Trivia night provides a use for ‘useless’ knowledge

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Throughout the winter, community members gather at McGregor’s Backwoods Bar and Grill every Thursday, at 7 p.m., for trivia night. It’s a chance to “socialize and try something new for an hour and a half,” said Janet Hallberg (standing), who compiles and reads the questions each week.

Finding the wonder in winter: Part 2

Who said there’s nothing to do in northeast Iowa during the winter? Well, we’re not buying it. Over the coming weeks, the North Iowa Times will feature some of the fun, healthy and educational activities area residents can enjoy during the colder months.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

A group gathered at one table collectively groans, individuals muttering “I should have known that” under their breaths. Another contingent celebrates, cheering and high fiving after an educated guess turns out to be correct. It’s a common scene at Backwoods Bar and Grill each Thursday night throughout the winter, as community members compete in the McGregor establishment’s trivia night.

“The crazy answers are almost more fun than the right answers,” said a smiling Janet Hallberg, who compiles and reads the questions each week.

Teams, which are limited to six people, are tasked with answering five rounds of 10 questions. Each round has a different topic, ranging from sports and history to science and literature.

“There’s a vast variety,” said Lynn Hallberg, who plays every week with wife Gay and a group of friends. “We went from the ‘Roaring 20s’ to Disney princesses one week.”

Hallberg said she selects topics based on participants’ suggestions, but also considers her own interests. The internet is her best friend when compiling lists of questions. 

“I just search for a topic, like true crime this week, and it pulls up a whole list,” she explained. “I’ll go to different websites and pick and choose.”

Since taking over hosting duties last year, Hallberg also established a category topic that doesn’t change from week to week, but the decade from which she asks the questions does. In 2019, every week challenged attendees to recall details about music—first from the 1960s, then eventually to the present day. In 2020, the topic switched to movies.

Every trivia night wraps up with a bonus round that always has multiple answers for a single question. Last week, for example, groups had to list as many of the seven countries ending in “-stan” (i.e. Afghanistan) as they could recall. Each correct answer is worth 10 points, either making or breaking a group’s night.

“It’s a nice way for people to catch up if they’re behind,” Hallberg said. “Or it just puts the team in the lead even farther ahead.”

There’s no cost to participate in trivia, but attendees are welcome to purchase food or drinks to enjoy before or during the event. Backwoods owner Kari Waterman said she began offering trivia so  people would have a weekday activity to enjoy during the winter.

“A lot of people were asking me to do it. The original Old Man River did it, and that’s where people used to go,” she remarked. “There are two places in Prairie who do trivia, but people don’t always want to travel, especially in the winter.”

Trivia is now in it’s fourth year, and Waterman said it’s been good for business.

“It’s brought new people into town, or local people who don’t come [to Backwoods] all the time,” she noted. “Almost every table eats or drinks. And everyone seems to enjoy themselves.”

“Winter can be long,” said Faye Sporleder, who participates each week. “This breaks the monotony, and it’s a good thing to do with friends.”

Rogeta Halvorson plays on a team that’s been together since trivia started. She loves how the group, which includes a mix of ages, genders and interests, works together. 

“We don’t know every answer,” she acknowledged, “but often someone can finish a thought you couldn’t quite articulate.”

“It really picks your brain and makes you think,” she added. “It amazes you sometimes what you do know.”

Hallberg said there’s no need to feel intimidated.

“Just socialize and try something new for an hour and a half,” she quipped.

New teams are always welcome. If an individual or two stops in, there’s often a group they can join. Trivia is family friendly, so kids can come along too.

Although pride and a $15 gift certificate to the victorious team is at stake each week, Hallberg said it’s not about winning and losing.

“Just have fun and use some of that useless knowledge,” she commented.

Want to know more? Backwoods trivia will be held every Thursday night, beginning at 7 p.m., through the end of March (weather permitting). For more information, stop in at 111 First St., call (563) 873-3150 or find “Backwoods Bar and Grill” on Facebook.

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