Masters at Brain Games

Trivia nights have expanded from pubs into family-friendly places and extended tournaments.

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Jane’s Delicatessen in Tulsa offers trivia nights every Monday. Photos by Josh New

Like billiards and darts, trivia night has become a bar scene classic. While you’ll still find these brain games in pubs, you’re also likely to find them at family-friendly venues.

“One night, this family brought their kid in” for trivia, says Dane Tannehill, owner of Jane’s Delicatessen in Tulsa. “Their team name was ‘Our 13-year-old is Smarter Than Your Team.’ The last question was a multi-part question with multiple answers, and he got second place.”

Trivia night lets patrons flex their mental muscles in a relaxed atmosphere. Games take about two hours and usually include 20 to 25 questions. The format has been perfected over the years, and contests are often hosted by trivia gaming companies.

Play is free and prizes are provided by the venue, usually a gift certificate for the business, says Ian Strelsin, CEO of Challenge Entertainment, which operates Live Trivia and other popular events in 23 states and hosts games at various venues across metropolitan Oklahoma City.

In Greater Tulsa, the smaller, local outfit Questionable Company does the same, including Live Trivia Night from 7 to 9 p.m. Mondays at Jane’s.

At most venues, the winning team each week takes home a prize. At Jane’s, it’s a $50 gift certificate. 

“We started doing it because we had just opened and we were looking for a way to bring people in on Monday nights,” Tannehill says.” In the beginning it was like, ‘Oh, no! We’re too full!’”

Origins of the trivia material vary. Larger outfits, like Challenge Entertainment, employ teams of question writers to ensure their games remain current and challenging. Others, like Questionable Company, play closer to the game’s humble roots; the firm’s two owners come up with the questions and the answers.

Popular categories include TV, movies, sports and music; obscure topics and what some might call “fourth-grade-facts” also get into the mix. Strelsin says one challenge that tends to trip up contestants is, “Provide the correct spelling for the capital of New Mexico.”

If you start to spell Albuquerque, you are in good – albeit wrong – company; it’s a common mistake. The correct answer is Santa Fe. Strelsin stresses that trick questions are not the norm.

While writers create questions, your friendly neighborhood game hosts run the shows. They travel to venues to emcee the games, provide materials such as pencils and answer slips, call out questions, count and register points, and keep up jovial banter.

“They’re playing music, interacting with the patrons who are playing the game,” Strelsin says.

At family-friendly venues, trivia may seem like fun and games, but it’s quite competitive.

Teams often compete on the same night at the same place, especially in leagues. Trivia leagues vary from venue to venue, depending on the host company. In competitive trivia, each host company operates its own tournament.

So, if your team does trivia night at a Questionable Company venue, you play in its tournament. On another night, you may go to a different venue with a different host company and play in a different league altogether.

Questionable Company records team points over a six-month period. The top two teams from each group advance to the league championship, Tannehill says.

“Everyone who plays at Jane’s is competing for the championship of Jane’s,” Tannehill says.

But bigger than that is “the champion of all places” within a host tourney.

Questionable Company offers trivia at Tulsa locales including Saturn Room, Shuffles, FlyingTee and Cabin Boy’s Brewery. Challenge Entertainment hosts events at OKC venues including The Garage, Tapwerks, Deep Deuce Grill and Flatire Burgers. Visit Questionable Company’s Facebook and challengeentertainment.com for full schedules.

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