Quick, answer this one: Which Jersey Shore town was once known for its unique Sunday laws and is still "dry" today?
You're not allowed to consult your smartphone or the Internet, but you can discuss with people seated nearby – eye contact and banter are encouraged. Beer and wings are optional.
This is trivia night, the (mostly) weeknight event exploding in popularity at dozens of restaurants and bars throughout North Jersey. And if your answer is "Ocean Grove" – three points.
Adding to their lineup of karaoke and ladies' nights, local watering holes and chain restaurants are getting in on the quiz game trend, testing players' knowledge of pop culture, with a little history, geography and science thrown in.
A bit of trivia: The first quiz night played in the U.S. was in 1991 at a pub near the University of Pennsylvania. It was brought stateside by an Irishman, according to Andrew Weilgus, co-director of the National Trivia Association, a South Jersey-based quiz game directory and company. Pub quizzes, he added, had been popular for decades in the United Kingdom.
"It's started to get much more popular with the rise of popular culture and television, and more media being consumed," said Weilgus.
Yet with so many different forms of high-tech entertainment vying for our attention these days, trivia nights are refreshingly low-tech and in the moment. "There's somewhat of a premium on memory, in an age when you can look up everything all the time," said John Dicker, quizmaster-in-chief at Geeks Who Drink, a national quiz-game company based in Denver. "I think with social media, when we're always connecting online, you still have to meet people face-to-face in order for the human species to continue populating," said Dicker.
For groups of co-workers hitting the bar after work, Weilgus said trivia games can be a great diversion. "This is something you can do in a large group that takes away from being in front of the computer. Instead of talking about the office, you can fight over what kind of car Knight Rider was," he said.
Seated at the bar at The Orange Lantern on a Tuesday evening, Bill and Gina Puccino, of Little Falls, were out for their weekly trivia night. "It makes you feel smarter," said Bill, 50, who works in information technology. "I'm full of useless information," he added. The most they've won is some beer glasses and a restaurant gift certificate, but the couple play for other reasons.
"It's fun. It's just a way to spend time and hang out," said Gina, 44. Sometimes her father, a history buff, and Bill's 25-year-old son, a pop culture ace, join, too. Their team name is "The Kamikazes."
If there were such a thing as a quiz night dynasty, Joe Trivia, a k a Joe Bajzath, of Fair Lawn, runs it. A Passaic chiropractor by day, Bajzath started his quiz game company 10 years ago at Jimmy Geez in Haledon, but in the past four years his quiz night locations have multiplied. A staff helps him run games. On any given night in North Jersey, players will be answering his original head-scratchers. They range from "Who are the most recent and father daughter to win acting Oscars?" to "What Steelers captain lost the overtime coin toss in 1998 because the referee misheard him?" (Jon Voight and Angelina Jolie; Jerome Bettis)
At The Orange Lantern that night, Bajzath, tanned and wearing a crisp, white button-down shirt, announced questions from behind a portable turntable. In between questions, he played songs and walked the floor, mingling with teams.
Taking it to heart
Being a good quizmaster, he said, is a full-time job. He recently received an email after midnight from a player, who contested the answer to his "dry" Jersey Shore town question. Bajzath quickly replied. "I take it to heart," he said.
Regan Peters, 26, an American history and Harry Potter-trivia expert from Fair Lawn, rounds up her group of friends – all of whom work in education – for weekly quiz nights put on by Joe Trivia. Friendly disputes often break out among her teammates, such as recently when they couldn't figure out what's the largest continent. They went with the majority answer: Antarctica. But her friend, Katie Tenore, of Fair Lawn, still reminds them that she had insisted – correctly – it was Asia. Often playing under the name "Not at the Table Joe," their team wins a lot. They even won Mets tickets once. "Nobody could go," said Peters.
Where to play
Quiz nights in North Jersey:
Locations: Bergenfield, Ridgewood, Wayne, Clifton, Pequannock, Carlstadt, Mahwah, Secaucus, Allendale, New Milford, Hackensack and Haledon
NATIONAL TRIVIA ASSOCIATION’S QUIZ SHOW
Locations: Washington Township and Ridgewood
GEEKS WHO DRINK
Locations: Jersey City and Hoboken. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday is the 3rd Annual Seinfeld Quiz at Village Pourhouse, 205 First St., Hoboken. $5 per player, cash prize for winner.