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Friday, March 25, 2005

Searching for answers

By Valerie Singleton
The Daily Times-Call


From left: Doreen Strother, Dwayne Hickman and Wendy Blanchard celebrate after their team, Yes We Cheat, correctly answered a question in a weekly trivia contest at A Bit of Billiards, 700 Ken Pratt Blvd. in Longmont, on March 17. Strother, who has multiple sclerosis, participates in the weekly trivia game to keep her mind sharp.
Times-Call/Joshua Buck

LONGMONT — These are a few of the things Doreen Strother knows:

She loves her family; it’s much easier to be a pessimist than an optimist; each day she wakes up, her physical and mental health are gradually diminishing, thanks to multiple sclerosis.

Now here’s a few things that she’s learning:

Former U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond is dead; the famous cartoon frog who dons a top hat and cane is named Michigan J. Frog; a “Bag O’ Crap” isn’t merely miscellaneous junk.

Welcome to Strother’s classroom at A Bit of Billiards, where each Thursday she sits at a table with friends and tries her hand at “Brain Brawl,” a trivia game she hopes will enhance her failing memory.

Tonight’s big question: “The world indoor record for the javelin throw is held by a blind athlete,” Billiards’ trivia host Dave Keppel reads into a microphone. “Fact or crap?”

There’s more than pride at stake here. The team that delivers the winning answer will be awarded the much coveted “Bag O’ Crap,” a plastic sack filled with rainbow-colored erasers; strawberry-flavored cookies; a soap dish with Christmas soap; exercise hand grips; a chip clip; and a pocket notebook.

Chelsea Foster, member of the team “Don’t Ask So Many Questions,” says the statement is crap; what sane person would let a blind person throw a javelin in an enclosed space?

Strother’s team, “Yes We Cheat,” concurs, scribbling “crap” on a piece of paper, then handing it to Keppel.

The correct answer: “There is no indoor javelin throw,” Keppel says, then realizes he has more than one winner. He puts the names of each winning team in a hat, then pulls “Yes We Cheat.”

Strother grabs the hand grips and squeezed them with her weakened right hand.

“Oh that’s perfect for you,” teammate Wendy Blanchard says to Strother.

“I know,” Strother answers.

To play or not to play,
that is the question

Call trivia a fountain of useless information. Call it a bounty of endless knowledge.

In Longmont, the long-running trend has become more than an evening of silly questions. Across the city, trivia night has evolved into an opportunity to connect with others, gain confidence and stay safe while having a good time.

“It just looks like a bar with people sitting in it, but it’s very complex,” says Dave Keppel’s mother, Gus, half-joking about the scene at the Billiards.

Just years ago, the National Trivia Network was all the rage. A system that equips restaurants and bars with a computerized trivia game, NTN allowed trivia buffs to grab a bite to eat and answer obscure questions, whether alone or with friends.

“(NTN) was really hot (at A Bit of Billiards) for six months to a year,” Blanchard says.

But when it died off, Keppel, a local trivia lover, stepped in.

Raised in an environment that caters to his hobby — his family has equipped him with an almanac for the past four Christmases — he prepared games with the books and the Internet. Then he took his act to Dacono’s Rev. J. Buzweed’s Bar and A Bit of Billiards.

“We decided that Longmont needed more of that,” he says. “There were only one or two other places (that offered trivia).”

Today, trivia night at the billiards and Woody’s Wood-Fired Pizza and Watering Hole is similar. Teams are invited to answer questions for a certain amount of points, write their responses on pieces of paper, and hand them in to the host. Winners are awarded prizes at the end of the evening.

“We’ve won like every week since December,” says Chris Farwell — who with Lyle SmithGraybeal, Max Bailey and Bob “The Trivia King” Bateman makes up the Woody’s trivia team “Four Kings.”

At Woody’s, you can win $40 and $20 gift certificates as well as a free round of beers for your table.

At Abbondanza’s Pizza in downtown Longmont, members of Longmont High School’s Booster Club have taken a cue from other trivia-hosting businesses on the last Friday of each month, when the teens gather for an evening of entertainment.

Off-the-wall questioning inspires people to rack their brains for answers — obscure facts about television’s “Saturday Night Live” — and provides a good laugh.

Taking the good with the bad

Not so long ago, Doreen Strother enrolled in a hands-on course in human suffering.

When she walked into an area care facility, Strother was a woman with a disease she knew nearly nothing about. By the time she walked out, Strother knew about the vulnerability and immobilizing and oppressing effects of multiple sclerosis.

Then and there, she decided she would not be a victim.

Fifteen years after being diagnosed with MS, Strother does her best to stave off the effects of a disease that has begun attacking her body and mind.

“It’s just a way of testing myself,” Strother says of her weekly trivia games at A Bit of Billiards. “Everybody there, they know that I have (MS). They don’t get mad or irritated or anything; they try to help.”

More often than not, Strother finds herself drawing a blank. Ask her which actor starred in a particular film and she likely couldn’t tell you.

“The questions that I do know, I jump right in,” she says, recalling an instance when she answered a trivia question about the U.S. government correctly.

“I knew that, and nobody else did, and that made me feel really good about myself,” Strother says.

A new generation of trivia

It was all set.

The venue was selected. The food was prepared. Questions were chosen.

There was just one problem.

“These kids are so damn smart,” says Cindy Noble, one of the coordinators of the monthly teen-trivia night at Abbondanza’s Pizza. “(Another woman) and I were trying to pick the questions from different boxes of stuff. Everything we couldn’t get, they got. Collectively they just know so much.”

Be it strange facts from a game of Trivial Pursuit or brain-numbing queries from a box of Cranium, the teens in the Longmont High School Booster Club have mastered many subjects addressed at the event.

“It got started because my husband and I had gone to the one at Woody’s Pizza, and we had a great time,” Noble says. “And I thought that providing something like that would be fun (for teens).”

Noble hopes the evening’s surprises — food, door prizes and raffle tickets — entice teens to do something fun and safe on a Friday night.

While the event currently caters only to Longmont High School students and invited guests, Noble says increased interest in the program could warrant its expansion.

Knowledge is power

Kathy Kramer is discovering that the line separating a cartoon character with a crayon lodged in his brain from the president of the United States may not be all that thick.

“Who said it: Homer J. Simpson or George W. Bush?: ‘I think we agree the past is over,’” Dave Keppel asks the crowd.

Kramer is awaiting a consensus from her group before writing a final answer on her sheet of paper. Dwayne Hickman seems fairly confident that the president uttered these words. Blanchard concurs.

As Kramer listens to her fellow teammates’ answers, Strother says very little.

“This is fun,” Strother says. “It really is. I don’t know any of the answers, and I still have a great time.”

Some places to go for trivia:

Rev. J. Buzzweed’s Bar, 911 Carbondale Drive, Dacono. 7 p.m. each Tuesday. Prize: $50 in-house cash. 303-833-1034.

Woody’s Wood-Fired Pizza and Watering Hole, 199 S. Main St., Longmont. 8 p.m. each Thursday. Prize: gift certificates and free beer. 651-7600

A Bit of Billiards, 700 Ken Pratt Boulevard, Longmont. 8 p.m. each Thursday. Prize: money. A 10-week series offering a $500-cash giveaway and a gift certificate kicks off on April 7. 303-776-3952.

The Silo Sports Bar and Grill, 1555 Hover Street. 8 p.m. each Wednesday. NTN machines can be played anytime during business hours. 303-485-1224.

Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, 2303 Clover Basin Drive. NTN machines available for individual play during business hours. 303-485-9464.

Valerie Singleton can be reached at 303-684-5319, or by e-mail at