Mid-week socializing used to involve bowling shoes or secret handshakes. Now bowling leagues and fraternal associations have some serious competition. Trivia Night.

The Towson area is home to more than 20 of them. For two hours a week, at restaurants ranging from the Greene Turtle in Towson to Padonia Ale House in Timonium, teams gather to test their knowledge of current events, modern music and geography.

Trivia Night can fill an entire restaurant or just the area around the bar. Hightopps Backstage Grille draws about 24 teams Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Eight teams take over Kooper's North in Mays Chapel on Mondays, giving the small space an intimate atmosphere. Players gather around the bar at Bill Bateman's Bistro in Towson Wednesdays while the rest of the restaurant is devoted to dining and watching the Orioles game.

Teams can range from a single person to a whole gang, although most have four to six players. Winning teams say a major factor to success is the varied interests of its players.

"Diversify your group," said Megan Schulze, a Towson University graduate student. She plays with another Towson graduate student and a newly graduated environmental scientist. "We all love when we hear a nerdy science question," she added. Although they each have their own specialties, they admit they could use a sports fan."

Having more than one generation on the team helps.

Chuck Michelson, plays at Kooper's North as a member of Formerly Padonia, a team with three generations of knowledge at hand; members range in age from the 20s to the 80s.

"Age brings wisdom," Michelson said.

"The best team is made up of one man, one woman — and an 8-year-old kid," said Mark O'Neil, of Roland Park, owner of Team Trivia's Baltimore franchise.

One team member of Ray Fried Rice — silly team names are the order of the day — said their mix of young and not-as-young is one of the keys to success.

"Most of the questions are geared to the younger audience," said Steve Warner, of Timonium. "But for a few questions, having somebody older helps."

And those team names. Some of them shouldn't be printed in a family newspaper. The teams do have fun, however, with their names. Kyle Boller has a team named after him at Hightopps, while others there are known as E is for Idiot, I Knew That, and Scotty and the Moon. At Kooper's North, teams are dubbed the Natty Bohs, Bad Company and the aforementioned Formerly Padonia. Members of Paradigm Pants and Robinson's Canoe at Bateman's can explain their names — but it'll take a while.

There are rules and in this wired age, and one is paramount: Don't get your cellphone out during a game. That's just so unsportsmanlike.

"The mantra we use is, Don't use the phones to cheat," said Brian Garrahy, owner of Showtime Trivia. "The important thing is we want it to be fair."

Not always masters

Can you name the state where Old Faithful is located?

Better yet, can you list top 40 hits by the band Queen?

Do you know who was World Series MVP in both 1973 and 1977?

Questions range from easy to impossible. But guessing is good, too.

"Go with your first instinct. Don't over think it," advised Robin Mills, of Towson, who, with her husband and sister, plays on a team with daughter Kate Mills and Kate's fellow Maryvale Prep graduates. It must be working — their team, Robinson's Canoe is in the running for Showtime Trivia's tournament.