Sunday morning. It’s raining in Edison, New Jersey. And I just woke up.
I’m in Edison, which is my halfway driving point to Atlantic City for the 2016 World Tavern Trivia Championships. Some of my Hudson Valley bar trivia readers have invited me to join their Stir Crazy team, and I accepted.
A text message from Tim, the Stir Crazy team captain. “Are you on your way?”
“Yes,” I texted back, throwing my clothes into my duffel bag.
“Drive safely,” he texted back. “It’s raining bad here.”
Trust me. I’m not driving like Kurt Busch at Darlington just to get to a trivia tournament. At least not in this steady downpour.
I tell you what, though… I could use some good karma.
A quick breakfast stop on the Garden State Parkway, in a town called Cheesequake. And trust me, that town name gets funnier every time I think about it. Seismic gorgonzola… A few snacks, a couple of bottles of diet cola, and I’m on my way – oh wait. The woman in front of me at the register has an issue.
“Can you help me out?” she asked the cashier at the gift shop. “I put a quarter in the vending machine, and my boy can’t get the toy out.”
“I can check to see if it’s broken, ma’am – but first I need to wait on this customer,” the cashier said, looking at me.
“Miss,” I said, “Let me see that vending machine. Maybe I can figure out what’s wrong.”
I walked over to the machine. And sure enough, she had put 25 cents into the slot.
“Miss,” I said, “This machine is a 50-cent vending machine.” Before she could say anything else, I pulled a quarter out of my pocket, put it in the OTHER vending slot, turned the knob, out came the toy, and I gave it to the little kid. “Have a great day,” I smiled, as I went back to the cashier to purchase my own treats.
Hey, I could use all the good karma I can get.
Back on the road I go. There’s an episode of American Top 40 on my satellite radio’s “70’s on 7” channel. From 1975. Yeah, I’m singing along with David Bowie and John Lennon and even chanting out the Bertha Butt Boogie song. Hey, it WAS in the Top 20 that week…
Uh-oh… Three-car accident. I slow down. Someone wasn’t paying attention to the road conditions. Slowly maneuver around.
Another half hour of driving. Wait, why is that Toyota pointing straight at me on the road … great. A single-car accident. Do these people NOT understand that if you go over the speed limit in a rainstorm, you have a good chance of hydroplaning your vehicle, reducing all traction to your tires and essentially losing control of your car? Another slow maneuver around. Everybody seems to be fine in the car, it looks like it just had a bit of a spin.
Drive, Chuck. Oh yeah, and call the New Jersey police so that someone can send a tow truck out for that car.
11:00 a.m. I’m in Atlantic City, parking at the Resorts Casino parking lot. A quick walk to the hotel lobby – which of course is surrounded by slot machines, go figure. My teammates are still arriving from various locales, so grab a quick bite to eat at one of the hotel’s food courts.
By chance, I run into another trivia player – a man named Aaron, from a squad called the Prom Night Dumpster Babies. We talk about the tournament, he lets me know how the tournament has operated in the past and some possible strategies for play. Oh yeah, and did I mention that the Prom Night Dumpster Babies have won the World Tavern Trivia championships, and thus have received a lifetime invitation to participate in this game?
Later on, I meet up with two of my teammates, Tim and Nick. We talk about how to prepare for this tournament, and right off the bat I thank them for adding me to their team. And we start talking strategies, mostly along the lines of how this game is played. Eventually our other three teammates arrive at Atlantic City – Tom, Leah and William – and we meet up over some fast food at the food court. They tell me about their trivia experiences; I do the same. Fun afternoon.
The trivia game’s about to start. Here’s what it looks like. There are four major trivia quarters, which will be spread over two days of play. Each quarter consists of six 10-question rounds. Each question is worth ten points, and if you feel confident enough, you can designate one round as a “double” round, in which all the points for that round will double in value. You receive no points or penalties for a wrong answer, so it’s not like you’ll be penalized for writing “Bob Saget” for a question.
Oh yeah. And we took a group selfie. Meet the Stir Crazy team.
The hosts went over the rules for each quarter. This first quarter would be held in the hotel ballroom, and each round would be judged immediately after completion. Write down your ten answers, hold it up for a proctor to claim. Any cell phone use for any reason is verboten. You have to leave the ballroom to use a cell phone, and you may not re-enter the ballroom until after a round is completed.
The first round was a brutal multiple choice round, and we only scored seven out of ten correct. But that was our start. The second round was a potpourri round, and we nailed all ten questions correctly – Tim knew the villain in the Mummy trilogy was named Imhotep; Nick new that a black lung disease in coal mining was caused by an elevated level of carbon dioxide and nitrogen in the mine; Leah knew that the Buffy the Vampire Slayer sequel was Angel; William nailed that the first Pixar movie was Toy Story, and Tom correctly identified that the ingredient in a dirty martini is olive brine.
And then came the moment which, for me, signaled how things would turn out for the Stir Crazy team.
The question. “What is the most populated city in South America?”
South America. South freakin’ America. The category that makes me absolutely cringe.
My teammates tossed around Buenos Aires or Rio or …
“Wait,” I said. “I think I know this.”
Yes. I think I know this. I think it’s São Paulo, Brazil.
And I used the trivia phrase that, for all intents and purposes, confirmed that I would take the blame if I was wrong. “Guys,” I said … “If I’m wrong… it’s on me.”
We handed in our slip.
And sure enough… the most populated city in South America… is São Paulo, Brazil.
Perfect ten for ten. And we continued on that streak. We hit an eight-for-ten run on the authors of various supernatural and fantasy novels; a perfect ten-for-ten (which we doubled into a 20-for-20) on a mixed-bag category, and finished with a perfect ten-for-ten in “match the actors with their roles” round.
And by the end of the first quarter, out of a possible 700 perfect points, we scored 620.
Which put the Stir Crazy team in a three-way tie for the lead with two teams – the Walla Walla Weasels, and the Prom Night Dumpster Babies.
Celebrations from the Stir Crazy squad.
And you know what? This feels REALLY good. Not just being in the lead – hell, that feels good in and of itself – but this team I’m on, the Stir Crazy team, seems to blend well. My teammates play to each other’s strengths, and we support each other when we get correct answers. Lots of fist bumps and pointing.
Plus… your final overall score is based on your three best quarters. So if our worst quarter is 620… and other teams have essentially used their mulligan… we have a cushion and an advantage.
The second quarter is coming up soon.
I’ll keep you posted on how things progress.
Wish us luck.
We’re the Stir Crazy trivia team. That’s right… we bad…