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Got a thirst for knowledge? Quench it at one of Durango’s trivia night contests

Education, community and multigenerational fun offered at establishments around town
From left, Ted Holteen, Micah Susman, Marc Masor, Travis Holeman and Larry Sibley compete as a team during Powerhouse trivia night at the Powerhouse Science Center. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The city of Durango is well known for its outdoor amenities such as mountain trails and river access, but trivia nights hosted around town offer the opportunity for people to flex their brains rather than their muscles.

Trivia events are hosted regularly at The Powerhouse Science Center and The Roost restaurant on College Drive. The Durango Elks Lodge occasionally hosts members-only trivia, and other opportunities are available at more venues in town. Trivia nights attract competitive inquisitors and casual players, challenging participants’ knowledge in a breadth of topics that include sports, science, world history, music, television, video games and other pop culture mediums.

And trivia events can attract large crowds. The Roost, a casual fine-dining eatery at 128 E. College Drive, hosts trivia nights on Wednesday evenings. A full trivia house at The Roost, which has occurred nearly every Wednesday since the restaurant started hosting trivia about three years ago, involves about 65 participants across as many as 16 teams, said Chad Riddles, beverage director for the restaurant.

“Wednesdays get weird with trivia starting at 8 p.m.,” he said. “(It’s) hosted by a third-party company called Geeks Who Drink.”

Trivia is playable at The Roost right from one’s cellphone or tablet by visiting play.geekswhodrink.com. The trivia host reads out questions for each round and players submit their answers on their devices, which are delivered electronically back to the host, he said. The evening consists of several trivia rounds with one free drink per player per round and swag such as T-shirts, hats, beer koozies and keychains offered as prizes for round winners.

At The Roost, first place teams win a $25 gift card, he said.

The use of mobile devices for trivia at The Roost is a sign of the times, a demonstration of how technology can enhance or modify the trivia experience. But for old school trivia nuts like Ted Holteen, a pen and paper are the way to play.

Trivia in the 2020s
Trivia teams write down their answers during Powerhouse trivia night at the Powerhouse Science Center. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Holteen used to help run a trivia game show on Fort Lewis College’s KDUR Durango Community Radio channel. They’d pose questions to an in-studio contestant who would try to out-trivia people who called into the show. But the advent of Google changed things, he said.

Searching for the answer to a trivia question during a game is a cardinal sin. Holteen said Google put a “kibosh” on KDUR’s trivia format.

“It used to be that I would get phone calls from people all over the country who knew what a dork I was to ask, fact-check things. But that hasn’t happened in years because now you can just Google it,” he said. “Once you Google something you might not even retain it. It’s just that instant, quick knowledge.”

Holteen, who also works as a spokesman for La Plata County government, has always been addicted to trivia. When he was 10 years old, his soul was about 85 years old, he said. He read the encyclopedia and studied flashcards about the United States’ presidents, memorizing who led the country and when. He isn’t sure people do that sort of thing anymore.

“I don’t think anyone’s doing anything like that,” he said. “And I don’t know if that has any value either, don’t get me wrong. It’s won me a couple of bar bets but that’s about it. I think I got 100 bucks once.”

If Holteen is going to play trivia, he’ll be doing it with a pad of paper and a pen or pencil. Most Thursday evenings, he can be found at the Powerhouse Science Center, which hosts trivia nights from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., outdoors on a patio in the summer.

He attends other trivia nights as well and occasionally hosts contests, presenting questions to contestants that he came up with himself. He said bars aren’t typically his kind of scene, but the vibe changes when it’s trivia time.

Brett Cadwell hosts Powerhouse trivia night at the Powerhouse Science Center. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“Bars kind of drive me nuts because they’re usually full of idiots,” he said. “But on trivia nights, bars are full of really intelligent people, or at least thoughtful people, or, you know what I mean? It’s a completely different crowd.”

He appreciates the social atmosphere that a game of trivia sets. Most of the time, he can have an intelligent conversation with anyone present.

Brett Cadwell, trivia host at the Powerhouse, said trivia started there in summer 2012. He worked at the Powerhouse then and was looking for a family-friendly yet adult-oriented activity to offer to visitors.

He compared the mood of Powerhouse trivia to a family game night with friendly competition. Although there are certainly talented contenders who attend contests every week, it’s not intended to be ultra competitive, he said.

Attendees range from teenagers to seniors who come together to form a multigenerational quiz community.

“Over the years, we kind of created a kinship, I guess. We all know each other,” he said.

Trivia questions need to be as diverse as the Powerhouse’s crowd, he said. Teams usually include members with knowledge in certain subjects such as science, film and literature. Sometimes people from younger generations struggle with history subjects but excel at others.

From left, Dave Weisfeldt, Mark Pastore, Tebby Henry, Suzanne Cash and Ed Cash compete in Powerhouse trivia night at the Powerhouse Science Center. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Cadwell is always looking for inspiration for new trivia questions. He might be watching the news or listening to a podcast. Whenever he learns something interesting or obscure, he jots it down in his phone, keeping the idea in mind for later research.

“I have a running list of ideas,” he said. “... I’ll even wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and be like, ‘Oh, that’s a good one.’ It’s kind of fun.”

He saves all his past trivia questions, hundreds of them, he said. He aims to write challenging questions that push people’s memory and experiences. The best questions push people to the edge of their knowledge.

And nobody enjoys an easy trivia question, he said. Sure, softball questions are inevitable, but hardballs and curves are required.

“My favorite types of trivia questions are when I see a team huddle together and talk about it for five minutes and think about it for a while,” he said. “... And people appreciate that, trust me. That’s why they come. They want the challenge.”

Holteen’s approach to writing trivia is similar. He also takes notes to revisit later on and he, too, prefers challenging queries, he said. He’s written thousands of questions into his notebook over the years, many inspired by something interesting on TV that caught his attention.

“I watch World War II documentaries like people drink coffee,” he said.

And he draws inspiration from other trivia writers, too. Sometimes he’ll encounter such a quality question that he just has to use it. Rather than using the question verbatim, he will adjust the angle.

“Change what’s being asked,” he said. “Instead of saying, ‘Who died at the Battle of Little Bighorn?’, for example, you can say, ‘Where did George Armstrong Custer die?’

“Every question has been asked before at some point so it’s not true plagiarism. But how you elicit the answer a lot of the time is the fun part,” he said.

There are a couple strategies Holteen will never use, and he despises others who do true/false questions and multiple choice questions, he said.

Brett Cadwell hosts Powerhouse trivia night at the Powerhouse Science Center. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

He said randomly guessing an answer correctly and scoring points for one’s team is “absolutely a travesty.” The player has to be able of creating the answer for himself or herself, he said.

He said the first time a trivia event includes true/false or multiple choice questions is the last time he’ll attend. He admitted he’s a sore loser, too.

Ultimately, trivia is about curiosity and the constant quest for knowledge, Cadwell said. People considering trivia but too timid to give it a try should put their worries aside and join the regulars at the Powerhouse.

“I would say come and enjoy the event,” he said. “And I’ll tell you this: The people who I see are most excited are the ones that get the one question right on their team that no one else got right. It happens, trust me.”


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