Trivia Mafia mixes brains and beer

Twin Cities trivia company offers a side of knowledge with your drink.

Sam Linnell attempts to spell a word during Trivia Mafia's Drinking Spelling Bee at 331 Club on Saturday, Feb. 21. Trivia Mafia, which holds trivia nights at over 38 bars in Minnesota, holds the Drinking Spelling Bee every first and third Saturday of the month at 331.

Juliet Farmer

Sam Linnell attempts to spell a word during Trivia Mafia’s Drinking Spelling Bee at 331 Club on Saturday, Feb. 21. Trivia Mafia, which holds trivia nights at over 38 bars in Minnesota, holds the Drinking Spelling Bee every first and third Saturday of the month at 331.

Mary Reller

Good spelling sometimes has another incentive: B-E-E-R.

Trivia Mafia — the largest trivia company in Minnesota — started Sunday night trivia nights at the 331 Club years ago.

After a spelling bee event moved from the 331 Club to a new location in 2011, bar owners asked members of Trivia Mafia if they wanted to make their own version of the bee. Since then, Trivia Mafia has been hosting the Drinking Spelling Bee at the club.

“It’s nerdy on paper, but in life it’s not,” said Trivia Mafia co-owner Sean McPherson.

The words start out as easy as ‘elephant,’ but by the fourth round, contestants are expected to spell medical terminology, foreign words and any word that’s found in an unabridged dictionary, McPherson said.

“There are times [during the bee] when people [can even] spell words backwards,” McPherson said. “It boggles the mind.”

There are 60 spots for bee contestants. Individuals show their ID to the doorman, register for the bee and pay $7.  Participants get one complimentary drink ticket for registering.

And every time a contestant spells a word correctly they get a ticket for another beer, McPherson said.

“The concept is that as you establish that you’re a good speller, you also establish that you can spell under the effects of alcohol,” McPherson said.

Drinking is not required for participation, McPherson said, it’s just part of the reward.

More than a decade ago, Trivia Mafia formed when University of Minnesota alumni McPherson and Chuck Terhark  approached the 331 Club bar owner with the idea of doing trivia at the bar. All parties were interested.

The company has since expanded. It now hosts trivia events at 50 locations in Minnesota and Fargo, though its home base is the 331 Club.

 “We started it just like anybody does anything for fun, but we were really good at it,” McPherson said.

McPherson plays bass for Dessa, is in the band Heiruspecs and teaches at McNally Smith College; Terhark is a Zombie Pub Crawl co-founder. But despite the duo’s broad range of affiliations, they said Trivia Mafia is their primary source of income.

Bartender Jodie Novak has worked at the 331 Club and Amsterdam Bar & Hall for the last seven years. She said she sometimes participates in the event when she doesn’t work it.

“There was a guy last spring who had a stack of like ten cups because he made it through a lot of rounds,” Novak said. “He was doing really well and [still] he was like ‘Look at all my cups!’”

Novak said Trivia Mafia events, like the spelling bee, bring in a lot of business for the bars.

“When the Spelling Bee is going on, you can’t even move through here,” Novak said. “It gets really nice and crowded and busy in here. I love [it].”

Spellers are allowed to ask for language origin, definition, another judge to pronounce the word and the word to be used in a sentence.

McPherson said participants who ask for those clarifications during the first round risk ridicule.

“One time, the person asked if they could get ‘coitus’ in a sentence, so I said, ‘The only way you can get coitus is in a sentence,’” McPherson said.

At the beginning, everyone pays attention, but then by round two or three the crowd seems to lose interest, McPherson said. But when they get down to the final spellers, then everyone seems to be hanging onto the edge of their seats.

 “There is a woman we have legally ID’d who looks like she’s 13 years old, so everybody is kind of rooting for her because it’s kind of like rooting for the 13-year-old,” McPherson said. “The whole bar is hanging over her, and they tell her, ‘That is correct!’ and everybody starts freaking out.”

McPherson said the competition’s typical winners are college students, people who lack confidence and/or a random old guy, McPherson said.

“We also get the muscular dudes who seem pretty excited about beer,” McPherson said, “But they crash and burn because when they should just guess, they do something to protect their pride and will instead spell out the word ‘boob.’”

 

 

What: Drinking Spelling Bee

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Amsterdam Bar & Hall, 6 W. Sixth St., St. Paul

Cost: $7 for spelling bee participants; no cover charge

Ages: 21+