Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Best of Questions, the worst of questions

Bless ‘em. Cast your mind back to when you were in school, if you will. I’m sure that you had atleast one teacher whom you knew if you could just get him – for invariably ‘twas a Sir rather than a Miss – talking about his hobby horse then he’d go waffling off on a tangent , and you’d save yourself minutes of graft . It all adds up over a year. Well, every now and then one of the little shavers at work tries this with me, by asking about the quiz shows and what have you. I had a cover lesson today – and for any teachers reading this wasn’t breaking Rarely Cover guidelines since it was a Year 11 lesson, and they are on Study Leave. During the lesson one of the children asked me a genuinely thought – provoking question : -
“Sir, what’s the best question you’ve ever been asked in a quiz ? “

I mean, how on earth can you possibly answer that ? I fobbed him off with something along the lines of ,
“If I’m at a quiz, then any question I get the right answer to is the best question. “ but I’ve been thinking about it since, and this just won’t do. For one thing my good friend and mentor Alan Coombs once said that the best questions aren’t actually the ones you know the answer to, they’re the ones you don’t know, but when you hear the correct answer you say “Of course ! I should have known that . “ He certainly has a point. Then there’s the question which you can’t answer, and yet the answer provides you with a useful tidbit of information which in some minuscule, yet heart warming way enriches you and enhances your understanding of Life, The Universe and Everything. Admittedly these are rather few and far between, and yet they do come up.

I won’t lie to you. I like questions which are clever in themselves as well. The best way I can explain it to you is to give you an example. Here’s a much loved one , which I’m sure you have all heard before : -

If Sunderland did it in 1979, and Villa did it in 1981, who did it in 1980 ?

The answer , of course, is Trevor Brooking. Alan Sunderland, Trevor Brooking, and Ricky Villa scored the winning goals in the FA Cup Finals in those years. The beauty of it is that at first you think Sunderland and Villa mean the two football clubs.


On the subject of good questions, we were asked one good question on Sunday night, and I’m afraid I fell foul of my old maxim – play the man and not the ball. John and I were asked this question –

Which medieval order displayed the cross of St. John on their shields ?

At once I scribbled down – The Knights Hospitaller. Then , fatally, I started to think about it. You see this was a pub quiz – a nice, social pub quiz. One of the teams features a former teammate of mine from the Dillwyn Arms team in the Swansea Independent Quiz League, but apart from that the rest of the players are just nice, ordinary members of the public. So I asked myself – based on my knowledge of what the question master usually asks , and based on the level of most of the players, is he really likely to want a fairly difficult answer like that ? I figured that he was more likely to want the answer – The Knights Templar, who, due to Da Vinci Code and all that are at least much more widely known of than the Hospitallers. So I changed it.

What I was ignoring was the fact that the question master compiles all of the questions for the quiz himself, and takes a bit – well, probably, a lot – of time and trouble over them. He is the kind of question master you want – but it does mean that if he asks a question it is extremely unusual for him not to have the correct answer. So of course, the answer was the Hospitallers. There’s not a great deal worse than getting a difficult question wrong when you know the correct answer, but deliberately didn’t put it down because you were trying to be too clever. To paraphrase the words of Frasier Crane at the end of each episode – scrambled egg all over my face .

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