If you’ve resolved this year to get your brain, as well as your body, limber, the pub quiz is a great start. This athletics of the mind can be highly rewarding, both tangibly (winning nets you cash prizes, bar tabs, and gift certificates) and intangibly (finding an outlet for such mental detritus as the name of the group that sang “Walking on Sunshine” is surprisingly fulfilling). New York bars offer trivia for every brand of nerd, and we played several weeknight games to find the best places to up your cultural literacy.
Last Exit, 136 Atlantic Avenue, 718-222-9198
Cobble Hill’s Last Exit hosts one of New York’s longest-running trivia nights on the first and third Monday of each month. Bookish Brooklynites crowd into the dim, cozy bar; teams can have up to four members, and each member pays $5 to play. This seems steep compared to the glut of free pub quizzes out there, but the first and second place teams win the pot.
With ten rounds of five questions each, Last Exit requires a significant time commitment, but there are highlights to keep teams engaged. “Last Exit Theater” has the hosts act out a scene from a movie that players must identify, and otherwise haphazard rounds have themes that emerge only once you correctly answer all the questions. (One such round was inspired by Clue; the answers were scarlet, mustard, peacock, green, and plum.) If this all sounds too daunting, Last Exit also hosts a “Slurring Bee” every third Tuesday wherein players take a shot and then attempt to spell words like “tintinnabulation.”
For: Egghead locals
Difficulty level: Challenging
NYC Trivia League, multiple locations
NYC Trivia League hosts games Monday through Thursday nights at locations throughout the city. You can drop in on any quiz or register a team of up to six members and compete throughout a nine-week-long season — champions win bar tabs, trophies, and theater tickets.
A recent game at Sunswick in Astoria moved at a leisurely pace, with five rounds of ten questions. Each round had a theme; some — “bugs,” “mail” — were a bit odd. The audio round leaned heavily on R&B, initially a challenge for our team, but the hostess played such lengthy clips that we were eventually able to identify most of the songs. With an extensive draft beer list and an easygoing crowd, the Sunswick’s quiz seemed an ideal one for beginners — if you’re the sort of person who gets enraged when Jeopardy! contestants fumble, this may not be the place for you. Our team came in first place and was very satisfied with our generous prize — two growlers of beer from Oceanside’s Barrier Brewing Co.
For: Trivia newbies
Difficulty level: Easy
Trivia A.D., multiple locations
Trivia A.D. is geared toward the specialist, offering games centered on a particular movie or T.V. show. Upcoming events, held at bars in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey, focus on pop culture phenomena like Breaking Bad, Dirty Dancing, and Clueless. I attended a Buffy the Vampire Slayer-themed night at the Brooklyn Winery, a rustic-chic venue more appropriate for a wedding than a pub quiz — it’s tough to get toasted enough to trash-talk your competitors with wine at $16 per glass.
Each game has five themed rounds: general knowledge, identifying characters from photos, true or false, attributing quotes to characters, and a final high-speed lightning round. Our host moved quickly and didn’t announce scores between rounds; our team of hardcore fans, blindsided by the difficulty of the questions, was convinced we had choked. We ended up placing third and winning a $25 gift certificate to Brooklyn Winery (so, one and a half glasses of wine). First and second place teams won $75 and $50 gift certificates, respectively.
For: Fanboys and girls
Difficulty level: Very challenging for anyone but the true obsessives
Trivia NYC , multiple locations
Those with a respect for the rules and rituals of trivia will appreciate Trivia NYC’s games, held at bars in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. (Full disclosure: I’m a regular at one of the quizzes in Astoria.) Now in its eighth year, the company has launched a collaboration with the Game Show Network and is developing a league concept for players who are in it for the long haul. Teams of up to five play five rounds of 10 questions each; the chatty hosts keep everyone abreast of their scores throughout, allowing for a competitive vibe and a bit of friendly trash talk.
Each game begins with a “This Day in History” round, which means that players who are dedicated enough can study ahead of time and enter the quiz with confidence. Audio rounds often hinge on a particular phrase — a recent “walk”-themed round asked players to identify the group behind “Walking on Sunshine” (answer: Katrina and the Waves.) The final round and best mental exercise is “Name Three,” which has teams identify the common link between three items. The top three teams win free drinks, beer steins, and gag gifts (recent prizes include a Korn CD and a framed hologram portrait of Jesus.)
For: Trivia purists
Difficulty level: Challenging
Trivia Tryst, multiple locations
Trivia Tryst offers the widest array of quizzing options, with “standard” and “advanced” games at locations throughout Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Long Island, and Westchester, Sunday through Friday. Games follow a unique format — each round has three themed categories with a regular question and a bonus, interspersed with “tryst” rounds, in which teams collaborate on answers. In the final round, players can wager up to 14 points, making major upsets possible.
Though Trivia Tryst’s concept is strong, the game we played at Turtle Bay NYC was lackluster for a variety of reasons. There was low turnout due to the holidays, a poor-quality sound system that made it difficult to hear the host, and a massive (and illegal!) team that sat beside us, shrieking, throughout the evening. Our attempt at collaborating during the “tryst” round was thwarted when it turned out that our partnering team was one guy, who offered no suggestions and left early. The $3 beers were a consolation, as was our win after we correctly answered the final question, which asked for the title shared by a Lady Gaga song and a Peter O’Toole film (“Venus”). On busier nights, Trivia Tryst provides a convenient excuse to chat up strangers in a bar, making it a solid choice for singles and nerdy newcomers to the city.
For: Extraverts, singles
Difficulty level: Moderate