How many minutes must elapse before you re-swipe your unlimited Metrocard at the same station?
What is the highest subway station in the world, at 87 feet above ground?
If you know the answers to these types of questions, you may have missed your true calling last Thursday night.
The New York Transit Museum hosted its first Trivia night, and it was, to this observer’s eyes, a rousing success. Emcees Chris Kelley and Stuart Post diverted a packed hall of over 200 people, forming 42 competing teams. The event, co-sponsored by Transportation Alternatives with refreshments courtesy of Brooklyn Brewery, had a long wait list and actually had to turn away hopefuls. Many people came with teams of maximum 6 people, but others piled into the room and just made friends with other straphangers around them.
The game included 6 rounds of ten points each. The first round was called mta.info (part 1), and included the questions above along with a crowd favorite: “Who do you reach when you call the number 1-212-594-SKIN?” Answers: 18 minutes, Smith and 9th Street, Dr. Zizmor. The second round was called Station Identification: Kelley and Post passed out a sheet with 10 cropped photographs of New York subway stations to be identified. Regular readers of Untapped would have done well on this round, recognizing a few of the stations by their Arts for Transit installations.
Then, Round 3, which turned out to be the undoing of many: “Train Tracks,” ten song clips that I would have earned 0 points on if I’d been competing.
During the halftime break contestants were humming and laughing, and Kelley and Post shared the impressive results: only 2 points separated 10th and 1st place after three rounds, who scored 23.5 and 25.5 points, respectively. That’s out of 30 points! New Yorkers know their subway system.
It was also our chance to hear everyone’s team names. As you’d expect with a crowd like this, transit puns abounded. Some of my favorites included “Service Delays,” “See Something Say Something,” “Unlimited Rides,” “My Fare Lady” and “7 Isn’t Long Enough,” a reference to the capital project, among other things.
The second half commenced with a newly renewed competitive spirit. Round 4, mta.info (part 2) included more informative questions such as “What did the double letters used to stand for when naming trains?” (local service) and “What is important about Ellen Sturm, the owner of Ellen’s Stardust Diner?” (She was a former Miss Subways! Untapped readers for the win, again). I also learned about the practice of token sucking, about which I had previously been blissfully ignorant.
The fifth round, Hangman Style, was a fill-in-the-blank puzzle of station names, using the colors of the subway letters to give hints. Kelley and Post did a great job selecting and organizing these rounds, alternating tough ones with easier ones, and interactive ones with traditional question-and-answer. They’re also a hoot to watch together on stage.
The very last round was Underground Cinema, and involved ten film clips set in the subway system. Once again my age and short time in New York betrayed me, but the long-time residents in the crowd seemed to especially enjoy this challenge. Besides classics like The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, French Connection, and Money Train, there were movies to add to your Netflix queue such as Brother from Another Planet, Mimic, and Jacob’s Ladder. The grand finale was The Warriors, and the crowd went wild.
At the end of the night the top three teams were awarded their prizes. Third place went to “A Whole Lhota Love,” which included Second Avenue Sagas writer Ben Kabak, and they each took home a transit-inspired mug, a Transportation Alternatives bike light, and a subway station-sized map.
In second place””rendered even more impressive by the inclusion of only two team members!””was “The Forgotteners,” who were each awarded a subway mousepad, a Bike NYC shirt, and a NYTM desk clock.
And first place, with 54.5 points to The Forgotteners’ 53.5 points out of a possible 60, was “The Takers of Pelham 1 2 3,” each awarded a Transportation Alternatives tote bag, a LIRR shot glass set, a NYTM desk clock, and a TA bike light.
Thus ended a fun night, with hopes that the NYTM will host another such event. Its underground location is perfect, rendering Google search cheating impossible, and uniting everyone in the middle of a unique environment. Said host Chris Kelley, “We’ve done trivia nights at other cultural institutions before (the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Brooklyn Navy Yard), but this was always on the short list because the material is so rich.” And love for the New York City transportation system runs deep, evidenced Thursday night by the number of contestants who showed up, the impressive display of knowledge, and the general enthusiasm of the crowd, many of whom came in transit-themed clothing.
See more photos of the event at the NYTM’s Flickr page.
Contact the author at @kaygegay