Mellow Pursuit: Trivia night keeps 'em guessing

"The answer is...Professor Moriarity"

"Moriarity!"

 The second Moriarity comes out in a deep echoing voice, followed by laughter rolling over the microphone. It's Trivia night at Mellow Mushroom, and announcers Andrew Irby and Deke Shipp are busy cracking themselves up.

Never heard of live trivia? In the game, which originated in Britain and Ireland, announcers call out questions to teams of contestants who compete for the highest score and prizes.

At a table of several trivia regulars, Professor Moriarity elicited peals of laughter. Apparently the question "Who was Sherlock Holmes' arch enemy?" was so simple as to be ridiculous. The team, like the rest of the crowd, is of random composition: UVA undergraduate and graduate students, an Oberlin student taking the semester off, and a couple who laughingly declares, "We're in our 40s!" Some admit to having been on trivia teams in high school.

One couple out for pizza and beer happened on the Mellow Mushroom Wednesday night fun, introduced it to friends, and now their team is a regular. What keeps them coming back?

"The alcohol– the competitive atmosphere," says Duncan Gale, the Oberlin student. "The dirty names!" adds a friend across the table, referring to the sometime questionable team names. Theirs that night, for example, was, "Knock Knock, Who's there, It's Elvis, Go F*** Yourself."

The set-up for the trivia is fairly simple, with a bit of bidding involved based on how well teams think they know the answer. There are eight rounds of questions; each round has three questions. Correct answers are provided after each question. After the eight rounds, there's a "Final Jeopardy" type question, so that any team can pull out a victory in the final moments.

The team with the best name (stay tuned to find out who wins) gets a free pitcher of beer at the halfway point. First place receives a $50 gift certificate for Mellow Mushroom; second place gets $25, and third place $15. Depending on what's in stock, T-shirts and other paraphernalia are sometimes awarded.

Co-owner John Adamson came up with the idea of trivia nights at the Mushroom, having seen the game on a visit to Athens, Georgia.

"We were looking for something unique to do," he says. "I was doing it myself when we first started," back in May 2001.

Since coming up with new questions every week required a lot of time, Adamson passed trivia on to employee Irby. "He's hilarious­ he's one of the funniest people I know," says Adamson.

At least Irby and company think they're the funniest people they know. Getting ready to announce the answer to one question, they repeat it: "Who did more than 300 covers for the Saturday Evening Post?"

"If you don't know this, you're a communist!" inserts Shipp.

"Reds!" says Irby, dissolving themselves­ and much of the crowd in hysterics. (In case you happen to be a communist, the answer's Norman Rockwell.)

Trivia at Mellow Mushroom's used to compete with Wild Wing Café, which– until its sudden closure in December– hosted its own trivia on Wednesday nights. ["Closed­ Wild Wing takes flight," January 9 in the Hook.]

Co-owner John Adamson says he wasn't pleased by the competition, claiming that Wild Wing employees came to Mellow Mushroom for a while and then a few months later started their own trivia down the road.

"That kinda made me mad," he says, but is quick to point out "They had a cheesy DJ."

Shipp and Irby give each other a big high five over this and dare any other spot in town to challenge them.

And as for the Knock Knock team? For the first time ever, their team name wins the contest, netting them a free pitcher of Belgian beer. On the final Jeopardy question, however, almost every team bids zero, and they sadly lose by one point to the Cleveland Steamers.

It's okay, though. There's always next Wednesday.