With several partners—none of whom work for the company full-time—Gélinas put together Trivia Kings. Like most quiz companies, it charges a flat fee to bars: In this case, it’s a sliding scale depending on the specs (the introductory rate is $80 per week). Quizmasters are paid by the night. They have proprietary scoring software, which helps them get through 10 rounds (10 rounds!) in two hours, as well as keep comprehensive stats on the website.
Trivia Kings has big expansion plans: In a year, after they’ve rolled out a new content management system containing 20,000 questions, Gélinas hopes to have reached 100 bars across the country. Just in this region, he says, “our goal is to have the best bar in every single neighborhood from Baltimore to Richmond.”
(Gélinas says he’s asked Hirshorn to use his scoring software—for free, in fact, in exchange for Looking Glass displaying the Trivia Kings brand.)
That means going after competitors; Gélinas brags about already replacing PubStumpers at several bars. Geeks Who Drink isn’t doing the full-court press on D.C. yet (Hard Times Cafe came to them after dropping PubStumpers) but they’ve done it in other metropolises. “A lot of the time, we’ll pick a city that we want to go into, and meet with bar owners and basically hustle it,” Dicker says.
Trivia Kings, meanwhile, isn’t even shy about going after indies. “We do that a lot, and it’s been very successful,” Gélinas says. “A lot of these independent-run places have hosts that are really passionate about what they do and bars that support them. But there’s pressure to maintain and maintain, and high expectations—because of that, that’s why you’ll find there’s a very cyclical nature to pub quizzes in general.” In other words: Trivia Kings means you don’t have to worry if your quizmaster gets swine flu.
Gélinas is intense, and so is his quiz. The Trivia Kings website somehow makes room for a medieval motif and a Rockwellian Uncle Sam. It contains rules like “No Cheating,” “No Changes,” “No Yelling,” “No Peeking,” “No Easy-Money,” and “Tip Full Price”—with a paragraph-long explanation for each. The site also lists selections from its quiz’s playlists: “Not only has the best music from across the genre spectrum been compiled, but we have taken a lot of work researching lesser known independent artists still growing in the music scene.” That includes cool bands like Phoenix, The xx—and Starship. Research!
Passion aside, Gélinas at least knows that expansion isn’t easy, even if Trivia Kings is growing at a steady clip. “We lose one-quarter of every bar we start,” he says. It could be any number of culprits: bad planning, bad marketing, bad hosting, a bad venue, a bad night. “We’ve lost six locations. It just kills me every time, man. It kills me every time.”
Certainly, starting a new quiz—finding that perfect calibration of host, space, and crowd—isn’t a perfect science.
On the theory that one should review a pub quiz like it’s a restaurant, I return to the Hard Times Cafe in Clarendon one week later, hoping to give Geeks Who Drink a second shot. One half of the bar’s second floor—where the quizmasters have set up shop—is packed with Capitals fans watching Game 1 of the team’s playoff series. The far end of the floor is reserved for a consulting firm’s happy hour. One of the hosts announces over the P.A. that the quiz is getting ready to start.
She is summarily booed.
I ask what’s going on, and I’m told they’ve decided to cancel the quiz this week, which was to be its second ever.
“We’re fearful for our lives,” a quizmaster tells me, laughing a little nervously. “I feel like doing it right now would be a suicide mission.”