This week marks 10 years since what has come to be known as the Tucson Trivia Robot Riot made national headlines. The Arizona Globe contacted the relevant individuals, both human and robot, to construct this oral history.
Roger Leeling (owner, The Thirsty Skink) We started having Trivia Tuesday at the bar to increase sales. For the first two years it did exactly what it was supposed to. Then the robot started showing up.
Jamie Franklin (trivia host) The first time the robot came in, no one noticed until after the contest. He sat in the back corner where the lighting’s not great. They kicked everyone’s a**. It wasn’t close at all.
Brooklyn Styles (trivia enthusiast, captain of team “Girl Power”) I was sitting at the table next to “Team Science” that first night. Their team captain acted as spokesman, but the strange-looking guy in the corner was obviously feeding him the answers.
Abbey Finch (team “Girl Power”) Brooklyn said she thought something was off about the guy in the back. His hair didn’t seem to fit his head. After they won, I decided to walk by and get a closer look. There were wires coming out of the guy’s neck!
Leeling A customer told me that one of the members of “Team Science” was a robot. I didn’t believe her. But, just to make her happy, I said I’d have Jamie check it out.
Albert Pearl (amateur robotics scientist, captain of variously named trivia teams) I had just collected our fifty bucks and was headed back to the table when I saw the host talking to Barney.
Barney the Robot (trivia robot) Professor Pearl said, “Run!” I ran out the front door. I am fast!
Franklin That robot ran really slowly. I can walk faster. I think one of its legs was several inches shorter than the other. It was kind of pitiful. No one even tried to chase him.
Leeling I put up a “No Robots” sign on the Skink’s front door. I’ve got nothing against robots, but the human players didn’t stand a chance against him. It was bad for business.
Robot If I answer many trivia questions correctly, Professor Pearl promises to turn me into a real boy. And he’ll get me a dog too!
On March 12th and 19th, Barney the Robot and Albert Pearl used disguises to gain access to Trivia Tuesday.
Franklin First, the robot had a long white beard and Albert Pearl wore a baseball cap. The following week the robot had on the baseball cap and Pearl had the fake beard. They weren’t very creative with their disguises. But I didn’t give a s*** if a robot/human team or an all human team won. I got paid fifteen dollars and two free drinks either way.
Leeling I’d needed glasses for years. But I’d just turned forty, been through a bad breakup, and was feeling self- conscious about my appearance. I looked younger without glasses. So, yes, the fake beard tricked me and I gave them the fifty bucks again. Twice.
Franklin Honestly, I have no idea how they got past security every week.
Shane Popoff (former Thirsty Skink bouncer/doorman) I just let them in. I’ve always liked robots. Robots are tight. Plus, trivia nerds are annoying. Have they heard of the Internet? No one cares what you remember. My phone remembers more.
Styles By the third week, every time the robot’s team answered a question the other teams would boo. It was getting pretty rowdy. A few people even started throwing tater tots at the robot’s team.
Robot Humans began throwing cylindrical potatoes at us. Scary!
The next week, on March 26th, the robot did not attempt to participate in Tuesday Trivia.
Finch Our team won that week. Everyone had a really good time. We thought the tater tots had sent them a message and they weren’t coming back.
Pearl My mother was visiting from Florida that week. That’s why we didn’t show up. I definitely did not have to rewire the robot so that he wasn’t scared of tater tots.
On April 2, Pearl and the Robot were met by a large group of human trivia players as they attempted to enter The Thirsty Skink.
Styles Abbey came into the Skink and said she saw Pearl and the robot walking up the street to the bar. Everybody went outside.
Popoff The trivia nerds were yelling and screaming and pointing to the “No Robots” sign. It was really sad to see a nice, friendly robot being treated that way.
Clint Howland (captain of team “Golf Life”) We’d been prepping for “Michael J. Fox Trivia Night” for weeks. Watching “Family Ties” and “Spin City” like fiends. We weren’t letting that robot spoil our fun. No chance.
Leeling I’d been to my ophthalmologist and gotten hooked up with a bunch of disposable contact lenses, so when I looked outside to see what all the commotion was about, I could see the robot. I went out to make sure things didn’t get out of hand.
Pearl The owner said he wasn’t letting Barney in. Bar policy. Which was completely unfair. The only rule at Trivia Night was “no internet.” Barney doesn’t use the Internet. He stores all the answers on his hard drive.
Leeling I told Pearl if the robot left, he could come in. But he wouldn’t be able to play, because a team had to have at least two members.
Pearl and the robot left the premises, and the crowd returned to the bar. Ten minutes later, Pearl returned, carrying a backpack and accompanied by another man.
Nicholas Evans (homeless resident of Tucson, team “Professor’s Revenge”) I was camping a couple blocks away from The Thirsty Skink. Some guy said he’d buy me a beer if I’d be on his trivia team. I told him I wanted chicken fingers too.
Popoff I had to check the dude’s backpack before I let him in, so I saw the robot head. I thought it was hilarious. I let them right in.
Robot My head is easily detached from my body. I like riding in backpacks!
Howland Team “Professor’s Revenge” knew all the answers, even a question about “Life With Mikey!” No one’s seen that movie. Something was up. My buddy Avery and I went over and accused them of cheating. A voice was coming out of Pearl’s backpack! I thought he had a phone in there. I grabbed the backpack. Then things got crazy.
Robot I fell out of the backpack and slid across the floor. Sliding is fun!
Bryson Heath (bar patron) I was just there to drink. I’d been sipping whiskey for hours. I don’t like trivia. Or robots.
Styles The robot’s head slid over to the bar and stopped by some guy’s feet. He kicked it toward us. I just reacted on reflex and kicked it away.
Robot Being kicked is bad. I called my body for help!
Leeling All of a sudden, the robot’s body walks through the door. It can’t see without its head, and it’s crashing into tables. Knocking people down. Breaking plates and glasses.
Franklin I was up on stage. I didn’t think the robot could climb stairs, so I felt pretty safe. I started filming everything with my phone.
Heath The robot’s body was knocking people down. I tried to help by punching it. But I missed and accidentally punched some trivia dork. It felt good, so I just kept punching dorks.
Leeling People were fighting. Throwing glasses. Kicking the robot’s head around. I called 9-1-1. While I was on the phone, the robot’s body stumbled into the kitchen.
Robot My body could not find my head. It is hard to find things without eyes!
Yocelyn Manzanares (former cook at The Thirsty Skink) A headless robot came into the kitchen and started thrashing around. I went home. I didn’t get paid enough to fight robots.
Leeling The robot accidentally started a fire as it was leaving the kitchen. Some people ran outside when the fire alarm went off. Others were so drunk they kept fighting.
Robot A human kicked my head and it stopped right between my legs. I picked it up and put it back on. Professor Pearl said, “Time to go home!”
Evans The guy and his robot just walked out. I never got my chicken strips. It was a bull**** deal.
The Thirsty Skink burned to the ground that night. Fifteen people were hospitalized with first degree burns and the effects of smoke inhalation. Miraculously, no one died. The cell phone video Jamie Franklin took became a viral sensation, racking up over seventeen million views and leading to the production of a moderately successful Marky Mark Wahlberg movie about the day’s events.
Police forced Albert Pearl to modify Barney the Robot as a precaution against further accidental violence.
Robot I no longer have arms or legs. I sit on a couch!