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Throw a rock in this town and you’ll likely hit a bar that hosts trivia night. (Note: Please don’t take that as an excuse to throw a rock at a bar. Bouncers aren’t the most forgiving bunch.) Many of those who managed to make Trivial Pursuit a fun—and up-to-date—activity for a weekday evening’ events come courtesy of Geeks Who Drink (GWD), a Denver-born pub trivia quiz group that was founded in 2006 and now operates in 31 states. We hopped on the phone with CEO John Dicker to find out how the 41-year-old made pub trivia so popular (their quizzes are held six nights a week—every day but Friday—across the country) and what he drinks to jog his trivia brain.
5280: Why did you decide to start GWD?
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John Dicker: I had played pub quizzes in New York City. In Colorado, I played what passed for a pub quiz at the time—it was basically 20 Questions stretched out for two hours. That format is just so tedious compared to the one I played in New York, which was more indicative of what a pub quiz is like in the U.K. I felt like I could bring something to it here. It took a long time. Our [Dicker and co-founder Joel Peach] first bar was Nallen’s Irish Pub in LoDo. It took us maybe six months to develop a crowd, and even then that crowd wasn’t huge. It taught us a lot; if we were successful off the bat, we would have thought it was easy.
Why launch in Colorado?
That’s where I lived. And it’s a great spot for us, not least of which is because of the growth of craft beer. The bar culture and scene here is somewhat ideal. In a lot of other cities, you have fancy, high-end wine and cocktail bars and then dive bars and not a lot of stuff in the middle. I feel like there’s a lot in the middle in Colorado: unpretentious but still have good beer, good food. The market for craft beer has been long established here. The other thing that helped us was the smoking ban. When they got rid of smoking in bars and restaurants, that invited a lot of different people who wanted to go out.
Well, GWD certainly seems to have caught on. Not only do you have trivia nights, but you also host the annual Geek Bowl. What type of growth have you experienced?
It was all kind of slapdash. I have some friends in Colorado Springs and in Fort Collins, and they have some connections. The first year we set up a place in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, a couple more in Denver. We ended 2006 with a dozen venues. By 2007, we had gone into Albuquerque and had 35 venues at most. Now we’re set to hit 500 venues this month in 31 states.
How does the partnership with the bars work?
We’re responsible for bringing in a crowd who will spend money and make it worth the bar’s while on an off-night. We sink or swim by that. Either we do that or we get fired.
Who comes up with the questions? I saw on the website that anyone can submit an idea.
You can submit ideas, but the majority of what we do is in-house. We have a full-time editor, Christopher, who is a six-time Jeopardy champ. We create six quizzes a week. Any given quiz might be the work of eight to 10 different people—between fact checkers, graphics, audio people, etc. We like that because I think sometimes quizzes that are created by one person revolve around the same themes over and over again. The tone is set, in part, by our editor: punchy and snarky.
You really fact check all the quiz questions?
Yeah we do. Sometimes we miss stuff and we get dinged, but we own it.
So who are the quizmasters?
People who apply. We audition them and train them. We have close to 400 people around the country who do this.
Why do you think GWD has been successful?
The sense of community. We have lots of new ways to socialize because of social media and the digital revolution, but you still need to meet people face-to-face. I think it provides a social context for people to hang out. I know that’s what drew me as a player; even though I wasn’t good at trivia, I liked being able to see some of the same people every week, hang out with my friends. Every question or round was its own conversation starter in and of itself: How did you know that answer? How can anyone know the answer to this? How could you not know this? We try to write questions that have a clue embedded in question or the theme of the round, so you’re kind of reasoning with yourself and your team and trying to bring knowledge out of each other that isn’t on the surface. I think that’s a fun activity.
Do you have a favorite beer to drink during a pub quiz?