Kristian Wralstad is a Richmond native, longtime Albatross Pub employee, and self-described know-it-all. But you may simply know him as Trivia Guy. As the public face of one of the longest-running, most popular, and arguably best trivia nights in the East Bay, Wralstad has gained the very specific, very weird, semi-anonymous sort of micro-celebrity afforded to people who exert a great amount of control over very tiny portions of our lives — dentists, baristas, IT guys. He occasionally gets double-takes from customers at his day job, at Oakland’s Bittersweet cafe, though he said the vast majority of those people probably can’t quite place him, and even the ones who can probably only know him only as Trivia Guy.
He’s been offered exorbitant tips, thinly veiled bribes, and a not-insignificant number of sexual favors in exchange for winning answers, but on the flipside, he’s the first person you turn on when the night’s not going your way. He’s been called an asshole more times than he can count, been physically threatened, and found himself on the receiving end of many raised voices. About a month ago, he was called a “douchenozzle” — spelling unclear — after berating the evening’s participants for not being able to recognize a specific Jane’s Addiction song during the music round. (“There are some questions you’re not supposed to know — you’re kind of expected to guess,” he said. “But Jane’s Addiction?” Fair enough.) “I’m always, like, ‘You know what this is, right? It’s pub quiz.'” By this, he presumably means it’s not worth coming to blows over. “I’m constantly surprised by the vitriol and dedication and loyalty people have.”
Full disclosure: I am one of these vitriolic, dedicated, loyal people, and I am not at all surprised by any of this. The Albatross’ Sunday quiz night is great for many of the same reasons the West Berkeley bar is great Tuesday through Saturday — among them, $1 bottomless popcorn, wood-paneled conviviality, supernaturally efficient bartenders, a wonderfully lenient outside-food policy. But there is something truly magical about pub trivia: six rounds, ten questions each; a balls-out, brains-out, surprisingly competitive battle for supremacy that manages to take on ineffable significance to the people who compete. The Albatross is one of eighty or so bars nationwide that gets its questions prepackaged from the San Francisco company Brainstormer (the music round, however, is prepared completely in-house), and rumor has it that the Albatross’ quiz night is the longest-running in the Brainstormer diaspora. At any rate, it has to be one of the most well-attended, with 25 or so teams of 5 a week, of which about 10 come fairly often and 3 come every single week. Much of this has to do with Wralstad — tall, bearded, wry as hell, truly a master of pretending to be your friend until he serves you with a particularly merciless music round and then you will, indeed, be incited to violence. For all of these reasons, he’s gained a personal following in his own right, even after taking over for the wildly popular, Fedora-ed former quizmaster Jeff Gouin, who moved to San Antonio about three years ago. (“I like to think of him as the Bob Barker and me as the Drew Carey,” Wralstad said, deferentially, though he’s funnier than Drew Carey and there is sadly no Plinko at pub quiz.)
And then there are the questions themselves, which are hard, sometimes insanely so. “I don’t see a point in asking questions in which everybody knows the answer,” Brainstormer founder Liam McAtasney told Washington City Paper in April. To wit: Which Irish-American playwright has won both the Nobel and the Pulitzer? What’s the largest state without a major sports franchise? What’s the chemical symbol for sodium chlorate? What’s the full name and spelling of Ghandi’s wife’s hairdresser? (In order: George Bernard Shaw; Virginia; NaClO3; and completely made up, but you get the idea.) This is some deep nerd shit, and it can be completely addictive. Wralstad’s tips: Don’t get too drunk (“Pub quiz is not like darts or pool. It’s not like the more you drink the better you are.”) Don’t use Shazaam, because you will get caught. Always bring a ringer for the music round. Try to get a broad range of ages and interests. And, finally, “Don’t come into it thinking you’re as smart as you think are.”
Update: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Virginia is the largest state without a major sports franchise. It is in fact the most populous state without a major sports franchise.