Friday, 18 September 2009

Old Quizzers' Tales

As far as I know none of my colleagues at work are quizzers. However this doesn’t mean that none of them ever play in pub quizzes on the odd occasion, and from time to time they’ll tell me about playing in a quiz, and how they got on. Such an occasion happened this week, when a colleague and friend of mine told me how she and a couple of friends had played in a quiz in their local this week just for the hell of it. This was a quiz where the evening’s entertainment consists of a main quiz, and then a seperate short set of questions for a seperate jackpot. My friend told me that they had all of the jackpot questions right until they were faced with this last one for the prize,
“Rattus Norvegicus was the title of which group’s first album in 1977 ? “
They had written down the correct answer, which was “The Stranglers”, then in a crisis of confidence had scrubbed it out and written “The Damned” instead. To which I replied with the sage observation that you should never change your first answer. She favoured me with an old fashioned look , and said ,
“Are you trying to tell me that you actually have tactics for playing in a quiz ? !”

This set me thinking, and this is what I really want to discuss today. On serious reflection I’m not sure that you can make out a watertight case that tactical thinking plays any serious part in playing in a quiz. However there is a whole arcane lore about quizzing which I think that we all learn by a form of osmosis in our first couple of years of campaigning, which I suppose might amount to tactical thinking. Lets have a look at what I mean.

1) Always stick with your first answer.

This is an almost universal truth which most quizzers hold to be self evident. Except that there is actually no proof that first answers are more often correct in cases of doubt. I think that it works like this. If you’re asked a question you don’t know the answer to, and you haven’t got a clue, well that’s just the way it is. You can accept that and move on. If you come up with half a dozen options, and don’t write the correct one down, well, that’s just bad luck, and again you can get over it quickly enough. But if you have actually written the correct answer down, and then rubbed it out and changed it, then the mental anguish of knowing you should have just left well enough alone is killing.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account the number of times that you will change an incorrect answer for a correct one. When that happens you just tend to take it in your stride . Personally I would imagine that the half the time you change an answer it will be for the better, and half for the worst.

2) Play the man and not the ball

If you’ve been with me since last year you’ll maybe remember a set of posts I wrote called “The Question Master is Always Right. “ In the preamble to this I stated that there is a sizeable body of questions out there where the answer a question master will ususally give is actually incorrect. This is because the question has a very difficult correct answer, and a more widely held answer which is actually wrong. After a while you come to recognise these questions, and when they come up , to weigh up whether the question master is the sort of person to actually know the correct answer. If in any doubt whatsoever, then put the popular answer down. Nine times out of ten this will bring you the points ( and the pints. )

3) The Question Master is always right

I throw this one in since I mentioned it in the previous question. Its not exactly anything to do with tactical thinking, but it is a time honoured piece of quizzing lore ( and law for that matter ) . Most of the time there is absolutely no point in arguing with a question master, since he is not going to change the answer he has written down in front of him just because you say so. Which really begs the question why so many of us, and I include myself in this, bother to do so.

4) If in any doubt, play the percentages

Even if you reach an exalted station in the firmament of quizdom, sooner or later you are going to be asked questions you don’t know the answers to. In some case, you won’t have a Scooby Doo, and will just have to guess off the top of your head. However in others there will be a stock answer which will be right more often than its wrong, and so you put it down, even though you have no idea whether its right or wrong. You write it down, because you’ll look stupid if it is the correct answer, and you haven’t put it. This is called playing the percentages. For example : -
If its a question about a TV chef/cook, and a book – then Delia Smith is a decent shout. She’ll be right far more often than she’s wrong – and unless you KNOW its not her, then you should put the answer down.
If its a question about which actor played a particular part in a British drama TV series, then put down James Nesbitt. He seems to be in everything these days. This may sound flippant, but its a tactic I use a lot myself, and to be fair to Mr. Yellow Pages, he hardly ever lets me down. –
And so on.

5) Its first names for show, but surnames for dough

Yes, its all very well knowing that Faraday’s name was Michael when you’re asked to name the British inventor of the electric motor – but is it necessary ? Its a general rule in quizzing that unless the question master specifically asks you for first and surnames, then the surname alone is sufficient. Putting down the first name as well may even lead to you getting marked wrong if you’re mistaken about the first name, even if you have the surname right.

6) If its a multiple choice question, and you don’t know the answer, then its B –

Unless you’re given 4 choices in which case its C. Alright, this won’t always be true, but it does actually hold water as a theory. For more causal, and less experienced quiz setters its very common to fight shy of giving the correct option as the first or last option. If you only have 3 options, then this helpfully narrows it down to the second option for you.

7) The first time in a quiz the question master asks if something is true or false – unless you KNOW differently, its true.

This is similar to the last point, and is a matter of psychology. As such it does apply more to casual or novice question masters. There’s always the question - where would the question master have found this snippet of information, and why would he be asking about it if it wasn’t true ?

8) If you’re playing in a quiz league with a matched pairs format – always take the B questions.

Well, that’s what the teams I played with used to say. However I have heard other teams who consistently opt for the A questions. The thinking behind taking the Bs is that gettin ggood evenly matched pairs of questions is not easy. More often than not the second question will either be easier than the first, or at the very least the answer to the A question will eliminate one of the possiblilities for the B question. That’s the theory. However since normally the questions swap around at half time, I can’t see that it holds much water.


Gruff said...

Your comment about trusting your first answer reminded me of this article which I think you will find very interesting:

I also remember reading somewhere about the role played by your subconscious brain during a quiz. You get asked a question on a subject with which you have only the slightest familiarity. An answer comes into your mind and your rational brain thinks it is a random guess. But your subconscious brain was busy processing info and memories without you knowing it. Sometimes it comes up with an answer that you cannot explain rationally when asked. But at some point you heard, read or saw something and forgot about it, but it was stored away nonetheless.

I remember being asked a question at a Grand Prix about a futurist artist. I know nothing about such art but I put down the answer that came to mind and it was right. A lucky guess? Well the following Monday I was on the train going to work, and as the train pulled out of Blackfriars heading towards London Bridge I glanced up at the Tate Modern and there in big letters was the name of the artist and the word Futurist.

So I certainly always trust my insticts unless I have a strong rationale for another answer.

Gruff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Londinius said...

Hi - how are you doing ?
Yes, its an interesting one this. Part of what inspired the post was a quiz I participated in last Tuesday. We won the quiz anyway. We changed four answers - two of them the first answer had been right, the other two the changed answer was right.

I do take your point about the subconscious mind. I'm sure we've all been asked at one time or another, where do all the answers come from ? For example, last week in the rugby club, the question asked
"Viking Radio is based in which city ? " immediately drew the answer "Hull" from me. But I've no idea why. I must have heard it before, but I was so uncertain of it that I wouldn't have argued if anyone else in the team had offered another answer.

I'm off to read the article now - thanks for the link.

Somehow I suspect there's a whole research project in there for someone !