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This new trivia app is the smartphone obsession you never asked for

At 3 P.M. every weekday, thousands of people, no matter whether they’re at work or in school, are on their smartphones with fingers poised, ready to answer live trivia questions.

Get it right, and move on to the next question. Get it wrong, and you’re out. Get enough right, and you could end up with a cash prize. It’s that simple.

Except that nobody’s ever quite done this before. HQ isn’t just another trivia app. It’s a live game show for the Snapchat generation—and everybody gets to play. In a matter of weeks, the mobile game has created the kind of buzz that its founders have seen before. It’s the kind of buzz they got when they launched Vine (RIP).

Here’s how it works. Twice a day during the week (and once a day on weekends) HQ hosts a live trivia-based game show with cash prizes. Anybody and everybody with an iPhone can play—and thousands already do.

The scarcity has made HQ an instant obsession. The games are only 15 minutes long with 12 multiple-choice questions each and have real hosts like Scott Rogowsky, live from New York City. Beer may not be flowing from the local bar, but there’s conversation via a seemingly endless thread of comments below the live video.

Trivia on smartphones isn’t a new concept. QuizUp and Trivia Crack had their moments of viral fame. But there’s a few things different about HQ that has already hooked 15,000 participants a game. For one, there’s money on the table. Winners split a jackpot, which has varied from $100 to $1250. Also, HQ’s scheduled times (3 and 9 p.m.) have inspired people to mark their calendars so they don’t miss out:

You know you’re in deep when you start making calendar appointments to play @hqtriviapic.twitter.com/01OhEZ5nhR

— Michael Malcolm (@michaelBmalcolm) October 23, 2017

And has inspired entire offices to stop working and play:

I accidentally got the entire @Vimeo office playing @hqtrivia.

— Mark Cersosimo (@markinhifi) September 26, 2017

Everyone in the office is debating skipping a client meeting to play @hqtrivia instead and I love it.

— Tom Conte (@cometton) October 24, 2017

Our office when today’s @hqtrivia game crashed: pic.twitter.com/0bDzSRBXrM

— john macaluso (@Johnny_Mac89) October 24, 2017

“You can’t find a perfect time for everyone, so we’re airing at times when people across the country are going to be taking a break from work or out with friends or relaxing at home with the family. But a big key for us is that the games aren’t a big commitment, just 15 minutes,” Rus Yusupov, cofounder of HQ , wrote in an email to Mashable.

Yusupov is quite the expert in short-but-delightful experiences on smartphones. He and his cofounder Colin Kroll are two of the minds behind Vine, the six-second video app that Twitter acquired in 2012 and then shut down almost exactly a year ago. On that day, Yusupov tweeted, “Don’t sell your company!”

“Our audience is really varied, and we see a lot of families playing together. Who doesn’t like trivia?”

Vine, like many social and gaming apps, had its time of virality but withered as Instagram and Snapchat grew with their own versions of short-form videos. Of course, HQ could go the same way if a competitor were to mimic the experience. But so far, so good for HQ. After quietly rolling out in July and then making a public debut last week, it’s now grown to more than 10,000 players every game.

“Last night we had a record 14,000 people playing at the same time,” Kroll wrote in an Oct. 23 email. “Two weeks ago we had a few thousand, so it’s been spreading quickly. Our audience is really varied, and we see a lot of families playing together. Who doesn’t like trivia?”

HQ is a new type of distraction for smartphone owners, and unlike Vine which never made money directly, HQ already has potential revenue options. Users can earn extra lives by inviting others to play. In the future, HQ could introduce in-app purchases.

Buying extra lives on @hqtrivia will be a strong monetization technique as will integrated “brand” jackpots ($50k from Sprite today)

— Norgard (@BrianNorgard) October 23, 2017

“We’ve got lots to come. We’re always thinking about how to make the gameplay more fun on your own or with friends. And of course, the prizes will grow. Can we keep going until we hit $1,000,000? I think we can,” Yusupov wrote.

The cash prizes are currently pulled from HQ’s venture capital funding. The team raised a few million dollars in a seed round from Lightspeed Venture Partners via partner Jeremy Liew, one of the earliest investors in Snapchat. Kroll said they’re open to sponsorships for higher prizes.

The team is lean, yet growing. The cofounders declined to comment on headcount but said they are hiring for their NYC headquarters. One of the most important projects going forward, according to Kroll, is building an Android version since the app is currently only available on iPhones.

What? There’s no @hqtrivia on Android?

— Alex Micu (@axelk) October 23, 2017

At my first game, I was out on question four. But I haven’t stop playing, in part thanks to some encouragement from Yusupov.

“Not bad for a first timer,” he wrote after I shared my score. “You’re just warming up!”

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