In this city, the most important short-term attributes in the dating scene are looks and charm, which leaves those who have neither left out in the cold. But to be sure, the brainier types who aren’t beautiful have as much right to be loved as anyone. For these people, there are trivia nights—rotating competitions at bars like Pete’s Candy Store and the Slipper Room, where Cliff Clavins reign supreme and frat boys feel as comfortable as whores in church.
On a hazy Tuesday night, I head off to one such competition, at the Baggot Inn on West Third. There are a dozen or so teams scattered at the tables, frantically compiling lists of the first ten Democratic presidents. The men outnumber the women about 2 to 1, and almost everyone is wearing glasses.
I sit down next to a diminutive balding guy. “Are a lot of people here just so they can hook up?” I ask.
“More often it’s couples coming here together,” he says, turning to me. “But other people would have a better eye for this than I do, obviously.” It is then that I notice he is blind.
On the stage, Valerie, a pale, blowsy woman, is shouting out the answers from the last round. “The actor who played Egghead in Batman was Vincent Price. Chickens lay eggs every 27 hours.” There are cries of indignation. “But I will accept ‘once a day.’ ”
At another table I find an attractive couple holding hands: an Indian woman with a bob and her wide-eyed boyfriend. They met at NYU law school and started spending time together on trivia nights. “You see people who know things that you wouldn’t think they knew, and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of sexy,’ ” she says. “We bonded over eighties music. Which is kind of sad.”
For the next two rounds, teams must identify photographs of famous people linked by a theme. I join a team, and an affable Asian guy sits next to me and rattles off the names: Maureen McCormick, Lucy Lawless, Vivian Vance. The only one he can’t crack is the last: a studious-looking man with slightly graying hair. “There’s an author named Caleb Carr,” I venture.
“Oh, Carr’s much younger,” the guy says. I feel out of place, suddenly, outré. I may be the hottest girl in the place but I will never be the best player. The mystery photo turns out to be Charlie Chaplin late in life—and only one team gets it. At the end of the night, the winning team is announced, to a muted response. They get $25 off their tab and a bag of Oreos.
I spot a guy heading for the door who looks exactly like the fabulist Stephen Glass, but it turns out his name is Mike and he’s come with his fiancée, Melissa, 32. “Once, he brought a friend and I brought a friend,” she says, “and they wound up dating. It failed miserably, and they hate us now.” Still, she says, she endorses trivia night for its romantic potential. “There definitely is a population in New York that is after more than just looks, and it’s really difficult for those people to meet other people. Online, it’s still very much a looks game. So we nerds come together in places like this.”
“Why are nerds so desirable, romantically speaking?” I ask.
They all look at me, wounded. “Smart people make better lovers,” says Melissa.
“And we tend to be better hung,” says a lanky bespectacled guy, eliciting a roar.
“But are good trivia players really smarter?” I venture.
“It’s not that they’re more intelligent,” says Melissa, “but trivia is a brainier activity and it attracts people who are more interested in the world.”
I approach Valerie, the co-host, who tells me that she met her boyfriend at a trivia night. She’d watched him play and was impressed with his sense of humor and knowledge, and then a friend told her he was a nice single Jewish guy. One night, they started talking and hit it off. Now they live together.
If nerds find love over trivia, it may be because the environment brings out everyone’s inner stud. “In your day-to-day conversation, if you’re spouting general knowledge or facts, people get really annoyed,” says Valerie. “But if you come to trivia and you know who cast the fourth Star Trek movie, this is totally a place you can shine.”