The biggest Geeks Who Drink around here don't live in the college town of Fort Collins. They don't work in the hip capital city of Denver.
No, friends, the winners of the 2008 Geek Bowl the pub-quiz Super Bowl of the Front Range are your neighbors here in Colorado Springs. Led by team captain and Jeopardy!-lover John Murray, The Betas, a team of six only slightly nerdy locals, beat 44 other teams from Fort Collins, Denver and the Springs on Jan. 26, leaving them to pull sweater vests over their heads in shame.
As it turned out, in fact, three of the top five teams that day wound up being from the Springs domination attributable to a lucky geographic twist, according to an e-mail from quiz co-founder John Dicker.
"Calhan is an intellectual mecca, but there's more housing in the Springs," he jokes. (In fairness, Dicker became fairly familiar with Calhan in two years as an Independent reporter.)
The Springs gets Geeks Who Drink, the cheeky name for everything pub-quiz on the Front Range, twice weekly. Along with your more typical bar crowd tattooed indie kids, backward-hat-wearing frat boys and dart-tossing middle-age men, all with pints in hand it really attracts all kinds of individuals looking to merge into one superpower of common knowledge and pop culture.
They're fueled by beer, and the promise of winning ... free beer.
"It's a fine line," as The Betas say, "between genius and drunk."
'Guinness for brains'
Murray, Wes Colgan (known as Dr. Geek, since he has a PhD in microbiology), Brian Zahn and Jacki Pepin met while working at ADInstruments, which, fittingly, specializes in data acquisition systems. Lo and behold, they discovered a common love for beer.
After deciding that they could preserve brain cells while drinking by putting them to use with a mental challenge, they conceived a pub-quiz team to compete in Geeks Who Drink, which started in Denver in 2005 and extended to Colorado Springs in May 2006. The four soon recruited Kyle Pepin and Wes' smart teacher friend, Jen Buckley, and The Betas were born.
They don't have any secrets as to what makes them cunningly clever at quizzes. They watch a lot of TV and listen to a lot of music. (In pub quizzing, watching celebrities "pimp someone's ride" can be just as educational as, and probably more relevant than, reading about the Spanish Inquisition.)
If your memory isn't the best, you can always do what Colgan does and flip on the History or Discovery channels; watch cartoons and, of course, Jeopardy! like Murray; or drink a lot of Guinness, la Zahn. His preparation tactics are honest and precise: "Guinness for strength, Guinness for brains."
A quiz delivers eight themed question rounds on anything from world history to music, sports and movies.
On a recent Wednesday, McCabe's Tavern was almost full, which says a lot considering the large square room was stocked with a central E-shaped bar table, booths along the entire right side wall, and tables everywhere in between. Aaron Retka, another former Indy contributor and current Colorado Springs quiz master, stood atop a small stage in the back corner, spouting out the questions while promising prizes such as a free round of beer and McCabe's "pub dollars."
The Internet bonus, a question asked for computer nerds playing from home, earned a prize of bacon-flavored dinner mints.
'We don't fight'
The Betas weren't here that night; they've decided to take a short break from quiz competition. In their absence, a quiet but unified team in the back corner strategically put away rounds and drinks with ease.
They call themselves 3+1=5, and placed fourth in January's Geek Bowl. The Betas know them well; when I ask them about 3+1=5 in the days that follow, Murray says the team's quickly earning a reputation.
It begs the question: Might a heated rivalry be in the works?
"We're geeks," Colgan says. "We don't fight. We solve equations."
While at McCabe's, a token group of frat boys did show up, seemingly to vie for a world record for consecutive "your mom" jokes thrown out by men over 25. They also lit their baseball caps on fire and shouted out the answers to the questions not that they actually knew the correct answers.
To all their shenanigans, Retka kindly directed them an F-bomb and quizzed on.
With snapshots like this in mind, it's perhaps not surprising that The Betas are enjoying their break. But Murray assures that they'll return, and probably drink you under the table when they do.
There are still many more pub quizzes to be won and geek revolutions to be started. So either hop on the love bus with The Betas or go home and pretend you didn't wish you knew as much trivia as they do.
Local pub quizzes
Jack Quinn's, 21 S. Tejon St., 385-0766, Mondays at 8 p.m.
McCabe's Tavern, 520 S. Tejon St., 633-3300, Wednesdays at 8 p.m.
Free to play; team size limited to six.