- Associated Press - Sunday, March 5, 2017

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The word “trivia” has come to mean something of little consequence - a sliver of knowledge that has no use.

Yet the origin of “trivia” has a greater import. It comes from a Latin word meaning “crossroads,” where - to be exact - three roads converge, creating a commons where all manner of folks might meet. The word was later borrowed to describe “the trivium”: the three-tiered foundation (grammar, logic, rhetoric) of a liberal arts education.

All of this is to say there used to be nothing trivial about trivia, even if it’s a word that’s been unfairly dragged through the mud.

There is, however, one place where the word still gets its due as a sign of community and essential knowledge: the pub quiz.

Pub quizzes aren’t just fun and games, although they are usually quite fun. For the pub quizzes’ most devoted, the evenings are a chance to meet and share obscure (but not useless) knowledge, the Omaha World-Herald (https://bit.ly/2mjKJgE ) reported. Facts still matter here.

Every Wednesday night at Spielbound Board Game Cafe, 40 to 60 people meet for Trivia Mafia, one of the most popular pub quizzes in town.

Spielbound staff member Greg Harries started hosting Trivia Mafia nights in early 2015, and it’s since become a mix of reliable regulars.

Almost every pub quiz has this rule: Don’t use your phone to answer questions. Trivia Mafia’s variation of the rule is stricter.

“You must not have your phones out,” Harries told the teams before the trivia began. “No phones. Use your brains and your friends’ brains. Do not use your phones.”

At Trivia Mafia, the no-phone rule goes beyond fairness. It also aligns with one of Spielbound’s core philosophies: Put down your screens and just be for a little bit.

“A big part of our mission here,” Harries said, “is to bring people together and have them interact with each other.”

It makes the Trivia Mafia nights an odd scene: Dozens of people just talking. Nobody looking at their phones. Nobody half-watching a game on the TV (Spielbound has no TVs). It’s just individuals getting to know each other by getting to know what someone else knows. About history, geography, politics, pop culture.

This unplugged and analogue experience has become an addiction for many members of the Trivia Mafia.

“I think we’ve only missed four times out of all the weeks we’ve been coming here,” said Brent Goetzinger, 29.

When Goetzinger (a theology teacher at Skutt Catholic High School) and his friend Joe Koneck-Wilcox (a character skills and critical thinking teacher at Skutt) first came to Trivia Mafia, they weren’t great at it. They couldn’t even crack the top five at first. Weirdly enough, their desire to do better at a pub quiz sort of changed the way they look at the world.

“You start picking things up and paying closer attention,” said Koneck-Wilcox, 29.

“I now care about things that I used to not care about, like pop culture,” Goetzinger said. “Now I just pay attention to everything.”

Their newfound curiosity has paid off. Their team, a revolving door of additional members, finishes in the top two or three most nights. The highest score a team can get at Trivia Mafia is 56; Goetzinger and Koneck-Wilcox’s team has gotten up to 54. And it’s rewarding and validating beyond the prizes (gift certificates, T-shirts, getting to pick next week’s music).

“I like knowing facts,” Goetzinger said. “I like knowing things. I think there’s a value in careful attention to detail that we’ve sort of lost. Like, ‘Why know things when I can just look this up in my phone?’ “

Why know things?

That is a question of the moment. In a work culture that worships immediate utility, knowing things beyond your sphere of productivity can seem like a self-indulgent excess. (Get back to work, navel-gazer!)

Your phone (that eternal external hard drive thunder-bolted into our brains) is always right there. To tell you the answer. To any and all questions.

With such an option at your disposal, what was the point of knowing the answer to begin with? Besides winning pub quizzes? Why know things?

“Part of the appeal to me is the sport of being quizzed,” said Ted Wheeler, who runs the Literary Pub Quiz at Pageturners Lounge. “There’s a sense of pride in being well-rounded, quick and knowledgeable, maybe because so much information is at our fingertips at any given moment. There is a pleasure in not having to look something up.”

Sisters Kayleen and Trisha Serfass, 31 and 28, are regulars at Trivia Mafia who had a love of knowledge imparted by their father.

Kayleen: “Our dad watches ‘Jeopardy’ religiously.”

Trisha: “Like every single day.”

Another dad - John Davis, 38 - is getting started really early. He regularly brings his newborn son, Edwin, to Trivia Mafia nights. The two join different teams depending on whose light a few members that night. Edwin hasn’t yet found his trivia forte, but soon he’ll be gleaning lessons like this from his father:

“Having a good amount of general knowledge,” Davis said, “can help you become more creative in general, and in your daily life or your job.”

Other patrons of the trivial could also impart some similar wisdom to Edwin.

Trivia Mafia regular Geoff Erickson, 37: “Any sort of knowledge is useful because you never know exactly how it’s going to connect to everything else. It’s all relevant in some way. Seeing how something relates to something else, there’s value in that.”

“It’s fun to know. Just to have the back-knowledge of something while you’re watching it,” Said Sara Cartwright, host of the Sydney Movie Quiz in Benson.

“Obscure knowledge can branch off into some interesting discussions. And it’s just cool to know facts,” said Mike Greene-Walsh, who hosts the Slowdown pub quiz.

“Having a grasp of history, geography, literature that’s broad and relevant,” Goetzinger said

“The flow of time, based on presidents, based on wars, rising and falling civilizations,” Koneck-Wilcox said.

“Having a very broad, deep knowledge of things is its own reward,” Goetzinger said.

In her classic 1948 book “The Trivium,” Sister Miriam Joseph outlined the different arts of knowledge in a way perhaps even more relevant today.

“The utilitarian or servile arts enable one to be a servant - of another person, of the state, of a corporation or of a business - and to earn a living. The liberal arts, in contrast, teach one how to live.”

Pub quizzes stand in defiance of the practical, they give the trivial its due respect, and they answer the little questions.

Plus, also, there’s beer there.


Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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