If you’re old enough, you’ll remember back in the day — the day being pre-Internet — when you’d be sitting around a dinner table with a bunch of pals and someone would ask, “Who played Philip Marlowe in that movie about drinking gimlets in a Hollywood bar?” Someone else at the table might offer up “The Long Goodbye”? and someone else might say, “Well, didn’t Bogart always play Marlowe?” and finally, for sheer accuracy, because for some odd reason our human brains can’t stand not knowing, someone says, “I’ll call my cousin. She’s a movie maniac.”
Nowadays, everyone at the dinner would be poking and scrolling their smartphones, and the answer would be yodeled in a matter of seconds by six different voices: “Elliott Gould!”
Who knows why it is that human beings love to know lots of bits about every last thing? Is it because our brains are now packed with so many bits that we’re looking to store them more efficiently in our little gray cells?
At the Wharf Pub and Restaurant in Edgartown, every Wednesday night under the direction of quizmaster Dan Cassidy, also of Edgartown, the craze for trivia contests is held in the forum of what’s come to be known as the Pub Quiz. Pub quizzes were established in the U.K. in the 1970s with the intent of luring people into bars on quiet nights, not that you’d imagine a shortage of customers in a land where everyone asks everyone else, “Care to go for a pint?”
The trend caught on in the U.S., where we already had piles of board games devoted to trivia questions, not to mention the huge hit show “Jeopardy,” which is still gluing people to their TV sets, ideally with other people around to yell out answers. Then you have plaque-brained people like me, head in hands and moaning, “I know this one!” (The fact is, I’ll retrieve the answer inside of three hours.)
Here’s how Mr. Cassidy came by his vocation as quizmaster: He played at pub events in Boston, enjoyed it so much that he put together, circa 2007, a happening at Nancy’s Restaurant on Oak Bluffs Harbor. Along the way, he and his buddy Will Coogan, who with his brother, attorney Geoghan Coogan, own the Wharf, thought it might be great to get a trivia night going in its jolly rear tavern behind the front dining room.
The first evening attracted all of seven people. But neither Dan nor Will were discouraged. Today Dan confides, “I just knew it would take off, and it did, very quickly.”
On a recent Wednesday in early November, the big room was packed with 14 teams, yielding over 100 contenders. Friends organize their own teams, generally a mix of ages and areas of expertise. For instance, here are several groups into which this reporter from The MV Times insinuated herself:
A mom, her daughter, the daughter’s cousin, and a mutual friend, in a team they’ve named “the Hustleberry Crew,” leaned forward as Dan asked the room, “The beagle: In which of the seven official breeds of dogs does it fall?” From my own experience with my sister’s beagle, I offered up, “The dumbest?” but the answer, which the Hustleberry women got right, is “A hound.” From each table, once a question is fielded and arrived at, a team member brings the answer to Dan at his podium.
Another team, composed of three young women and one young man who all worked together at Vineyard Vines, called themselves “the Blowholes” (it’s a whale term). They scanned a Xeroxed page of rock ’n’ roll frontmen in their youth. They were able to pick out Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler, John Lennon, and David Bowie. (I couldn’t help with this one: I’d never seen any of these boys in my life, or so I thought.)
A group consisting of one young woman, her dad, and a peck of guys (how much is a peck? Now there’s a good trivia question) were renowned for weekly picks of outrageous team names. That night’s handle: “I’ll answer this question after Kevin Spacey takes his hand out of my pants.” Their best of all time, recalled by Dan during our phone interview, was initiated several months after Senator Ted Kennedy had passed away: “Congratulations, Mr. Kennedy, on three months of sobriety.”
Dan told me, not surprisingly, that sometimes this group receives applause and whistles for their team’s name, sometimes outright boos.
Dan’s mother, Pam Cassidy, sits beside him on the dais with a computer scrolling the questions. Dan started off his career with trivia kits, and has also DVRed 300 to 400 episodes of “Jeopardy,” but nowadays he mostly hunts online and in books for questions of his own.
Quite honestly, this was one of the happiest events — if not THE happiest — I’ve ever attended on this Island, in or out of season. Everyone, whether buzzed on “a pint” or drinking club soda, looked radiant as they conferred, chatted, and laughed. Many spoke of their joy at having something fun to do on a Wednesday in November. Or February. (I could attest to this sense of wonder, having bused from a dark and deserted Oak Bluffs Harbor all along dark and deserted shores, heading into a dark and deserted Main Street of Edgartown until — was it a mirage?! — lights and people grabbing a quick smoke spilled out of the front doors of the Wharf.)
Caveat emptor to those who enjoy a little peace and quiet with their public outings: Trivia night at the Wharf is a barrage of pop voices such as Alanis Morissette and Freddie Mercury blasting from speakers, lots of burbling conversations from all the tables, and four TV sets broadcasting the same hockey game (in silence, praise the Lord and pass the earplugs).
Dan Cassidy is a policeman by day in Oak Bluffs. He’s married to Rosie, who has an 11-year-old son, Jordan, who attends the Edgartown School. Dan’s been headlining this event for eight years, and intends to go on quizmastering until the last question leaves his throat, such as, “When was the Battle of Hastings fought?”