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Article updated: 7/24/2013 6:15 AM

Trivia nights liven up suburban bars


Donna Breckenridge has a corkboard full of silly answers she has amassed from hosting trivia nights in bars and restaurants across the Western suburbs.

One of her favorites?

When asked which invention James Murray Spangler patented in 1907 using an electric fan, a box and one of his wife's pillow cases -- the vacuum cleaner is the correct answer -- one team wrote "A wacky, waving, inflatable, arm-flailing tube man."

"I love it when people come up with a funny answer," Breckenridge said. "I'm the one who gets to read it out loud and make everyone laugh. That's when the job is fun."

Breckenridge works for Pub Trivia U.S.A., a company that hosts about 51 live trivia nights in Chicago and its suburbs. They're free for players.

Pub Trivia U.S.A. President Tony Stack said the events aim to liven up venues on slower nights. And a number of suburban bars are taking advantage of that.

Jerry Hernandez, owner of Warren's Ale House in Wheaton and Ellyn's Tap and Grill in Glen Ellyn, hired Pub Trivia U.S.A. a few years ago to help get people in the door. Warren's has a weekly trivia night Tuesdays at 8 p.m., while Ellyn's has one Wednesdays at 8 p.m.

Stack said about 20 players showed up the first time Ellyn's hosted a trivia night. Now, the number never drops below 80.

"People come in every Wednesday just because (trivia night) has grown so much," Hernandez said. "They'll decide to come in another night because they know there are no seats."

Kevin Finegold manages the Mount Prospect restaurant Blackfinn American Grille, which features trivia night at 8:30 p.m. Thursdays. He said the competitive and intense events -- which bring in about 65 people -- have added another dimension for the 8:30 p.m. to midnight crowd.

"Trivia is a serious business," he said. "It's not as cheesy as I thought it would be."

The trivia nights work like the gameshow "Jeopardy!" Over two hours, the hosts ask 22 questions over four rounds. These include a halftime and final question, which allow teams to wager up to 15 points.

Stack said the venues provide prizes -- usually gift certificates -- for teams that place first, second and third.

Winning these prizes means teams must answer tough questions.

Stacey Ahlman, who runs the North Suburbs district of Pub Trivia U.S.A., said the questions vary from intellectual to silly and range from current events to history lessons.

"Who knows the most useless information?" she explained. "Or something you're embarrassed to know."

One time, a team of young women that barely finished in third place came up to thank Stack for asking a pop culture final question.

"You finally asked about something we were alive for!" they said to him.

Stack said he started Pub Trivia U.S.A. thinking, "I know a lot of useless information. I could be good at this."

And after seeing some of the questions hosts ask, "I'd be surprised if I knew half the answers," he said.

To combat these challenging queries, Ahlman said trivia teams must choose their members wisely.

An ideal team would have a sports guy, a movie buff, a geography guru and other subject specialists with a six-member maximum.

As a result, many teams feature two or three different age groups.

Stack said that families are well-suited to compete in trivia. He's seen parents handle the geography questions, their 20-year-old kids tackle the pop culture category and older uncles or grandfathers recall world history.

Ahlman said Pub Trivia U.S.A. hosts events at venues with built-in draws like the pool tables at Lee Street Sports Bar in Des Plaines or the live music at the H.O.M.E. Bar in Arlington Heights.

"The beauty of our game is that you can kind of multitask," Ahlman said.

Case in point: During the Blackhawks' playoff run, Ahlman said trivia hosts worked around the fans' rightfully diverted attentions by asking questions between periods and during commercial breaks.

Breckenridge said she usually plays the crowd when she's hosting a trivia night.

"A lot of times the people provide the comedy," Breckenridge said. "I'm not a comedian, but it's not hard to find amusing things in a bar with trivia."

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