How to Win $20,000 — or Have a Lot of Fun Trying

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper / Money Talks News

I love trivia. I own numerous themed editions of the board game Trivial Pursuit, used to play “Jeopardy!” with my Amazon Echo and once won trivia night at a bar by knowing all the names of the Bradford kids in TV’s “Eight Is Enough.” (My husband still laughs when he imitates the losing team muttering, “They got ALL EIGHT?” Tip: Everyone forgets Joanie.)

Earlier this year, my husband and I discovered HQ Trivia, a free app and live trivia game available for download for iOS and Android devices. You simply download the app and then log in when a game is scheduled to play — at no charge to you. There’s a cash prize that’s usually $5,000 (split among all winners), but has been as high as $300,000. So you might win 50 cents, or you might win $20,000. Read on to find out more.

How it works

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper / Money Talks News

The game couldn’t be simpler. It asks 12 multiple-choice questions (15 on nights with bigger prizes) about everything from movies to geography to science. You only have 10 seconds per question to touch the correct answer, and if you get any answer wrong, you’re out of the game.

So far, my husband has won twice, splitting the pot with hundreds of others each time. Once he won $1.98, once he won $7.01. I’ve gotten as far as the second-to-the-last question before blowing it. (I’ve also had my smartphone connection go on the fritz on me just as I was feeling good about my chances.) But as much as we’d love to claim the big money, we don’t expect to retire on our HQ winnings. We’re just having fun.

If you’d like to join the game, here are my top tips:

Get extra lives from your friends

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When you log in to play, the game also has an INVITE button that you can use to email your friends about why they should play. Don’t spam everyone you’ve ever met (that’s really annoying), but do tell those fellow trivia-heads in your contacts list. The reason? If they play, they can enter your in-game name as a referral code. (Make sure to remind them to do this, as it’s not required.) That gets you an extra life, meaning you can get one question wrong and still jump right back in the game. So even though it may seem like you don’t want your smart friends as competition, you do want those referrals. (Maybe only invite the friends you know you can beat.)

Use those extra lives wisely

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If you have an extra life waiting to be used, the game will automatically try to use it and put you back in the game the second you get a question wrong. If you don’t want to use it on one of the weekday games, when the prize may be pennies, you’ve got to be quick on the draw. Watch your screen as soon as you’re shown you got the answer wrong. There’ll be an option for you to save that extra life for another time. (Sunday and sometimes Wednesday nights are usually the big prizes.) But if you don’t stop the game from using it within five seconds, too late, you’re using that life now.

Use every bit of that 10 seconds

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Ten seconds goes by stunningly fast. Keep an eye on the little circle at the top of the screen once a question is asked. A purple line slowly encircles the photo of that day’s host. Once the line makes a full circle, your time is up. It’s smart not to grab the first answer that comes into your head, but to pause, breathe and make sure it’s still the one you’re leaning towards. Then don’t wait too long to punch the answer you choose. I’ve run out of time before.

Keep your device charged

MooNoi_Amphol / Shutterstock.com

OK, an obvious one, maybe, but whether you’re playing on iPhone, iPad or Android phone, make sure to charrrrrrrge it! The last thing you want is to be about to win cash by hitting the right answer for the final question when your phone battery indicator turns red and flickers out. I try to have my phone charging while I play, just in case.

Read the question carefully

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As you play a bit, you’ll find the first two questions are usually “gimmes” — really simple questions with one obvious right answer and two joke answers. But they get harder! Make sure you read each question carefully and understand what it’s asking. Does it want to know which word does, or does NOT mean the same as another? Is it asking about the largest state by area, or by population? The better you understand the question, the more likely you are to get it right.

Play with pals

Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock.com

Two heads are better than one, the old cliché goes. And that’s never more true than in HQ. My husband is out of this world on space questions and never met a volcano question he didn’t lava. I’m able to book it to the finish line on any literature questions and am totally tubular about any trivia involving the 1980s. The more people you have in one room to play, the more chance you have that someone knows the answer. (Many groups play at the office — but either make sure it’s on an officially sanctioned break, or that your boss is playing, too.)

Be smart about guessing

Dean Drobot / Shutterstock.com

Sometimes, you just won’t know the answer. Business Insider interviewed Peter Manley, who won $20,000 recently. The final question that day was about a line from “Dirty Dancing,” a movie he’s never seen, but he happened to make a lucky guess. You can make those lucky guesses smarter by carefully sizing up the other choices. Sometimes there’s one choice that stands out as being too weird to be the right answer. Oftentimes though, it is, because the two answers that sound correct were made up by HQ staffers trying to pick answers that will fool you.

Search smart, if you search at all

Denys Prykhodov / Shutterstock.com

It’s tough to do a successful internet search for something in 10 seconds and still decipher and hit the right answer. But you can try. It works better if you’re playing with a friend who can follow along and quickly try to Google the answer to a stumper of a question and shout out the answer. I successfully did this only once, when the question was asking for the simple definition of a word (I’ve since forgotten the word entirely). In general, though, searching won’t help much because the question-and-answer time is so short.

Keep watching the game after you lose

SFIO CRACHO / Shutterstock.com

If you’re eliminated, obviously you can close the app and go back to whatever you were doing before you played. But if you hang on, you can watch the rest of the game, even though if you try to answer any more questions, the game will just remind you that you were eliminated. It’s not that these questions are likely to ever be reused, but the more questions you read, the more you get a sense of how the game goes.

Look for clues in the chat

Master1305 / Shutterstock.com

HQ lets players chat with each other while the game is going on. As with most live chats, the comments are mostly garbage, a lot of bad spelling, random capitalization and nonsensical blather. You can choose to hide the comments and avoid the distraction of reading them. But if you’re a newbie or unsure of your trivia knowledge, you may want to leave them on for the first few times you play. For whatever reason, people often will type in the answer they pick in the chat. Now many times they’re just trolling, typing in one of the goofy wrong answers to be funny, but many people do type in the correct answer or give a clue to it. If you’re stuck on a question and time is running out, you may want to choose the answer you’re seeing most in the chatter.

Follow HQ on Twitter

Twitter/HQ Trivia / Money Talks News

The game has a Twitter account, and its main host, Scott Rogowsky, has urged fans to follow it by saying that the tweets sometimes give away answers. He immediately backtracked to say it was only answers to the first or second question, which are easy-peasy anyway, but it can’t hurt. Another good reason to follow @hqtrivia on Twitter is to make sure you know when the big-money prizes are scheduled. In April, actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson joined Rogowsky to host a special $300,000 prize game sponsored by Johnson’s new movie, “Rampage.”

Don’t forget to play

Denys Prykhodov / Shutterstock.com

I saved the most obvious tip for last: You can’t win if you don’t play. Right now, HQ has a live game twice on weekdays, at noon PT/3 p.m. ET, and again at 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET. There’s usually one Saturday game at 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET, and one big-prize game at that same time Sunday nights. But you need to keep on top of it, as game times can change without warning. And even when the game sticks to its same time schedule, I’ve been known to forget. If the game has an especially big prize, I’ll set an alarm to remind me. Sounds silly, but someday, they’re going to ask about the “Eight Is Enough” kids, and that cold, hard cash will be mine!

Are you or family members playing HQ Trivia? Any winnings so far? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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