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By EVE LEBERSON
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2000
CARROLLWOOD -- Liter Night at Bilmar Station. The place is packed with beer connoisseurs enjoying their choice of 39 draft beers and more than 300 bottled varieties.
But upstairs, within earshot of the roaring crowd and the music that penetrates from jukebox speakers, a small group of trivia junkies are staring at a big screen television. Anxiously they wait for the correct answer to "Which 19th century singer toured the U.S. in a famous tour managed by P.T. Barnum?"
"It's . . . it's Jenny Lind! Two! Two!" screams out Gabe Wikipil, known to trivia players as Magyar because of his Hungarian lineage.
Players quickly push "2" on their Playmaker, positioning their fingers over the remaining answers, just in case. But in a matter of seconds, the correct answer appears: Jenny Lind.
"To the Hun!" the team says simultaneously as they raise their glasses to congratulate Magyar.
Every Tuesday night, 10 to 20 regular trivia players, myself included, congregate at this Carrollwood lounge to participate in a national competition presented by the National Trivia Network. This interactive program broadcasts live trivia contests, which are viewed on television monitors in bars and restaurants across North America.
Carrollwood resident Bob Blake, 56, organized the Tuesday trivia team in late 1998 after playing in Dallas at a bar that took the game seriously.
"The Tuesday night is a real special game," says Blake, who hasn't missed a Tuesday night game at Bilmar in more than 80 weeks. "It is the game where the best bars in North America get all their geniuses together in one room at the same time."
On this particular Tuesday, 18 players participate, including a self-employed consultant, a law student, a computer network technician, a regional loan processor, a reservations clerk, a produce clerk, a bartender, an engineering lab technician, a flooring contractor and two people who work in communications sales.
Most players live near the bar, but some travel quite a distance. Stephanie Ruple, 27, drives from her home in Largo specifically for the Tuesday night game. "It's fun here," Ruple says. "I enjoy the camaraderie among the group." Another player comes all the way from Ocala
The players assume "handles," or nicknames, to use during game time. Mike Haase, 37, is known as Demon during the game. "It was a handle to make people uncomfortable," Haase said.
Fred Marks, 39, uses the nickname Robber because two years ago he dated a 21-year-old woman. "Cradle-robber stuck," he said.
Zenza is the handle I use. The name is a tribute to my grandmother, Vincenza, as well as the name of my cat.
The hour-long game, known as Showdown, tests a player's knowledge on everything from classic literature and European history to physics and zoology.
It is played in six rounds, each varying in the number of points that can be earned. The final round contains one question where players may risk up to half their total points. The five highest-scoring totals are averaged, giving the bar its average score.
At the end of the game, the top 50 location and individual player scores are computed and displayed on the television monitor.
Of the possible 63,750 points, the team averages a score of 48,483 and finishes in 20th place. The only other Florida team ranked within the top 100 is the Purple Porpoise in Gainesville, finishing in 85th place with a score of 40,903.
"The Tuesday competition has vastly improved over the past twelve months," says Ken Bowling, 30, who plays using the moniker TENPIN. "We used to get really excited when we made the top 40. Now we are looking to be in the top 20 before we are satisfied."
The bar has only ranked within the top 10 three times at Showdown since the players began competing as a team.
There are some knowledge gaps that keep the team from ranking consistently within the top 10, says Blake.
"But what makes the Tuesday night game so special is assembling all the pieces of the puzzle that you need to become an outstanding team," he says.
"We know an awful lot and get a lot of the questions right. But over time, we learn which subjects are our weakest. We shy away from medicine questions because we just don't know them. We would especially like someone from Asia, someone who really knows Asian literature, language and history.
"So, if there is a doctor from Bombay that would like to come out and drink and play trivia with us on Tuesday night, we would love to have you."
This weekend, NTN trivia players from across the state and North America will travel to Bilmar Station when owners Bill and Mary Connell host the bar's second Trivia Bash.
"Bilmar is the place to play," says Blake. "I keep in touch with a lot of players around the country, and they all wish they had a place so well-supported by management."
Mary Connell says the regulars are like a big family to her and Bill. "Even on days we are closed, we invited them to our house for parties."
The final day of the Bash will be on Mother's Day, when Bilmar is usually closed. But this year, the Connells will keep the doors open for this special event.
Last year players from 14 states visited Bilmar for the Bash. "I got to meet a lot of players who I have seen on the board and wondered who they were," said Bowling.
"You picture some of these people as doctors, lawyers and physicists. But they are from all walks of life. Last year, there was one guy who was in a heavy metal band. Another one was a welder. You just don't need to have a graduate degree to do well at this game."
The three-day event includes a golf tournament at Northdale Golf Club, dinner at Bern's Steak House and countless games of trivia at Bilmar Station.
"These people don't come to see the sights while they are in Tampa," says Blake. "They come to play trivia."
Think it's easy?
The following questions were among those at a recent Tuesday night trivia competition at Bilmar Station:
A) Ceviche is made from raw fish marinated in spices, olive oil and: 1. vinegar
2. honey 3. salt 4. citrus juice
B) The original tabernacle was a sanctuary in which this sacred object was kept
2. Perpetual Flame 3. Ark of the Covenant
4. Golden Cal 5. Shroud of Turin
C) Courantyne, Berbice, Demarara and Essequibo are names of
1. South American rivers
2. African deserts
5. Indonesian Island
D) Facula and flocculus are terms used in connection with______activity
2. intestinal 3. volcanic
4. pluvial 5. marine
E) "Floating Bodies" and "Measurement of the Circle" are among the surviving works of
1. Leonardo da Vinci 2. Pythagoras
3. Archimedes 4. Galileo 5. Euclid
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