We had questions for Ottawa's trivia king. He had answers

For Paul Paquet, trivia has been anything but trivial. He turned it into a profession 20 years ago. And his Ottawa Trivia League is showing no signs of slowing down.

'It's a way for people to get together and there are fewer and fewer of those things'

Paul Paquet says the Ottawa Trivia League's success is partly because it's one of the few remaining clubs where people get to meet socially on a weekly basis. (Submitted)

Paul Paquet has written tens of thousands of trivia questions over the years, for everything from Trivial Pursuit and game shows to online trivia sites, turning a passion for arcane knowledge into a profession and a pastime.

His Ottawa Trivia League will mark 20 years in existence in 2018. We talked to him about making a living off of trivia and asked him for some tips on winning at bar-stool games or with popular online games such as HQ Trivia on the iPhone app.

Q. Twenty years. I bet that flew by.

A. Yeah, 20 years ago would have been 1998. Which was right when the internet was coming. Before Bush was president. Clinton was still president. The World Trade Center was still up. So it was a long time ago. A lot has happened in 20 years.

Q: I love how you're responding to the question the way a trivia buff would, with historical references. I take it you've always been the trivia king in your social circle.

A. Kind of, yeah. I was on the high school Reach for the Top team in Laval. There are trivia things here in Ottawa that I'm expressly not welcome to attend. 

Q. What brought you, and your trivia nights, to Ottawa?

A. The original plan was to go into the lobbying business because I have a PR degree from Halifax. So my interest was to go into lobbying but that didn't quite work out.

At one point I had a bunch of questions I did for Prodigy, which was sort of like AOL, which is really long ago now, speaking of 20 years ago.

So I had a bunch of questions I still had the rights to that I wanted to re-purpose. And it was from that, that we did two things: We did a website … and we did a trivia league. We started in a place in Westboro that's long gone now. And that didn't quite take.

But then we started doing it at the Barley Mow. And we were there for at least 15 years, until the management changed. And that was the mother ship for a long time.

Q. So why the longevity and the popularity of the Ottawa Trivia League?

A. It's been a social thing as much as anything else. It's a way for people to get together and there are fewer and fewer of those things. We don't have bowling leagues anymore. We don't have service clubs anymore. But what we do have is people coming out, and hanging out together at trivia night. We've had people playing for 10 years. It's a chance to see their buddies every week. I know of couples who fall in love having met playing trivia. I officiated, actually, at a wedding of two of our players. My estimate is at least a thousand people play every week. But it's probably a lot more than that. So it has definitely picked up steam.

Q. So describe your typical trivia playing crowd?

A. Most of our crowd is people who have left university but don't have kids yet. Although we do have a large number of students and a large number of empty nesters. So typically what happens is you get a few teams to start and it's a little disappointing. But over time, the teams get bigger. You get more teams. And, by and large, they'll keep coming until either a lot of them start having babies or there are a lot of breakups. Those are the two things that kill (trivia) teams a lot. 
Paul Paquet has been running the Ottawa Trivia League for two decades. He has also been successful at the iPhone game HQ Trivia. (Twitter)

Q. The iPhone app game HQ Trivia continues to get a lot of buzz. What are your thoughts on it?

A. I think a lot of it is that everyone is playing at once. One of the toughest things for any online game is to prevent cheating. So you have to have something that has a timer on it, which HQ does. And the nice thing about it as well is that they're giving money away. And I think that's a lot of the draw.

Now, it's very much a lottery because questions get really hard toward the end. So it's hard to do. But it's a free lottery. I think down the line they'll put ads in it. And it's a few minutes in the day. It's about 10 or 15 minutes twice a day. So, it's a lot of fun.

Q. What are your tips on playing HQ Trivia or conventional trivia?

A. The mid-range of HQ often has a counter-intuitive answer. If you're guessing anyway ... Some things are almost always over-represented in trivia, the periodic table and the Oscars in particular.

Many venues tend to over-represent something: HQ does more questions about software. On Jeopardy! it's the Bible. In the Ottawa Trivia League, it's super heroes. A lot of the players have been around long enough that they know how I think.

Q. So, what separates your trivia league from the online games is that ability to hang out with friends in person?

A. I mean, you see people directly. And some teams get rivalries going. At one of our bars there's a team that's very strong. And when I would announce they were the winners they'd boo themselves. So now it's a tradition at the bar that whenever they win everybody boos. Even though nobody actually dislikes them. It's just a tradition.

It is nice to see people every week. And you meet new friends. It's just a good social element. I think people crave that these days. Because once you get out of university there aren't a lot of opportunities for just casually hanging out with people in an unstructured way.