Produced, edited and filmed by Marcus Ribeiro ’23
The noise level in Moderation Brewing Company oscillated between murmurs and shouts at Tuesday’s trivia night. Bowdoin students, faculty and staff sat alongside Brunswick-area residents as they all huddled around tables to discuss where the seat of the Anglican Bishop of London is. They chanted “Wheel! Wheel! Wheel!” as the wheel of surprise categories was brought out for the second half of the game. They clapped for the winners and the losers, and they clinked their glasses before sipping Moderation’s local brews.
Andrew Hamilton, visiting assistant professor of German, has hosted the biweekly trivia night since the brewery’s opening in 2018. His ultimate goal is to create a sense of community through his trivia, which he calls “handcrafted, locally-sourced tricky questions for fun.” He spends most of the time bantering with regulars and newcomers alike, or jumping around while yelling enthusiastically about perestroika and Princess Peach.
“The most important thing is this idea of having a community that comes and talks about literally everything. Nothing is off limits in trivia,” Hamilton said. “It has an agenda—that’s the game—but it also has no agenda. We’re going to spend two hours just talking about everything and getting to know one another at the same time.”
Mattie Daughtry, co-owner of Moderation, said trivia is one of the best parts of her weeks.
“[It] highlights what Moderation is—a community gathering spot,” she said.
Trivia-goers of all ages come to the brewery. In the summer, when the sun sets later, families with young children often participate, and Daughtry has to open the windows so that Hamilton can shout the questions to patrons sitting on the patio outside.
Although Bowdoin students don’t typically join teams with non-Bowdoin community members, many enjoy building relationships with locals through friendly competition. And the feeling is reciprocated.
“There are people from all different walks of life, and it’s nice to kind of mingle with Bowdoin students,” said Brunswick resident Kent Eliassen.
The unending conversations in the packed brewery on Tuesday were a testament to the range of Hamilton’s questions, which require collaboration among team members. Trivia is not an individual competition. Everyone brings their own knowledge and interests to the table, and Hamilton tries to craft balanced categories and write questions that encourage teamwork.
“I once asked the question, ‘how many Popes were there in 1978?’” Hamilton explained. “So on your team you might have had one person who’s Catholic, one person who saw the Godfather Part Three [where the Popes are discussed], one person who’s 60 years old and remembers what happened. You can all get to the answer together, working from different angles.”
Many described Hamilton’s trivia as challenging, but they still trudged through the snow for the beers and the games.
“It’s a thinking person’s trivia,” said Chris Bird, assistant director of OneCard, events and summer programs. “You need to figure out where [Hamilton’s] coming from, but he gives you hints to help you get there.”
Eliassen called Hamilton’s trivia “more intellectual” than other trivia he had done. This week, his team came in second.
“I went to three months of college 16 years ago, and we still did pretty well last time,” he said.
The questions are written so that participants learn as they play, and Hamilton tries to find ways to give people scaffolding to reach an answer. Unlike corporate trivia that you can buy online and is often based on isolated facts, Hamilton’s trivia “writes its own context as it goes,” he says.
“[My trivia is] a little bit bizarre sometimes, which I think is good, because it shows that this isn’t just about Moderation’s bottom line selling drinks on a Tuesday,” he said. “This is about having a fun thing that you can’t do anywhere else.”
On average, Hamilton spends three hours a week writing new content. He approaches this job like his academic work—though he’s paid in beer and gift cards, not in salary and benefits.
“The key is to never not be doing it. I think about trivia in the shower and on runs,” he said. “You have to always be open to ideas as they come to you and be sure to jot them down.”
Hamilton has trivia notebooks filled with potential categories and new questions. He’s been tinkering with the format of the competition for the past two years but is happy with the current set-up. Each week, there are three 10-question rounds: one that is a “stream of consciousness” round, in which the answer from one question leads to the answer of the next, one with a mystery theme (this week’s was college football bowls) and one picture round. After halftime, when Hamilton tallies up the scores and participants refill their glasses, they proceed to four surprise rounds with five questions each. These rounds are chosen by spinning a wheel with 14 categories on it, about one-third of which are suggested by trivia-goers.
One of this week’s surprise categories was “post structuralism.” The bookish Bowdoin student who suggested the category probably hoped for questions about Derrida and Foucault, but instead had to answer questions about construction and support beams.
“The hyphen matters,” said Hamilton with a smirk. “But if you don’t like what just happened, you can change it. This is a democracy. Suggest a category for the wheel!”
And it is this sense of democracy that keeps people coming back. Anyone and everyone can participate and contribute.
“I want it to be about openness, where you never feel bad when you don’t know,” Hamilton said. “There’s nothing wrong with not knowing it, because the only person who has something wrong with them is me—for doing this. I’m the weirdo, and you guys can have fun half at my expense.”