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(screenshot) courtesy of Paul Schrodt; (phone) Getty Images

I thought winning HQ Trivia was out of reach. I had tried for months to conquer the free trivia app, which gives out cash prizes to users who make it through each game’s 12 questions, since learning about it near the end of 2017. Then one night recently, the seemingly impossible happened. I won. And like one of those screaming, maniacal winners seen on the app’s Twitter, I didn’t really know how to handle myself.

I only won $8.26, which was promptly delivered to me via PayPal after HQ dropped its $20 minimum on sending prizes. Still, it was free money for something I had already fallen in love with playing. And as the app’s popularity grows, so have the prize totals. It recently had a pot of $8,000 on Super Bowl Sunday.

What I realized after winning was that all those lost games had trained me to be a better player. Luck played a role, of course, especially when it came to a final question about the plot of The Breakfast Club that seemed to have me in mind. But so did understanding how HQ operates. Here are things to know that will help you win HQ Trivia and score a little free cash.

1. Don’t overthink the first three questions

The opening few questions on HQ Trivia are always no-brainers, or should be. That means there are no tricks hidden among the three multiple-choice answer options. Or to speak in the language of HQ, there's nothing savage. Even if you don’t know the answer with certainty, if something seems right, then it probably is. Don’t psych yourself out by going for the more obscure possibility.

2. There's a formula. Learn it

HQ Trivia quickly increases the difficulty level of its questions as the game goes on, and weeds out many thousands of users with those “savage questions.” These often do employ sneaky tricks to lure people into the wrong answer. Watch out for the warning signs. If it’s late in the game and the question seems too easy, it probably is. When I finally won, I wised up to this formula. One question asked which foreign phrase is not typically used as a greeting. I knew “namaste” wasn’t right, thanks to having enough yoga-obsessed friends, but I couldn’t quite remember what “guten tag” means in German. The best option, however, seemed to be “totsiens,” which I had never even heard. And it was.

3. If the question asks amounts, the answer is almost never the middle one

A classic move when guessing on standardized testing is to go for the numeric answer that falls between two extremes. For instance, is the population of Philadelphia: 1 million, 1.5 million, or 2.5 million? (Correct! It’s 1.5 million.) In my experience, though, this is almost never how HQ Trivia designs its questions. A recent game tested users’ belief in an old wives’ tale by asking how long swallowed gum stays in the human body. The answer—according to science, though perhaps not your mom—is about a day (and not seven years). Many people were fooled into thinking the answer was seven years or an even longer option they presented. If you’re not totally sure on the amount, veer toward the low or high end, whichever makes the most sense.

4. Don’t Google, and definitely don’t read the comments

It’s easy to swipe away the comments on HQ Trivia, and you should immediately. The comments section is full of a lot more juvenile jokes than helpful advice. Meanwhile, those tempted to Google the answer will end up disappointed: Given how quickly the counter for each question runs down, it’s highly unlikely you’ll search your way to victory. It’s smarter—and more fun!—to simply use your brain.

5. Crowdsource your HQ

There’s no rule against playing HQ Trivia in a group. I did it with a few friends at a recent poker hangout, and it was a blast. People shout out answers, and the tension is palpable. Plus three or four brains are almost always better than one. HQ’s questions are designed to appeal to different strengths. And while they overwhelmingly favor millennials, they do sometimes reach back into minutia of the 1980s or even earlier. If you’re under the age of 25, grab an older buddy. If you’re good at pop culture questions, get the more science-oriented person in your life to help out. If you don’t know sports, find someone who does. You can even make an office party out of it. Just be sure to split the winnings if anyone helps you get across the finish line.

6. Keep watching the game when you lose

By far the most useful tip I got when reading from fellow HQ Trivia players online was to pay attention to the game even when you’ve just lost. The app lets you resume watching. And if you have a few minutes to kill, it’s a great way to study the structure of the game, and what traps other users (and possibly you) fall into. Statistically speaking, even if you don’t know the answers to all 12 questions, you have a decent enough shot at winning. And smart guessing can make all the difference.