On the surface, Britain's traditions don't seem that far off from ours. They have fish and chips; we have Friday night fish fries. They have tea and crumpets; we have milk and cookies.
They have pub quizzes, we have bar trivia.
To the average American, the difference is inconsequential; but to British-born British Pub Quiz quizmaster Ryan Wickens, we're talking two totally different ballgames.
In the U.K., pub quizzes are a long-standing social tradition, and although we here in the States have adopted the idea, our common style of execution is a bit different from our friends across the pond.
When Wickens moved to Milwaukee at age 18 to attend Cardinal Stritch University, he started tending bar at (where else?) the BritInn, 4473 N. Oakland Ave. It was there that he launched his live-host bar trivia service, British Pub Quiz.
In summer 2007 he added the Carleton Grange Pub and by early 2008, the Milwaukee Ale House and 5th Ward Pub. Today he's up to eight area bars, including Caffrey's Pub, Fanatics Sports Central, the Grafton Ale House and Trinity Three Irish Pubs.
But he makes it clear; he is hosting a pub quiz, not a trivia night. The difference?
"A pub quiz has much more personality," he says, adding that in addition to himself, he's hand-selected a few other quirky quizmasters to help host when he's at another bar. "There are other bars in the city doing trivia nights but they're buying generic kits off the Internet."
Wickens, on the other hand, personally writes all his own questions the Sunday before, so as to query about the most current topics affecting Milwaukee, the U.S. and the world. And, he takes it very seriously; he devotes hours to research and compile trivia for just one quiz -- all this on top of his "day job" as a marketing communications rep for PR firm Zigman Joseph Stephenson.
"I'm very busy," he says in a thick London accent that hasn't dissipated during his Milwaukee residence. "But people really started to take to me and like my trivia so I decided to dedicate more time to it."
He runs each bar's pub quiz weekly -- Mondays at the Milwaukee Ale House and Caffrey's, Tuesdays at Trinity, Carleton Grange and Ale House and Wednesdays at 5th Ward Pub, Fanatics Sports Central and the BritInn -- and patrons pay $1 to play. The two-hour, six-round game is made up of 30 questions, pulling from history, sports, geography, music and you can almost expect James Bond to surface in the film round.
The teams, with clever and / or hilarious names like Your Mother's a Whore, Trebek!, "That's What She Said" and I Just Got Back From Riversplash, And Boy, My Foot Hurts!, compete for $50 and $25 bar tabs and composite score league prizes like $200 bar tabs.
"We have a strong loyalty. The teams that play aren't just there on the off chance they go to a bar and its hosting trivia. They've started following me around town."
He posts each night's winner on his Web site as well as the "article of the week," a random piece of information from which he draws quiz fodder for the following week.
Most players see it as a free answer, but Wickens hopes his teams are genuinely learning something in the process. He certainly has.
"I'm just full of useless information, you just wouldn't believe."
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”