It was a match made in trivia heaven.
Holli Zimmerman of Spirit Lake is a self-described trivia nerd. Myra Searles of San Diego thinks of herself in similar terms. Both are big fans of Trivial Warfare, a pub quiz trivia podcast.
Host Jonathan Oakes thought their personalities and similar senses of humor would mesh well and put them on a path to striking up a friendship through the podcast’s social media community.
“We struck up a friendly conversation through GIFs and memes,” Holli said. “She lived in southern California and we’re from here born and raised - Spirit Lake nerds from way back! Somehow I convinced her Iowa was not so bad and to leave California and come to the Lakes area. I don’t know how I did it.”
“She had to prove to me she wasn’t a Nigerian scammer!” Myra said. She jokes that she’s still not entirely convinced.
And so in the waning weeks of summer last year, Myra and her family made the move.
Once settled Myra said she thought the place was great, but where was the trivia?
“We did a lot of pub trivia back home and we were just missing that. We were nerds about it too, so we all started talking about just getting it started ourselves,” Myra said.
They reached out to their mutual friend at Trivial Warfare who put them in contact with other trivia hosts around the country for help and advice.
Their first call was to West O Beer to gauge their interest in having a trivia night in the tap room. Quickly given the green light, UpDog Trivia hosted its first show Sept. 27 and has been at the brewery every Thursday since.
That first night they worried nobody would show up.
“We’re thinking at least we’d maybe have four tables of 20 trivia nerds up front, but the first night the entire bar was full. We had 13 teams that first night. It was awesome,” Holli said.
Over the past several months they’ve continued to expand. They’ve hosted several shows at Nautical Bar & Grill in Arnolds Park and The Fish House at Okoboji Boat Works.
In June their regular weekly West O trivia night will switch to Mondays and they have a run of shows in the works at Wild Rose Casino & Resort in Emmetsburg.
They’ve even garnered a bit of a following of trivia regulars who’ve attended almost every show.
Holli said it’s been a lot of fun to see some of the same people every week and the friendships that have grown within different trivia teams.
The nearly instant popularity of the shows caught even these trivia die-hards a bit off-guard at first.
“We’ve been so surprised,” Holli said. “Other than asking West O we haven’t approached any other venue, they’ve approached us and that is awesome. We didn’t expect that at all. We totally thought this would be our little hobby we do on Thursday nights and that’s it and then all of a sudden we all have two full-time jobs now.”
Holli’s day job is at Lakes Regional Healthcare. Her UpDog roles include trivia night host and venue relations.
Her husband, Michael, is catering manager at Hy-Vee by day, and quiz master for UpDog by night. He is responsible for writing the questions for each show.
Myra is their social media and accounts manager while also working by day as a hiring specialist at GrapeTree Medical Staffing. Her husband, also named Michael, works in insurance and fills in as trivia night host as needed while also writing the bonus questions for each round.
Holli emphasized that one doesn’t need to be a Jeopardy champion to win at their trivia nights. They put together a wide range of categories including everything from pop culture and music, to science, farming, geography, sports and more.
“Just think, all the random knowledge you’ve accrued through the years, you finally have a purpose for all of it!” Myra said.
They both advise getting to the venue early, especially the weekly shows at West O, as tables generally fill up fast. Participants can play solo, but it’s easier as a team of up to six people.
There are six rounds of ten questions apiece. Teams fill out their answer sheets and when they bring them to the head table they are asked the bonus question.
The bonus goes to whoever is closest to the right answer (think “The Price is Right” but without the penalty for going over) and is worth a free drink or a prize.
After the third round there is an intermission and leader board update so teams know where they stand.
When it’s all said and done, the first place team gets a prize, as well as the “Top Dog” trophy. The “Ahhh, Bless Your Heart” trophy serves as a consolation to the team in last place.
And if that wasn’t enough fun in itself, UpDog hosts several theme nights.
Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties at West O and Nautical were big hits over the winter.
“Both were packed. That was a lot of fun. People came out in droves even though it was really cold outside. And there were some epically ugly sweaters!” Holli said.
There have been “Game of Thrones” nights, “Marvel Comics” nights, one theme night centered around Saturday morning cartoons, and even one for the television show “Golden Girls” by special request.
UpDog offers bonus points for anyone who dresses up according to the theme.
Plenty of people do, and Holli figures she knows why.
“It’s kind of cool to be a nerd. That’s kind of changed over the years. Nerd is the new cool,” Holli said.
As spring rolls into summer, everyone at UpDog Trivia looks forward to meeting many more fellow trivia nerds in the months to come.