Q. Why do trivia nights have so many devoted fans?

A. It?s a fun way (despite the brain cramps) to test their knowledge of obscure facts and to learn new ones along the way

Mark Noseworthy thinks about a question at Cape Ann Brewing Company in Gloucester. Mark Noseworthy thinks about a question at Cape Ann Brewing Company in Gloucester. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Taryn Plumb
Globe Correspondent / September 30, 2010

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Pay attention, because it’s time to test your random facts IQ.

1) Identify Brazil’s currency and its exchange rate with the US dollar.

2) Name the corroded and sea-tossed artifact from an ancient shipwreck that is believed to be a fragment of the first mechanical computer.

3) Pinpoint the lowest selling price for a Ford Model T.

OK, you got all that? Now — you have two minutes to come up with the answers.

Need some help?

Julie Tosi could give you a few hints; she’s been playing team trivia at the Landing at 7 Central in Manchester on and off for several months now — and, as she’ll freely admit, she’s full of arcana.

“You walk away and you’ve learned something,’’ said Tosi, of Manchester, seated in the dusky and lively barroom on a recent Wednesday night. Or it’s “ ‘Oh my Gosh, I didn’t know I knew that.’ You get a sense of satisfaction.’’

Team trivia is a proving ground for useless knowledge; a test of might in the esoteric and the minutiae.

Each week, hundreds of devout fact-finders assemble in cleverly named teams to flaunt their intelligence in the obscure and cramp their brains at dozens of the area’s live trivia nights.

“It’s a way to break up the monotony of the week,’’ said Brian Sollosy, host of the Landing at 7 Central’s raucous Wednesday night quiz show-like sessions. Also, it’s about “not taking yourself too seriously, or the night too seriously.’’

Still, there’s at least one serious consideration: live trivia’s significant expansion. Close to 1,700 weekly events are held across the country — compared with 600 about five years ago, according to the New Jersey-based National Trivia Association.

And the Boston area is ranked in the top 5 nationwide in terms of the number of venues hosting trivia, noted Andrew Weilgus, one of three partners who launched the industry group in 2004. Many of those are held locally on slower evenings earlier in the week, and include the Landing at 7 Central, Cape Ann Brewing Company in Gloucester, O’Neill’s in Salem, Majestic Dragon in Ipswich, the Claddagh Pub in Lawrence, and John Brewer’s Tavern in Malden.

Typically, the format is a blend of shout-out and written responses; there’s no multiple choice — and absolutely no cheating.

But considering their relative simplicity, trivia nights haven’t been around that long, at least in this country. Although ubiquitous in the United Kingdom, they didn’t migrate across the Atlantic until early 1990, when it’s believed the first live trivia game was held in Philadelphia, according to Weilgus. The “enormous amount of momentum’’ recently is the result of chains like T.G.I. Friday’s and Applebee’s picking up the concept, while some independent establishments have linked up with trivia franchises.

Largely, though, he noted, the phenomenon can be credited to voracious players and team loyalty.

Just meet “The Griffins.’’ The two-woman team — named for the main characters on the irreverent animated TV series “Family Guy’’ — are a formidable force at the Landing at 7 Central’s trivia night.

“She’s the one who knows everything,’’ Linda Doherty, of Rockport, said of her teammate, Sarah Homan, of Beverly, as the two shared nachos at the bar before the game started.

As for Doherty? “Nothing sticks,’’ she chuckled.

And right beside them sat their competition: The five-member entourage “The unhappy faces’’ — which, in the playful spirit of live trivia, recently changed its name to a frown-face symbol, taking a cue from pop musician Prince, who substituted a symbol for his name in the 1990s.

“Think of the great teams — the Celtics, the Red Sox — they have nothing on the unhappy faces,’’ Sollosy jested before whipping up the crowd one recent Wednesday.

Within minutes, a cacophony filled the room, answers cascading from all corners during a “fifth-grade social studies’’ shout-out category.

“Where were the first flakes of gold found in the California gold rush?’’ Sollosy boomed.

“Carson City!’’


“North Dakota!’’

“Sutter’s Mill!’’ (Correct.)

The host continued. “Who said, ‘Go west, young man?’ ’’

“Oh, God!’’ someone shrieked in frustration.

“God never said that!’’ Sollosy countered.

The barrage continued, occasional lighthearted groans and heckles from the crowd keeping Sollosy going at a rapid pace.

At the end of the round, Doherty shrugged. “Fifth grade was a long time ago.’’

As the game continued, players answered questions about celebrity Scientologists, famous firsts and famous lasts. As in: the last horseman of the apocalypse (Death); the last state to join the United States (Hawaii).

No doubt, categories are random; at local trivia nights, they range from the academic to the goofy to the obscure — zip codes, cocktails, pharmaceuticals, “Dirty Harry’’ movies, Stanley Cup wins, first ladies, adult entertainment. At Cape Ann Brewing, players were once even asked to label cuts of beef on a picture of a cow.

Of course, there are the reliable mainstays, too: geography, art, US presidents, science and nature, sports, cars, pop culture.

Whatever the focus, though, “You have to bring it down to the lowest common denominator,’’ said Sollosy, who’s played trivia at the Landing at 7 Central for five years, and has hosted it for two. “Everyone wants to feel like they can win. This isn’t the SATs.’’

Indeed, it’s quite the opposite, as players will good-naturedly point out between sips from pint glasses — questions dominate the realm of useless facts.

“That’s all I have,’’ Homan quipped about the plethora of feckless details she’s amassed. With a chuckle: “If I lost all that, I’d be nothing.’’

Whitney Swanberg of Danvers wasn’t quite so confident in her abilities.

“I feel like I get stupider every week,’’ Swanberg, who competes with her team most Wednesday nights at Cape Ann Brewing, lamented drolly. Except celebrity gossip: “I own that category,’’ she said.

As for this particular Wednesday night’s selection? An intensive battery of questions in teen literature; “name that tune’’; “road trip’’; and “it’s a small world.’’

In the road trip category, contestants were asked to come up with the name of the paint Henry Ford used to coat his Model T (“Japan black’’); how many of those legendary cars he produced (15 million); and what year he died (1947).

Swanberg surprised herself with the last one.

“That’s a useless piece of information I picked up over time,’’ she shrugged.

The last round, meanwhile, asked for the names of various currencies from different countries and their exchange rates; and countries that begin with ‘N’ that competed in the Olympics.

With each round, players huddled and scribbled, pitchers of beer and half-empty pint glasses cluttering the wooden rectangular tables where they sat. After collecting and correcting the teams’ response sheets, the host shouted out the right answers, “oohhh’s’’ rising up from the crowd, hands slapping tables accompanied by “I knew that!’’

And the night’s winner, wrangling 50 points?

“Team Nose’’ (named for patriarch Mark Noseworthy), narrowly beating out Swanberg’s team, the “maxi pad bandits’’ (a flippant title borrowed from a newspaper headline of the day that elicited titters all night).

“We mostly come up dead last,’’ Noseworthy quipped. Wife Tery shook her head, “I don’t know how we won.’’

Oh — and you probably wanted the answers to those questions from the beginning?

1) The Real, 1.71 (as of mid-September). 2) Antikythera. 3) $289.

See? You’re endowed with more useless knowledge already.