March 9, 2011

Natural science, teamwork and beer: Its Burke Trivia Night

News and Information

A team listens to a question before marking their answer sheets. | Photo by Kathy Sauber

A team listens to a question before marking their answer sheets. | Photo by Kathy Sauber

Its 9 p.m. on a Thursday night in the College Inn Pub and dozens of people are holding beers and pencils, jotting notes as they take turns examining plastic bags of animal poop.

This could be nowhere else but halftime at Burke Trivia Night, the UW museums series of rowdy evenings where trivia meets natural science and they go have a few beers and laughs.

The back of the pub is packed, the volume is high, the lighting spotty and the server deserves combat pay for her deft work with nachos and brew. At the center of the room, wearing a t-shirt with a mastadon on it, microphone in hand and questions at the ready, is Julia Swan, Burke public relations and outreach coordinator — and this is her creation.

The Burke's Julia Swan announces the questions. | Photo by Kathy Sauber

The Burke’s Julia Swan announces the questions. | Photo by Kathy Sauber

“Ive always loved going to trivia nights myself, and always wanted to experiment with hosting one,” she said before the event. “Some other museum was doing  a fundraiser with trivia nights and I thought, what a cool idea for the Burke.” Or as MaryAnn Barron Wagner, the museums director of communications, said with a smile, “She knew she could do it better, and she did.”

Swan draws up the questions with Karin Moughamer, Burke campus outreach coordinator, and they focus on the natural science themes reflected at the museum: fish, birds, mammals, dinosaurs and geology as well as Pacific Rim cultures.

Players are not allowed to look up answers on handeld devices, but Moughamer has her phone handy in case some quick research is needed to confirm a fact. She also works the room to make sure things are going smoothly and needs are met — a sort of “Vanna White” role, she said. Also presenting some questions this evening is Jenny Mears, community engagement coordinator for the Woodland Park Zoo.

Many trivia contests lean heavily on entertainment and pop culture, but this pub, being across the street from a major research university, draws a somewhat more academic crowd. Natural science trivia is a perfect fit — or as one player quipped, “We dont have to answer questions about who was Tom Hanks co-star!”

Swan said, “Consistently, people tell me that what they really like about this is that we are asking questions that cater to their interests.”

Proof of that is the nearly 120 people who pack the College Inn on this night, dividing into 19 silly-named teams. There are six rounds of questions divided by a halftime of object identification — this month, the poop — and the top three teams win gift certificates to the pub for $50, $25 and $15. People from fisheries, forestry, Earth and space sciences and biology are in attendance, plus some College of Education alumni, among other departments.

As Swan calls out one of the first questions — “How many legs would a dinosaur in the suborder theropoda have?” — someone whoops over the arrival of the museum director: “Julie Stein, everybody!” Swan jokes, “Shes not playing, so dont worry!”

A general hubbub follows each question. “This green amphibian is native to every county of Washington state and is the official amphibian of Washington. What is it?” In a round called People of the Pacific, players match political leaders and their countries. Mears challenges players to place taxonomic groups in order from “most to least speciose.” The choices are birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and insects.

An earthquake question: What two teams were playing the World Series in 1989 when a quake struck the city? “I hate baseball!” someone crabs to their teammates. “Football I can deal with!” Another question calls for players to identify five samples of dinosaur-related movie or TV soundtracks.

Contestants inspect and even smell the poop samples in order to answer the question. | Photo by Kathy Sauber

Contestants inspect and even smell the poop samples in order to answer the question. | Photo by Kathy Sauber

As for the poop (provided by the zoo) — in a round daintily named Identify the Turds — players are asked which sample came from a goat, an oryx, a zebra, a giraffe or an elephant. Competitors poke and prod the bagged samples, holding them up and, yes, even sniffing, then scribble on their answer forms.

All evening, heads huddle, pencils scratch and beers tip. In time, Swan provides answers. Theropoda, which includes Tyrannosaurus Rex, have two legs. The Pacific Tree Frog, otherwise known as the Pacific Chorus Frog, is the states official amphibian. Insects, a millions species strong, are the most speciose among the taxonomic groups listed. And it was the Giants and Athletics who played when the 1989 temblor struck, damaging Candlestick Park. Oh, and the bowling ball-size specimen was the elephant poop, to no ones surprise.

The winning team shows off its prize. | Photo by Kathy Sauber

The winning team shows off its prize. | Photo by Kathy Sauber

But Swan and Moughamer will be back for more on the first Thursday of every month. And if you plan on attending (the cost is $5 per team), better get there early.

Burke Trivia Night seems a natural outreach event; players cant help but learn about the museum, and maybe some become members — or at least buy a new mastadon t-shirt.

“Weve really built up a community of people who like this program and who I think have a strong relationship with the Burke Museum that they probably didnt have before,” Swan said. “That was the idea all along, and its nice to see that happen.”

To learn more about the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and its programs, visit online.