Trivia night satisfies the universal human urge for beer and knowledge

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A contestant hands in her answer sheet during Trivia with Cody and Bill at Backyard Brewery. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH – Bill Seney didn’t mean to make the world a smarter place. It just happened.

“Back when I was working at Stark Brewing, one night on a lark they put Trivial Pursuit cards out on the bar, so I started reading them aloud and everyone got into it,” says Seney.  From there, he parlayed his ability to read trivia questions, and his entrepreneurial spirit, into a pretty sweet part-time gig. Now he runs three local trivia nights – Mondays at The Flight Center in Nashua, Tuesdays at the TapHouse Grill in Hooksett, and Wednesdays at the Backyard Brewery in Manchester. 

He’s actually celebrating his first anniversary in the trivia business this week with what he hopes will be a full house at the TapHouse on Sept. 26. That’s where it all started, says Seney.

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Cody Booth, left, and Bill Seney, tabulating answers for “Name the Dan” round. Photo/Carol Robidoux

“We do audio rounds, visual rounds, spotlight rounds – that’s where one player from each team has to answer questions. It’s definitely evolved into my own game,” says Seney, who also has a hype man – Cody Booth, a cousin by marriage, who helps keep scores and handles the audio-visual queues.

“I’d consider myself Conan O’Brien and he’s my Andy Richter. I’m Penn. He’s Teller,” says Seney.

“Actually, I’m the man behind the curtain,” Booth says, of the magic he brings to the mix. They are between rounds at The Backyard Brewery, Manchester’s newest microbrewery, which has transformed The Yard restaurant on Mammoth Road into something completely different.

On a recent Wednesday night Booth is tabulating. Seney is sipping a beer and waiting for Booth to give him the tally.

“It’s always a super fun time,” says Seney. “The reason I keep doing it is that it’s becoming a good side business. I’m actually trying to find more places to host trivia, and franchise it out. If you wanted to host a trivia night I’d try to find a bar or place for you to host and you’d get paid by the bar.”

When he’s not building a trivial empire, Seney works for a small software company called Custom Scoop, which does media tracking and monitoring.

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Jayson and Judy Brennen have a front-row booth for trivia night at Backyard Brewery, along with Chris Graham and Ashley Dupont. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Although Seney says he’s a bit of a trivia buff, and used to watch “Jeopardy,” he prefers having all the answers and serving as Quiz Master. Booth, who teaches middle school science, is also in it for the fun – and the beer.

As for the rise in trivia nights at bars, the practice likely dates back to the 1970s when British “pub quizzes” became all the rage. Since then, adding trivia nights to the weekly entertainment lineup has become an economic boost for local bar owners, who find they can actually draw regular crowds with a thirst for knowledge – and beer –  other than on just Friday and Saturday nights.

Seney says he’s learned how to run a well-researched trivia night, which means you never ask a question with more than one right answer.

“For the most part, I have it down. But recently I asked which celebrity couple is expecting their third child. I was thinking Kate Middleton and Prince William, but a lot of players were saying Kim and Kanye – who happen to be looking for a surrogate. People were a little confused by that one, but in the end, I was still right,” says Seney.

Another time he asked which two countries only share a border with each other. He was looking for Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

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Anna McClelland, left, with a last-minute answer change for Cody Booth, as Bill Seney gets in the zone for trivia night at Backyard Brewery. Photo/Carol Robidoux

“Someone challenged the answer, and said what about Ireland and Northern Ireland, or other small islands. In cases like that we’ll accept the answer – if it’s correct – but I wasn’t expecting an alternative answer. I don’t set myself up for questions with more than one right answer. That’s a rookie mistake,” Seney says.

He says the popularity of trivia nights at bars is definitely on the rise. His Monday night gig in Nashua is drawing about 10 teams, he’s up to about 15 teams at The Tap House on Tuesdays, and Wednesday nights at the Backyard Brewery is pretty packed, with 30 teams on a busy night. 

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Billy Seney, left, and Cody Booth, right, working the room on trivia night at Backyard Brewery. Photo/Carol Robidoux

He gleans his questions from the Internet, taking great pains to assemble a good mix of stuff that’s knowable but not too obscure or easy. 

“If it’s too easy, it’s not a challenge. If it’s too hard, the game will feel unwinnable. It’s also important for teams to make sure they have a good mix of players who bring different skills, like sports, music, TV and movies,” Seney says. “Like if there’s a chick flick question, like “Legally Blonde,” or “Mean Girls,” you’d better have a smart girl on your team who’ll know what cool girls do on Wednesdays.  I don’t personally know the answer, but I know they will.”


There is a certain flow to Seney’s trivia nights, from the pacing of the rounds to the mix of audio and visual rounds, and of course, the obligatory toast to child actor Macaulay Culkin at the start of Round 6 each and every game [watch the YouTube above for more on that.]

Seney never intentionally recycles questions, but doing three weekly trivia nights 52 weeks a year, well, that’s a lot of trivia questions.

“No, I don’t feel like I’ll ever run out of questions –  and I’m part of an online group, via reddit, of other trivia hosts. It’s a closed group, and you can pull questions from there, so I can see myself doing this for many years to come,” says Seney. “And I hope to build a small army of trivia hosts going out in the name knowledge.”

About this Author

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!