Sunday, 29 August 2010

Desert Island Quiz Books

I was once told that men are far more likely to have a thing than women are. Oooh, matron. No, listen. Several years ago now we invited a psychologist into the school during an INSET ( In Service Training ) day, to talk to us about stress, and ways of coping with it, and this was one of the things he told us. By ‘thing’ he meant a consuming interest. I don’t think he was trying to say that women can’t or don’t have such interests, but he did suggest that the following of these to the point of obsession is more commonly found in men, especially those of us in the over 40 bracket.

Well, I can only answer for myself, but its certainly true that I am rather obsessional about quizzing, and thankfully I have a wonderful wife who seems to understand and accept this, as was pointed out to me by a good friend last week. Still, that’s the kind of remark that gets you thinking. Lets suppose, for the sake of argument, we were in a space crisis at home, and I had no other option but to get rid of almost all of my large collection of quiz books, and quiz related books. Ooh, the thought alone is almost enough to bring me out in a cold sweat. But lets suppose it happened. Which books would be so essential to me for quizzing that I would have to keep them. So what follows is , I suppose the LAM equivalent of Desert Island Discs – Desert Island Quiz books if you like. Here’s the rules.

You are to be shipwrecked on a desert island. You have no idea how long it will be before you and your fellow survivors will be rescued. There are seven of you. Water and food is plentiful on the island. You have plenty of medical supplies.The island is teeming with life , but none of it is venomous or even dangerous. The only danger you and the fellow survivors face is boredom. Each of you must provide one evening’s entertainment per week. You volunteer to produce a weekly quiz. Luckily a massive supply of paper and pencils was washed up on shore when you were wrecked. All you have to do is produce the quiz once a week. In the same way that castaways on the radio show get the Complete Works of Shakespeare, to make it a little easier you get the latest edition of Trevor Montague’s A to Z of Almost Everything. Five other quiz books of your choice from your collection are washed up on the shore with you. Which ones would you choose, to give you the best chance of producing quizzes good enough so that your fellow castaways don’t end up killing you in frustration ?

Someone has to kick things off, and so while I would welcome readers’ contributions on this one, I’ll kick things off. Here’s my choice, in no particular order : -


A sentimental pick this one. Its the Pears Quiz Companion. Do you remember your first bike ? Your first car ? Your first love, even ? Of course you do. Well this was my first ever quiz bible. In 1995 when I first started setting quizzes for the rugby club a friend at work who’d done a bit of setting in his time lent me his copy. When I found one I got a copy of my own. This was the original version from about 1989. It was updated slightly in 1991, and then again in 2000, when it was published by penguin. This was for a few years my security blanket book, which I could always turn to as a source of questions when all else fails. It made no pretences to being anything other than it was, just a great collection of bare bones facts which could be easily slotted into quiz questions. Information is categorised under 11 general headings : -
Art , Craft and Architecture
Geography and Places
Health and the Body
Language and Literature
The Living world
Science and Technology
Society and politics
Sport and Leisure
The Universe and Space Exploration

As I said, this is a sentimental pick, for its not without its flaws. Due to constraints of space, there’s little or no explanation of the facts given. That’s ok when they are accurate. However some famous ones in the book were not. For example it said that the lovers in Aida were burned alive rather than buried alive. The introduction asked people to write in if they found any inaccuracies, yet this error and other well known ones were never corrected in subsequent updates. Oh well, if I had to produce a quiz week in week out for the same people with limited resources, this is one of the books I’d still want by my side.


I already have the A to Z of Almost Everything, so I have a reference work for checking accuracy of answers. I’ll come onto the quality stuff in my last three picks. So what I’m going to need is a book which has a large bulk of bread and butter questions. I’m not a great devotee of this sort of book, as the majority of questions in them are desperately ordinary, and the sort of thing you’ve read or heard a thousand times before. However it is a fact that if you’re making quizzes for people who aren’t regular or serious quizzers, then this sort of everyday stuff is going to make up a large amount of your quiz. The three 15 to 1 quizbooks – 2000 for 2000 etc. deliver this stuff par excellence, and if there was a collected bumper edition then this would be a shoe in. However there isn’t, and bearing in mind I have no idea how long we’ll be shipwrecked, and how many questions I’ll need, then I need something with a little more bulk. Both the Weakest Link Bumper edition and Quiz Master by Nick Holt have a good 5000 questions in them. However, I think that I’ll plump for David Pickering’s Perfect Pub Quiz book. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think that it’s a great quiz book. One of my pet hates is quiz books which call themselves something like “ The Best . . . The Ultimate . . . The Biggest . . . Perfect – “ often with the word EVER and an exclamation mark as well. However it does have a huge amount of bread and butter questions, and where it scores over the other two is that it does have special occasion quizzes – presuming that we would on our island be keeping track of the days, and actually know when Halloween, New Year etc. actually fall.


Now for the quality. By careful use of The A to Z of Almost everything, and my first two picks I should be able to produce enough questions to keep us going long enough to have a decent chance of rescue. So with my last three picks I can indulge myself with some of the good stuff. So my first pick is one of the most recent additions to my collection – Irene Thomas’ Almost Impossible Quiz Book. Irene Thomas was or years the doyenne of BBC Radio 4s Round Britain Quiz, and this 1982 book has questions very much in the same vein as the show. There are only 300 questions in the book, but they are all cryptic, and require more than just knowledge. You’d never want to use more than one or two of these per quiz, but they’d really give it flavour. Every question has a lengthy explanation in the back of the book, and these are every bit as interesting as the questions.


I have to pick one from four super books associated with famous names. Magnus Magnusson produced two great books, the Quiz Book and the Family Quiz Book. Bamber Gascoigne’s Universally Challenging Quiz Book is a terrific volume, as is Jeremy Beadle’s Miscellany. How do you pick only one of them ? Well, on a personal level, although I like it very much I don’t quite like Bamber’s book as much as the other three. Beadle’s Miscellany has a quirky and at times cryptic quality about it which I love, but I’ve already picked Irene Thomas’ book, and so I don’t in all honesty think I can pick another. Which leaves the two Magnus Magnusson books. They are both excellent, consisting of equal numbers of themed rounds and general knowledge rounds. Each round starts with easy questions, and builds the level of difficulty as the round goes on. Personally I prefer the Family Quiz book, and since its my list, then that’s the one I pick.


So finally, I complete my list with The Prince of Wales Quiz Book. Compiled by Marcus Berkmann, writer of the brilliant Brain Men, this has the brilliant gimmick, if you can call it that, of using real quizzes, compiled by real people, for a real quiz. There’s a significant number of questions here too, but it’s a fact that they are all set out in quizzes. The last section before the answers gives you a set of snowball rounds , and this is a nice idea too. When I read or I use this quiz book I find myself saying – I wish I’d come up with that question – more often than I tend to do with any other quiz book. That’s a good enough reason for picking it as any other.

So that’s it – I’ve already got The A to Z of Almost Everything and my five picks are : -
The Pears Quiz Companion
David Pickering’s Perfect Pub Quiz
Irene Thomas’ Almost Impossible Quiz Book
Magnus Magnusson’s Family Quiz Book
The Prince of Wales Quiz Book

I have no doubt whatsoever that readers will ask – how on earth could you leave out ( insert title ) ? – I’ll be honest I found this much harder to do than I thought it would be and so I invite readers to do the same and share their own lists with us too.

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