Is It Rude to Play HQ on a Date?

I have no actual data on this, but from what I can tell, HQ Time — that is, 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. — has recently overtaken “lunchtime” and “nap time” in the category of “times people look forward during in their day.” In fact, as the trivia app grows in popularity, it’s begun to infiltrate other areas of fans’ lives. Their real-world social lives, for example.

Recently, a friend of mine, a self-described avid HQT (yes, this is what players call themselves), described “the lowest moment” of her HQ fandom, which took place during a first date last week.

She’d arrived a few minutes before 9 p.m. “That’s when I received a push notification warning me that the evening HQ round was about to begin.” Don’t worry, she told her date: “I would never interfere with a meaningful human experience for the sake of an HQ game.” “What’s HQ?” he replied. “And that’s when I went full infomercial knife-salesman. Within five minutes, he had downloaded the app and typed in my code. ‘Oh my god I think I love you,’ I said. Then things got real quiet. It’s safe to say I’ll never see him again.”

An iPhone app that broadcasts a twice-daily live quiz show (with cash prizes), HQ is like Jeopardy for the cord-cutting generation, or bar trivia for people who love trivia a lot, but can’t commit to a standing, multi-hour, drunken weeknight activity. It’s also a thing people won’t stop talking about right now. It’s 9 p.m.: Do you know where your friends are? Wherever they are, I bet they’re crouched over their iPhones, unable to respond to texts, phone calls, or in-person conversation for the next 15 to 18 minutes.

When the app debuted in August, tens of thousands of users would log on to play. But by this fall — after a splashy, interest-grabbing public meltdown by co-founder and CEO Rus Yusupov, who spastically tried to shut down a profile of the show’s beloved host, Scott Rogowsky, a.k.a. Quiz Daddy — the number of HQTs who log on to play now number in the hundreds of thousands each game. The game has reached 2012 Candy Crush levels of addiction.

When 3 p.m. or 9 p.m. rolls around, the HQ notification appears, or else the the reminder alarm that some people admit to setting goes off, and usually someone will also text or slack me “HQ time” — or, if I’m in a group, at least one person will alert everyone else, and the phones come out. Recently, it’s gotten so routine, that I’ve found myself itching to whip out my phone at 3 p.m. or 9 p.m. no matter what is going on: work, a serious conversation with a friend, a birthday dinner. Friends have admitted, grudgingly, that HQ now aligns with their afternoon bathroom-break time: HQ while you’re pooping appears to be the new normal. Now that this app game has fully infiltrated our social spaces, what’s the acceptable behavior?

“For a while it was like you knew it was 3 p.m. because everyone was huddled around and being all loud,” explains Cristina Martin, a casual player. If there’s any space that should be HQ appropriate, it feels like it ought to be the office. Who cares if it requires people to flagrantly ignore their jobs for a quarter of an hour? It’s an easy and brief bout of co-worker bonding! Some people do care, however. One of my HQ friends won’t play the 3 p.m. game since starting a new job, and another recalls her boss having to intervene in their work Slack. “Me and a handful of other trivia enthusiasts grew aggressive as we tried to convince our peers to download the app and enter our personalized codes. Eventually our boss had to swoop in and tell everyone to get back to work.”

But like getting together an office trivia night at a bar, HQ play fosters a sense of bonding, a healthy spirit of competition, and a break from the work grind. Martin agrees, with a caveat: Don’t get disruptive. “I think it brings people together and offers nice water cooler talk, but other times people got so rowdy I’ve had to tell them to shut up so I could work.”

The daytime game has less room for social faux pas; it’s the 9 p.m. game that usually strikes when people are out doing other things, with other people. Personally, I’ve had to stop myself from slipping into the bathroom during a movie and a concert. More than once, I have not stopped myself from playing at a party instead of talking to people — claiming that I was “Oh, just checking my Instagram,” which is somehow a slightly more accepted excuse for staring down at your phone for 15 minutes.

Group dinners, everyone agrees, are the worst environment for HQ. “If everyone is down, you can do it,” says Martin. But: “Overall I think it’s distracting to the evening. If you want to slip out and say you ‘have to make a phone call,’ that’s fine, I guess. But if you insist on playing at the table and nobody else does, if you win, you have to buy the meal.”

So is that the answer — convince everyone to play with you? “It’s better to get the whole party involved, says Dan Robinson (a once a day, every day player). “It’s totally not rude if you get other people into it with you,” he says. “My goal was to get people involved and all play on my app if we were out together. It’s actually a pretty fun real-world social experience. My wife’s cousins and I did it at dinner together at a restaurant over Thanksgiving.”

Perhaps the only socially acceptable HQ usage — aside from doing it covertly, during 3 p.m. bathroom trips or in the comfort of your own home — is to transform HQ into a group activity. Ignore the Black Mirror vibes, ignore the fact that you’re in a group of people just staring at their phones, and think how every gathering — be it work, a date, a christening, a church picnic, a wedding — could be a trivia game. A cab ride home suddenly becomes a quiz show! A birthday party gets an extra boost when everyone comes together and starts doing the same activity on their phones. It’s almost (almost) beautiful.

And what does that look like? Let me paint a recent picture, a familiar scene from our HQ era. At 9 p.m. at a recent party, HQ notifications went off. People exchanged eye contact, broke off conversations with non-HQTs: It was HQ time. The HQTs flocked into a circle, standing shoulder to shoulder, holding their phones and watching the two-minute countdown — silent, except when answering the onlookers who asked, What’s HQ? These people leaned in to learn, and were gently persuaded to download it. The game started, and for 12 beautiful minutes, we were a nucleus of trivia energy. Did we look like jackasses? Maybe! Or did the other 95 percent of the party who weren’t HQing look like the jackasses?

Food for thought: When I sent out an email blast to a friend to ask if they would talk about their HQ habits, the conversation turned into a chain of exchanges about the game, and one friend replied all, “I haven’t signed up or played :( ”

Oh, I wrote back, does it make it feel like you don’t have friends?

“Yes,” he said, “Please quote me on that.”

Accept It, You’d Rather Play HQ Than Talk to People