Trivial Pursuits.

There’s a company called NTN, begun as National Trivia Network, that runs a service sold to restaurants and bars called Buzztime Trivia. I became addicted to it in 2000, and here’s my AA-style “lead” on how I got addicted, what my life was before recovery, and what it is now.

Strike that. I’m still addicted.

If you don’t like that, take twelve steps off of an eleven-step pier.

Here’s how it started:

1. Thirsty Dog Brewing Company, Fairlawn, Ohio.

This is the place I first found NTN/Buzztime in 2000.

Thirsty Dog, at the time, was a restaurant and/or sports bar that had NTN, and that was the first time I had ever seen the interactive trivia game.

Over their delicious Rocky Mountain Trout, I saw two people playing as MADDOG and BLKDOG. All of Thirsty Dog’s beers, brewed on premise, were named after dogs, including their excellent Old Leghumper Porter. The square bar in the restaurant was shaped like dog bones, with larger rounded sections on all four corners.

Over the meal and an an Old Leghumper, I was looking at the TV with the trivia players’ scores, and my friend said “Don’t even think about it, Einstein!”

There was no need to think. BIGDOG (my trivia name) was born, and MADDOG and BLKDOG were shamed.  Thirsty Dog no longer exists in its previous incarnation, as it had brewpubs in Fairlawn (suburban Akron), North Canton, Ohio and Dayton, but for microbrew aficionados, Old Leghumper lives on, available at finer supermarkets and beverage stores.

Unfortunately, Thirsty Dog’s current brewery in Akron does not have either a restaurant or Buzztime. But, their beers win medals, and are still named after dogs. And, a friend I would not have except for Buzztime looks forward to his annual delivery of Old Leghumper, which is not distributed in his neck of the woods. More on that later.

2. After the dog is gone….

In 2000, I took a second shift job I despised, and my trivia play dropped off. Five years later, Thirsty Dog in Fairlawn went out of business. Bounce paychecks, and lose your staff. Done deal. Dog gone.

Two  years after  that, after  a job interview in Cleveland’s western suburbs, I found a place called Harpo’s, a sports bar near the airport, and BIGDOG was reborn. I did not get that job, but I got a new place to play trivia. Later, I found the company I interviewed with was an abysmal place to work.

Harpo’s, which closed in 2013, was a sports bar with great food, and although they did not brew their own beer, had a great selection of craft beers on tap.

Harpo’s also had a regular crew of trivia players who would sometimes team up to try and beat me, but it was all in good fun. I would actually drive there after work from downtown Cleveland to laugh and play there. But, all things good and bad come to an end.

3. Closer to Home.

In the blue-collar village of Northfield, about 4 miles from my residence, Scorchers (now Wing Warehouse) opened and adopted Buzztime.

Their food was, and is, consistently inconsistent, but they still have Buzztime, and a beer selection surprisingly good for their municipality’s demographic.

This was the site of The Battle Of Northfield. If the right wing predicts a second civil war, I may have fired the first shot.

I would stop up to play trivia, and sweet daytime bartender went on to better things and was replaced by Idiot Daytime Bartender, who made sure a large-screen TV was tuned to Fox News. She even went so far as to drop the birther argument on me.

I objected; she called me a communist, and I said “If you think I’m a communist, fine. My capital will no longer be spent here.”

Back went BIGDOG’s home site and points to Harpo’s until she and her manager who green-lighted Fox News being shown in a bar were fired. BIGDOG then returned.

He plays there on occasion now.

4. Being A Team Player

NTN/Buzztime once had its own message boards on its site (I would not mind it coming back).

On that message board, I got an invitation from a west-suburban Cleveland attorney to join his team to play Six.

Six, formerly known as Trivial Pursuit until copyright issues forced Buzztime to change the name, has questions in six different categories, namely The Arts, The Shows, The World, The Games, The Past and The Sciences.

I played on that team, and I look forward to returning to it.

Their home bar is West Park Station, where the food is good and the neighborhood, in the West Park section of Cleveland, is largely Irish and Italian, with plenty of the city’s cops and firefighters. Those cops and firefighters patronize that bar, and it may be the safest bar in Cleveland.

Our team is good. Damn good. On Thursday nights, count on seeing “West Park Station, Cleveland” in the top 20 sites in North America, and often first on the continent.

And, it’s a blast to play on a team. We laugh, and we often win.

5. The Fellowship.

Playing with a small group, I mentioned that I play with a group called The Fellowship on Tuesday nights for Showdown, Buzztime’s capo di capo of its premium games.

Her response?

“Are you born again?”

She had no clue. I explained that our team was named after J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Fellowship” from Lord Of The Rings.

We might as well be called The Nomads. The Fellowship has played at a minimum of four locations that went out of business before landing at its current (or maybe pro tempore) home in Kent, Ohio.

Cleveland’s West Park Station team, competitively, is like the Israeli military. Pound-for-pound, maybe the toughest. While low in numbers, their victories show they are formidable.

The Fellowship, however, is more like the U.S. military in terms of competitive power. Many of its members have doctoral degrees, and in terms of numbers, often 30 or more show up to play Showdown. How a bar score is determined for Showdown is by averaging the top six scores at a location. For all other games, Buzztime averages the top five scores.

Now, imagine several Ph.D’s on the same team who have their degrees in history, botany and chemistry along with lawyers, executives, engineers and other professionals, and you have the trivia equivalent of the United States military.

Compete with The Fellowship at your peril on Tuesday nights.

But, The Fellowship is incredibly welcoming. I was grateful to be invited to join them, and proud to have contributed to their success, albeit knowing my contribution was minimal.

6. Triviapalooza

OK, late pop culture reference from Six Points.But, you knew it was coming.

Obviously, this was named after the Lollapalooza music festival held in the “sheds” in the 1990s, and Triviapalooza 8.0 is coming up shortly.From what I have heard, more than 100 people from all over North America and even Europe will show up to play, laugh and drink together at Bargo’s in Springdale, Ohio.That town is a northwestern suburb of Cincinnati.

I can’t make it this year, but I’ll be there in spirit. I’ve even passed the name and password of one of my alternate accounts on so an aficionado of Old Leghumper can play for me in absentia.

Triviapalooza attendees are like Grateful Dead fans back in the day. They travel well.

Last year, one member of my trivia family (we are a family, and if you can’t understand that, you don’t play) came to Elkridge, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore, with his girlfriend.

They came from Calgary, Alberta to Baltimore. In a 1998 Chevy Cavalier. Dedication, anyone?

In 2013, the topic of the music-focused Playback game on Saturday night during Triviapalooza was “Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.” When the topic came up on the screen, someone said “We have someone from Cleveland here!”

That meant me, and I said “Thanks for the pressure!”

Our impromptu team of about 80 players completely dominated the competition, winning by about 15,000 points. Those who attend Triviapalooza tend to be the creme de la creme of players, and we have many Mensa members among us.

All walks of life come together for this event, and for one extended weekend, we reunite as one loving family of people whose brains are repositories for almost-worthless information.

We play, we drink, and we laugh. And we bond.

May those bonds never break.

Extra Point: Whither Buzztime?

Yes, my name is BIGDOG, and I’m a Triviaholic.

First, I admitted that I was powerless over retaining worthless information.

Forget the other eleven steps, whatever they are. NTN, the parent company, has been going through several upheavals over the years and their stock has come perilously close to being de-listed.

The moves they are making now are promising; the first one being to having all locations, east and west coast, playing the same premium games at the same time. Once again, on Thursday night Six, West Park Station in Cleveland can go head-to-head with Danny K’s  in California.

In 2008, NTN decided to cater to a younger demographic with making all their non-premium games 15 minutes in duration and introducing disastrous games like “Duh!” and “Know Your Server.”

That, in turn, alienated their core customers.

I know when I went to bars when I was barely 21, I did not go there to play trivia. If NTN wants to chase that demographic, they will never catch it.

There are some NTN/Buzztime games that have been sitting on the shelf, so to speak, for years. Veteran players will know them, and bringing them back may attract the 30-plus crowd that is their “base.”

There was a game called “Wipeout,” in 30-minute Countdown format, that had no clues and penalized a wrong answer with a loss of 250 points. It could attract new players while bringing nostalgia to veteran players.

Another game, “Abused News,” focused on offbeat news items from the week, and in 30-minute, 15-question format, would make a great lead-in to the Friday evening Spotlight game. This could also expand the player base.

Also, “Glory Daze,” a game about culture and history from the 1950s through the 1970s, could be returned to its one-hour format and be made Wednesday night’s premium game, but its time span could be expanded to include the 1980s.

These are just a few suggestions. I, and the “family” I will miss at Triviapalooza, do not want NTN to go under. Besides, Buzztime is the only reason I would even consider going to a bar these days.

If anyone from NTN/Buzztime reads this, 30 percent of American adults do not drink. Some never started; some just gave it up. Independent coffee shops might be a great untapped market for your product. As a longtime player, it would be great to go someplace I could play without being “DUI bait.” For non-drinkers, it would give them another entertainment alternative, and expand your market.

Wishing my whole “family” good skill this weekend at Triviapalooza.


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