When trivia titans clash, knowing's only half the battle

Weekend!Nightlife: On the Rocks
by: DENISE FARWELL, Members of the Pork Swords (from left: Allison Couch, Natascha McCann and Jason Bailes) put their heads together at Clash of the Trivia Titans, held at Acme on Sunday.

Can you name Persephone's mother? Could you recognize the theme from 'Doogie Howser, M.D.'? Do you know who played the titans in 'Clash of the Titans'?

If you're jumping out of your seat to answer these questions, you might want to head to one of the many trivia nights being held in bars around town. More likely, you're already there.

Shannon Donaldson is one of several regular trivia night hosts. She calls the shots weekly at four separate venues, and makes a living doing so.

She started out two years ago, she says, after her favorite quiz leader, Drew Marcus, retired from the Horse Brass Pub (4534 S.E. Belmont St.). 'He was just the greatest,' she says. 'I call him my trivia sensei.'

Donaldson goes by the trivia stage name ShanRock. The former film projectionist says that the past six months have been particularly busy.

'It does seem to be getting exponentially more popular,' she says of the multidisciplinary pub quiz style of competition. It's part high school pop quiz, part 'Name That Tune' and can even include ShanRock's trademark, the 'physical challenge' - tossing balls into a bucket, for instance.

So, with a solid roster of top-scoring teams, she decided it was time for a championship event.

I show up around 5 p.m. for the start of Clash of the Trivia Titans, an invitational for ShanRock's winningest teams, held on neutral ground at Acme (1305 S.E. Eighth Ave.).

There's also a preliminary round for all comers - the winners earn a slot in the main event. Each team consists of five or fewer players. Most are coed.

The teams have names, and the custom is to choose a moniker that is either absurdly random or unprintably obscene.

Jenny McKay, a self-confessed trivia addict, is competing in the finals as a member of Imperial Beauty Leopard. Everyone on her team is dressed in leopard print. She plays two nights a week, she says, when she has the time.

Occasionally her studies get in the way - the 32-year-old is working on a graduate degree in biology at Portland State University. On a given night, she says, team formation is fairly fluid.

In the past, she's played with both the Nads and Hofnar, although Imperial Beauty Leopard will be battling both of those teams later tonight.

Seven teams enter the preliminary round. What are the seven ingredients of a Big Mac? In what order do the leading lady, the chorus and the orchestra take their bows at the end of an opera? Of what mountain range is the Rock of Gibraltar a part?

While this is going on, Titans continue to arrive on the scene. Most are in their late 20s and early 30s. Some have had matching T-shirts specially made.

One of my co-workers, Portland Tribune copy editor Margaret Seiler, appears in a stunning blue T-shirt, with a tie-dyed-looking snowflake pattern all over it, and airbrushed wolves, framed by a feathered dream catcher, on the front. She's a member of Titan team Battlehorn Greywolf, which is a few members short this evening.

She invites me to join the team, and even offers me a T-shirt. It's yellow, with some desert imagery and a creature that I have to say, in all honesty, is more likely a coyote than a wolf.

But that seems appropriate, since I'm a junior member of the team. Our other team members are Seiler's husband, Dan Engler, her longtime teammate Dan Rudh and the trivia sensei himself, Drew Marcus.

During the first round of questions, we learn a valuable lesson. If you're not 100 percent sure, go with your first guess.

It's a bad feeling to lose a point when the correct answer is right there on the answer sheet, but crossed out in favor of something else. However, as the game continues, our score sheet is a mess of crossed-out names and wild, last-ditch guesses.

On the bright side, I think, the last place team wins a trophy, called the Hades prize. It will make for a funny story.

Much to my surprise, though, team Battlehorn Greywolf does better than a lot of the teams. The Hades prize goes to Team Second to Last, whose modest name turns out to be overly optimistic.

The Stalkers are the champs but we earn a third prize trophy, and a chance to rummage through a pile of freebies ShanRock has amassed from various bars and beer distributors. I choose a T-shirt that turns out to be way too big for me.

You can have it if you can answer this question: Which Milwaukee brewery advertised its beer with the phrase 'Just the kiss of the hops'?

ShanRock Trivia Nights

• Hawthorne Hideaway, 2221 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., 8 p.m. Monday

• Slammer Tavern, 500 S.E. Eighth Ave., 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

• Peter's 19th Hole, 5701 N.E. Fremont St., 8 p.m. Wednesday

• La Merde, 301 S.E. Morrison St., 9 p.m. Thursday