What was the first man-made object to break the sound barrier? Chuck Yeager’s airplane? Apollo 11? It’s actually a bullwhip, which creates its own miniature sonic boom when cracked.
That’s the favorite trivia question of Nick Groves, founder and creative director of District Trivia, the company which has come to dominate the DC and Northern Virginia bar and restaurant trivia scene this decade. Founded in 2010, it now hosts general knowledge trivia at 80 total venues, 25 of those in NoVA.
“The point of school is to inform,” Groves, 39 with spiked hair and a light beard, says, “but the point of trivia is to entertain. We try to have questions people will talk about the next day with their coworkers.”
Groves’ career evolution was unlikely. Upon earning his real estate license, he hit upon a promotional idea: start a weekly trivia night at the Barking Dog in Bethesda, marketing his real estate services at game’s end. But attendance soared and two other local bars soon requested he host trivia at their locations, too. The venture snowballed and Groves backburnered real estate to found District Trivia a year and a half later.
Perhaps it was inevitable. “I got my real estate license right when the real estate market crashed!” Groves laughs.
Since its founding, District Trivia has added new venues at a rapid clip, with little sign of slowing. Last year alone, District Trivia attracted 117,406 players on 41,366 teams at 3,433 individual events.
In fact, five of its 10 most-attended venues are in Northern Virginia, including its single most popular: Courthaus Social, in Arlington’s Courthouse neighborhood.
But its biggest event by far is the biannual Tournament of Champions, with a $5,000 grand prize. The next big winner-take-all tournament is this March. Last September’s championship saw 600 players on 60 teams going toe-to-toe on all manner of water cooler-friendly trivia. “The purpose was to bring a long-term goal to the weekly trivia events, adding a secondary angle to the competition,” Groves explains.
At any of District Trivia’s weekly venues, players compete in groups ranging from a duo to about a dozen—a team can even form upon arriving at a game minutes before it starts. Any team that finishes with the highest monthly score during any of the previous six months, at any venue, can potentially qualify for the $5,000 championship.
That permits a team to qualify even if they won a smaller venue, or even if they only won a single month among the past six while another team won all the other five months. “This allows people to join early or late, so you’re not at a massive disadvantage if you didn’t start on day one,” Groves explains.
So what’s the most difficult trivia question he’s ever seen in a match? Groves, who is married with two young children, replies, “How many eyes are in a playing card deck?” He pauses for dramatic effect. “Well, there’s three face cards: jack, queen and king. Plus there’s four suits. So that’s 12 total cards with faces. And there are four eyes on each, because there’s an upward-pointing face and a downward-pointing face. So 12 x 4 = 48. That’s the answer, right?”
Here Groves gets a mischievous look in his eye. “Except there are two one-eyed jacks and a one-eyed king, which are in profile. So the actual answer is 42.”
Don’t worry, folks. Most of the trivia questions are more like “Who directed E.T.?”