Travel companion: UVA alum’s trivia app serves as a virtual escape during lockdown

A lifelong love of trivia and a few game show appearances inspired Donnie Edgemon to develop Triviappolis Treasures, a city-based game that goes deep on a locality’s details.
Publicity photo A lifelong love of trivia and a few game show appearances inspired Donnie Edgemon to develop Triviappolis Treasures, a city-based game that goes deep on a locality’s details. Publicity photo

Who is the city of Leesburg, Virginia, named after?

If you answered Robert E. Lee, you may need to study up. If, however, you said the city is named for Thomas Lee, an ancestor of the well-known Confederate general, you’d be a good candidate to play Triviappolis Treasures, a travel-based trivia app created by University of Virginia alum Donnie Edgemon.

An idea born out of a lifelong love of trivia—and a game show run that included appearances on “Jeopardy!” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”—led Edgemon to begin developing the app in March. The goal was to create a city-based trivia game, designed to allow tourists to test their knowledge along their trip route.

“The day I don’t remember playing on ‘Jeopardy!’ anymore is the day you can put me down.” Donnie Edgemon (Publicity photo/Jeopardy!)

But even as Edgemon was reaching out to fellow trivia-loving UVA graduates and professional trivia writers for help crafting locally based questions that would inspire users to travel, the United States was closing its airports and borders.

As the app got closer to its June launch, it became clear the world into which it was launching was not the same one Edgemon had once envisioned.

“We knew the world was different in terms of travel and that it might still be different when we launched, it might still be different for months afterwards,” Edgemon says. “But we always knew there would be two stories to tell.”

Ideally, the app would serve as a travel companion. But the second story, which the app’s marketing has focused on, is even more relevant in our COVID-struck reality: The game itself can serve as a substitute for travel. Now more than ever, selecting a new category is far more feasible than booking a flight.

“In the long run, I’m not sure it really matters,” Edgemon says. “I think curiosity is curiosity, and if you want to learn things, if you’re stuck at home, you can learn. If you’re stimulated to learn because you’re changing planes at O’Hare, that’s great too. I think we have a solution whether you’re on the road or not, because everybody likes to at least think about being on the road.”

Edgemon has loved trivia since he watched Alex Trebek’s “Jeopardy!” debut in 1984. His own appearance on “Jeopardy!” introduced him to the tight-knit world of trivia’s elite, a network of show alumni that opened the door for future game show appearances and helped him find backers for his own trivia game. Listing “Jeopardy!” on a resume is the gold standard for quiz show enthusiasts.

“The day I don’t remember playing on ‘Jeopardy!’ anymore is the day you can put me down,” Edgemon laughs. “Drive me out into the woods and just leave me there, because I’m done. This is so important to me.”

It’s not surprising that an app that challenges players to know the difference between generations of the Lee family was created by an American history buff. Drawing on that knowledge helped Edgemon collect money during both of his game show appearances. It also shaped the first sets of questions he wrote for his app, based on the history of Washington, D.C., and his mom’s hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.

Inspired by “Jeopardy!,” which can pack 61 clues into a 30-minute episode, he stuffed  as much information into his game as possible. Thirteen-thousand questions later, a combination of user-submitted and expert-generated trivia has expanded Triviappolis Treasures to include 51 cities. The team behind the app, Edgemon, Steve Nerheim, Brad Lucas, Brian King, Jack Miller, and Laura Miller, are all UVA alumni. But Edgemon hopes to use the game’s wide scope to push the app further than Charlottesville.

“This has kind of spun off as a Charlottesville or UVA thing, and if we can get out of Charlottesville, that would be even better,” Edgemon says. “The best thing we can do to grow is create a product that people like enough to tell their friends about, and I think that’s happening.”—Julia Stumbaugh

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