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Answer me this, smart guy: Kevin Baker’s got the questions.

A Place for Your Useless Knowledge

Move over karaoke—trivia events gain popularity in bars throughout the Capital Region

 By Nicole Klaas

 

 “The questions are hard this week. I think they’re hard, at least, and I’m probably the second smartest person on earth,” jokes Stephen Murray—just “Murray” to the crowd gathered for trivia night at Legends on Albany’s Lark Street last Wednesday night (May 23).

Murray is the newest addition to a team of trivia hosts affiliated with Albany Team Trivia, a Capital Region business that’s seen constant growth for at least a year now, as the popularity of trivia events spreads through the area and bar owners increasingly request the service.

Legends became an Albany Team Trivia venue a few months ago, and its trivia night quickly became a consistently popular event, with regulars returning week after week to test their knowledge on subjects ranging from history to sports and popular culture to politics—all in only 20 questions.

Tonight 12 teams are spread out on three of Legend’s four floors. There’s simply not enough room available for each team to congregate on the second floor, where Murray takes up his post. A microphone connects him with players on the floors above and below.

“Like we do every week, let’s begin with a social,” Murray announces, raising his voice to emphasize the word social. He holds up his pint glass, waits for others to do the same, and then adds, “Because the more you drink, the more confidence you have in your answers whether they’re right or wrong.”

The primarily college-aged crowd responds approvingly to Murray’s request, raising their glasses and bottles and indulging in a quick chug as they wait for the first question.

Each team is supplied with a stack of small slips of paper and a pen, which they use to record each answer. After each question, teams have approximately two minutes to submit their written response to Murray, who maintains a log of the scores. Correct answers are worth the question’s point value as a positive while incorrect responses earn teams negative points. The point value assessed for each question increases until the end of each quarter, but teams are allowed to skip two questions throughout the game.

“Now a little U.S. history for you,” Murray announces, four questions into the game. “It has been suggested that what U.S. president suffered from Marfan Syndrome?”

“What’s with these questions? Jeez!” bellows a disbelieving 20-something. He’s one of a seven-member team that’s seated around a table against the wall to Murray’s far left.

“I’ve never even heard of Marfan Syndrome,” another voice calls out from a team of nine that’s gathered at the center of the room.

Back at the seven-top, a second team member is lamenting his uselessness during the past few questions. “I bring nothing to the table,” he whines.

“Except a killer personality,” another retorts.

Even though the event is designed for entertainment and social purposes, don’t try telling the crowd gathered at Legends each Wednesday night that “it’s just a game.”

The same goes for the other 12 locations—with number 13 coming soon to Katie O’Byrnes in Schenectady—says Kevin Baker, founder of Albany Team Trivia.

“Make no mistake, people take the game seriously,” says Baker, a veteran when it comes to hosting team-trivia events. He began hosting his first team-trivia event at Hooters, which he now calls Albany Team Trivia’s flagship location, in 1996. For Baker, who was working at PYX 106 at the time, the event began as radio remote.

“I always thought that it was so unique that I probably couldn’t do it anywhere else, but fortunately I was wrong,” he says. Baker began hosting trivia at a second Capital Region location during 2003 and added a third the following year.

“I’m not sure which happened first, if I added the fourth bar or if I got fired from 94 Rock,” says Baker, sitting on the L-shaped couch in the corner of Graney’s in Albany, where he has hosted Team Trivia Monday nights continuously for two years. “I guess it doesn’t really matter.”

After being let go from 94 Rock, Baker says he considered packing up and leaving the Albany area to find a new radio job, and probably would have if not for the trivia experiment that was underway. “Something about this trivia thing, I had a feeling it was going to go somewhere,” he says.

Sure enough, his side business began to grow, adding new bar locations throughout Albany.

“I never aggressively sought any business,” Baker says. “It just happened one-by-one, by word-of-mouth.”

In 2006, he began to formally organize his operations as Albany Team Trivia. “It has really taken off in the last year, where it’s become obvious that there’s something really big going on.”

In four nights, Baker hosts six of Albany Team Trivia’s games. He has three others working as hosts as well, men who, in addition to Murray, go by the names General James and D.J. All of them come from a radio background.

“I just think that they are the best at working crowds and using a microphone,” Baker says. “It’s two things I don’t have to worry about at the outset.”

Murray runs through the list of teams, the names of which range from Tell Your Mama to Stop Texting Me to Social Blackout and Pocahontas’ Lysol Addiction to Pterodactyls are Terrifying, “which is pretty funny if you’re in the fourth grade,” Murray adds.

“Tonight’s teams aren’t the best names, but they aren’t the most crass either,” Murray says, taking a quick sip from his pint glass. “One of the most crass ones was My Couch Pulls Out but I Don’t.”

It gets more “rowdy” and “raunchier” at Legends than some of the other games, admits Murray, who hosts a much tamer trivia event at McGeary’s in Albany. “It’s because of the crowd.”

At halftime, the point scores range from 48 to -24. It’s the first opportunity for teams to win prizes, which is a component of the game at each trivia location. At Legends, a self-described sports bar, sports-themed prizes are awarded in addition to the free drinks and gift certificates typical of all venues.

The first-half prize, a pitcher of beer and a box of baseball cards, is awarded a team composed of several more mature members. “Let’s kick some ass in the second half,” says a female member of the halftime-winning team to one of her teammates, a middle-aged man with a neatly trimmed white beard.

“I come by myself, so if I find a team to adopt me, I play,” he says. “I know all the shit that nobody else cares about.”

That can be an asset, says Baker. “I think the perfect trivia team has somebody who knows a little bit about each category. I’ll get some teams that will say, ‘Oh, we don’t know anything about sports,’ and that’s where they end up losing points.”

While Baker’s Albany Team Trivia may be one of the best-organized multi-location operations, his business is not alone.

“I didn’t create anything here. Trivia’s pretty big all around the country right now,” Baker says. “There are actually imitators here—and I shouldn’t even call them imitators. They’re just other guys.” He says he’s aware of at least six other locations in the Capital Region that host trivia events not related to Albany Team Trivia.

During the past few months, Albany Team Trivia has expanded into Schenectady. In the future, Baker says he’d also like to see his game start up at locations in Troy. Bottom line, he sees continued growth for his business.

“The thing is, every game is different,” Baker says. “The questions always change. I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon, and as far as just basic entertainment goes, I often say that people are still singing karaoke, and how many years has that been going on? I was in high school when that started, so 20 years later. We’ll see. If I could get 20 years out of this, that’d be great.”

nklaas@metroland.net


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