By Roz Weis,
In this past year of uncertainty, sheltering in place, social distancing and other challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been one constant in Decorah that has served as a kind of saving grace.
Thanks to two Decorah men, coping with the pandemic has been a little easier, with weekly opportunities to play online trivia with friends and family
Eric and Andrew Ellingsen brought this new kind of trivia to the Decorah area, and far beyond.
Courtyard and Cellar Trivia (CC Trivia) has proven to be a lifeline for families and friends seeking a connection when they can’t be together. In times of loneliness and isolation, CC Trivia teams find comfort in meeting virtually on ZOOM calls, Google Hangouts and Facebook chatrooms each and every Thursday night for a full calendar year.
Some of the teams participate via conference calls and text chains. Many share a Google Doc where everyone can type in their answers. The local hosts sit side-by-side before a colorful quilted backdrop in their home on Decorah’s West Side each week, sparking the interest of team members with their seemingly unending barrage of attention-grabbing and fascinating trivia questions.
It is trivia like never before, with team members taking an online “pledge” of sorts. Team members sign up and pledge to stay away from Google searches, SIRI and other devices in answering the questions. This pledge makes it a fair playing field for all participants.
“Because of the pandemic, we couldn’t have trivia in person at the Courtyard and Cellar last spring,” Andrew said.
The local Courtyard and Cellar in downtown Decorah had been a popular spot each Thursday night, with teams from the area gathering outside and inside for the weekly trivia contests for many years. But the COVID-19 closures put an immediate stop to those local trivia gatherings in March of 2020.
“We wanted to find a way to keep trivia going since it was such an important community builder each week, and we also wanted to find a way to support (Courtyard and Cellar) operators Dylan and Katie (Reed-Maxfield),” Andrew continued.
The duo did some research about how to host a live event online, and their first “virtual” trivia night was conducted March 19, 2020 – a full year ago. They haven’t looked back, hosting at least once each week since that time.
“We’ve continued to adjust things along the way,” Eric said, “and it’s been a lot of fun.”
How it works
Teams sign up each week at the website triviacc.com, registering with team name and team captain’s name. The livestreamed trivia begins promptly at 8 p.m. each Thursday night. The two-hour evening includes three categories of trivia questions, with 10 questions in each category. The final “bonus” question allows team to “gamble” their points collected throughout the evening in an effort to win the weekly grand prize.
The hosts purchase gift cards from a wide array of local businesses.
“We love this town,” they agreed, “and we want to support the folks who make our downtown such a special place.” Some regular trivia players and local businesses also have donated prizes for the giveaways.
Once the hosts finish their “show” on Thursday nights, they immediately start curating questions for the next week.
“We keep a running document of trivia ideas for upcoming weeks,” Eric said. “We have most of our categories mapped out at least six weeks in advance. Andrew and I work about 10 to 15 hours per week on trivia, not counting the actual broadcast.”
But they couldn’t host weekly online trivia nights alone. They are surrounded by a village of local enthusiasts who help.
“Our trivia co-workers put in another 10-20 hours per week with fact-checking, trivia writing/recording, website updates and marketing,” Eric continued.
They are thankful for the help of Megan Buckingham, among others.
“Megan has been an absolute rock star as we’ve launched this. She does a ton of the behind-the-scenes work and we couldn’t pull it off each week with her,” they agreed.
The others from their “trivia village” include: Carrie Kauffman, who helps manage the emails from team captains coming in during trivia each week; Nick Hirka and Erik Dutcher, contributing live music rounds each month; and Jon Koch, Mike Babine-Dinnen, Kaija Kjome, Chris Hadley, Brian Hiester and Gretchen Peterson, who all help with grading the answers each week.
“As we like to say…‘many hands make trivia work’!” Eric continued.
CC Trivia began under the auspices of the Courtyard and Cellar last spring, but when the local business closed its doors in November, the hosts decided to offer their fully “stand-alone” trivia nights. Not much changed, with the duo continuing to host from their Decorah residence. They appear each week before a quilted backdrop compliments of Andrew’s dad.
‘Andrew’s dad, Mike Ellingsen of Decorah is the quilter,” Eric said. “He’s currently the Minnesota State Quilter of the Year and mas made almost 300 quilts over the past 30 years. We try to feature a different quilt of his each week, fitting the theme of the night. Most recently, an Irish chain themed quilt was featured for St. Patrick’s Day.”
Also making regular appearances on their trivia show are their cats, Katia and Nadia.
Popular across the country
Trivia teams are made up of people from all over the country, and there have even been a few international teams joining in the fun. Some nights there have been nearly 100 teams playing.
Among some of the loyal teams who have played nearly every week for a year, “Sexy Neighbors,” “Herding Cats,” “Honest Tom’s Tavern,” “We Is Trivia,” “Millinneum Falcons Crest,” “League of Extraordinary Guessers, “And In 2nd Place,” and “Southside Saguaros”.
One returning trivia team, Uber Weis, is made up of squad members from Decorah, Des Moines, Minneapolis, Madison, Seattle and Phoenix. The family enjoys the weekly time together in these days of being apart.
Team “We Is Trivia” members from across the country submitted these comments in support of CC Trivia and the weekly online trivia opportunity: “It’s something to look forward to every week”, “Love being able to see the grandkids”, “It’s a cozy slice of the Midwest that you can experience from far away”, “We can learn new things or realize how dumb you really are”, and “It’s building a community across time zones.”
Among the other extraordinary trivia team names that have appeared over the past year are: “It’s Basically the Flu,” “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Quarantine Bikini,” “Lets Meet for a Quarantini,” “Pandemic at the Disco,” “The Quaranteam,” and “Social Distancing World Champs.”
When asked if they would consider offering the trivia “live” again at a venue in the future, the Ellingsens are all for it.
“Yes, we are pondering that idea currently, with the onset of more and more people being able to get the vaccine, we are hoping and wondering how it would look to be back in person, and how we could continue to include our non-Decorah online audience int hat move.”
Both expressed gratitude for the loyal “trivials” as they call them from all over the Driftless area and the world.
“Working on trivia each week has been a bright post in a year that has felt all-too-dark,” they agreed. “We also loved getting to help with the special events for Luther College and the Chamber of Commerce, and we are looking forward to hosting trivia for Luther’s online reunions this summer.”
To learn more, check out their website at: www.triviacc.com or visit the YouTube page.