By now, it's old news CFL quarterback Buck Pierce has officially taken his last snap.
What most people don't know, however, is that before Pierce hung up his cleats for good, the newest member of the Blue Bombers coaching staff had already traded in his football helmet for a quizmaster's cap.
On Feb. 13, Danny's BBQ & Smokehouse became the latest spot in town to offer Pubstumpers -- a live, interactive trivia game contested by thousands of people in bars and restaurants across North America.
Every Thursday evening at 8 p.m., Pierce makes room for as many as 80 know-it-alls in Buck's Sports Lounge, the bar component of the Ellice Avenue eatery he co-owns with Danny Kleinsasser and Brian Fawkes. For the next two hours, the 2005 Grey Cup champ peppers his guests with questions like "What water displacement product got its name from the number of times -- 40 -- it took its inventor to perfect its formula?" Or, "Between 1963 and 1966, what NFL team's defensive line was known as the Fearsome Foursome?"
At the end of the night scores are tabulated, prizes are awarded and everyone heads home happy. (OK, maybe not the tables that missed WD-40 and Los Angeles Rams -- the answers to Pierce's first two questions.)
Pierce first heard about Pubstumpers in December. One of his managers used to work at a downtown watering hole where the game was played on a regular basis. She told Pierce and his partners it would probably be a good fit at their establishment, too. So on a bone-chilling Tuesday night in January, Pierce and Fawkes headed down to one of four places in town where the game is featured, to get a first-hand look at what Pubstumpers was all about.
"When it was all over I turned to Buck and said, 'I feel like I just took my high school exam -- and that I studied the wrong pages in my textbook,' " Fawkes says with a laugh.
"Same thing with me," Pierce says. "I've had a lot of education in my day but some of the questions they asked... I mean jeez... "
It's true: Pubstumpers isn't for the faint of heart. Or brain. Not unlike the board game Trivial Pursuit, the questions posed cover a wide range of topics -- from politics to geography to religion to entertainment. There is also a music component that makes things tougher or easier, depending upon your Top 40 acumen. During rounds two and five (there are eight rounds in all) the host plays snippets of 20 different songs, which teams try to identify by title and artist.
Finally, there's an image round, when players attempt to solve 10 more head-scratchers based on a series of visual clues. Answers are written down in official Pubstumpers booklets. Teams trade booklets when it is time to mark. (Don't bother bringing your smartphone; the use of electronic devices to arrive at an answer is strictly frowned upon.)
Pubstumpers was created by a Torontonian 10 years ago. One night, Christopher Wright and a few of his friends were enjoying a pint in a British-style pub called Finn McCools when the bartender announced a round of trivia was due to commence. At the time, Wright and his buddies maintained a web-based trivia game called nofrigginclue.com. Naturally, they signed up immediately.
"The questions they asked were relatively weak," Wright says, when reached on the phone in Detroit. "I can't remember if it was something they bought -- or if they were just using questions somebody working there came up with -- but I knew right away we could do a better job."
Wright returned to Finn McCools a few days later and asked the manager if he and his cohorts could take over his trivia night, using questions from their own online database. The fellow agreed. Things went so well in the following weeks that Wright decided to fine-tune the game and market it across the continent.
At last count, Pubstumpers was being played at over 400 locations. Wright charges $720, plus shipping and taxes, for each 12-week session. That price includes labelled pens, posters, coasters and scoresheets, he says, but it's up to individual bars to supply a host.
As for tips on how to come out on top, Wright has maintained from the get-go that the secret to success is to have as diversified a team as possible.
"Sure, it's tons of fun to play with your friends. But if you really want to win and everybody at your table is in their 20s, there might be a lot of blank looks when a question about a '60s sitcom comes up," says Wright, who personally writes every question posed.
Wright says the original plan was to have an annual showdown pitting victors from various cities against one another. That's still a ways away, Wright admits, but he hopes to set up some sort of online playoff system -- perhaps via Skype -- in the next year or two.
Meanwhile, back at Danny's BBQ & Smokehouse, Pierce has moved onto question No. 3 ("According to the Old Testament, who was the first person born on Earth?"), which he punctuates with, "I can already tell tonight is going to be a tough one."
Well, not for everybody. The winning team, Weak Lynx, scores a tidy 83 out of 100 when all is said and done. (Yes, they wrote down "Cain.") For their efforts, the team nets a Danny's gift certificate and two bottles of Danny & Buck's BBQ Sauce.
"I love doing this kind of stuff," Pierce says later, pausing to say, "Thanks and see you next Thursday," to folks on their way out the door. "I enjoy interacting with people and since we started Pubstumpers, we've gotten a lot of new faces who might not have stopped in otherwise."
Pierce, who studied American history when he was a student at New Mexico State University, says there has been one other benefit to MC-ing Pubstumpers.
"I tell ya, I've probably learned more in the last month than I did in all of my high school days."
Smarter than the average bar
Lea-Jay Bulawka teaches school in Selkirk. She is also a member of Chaos -- a Pubstumpers team that puts its wits to the test every Tuesday night at Muddy Waters Smokehouse, at The Forks.
"The first thing everybody in the staff room asks me the morning after trivia is 'What was the toughest question last night?'" Bulawka says. (Tonight's early contender: "In the 2002 Robin Williams film Death to Smoochy, what kind of animal is Smoochy?")
Bulawka usually kids her co-workers, telling them to form their own team and find out for themselves. But thus far their response has been, "But I won't know anything."
Hulawka's teammate Brian Strong gets the same reaction. "I tell everybody they shouldn't feel intimidated; so much of what gets asked is general knowledge that it's almost impossible not to know the answers to seven or eight questions, every week."
Andrew Paterson has been hosting Pubstumpers for seven years, first at Elephant & Castle on St. Mary Avenue and, since January, at Muddy Waters.
"When the people at E&C approached me about hosting, it definitely piqued my interest," says Paterson, co-host of the sports-radio show Hustler & Lawless on TSN 1290. "And literally the first time I did it, I knew right away it was the sort of thing I'd be doing myself, if I wasn't hosting.
"I've also got to gotten to know a lot of great people who are here week after week -- most of whom I probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet otherwise," says Paterson, who usually quizzes his Twitter followers by tweeting some of the more interesting questions throughout the night. "I've definitely learned a thing or two along the way, plus, at the end of the day, it's a great excuse to be in a bar on a weeknight."
For more information on Pubstumpers -- and to find a time and location near you -- visit Pubstumpers.com and follow the links. (Before we forget: the answer to the Robin Williams question? Smoochy was a rhinoceros.)