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Beer, burgers and deadly serious trivia at Britannia Arms.

By Austin Sardella

WHICH comic strip featured a character called Pig Pen?"

It's quite a thing to watch a brilliant mind, a useful cache of important thoughts such as professional concerns, personal hygiene and important to-dos, drunkenly stumble over trivial matters.

"Which TV show included a character called Mr. Peacock?"

At the corner of the bar, beards are being thoughtfully scratched, and the Sharks game, playing on three screens, is conspicuously ignored.

"In the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, which character was played by Gregory Peck?"

We're at Britannia Arms in Aptos, just down the street from Cabrillo College, on Wednesday, a very special time: Trivia Night, where local fact-slingers come to compete over dinner and a pint, and the competition is fierce. It's not intense enough to ruin anybody's good time. It matters more than the sports game, but for most it's all in good fun.

"Portia is the heroine of which Shakespeare play?"

Now it's the end of a round, and after a break the questioner goes over answers in his authoritative British timbre. "Portia was the heroine in The Merchant of Venice," he reveals, and a few victory fists go into the air, along with some disappointed moans.

"Some of these guys are semiprofessional," he says later between bites of steak, pointing to a third-place plaque on the wall. "These guys in the corner--I ask 60 questions, and most nights they make 55 or more. One night they got 59," he adds, proud and impressed himself. "So I've got to make some of them hard."

In the corner are Nick Meltzer, Ryan Manning and Lane Wallace, the trivia bee contestants. How do they know all this stuff?

"An obsession with general info and no other good outlet," Meltzer responds. "It's a way to compete against other fountains of useless info. It's sports for nerds."

"We learn through osmosis," Wallace quips. "A lot is TV. A lot is stuff you know just a little about and guess, but you need some background. Sometimes a kind of triangulation happens, collaboratively jogging each other's memory, but usually one or more of us just knows the answer outright."

The break over, it's back to the serious business of trivia. "In the comic strip Peanuts, which character believes in the Great Pumpkin?"

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