By Emily Craig-Evans
I arrive enthusiastically early at Lou Dawg’s Tuesday trivia night. Sitting down at the glass topped bar, I take in the clash of industrial looking corrugated metal and exposed pipe with the Canadiana vibe of a mounted moose head and raw wood.
A burly off-duty bartender enjoying a pint warns me that the trivia questions to come are “annoyingly hard” in such a way that makes you “chew the back of your mouth in anger.” I’m prepared to feel stupid.
I await the arrival of the infamous Russel Harder, Toronto trivia club host and self-proclaimed pop culture nerd. He arrives wearing his trademark bowtie and jovial attitude.
Russel has created a trivia question database that he calls on for his weekly trivia nights in the west-end’s Cardinal Rule, the east end’s Hitch, and Ryerson very own Lou Dawgs.
The winning team of each round is awarded beer, and winning team of the night is awarded a working VHS, spray painted gold. Tonight’s prize is the first half of the two tape box set of “Braveheart.” Score!
Russel counters the bartender’s remark by saying he tries to make his questions accessible to those who wouldn’t consider themselves pop culture aficionados. He makes the rounds to tables crowded with elbows, alcohol and greasy food and hands out his trivia answer sheets.
Tonight’s questions are about the Oscars and six teams sign up.
Team Axis of Ignurintants is comprised of three eager ladies who come every week, primarily for the food, drinks and Russel.
“We’re at least three years behind with pop culture,” admits one member.
Round one commences.
“This is the longest title of a film nominated for Best Picture this year.”
The crowd finds this manageable. A burst of chatter and each team’s designated writer’s head goes down. Russel’s velvety game-show voice is punctuated with undulating arm swings.
“I’m going to give you four key words or phrases from IMDB and you name that movie. What movie has Canadian, science fiction, ends with historical notes, also Langley, Virginia?”
A brunette in shiny pants and black Docs looks bewildered. She will later shrug it off, “as far as 1-10 I’d say [the difficulty] is like a 7.” She doesn’t stay until the end of the game.
I’m distracted by the conflicting deliciousness and extreme heat of deep fried pickles searing into the roof of my mouth. I’m waiting for another question that won’t fly over my head.
When round one concludes Russel rotates the answer sheets to different tables to be scored.
Team M. Night Schaymaliens concoct their moniker from a play on the “Signs” directors name. Member Dylan Morgan and his team come every week.
“There’s some nights where we feel like we’re killin’ it and some weeks we really feel humbled,” he says when asked about Russel’s trivia’s difficulty.
Round two asks questions stylized after popular game shows, one team at a time.
A “The Price is Right” question asks how much “Gangs of New York” grossed. Unless every team shoots over, you have to get the exact figure to get the points. By brilliance or luck this happens for team Veener and Cecil and they get the points for being .2 million off.
When it’s team Axis of Ignurintants’ turn they’re busy cheersing antifreeze coloured shots.
Russel collects the sheets to tally each team’s round two scores.
A young man seated five feet from the bar impatiently tries to wave down one of the two working bartenders as they pass. He finally gets Grace’s attention.
“Three billys,” he says.
Grace tells me a billy, also known as a flaming engineer, is a drink popular with Ryerson engineering students comprised of beer, orange juice, whiskey and amaretto.
Following round three is a final wager question. Most teams wager all of the points they’ve accrued so far but team Axis of Ignurintants only wagers half a point of their 43.5.No one gets the question right but because Axis of Ignurintants’ meager wager, they win!
The other teams grumble as they claim the first half of Braveheart in all its golden glory.
Russel’s friend since the age of six and roommate Peter says he and Russel think alike. He played solo and was previously in the lead with 79.5 points.
Russel ends the game by repeating the reassuring advice printed on his answer sheet in chorus with the room.
“Remember it’s not what you know, it’s what you learn along the way!”