Geiger's Culture Counter: It isn't trivial

If you’ve read this column at least once before then it should come as no surprise that I’m a big nerd. I’m fortunate enough that my fulltime job is learning and sharing facts, giving me ample opportunity to satisfy my thirst for knowledge.

In high school I competed in Knowledge Bowl, qualifying for the championship multiple time and I even made an appearance on Rocky Mountain PBS show Matchwits. I loved every moment of stretching my gray matter. It takes a special mindset to want to do schoolwork as an extra curricular activity.

To practice I would watch “Cash Cab” and “Jeopardy!” religiously. The former may have been cancelled, but I still tune into Alex Trebek test the minds of three contestants daily. In fact, while I’m glad the Astros won the World Series, I’m still a little peeved at the baseball games for screwing up my “Jeopardy!” fix.

While Knowledge Bowl may not exist in college, that didn’t stop me from giving pub trivia a shot when I wasn’t busy cramming for tests. I would go to Krazy Karl’s Pizzeria almost weekly to battle in Geeks Who Drink. Save for one night when my friend Cole knew the most obscure Marvel Comics trivia, our team never won. Nevertheless, feeling the rush of adrenaline again with gift cards and geek swag on the line will always trump watching game shows on television.

Now I’m participating This Is A Clue locally as much as possible. I’ve managed to be a top three finisher all four times I’ve played. It’s good to chase the dragon again.

But it isn’t enough.

I may be more of a Hufflepuff than a Ravenclaw nowadays, but my love for trivia hasn’t subsided. Thankfully there’s an app for that.

For the past two and a half weeks my latest obsession has been HQ Trivia, a new game from the makers of the short-lived video social media service Vine. It was released in August yet picked up steam all over the internet in October thanks to its addictive nature.

What sets the game apart from other brainteasers on the app store is that it’s live and multiplayer. Host Scott Rogowsky reads 12 questions each day at 3 p.m. ET and 9 p.m. ET—that’s 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. here, perfect for a lunch or dinner break— to tens of thousands of players. They then have ten seconds to choose one of three answers, hopefully the correct one, to take a step closer to the prize and bragging rights. The time limit keeps the game fair since it’s barely enough time to Google the answer, let alone read the whole prompt.

Yet, instead of using a cumulative score system like in regular pub trivia, HQ makes each round sudden death. You can proceed to the next question, which get progressively harder, only if you’re right. You may have known the answer to 11 of the 12 questions, but it doesn’t matter if an early one trips you up. Thankfully you can continue watching the action once eliminated to keep learning.

The other unique aspect of the game is that there’s real cash up for grabs. Most games offer $250 or $500 to the winners. Note that’s “winners,” plural. Since there’s no tiebreaker question the entire pot is split. Usually the takeaway is roughly between $10 and $20, which isn’t too bad for 15 minutes of work. A few days ago I witnessed one lucky winner walk away with the total $500 themselves.

The downside is that as the game get’s more popular the winnings continue to shrink. So far my personal record is 8 right in a row and I would have won $2.84 if I knew that vice stairs was another term for spiral stairs. That’s what happens when 88 people win $250 from a starting pool of 25,000 contestants. To make matters worse, and to keep players hooked along with saving the company money, winners can only receive their earnings via Paypal if they have won a minimum of $20. I rather have a goose egg greet me on the home screen then have less than $3 that I can never touch taunt me.

Still, the thrill of watching 29,000 people get whittled down to 100 for a chance for $1,500 in real time became the highly of my week. It feels vaguely like I’m in an episode of “Black Mirror” but the low stakes, high reward model is a refreshing break from the mundane.

I’ve yet to win because I need to seriously brush up on my sports trivia, just like I need to do for This Is A Clue and “Jeopardy!” but at least I’m still learning. My time on the leaderboards will come someday.