Q: Where's the best place in town to get drunk while trying to think of the name of Michael Jackson's pet chimp? The name of a nine-sided polygon? The fruit associated with Wimbledon? What a baby hippo is called? The first Heat player to have his jersey retired? Other useless, random shit? You've got ten seconds to answer. And there's free booze at stake.
Ambiance: As a general rule, smaller is cuter and therefore better (unless we're talking paychecks or penises) — and the Kingshead Pub is one of the most pocket-sized pubs I've ever set foot in. I passed through the door (which is painted to look like a British flag) and grabbed the only empty spot in the room — a seat in a high-backed chair at the bar, below tiny British flags, a bumper sticker that said "Beer: The reason I get up each afternoon," and a framed photo of Elton John autographed to "Jeff — love the sausage." Tables and chairs were crowded around the central bar; dartboards and framed pictures graced the walls, and the striped walls and primary colors reminded me of an old countryside barn. The bar was packed, and people sat in groups of four, all scribbling frantically on little pieces of paper and gesticulating wildly at one another.
The rules: Apparently, we'd walked right into the middle of the "Nine" round. That meant, as Jeff the bar manager explained it, all the questions somehow pertained to the number nine. Jeff was bright-eyed and wore a shiny blue shirt over his broad frame. "Whoever wins gets a $100 bar tab and their choice of seating for next time," Jeff said. "We usually start getting people in here around 6 p.m. That means the good spots go fast."
Jeff quickly explained that there are six series of questions, with bonus questions along the way that allow teams a chance to win a free round of booze as they go along.
"There's also a 'picture round,' " Jeff explained, holding up a piece of paper with photos of 12 celebrities (some rather obscure). "Sometimes we'll have celebrities' cars, stomachs — even their asses — and you have to name the celebrity to get the points." I stared at the photo. The only famous face I recognized was Carrie Underwood. And even that I wasn't certain about. Trivia's not my strong suit. Face recognition either. Or maybe I wasn't sober.
As Jeff continued to talk, Neil, the ringmaster of this trivial pursuit, began calling answers. He was burly, wore a bright orange shirt, and spoke with a very dignified British accent.
"A nonagon is a nine-sided polygon," Neil announced, amid mostly cheers and a few groans. "We didn't give any points for 'cube.' "
Drinks: We ordered a stiff round of Kronenberg brews and a side of hand-cut "chips" with Guinness gravy. The next round was the "Chain Link" round, during which the last letter of each answer would be the first letter of the next answer. Team Charlie's Anals earned a free round of beers for guessing (close) to the number of dollars earned by A-Rod since 1996 (hint: it was a shitload).
"The young of a hippo is called a calf," Neil boomed. Everyone cheered, indicating an awful lot of right answers.
"Yes, yes," Neil said. "It could go horribly wrong from here, but at least you got off to a good start."
Last time's champs: The music round — which was Michael Jackson-themed — was next.
"I'm not going to make any Michael Jackson jokes," Neil said. "He just died — I'm going to leave the man with his dignity. Besides, Billy Mays jokes are easier."
This round included snippets of songs (participants had to name some obscure detail about them — like who recited the spoken end soliloquy of "Thriller"?) and general personal trivia about M.J. (How many siblings did he have?). Next was the "Get Four, Connect Them Twice" round, in which answers to the first four questions gave players clues to the answer of the fifth question.
A team called If It Wasn't for That Bitch Yoko Ono, Paul Would Still Be in the Band looked like particularly stiff competition.
"We won last week," said the team's unofficial leader, a soft-spoken gentleman with glasses. "Right now, we're running middle of the pack."
"What's your area of expertise?" I asked.
"I'm a pop culture guy," he said.
Patricia, his red-lipped companion, said, "He's got all the answers."
"They've got the beauty, though," he said, smiling.
Rivalry: I know particularly little about tennis, which happened to be the theme of round five.
"Strawberries are associated with Wimbledon," Neil announced in a scolding tone. Almost everyone moaned. "Oh what, you didn't know that? Strawberries and cream? Come on, guys."
Before the final round, I paid a little visit to Charlie's Anals, who were sitting at a window table enjoying their free round of beer as they waited for round six.
"How's it going?" I asked.
"We've been bridesmaids the last two times we've played," said Glenn, who was light-haired and wore glasses (the better to intimidate opponents). "The competition is particularly stiff," he noted. He motioned to a table a few feet away. "That's my sister's team. We have to beat them."
"Well, with a name like 'Charlie's Anals,' how can you lose?" I asked.
"That name is Rich's fault," said their slight, dark-haired female teammate.
"Well, it's a tribute to Farrah Fawcett, as she recently passed away," said Rich, who had a ruddy complexion and a shiny bald head. "Plus, his sister's team got the better name."
"What is it?"
He glanced at them with slit eyes of mock malice. "The Jackson 4."
Victory: Round six was news-related (Alonzo Mourning was the first player to have his Heat jersey retired, FYI) and a wipeout round, which somehow provided better chances for teams low on points. I tried to have Neil explain the scoring as the quizzes were being graded, but he was too busy laughing at everyone's wrong answers. Finally, the scores were tallied, and the sweet taste of victory — it tastes remarkably similar to free beer — was in the air.
Unceremoniously, Neil ticked off team names and scores backward, placing both If It Wasn't for That Bitch Yoko Ono, Paul Would Still Be in the Band and Charlie's Anals somewhere in the middle. The Oh Shit I Don't Knows came in third, Jackson 4 second (the Charlie's Anals demanded a rematch), and the Know-It-Ales scored the $100 bar tab. Coinciding with the announcement of the winners, Rich of Charlie's Anals somehow snapped the back of his chair and fell to the ground with a loud thump. He leapt to his feet quickly, blushing.
"Sorry, that's what you get after two free rounds of beer," he mumbled.
I talked to a couple of the Know-It-Ales: He was middle-aged with particularly owly eyes; she was adorable with long, black hair.
"Congrats," I said. "What's the secret to victory?"
"I think having a broad range of ages helps," she mused. "We all know the answers to different things."
"She's 25," he said, then pointed to a white-haired gentleman on the team.
"And he's like 50-something." The team members knew each other from their swim team. (Last pub quiz, they'd played under the name Drinkers With a Swimming Problem.)
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"Better swimmers than cheerleaders," I said, remembering from round six that more female athletes die cheerleading than competing in any other sport.
"How you gonna spend that free bar tab?" I asked.
"Oh, last time we were here, our tab was $80," she said. "I bet we've already spent it."
Well, nothing better than kickin' ass and getting your booze free for it. The next time you're locked in a sudden-death match of trivia and someone happens to ask the name of Michael Jackson's pet chimp, say Bubbles. And, if to double your score, you can come up with the best place to go for a Sunday night pub quiz, the answer is Kingshead Pub.