Wednesday, 27 August 2008



TV Quiz Watch - Total Recall - University Challenge

Total Recall Wednesday 27th August - Channel 4 5pm

This newcomer is Channel 4's new vehicle for Terry Wogan. Its billed as a quiz with a difference. Well, aren't they all, nowadays ? This is the gimmick. 4 individual contestants compete against each other in the first round. Terry asks 20 general knowledge questions. First one to buzz in gets to answer. Correct answer gets a point, incorrect loses a point. If the wrong answer is given then its thrown open once more, then that's it. The one with the lowest score at the end of round one is out.

The twist comes in round two. All the one answers to round one are on a board behind the contestants. They can't see them, but the audience can. In round two another 20 questions are asked. The answer are the same as round one, although the questions are different. Terry tells us that they are harder, but I don't think so. The main thing is that it does give the contestants a chance to buzz in and guess, and some of them do buzz in incredibly quickly and guess very well too. And some of them don't. At the end of this round the lowest scorer is ejected, and we are down to the last two.

Round three is much the same as round two , same answers, but different questions. Lower scorer is ejected. Then the last player gets a chance to play for the money. They will be given a series of clues to the twenty words on the board. They can elect to answer as many or as few as they like, but unless they go for most of them the money isn't that huge. If, for example, they try 13, the maximum they can win is £5000. If they answer 19 they get £50,000, and if they answer all 20 , they get £100,000. The clever thing is that they have been playing with these 20 words all game, so that should make the final a bit easier , shouldn't it ? You'd think so, but actually playing along at home I found it to be much harder than you'd think.

Could it catch on and be a success ? Who knows ? All I can say is that I enjoyed it. Terry Wogan is a very good and safe pair of hands. You know exactly what you're going to get with him. This is a quick moving, and quite exciting show. Keep it up !

I am delighted to say that the format produces a lot of guesses, one of which provides us with the Daftest answer of the week.

Daftest Answer of the week

Question : What was the nickname of PG Wodehouse ?

Answer : - Ginger ?

University Challenge Monday 25th August - London School of Economics v. University of Bath 8pm

I must come clean. I am an alumnus of Goldsmith's College, which the initiated will recognise as one of the colleges of the University of London, as indeed is the LSE, so I was a little biased for this show. As it was LSE won comfortably, and the best that Paxman could manage in his closing remarks to the University of Bath was "I'm sorry , but that's not a very good score !" Wonderful ! Where else would you get such honesty from a question master ?

On the Grapevine Word on the streets is that the next series of "Mastermind" begins on Friday 5th September. If its true I'm delighted. There's no quiz I play in on a Friday.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Compiling the quiz - TV Tie ins - Music Round

Today I finished compiling the Thursday night quiz for the rugby club. Just a couple of observations I’d like to make about that. I o use quiz books to help me compile a quiz. I don’t get all of my questions just from these sources, but they are a help. I’ve got quite a large selection of quiz books that I’ve built up over the years. A substantial amount of them are book tie ins from TV quizzes. In fact I would go so far as to say that I’ve become something of an addict, and collect all I find.

The point I’m driving towards is this. The oldest book in the collection is probably the 1969 First TV top of the Form Quiz Book. Under 50s might like to know that TV Top of the Form was the TV version of one of the longest running quizzes of all time – radio’s Top of the Form. Top of the Form ran on the radio from 1948 until 1986 ! The TV version had a good long run too – from 1962 to 1975. Basically it was a general knowledge quiz between teams of school children. There were at least 8 quiz books produced to tie in with the series.

Now, you might think that since the quiz was for schoolchildren, the questions would be too easy to use in my quiz. And some of them are. A great many of them though, are surprisingly good questions for a pub quiz. If I compare these books with, for example, the recent “Eggheads” quiz book, I would say that on average the questions are even a little bit harder than they are in the more modern book. What, I wonder, does that say about us in the 21st century ?

On the same note, on ebay this month I bought a rare copy of the 1978 University Challenge Quizbook. I can honestly say it is probably the most challenging quiz book I have ever read. There’s a much newer University Challenge quizbook which was bought out in 1995 just after the BBC revived the series, and this is good, but its nowhere near as difficult.

So this is of course just a personal opinion, but I tend to find that with more modern TV tie in quiz books you’ll usually get a lot more questions. For example – The Weakest Link quiz book has over 3,000 questions, and the last 15-1 quiz books all had at least 2000 in them. The afore-mentioned TV Top of the Form books had 700 questions, and that was good for their day.
However the questions on the whole were better in the older books. In the modern ones they tend to be too easy, and there’s far too much on entertainment and popular culture

I can feel a rant coming on. This brings me to one of the things that really irritates me about some pub quizzes. Many pub quizzes have a music round. This can take a number of different forms, but usually involves being played bits of songs, and then being asked to name the song, or artist or both. I’ll admit that its not my favourite thing, but there we are, plenty of people like it. But what sticks in my throat is the fact that in many of these quizzes, you’ll have a music round, and then between a quarter or a third of the general knowledge questions will be about music too ! Last Sunday night, there were no less than 35 sons in the music round. Then in a round of 20 General Knowledge questions, 6 of them were also about pop music ! There’s no doubt that pop music is a valid and even important quiz subject, but not to the detriment of all others.

For some reason its posting everything on 17th August today

Thursday, 21 August 2008

TV Quiz Watch

Battle of the Brains , BBC Two Monday - Friday 6pm

This is the last week of The Battle of the Brains. I would really like to say that it has been getting better. However this would be an utter lie. My friends, the Ant Hill Mob lost out on Monday. Not because they were beaten however. No , the team captain, Gary , was given two stinkers for his team to choose from. It didn't matter which one the team chose, since he didn't know the answer to either of them.

What some of them have told me since is that they had been so badly treated by the production company they were seriously considering boycotting the next show if they had gone through.

My final thoughts about this show are that its an opportunity missed.

Positives : -

I love the fact that they have tried their hardest to entice great teams to take part.

Its one of the cheapest shows on television - which must make it an attractive proposition to the BBC

However they have never really given the teams a chance to show how good they are. If a team like The Clayheads can have 3 or 4 goes at getting the money, and fail, then its just too difficult.

I dislike some of the head to head battles they use.

Frankly the format is overcomplicated - and as we've seen in the past, overcomplicated quizzes don't often get a second series.

I predict that when it comes to an end tomorrow it will leave our screens for good,unmourned and unmissed.

Sport Mastermind Grand Final Wednesday BBC Two 7pm
If you'll pardon the pun there was a grandstand finish to the series tonight. Des Lynham returned to form, looking thoroughly at ease, and for once sounding interested in the show. A couple of points separated all 6 of the contenders after the specialist subject round. However, in Mastermind its a case of Specialist for show, and General for dough, as Chris Bell romped away from the pack to score a grand total of 32, winning by the impressive margin of 4 points. Delighted to see that he received a proper Mastermind glass bowl too - having one myself I think they're much nicer than the trophies they give for Junior Mastermind or Celebrity Mastermind.

Will it return next year ? I can only hope so.

The Weakest Link - Monday-Friday BBC One 5:15pmYou've seen one, you've seen them all. I noticed tonight that the programme is now 45 minutes long. Yet there's no more questions than when it was 30 minutes. All the more time for nonsense from La Robinson. Well and good if you like that sort of thing . I don't. Still, for the third week running, at least the show provides us with the

Daftest Answer of the Week

Question : - The American tennis player born in 1955 with the first names James Connors is usually known by which first name ?

Answer : - André

University Challenge BBC Two Monday 7:30pm
Selwyn College Cambridge took on St. Anne's College Oxford. I'll be honest, while I nearly always really enjoy the show, I have to say that an Oxford v. Cambridge match up rarely lights my candle. Call it inverted snobbery if you like. Still, a good show. Despite myself I always find myself amazed at the ease with which some of these students answer imponderable, and even interminable science questions. Here's an interesting thought. By the end of the show I hardly know anything more about any of the contestants than I did at the start of the show. Is it any worse for this ? I venture to say not, IMHO. Devisors of other quiz show formats please take note.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Commercial Opportunities

I have given in to market forces. I have sold my first quiz. Not that its my first quiz. Since my debut as question master 13 years ago I've made several hundred, but this is the first I've ever sold, although not the first I've ever been paid for.

I write a quiz for the Aberavon Rugby Club's weekly Thursday night quiz. I take my turn in a rota, but there are only two of us regular setters, and so I write the quiz at least once a month, and quite often once a fortnight. It was my turn to write the quiz for Thursday, and I have put the same quiz onto a well known internet auction site - and already had an offer when I checked this morning.

As it is , I do know someone whose business is setting quizzes, but he has worked at it for years to build up the business, his reputation, and his contacts, so any thoughts of me being able to quit teaching and live on quizzing are at best extremely premature.

I do understand why a pub or club would buy a quiz like this in. If the pub or club has regulars who are prepared and skilled enough to take turns making the quiz themselves, for the reward of a couple of pints, then all well and good. However in reality they can probably buy a quiz off the internet for less than the cost of a couple of pints. Personally I think you can usually tell a 'bought in' quiz when you play in it. They have a homogeneous quality to them. To use an analogy, a ready made meal from your local supermarket will always be edible, but never fantastic, while a homemade meal could always be a disaster, but when its good, its amazing. 'Bought in ' quizzes are bland. They also take away one of life's little pleasures, that of arguing with the question master when he's asked a wrong'un. For the uninitiated, a wrong'un is a question to which the question master gives a blatantly wrong answer - for example, saying that Elton John's first solo UK number 1 single was " Crocodile Rock " - whereas it was actually 'Sacrifice' . You get mistakes in bought in quizzes, but there's absolutely no point arguing with the question master - even if the question master is fully aware that you won "Mastermind" .

So I just hope that whoever wins the auction is satisfied with what he or she - lets face it , probably he - gets for his money. I can't possibly rate my own quiz, all I can say is that it seemed to go well at the club, and nobody pulled me up on any of the questions. I do sometimes worry with a quiz that I'm making it too difficult, and this one I redrafted twice, and changed some of the questions to make it a bit easier. This was probably just as well , since only 2 teams had any full houses in any of the rounds. I also used the gimmick of giving each team a joker, which they could play once after any of the rounds, and double their points in the round. As it was, this made all the difference. The winning team actually answered fewer questions correctly than the second place team. However they played the joker on an 11 point round, where they scored a full house for 22, whereas the other team waited until the last round which had 10 questions, and they only answered 9 correctly to score 18. So they lost the questions by a point.

As well as selling a quiz, I have also been given a tentative booking for a bit of after dinner speaking on the back of my Mastermind win, a thought which frightens and excites me in about equal measures.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Stop Press

Looks like I was a little hasty awarding the daftest answer of the week earlier. For I caught the last 20 minutes of tonight's The Weakest Link, to be greeted with this little gem : -

Question : - The RAF fighter pilot who was the first player to earn 50 caps for Engliand in Rugby Union was called Rory Who ?

Answer : - McGrath ?

While we're revisiting the TV quizzes this week, lets go back to Battle of the Brains for a bit. Tonight a team from Newport and Cardiff defeated the reigning champions, The Clayheads. I know all of the Ant Hill Mob, in fact I actually played in the same team with two of them on Monday. A great performance to win, but they couldn't put together the 6 correct answers to win £2000. That's hardly surprising. Every 3rd or 4th question in this round is an absolute snorter. However it did underline a problem. I really hope that they are not offended when I say this, but 4 of the team are great quizzers, but 2 of them aren't of the same standard. The tactic in the money round tonight seemed to be to start off with a questions to one of the two weaker members of the team, and this just didn't come off as she couldn't get started with a few of the questions. Basically, if you haven't got a team of 6 great players, then you can forget it.

Anyway, well done guys ! The South Wales quiz community is proud of you !

TV Quiz Watch

OK , its time once again for my round up of the quizzes I’ve been watching on TV this week.

No reviews for The Weakest Link, or Eggheads. My comments from last week stand, and I'm afria that I haven’t been at a loose enough end to get the oomph to actually watch either. Hence I am sorry to say that the award for daftest answer of the week actually goes to a team from The Pheasant, in last Sunday Evening’s quiz. Here it is : -

Daftest answer of the week

Question – What is the largest carnivore in Britain ?
Answer - Notting Hill

Back to the telly.

"Battle of the Brains " – BBC2 – 6pm Monday – Friday

Several points of interest this week. Firstly, this week has seen pure quizzing royalty take the stage in this contest. Its almost sacrilege to single out individuals, such is the standard of the quizzers on show. Still, on Monday we had the pleasure of watching a team containing 15 to 1 multiple Grand Finallist, Dag Griffiths, taking on a team containing my predecessor as Mastermind Champion, Geoff Thomas. If that wasn’t enough, on Tuesday we saw Geoff’s team, the Clayheads taking on the Ashford Road team from Swindon. A certain Mr. Kevin Ashman is often a member of this team, although not in this show. So they had to make do with two world champions – Mark Bytheway, and Pat Gibson. Pat has won Mastermind, Brain of Britain, and £1 million on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Not exactly a slouch.

Why is it then, with these magnificent quizzers, only 2 teams have yet won the £2000 prize ? Well, here’s the facts. The show is cheap

Don’t take my word for it. Quiz friends and acquaintances who have appeared on it say they have never been on such a cheap, penny pinching show, where they have been treated so shabbily. They all like Paddy O’Connell, but they also tell horror stories of being left standing around for hours in corridors. Their niggardly allowance of £5 a day for breakfast has to be accounted for by the penny with receipts. Also, players were expected to be available for huge chunks of time out of their lives, when there was no guarantee that they would actually make it onto the show at all. All for a one seventh share of £2000, which it turns out, even the best quizzers in the world have scant chance of winning.

It’s a shame. Its also a shame that this show doesn’t quite hit the target. Tuesday’s Clash of the Titans was an anti climax, because of the way the head to heads work. I don’t want to see people being knocked out after one question. I have actually written to Shine, the production company who make the show, suggesting some drastic changes for a second series – if they have one. Ominously I have not had a reply.

Sports Mastermind 7:30pm BBC2 Weds 13th August

Well, it was the final heat last night. Maybe it was my imagination, but Des just seemed to be a little perkier, possibly seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Winner last night was a Mrs. Arthur – ( sorry, I didn’t catch the first name ) , offering as specialist subject the Wimbledon Singles . She scored a magnificent 18, although I have to say that her questions were a little kind. Sitting in my armchair at home with no preparation ( and admittedly no pressure either ) I got 14 of them right. She played a good game, with a steady, measured performance in the general round to win, and her score got her into the top 6 for the final. Personally, I don’t think she seems quite strong enough on General Sport to win the whole thing, but you never know.

Obviously with my own Mastermind pedigree I’m going to say that I like the show, but I do, and I’ll miss it when its over. If they have another series, though, and I feel every kind of heel for saying this, I really think they need to look again at the presenter. Sacrilege, perhaps, to say this about Des, but he’s not done the job, for me. John Inverdale, IMHO, has the pedigree to make it his own.

University Challenge BBC2 Monday 11th August 8pm

University of Exeter played Pembroke College Oxford. Who won ? Can’t remember. Does it matter ? Well, it probably does if you’re connected with either of the seats of learning involved, but to me and I suspect the majority of the viewing public, not a lot. What does matter is that , as always, this was a genuine contest, a marathon rather than a sprint. What I want from a quiz is questions, questions, and more questions, and thank God University Challenge always delivers. Jeremy Paxman would probably hate to be described in this way, but the man is a national treasure, and should have a grade 1 listing from English Heritage.

On the Grapevine

Dale Winton’s Lottery quiz, In It To Win It, is on the way back soon. This I know because my son had a screen test for it in Cardiff on Monday 11th. If he’s on the show, they’ll tell him within the next two weeks.

Battle of the Brains – tonight ( Thursday ) The Clayheads take on a team with a number of my quiz friends in it – not sure what their team name is, but you’ll notice Mark Labbet, the 7 foot tall runner up from 2007’s The People’s Quiz.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Midweek quizzes

Venue : Pill Harrier's Rugby Club, Newport - 9pm Monday
If you're like me, then you go to different quizzes for different reasons. Some you got to just to see your mates. Some you keep going to because you like the prizes on offer. Some you go to because they're a bit of fun, and you'll always hear one or two questions you might be asked in another more serious quiz. Then there are the quizzes you go because of the challenge provided by the standard of the quiz and the strength of the opposition. Such a quiz is the Pill Harriers quiz.

Its run by Trevor, whose business is setting quizzes. You might be aware of him through the 10 to Tackle sports questions in the Daily Express that he sets every day. The quiz is a cut above what you get almost anywhere else within an hour's traveling distance from my homes.
The drawback ? The handicaps. On Monday night we were the only team starting from level par. A team that were given a ten point head start managed to beat us by a single point. It rankles, but if you want to play in the quiz, you have to just accept the handicaps and get on with it.

How do I rate the quiz ? Well, you get 60 general Knowledge questions, a picture handout, and general knowledge multiple question handout. So, in terms of content and format its pretty damn good. Venue is not bad. Decor is a bit spartan but its bright enough, and you can always hear all of the questions. Also, everyone there is playing to try to win. The question master is usually Trevor, and he is as good a question master as you are going to get. You always feel in safe hands. So it rates
? - ?- ?- ?
4 question marks from me.

Venue - The Duke of Wellington , Cowbridge - Tuesday 9pm

This is more of a social quiz than the Pill Harrier's. You wouldn't say its as taxing, and you wouldn't say that the other teams are that brilliant either. But having said that it was still an enjoyable evening.

Good. This is a medieval building, and its olde worlde feeling is genuine, not manufactured. I like it. Its a little dark, but thats just a minor quibble. The quiz was extremely well attended. The pub is empty at 8pm, there are a couple of teams present by 8:40, but ten minutes later the place is heaving. 12 teams playing on a Tuesday night is good going by anyone's reckoning. The pub also provides sandwiches for all the teams at half time, which is a really nice thoughtful touch.

Well, the quiz is a little short. There's 2 rounds of 20 questions, a mixture of topics, although there were a few too many on entertainment last night. Then there's 7 questions for the jackpot. As midweek social quizzes go this isn't bad at all, although another round would really hit the spot.
Question Master
This wasn't the same person as a fortnight ago. I was a little worried at first when I heard him putting on a 'hospital radio DJ' voice, but it never quite crossed the line into unconscious self-parody. On the whole he tended to get on with the job, and never irritated.

One curious thing, and the same thing happened a fortnight ago, was that after we won the whole pub pretty much emptied within 5 or 10 minutes, and no one approached us to exchange even a few words, even along the lines of "Where you from then ? " - and that's unusual.
Its a worthy
?- ? - ?
three mark quiz, which is no bad score for a mid week social quiz.

Monday, 11 August 2008

First entry to the Guide

Last night I returned to The Pheasant in Pen-y-fai, near Bridgend. There was a little bit of confusion after I arrived when it turned out that the question master had left them in the lurch. Still another of the regular QMs dug out a quiz, and it went ahead.

How do I rate this quiz ? Well the venue scores well, since its light, pleasant and very welcoming to newcomers. Another bonus point is that there are 4 rounds, there’s no charge for playing in the quiz, and yet each round has three prizes. The prizes aren’t all that much to write home about, but it’s the fact that there’s a good share out which is so appealing.

I don’t like the fact that the first round is just music - 30 songs – name the artist and the song, but then its not all about what I like, and the regulars enjoy this. There’s usually at least one picture round, another themed round, an a general knowledge round to finish. So you could end up with as few as 20 General Knowledge questions in the whole quiz. That’s not the way that I like it, but that’s just the way it is. The quiz varies a little from week to week as different QMs take turns to set their own quiz.
Overall I’d give it 2 and a half question marks in the good quiz guide.

It works like this : -

Good Quiz Guide Key

? - ? - ? - ? - ?
Quiz Heaven. You’ll never want to miss this quiz once you’ve played in it.

? - ? - ? - ?
This is a very good quiz, and one you’ll want to come back to. High standards , time an trouble have been taken when setting it.

? - ? - ?
A good standard for a pub quiz to achieve. An enjoyable evening, despite one or two minor gripes

? - ?
Bog standard quiz you could get anywhere, but not terrible.

Not a good evening. Poorly organised, only worth doing if you’re really at a loose end.

No mark
Avoid it like the plague. Poorly planned, inaccurate, terrible quiz master, horrible venue.

In reality, very few quizzes I've ever been to would be guaranteed five marks, but then hardly any would get zero either. In fact, only one occurs from the top of my head, and I shall quote from my diary. This was our one and only visit to the Three Horseshoes in Moulton, on 28th October last year : -

"We arrived at The Three Horseshoes at about 8:20. Now, Moulton seems to me to be in the middle of nowhere. I can’t imagine that the pub gets a lot of passing trade, but it’s a big place. When we arrived there were just 5 of us in the pub – me, John and Phillippa, the barman, and a fellow eating a very late Sunday lunch. We asked, and it turned out that nothing was going to happen until after 9 o’clock, when they’d start giving out the picture round- depending on how many teams turned up – apparently it wasn’t unknown for there to be just two teams there.

Getting on for 9 o’clock, a few teams started to arrive. Eventually the question master came up and started to have a little chat with us. He was very welcoming – called John ‘sir ‘ of all things. Still, he did say ,
“ Oh – you’ll enjoy this – “ which is a bad sign, and then “ It’s a fun quiz “ – which is an even worse sign. My fears weren’t exactly allayed by his next comment – “ there’s no Geography or Science or anything like that . “
For ‘fun quiz’ read amateurish, and unenjoyable, most of the time. Still, we were there now, so we had to stick it out. He gave out the pictures, and then proceeded to circulate amongst the teams, telling them the answers to any of them which they didn’t know !
We noticed that there was a sign above the bar saying that the Sunday quiz was the longest running quiz in the Vale of Glamorgan, and that it began promptly at 7:30. Even allowing for the clocks going back this was ridiculous ! Finally the quiz proper ( and I use that phrase in its loosest possible sense ) began some time after 9:30. He had background music ! I kid you not ! A CD full of old rock and roll ‘classics’, which he turned up to full blast while he was reading out the questions. Now, alright, all of this was not my cup of tea at all, but if the question master had been a good one, it could have still been alright. What can I say ? He fell into every trap a question master can fall. This fellow must have thought he was on TV or the radio. He put on this voice which was straight off Radio 1 c. 1975. Then he started bleating on with every question, eg.
“ Ok , now all of the questions tonight are easy. Easy , Easy , Easy. Did I hear you say they’re easy? That’s right ! They’re all easy ! Now , question 1, your first question tonight, is easy ! That’s right – the first question I’m going to ask you tonight. . . is an easy one. So, here we go . . . with an easy question to begin with. – “ and so on. He engaged in this pseudo-banter with some of the other teams – only he was getting no response from any of them.

After the first 30 questions, he took a break, and he made a beeline straight for our table. Half of me wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d had a look at our answers, and said “ We don’t like strangers round yere !” , but no. He was after an ego boost. He wanted to know if we were enjoying it. Well, none of us are very good liars, but we all managed sickly smiles, and damned him with faint praise. John managed to say “ Its alright, yes. “ He took this as praise, and continued,” Yes, its different from other quizzes. “ I said “ Its certainly different . “ and Phillippa had to stifle a fit of the giggles.

To cut a long story short, we got three questions wrong, but had a 3 point joker question right, which gave us 49 points. Then came the question master’s piece de resistance. He took in all the marked papers, and began to announce the scores. The last placed team, he serenaded with a song I remember from school, recorded by the never to be remembered Ivor Biggun, entitled “The W*nker’s Song “ . I leave the rest to your imagination. Something which didn’t make sense at first was when he said that normally they’d give a bottle to the last placed team, but he didn’t have a bottle to give them tonight. The next best teams both had 38. So when he announced we’d won, he said,
“ Your winners tonight – and they gave all of you a thrashing – scored 49 points. I think that they only came here for the money. So, I’d like to ask the captain of the Boyks to come up and collect the winnings. “ I went up, and the guy shook my hand, and presented me with a bottle of sparkling perry, with the words, “ You thought you were getting a cash prize didn’t you !”

Each player had to pay 75p to enter. OK , its not a lot. But there must have been enough players there to have collected about £15. Where on earth did all of that money go ? There was nothing to say that it was a charity quiz . I mean, as far as I know, they spent out about £1:50 on one prize, and the rest of it perhaps went into the question master’s pocket. I can’t prove anything, but this is what I think happened. He said that normally they’d have a bottle for the last placed team, but they didn’t tonight. So I think that he had a look at our paper, saw how well we did, and decided that we were pros, and he didn’t want us coming back. So he pocketed the cash, and gave us the crappy bottle of wine. I don’t know, but I was just laughing so much when I came out of the pub that I couldn’t stop."

Have you ever played in a worse quiz ? Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Good Quiz Guide

I spent some time yesterday working on the quiz for Thursday night. In the last couple of months I’ve gone back to the old fashioned way of doing it – meaning that I get the books out, work through them picking out questions, and then write them down on paper in categories, making notes about which question should go into which round. Only then do I bring the computer into it.

Writing each question down in this way means you’re much more likely to get the wording of the question right. In my opinion wording the question is one of the most neglected aspects of the question master’s craft. The way that you word a question can make a difficult question gettable, or an easy question impossible. Too often I go to quizzes where the question master doesn’t really have much of a clue what he’s actually asking you – and if he doesn’t know, then how the hell can you, the audience?

I’m a little worried that my quiz may be too tough. I toned own some of the questions as I was writing them out yesterday, but even so I can’t help thinking that it may be too hard, and I might put a couple of easier questions into each round before Thursday. I wouldn’t like to jeopardise my chances of getting question marks in the Good Quiz Guide.

The Good Quiz Guide is one of my pie in the sky daydreams that keeps me sustained in idle moments. Basically it would involve me travelling throughout the length and breadth of Britain, playing in and assessing all the pub quizzes I could find. It would be one along the lines of the Michelin Restaurant Guides, and instead of stars I’d award question marks, to a maximum of 5. I already know my criteria : -

Venue : -
what is the pub/club hosting the quiz like ? This actually covers a lot of ground – you can think of cleanliness and décor for a start, then there’s the range of beverages, and the prices. This is before you even get as far as practical considerations that directly affect the quiz. For example – what is the lighting like ? Can you actually see the paper you’re writing on ? How well does the sound system –if there is such a thing – work ? Is it well attended ? Is it too well attended , and therefore too noisy ? What is the atmosphere like ? Are people actually enjoying themselves ? How welcome are you made to feel as an outsider ?

Format : -
This relates to the structure of the quiz, and the type of questions used. How many questions are asked in the quiz ? What is the range of questions like , in terms of the spread of the topics, and the range of difficulty. Is it clear what each question is actually asking you ? How are the different rounds organised ? Is there a handout ? Are there prizes ? If so, what are they and how many are given out ? Is there a jackpot, or bonus round ? Is there a limit on team sizes? Are handicaps used in any way ? Is the quiz home made, or bought in from outside ? How long, in terms of time, does the quiz last ?

Question Master :-
Question masters make quizzes – literally. It doesn’t matter how good everything else is – a poor question master will ruin a quiz. I’d want to know - does the question master have any kind of rapport with the teams? Does he waste a lot of time , or get on with it ? Does he think he is a comedian? Does he sound like a hospital radio DJ ? When he gives his answers, how accurate is he ? How does he respond to a challenge to one of his answers ? Does he show obvious bias to one of the ‘home’ teams ?

So putting all of that together, a 5 Question mark quiz would be something like this.

It would take place in a clean, well lit pub, where the prices of the drinks are not extortionate. The pub would provide answer sheets, scrap paper, and pens for those that need them. The quiz would be well attended, although there would be plenty of tables chairs and benches for the participants. No one should ever have to play standing up. Non participants would be encouraged to either be quiet for the whole quiz, or to go to another part of the premises for the duration. New teams would be welcome, and made to feel welcome by participants and organisers alike.

The quiz would be open to teams of 2 – 6. Larger teams would be encouraged to split into two. Between 50 and 80 questions would be asked in the evening, not including a handout that would be given out before the start . Ideally marking would be carried out after each round by a specialist marker, to avoid cheating between teams. Three rounds of 20 questions each is a pretty good format. The questions would need to be from a very broad range of subjects, and range from the pretty easy to the difficult , and no one category – eg entertainment – should provide more questions than others. Questions should have been found and compiled by the question master who reads them out – quizzes bought in are usually bland and unsatisfying. Handicaps should on no account be used. A jackpot round would feature. Prizes should be small, since the larger the prize the greater the resentment towards regular winners is generated. The quiz should last about 90 minutes, but this should all be real quizzing, with no 15 minute breaks in the middle.

The question master would have a lively rapport with his teams. I wouldn’t want him to initiate any banter himself, but to be able to respond to comments from the regulars. I’ like him to get on with his questions once he starts, but be prepared to repeat at the end of the round if necessary. He’d need to show understanding that it’s a quiz, not a solo performance. Also he’d need to have made sure that his answers are mostly , if not totally , correct. On no account should he be tempted to give extra clues once he has asked a question. If he needs to do this, then he shouldn’t have asked it.

There we are then. The recipe for a perfect quiz And if you ever find one exactly like this, then please let me know.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Back in the Game

I was away in London last weekend, and didn’t get back until Monday, so I missed quizzes on both Sunday and Monday. I didn’t go to a quiz on either Tuesday or Wednesday, feeling that I owed the family a little quality time after my quiz marathon last week. So last night was the first quiz I ‘d been to in 7 days. What is the world coming to ?

Aberavon Rugby Club, Thursday night quiz.
Question master was Geoff, a guy I know slightly from the good old days of the Neath Quiz league, sadly defunct for several years now. Rob from Lemurs acted as his scorer, so Lemurs were down to just Terry and Gail, and presented little opposition tonight.

Not a bad quiz though. Like Brian last week, Geoff opted to use the connection format, with the twist being that each round had two lots of connections. Personally I thought this made for something of an easier quiz than normal – we dropped three points out of 80, but we won fairly comfortably, and it’s a sobering thought that while many people in the club have complained about a quiz being too hard, none of them have ever complained about a quiz own the club being too easy. One lovely connection he asked was :-

1) Name the element which takes its name from a greek word – Adamis – meaning hard ?
2) Which actor starred in jaws – Whose Life is it Anyway – Down and Out in Beverly Hills ?
3) What lists contain names of the most popular books at any one time ?
4) Which actress has been in Doctor Who, Dynasty, and Triangle
5) What is the connection between your last 4 answers

2) Richard DREYFUS
4) KATE O’Mara ( KATO ! )
5) Pink Panther films !

The KATO connection tickled me. Still, last night’s quiz does leave me with a problem. I am setting next Thursday’s quiz – all well and good – but I wanted to do connections. I can’t subject them all to it again , though. Even a great gimmick like connections can be overused. As a rough rule of thumb I’ll do a connections quiz once every three quizzes. Still, I have a rough idea formulating about using jokers. Watch this space to see if it comes to anything.

TV Watch : Battle of the Brains - Sport Mastermind - Eggheads - University Challenge - Weakest Link

OK – let’s start with The Battle of the Brains. I gave it a cautious endorsement last week – but how is it settling in? Well, I’ve watched it every day since, and that has involved searching for it on the iplayer when I’ve missed it because of other engagements, so that must say something. Maybe its just the fact that I feel almost duty bound to watch a show which has at least tried to encourage really good teams to take part, rather than trying to ferret them out before they get anywhere near the show, which has happened on a few others I could mention.

This is not to say that any of the teams this week came across as well as Di’s Diamonds did last week. Well done to Annie’s Boys who at least won £2000, which is no mean feat on this show. But all of this week’ winners had some quite glaring weaknesses, and the format of this show means you’re far more likely to show yourself up than to cover yourself in glory So after 10 shows, my advice to the production team is this : -

IF you are recommissioned for another series:-

1) Persevere with Paddy O’Connell, but warn him about getting too familiar with contestants. Tell him to ditch the ‘you’re playing for the honour of your whole county’ line. Be a little more stern and serious – watch Paxo on University Challenge Paddy, that’s what’s needed here.

2) For God’s sake, drop the ‘Name a Hairy Dog ‘questions – by which I mean the guess the number questions.

3) Cut the team numbers down to four and a captain. That way you can make the individual battles a little longer and therefore more interesting.

4) As a rough rule of thumb, you want to be LESS like Eggheads, not MORE.

Speaking of Eggheads, it’s a sad state of affairs in this country where the average viewer’s daily quiz of choice is Eggheads, when ten years ago it used to be 15 to 1. Given the choice of watching a revamped 15 to 1, I’m sure that the majority of Eggheads regulars would gladly switch. I watched it a couple of times this week. Same old same old. Plucky amateurs came, saw, and were stuffed for their pains. Mildly amused to see CJ claim that he hadn’t got a Geography question wrong once in this series yet, then promptly get himself knocked out on Geography. But then, that’s what he’s there for I guess, to make the challengers think they have a chance. Which they don’t. Its poor fare, I’m sorry to say, and I can only hope that the forthcoming show to find a new Egghead to join their ranks provides more entertainment value.

There’s usually plenty of entertainment value in University Challenge, and this week was no exception. I know that after the Universities have finished they have teams of professionals, but surely it wouldn’t take a genius to take this format and use it with the kind of teams that appear on Battle of the Brains. I mean, look what you get for your money : -

* A host who has no interest in being the contestants’ friend – and if they make a daft answer, he will tell them.

* A full range of questions, and more of them in one half hour than you get in both Battle of the Brains and Eggheads combined

* Genuine pace and excitement, not the poor apology for tension they try to generate on Eggheads, for example.

* An emphasis on winning the show, and not winning the money ( because there isn’t any ! )

I am still also enjoying Sport Mastermind, even though my quiz acquaintance and fellow Swansea League player David Brayley got knocked out last week. But I have to ask – what on earth is the matter with Des Lynham ? He looks ill, this week he sounded ill, and other people I know who took part say he’s in terrible form, fluffing the questions and needing endless re-takes, apparently. I think he looks most uncomfortable, even in the chat interludes where he should be right at home. I like the show, but Des, you’re worrying me.

I gave up on “The Weakest Link “ a few years ago. When it began Anne Robinson’s bitchy comments were actually quite funny, and usually hit the mark. It used to be a quiz show with a bitchy host thrown in for a little colour. Now its 30 minutes of Anne Robinson being nasty with a bit of a quiz thrown in for a little colour. It’s the tail wagging the dog – and I shall resist the temptation to make a bitchy comment myself here. Anne Robinson though has become a caricature of herself. Still, at least tonight’s show provided the daftest answer of the week.

Daftest answer of the week

Question : - which of the four founding members of the SDP in the 1980s was the daughter of writer Vera Brittain ?
Answer : - Leon Brittain ?

They can still pick ‘em, can’t they ?

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Final Score

Yes, now that my holiday quiz marathon is over I can reveal the final score. Not good actually. On Thursday night we came second in the quiz in the Rugby Club. The connected questions did for us. It was a good quiz, but we just couldn't get two of the connections, and lost 4 points thereby.

The connections quiz isn't my invention - I played in one many years ago, and liked it so much that I stole the idea and introduced it to the rugby cluub. It works like this. Three questions are asked - and there should be no obvious connection between the 3 questions themselves. However, when you look at the three answers you've come up with, then that's the connection. Eg
In an old advert - what gives you the taste of paradise ?
Which actor received oscars for Hannah and her Sisters and Cider House Rules ?
What nationality was tennis player and James Bond film actor Vijay Amritraj ?

Answers : -
Sir Michael CAINE
Connection : - MUTINIES

Its a nice gimmick, and can be good mental exercise coming up with the connections. I do them once every 3 quizzes I do for the club. But now other people use the same idea too, and its not unknown to have connections quizzes twice or even three times in a row. Personally I think you can overdo a gimmick. Once in a while keeps them wanting more.

So, the final score is, from 5 quizzes. won 1 , drew 1 , two 2nd places, and 1 also ran. I didn't go to a quiz last night. This is partly because I have gone to London with three of my daughters for a family get together, and partly because it is very difficult to find a quiz on a Friday or a Saturday evening.