original story said a themed night at O’Niell’s cost $500.)

The quizzes usually last about two hours and consists of eight rounds of eight questions each. There are two audio rounds, one visual and the remaining rounds are questions read delivered over a microphone by a quizmaster, which is essentially the announcer for the evening. Written answers are turned in at the end of each round, with some rounds having a bonus question. Teams can have anywhere from one to six players and the team with the most points at the end wins.

Jeff Trent, operations manager for O’Niell’s Pub, said they’ve been hosting Geeks Who Drink since 2013. It’s held on Sundays at the Nob Hill location and Monday at the location off Juan Tabo. They tried increasing that to two days at each location but it wasn’t profitable. He said his establishment pays $200 to host each quiz night, which is free to participants. Themed nights have a $5 cost per person.

According to Brill, the themed night costs for host establishments are based on attendance and O’Niell’s spends on average $200 for a themed night.

Trent said some people weren’t actually drinking and instead just ordering water, which can be frustrating.

“It’s kind of a joke we call it geeks who drink water,” he said. “We would like for them as a business to order something.”

On a recent Monday, the Heights location was completely packed with players. There was only one empty table in the bar. Quiz master AJ Brown announced he had 20 teams playing that night. A tenet of almost every trivia night is a humorous quizmaster. Brown, who has been doing this for four and a half years, was no exception. He read his rules before the game started. No, the first rule was not about Fight Club but it was about keeping silent.

“Do not shout out your answers,” he said. “I don’t care if you are smart or a member of Mensa. Keep it to yourself.”

His second rule was direct.

“Don’t (expletive) with the quizmaster,” he said. “Rule three: No cheating. …The staff here all loves me and lets me know everything that is happening.”

Questions ran the gamut of categories from television shows to music to literature. Brown said the company has people across the country, many of them former “Jeopardy!’ game show players, who write six quizzes every week — one for every day except Friday. That means whether a person plays in Chicago or Albuquerque on a Monday night in a given week, the same questions are asked.

And who exactly are those players? If the crowd at Monday’s O’Niell’s event are a reflection of the typical participant, there is nothing typical about them. There were teens all the way to people in their 80s, an equal number of men and women.

“I’ve seen all age groups,” Brown said. “That’s good because you want your table as varied as possible.”

One of the most varied tables in the bar that night was that of the Barton and Cleland family. Sitting at the table were Shane Barton, his girlfriend Emily Sickenger, his brother Dillon Barton, his father Kevin Barton and his grandparents Sally and Bill Cleland. Shane Barton said the family has been coming every week for two years.

“It was my grandma’s idea,” said Dillon Barton. “She played on a cruise she was on and when she came home, she wanted us to do this.”

The variation on the team may be paying off. Shane Barton said they often finish in the top 3.

The Geeky Cauldron Harry Potter themed quiz takes place Saturday, Aug. 17, across the country including in Albuquerque at the Santa Ana Star Casino.

Other places that host the event in Albuquerque are Nob Hill Bar & Grill, Hops Brewery, Kilt Check Brewing Company, Red Door Brewing, Boxing Bear, Cantero Brewing and Santa Fe Brewing. Rock and Brews will begin hosting a trivia night starting in September.

The pinnacle of Geeks Who Drink is the annual Geek Bowl that takes place in a different city each spring. Next year’s will be held in Chicago. For times and dates of trivia night at each location or to sign up for the Harry Potter event visit geekswhodrink.com.

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