The Fire Rises


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There was a time, many years ago, back when fire still swept the land the cries of men begged cruel and primal deities for salvation, that a trivia team came in at least second place every time they played bar trivia at the Fermentation Lounge.

They were called Hydra, and fedora wearing nerds everywhere trembled at the mere hiss of their reptilian name.

Hail Hydra.

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The group was composed of a ragtag band of erudite grad students: Stacey, Jared, Erich, Nic, Adrienne and myself. Though our knowledge ranged a variety of subjects, our expertise lay mostly in television, film, history and classic rock.

Hail Hydra.

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The group, though mighty, was torn to pieces when several of us received our master’s degrees and traveled across the great, western wastes in a mighty caravan on a quest to find a job in the film industry.

A quest some of us are still… ahem… questing.

Hail Starbucks.

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Hydra burned, but from its ashes a new trivia team arose, one far fouler and more evil than any trivia team ever formed.

The Quizlamic State.

The Quizlamic State was never quite as successful. Chief among it’s problems was trying to find a fertile staging ground to set up our new quizlamic caliphate. The first bar we went to was a rough affair, more of a sports bar than anything. It was full of heavy, thirty-five year old men who hooted at the TV screens no matter what was on them.

Even for lame sports like NASCAR and HOCKEY.

The trivia was cordoned off in a musty corner of the bar. No one except us was there to play. The other patrons just wanted to hoot. Some drunkenly grabbed answer sheets butt they never filled them out. They used them mostly as poor quality napkins.

Our victory was basically uncontested.

The bar didn’t have any prizes for winning, though.

We migrated, finally settling in a newer, nicer bar that was closer to my apartment.

Then the dark times began.

From the north came a marauding band of music teachers. They were called “We ate an entire pizza with ___.” The blank would be any headline pulled from the news, like “Bernie Sanders,” or “that crashed Russian airplane,” or “Nicholas Cage” or whatever. They wore glasses and had neck beards. Many of them were bald. One of them had a leather jacket that he probably thought made him look like James Dean. It more accurately made him look like Nicholas Cage from Ghost Rider.

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They never talked to anyone else in the bar and drank only water. They spent most of their time laughing at little inside jokes, cheering too loudly when they got hard questions right; and dropping into a sullen silence and staring awkwardly at anyone who dared wander too close to their table.

Oh, and winning.

Did I mention winning?

They won.

A lot.

They never spent their bar cash either. They just drank water. The quiz master had to make a new rule that you were ineligible to win if you didn’t buy anything from the bar.

The very next week the teachers showed up with someone who looked like a discarded rough draft of Michael Cera. He drank beer. He drank a lot of beer. He would stand up on the booth and hoot and dance when they won a round.

He was not a good dancer.

This was probably at least partly due to the beer.

He also had a leather jacket that made him look like Nicholas Cage from Ghost Rider. Whoever these teachers were, they must shop at the same Hot Topic.

We hated them.

It wasn’t their skill that made us hate them. We had a friendly rivalry with trivia teams at the Fermentation Lounge. There was one that normally beat us, but we didn’t hate them. We would hang out with them afterwards.

It wasn’t their knowledge of trivia that made an entire pizza so loathsome. It was their personalities.

It was the way they snorted with laughter when other teams got a question wrong. The way they would ask you what you put for number three and then make fun of you to your face if it wasn’t right. They way they screeched like hungry babies when the quiz master announced that they were in the lead.

It was the way they didn’t talk to anyone. Thee way they didn’t buy beer. The way they always took the middle booth and sat there, scowling at everyone, as if worried that the troglodytes they so feared us to be would rack our brains so hard trying to figure out who founded Kelogg’s that something would burst and the reptilian parts of our brains would take over and we would assault them en masse and gobble them up, bones and all, in a bacchanalian orgy of violence and perversion.

Bars a social places. You go to bars to hang out with your friends and meet new people. I met a guy who produces terrible action moves. He told me they were bad and showed me a trailer on his phone.

It looked really bad, but in a good way. In the way that it might be so bad it’s funny. He let me use the table when my friends finally got there.

I met the guy who did the soundtrack for the remake of The Thing.

I met a girl who danced with Nicki Minaj on one of her tours.

I met somebody who had to throw Andy Dick out of a bar.

The cool thing about bars is that I have no idea if any of these people were lying to me. They could have been. Who knows?

More to the point, who cares?

I tried to talk to an entire pizza one time. It had been a close match, and the State had only lost by three points. I went up and congratulated them. I told them I hoped we’d get them next time.

They just stared at me.

They didn’t say a word.

They just stared.

It was then I began to think there was something off about an entire pizza.

I began to wonder if they even liked pizza.

I began to wonder what do they like?

They like shouting obscene jokes at the quiz master. I’ve seen them do it.

They like music. They all wear shirts with quarter notes and other such things on them.

They like winning.

Do they like playing trivia, though?

And I wondered…

What’s the point of doing something if all you care about is winning and all you ever do is win?

It must be terrible.

Actually, I sort of know what it’s like.

I’m a Patriots fan. It’s okay, you can hate me if you want. Hail Belichick.

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I’ve been a fan ever since my friend Nick made me watch football with him in middle school. His family is from new England, and my family is a Florida State family. We watched college, not professional, so I never had a pro team. I adopted the patriots.

I was a fan in 2007 when the Patriots almost went undefeated.

That season started off great. The patriots blew everyone out of the water and it was fun to watch. They kept winning… and winning… and winning.

Each victory made me more nervous. This is history. We can’t lose now.

It eventually got to the point where I didn’t even have fun watching the games. I gripped the couch so hard I thought the leather would tear. Veins stood out on my forehead. I clenched my teeth so hard I probably broke a tooth.

I was so worried that we would lose that I didn’t even enjoy the event.

Then we lost.

It was the Super Bowl and the Giants beat us and I hate the Giants and all I could think about was how relieved I was it was finally over.

It was soul crushing. I felt like shit. It was awful.

But I was relieved.

Ronda Rousey said she thought about killing herself when she lost. It seems like an overreaction, but if you’ve never lost…

Hey, man. I don’t understand it, but I understand that I could understand it if I was her.

It’s hell to be undefeated because you start to question your every move instead of just enjoying your game.

It’s even worse to lose, and the severity of the loss directly relates to the length of being undefeated.

So I’m a little worried for Entire Pizza.

One day they will lose.

Will they pass the water and start hitting harder stuff like soda? Will they ditch the quarter notes and get tattoos of full rests? Will they find another Michael Cera?

I don’t know.

I do know one thing, though.

The Quizlamic State is dead.

We are reforming Hydra from its ashes.

The fire rises.

Let us test an Entire Pizza’s mettle against the flames.

I hope they don’t break too hard, because I don’t wish harm on any human being.

But they made fun of my friends for not knowing who Kenny G was. They laughed in our faces and made jokes about us the whole night.

I hope they don’t break too hard.

But I want them to break all the same.

Hail Hydra.

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Cheating is Winning, and Winning is Awesome


“I couldn’t let you win, because you cheated.” The dark man said to us, glaring through his goatee at our team of 8.  If memory serves, I believe we were going by the pseudonym “blood, bath and beyond” that night.  I slammed my hands on the table and jumped out of my seat, barely keeping my balance.  I had drunk much beer that night, and stability had long ago fled my intoxicated form.

“How dare you, sir?  How dare you?” I slurred, pointing a finger at him with one hand and grabbing the table with the other, lest I fall over.  My german friend Alex slammed his hands on the table and jumped out of his seat just as drunkenly.

“Yeah, how dare you?  We aren’t cheaters!  We came to the pub tonight to play an honorable game of trivia, and by Jove that’s what we did!”  He shouted.  I have often thought that the easiest way to combat someone calling you a liar is to get angry.  It could very well be your natural response to someone calling you out, even if you weren’t lying.  Too bad we were lying.  Lying our hearts out.

Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t go to trivia night at the pub with the intention of cheating, it just sort of happened.  Like in one of those teen horror movies when the popular kids play a trick on the nerd, and the nerd ends up dying and haunting them forever, which incidentally is seldom long.  We had intended to just guess on the ones we didn’t know, but after 3 or 4 in a row, it begins to get a bit discouraging, and the alluring call of our smart-phones grows incessantly louder, so much so that we are no longer able to resist their sirens call.

This isn’t our pub, but it’s as good as you’re gonna get this close to graduation

“Charles,” my friend Ashlee inevitably asks me, “you look like you need to use the rest room right now.”

“What?” I respond, confused and alarmed.  How did she know that I needed to pee?  “No I don… oh!  Yes, yes I do.  If you would excuse me…”  Using your smartphone is illegal in the pub during trivia time, and if anyone sees you doing it, they’ll report you to the Quizmaster, curse his name, and he will confiscate your answer sheet.  It is therefore necessary to stagger to the restroom if you want to cheat, far away from the prying eyes of the other teams.  The stalls provides the optimal protection, but sometimes they are occupied and/or stinky. The urinals work in a pinch, because most people just stare straight ahead while they do their business, and sometimes hiding in plain sight is the best option.  Of course, if someone does look over at you while you are at the urinal, all you must do is begin making zoo noises, and they will most likely leave you be.  If they don’t, then I only have this to say to you, my friend: run.  Simple, really.

We had sent seven or eight such expeditions to the lavatories that night, and had learned some rather impressive facts.  Ketchup, for instance, was sold as medicine in the 1830’s, and there are four cars and eleven light posts on the back of a $10 dollar bill.  Normally, when we cheat at trivia, we answer one or two questions that we know are correct incorrectly, so as to appear that we weren’t cheating.  We eventually learned, however, that we were probably going to get wrong some of the ones that we thought were right, and so the practice had fallen out of style.

The trivia quiz has two parts: useless factoids and name that tune.  It’s a lot harder to cheat on the song section, because there aren’t any speakers in the bathrooms, so we generally try to cheat as much as possible on the first part.  The songs that night were especially obtuse: TV themes from the 70’s and 80’s.  Fortunately, I had invited Richard, my boss, an honorable man and by no means a cheater, to join us that night and it turned out that he was amazingly gifted in the 70’s and 80’s TV show theme song department.  I don’t think he knew that we were cheating, though he was probably somewhat worried that we would cackle evilly every time one of us had to use the restroom.

After the songs were done, we made some last minute corrections and handed the answer sheet to Alex, who took it up front.  He returned with a big smile on his face, and plopped down into his chair with an air of satisfaction.

“Well?” I asked conspiratorially, “Is it done?”

“Yes,” he replied calmly, taking a sip of his beer, “It is done.  The quizmaster, may his hair be chewed off by a thousand camels, was dubious.  He asked me if we had cheated.”

“And?  What did you say?”  Ashlee asked angrily.

“Of course not, oh noble one!” Alex replied smugly, bowing to Ashlee as if she were the wretched quizmaster himself.

“And he suspects nothing?” I asked frantically, grabbing Alex’s shoulder and turning him to face me.

“Nothing at all.” Alex replied, shrugging off my hand

“You did well this day, Alex.” Ashlee commended.  She made a motion with her hands and we all leaned in.  All except my boss, who was furrowing his brow in confusion.  “It is finally our turn, my friends. This time, we will have the highest score!  This time, we will be the victors!  This time, the prize will be ours!”  Ashlee said the last line at an almost shriek, and we all raised our hands in the air and cheered.

“What is the prize?”  Richard asked.

“A $20 gift card!”  I responded, and we cheered some more.

“So that will pay for what, four beers?”

“Yes!  But there’s more!  If you win, you get the honor of sitting at the king’s table next monday!”

“Oh.  That’s nice”

When the time came around for the Quizmaster, curse him, we were positively giddy.  The incumbents were sitting at the king’s table, and from my vantage point I could clearly see the fear in their hearts.  It was manifest in every halfhearted laugh they dared to hazard, and in every movement that they made.  If there was room in my heart for pity, I would have felt sorry for them, but the world of pub night trivia is a cruel place my friends, and I felt nothing but the icy blackness of schadenfreude.  The quizmaster picked up the microphone, and he drew my attention away from the kings table before I could eat my fill of their misery.

“Tonight’s winners” he said, silencing the crowd with a wave of his hand, much like a Roman emperor of old quieting the mob in the arena, “With 36 points…” He paused here, and I looked at Ashley puzzled.  We had gotten 38 points, not 36.  Maybe there had been some sort of error, maybe there had…

“The Schemin’ Geezers!”  The king’s table erupted in an explosion of joy.

“How…?” I asked numbly, sinking into a black despair, “How can this be?”  The rest of the table was equally as distraught as me, all but Richard who clapped for the geezers.

“Good for them!” he said, and I think he meant it too, and we hated him for it.  We ordered more beer as the quizmaster went to congratulate the “winning” team.  He happened to walk by our table at one point, and i grabbed his sleeve and dragged him over to us.

“We had more points,” I aid threateningly, fumbling around on the table for a knife or something, though none seemed to be in reach, “why didn’t we win?”

And so we come back to where we started.  After alex and I had shouted at him so vehemently, the Quizmaster, may his house be struck by a falling satellite, seemed unsure of him self.  Perhaps he had judged us wrongly?

“Ok, you’re good liars, I admit, but I know that you cheated.  Look here, how did you know what the boiling point of liquid nitrogen?”

“I’m a chemistry major.” Alex said, and he was.  As it turned out, he actually did know the boiling point of liquid nitrogen offhand.  We didn’t have to cheat on that one.

“Well, how did you know which roman emperor wanted to put his horse in the senate.” He asked.  I raised my hand.

“How did you know which Shakespeare play had MacDuff in it?”

“Scottish name, scottish play,” Ashlee said, “We figured it had to be MacBeth.”  We didn’t have to look that one up, either.

“Classics major.” I responded truthfully, restraining a laugh.  Incredible, I thought.  He was asking us to explain only the answers that we didn’t cheat on!  He was beginning to look a little nervous now, and I could tell that he was worried that he very well may have slighted us from our victory.

“Ok, fine.  I’ll give you those, but there’s no way you knew the three large cats that can roar!  No body got that one right.”  Uh oh.  I was hoping he wouldn’t bring this one up.  It’s not that we cheated, far from it!  I knew all three.  It was that the way that I knew all three was kind of embarrassing, and I wasn’t looking forward to having to explain it.

“Oh, charles got all those!” Ashlee said, smiling as she happily pointed me out, damn her.  “He can tell you how he knew that one.”  Everyone turned at looked at me.

“Well,” I began, pulling at my collar nervously, “Lions are obvious.  I mean, who hasn’t seen the MGM logo, right?”  Everyone nodded, except for the Quizmaster, who rolled his eyes.

“Well yess, everyone got lions!  How’d you know the other two?”

“What is this, slumdog millionaire?” I asked angrily.

“Charles,” said Ashlee, somewhat annoyed, “Just tell him how you knew about the other two.”  Great.

“Ok, fine.  Well, I knew about Jaguars because of Age of Empires II: The Conquerors.”

“What’s that?” quizzed the Quizmaster.

“An old video game.  You could play as the aztecs, and they had a unit called jaguar warriors.  They were essentially guys with clubs who wore jaguar skins, but when you clicked on them, they roared, like jaguars I suppose”

“And the other?” he asked.  Here goes nothing.

“I knew that Panthers roared because in R.A. Salvatore’s beloved Drizzt fantasy novels, the main character, who is a magical dark elf, also called a drow, has a magical stone figurine of a panther.  The panther’s name is Guenhwyvar, and hen Drizzt lays down the figurine and calls her name, the panther magically materializes.  It occasionally roars, and I therefore assumed that the forgotten realms wouldn’t lead me wrong, and that Guenhwyvar roaring was an accurate representation of the average panther.”

Pictured: Guenhwyvar and Drizzt

Silence.  Dead, ugly, awkward silence.  My friends stared at me as though they had just discovered a new and disturbingly nerdy facet of my personalty that had hitherto been unknown.  I could tell they weren’t very happy with the discovery, much like how an archaeologist would feel upon finding an ancient Egyptian tomb, only to discover that it had been raided decades ago and was empty.  Not knowing what to do, I soldiered on.

“For you see, quizmaster, Guenhwyvar is no ordinary panther at all, but is in fact a creature from the spirit realms.  She lives in the Astral plane, and Drizzt’s summons merely create a portal through which she can travel into the mortal realm”

“Yes, I see…”

“No one is quite sure whether or not she can die.” I continued, raising my voice.  “She certainly can be injured, though.  On several occasion Drizzt and his companions had to send her back to her astral home, fearing that she may die there from her wounds, but she always returns completely regenerated.”

“Very good, but…”

“THERE WAS THIS ONE TIME WHEN THE FIGURINE WAS DAMAGED AND THE MIGHTY COMPANIONS OF THE HALL WORRIED THAT GUENHWYVAR HAD BEEN LOST FOR EVER, BUT THE NEEDN’T HAVE FEARED BECAUSE…”

“Yes, yes, very good.”  The quizmaster growled, cupping a hand over my mouth, thereby silencing me.   “It seems I was wrong.”  He looked around at us, telling us in no uncertain terms that was absolutely positive that he hadn’t been wrong, but that proving that we were dirty, filthy liars was too far above his pay grade.  “I can’t let you guys be the winners, because I already gave it to the other team, but I can give you a few coupons for free drinks and deserts.  Will that work?”

“Yes!” We shouted in unison, a bit too quickly.  An honestly cheated team, I realized far too late, would have rejected his pitiful coupons and demanded its divine right to sit at the king’s table.  A wry half smile crossed his face as he gave us the coupons.  We didn’t care if he had learned the truth of it, drunk as we were on alcohol and victory.  It was decided that I should hold on to the coupons, since I was the most regular attendant of trivia night at the pub, but when i got home, and the rush of winning began to wear off, I felt sick to my stomach.  We had cheated and lied to a person’s face, and for what?  Some coupons?  I had always prided myself on being honest when it counts, and now I had tarnished my reputation, or at least what little reputation I had left.  Disgusted, I threw the coupons into the trash can, and convinced myself that I had now cleansed myself of all the negative karma accrued during the night, and went to sleep, not regretting trashing the coupons one bit.  Well, at least not until next Monday, when I had an unquenchable thirst for Jamaican Cheesecake and I reached into my wallet to find it devoid of both coupons and money.

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