The joy of quiz

There’s no disappointment quite so meagre and nagging as a disappointing pub quiz. Soggy biscuits? Putting your big toe through the darning of your favourite socks? A pet that turns against you? Nothing’s quite so flattening, so little-bit-of-your-soul pinching, as a bad quiz. I don’t mean a quiz you fail at. That can be exhilarating. I mean a quiz that’s put together artlessly or shonkily or by mistyped googling half an hour before the teams turn up. Who wrote ‘One Flap Over the Cupbpard’s Nod’?

I cut my pub quiz teeth with Ron, the Paragon of Quizmasters, at the Badger Pub in Eccleshall, North Staffs. Imagine the brain of William G Stewart in the body of a retired darts player, and you’re close to Ron. “Bringing up the rear as we say,” he used to chuckle before announcing the name of our team.

Ron’s quizes were a labour of love. He’d put his little glasses on and mark our answers patiently, then hand them back with a little grimace that couldn’t tell if we were the unfortunate children of halfwits, and really were trying our best. Much less did he care.

The night we won the £100 snowball, no pizza has ever tasted better than celebratory takeaway margherita, divided by seven and eaten off the bonnet of a car.

Let’s not  go through my whole pub quiz autobiography lest I become misty eyed. I hate it when I weep before sun-up.

Here’s my problem with a disappointing quiz like the one that’s been irking my brain for the past 30 hours. It’s not necessarily inaccuracies, and quizmasters who hold that wrong answers are right. That happens once in a while.

It’s the lack of elegance in the questions.

In all quizzes some people will know the answer and some won’t. But in a disappointing quiz, that is all that gets tested.

In a well-crafted quiz, you can still be rigid with thought gurning desperately to figure out a question even to the last nanosecond before the quizmaster whisks away your paper. The well-crafted quiz still tests everyone’s knowledge, but its real art is testing their skill at making educated guesses.

Now it takes all sorts to make a world, and the sainted Ron used to hold, I think, that at least a third of the questions in a successful quiz should be dead giveaways. So the art comes down to a tiny proportion of non giveaway questions, which can’t just be “do you have this bit of knowledge?’ They have to go more like:

What feat was first performed in Paris by André-Jacques Garnerin on October 22nd, 1797?


“On September 18th, 1932, how did the actress Peg Entwistle die? Extra points available for accuracy.”

Or even,

“Who is the only footballer to have signed with Manchester Uniter, Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton?”

But definitely not.

“True or false: the natural colour of Coca-Cola is green?”

Which is what got me started on this tirade in the first place.

If you can send me answers and swear blind you didn’t GoogleWAP them, I’ll add a special bonus question. But only after I’ve scanned your retinas for Googleprints. So don’t pretend.

~ by David Thorley on February 3, 2011.

2 Responses to “The joy of quiz”

  1. This bought a nostalgic tear to my eye. Ron (and his twin brother Don) will go down in history with the likes of WIlliam G Stewart and Gandy from the Kings Arms Quiz. Gandy used to spend £30 a week on newspaper subscriptions to compile each week’s quiz. He refused to use the internet, feeling it would be cheating.

    • As I remember, we hosted our chaotic quizzes in the days before the internet was the obvious choice for such things, too. There ought to be a campaign for all would-be quiz masters to voluntarily resign from the internet.

      Dear old Ron (and Don). Where are they now?

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