Quizo trivia game marks 20 years in Phila. bars

Posted: October 01, 2013

PHILADELPHIA Pat Hines is not a particularly sentimental guy.

The 20th anniversary of his life-altering gift to Philadelphia's beer-drinking public approaches, and how does he plan to celebrate?

"My wife and I will probably reminisce," he said.

And where will they do this rollicking reminiscing?

Belfast, Northern Ireland. About 3,700 miles from the site where he led his first Quizo contest.

Hines is the undisputed founder of the bar trivia game Quizo in Philadelphia. The game, both in his copyrighted original form and multiple spin-off variations, has become a tradition in watering holes across the city.

"I'm happy every week when it's Monday," said Shelby Gai, leader of the "Yo Gnome Chomsky" team that plays regularly at the New Deck Tavern near the University of Pennsylvania. "The beginning of the week is always so stressful. . . . You can collaborate on the answers, and sometimes you win. It's uplifting!"

Before starting at Wharton this year, Gai, 25, lived in Shanghai, where she got hooked on a similar game at an English pub.

When she found New Deck's Quizo, she organized a powerhouse team, friends from Nigeria, India, and various parts of the United States. Each brings expertise in engineering, computer science, geography, pop culture, science, or literature. Going into the game Monday, the Gnomes had played five consecutive weeks without a win.

"Tonight could be our night," Gai said.

Hines was the same age as Gai when he brought Quizo to Philadelphia.

He had discovered pub trivia during a visit to Ireland. There, he said, "it was rapid-fire. They'd do eight rounds of 10 questions and give you hardly any time to answer."

Working in a bar in Wildwood in summer 1992, Hines overheard the manager say he wished he could attract more Irish regulars. Hines suggested a pub quiz.

He and an Irish friend created a new version, cutting the number of questions to 40 and slowing the pace. Soon, the bar was filled on quiz nights.

A year later, Hines started dating the New Deck manager. Like many local bars, on most weeknights it was nearly empty. Hines and his friend proposed the quiz.

Unlike the Irishmen in Wildwood, the Americans in Philadelphia did not get it. Months passed before the game caught on. But once it did, word spread quickly to other bars. "It helped business a lot," said Wajih Abed, manager of Fergie's Pub, who hired Hines to run Quizo 19 years ago.

Back then, it was a novelty, Abed said. "Now lots of people have Quizo."

Not exactly.

"Quizzo" masters - some, like Johnny Goodtimes, with a higher profile than Hines - have multiplied and profited.

But "Quizo" with one z is still Hines' baby. He and his business partner, Ronan Gill, have trained a select crew to run the game in a half-dozen bars and restaurants.

Hines still writes all the questions and customizes them to suit the clientele. College bars get more on history, literature, and music. Sports bars get more on pop culture and, of course, sports.

When he had to flip through almanacs and books, cut and paste and photocopy pictures, writing a single quiz could take half a day. "With technology," he said, "it's a lot easier."

In 20 years, he has never allowed a player to challenge his answers. "Funny story," he said. "One night, I had a question about the largest river running through Shanghai. When I gave the answer - the Yellow Bank River - this guy stands up and starts yelling at me. I'm wrong, he says."

The man was Chinese.

"How do you know?" Hines asked, getting a laugh from the crowd. Then he told the man that even if the answer was wrong, he was going to stick with it, at least for that night. "A week later, the guy comes back and apologizes," Hines said. "He had misread the translation. After that, I swore I'd never go back on an answer.

Quizo never made Hines rich, but it helped put him through college, he said. Five years ago, when he and his family moved to Belfast, where he teaches English, he planned to quit Quizo.

Gill persuaded him to carry on.

So, mostly for fun, Hines gets up early Sunday mornings, composes half a dozen Quizos, and e-mails them to Gill.

Monday's for New Deck included "Queen Beatrix abdicated the throne of what country on 30 April 2013?" (The Netherlands), "What was the first American novel to sell over one million copies? ( Uncle Tom's Cabin), and a picture round of naked music videos in which contestants had to name the featured artist and/or song.

Team Yo Gnome Chomsky won, high-fiving one another over drained glasses of IPA and cold fries.

"Oh!" Gai said. "It feels awesome."

Hines cannot say how much longer he will keep it going. He did not expect it to last 20 years. The question of whether this anniversary will come and go without fanfare remains unanswered.

"I'm still waiting," he said, "for Ronan to surprise me with a plane ticket


."


mdribben@phillynews.com

215-854-2590

@dribbenonphilly

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