Connecticut's Bar Trivia: No Trivial Pursuit

What is the population of Ireland?

Edward Slater, 32, of West Hartford will never forget that trivia question, the one that kept him from a free trip to said country in the bar-trivia finals at McLadden's in West Hartford.

Being the second closest team to the answer of 4.5 million is a moment burned in his brain, but that doesn't discourage him from regularly making his way to McLadden's for the Wednesday trivia nights that start around 9. Weekly, there are no big prizes or dining deals at McLadden's; he's just in it for the fun of socializing and challenging his brain.

"It's more than just the questions in the end. It is about the experience. There is an entertainment value," Slater says as he sits with visiting friend Mattie Newell, 33, of Marblehead, Mass. He's been doing trivia at McLadden's for three years and estimates he's won 6 to 10 times. It was Newell's first time, and for her it was about spending time with an old friend.

"I like trivia and I like drinking so put the two together in a social situation and it's win win," she says

The quiz master at McLadden's, Robert Goldberg, has turned trivia into a business, quitting his corporate job in 2012 to begin BarRated Trivia, which hosts quizzes at 14 venues throughout Connecticut and Western Massachusettes, charging the venues a fee to be there.

Pub quizzes and bar trivia nights were introduced in the 1970s in England in a live quiz show format to get bodies into bars and to create friendly social competition. The concept made its way overseas, with one of the oldest pub quizzes at Anna Liffey's in New Haven, which has run consecutively each week since 1998. More than 70 Connecticut restaurants and bars offer trivia nights; some have an entry fee, some don't.

The format is simple: Show up to a designated bar at the time specified with a team or as an individual, pick a team name and go through about 10 rounds of questions ranging from pop culture and music to sports and history announced by a quiz master.

Answers are recorded on a sheet that is graded after each round. The team with the most points at the end of the night wins. Sometimes there are prizes, but there are always bragging rights.

The only real rule is no cheating (cellphones disqualify you), but trivia goers will tell you they take the game seriously.

Picking a team name is no easy task. Many names are puns based off current events, such as Crimea River. Some even take the route of small perversions such as One Nut Tattoo, a team that's now a staple at the trivia nights of Anna Liffey's that run every Tuesday at 8 p.m.

The team has been playing weekly in different formations for six years and take the weekly gathering to another level by assigning team members specific topics to study. Current events, music and sports: They make sure the team is well rounded in all possible topics.

"We have a really good time, win or lose," says team member Daisy Abreu, 41 of New Haven. "Better if we win, but we will laugh at things just amongst ourselves. We have our own stories and oral history because we've been doing this for so long."

Creating questions for bar trivia is an art form, questions ranging from "Who is older: Robin Thicke or Paula Patton?" to "John Dingle is the rep for what state?"

Chris Brown, 39, of West Haven, is the quiz master at Anna Liffey's, and says parent company Brainstormer uses a matrix to come up with questions for both veterans and newcomers to make sure everyone has a good time.

"There are some easy, medium and hard questions because we want everyone to feel successful in the round," says Brown, a science teacher by day.

And the pub quizzes are for all ages. On a chilly winter Tuesday night in March, the dimly lit lower level of Anna Liffey's was bustling with teams ranging from two to five people at every table, Yale students to professionals in their 60s ready to take on the trivia challenge.

Current events, general knowledge, one by one the rounds go down. Answers are whispered with hands over mouths, hand gestures and friendly competitive glances are made to other teams. Between rounds, as questions are tallied, music plays and team members catch up on each other's lives.

"That's your opportunity to check up. The trivia rotates from foreground to background and I think that's pretty nice," says Brown.

When each round of tallies are done the answers are read and the room is filled with a mixture of cheers, high fives and sighs.

Diehards such as One Nut Tattoo keep tallies to see how many teams are ahead of them in the race to the pot: Winners of Anna Liffey's trivia nights walk away with cold hard cash that comes from the $10 entry fee from each participating team.

>>McLadden's, 37 Lasalle Road, West Hartford, hosts trivia Wednesdays at 9 p.m. for free. Information: 860-231-8773 and mcladdens.com.

>>Anna Liffey's, 17 Whitney Ave., New Haven, hosts trivia on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. $10 per team. Information: 203-773-1776 and annaliffeys.com.

Find a full list of bar trivia events in Connecticut at ctnow.com/trivia.