clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

‘HQ,’ ‘Jeopardy!,’ and the Trivia Boom in the Age of Alternative Facts

The facts of public life have never been more disputed, and yet trivia—on your phone, TV, or at your local bar—has never been more popular

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Let me make this much clear: I have never once referred to anyone as Quiz Daddy. But lately, I have started to think about it.

Maybe you have. Perhaps you self-identify as an HQtie. Or maybe you are just someone who has found yourself playing the smash-hit mobile trivia game HQ Trivia, tapping in answers about Peter Rabbit and the word “conflagration” in the hope of winning cash while developing overly strong feelings about the buoyant host, Scott Rogowsky, the selfsame “Quiz Daddy,” as he is called by many players. This week, as an evening game repeatedly froze on Scott’s beaming face, the chat box exploded. “LAG LAG LAG LAG LAG LAG!” wrote one user. “LAG DADDY!” called another. And another. And another.

HQ Trivia is having a moment. The app, which is the work of Vine cofounders Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll, is just months old, but this fall alone, it has gotten write-ups in TechCrunch, The Verge, Mashable, The Outline, Fortune, Variety, Time, Lifehacker, and umpteen other publications. On Tuesday morning, Scott—who was the subject of an attempted profile in The Daily Beast this month that resulted in Yusupov threatening to fire Scott (though not, obviously, following through)—turned up on Good Morning America to “[dish] on the hot new app.” HQ is appealingly simple: Twice a day, at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. ET, the game goes live, and Scott reads a sequence of 12 questions. Get one wrong and you’re eliminated. The whole thing takes somewhere in the neighborhood of five to 10 minutes; the windows to answer questions are deliberately short, to the point that Googling an answer before time runs out is next to impossible. Final pots, usually worth $1,000 total, are divided between every player that gets all 12 questions right, meaning the take is often small—but when was the last time messing around with your phone got you a latte? The game, which is free to play, has in turn proved wildly popular: Most games start with well north of 150,000 contestants, and players have a way of becoming fanatical about converting potential acolytes. When a Ringer staffer expressed mild interest in trying HQ in Ringer Slack this week, seven others implored him to use their signup code. (This is not exactly altruism: Players receive an extra life if new users enter their code while signing up.)

But it’s not just HQ that’s found itself in the spotlight recently. In this era of fake news and “post-truth politics,” of the president of the United States disseminating known hoaxes and his press secretary stating that it doesn’t matter “whether it’s a real video,” trivia is booming: not just on phones, but on TV and probably in your local bar, too. There is something soothing, perhaps, about questions with indisputable answers these days.

Consider Jeopardy! While the show has never struggled to get audiences to tune in for the rumblings and grumblings of Alex Trebek, it has found new footing online over the past couple of years. If you’ve noticed a recent uptick in viral pop-culture moments sandwiched between the standard opera and geography questions, that’s all by design: One clue writer told Spin earlier this year that the Jeopardy! powers that be are well aware that these clues—Trebek saying “yas queen,” for instance, or reading the clue “Panda Panda … Panda Panda Panda Panda Panda”—get outsize attention, and so they make a point of occasionally working them in. Other successes, like the recent streak of Austin Rogers, were more a matter of luck than design—but when the charismatic bartender kept winning, the 53-year-old game show found itself awash in attention. Rogers’s 12-game streak took the show to a seven-month ratings high and nearly closed the gap with longtime ratings rival Family Feud. While Rogers’s run earned coverage in corners that rarely devote space to game shows, mainstream coverage of Jeopardy! is increasingly the norm; many sites—including, ahem, the one you are currently looking at—now run regular or semiregular Jeopardy! columns.

And then there’s bar trivia. Long a weekly standby, it’s difficult to quantify exactly how many pitchers of beer and bad liquor team puns are in play on a given night. But there are signs that games are growing. Specialized companies have consolidated pub-quiz operations, and with consolidation has come the inevitable marketing drive: A bar might not want to go through the trouble of finding a host and weekly material itself, but it might be open to partnering with an organization that provides both. Brainstormer, a 21-year-old company based in San Francisco, lists 71 client bars in the U.S.; Geeks Who Drink, originally a British conceit, told Texas Monthly in September it hosted nearly 800 weekly events. It listed 143 different quizzes it administered across the country this past Tuesday night alone.

None of this love for trivia is exactly new. HQ, after all, isn’t even the first trivia app to gain viral popularity: Consider QuizUp, launched in 2013, the same year the game’s parent company raised a $22 million round of Series B venture funding, and Trivia Crack, which announced earlier this month that it reached 300 million downloads. HQ, which soft-launched just this August, could well outpace them both, given that it arrives not just with a tidy interface, the built-in gimmick and pleasantly self-contained nature of live games, and, well, a Scott to love, loathe, or fear, but at a moment when trivia is suddenly more in demand than it ever has been before.

If you can’t take a vacation to a time with simpler truths and Wikipedia- and social-media-deprived honesty, you can at least tap along for a shot at a piece of $1,000. For now, that money comes from limited seed funding, though going forward, Yusupov says “brand integrations or sponsors” may be in the works. Which is to say, if you want to get in while the getting’s good—or at the very least, ad-free—now’s your chance.