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Trivia on Tap

The British pub quiz

Oct. 30, 2008
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As the days grow shorter and the cold weather sets in, grills and patio furniture are stored for the winter and social lives are mostly relegated to the indoors. If your billiards game is unaligned and bowling just isn’t your sport, you can always engage in more cerebral pleasures during the colder months.

Ryan Wickens knows there is a time for heart-pumping outdoor activities and a time to kick back in a pub with a pint of ale. He left his home in London to attend Cardinal Stritch University on a soccer scholarship and brought with him a penchant for another favorite English pastime: the pub quiz. He was tending bar at the Britinn, an authentic English pub in Shorewood, when he and owner Tony Wright decided to host the popular pub game. “I designed my own format, questions and Web site,” says Wickens, who has dubbed himself “The Quizmaster.” “People that played my quiz at the Britinn knew owners or managers of bars and they recommended me. I now have eight clients, all bars, and I’m always looking to expand.”

Milwaukee Quizmaster is a service that offers live team trivia to pubs, taverns and bars looking to attract customers on slow weeknights. Wickens’ pub quizzes follow the same format, regardless of location, and are governed by a thorough and specific set of rules. Each quiz, which lasts about two hours, is made up of 30 questions, split into six rounds, totaling 45 points. The rounds include history/politics, geography, music, film/television, sports and a bonus round that varies each week. Teams can be as small as one individual, but cannot exceed eight players. Teams fill out a single answer sheet (yep, good ol’ pen and paper) while the Quizmaster reads the questions aloud over the establishment’s sound system.

Music is played for a minute or two while teams confer over their answers. Once all the questions have been read, teams switch answer sheets and grade one another as the Quizmaster gives the answers. At the end, teams hand in their answer sheets to the Quizmaster, who then reads the teams’ names and their grades in reverse order, from lowest to highest.

One of the most entertaining aspects of taking part in a pub quiz comes when the Quizmaster reads the team names. The cheekier the team name, the better. Many teams invest more brainpower creating a clever moniker than they do answering the questions.

Pub quiz prizes vary from location to location, but have included a $50 bar tab for first place and a $25 bar tab for second place, as well as beer memorabilia, bottles of wine and even cash. Each pub quiz location adopts its own league format for trivia nights. Leagues are run over a predetermined number of weeks and scores are cumulative. At the end of the league’s season, the team with the highest cumulative score wins a larger prize.

Some bars create a quiz night using a trivia kit purchased online and rely on one of the bartenders to read aloud the stock questions. Much of Milwaukee Quizmaster’s success lies in the personality of its quizmasters and their individually created and unique trivia questions. Wickens performs exclusively at the Milwaukee Ale House, the Grafton Ale House and Fanatics Sports Central, with occasional appearances at the Britinn. Wickens employs other quizmasters to host pub quizzes at the Carleton Grange Pub in St. Francis, the Fifth Ward Pub, Trinity Three Irish Pubs and Caffrey’s Pub on the Marquette campus.

Milwaukee Quizmaster keeps its players informed via its Web site: www.milwaukeequizmaster.com. Each establishment has its own blog page, which displays quiz schedules, information, league standings, prizes, practice quizzes and a brief article that contains an answer for that week’s forthcoming quiz. In general, bar games are designed to occupy a customer’s time while he drinks. Rarely do they entice players to memorize geography, retain the names of political figures and store as many facts to memory as possible during their everyday lives. With Milwaukee Quizmaster pub quizzes, people leave a bar with more than a buzz—they walk out having learned something.


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