Sunday, 8 February 2009

A Question of Questions - Weekend Mini Quiz Two

Its my turn to set the quiz for this coming Thursday evening in the Aberavon Rugby Club. I probably enjoy setting the quiz and being the question master about as much as I enjoy playing in the quizzes, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I do face two concerns every time I compile a quiz.

Getting the Level right
Yes, you'd think that with 14 years experience I'd be able to pitch the quiz at the right level of difficulty. You don't pitch it for your best teams, and you don't pitch it for your worst teams - you aim for the middle. If in doubt, then make it easier. Yet every time I nearly always end up with a quiz that proves to be more difficult than I think it is. There's a team made up of mostly younger players who always struggle with my quiz, however easy I think I make it. They manage ok with any other question master.

Getting some new questions
Yes, one of the problems you may find as a question master is that you start to repeat yourself. I'm not talking about being like Reg, who just recycles pretty much the same quiz each time he does it. No, I'm just talking about the fact that there are certain questions which you just find yourself reusing, albeit three or four years down the line. If it strikes you as a good question to answer once, then it will probably strike you as a good one to ask again some time. So you consciously look for new questions, that you haven't ever used before, to enliven your quiz and make it a bit more interesting. But where do you find them ?

Well, obviously there's news and current affairs, and as a quizzer you really need to be keeping abreast of them anyway. However a few of these questions tend to do the rounds in almost every quiz you go to for a week or a fortnight, and then they're gone, probably forever, into the Well of Lost Questions.

Ok then - you can fall back to some extent on your own resources. You can use things you've heard, read, or seen to provide new questions, and if you're a quiz master you probably do this anyway. But these can sometimes be rare beasts , and there's no guarantee any will come along when you need them. Where then ?

There's always your quiz reference books, like Trevor Montague's brilliant " A to Z of Almost Everything" . I still quite like the "Pears Quiz Companion", and have been known to dip into "The Guinness Book of Answers ", although more than a decade has gone by since the latest edition was published. I use at least "The A to Z of almost Everything" every time I write a quiz. However even there I only use it sparingly. This is not because there are any flaws with the book , no. Its simply that once I get stuck into using it I tend to find I'm tempted into putting much harder questions into the quiz, and a very little of that goes a long way.

So we're left with quiz books. I'm sure that I'm no different from many many other quizzers when I say that I have a large collection of quiz books, and I'm always in the market for another , especially if it has something fresh on the menu. To this extent I was delighted when my wife, who works in a local charity shop, bought me a small collection of fairly recent quiz books for a very reasonable price when they were brought into the shop. Most of them were of the Collins series - Nick Holt's Quiz Master - Pub Quiz 1 and 2 - Quiz Night - Quiz Notes, and there was also David Pickering's Perfect Pub Quiz. I'm not writing this to be critical - well, not very critical, anyway. They all have a large enough number of questions, and I'm not saying that they haven't been put together with love and care, but I am saying that they're all uninspired. If you're a regular quizzer you'll have to look fairly hard to find any questions that you haven't already heard many, many times before.

I have a process I go through whenever I make a quiz. Don't worry , this isn't a digression, and I'll be coming back to quiz books again in a minute. So I have a process, and as the last stage of the process I usually take the finished quiz into work early in the week, and try out the questions on my colleagues on a lunchtime. They say they enjoy it, and it helps give me a good a idea whether I need to change the way that I have phrased a question, and whether I need to make any particular round a bit easier.( Its a fair bet that I won't have to make it any harder ) Its valuable feedback. Now, my Head of Department is always asking me why I don't write a quiz book. - There - I told you I'd get back to it in a moment or two. Especially after the final of Mastermind was shown on TV. And well, I have to say that the idea is not without appeal. But then again, why should any publishing firm want a quiz book off me ? Seriously its a competitive world out there, and there's tons of quiz books on the market. More to the point, though, I'm not 100% sure that I could find enough time to write a quiz book that is significantly different from others, that would have enough new questions to interest a proper quizzer. It wouldn't be a matter of just collecting together 20 or 30 of my last quizzes. For one thing, quite a few questions would end up being repeated. For another thing I'd have to replace the 'in the news' questions as well. Then after all that I'd maybe find that I'd written a book which was too difficult to appeal to a significant proportion of the quiz book buying public.

Out of interest, here's 2 lists. The first contains books that I've found useful when setting quizzes. The second contains books that I haven't necessarily used a lot when making up quizzes, but I've enjoyed working my way through.

A Few Useful Books for Making a Quiz

The A to Z of Almost Everything
The Prince of Wales Quiz Book
The Pears Quiz Companion
On the Tip of My Tongue ( David Gentle )
15 to 1 - 2000 for 2000 et al
The People's Quiz ( good for popular culture questions , but not a lot else )
Ask the Family quiz books 1 - 3 ( number puzzles always go down well )

Some quizbooks I've really enjoyed working through

The Prince of Wales Quiz Book
Magnus Magnusson's Quiz Book
Magnus Magnusson's Family Quiz Book
Bamber Gascoigne's Universally Challenging Quiz Book
The Round Britain Quiz book
The Brain of Britain Quiz book ( Ian Gillies )
University Challenge Quiz Book ( 1978 Arrow books )

I'll let you know how the quiz goes down later on in the week.

Weekend Mini Quiz One answers

Round One

1) Twenty One
2) Top of the World
3) Take Your Pick ( Double Your Money debuted a day or two later )
4) Joe West - 22 on specialist subject
5) Bob Johnson was the man who answered Turkey to several consecutive questions on "Family Fortunes "

Round Two

1) Eamonn Coghlan
2) Prince Henry - son of James I
3) London Underground Stations
4) The Wizard of Oz
5) Megalosaurus

Well, how did you do ? If you fancy another go, then I am pleased to announce : -

Weekend Mini Quiz Two

Round One- Water Water Everywhere

1) Name the famous lighthouse built off the coast of Tiree by Robert Louis Stevenson's uncle Alan Stevenson
2) In which British dockyard did Peter the great once work as a ship's carpenter ?
3) In which novel by Charles Dickens is a heroine the daughter of a man who drags dead bodies out of the River Thames for a living ?
4) Name the last British swimmer before Rebecca Adlington to win two gold medals in the same Olympics
5) Who played the scheming civil servant in the film "Water" ?

Round Two - General Knowledge

1) Who is the only person other than the 6 Pythons to receive a writing credit on an episode of "Monty Python's Flying Circus " ?
2) Name the writer behind "The Henry Root Letters "
3) If its spelled with - er - then its too high , but if its spelled with an - o - then its too low. Which medical conditions am I referring to ? ( There's a couple of different acceptable answers to this one )
4) In which English town or city would you find the national Bagpipe museum ?
5) If William Stayley was the last, and William Wallace the first, what am I referring to ?

Answers will be posted next weekend. Best of luck.

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