There is a story, possibly apocryphal, concerning old movie mogul David O. Selznick. Selznick, you remember, produced the classic film "Gone With the Wind ", amongst others. An inveterate gambler, the story goes that Selznick was once found by a close friend , gambling in an establishment that had a reputation for cheating the punters. When his friend told him that the place was crooked, and he couldn't possibly win, Selznick is reputed to have replied,
"I know that , but its the only game in town. "
If true, I can actually understand what drove Selznick to play when he had no chance of winning. I'm not saying for one minute that any quiz I go to is 'fixed' , but the circumstances of the Monday night quiz in Newport mean that there are times when you know, before even one question has been asked, that you have no chance of winning. I refer to the iniquitous system of handicaps currently in place in the quiz.
Actually I say 'system', but to call it a system is to dignify it with a designation that it in no way merits. What we have is just Trevor the quiz master's arbitrary award of a head start to everyone except for my team. No account whatsoever is taken of the relative strength of our team on any given night - the rule of thumb for the QM is that our team start off scratch, whether there's 3, 4 or 5 of us. Its all about how much of a head start he gives everyone else. It seems to me that if you need to be given an 18 point head start, then you really don't deserve to win at all.
Its not because we won every week when no team had a head start, either. We probably won no more than a third, and shared the wins with two other teams, both of whom are often awarded a head start. Case in point. Both of these teams were given a four point head start last night. Yet on points scored, one of them drew with us, and the other beat us by one. We wouldn't have beaten them even without the handicaps. So why give it to them in the first place ? Beats me. If I do decide to go back next week, I'll bet you that both teams are given a start again. We won't be.
I ask myself why are we still putting ourselves through a 90 minute round trip every Monday ? It can't be for the prize money. Even if you win it still doesn't leave you in profit for the evening once the cost of petrol, chipping in to the jackpot, and a couple of drinks have been factored in. Sometimes you hear the head start being awarded to the other teams, and you just want to get straight back into the car and drive home. Yet you don't. Why not ? Well - you keep going because although it may not exactly be the only game in town, it is pretty much the best.
Take Sunday. I played on my own in the social quiz in The Haywain in Bridgend, and tied for first place with a team of 6 players, scoring 62 out of a possible 65. In the resulting tie break we were asked-
"How many dimples are there on a golf ball ? "
Thats a bit of an old quiz chestnut. I wrote down the answer 336 and handed it in, the other team went for 100 and something. 1 beats 6.
Quite an achievement, eh ?
Well, not so much, actually. After all, its unlikely that any of the other team are real quizzers, and I don't suppose that there's any reason why anyone would know the number of dimples on a golf ball if they weren't quizzers. So while its always nice to win, that's about it.
Maybe this is not the most polite way of putting it, but I am reminded of something the great Len Harvey once said. Len Harvey was a British boxing champion at 3 weights - Middle, Light Heavy and Heavy - during the 1930s, and he once said that you learn nothing and get nowhere by beating mugs. That's not meant as an insult to Sunday's opposition. Like most people who play in social quizzes on a Sunday evening, they aren't serious quizzers, so any win over them, while enjoyable, is of limited value.
Which is what makes Newport on a Monday night the only real game in town. I used to love playing in Quiz Leagues. Over the last 15 years quite a few of the Quiz Leagues in South Wales have died on their backsides. The last I heard was that the Swansea Independent League was down to a very few teams and in real danger of folding. Our league in Neath went belly up almost 10 years ago. Port Talbot haven't had a quiz league since 1989. Only the Bridgend League remains within a reasonable travelling distance. Full credit to the Bridgend quiz league, they have my full admiration for keeping going so successfully, but for some reason, since Mastermind I've once or twice been discouraged from offering my services to any team in Bridgend.
So, with no league to play in, for serious competition it only leaves Newport on a Monday night. Usually the questions are much better any other social quiz you go to, and even without the handicaps there are serious quizzers there who provide real opposition. A win is an achievement. However, coming third, but knowing you would have won if there had not been any handicaps is just not the same.
At the risk of making this sound like my application for full membership of the grumpy old man club, I can't help thinking back to my first experiences of League quizzing, two decades and more ago. You never expected nor received any consideration if you were a weaker team. In each league you'd have four or five good teams. If they lost out on a particular category of question one week, one of them would go away, learn it, and make damn sure that they didn't lose out on the same category again. Competition was the spur to improvement.
Now, why the hell should any of the weaker teams in Newport make any effort to improve their knowledge ? The less they know, the more of a head start they get given.
- Did we get any of those 6 American state Capitals right ? No ? Shall we learn them so we never lose on them again ? Nah - can't be arsed - we'll just ask for a bigger handicap next week, then. -
I sound bitter. My rational intellect tells me that it really doesn't matter. I know that by keeping going I am tacitly condoning something I hate, and that if I had the courage of my convictions, I would show my disapproval by boycotting the quiz. But like your man Selznick said - for a serious quizzer on the M4 corridor, its the only game in town. More's the pity.