Kacie Hackett grew up in Ashaway, lives in Alexandria, Va., and each Thursday night connects people from all over the world — including many local residents of Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Last March, Hackett, 31, who graduated from Chariho High, started hosting Zoom-based trivia games for her friends when their favorite bars and restaurants — places they used to go for trivia nights — were forced to shut their doors due to pandemic-related protocols.
Hackett’s “Distantly Social Trivia” became so popular — it was shared among friends and friends of friends — that it became a bit of a phenomenon with members from virtually everywhere.
“It’s fun for everyone,” Hackett said. “We have all generations from all over.”
“As long as you can log into Zoom, you can play,” she added. “I tried to make it as simple as possible.”
Friends in the D.C. area soon became regulars; her mother, Barbara Passarello of Ashaway, began to play, as did her best friend, Anna Blake of North Stonington.
“Just like that we created a virtual trivia community,” said Hackett, who is also a comedian, an event planner and an altruist. “It was pretty cool.”
Soon, the trivia game was the subject of a feature story in the Washington Post.
Noelle Mateer, a Pennsylvania-based writer who used to play pub trivia with a friend every week when she lived in Beijing, wrote the Post story about Hackett’s Zoom trivia.
Playing trivia, Mateer said, “was such a great way to hang out with friends of mine in different cities and even countries.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, she said, “a lot of us were still trying to figure out how to have fun over Zoom.”
“There were a ton of structureless Zoom happy hours, which could often drag,” she added. “But Kacie had it all figured out, and took the burden of hosting and facilitating conversation off our shoulders.”
“Hackett asks about everything from current events to ancient history,” Mateer said in her Post article, “then drops fun questions into our chat window between rounds that serve as conversation starters.”
Hackett collects answers via Google forms, then reads the questions aloud and shows them on the screen during the games.
Each game includes four rounds of open-ended questions, and one “themed-puzzle” round. A standard game takes about 90 minutes to play, she said.
“We try to ask a little bit of everything so there’s something for everyone,” she says on her website. “Trivia questions are designed to range in difficulty, resulting for a medium-level difficult for a trivia team.”
Despite the game’s popularity, and the regular connections with friends from around the world, it began to bother Hackett that while she and fellow gamers were having fun, so many people in the hospitality industry were suffering.
“I felt bad that we weren’t supporting our favorite bar and waitstaff,” she said.
That’s when Hackett, who worked at the Franklin Street Honey Dew Donuts during her high school years, came up with the idea to support small businesses and to raise money for organizations that support worthy causes. She asked players to donate $5 in order to play.
Hackett gives game-winners gift cards to a small business — a local restaurant or coffee shop — of their choice. She has also raised enough money to give more than $12,000 to charities like World Central Kitchen (Chef José Andrés’ nonprofit that “uses the power of food to heal communities and strengthen economies in times of crisis and beyond”), Hook Hall Helps (which provides care kits to people employed in the hospitality industry) and Open for Good (the James Beard Foundation’s campaign to “help independent restaurants survive the COVID-19 pandemic, rebuild better, and thrive for the long term.”)
Hackett’s trivial pursuits and philanthropic bent come as no surprise to her mother, a retired nurse who enjoyed a 45-year career at Rhode Island Hospital.
“She has a big heart,” said Passarello, recalling the time her daughter asked her friends to make donations to the WARM Center instead of buying her birthday presents. “And she never forgets a thing.”
Passarello said her daughter has even traveled to volunteer in places like North Carolina and Puerto Rico in the aftermath of hurricanes.
“She’s a smart kid,” Passarello said. “She’s really good at her job as an event planner, and she does comedy now, too.
“She’s retooled herself,” she added with a laugh. “She really is something.”
Blake, Hackett’s lifelong best friend, said the creation and success of “Distantly Social Trivia” makes perfect sense.
“It’s no surprise to me,” said Blake, who works at the University of Rhode Island.
Not only does Hackett have “a great personality,” Blake said, but “she’s hilarious ... she is very funny.”
She also excels at trivia, Blake said, noting that the two friends have been playing trivia games and watching “Jeopardy!” for years.
“We love it,” she said, “We used to play at the Brazen Hen and at the Twisted Vine.”
Hackett, who still remembers the customers she once waited on at Honey Dew Donuts, has a stellar memory and is creative with her questions.
“She makes it really fun and entertaining,” Blake said. “I highly recommend it.”
“The unexpected benefit is that this game has brought friends and families together, and given them something to look forward to every week,” Hackett said. “This game has brought a lot of smiles, through trivial questions and Zoom pet sightings, and I’d love to share that with more people.”
To register to play, visit distantlysocialtrivia.com/play.