If you’ve ever tried to round up a crew for a bar trivia night, you’ve heard the excuse: “It’s not for me. I suck at trivia.” Well, to anyone who’s ever uttered those words before, here’s a news flash: Everyone sucks at trivia. Unless you’re a college professor in multiple disciplines or a real-life Sheldon Cooper, your stockpile of knowledge probably leaves something to be desired. And that’s okay. Trivia isn’t about how much you know, or even about winning. It’s about showing up. It’s about finding a unique way to experience a city, meeting new people, and drinking so much that you forget to play the final round.
Even though the only thing at stake is a $25 gift card, bar crowds get more fired up about trivia than about many sporting events, making it one of the best ways to immerse yourself in a community. And if you pay attention, you might even learn a few things. After all, what else are you doing on a Tuesday night?
Learn new things
Some trivia teams are carefully constructed. They recruit members with complementary sets of knowledge, so whether the subject is geography, history, literature, pop culture, or science, they’re covered. They show up every week with the same members, the same boring team name, sit at the same table, and treat every question with sober gravitas, like when the lights are dimming on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. These are the teams that know things, and worst of all, they know they know things. Good for them. While they’re racking their brains trying to remember the atomic symbol of Tungsten, you can relax, throw up your hands, and learn something new.
More than highlighting how smart you are, trivia is actually more useful for highlighting what you don’t know. You might come into a trivia night knowing nothing about the British parliamentary system and leave knowing the origin of the House of Lords and Commons, and how many members comprise each. This is especially true when traveling. Trivia is often tailored to a local audience, so if you attend a pub quiz in Sweden, don’t expect questions about the NBA Finals. This means that trivia can teach you a lot about subjects at the forefront of people’s minds in your new destination.
After a trivia night in a small Alaskan town, for example, I learned how long the Iditarod race was, the name of its youngest winner, and the diameter of the largest snowflake to ever fall in Alaska (hint: It was bigger than a frisbee).
A community atmosphere
When traveling to big cities, you can easily drown in the number of bar options. Especially if you’re abroad, and the goal is to get to dive into the culture, it can be difficult to identify which bars actually provide a local experience and which are just highly ranked by tourists on TripAdvisor because they serve $18 glowing mojitos. That’s where trivia comes in.
The midweek bar scene might seem dismal, but most cities — particularly in the US and UK — have bar trivia nights from Monday through Thursday. These nights mostly attract in-the-know residents, and with a few minutes of online research, you could mix up with them. Whether you show up by yourself or with friends, trivia nights are an easy way to feel like part of the community. The air of competition between teams often leads to friendly banter, giving you a pretext for meeting new people, and it’s not uncommon for two smaller teams to join forces. The amount of socialization at trivia nights really depends on how comfortable you are talking to strangers in a bar setting, but the competition aspect gives you a built-in excuse, and the questions serve as natural icebreakers.
Stronger bond with friends
Trivia is the perfect, pressure-free way to get to know coworkers, casual acquaintances, or even a date in a relaxed setting. Given the constant pressure of making conversation, happy hour drinks or appetizers can be awkward among people who aren’t best friends. Trivia offers a social experience without the burden of coming up with things to say. The emcee’s questions are like comment cards appearing every three minutes, giving you fresh subjects to discuss and debate. Trivia can be an ideal way to gather with coworkers, or people you’ve just met in a new city, and figure out if you click.
When I moved to Scotland for grad school, I had five new flatmates — each from a different country. The first night we sat together in the common room eating an awkward dinner, hampered somewhat by language barriers, and unsure if this was going to be a friendship situation or a casual acquaintance deal. The second night someone proposed going to a pub quiz. All the questions were about Scottish history and government, and we may or may not have gotten 99 percent of them wrong. But the game took away all the pressure, provided built-in conversation topics, and quickly had us laughing and bonding over what we didn’t know.