I enjoy trivia enough that I’ve paid to participate for most of my adult life. I’ve been to countless bar trivia nights, trying to win prize money that barely covers the tab. I pay $30 a year to take part in an online trivia league called Learned League, which offers no prize other than the ability to check whether you correctly answer questions that former Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings got wrong. Then in 2017, something wonderful happened: Some geniuses (or idiots, I haven’t figured out which) decided to launch a free app that pays people for answering trivia questions. HQ became a sensation, sweeping offices, college campuses, and anywhere else where people like winning money and wasting time.
But that was just the beginning of the Free Money Phone Trivia Phenomenon. Shortly after HQ’s breakout success, dozens—literally dozens—of other startups jumped into the phone trivia game. Almost all of these apps rip off HQ in some capacity (nearly all of them offer 12-question games, even though 10 or 15 would easily work), and nearly all lag behind HQ in some notable way: If you think HQhost Scott Rogowsky is annoying or that the app glitches too often, I urge you to venture into the world of HQ knockoffs, where not-ready-for-prime-time hosts awkwardly stumble through games that are significantly more likely to get wiped out by technical difficulties.
However, there is one critical area in which many imitators do not fall short: They award actual money to winners, typically promptly and without hassle. In fact, there have been times when knockoff games featuring significantly fewer users than HQ have offered larger prize pools.
I used to pay money to play trivia; now, I make enough money playing trivia that it’s a legitimate side hustle. I have 14 trivia apps on my phone, and since I started keeping track in March, I’ve won a grand total of $1,790 playing trivia—an average of $15.84 per day. I’m the no. 2 all-time winner on a game called Halftime Live, having won $536 in that app alone. (Catching the no. 1 player has become my primary goal in life.) I’ve won at least $100 on five different apps (HQ, Halftime Live, Cash Show, SwagIQ, and Joyride), and at least $50 on four others (Hangtime, HypSports, The Q, and Beat the Q).
While a lot of my trivia success comes down to, well, knowing random stuff—I have waited my whole life to monetize my knowledge of the president of France being considered a co-prince of Andorra—I have also picked up some tips along the way that I think could help anybody make a quick trivia buck. Well, assuming that person is willing to spend several hours each day staring at questions on a phone and ignoring the rest of the world.
In June, I was particularly devastated after missing the final question on the app SwagIQ. The question asked which of three scenarios involving the World Cup trophy had really happened; one of the options was that the trophy had been stolen, and that it was later found by a dog named Pickles. I quickly eliminated this from the running—I love dogs, international sporting events, and reading Wikipedia pages for various heists. Surely, I figured, I would know if the World Cup trophy had once been recovered by a dog named Pickles.
But lo and behold: In 1966 the World Cup trophy was stolen, and Pickles, a mixed breed collie, found it. I was distraught to have missed out on the money, but glad to have learned about Pickles, the very good boy. And that knowledge would later help me. On the July 5 midnight game of HQ, the 11th question asked: “Which of these things happened to the World Cup trophy in the 1960s?” Like a faithful dog fetching a ball (or a stolen World Cup trophy), Pickles returned what I had lost. Thank you, Pickles—I hope you’re getting plenty of belly rubs up there in puppy heaven, buddy.
If you play enough trivia apps, you will start to see repeat questions. I have been asked which movie was the first to feature a flushing toilet on screen (Psycho) at least three times. Part of this seems like coincidence: When two sports trivia games, HypSports and Halftime Live, held games with Stanley Cup–themed questions on the same day, both asked how the Toronto Maple Leafs’ name is misspelled on the trophy. (It’s MAPLE LEAES.) I don’t think this was trivia plagiarism, just bizarre timing. There are only so many quirky facts.
But writing trivia questions can be hard, especially for apps with multiple daily shows that require 24 or 36 fun facts per day. I logged at least five instances in which questions from a game called Cash Show(“How many red stripes are on the American flag?”; “Which is the only continent that doesn’t have bees?”; “What is a petrichor?”) were later used in a game called The Q. The writers for these apps are definitely watching their competitors—and not just for inspiration about ways to improve their games.
I decided to start taking notes. If I miss a question, I’ll write it down in the hope that doing so commits that fact to my brain. And don’t turn off a game after you lose! You’ll learn something if you keep playing—and trivia is about learning, right?