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.