If you had gone into the library at noon on most school days in late November and early December, you most likely would have found a group of seniors huddled around their phones playing HQ, a trivia game that became very popular late in the fall.
HQ is a free live trivia app. The goal is to correctly answer 12 random trivia questions that get progressively harder as the game continues.
The app was co-founded by Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll, who have started multiple apps together, including Vine, a video-sharing app that shut down last year.
HQ airs twice a day, at noon and 6 p.m. on weekdays, and only at 6 p.m. on weekends.
The number of players participating in every game ranges; sometimes as few as 400,000 people participate, but at other times the number gets much higher. For example, 730,000 people took part in Christmas Eve’s game, according to Business Insider.
Why is HQ so popular at school? And how did it get into the app store’s top charts?
Well, for starters, there’s the cash prize.
Since the game was launched in August, the prize money has increased from $100 to $1500; on special occasions, it can be even higher. For example, HQ had an $18,000 jackpot to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
But this raises a question: How can HQ give away thousands of dollars every day?
Instead of gaining sponsors who fund their app in return for featured ads or questions, HQ’s prizes are paid for by high-profile investors, who are expecting it to grow in popularity.
But winning thousands of dollars in the game isn’t very likely, according to senior Jake Longoria, who used to play HQ every day, both by himself and with fellow students.
For one, Longoria said that winning isn’t easy.
Players have only 10 seconds to answer each of the 12 questions, and Longoria said that by the time one reaches the fifth, the game begins to get extremely difficult.
Here is the first question of a game that Longoria took part in: “Single-celled organisms only have one what?: Phone contract, prison bunk buddy, or cell.”
Due to the obvious answer, few participants were eliminated after this round.
However, not many questions are that easy.
This was once the tenth question of the game: “The founder of McDonald’s once owned which baseball team?: Houston Astros, San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds.”
The correct answer was the San Diego Padres, but Longoria said that this obscure and random fact made the question particularly hard.
Longoria added that the questions’ themes and the players’ knowledge are also key.
“Sports questions are usually pretty easy for (me),” Longoria said.
“But, for instance, art questions, where they ask about sculptures or painters, are really hard.”
He also said that questions based on TV shows or songs from certain eras can be particularly difficult for high school players.
Furthermore, Longoria said that trick questions thrown into the beginning of the game often eliminate large groups of people.
One in particular was “Which one of these animal’s horns is not made of ivory: walrus, rhino, or elk?”
According to Longoria, this was the third question in one game.
He said that 180,000 people, including him, chose elk, but the correct answer was rhino.
And Longoria pointed out that even after all of these obstacles, players who do answer every question right still don’t walk away with the full cash prize.
Instead, the money is split amongst the winners, of which there can be hundreds.
In some games, the prizes are as low as $16 a person, while in others a single player will take it all.
Longoria said that while playing on his own, he has reached only question eight before getting one wrong, but playing collaboratively, either in a group or with just one other person, he has gotten as far as question 10.
“(My friends and I) have come up with a system,” Longoria said.
“There are only three possible answers, so if we have absolutely no idea, we will each put a different one, and that way we know that at least one person will (make it) through.”
Sophomore Jackson Margolis, who started playing HQ with his family over winter break, agreed that playing in a group is the only way to win but said that it also has disadvantages.
“My parents will take a long time to think the question through, even though there isn’t a lot of time to answer,” Margolis said.
“There will only be (a few) seconds left and they’ll still be thinking, so I’ll just press a random answer and it will end up being wrong.”
And Margolis said that the game can be frustrating in other ways, too.
He said that mistakes made by the host or poor Wi-Fi connection can also make the game particularly stressful.
“One time we were playing and the first question was really hard, but we guested and got it right,” Margolis said.
“But (it turned out that) that question was actually supposed to be the eighth, so they re-started the game, which was really annoying.”
He also said that spotty Wi-Fi sometimes causes the screen to freeze, which “can be really nerve-racking.”
“(The game) isn’t super glitchy, but when you are playing to win money and it isn’t perfectly smooth it can be really frustrating,” Margolis said.
In addition to the glitches, Margolis said that the game’s host, Scott Rogowsky, can be “super annoying.”
Margolis said that in addition to his obnoxious voice, Rogowsky is repetitive, especially for someone who plays twice every day.
“He has these specific phrases that just get old fast,” Margolis said.
For example, while the players are trying to choose an answer he will say “What are you tapping? What are you tapping?” Margolis said.
According to Margolis, the occasional guest hosts are much more entertaining.
But Longoria disagreed, saying that he prefers Rogowsky.
“He’s funny in a goofy kind of way,” Longoria said.
Longoria said he found out about HQ from fellow senior Harkirat Lally.
“(One day) we all started playing together on his phone,” Longoria said. “The next day we had all gotten it ourselves.”
Lally said that he discovered the app in a YouTube video.
Lally, who has also reached only question eight, said that the game is a mix of both knowledge and chance.
“I play to win,” Lally said. “But after a certain point, it’s just luck. The questions become super random.
“After question four or five, I usually have to guess.”
However, Longoria said that the harder second half of the game can also be the most fun.
“It’s pretty exhilarating,” Longoria said. “Especially when you get past questions four and five, it gets intense.”
But he agreed with Lally that without being a trivia expert or playing in a large group, the chance to win is pretty slim.
Longoria said that although he tries to play as often as he can, everyday commitments sometimes conflict with when HQ streams.
“It can be hard with basketball games, which usually start at 7 p.m.,” Longoria said.
And Lally said that he is just as unlikely to play every game.
“I’m already getting burnt out,” Lally said. “I’ll play when I’m not busy, but I feel like playing less every time I lose.”
Margolis and Longoria agreed.
“I was really into it for two to three weeks, playing every single day twice a day,” Margolis said.
“But you just get bored fast.”
And Longoria pointed out that as the game gets more popular, there is almost no chance of winning a large amount of money.
Both Longoria and Lally said that they believe that they still might win someday, even if their prize wouldn’t be thousands of dollars.
“It’s all about who is playing and what questions they happen to ask,” Longoria said.
“If they ask two sports questions in the later rounds, it would be pretty easy.”
—By Anna Frankel