What started as a part-time gig at a bar in Bordentown six years ago has turned into a full-fledged business for a standup comedian whose best lines today get more groans than laughs. Matt Sorrentino’s Quizzoholics bar trivia company started as a once-a-week hosting job at Bordentown’s Dubh Linn Square. Now he and his “quizmasters” host six events two days a week. Locally, they can be found at TGI Friday’s in Hamilton each Tuesday and at Chickie’s and Pete’s in Bordentown (hosted by Sorrentino) and Curtin’s Wharf in Burlington on Wednesdays.
Sorrentino’s pub quiz strikes a good balance between stand-up comedy and a satisfyingly tough game of trivia — not surprising, considering he spent eight years on the comedy circuit.
“I think in life in general, you try to use everything in your past to make the present the best that you can make it,” he said. “When you’re doing comedy, you get that banter with the audience. It gave me that edge in trivia. The questions weren’t challenging at first, but I could use that personal back and forth with the crowd to make it a more vibrant event.”
Up to 20 teams of six or fewer players compete for a $50 bar gift card — good for about 10 beers and some crabfries or a handful of entrees at Chickie’s, a sports bar with several huge TVs and an even bigger beer selection. The game takes about two hours, and Sorrentino’s on-the-fly jokes or rebuttals never disrupt its flow. He often banters with hecklers mid-round and isn’t shy about calling out patrons who do things like shout out answers, a big no-no. “I know you want everyone to know how smart you are,” he has said, “but people are trying to play a game.”
The game consists of nine rounds. Staples generally include the following categories:
Sports: This “Joe” was allegedly associated with the Chicago White Sox’ plan to fix the World Series in 1919.
History: Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allan Poe, William Shakespeare, and Jane Austen: Who is the odd one out?
Science: The production and emission of light by a living organism is known as this.
And the arts: Which mid-2000s television theme song includes the lyric “Somebody save me?”
Each night starts with current events and ends with a double-or-nothing general knowledge final round, where teams can earn two points per correct answer, but any wrong answer negates all points for that round. This causes lots of hand-wringing over what or what not to write. Most of my group has either written a wrong answer and lost all of our final-round points (like our friend Marty did when he was certain the Battle of Bull Run, not the Battle of Fort Sumter, started the Civil War) or hesitated on a question we were sure about and then lost by two points.
On one recent Wednesday night we were stumped this one:
Which continent has the largest percentage of fresh water?
But we got another, thanks to Marty’s math skills:
What is the highest possible bowling score without any strikes?
The eighth round used to challenge teams to name 10 things within a certain amount of time — the 10 best-selling albums of the 2000s or 10 most commonly eaten meats, for example — but has evolved into a visual round. Sorrentino gives each team a piece of paper with 10 images that need to be identified, like “badly drawn movies,” Disney film opening credits, and sports logos with everything but the color red removed.
The game also always includes two audio categories — one to name the titles and artists of five songs following a theme, and another that changes from week-to-week, like eight-bit versions of television theme songs or “name that movie” based on a quote that’s played over the PA system.
The setup is successful — enough that teams should make a reservation, especially when it’s all-you-can-eat crab night at Chickie’s and Pete’s, generally every other Wednesday.
Sorrentino said his company’s popularity is the result of a lot of trial and error. He keeps categories like current events, music, and other pop culture towards the beginning of the game to hook people who might not have even come in for trivia. He and his other hosts make sure to include one question in every round that 90 percent of the room might know, and another that 10 percent of the room could get.
The double-or-nothing round was born from what Sorrentino called a “design flaw” of his early games — a group might be so far behind in points that they leave the bar. Now, he says, most teams have a chance to win. For the most part, there are dominant teams, but the winner generally changes week to week.
“You want it to be challenging, but you don’t want people to feel stupid,” he said.
He also recognizes that part of his job is bringing revenue to a bar or restaurant on a night that would otherwise be slow. He and his staff promote each event across all social media platforms (@Quizzoholics on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), and one of their most successful methods is posting a different clue or free answer on each site. It gives patrons a reason to check the Quizzoholics social media pages consistently while also advertising that night’s event.
“You’re designing from the bottom up for bars,” he said. “You want to bring patrons in, keep them there, and have them come back to eat and drink and enjoy themselves for two hours.”
Sorrentino grew up in Pemberton. An alumnus of Southeastern University in Florida, he had always dreamed of doing stand-up and decided to go for it when some colleagues from an internship at Geico during college convinced him.
He ended up making enough money doing comedy that he quit his job and moved to Los Angeles. Thirteen months later, though, he was broke.
“I thought in my dumb youth that money would translate when I went to Los Angeles,” he said. “There were maybe 100 comedians in Florida. There are probably 100,000 in Hollywood.”
A combination of things — homesickness, Christmastime, the impending birth of his sister’s first child — convinced him to move home. He drove the whole way home and was almost back when he hit “the world’s biggest deer” in Virginia, totaling his car. At 25, he started with a blank slate and moved back in with his parents, carless and jobless.
He ended up at a bank — it was “soul sucking,” he said — and mutually parted ways after six months. While collecting unemployment, he ended up falling into a trivia hosting job in 2011 at Dubh Linn Square in Bordentown, now closed. It took off, and Sorrentino appeared at the bar first once a week and, later, more often to DJ on the weekends, or produce and plan events. He also hosted trivia at Dubh Linn’s Cherry Hill location.
Sorrentino still sees regulars from the Dubh Linn days, including this writer — my friends and I have been going most Wednesdays for the last six or so years, and we’re not alone. Knowing that we’re in for a night of humor and a tough, fun game of trivia has kept us and other teams around. Regulars also know what to expect, and so does Sorrentino.
“I’ve been hosting in Bordentown for six years,” he said. “I have a feel for what people know. When you have lots of returners, you can develop the quiz to fit that group.”
Sorrentino hopes to continue growing his base, especially as he takes on new hosts and new venues. He didn’t say exactly what his financial deal is with each bar, but he notes on his website that “our rates vary depending on contract length and payment options but are very affordable and incredibly competitive.” He also warns that a trivia audience is not built on a single night. “It can be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Once people discover your quiz night they’ll be back, but word of mouth takes time to spread.”
He’s confident in his quizmasters, though.
“The people who host the other games are all awesome,” he said. “They’ve become really great friends of mine in real life. I think it takes a special person to come into a room full of strangers who are drinking and give them a test.”
Of course, a little humor puts everyone at ease — even when he tells the losing teams to “get smarter friends.”
— Samantha Sciarrotta
Chickie’s & Pete’s, 183 Route 130, Bordentown. Wednesdays, 9 p.m. www.chickiesandpetes.com or 609-298-9182.
#b#Confessions of a Bar Trivia Addict#/b#
Confession: I am a bar trivia addict. Prior to last spring, I was not a trivia virgin but my experiences were few and far between. I was unaware there were events in the Princeton area and resigned myself to shouting at the TV during Jeopardy for a fix. My luck changed when I gave the dating app Tinder a shot and one match mentioned that he enjoyed bar trivia. I was sold. Even if the date went poorly, I might get some information on where to play. I went on a date with trivia guy who assured me that he was good at “name that tune” and college sports. That sweetened the deal, because those are my weakest categories. A partnership was born.
A few weeks later we found ourselves at the Station bar on Route 130 in Cranbury. Trivia takes place Tuesdays at 7 p.m. and there are usually five or six teams ranging from two to six players. Most of the players are regulars. The atmosphere at the Station is relaxed rather than cutthroat, but the teams know their stuff. We quickly learned that age is an advantage: My partner and I are in our early 30s and weren’t alive to know, for example, slogans for cleaning products from well before we were born.
Which cleaning product claimed to clean whitewall tires?
Which 1970s cleaning product was known as the white tornado?
The bartenders are attentive, the bar serves food, and the trivia master is conscientious. Unlike at some other bars, where running trivia nights is part of a professional DJ’s duties, trivia at the Station is run by a true trivia enthusiast. Sam Schneider, by day a teacher in the Monroe Township school district, started running trivia nights about three years ago after seeking, and not finding, a local spot for bar trivia. The Station offered to play host — if Schneider ran the show. He agreed, and now he shares trivia master duties with his wife, who occasionally substitutes for him.
The game, which lasts about two hours, consists of six rounds with 10 questions each. The first round starts off easy, with multiple choice in a variety of categories.
In Aesop’s Fable, which element causes a man to remove his coat: Sun, Wind, Water, or Fire?
The second round is a random assortment, anything from sports to pop culture, history to geography.
Which president never issued an executive order? What were known as “Mae Wests” by soldiers in World War II?
The third round is themed and rewards participants who have — literally — done their homework because each week’s theme is e-mailed out in advance. One week the theme was “illnesses in movies”; most recently it was a word scramble of elements from the periodic table.
The fourth and fifth rounds feature slightly more difficult questions, and the sixth is usually a list of some sort. One week the task was to name the 10 countries with the highest gross national income per capita. Another time we had to list 10 men’s college basketball teams that have won multiple NCAA championships.
First place is $20 cash, second is $10, third is $5, and often the trivia master has gag gifts for the runners up. Last week we finished second. Still good enough to buy a couple of beers. The questions are provided by “World Tavern Trivia,” which has events in 13 different states as well as locally at Firkin Tavern in Ewing. The organization also holds a national championship, held this year in Atlantic City at the end of April. We could have gone but decided not to. A $20 prize will cover our beers, not a weekend at a casino. And we did not have high hopes for taking home the $5,000 grand prize.
Our addiction, however, did drive us to add a second trivia night to our weekly schedule. We began to attend another game; this one on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. at the North Brunswick Pub on Route 1. There you will find a raucous crowd, with upwards of 20 teams with of two to eight players each. There are two games, each about an hour long and each consisting of four rounds: general knowledge, sports, history and geography, and pop culture (round one) or name that tune (round two). First place in each game gets a $25 gift card to the pub; runners-up go home empty-handed.
It’s been a year since I swiped right on Tinder and got hooked on trivia, and it’s safe to say my addiction is still going strong. My knowledge of 1970s sit-coms is vastly improved, and I’m making progress on first round draft picks — with a boyfriend to help me out.
— C. Cecilia Hughes
Station Bar and Grill, 2625 Route 130, Cranbury. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. www.stationbarandgrill.com or 609-655-5550.
North Brunswick Pub, 1864 Route 1 North, North Brunswick. Wednesdays, 9 p.m. www.thenorthbrunswickpub.com or 732-422-4902.
If you and a few friends are looking for an inexpensive bar in Princeton to have a few beers and burgers and take in a baseball game one of the perfect venues would be the Ivy Inn, an old-fashioned bar created in a space that was once a gas station on the east end of Nassau Street.
But if you are hankering for the beer and baseball on a Tuesday night you might want to think twice. Tuesday night is trivia night at the Ivy Inn and you might find close to a hundred people packed into the premises, many of them organized into teams, all of them vying to be the winner of the night in a series of trivia games run by DJ and trivia questioner Bobby Lafauci.
While the television screens above the bar are tuned to the Mets and Yankees (though this being Princeton MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow could also appear on one of the sets) the patrons are peering intently at their answer pads as quizzmaster Lafauci runs through 10-question sets focused on various themes.
In the category of entertainment, he says, “what was the four-letter television show that won the Emmy for best drama?” Easy, I think, MASH, though I then wonder if that’s my answer only because it’s the only four-letter television show I can think of.
In sports: “What is the name of the pin configuration in bowling that is the most difficult to pick up?” Easy, I think, as I recall my days writing up the results of muni bowling leagues.
“What baseball Hall of Famer has a first name that is the same as the last name of another Hall of Famer.” Hmmmm. I draw a blank.
Then Lafauci gets to actually be a DJ — it’s a “name that tune” round. The disc jockey punches up a few bars from each of 10 songs. Most of them sound like nothing I have ever heard before. A few ring a bell. My companion and I are able to guess only one correctly: “Teenager in Love,” the mournful Dion and the Belmonts hit from 1959. The others are pop tunes from the ‘80s and ‘90s and 2000s — huge blank slates in our memory bank.
The pop tunes exercise make me realize that to be any good in this game you have to be part of a team, a big team. The etiquette of bar room trivia is that you don’t take the easy path out and Google the correct answer from your cell phone. But that doesn’t stop you from using some old-fashioned crowd sourcing in the form of a team, preferably an inter-generational team.
Around the Ivy a team of four of five people is on the small side. Among the bigger ones is a group assembled just in front of the DJ. They’re all wearing T shirts emblazoned with the logo from the satirical movie, “The Interview.” It’s a clever tie-in to the news headlines, the sabre rattling between Donald Trump and the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The T-shirts are all courtesy of one of the most enthusiastic team members, movie reviewer Kam Williams, who shares promotional swag sent to him by the movie producers with his trivia teammates. A few weeks later Williams and his team, led by captain Steve Kruse, are back at the Ivy sporting “Underground” T-shirts promoting the television show by that name.
The team names are almost as inventive as the questions tossed out by the trivia game master. The Kruse and Williams team showed up one night named in honor of the sculpture mounted in front of the gas station across the street from the Ivy: “The Kelp-Shrouded Springsteen Sculpture.”
The Ivy Inn crowd is an energetic and motley crew (which trivia buffs would never confuse with the heavy metal band Motley Crue). The man with the microphone, Bobby Lafauci, holds it all together. A communications major at the College of New Jersey, Lafauci apprenticed as a DJ with a central New Jersey wedding company and DJ’d his first wedding in 1996. He started his own company, LaFauci Entertainment (www.ledjs.com) in 1998. Lafauci’s trivia gigs also include the North Brunswick Pub on Route 1 on Wednesday nights.
On this night at the Ivy, as Lafauci announces team standings between rounds, more teams come to light. No Wrong Words, Just Crosswords. Frank’s Locked in the Bathroom Again. Artificial Artifacts. Quiz in Your Pants — Lafauci winces a little as he announces that one. And Tigers’ Tale Refugees, no doubt referring to the bar on Route 206 in Montgomery that also offers trivia nights but is in hiatus until September.
Soon we are back to another round of questions, with the vast majority of them stumping me. For example:
Name the most popular social media site in the year 2006.
What legendary film director shot Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video?
Who was the oldest signer of the Declaration of Independence?
Who was the most recent Heisman Trophy winner not to be drafted by the NFL?
Eventually I discover that I strike out on all of the above questions. My mind sufficiently numb, I walk out of the Ivy Into the darkness of Nassau Street. How about a trivia question of my own, I think. Ok, here it is:
In 1965 (the same year in which I entered college), a column appeared in the student newspaper of an Ivy League college that contained the first known documented use of the word “trivia” to describe the games that are described above. What is the name of that college newspaper?
The answer to this question, and to the others raised in the accounts above, can be found on in a separate story. Grab another beer and turn the page.
— Richard K. Rein
Ivy Inn, 248 Nassau Street, Princeton. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. www.ivyinnprinceton.com or 609-921-8555.
Get Your Trivia Fix
Blend Bar & Bistro, 911 Route 33, Hamilton Square. Tuesdays, 8 to 10 p.m. www.blendbar.com or 609-245-8887.
Caddyshack, 70 Hunters Glen Drive, Plainsboro. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. www.plainsborocaddyshack.com or 609-799-9626.
Firkin Tavern, 1400 Parkway Avenue, Ewing. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. www.firkintavern.com or 609-771-0100.
TGI Friday’s, 780 Route 130, Hamilton. Tuesdays, 9 p.m. 609- 581-6910.
The Tiger’s Tale, 1290 Route 206, Skillman. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Resumes in September. www.tigerstalenj.com or 609-924-0262.