Sunday, 23 July 2017

Making it easy


I’ve never deliberately tried to ‘scupper’ a team’s chances when I’ve compiled a quiz. For one thing, I would imagine that it’s a far harder thing to do effectively than you might think. For another, though, it goes against the principle which I think should guide you whenever you compile a quiz, You’re not in competition with the teams, no. Any fool can go on the internet and come up with 80 questions which most teams would struggle to answer. What’s the point in that? What you should be trying to do is to produce a quiz which will give as many people as possible an evening’s entertainment. If you stick to this aim, then you’ll have some better quizzes, and some worse quizzes, but by and large you won’t go far wrong. 

I mention this because it was my turn to compile the quiz for the rugby club on Thursday. As it turned out, Thursday was also a red letter day in another way, being the last day of this school year for the good people of my school. Now, I could have told you the result of the quiz before we played. When I’m playing, there are normally just two quizzes really contesting things, my team, and Lemurs, the best team in the quiz. When I play, sometimes we win, more often Lemurs win. When I’m not playing, if Lemurs are there, they win. 

Now, nothing was going to change that, and I’d be a fool if I even thought about manipulating the result. Now sure how I could do it even if I wanted to. But as I was compiling the quiz, I did want to try to make the gaps a little narrower – to give the other teams at least a chance of getting decent scores of their own. The obvious way to do that is to make it easier. Yet, although nobody ever complains that a quiz is too easy, I don’t really think that anyone wants a quiz full of everyday, easy questions. So the answer I came up with was this.

I often use connections in a quiz – three or four questions, where the questions are unconnected, but a link can be made between the answers. Well, this time in each round the first question was a news question, but after that questions 2 – 9 were all connected by their answers, with question 10 being the connection itself. 

So how well did it work? Generally the scores were a lot higher than they normally are when I compile the quiz. Hopefully the teams enjoyed it, but there’s no point me asking, since none of them would tell you to your face even if they hadn’t. They’re nice and polite like that. Lemurs always have a double figure lead over the second place team when I compile the quiz, and this was the first time that their lead over the second placed team stayed within single figures.

Friday, 14 July 2017

I'm not proud of this. . . but . . .

Thinking about this, I'm pretty sure that I would hate to have somebody who behaves like I do on one of the teams when it's my turn to do the quiz in the Rugby Club. I take it all far too seriously, and although I know, understand, and fully accept the rule that "The Question Master Is Always Right - Even When He's Wrong" - but there are times I just can't stop myself from disputing.

Now, if a question master gives a wrong answer to a bread and butter question, that's one thing. The sensible ones will see that every side has put the same answer which isn't his, and amend his answer accordingly. Alternatively he'll do what I've done on more than one occasion, put his hands up and say, look, sorry - you may well all be right, and if the answer I've got here is wrong I apologise, I just don't know enough on the subject, but I have to stick with what I've got. I can live with that.

However, there are other times when the QM will ask what seems to you a difficult question, which you feel most of the other teams won't answer. Take last night : -
"Who was the first Scot to be Prime Minister of England and Scotland, in 1762?"
The date was the giveaway. I wrote down the answer , "The Earl of Bute", feeling pretty pleased with myself. The QM gave the answer: -
"John Stuart". To which I replied,
"Yes, known as Prime Minister by his title , "The Earl of Bute". I wasn't making this up, it's true. If you look on many lists of British Prime Ministers, he's one of those Prime Ministers known by his title, in the same way that Henry John Temple is much more commonly known as Lord Palmerston.
"It's not what I've got here." he replied, not unreasonably adding, "So I can't give you the point."

In the cold light of day I am glad that I did not succumb to the urge to stand up, and metaphorically slap him across the face with my gauntlet and suggest that we settle this with pistols at dawn. I did, on the other hand, spend the rest of the evening moaning to my team about the way that we were being robbed of a good point, about question masters who can't be bothered to check whether there are alternative answers to their questions - look, I'm not going to go on about it, but I wasn't very pleasant at all. A couple of times I deliberately ridiculed his pronunciation of a couple of words - mind you, to be fair he did insist on pronouncing Poitiers as Potty-arse, so there was some mitigation. You're quite right if you think that this was all very childish and pointless - we wouldn't have won even if we had been given the point for the answer.

Which is a shame, because, it wasn't a bad quiz when all was said and done, and did have a great hand out - well, great for me, anyway. We were given a sheet of paper with the titles of about 30 quiz or game shows, and the year they first began, and asked to name the first presenter. You know that I love quiz shows, and so this sort of thing was right up my street. In fact, I was convinced I'd have all of them right, until the QM announced - "What's My Line - 1951 - Gilbert Harding." I had written Eamonn Andrews. Thankfully I resisted the temptation to make a comment, on the possibility that this might be right - and I googled it when I got home. Quite right, Harding presented the premiere, but threw a hissy fit when he was handed the cards about the contestants in the wrong order, or something of that ilk.

Is Food and Drink a problem?

Actually, the title reminds me of an old Morecambe and Wise joke during one of the plays wot Ernie wrote. Eric picks up a bottle and does his thing holding up his arm straight to conceal the fact that he is drinking straight from a bottle concealed behind it. The female guest star, shocked, remarks, words to the effect of - surely you're not a hard drinker, are you? - to which Eric replies - not at all, I find it very easy! -

Wrenching myself back onto the subject, in an email conversation with a quizzing friend this week, he asked me whether I felt it was fair to say that Food and Drink is a subject that is problematical even to good quizzers. Interesting question, and I thought I would share my thoughts with the world in general on this one. As always, this really is just my opinion, and feel free to disagree: -

The kind of person likely to be any good at quizzes will probably have picked up a grounding, a baseline of knowledge about a wide range of subjects through education, personal interest, general reading, television etc. This is less likely to have happened with Food and Drink. For example, there are a significant number of popular TV programmes about food and drink, but they’re often just about the preparation of food, and the creation of dishes. With the best will in the world, education, personal interest, general reading, television etc. are unlikely ever to have provided you with the knowledge that the apple is a member of the rose family, aloo in Indian cuisine refers to potato, and Yarg is a Cornish cheese wrapped in nettles whose name is not a Cornish word, but the name of its creators – Gray – backwards. So it really is a subject where the average quizzer would not begin with a decent baseline knowledge, unlike a subject like History, for the sake of argument. This means that it’s a subject where most of us have to do some learning, unlike History.  What complicates this as well is that it’s not the sort of subject that most of us would choose to learn about purely out of interest, and the fact is that there are plenty of even good quizzers out there who can’t be bothered to learn for quizzes, especially anything in which they are really not that interested for its own sake. 

I also think that it’s a subject where the question master’s own lack of knowledge and interest can cause problems. In the traditional quiz subjects, the question master will often know enough to be able to understand the difference in difficulty and obscurity between asking

“Who was the last Anglo Saxon King of England?” and 

“Who was the last Merovingian King of France?” and in practice a question like the latter would rarely if ever be asked in a pub quiz.  It doesn’t always work like this with Food and Drink. For example – you might get a QM ask an easy one like: -

“Which spirit is used in a Bloody Mary cocktail?” – That’s a perfectly reasonable general knowledge question which you wouldn’t have to have specialist knowledge to answer. However the same QM is just as likely to ask: -  

“Which spirit is used in a Red Witch cocktail?” – which just isn’t within the realm of general knowledge so much, and is far more specialist. The QM in many cases just wouldn’t know that it’s much harder than the other question. This sort of thing can bedevil quiz leagues as well.  

However, on the other side of the coin this doesn’t mean that it’s a subject which has to be a problem for the serious, dedicated quizzer, if you’re prepared to put some effort in and learn for it.  With a little thought, it's not that difficult to identify areas of Food and Drink knowledge which pay dividends in quizzes. So I guess I’m saying that where Food and Drink becomes a problematical subject it is because :- 

* The typical quizzer does not begin with the same baseline knowledge of the subject as he/she does with subjects like History/Geography/Sport etc. 

* Question masters as a rule do not have the feel for the subject that allows them to pitch questions consistently, and so it can happen that questions asked on F & D can end up being relatively harder than questions on other subjects.  

* Decent to good quizzers need to learn for the subject but they often don’t bother, because it seems like a bore, and quizzing, after all, is something they do for pleasure. The top quizzers negate the problems with Food and Drink because they analyse what question masters tend to ask, especially the recurring sub-topics , and they learn more than they need to.  

* Therefore my personal feeling – feel free to disagree – is that it’s not a problem subject if you’re just quizzing for fun and don’t mind that much if you win, lose or draw. It’s not a problem subject if you’re serious about winning quizzes and you’re prepared to put the time and effort into learning your stuff. It IS a problem subject if you’re serious enough about wanting to win quizzes, but not serious enough to put the time and effort in and are just relying on your natural ability.