Saturday, 27 February 2010

Is A Star Born ? Maybe.

This will come as no surprise to you, I’m sure, but I think that I ought to start by pointing out that I know that I’m not perfect. There, I’ve come clean. I play in between 2 and 4 pub quizzes each week, and I know that I do take it all far too seriously when I’m playing. I admit it. I sometimes get annoyed over specific questions, and specific quizzes, which really aren’t worth anyone getting worked up over. For the most part the people who actually set the quizzes I go to are decent corinthians, putting their time and effort into it for nothing much more than the love of the game, and maybe a few free pints. To criticise a question master may be pointless at best, and at worst rather evil, I admit it. But sometimes . . .

Why would anyone want to be question master for an evening in, say, my local Thursday night quiz, anyway ? Well, actually, there is a good answer to this. Its fun. Actually being a question master is often at least as much fun as playing in the quiz. Look at it this way. When you’re the question master -

-You get to actually put the quiz together. Yes, if you do it properly it requires time and effort, but it can be an intellectually satisfying exercise. Its creative as well, finding and putting all the right ingredients to make a satisfying whole, and its challenging too because you don’t always get it right.

-You get to actually ask the questions, which panders to the performer manqué which I secretly suspect is within most of us QMs.

- You’re in charge, and your word is law. At least while the quiz lasts.

- You get three free pints, or six if you mark and score as well.


In our Thursday night quiz, nobody is ever forced or put under pressure to produce a quiz. Nobody is even asked to do it. If nobody else asks to do it, Brian and I will always take it in turns until another volunteer comes forward. So its not as if any volunteer can say that they are doing it selflessly for the good of the regulars, because there wouldn’t be a quiz if they didn’t do it. They are doing it because they want to, for their own personal reasons, or for the reasons I’ve given above. Now, in my opinion, if you volunteer to produce a quiz for the club, you are taking on a responsibility to at least put a little time and effort into it to ensure that its providing people with a decent evening’s entertainment.

Maybe I’m being unfair to criticise the quiz I went to on Thursday night. You might well say that we should be grateful that we get anybody coming forward wanting to do a quiz at all, and there is some justice behind this argument. Still, in last week’s quiz I thought that the question master didn’t provide a good quiz, because there were 5 fundamental fatal flaws with it. See what you think : -

Fatal Flaw 1 – Getting the Answers Wrong

There are times in your career as a question master when, even though you check all of your answers, and try to verify them, you’re still going to give a wrong answer through no fault of your own. It happens. However you don’t have to go out of your way to make it happen, by not checking your answers at all. On Thursday night we were asked this one : -

In the England v. Wales 5 Nations rugby match in 1980, welsh player Paul Ringer was sent off by which referee ?

The answer given was Roger Quittendon . Now, Mr. Quittendon was certainly an international referee. But he was English ! How on earth could he possibly have referreed that match ? Of course he didn’t. It took me two minutes googling when I got home to find out that it was Dave Burnett of Ireland. While you’ll maybe be forgiven for one of these howlers, when you have three or four of the same level in one quiz, then it can ruin the whole thing.

Fatal Flaw 2 – Getting the Questions Wrong

Either through carelessness, or just a very poor way of phrasing the question, you can spoil your quiz by asking questions which are just plain wrong, and cannot really be answered. Its easier to give you an example of what I mean than to try to explain in more detail. Here’s one of these we were asked on Thursday night : -

Which welsh actor received an oscar for his performance in Spartacus ?

The problem is that no welsh actor received an oscar for his performance in Spartacus. English born Peter Ustinov won a Best Supporting Actor oscar for Spartacus. He had a fascinating mixture of ancestry, but he wasn’t welsh. Having said that he wasn’t the answer the question master wanted anyway. The answer he gave was the welsh actor Hugh Griffith, who won his for his role in “Ben Hur” . So, maybe he thought – Ben Hur – Spartacus – its all roman isn’t it ? Well, yes, but try explaining that to the teams who put down the wrong answer, Peter Ustinov, but would have put the right answer down if he’d said the film was Ben Hur.
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Fatal Flaw 3 – Asking Questions which have several alternative answers which may all be correct.

One of my pet hates in quizzes is a question which implies there is only one correct answer, where in fact there may be other alternatives which also fit. From Thursday night : -

Which word means someone who helps an enemy power while it is occupying their own country ?


Immediately we thought of two correct answers – collaborator – and – quisling. Neither of which gained a point. The question master was looking for the specific answer of fifth column.

In another question he asked : -

Which American word is the equivalent to our own ‘country bumpkin’ ?

We thought of hillbilly. Other teams thought of ‘rube’ , and ‘redneck’ which certainly all have the right connotations. He refused all of these, only allowing ‘hayseed’ .

Personally I think that the three fatal flaws I’ve already outlined sprang from the same root cause. I think that the QM had rushed his quiz – yes, I know that this is the teacher in me talking – but I honestly think that he had just written out questions off the top of his head, without either getting them from, or checking them in a reliable source. For a serious, very experienced , regular quizzer this would be a dangerous thing to do. For an average pub quizzer its very likely it may ruin any quiz you make.

Fatal Flaw 4 – Asking a lot of questions just about your own specialist subjects.

Its very tempting to write down a large number of questions for any given quiz, which particularly appeal to you, because they are about things in which you have a real genuine interest. This is not a good thing to do. You see, the only person who would probably enjoy a quiz like this is you – and you won’t be answering these questions ! Case in point, in Thursday night’s quiz, in each round there was at least one question about each of the following categories : -

World War II
The Motor Car
Americanisms
Naval matters
Boxing


So if, for example, you were a world war II veteran of the US navy turned car mechanic, who did a bit of boxing in his spare time, you were in for a treat last Thursday. Unfortunately these were very thin on the ground on the night. Each of these categories are of course valid categories, and would have been alright for one or two questions during the quiz. Yet 40 out of 80 questions in the evening were only about those 5 categories, which I thought was far too much.

Fatal Flaw 5 – Asking questions to which nobody in the audience has a realistic chance of even being able to guess the answer.

I honestly believe that there is no point asking a question which it is very unlikely that anyone in the audience will possibly be able to answer. Asking five in the same round is totally pointless – as were some of the teams for that particular round. Thursday night’s winning score was the lowest ever in a supposedly general quiz in the club – and the only time there has been a lower winning score was the last time the St. David’s Day quiz took place. In one round we top scored with 3 out of 10.

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Now, any one of these fatal flaws can be enough on its own to sink a quiz, if repeated more than once or twice. However when you have five fatal flaws like this in the same quiz, then you run the risk of becoming something of a legend. Somehow the quiz, riddled with wrong’uns and strange questions as it was, became raised out of the mire through its sheer unpredictability. Most of the teams were at some point or other in the quiz actually observed to be enjoying themselves.

Does it matter ? Probably not, actually. The question master in question comes across as a very nice chap, and I speak from personal experience when I say that the teams in the rugby club are far too nice to give you stick if you produce an absolute stinker anyway. I call to mind one of our semi regular question masters. When he began with us a few years ago he was in the habit of using the same picture quiz each time he did it. The only difference was that with one of the pictures sometimes he would tell us it was Whitney Houston, and other times Naomi Campbell ! As far as I know nobody said anything to him about it, but over a period of time members of four different teams all made pointed comments to us about it. One was particularly annoyed, not so much because he use the same picture quiz, but because even though he had asked to do the quiz, he couldn’t be bothered to make up a new one. In his time he’s perpetrated some wrong’uns, and is a noted ( and I suspect deliberately exaggerated ) Malaprop.

This same question master is now given a standing ovation whenever it is announced that he is going to be making the quiz for the next Thursday. He is cherished not in spite of his faults, but because of them.

So you never know, but its just possible that for all the wrong reasons a new star may be born in our quiz. And yes, of course I will still be taking it far too seriously next time he does a quiz.

5 comments:

Ben Dutton said...

Regarding one of the points in your article: whenever I write a quiz I obey a number of different rules, one of which is: never ask questions about my specialist subjects. One of my fields is cinema and I'm as familiar with the works of Abel Ferrara as I am with Abel Gance (to use two examples), so when I first began writing quizzes, I presumed my audience would be. So I would dismiss those easy questions, and ask something tougher, like 'Which Oscar winning director began his career working for famed producer Roger Corman with Dementia 13?' Easy if you know cinema well, not if you don't (though you could have an educated guess). When I was marking the answers to that question I had no right answers, but answers such as George Lucas, Quentin Tarantino, Alfred Hitchcock. Not long afterward I decided not to ask about cinema unless it was about a film making waves at the box office at that time, or was considered one of those perennial favourites. So, never ask questions about your favourite things - they're your favourite things, not everybody elses.

A quick story from one of the quizzes I attend regularly. The quizmaster seems to only have enough questions for 52 quizzes, and sometimes we can get the same quizzes repeated after just a few months (the worst was where he started to give the quiz he'd given the week before!), though he mixes the questions up. One he asks, frequently, is 'Which major Nazi spent the remainder of his life living in Manchester?' He's been told the answer he has is wrong, yet he insists on repeating it. So now all the regulars write Albert Speer, and the visitors leave with this incorrect fact. He also does a dingbat sheet where sometimes the answer is one thing, and the next time another, and he will only ever accept what is on his sheet that week.

Writing a quiz is a fiendishly fun way to spend a day, but they are only as good as the effort you put into them.

Teflon said...

I was recently asked "What fruit is obtained from the linden tree?"

Answer: Lime.

A little learning is a dangerous thing.

Ben Dutton said...

Re: The same quiz I talked about above.

Today, being St Davids and living in Wales, we were asked "In which country was St David born?"

My team all immediately wrote down Ireland. I told them it was Wales, that he was born near St Davids itself. I lived nearby for eight years. I knew. They changed our answer.

The host: "Ireland"

Every team but us had it wrong. I told the question master after the quiz he was wrong, and he told me all the history books say Ireland so I must be wrong. A quick google search proves me right.

So why do so many people believe that he was born in Ireland?

Andrew B. said...

Ben - because St Patrick was (possibly, according to some theories) born in Wales, and they've confused the two facts?

Londinius said...

Hi Ben and Andrew

Its frustrating when you go to a quiz where you can see that the question master can't be . . . bothered to put the same amount of time and effort into a quiz that you do, especially when is a quiz you regularly set yourself.

The problem is when the question master sets his stall to accept only his own answers, even when the evidence that he is wrong is totally overwhelming.