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Team trivia games fill Tampa Bay barstools

Ferg’s in St. Petersburg, with games at 7 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, has one of the hottest trivia nights. On a recent Monday, more than 20 teams signed up to try to win $30 of Ferg’s Bucks.
Published May 31, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG The quizmaster fires the final question:

"Who directed Apple's revolutionary '1984' ad that first aired during Super Bowl XVIII?"

I know this. I totally know this.

Jeez, I think I know this. Maybe another beer would help?

We have 30 seconds to answer — and maybe win the team trivia challenge at a packed Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill.

Our team, called Out of the Money (a nod to our usual fourth-place kersplat), huddles up.

"Stanley Kubrick?" someone whispers.

No, not Kubrick, I say.

"Spielberg?" another hushes.

Not him, either.

I can see the name. It's in that Steve Jobs bio I just read.

The Gladiator director.

The Blade Runner guy.

You know, that dude.

And finally, there it is, emerging from the fog of my 43 years.

Rusty and Deborah are the smart ones on the team. Now, at last, I know something: "Ridley Scott."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, Ridley Scott, he directed the ad."

"Are you surrrre?"

"Stone-cold lock it."

My teammates raise eyebrows. You don't mess with "the stone-cold lock" unless you mean business.

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Put your phone away.

Now. Just put it away.

Shut down the iPad, too. What we're about to do here isn't just lo-tech; it's no-tech, baby.

All you need is a pencil, a few remaining brain cells and the help of your pals, preferably buddies who know something about sports, music, movies, U.S. history, world history, geography, geology and who played stuffy Carlton Banks on '90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Behold, the curiously addictive thrill of team trivia, a communal activity sprouting up in watering holes all over Tampa Bay. We're not talking about those bartop trivia gizmos. Computers don't ask the questions here — but Trixie the Trivial Tranny at the Queens Head sure does!

The rules vary from joint to joint, but generally go like this: The trivia is usually free; hot wings and Bud, that'll cost you. Over a couple of hours, a quizmaster — sometimes hired by the bar; sometimes a bar owner himself — asks a series of questions worth varying points.

Answers are written on scraps of paper. Teams usually have five to eight players, both men and women. On a recent Monday night, there were 20-plus squads (most team names can't be published in a family newspaper) at Ferg's bar. Prizes await top points earners; at Ferg's, champs get $30 in "Ferg's Bucks" to be used on food and booze.

Sounds simple, right?

Trivial Pursuit on steroids?

And yet, there's a novel allure to team trivia, especially at a time when we're all head-down and computer-bound.

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"In 2009, there were something like 500 trivia games each week in Atlanta," says Quizmaster C.J. Martin, who owns Tampa Bay's Greatest Live Team Trivia, a local company that runs 12 games across Tampa Bay each week, including at a World of Beer in Tampa's Carrollwood neighborhood that draws close to 100 people each Tuesday. "I told my friends, it's coming to Tampa Bay. And now it's everywhere!"

Team trivia's popularity makes societal sense. It's an inexpensive way for bars to lure customers for a couple of hours of eating and drinking; it's a way for customers to unload all that senseless info they've been lugging around in their heads for years.

Oh, and to un-plug and make contact with other humans.

"It's the camaraderie, being around people you want to be around," explains Mark "Ferg" Ferguson, whose establishment is an epicenter of the minutiae-driven madness on Mondays and Thursdays. Ferg says the extra business has been a boon, especially those Thursday games. "Trivia is a team thing: long tables of people, one guy good at the '70s stuff, one good at the '80s. It's like flag football, but you don't have to run around."

Ferg's regular Christopher Jacobson, 34, says the buzz goes deeper than that: "People come to trivia chasing that rush."

I get that. My Ridley Scott question? Nailed it. Sending Out of the Money into first place. And indeed, I'm still feeling that rush.

Flag football is for suckers.

Nerds rule.

|| || ||

Quizmaster Martin and other gamemakers say it's not a matter of asking clever questions; there's a genuine art to a good trivia game. Challenge people — but don't make 'em feel stupid.

"Venues are paying us to entertain the crowds, so we want to run a quality game," says the 47-year-old Martin. "I want to craft a game that's well-balanced. I want any of the teams there to have a chance to win a game."

Darren Conner, co-owner of the Queens Head in St. Petersburg, says the feel-good aspect of team trivia is more important than the challenge. His restaurant doesn't use an outside company; they drum up the questions themselves. Admission is $1, with the winners getting the collective entrance fees.

"Trixie the Trivial Tranny is not going to ask who was Henry the VIII's third wife's sister," Conner says with a laugh. Although she will dump a bucket of $1 bills on the winning team's heads.

Sporting a nefarious handlebar mustache, Lee Palmer, 33, owns Tampa Bay Dream Team, a DJ and events company that runs three trivia nights around St. Petersburg: Mondays and Thursdays at Ferg's, and Tuesday at Crowley's on Central Avenue. Palmer's been hosting trivia for several years and says stumping customers isn't the point.

"We don't want the questions to be too hard," says Palmer. "If it's too hard, they won't come back, you know?"

In related news: Alfonso Ribeiro played Carlton Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

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Like everything else, sooner or later team trivia will probably reach maximum capacity in Tampa Bay. But right now, it's still spreading. Wood Fired Pizza in downtown St. Petersburg just added a Thursday game.

"Trivia brings new people into the restaurant," says server Michael Ertenbeck. "And we have it out on the deck so people can see it happening."

Quizmaster Martin doesn't see the craze slowing down. He's hoping to put 20 weekly games in 20 restaurants. And why not? After all, everyone can play. Anyone can be a winner.

"More often that not," he says, "the first answer you come up with is usually the correct one."

Now and then, an extra gulp of beer can help your cause, too.

Andy Fullerton contributed to this report. Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@tampabay.com. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.

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