The Zoom tiles are a bar in Brady Bunch opening credits view. The participants can be from places as far flung as Azerbaijan or Zimbabwe, or as close as Federal Hill.
In his Irish accent, faded by years of living in the United States, Stephen Walsh calls out the next question from his home in Waverly.
“Which U.S. State has the most Ikea stores?”
Sure, you could Google the correct answer. But there’s a code of honor here at Walsh’s online trivia. Besides, everyone thinks you’d have to be nuts to cheat at trivia when there are no real prizes.
“The prize is having something to do. That’s a win right there,” said Mary Nachimson, a Federal Hill bartender who plays regularly with her roommate, Jon Moury.
Nachimson knows Walsh from the before COVID-19 quarantine time, when he hosted trivia nights at the bar where she worked. When the pandemic hit, Walsh, a father of one who works as an events planner with local bars and restaurants, rapidly transitioned to get his trivia nights online.
Within weeks he was hosting multiple games a day, around 25 per week.
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In March, Christopher Hines, a community liaison officer with the U.S. State Department formerly based in Islamabad, contacted Walsh about doing regular games for quarantined U.S. Foreign Service Officers. Those sessions since have seen participants from up to 40 different countries around world, with team names like “Don’t Cry for Me Quarantina” for the Buenos Aires group.
“It gets your mind a little bit off what’s going on in the world,” Hines said.
For fans like Andy Sherwood of Baltimore, “It’s been a real crutch.” The researcher plays nearly every night in the basement of his home in Ednor Gardens Lakeside.
Whereas regular Zoom happy hours or calls can feel stilted, Sherwood says the trivia format has become “a form of interaction that feels natural and social in a way that almost nothing else has been able to achieve” during the isolation of lock down. “It’s been one of the small but meaningful sources of joy during all of this.”
It helps that Walsh, originally from County Cork, Ireland, spends hours researching questions. “Children’s books are really good sources,” he said. “They keep it really simple.” He also tailors questions for groups he hosts to avoid giving anyone a lopsided advantage. Each game “covers a little bit of everything,” with topics including geography, history, science and pop culture. “My trivia should never be won by two smart guys of the same age.”