Trivia night at the bar

Mixing beer and brains at your friendly neighborhood trivia night

Angela Lombardi (left) and Annie Dalton put their heads together during the Maltese’s trivia night.

Angela Lombardi (left) and Annie Dalton put their heads together during the Maltese’s trivia night.

Photo By Jason cassidy

Four trivia-night spots: The Maltese (Sundays, 8 p.m.); The Banshee (Tuesdays, 7:30 p.m.); Woodstock’s Pizza and T. Tea Bar & Fusion Cafe (both on Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m.).

After 9 p.m. last Sunday, most of Chico’s bar-going population took the night off to lick the weekend’s wounds or watch the Oscars. But inside The Maltese on Chico’s south side, a dozen-or-so diehards sat huddled in small groups over tables or sections of bar tapping their collective knowledge of zombies, french fries and banjos.

Sundays at The Maltese are trivia nights, where a life misspent ingesting pop-culture trash, reading books or attaining a heretofore worthless degree might finally be rewarded in the form of mad bragging rights and a couple of free drinks.

“It’s our favorite night of the week,” said Amy Thompson, a trivia night regular who plays with friends under the team name Jiffy Pop Rocks. “I have to work at 6:30 Monday mornings, but I’m here every Sunday.”

“It’s a great way to spend a nice, laid-back night at the bar,” said Maltese manager Brandon Smith, who explained that the bar started trivia in December, when it had to find alternative theme nights to replace live music due to the continuous noise complaints. (Other nightly themes include Wii bowling on Wednesdays and Karaoke Tuesday and Thursdays.)

The Maltese is among a handful of local establishments—including The Banshee, Woodstock’s Pizza and T. Tea Bar & Fusion Café—to offer such brain-teasing entertainment.

The quiz nights each operate under different rules and each has a distinct flavor; at The Maltese, the action generally starts at 8 p.m. and features eight themed rounds featuring eight questions each. Teams have the duration of one song to answer the questions, plus identify the artist and the name of the song playing (selections from last Sunday included Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and Modest Mouse’s “Bukowski”).

On well-attended nights, a second game starts at 9:30, and the prize for each game is a $20 bar tab. Participation is free.

At the end of each round host Ben Armstrong collects answer sheets while his wife and co-host Emily announces the standings and reads answers to the last round, usually punctuated by cheering and booing from rival teams and, last Sunday, a cowbell rung by Thompson’s teammate, Kelly Knox.

Emily said the most difficult part of writing questions like “These french-fry cousins are Napoleon Dynamite’s favorite …” and “Who found himself in the strange land of Lilliput?” each week is finding a balance—making sure the questions aren’t too hard or too easy.

“We don’t want to make people feel stupid, but we don’t want to make it too easy either,” Ben added.

The Armstrongs’ favorite recurring category is “Before and After,” in which two clues combine to make one answer: for example, a clue reading “Sitcom about four dirty old ladies in Florida and drunk girls flashing their breasts” … Answer: “Golden Girls Gone Wild.”

“They’re fun to do, and people playing don’t need to know the whole thing, but if you know half the answer sometimes you can figure out what the other half will be,” said Ben. “It requires more lateral thinking.”

“I like them because I like anything with puns in it, because it’s cheesy,” Emily concurred.

The hosts hope to expand trivia nights in the future with tentative plans including more multimedia capabilities for video and audio questions, prizes for perfect rounds and goody bags.

Jiffy Pop Rocks went on to win Sunday. As usual, their investment in drinks topped the value of the prize, but $20 goes a long way toward a victory nightcap and they even offered some losers a drink off the tab.

“I may not know where my keys are in the morning,” announced Knox. “But I have all the answers.”