NewsWorks editor by day, East Falls quizmaster by night

This essay was written by Matthew Grady, a freelance writer for NewsWorks, as his first Northwest Philly Quizzo critique. 

Encircled by beer-themed swag and a JBL loudspeaker in the corner of an East Falls bar, Brian Hickey stood corrected.

Reading off the correct answers to the evening’s first round of Quizzo questions, the NewsWorks editor and East Falls resident realized that he made a mistake in tabulating the scores.

The correct response had not been recorded correctly on the answer key, resulting in widespread accounting errors and a challenge from one of the teams, whose name will go unmentioned due to its bawdy nature.

Conceding the challenge and granting the additional point, Hickey was nonchalant when responding with the following line:

“Don’t mind me for grading these forms wrong throughout the evening,” said Hickey. “It’s only going to get worse.”

‘It was in my wheelhouse’

On Tuesday night, Billy Murphy’s Irish Saloonery began an unlikely partnership, teaming with Hickey to bring cutting-edge trivia questions to its Conrad Street confines on a bi-weekly basis.

Though not representing the NewsWorks brand in any formal capacity, such highly visible forms of non-editorial moonlighting needed professional scrutiny in order to provide a thorough analysis of Hickey’s performance for the purposes of internal review and/or investigation.

Hickey, 39, is a newcomer to Quizzo. He signed on for Murphy’s version of the game in January, when bar management first broached the subject with him.

Despite having attended only one or two such events prior to taking on his new leadership position, Hickey said that Quizzo and journalism share a bond in their hewing of trivia.

“It was in my wheelhouse,” said Hickey, who joined NewsWorks as editor of the Germantown-West Oak Lane hyperlocal page in 2011. It’s the latest installment in a distinguished 18-year writing career that was interrupted only by a brief stint as a political campaign manager and a traumatic brain injury stemming from a hit-and-run accident.

For Mike Murphy, manager of the pub that is now in its fourth decade, Hickey’s appearance was a part of ongoing efforts to expand business through improvements to the pub’s physical plant, along with enhanced dining and entertainment options.

However, several attempts to steer the interview into other substantive arenas were met by Murphy’s blunt assessment of Hickey’s prospective skill-sets.

“He’s a no-talent a– clown,” said Murphy.

Four rounds of trivia 

Sharing top-billing with the bar’s discounted cheeseburger special, Hickey performed professionally throughout the four rounds of the game.

However, there were some limitations. Prior to his appearance, Hickey’s initial questions were submitted to Murphy’s management to ensure appropriate content. Hickey later said with some chagrin that his questions were “dumbed down” as a result.

Despite this handicap, Hickey led the two-dozen mostly-enthusiastic participants through the four rounds as they vied for the grand prize: a $25 reduction in one’s bar tab.

The questions themselves featured pop-culture topics related to television programs, sports and John Goodman’s cinematic oeuvre. One round, partially attributed to Murphy, focused on pan-cultural interests bearing a distinctly Hibernian cant, best reflected in the question, “If it’s 10 p.m. here, what time is it in Dublin?”

While these questions were bound to tax even the most knowledgeable pub patrons, there were a few stumbles, with exhaustive sports questions testing the mettle of even die-hard fans. Equally demanding was the drawn-out, almost Wagnerian, length of Hickey’s interrogation, with a scant 40 questions taking well over two hours to pose and assess.

The flubs can be chalked up to inexperience, but when action needed to be taken, Hickey’s intuition triumphed.

‘The best in the Northwest’ 

When the final results were tallied, two teams were tied for first place. In a gesture of magnamity, Hickey approached the last-place team and beseeched them to provide the final tie-breaking question. The gesture served as a well-received consolation prize.

The resultant question, pertinent to a sitcom that Hickey professed never having seen, was nixed for one pertaining to Flyers playoff history.

The second question – “What is the name of the plantation in Django Unchained?” – resulted in extended deliberation, prompting Hickey to lean against the jukebox and sing the “Jeopardy” theme.

Devising the proper response, the winning team claimed its victory. 

Speaking for his group, Patrick Fitzgerald of Merion Station was pleased with his team’s performance, and referred to the Murphy’s quizzo as being “the best in the Northwest.”

Honest assessments 

Assessments of Hickey’s performance by Quizzo losers were less flattering.

John Hawkins of East Falls complemented the silky qualities of Hickey’s voice, but voiced criticism of the questions, deeming them “either too obvious or two esoteric.”

“I’d give him a solid B-minus,” offered Hawkins.

Seth Hiller, also of East Falls, shared Hawkins’ critique, saying that he too would have appreciated more questions of general interest, favoring “breadth over depth.”

“He did not get approval marks from us,” said Hiller of Hickey, “but I’m not going to hate on him. He was just doing his job.”

Asked for comment, Murphy, Hickey’s ostensible supervisor, was pleased with the evening, noting that Tuesday night’s Quizzo was commanding a relatively strong turnout despite being in it’s infancy.

Murphy reiterated that Hickey is “a no-talent a– clown.”

While questioning the grounds and motives for Murphy’s harsh evaluation, Hickey said that he was looking forward to his next appearance on March 26, and will apply the lessons learned to future events in order to accommodate everyone, including non-sports fans.

“Quizzo is not meant to be a divisive event,” he said. “Americans may be of different ideological cloths, but when it comes to answering trivia questions, we are all one.”

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