Culture | January 3, 2023 6:31 am

DC Is the Trivia Capital of the World

Why local power nerds take the game so damn seriously

neon sign saying why
DC gets competitive about trivia. Here's why.
Carol Yepes via Getty

DC takes its trivia very seriously. Very, very seriously. It’s as if those who frequent the District’s trivia bars haven’t been tested enough — throughout grade school, high school, college, grad school. After decades of SATs, AP exams, GMATs, LSATs and everything else, it appears that displaying Ivy League bumper stickers just isn’t enough to secure bragging rights.

“DC is so Type A, and everyone wants to win and be right all the time,” says Patrick Scott of DC’s intense trivia scene. Despite being “terrible at trivia,” Scott hosts drag trivia at Slash Run in Petworth as Tara Hoot, his drag queen persona. During his six months hosting, he’s grown troubled by some of the self-doubt exhibited by those who think they don’t measure up. “They apologize for being so dumb” when they hand in their answer sheets, says Scott. So, at least once a night Scott says he pauses the action for an ego check-in with the crowd. “I have people recite that they are beautiful and they are worthy of love even if they don’t know the answer,” says Scott. “I try to encourage others to not take it so seriously and just have fun with it..”

“It’s bragging rights — it’s absolutely bragging rights,” says Mark Lloyd of the level of competition displayed by the trivia addicts who come to his weekly trivia night at Wundergarten. Lloyd knows firsthand because before he started hosting at the NoMa beer garden two years ago, he was a player. “I just love Jeopardy and love trivia. I’m a Trivial Pursuit nerd. Random knowledge. I came from the type of family, where at Thanksgiving, as Mom’s making dinner, what we all do is break out the Trivial Pursuit cards; not to play the game, just to ask the questions,” says Lloyd, who wants to be a contestant on Jeopardy! A look at the number of competitors who show up on Monday nights, and there’s a possibility Lloyd may not be the only one with sights on the game show. The crowd can swell to about 400 people — or, 40 to 50 teams. Often, Lloyd says, it’s hard to find a seat at the proverbial table. 

Wundergarten and Slash Run are two in a long list of trivia venues in the District. Whether the venues subscribe to national trivia warehouses which create the questions posed by the hosts — like King Trivia (a national company) or District Trivia (a local trivia company) — or are created by the hosts themselves, there are so many trivia night opportunities in DC that if you schedule things right, you could play trivia every night of the week in each of the four quadrants.

Sam Parven hosts trivia nights on Tuesdays at Boundary Stone in Bloomingdale using a set of questions prepared by King Trivia; contestants answer the questions using an app on their phones, and Parven guides them through the process. Parven, 24, who has hosted trivia throughout the DMV for about a year and a half, says when it comes to hosting in the District, he can feel the competitive vibe. “You may think everyone from Hill staffers to think-tankers would want to detach after work by vegging in front of the TV. But, DC-ers are choosing to spend their 5-9 engaging in more competition,” says Parven, who grew up in the DMV. “Proving you’re the smartest in your friend group could be part of it,” he adds.

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Brianna Meeks hosts and plays regularly — which means weekly. Meeks is a sucker for Lloyd’s general test sesh on Monday’s at Wundergarten and, about a year ago, began hosting music trivia at the beer garden on Wednesday nights. “Mark’s trivia is very much the competitive, the nerds, there’s geography and pop culture; my trivia is different. It’s very much about the vibes…so a lot of it is me picking out songs that I like and then wrapping them into trivia,” says Meeks, who, like Lloyd, writes her own trivia material. Scott, too, writes his own trivia, sometimes pulling questions from a 1984 version of Trivial Pursuit, “just to mix it up a bit. It’s a riot. I call that round the Stranger Things round because it’s a 1980s callback.” Meeks, Lloyd and Scott all say it takes about two to three hours to prep for hosting. “One of my friends said, ‘Clearly you do this because you enjoy homework,’” says Meeks, laughing, adding that she likes “to create a very healthy balance of making it difficult and making it fun and kind of challenging people,” which is really about challenging their frame of reference. But because so many competitors are transplants and also specialists, working in DC as congressional aides, policy wonks, lobbyists on K Street or at NGOs, trying to figure out what that frame of reference is isn’t always an easy task, she says.

“There’s nothing I enjoy more in life than hosting trivia and taking those people and going ‘I bet I’m going to find something you don’t know.’ And they continually surprise me,” says Lloyd of the brain power of his loyal following.

Gabbie Corado is one of them. She’s been coming to trivia night at Wundergarten since 2018. “I am a very competitive person,” says Corado, who takes the New York Times’ news quiz each Friday and then reviews the answers right before Monday night trivia starts because “there are people here who just know everything.” Her team, We Should Be Lesson Planning, is a group of 20-something DCPS teachers who come “faithfully” to Monday night trivia. Corado, who grew up in a trivia family and played “big time in college” while at the University of Connecticut, continued her trivia ways while getting her masters (and playing pub trivia) in London. Though, she says, “DC is much more competitive — in London it was for funzies,” Corado says. Fiona Walsh, a  teacher on Corado’s team and George Washington University grad, says for two years she went to trivia on Sunday nights at a bar near the school. Her college team only won once; her teacher-team has never won, but, they keep coming back because, Corado says, trivia is about “gamifying the night.” 

It’s also about learning. “I always joke that I pride myself on knowing stuff,” Meeks says. “And I also enjoy learning, so trivia is perfect.” Meeks says her team has come in first place a few times during Monday night trivia at Wundergarten.

As a host, Lloyd says he “[doesn’t] really care if you get it right. I care if you had fun, even if you were the last place team, if I made you chuckle, if you learned something and if you come back.” And, even though he gives a weekly spiel about how the evening is about having “low-key fun, I’ve caught a couple of cheaters,” he says.

According to the hosts we spoke with, the competition goes beyond the answers themselves. Though most trivia contests don’t give points for team names, that’s where the competition really begins. “People are hilarious,” says Meeks of the names she’s heard. “Kamala Outta Love,” debuted after the 2020 election and “Grab Her in the Pelosi,” emerged shortly after the Access Hollywood tapes were released. And, more recently, “Hershel Walker’s Forgotten Children” joined the ranks. Others stick with the names they came up with when they first got hooked. Still others will use a team name and alter it slightly based on the news cycle, says Meeks. For example, “there’s ‘Three Non-Blondes,’ like the band, so they would be, ‘Three Non-Blondes Who Can’t Wait to Stop Receiving Election Texts,’” Meeks says, citing the timely name that particular team used the night after Election Day. 

And while the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi wrote in 1999 about how male-centric trivia in DC is, things have definitely changed. “I think people are smart enough to know that one gender won’t get you a podium position,” says Parven.