Tuesday, 25 November 2008

The Question Master Is Always Right

This is dedicated to everyone who has ever had the embarrassing experience of playing in a pub quiz and querying one of the answers given by the question master, only to have this : -

“ The question master is always right . . . even when he’s wrong “

- flung back in his face by everyone else in the pub.

I say ‘his’ for lets face it, even in these enlightened days, along with trainspotting, and eating ones own earwax, arguing with a question master is still an almost exclusively male activity. I’ve been participating in pub quizzes for more than two decades, and setting them for almost that long. In all that time I can remember many, many times when an obviously wrong answer from the question master has resulted in outcry from parts of the audience, yet I can’t remember one instance of a woman being involve in a ‘heated discussion’ with a question master.

The question master today seems to have the same kind of status enjoyed by a soccer referee in the 1950’s. His authority is absolute, and any show of dissent towards him earns the player in question the disapproval of all present. In many ways, that’s a good thing, since a question master who can easily be persuaded to chance the answer he has on his sheet is far too easily manipulated, and at the mercy of unscrupulous teams. However there’s nothing more frustrating in a quiz than failing to earn those precious points you’re entitled to, because the quiz master is either too lazy or careless to make sure that the answer he has is correct.

In a quiz career which has seen me scale the heights, winning BBC’s Mastermind in 2007, and plumb the depths as well, I’ve been struck by just how many times question masters have spoilt their own efforts through having incorrect answers to their own questions.

A wrong’un is a question to which a question master supplies an answer which is wrong , and these come about for a number of reasons.

1)Laziness. The question master doesn’t bother to check his answer, and just assumes that the answer he has always thought to be correct is just that.

2)The question master’s source book for the question is wrong.

3)The question itself has an easy but wrong answer, which most people, including the question master, believe to be correct.

4)Pure accident

By far the most common type of wrong’un is category three. Here is a well known example of this type of wrong’un : -
Which three words complete this quotation from Shakespeare
“ Alas Poor Yorick ,_ _ _ -. “
The question master, and the average person in the street may know full well that Hamlet said,
“Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well. “

Except that he said no such thing. He actually said

“ Alas Poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio . “

Don’t take my word for it. Look it up in the play itself.

You could probably write a book about how such popular misconceptions have arisen. The purpose of this series of blog entries is to try to name and shame the hardcore of ‘wrong’uns’ and to provide the right answer, and a short explanation of what makes it the right answer. I’ve also tried to give advice on how it might be possible to use the question in a quiz, without it becoming a bone of contention

The questions in this series of blogs are the kind of questions which tend to evoke a particular set of responses from the experienced, more knowledgeable quizzer. Lets take the question we started with : -

“Right - Shakespeare quotations. Which four words follow this in Hamlet : -
Alas Poor Yorick – “

Immediately the question is asked the quizzer is presented with a dilemma. He will say to himself : -
“ This question has a simple answer which is wrong, and a more difficult answer which is right. If I put down the correct answer I run the risk that the question master has the wrong answer down, and I could lose a point I should have got. If he has the right answer down, and I put the wrong answer, then the same would happen. So what should I do ? “

9 times out of ten the quizzer will deliberately put the wrong answer down, because 9 times out of 10 the question master will have the wrong answer down. This tactic is known as ‘playing the man and not the ball’. The harder the correct answer, the greater the probability that the question master will give the wrong answer.

So what follows is based on two decades of observation. Every effort has been made to ensure that the answers given are the correct ones, but we are all fallible. If you find any which you know to be wrong, please contact me through email

If you’re ready then – we’ll begin.

Few categories bring out the worst in question masters like People. Partly I suppose this is because some of the most famous people in the world have been guilty of , not to put too fine a point on it, lying about themselves and their achievements. In some cases we can blame inaccurate biographers, and sketchy historical records. In some cases, its simply because stretching the truth, or even breaking it, makes a question which is just too tempting to resist.

What was John Lennon’s Middle Name ?

The way I have written it down, this question is actually impossible to answer. I’ll explain why. John Lennon was originally called
John WINSTON Lennon
When this question is asked, this is the most usual answer given. However in 1969, John Lennon changed his name by deed poll to
John ONO Lennon
So unless the question asks you what it was either BEFORE 1969, or AFTER 1969, you might as well toss a coin to decide which answer you put down.

Advice : - If you want to ask the question, then make it clear what you want – eg. – What was John Lennon’s middle name before he changed it to Ono by deed poll in 1969 ?

How did Mama Cass Elliot die ?

If you go to quizzes on anything approaching a regular basis you’ll have been asked this one before, and the answer will have been : -
She choked on a chicken/ham sandwich
Well, if that was true – how was it that the sandwich beside her remained uneaten ? The fact was that she died from a sudden and massive
Heart attackBut then you’d never ask the question if that was the answer you wanted, would you ?

Advice - don’t ask this one. There’s actually a much better question about Mama Cass’ death - – who died in the same house as Cass Elliott a few years later ? Answer – Keith Moon ! Believe it – its true.

Which film originally featured the song White Christmas ?

This one's from the 'take the question master out and shoot him if he has this wrong' file. The fact that you ask the question at all should show that you know that it isn't
White Christmas

which was actually made to cash in on the song itself. The song originally came from a film called
Holiday Inn
which is only remembered at all today for being the first film in which Bing Crosby sang the song.
Advice : - No need to play the man on this one. If you're question master gets this one wrong, then you won't be the only one telling him where to get off.

What was the last film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers ?

This is another question which will produce a wrong 'un every other time its asked. There is actually a reason for this. The wrong answer that question masters are prone to giving is
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle ( 1939)
Fred and Ginger first appeared together on film in "Flying Down to Rio " in which they were both featured players. RKO studios liked what they saw when the two were paired together for the dance "The Carioca" in the film, and so they paired them in a classic series of nine musicals. The last of these was in fact The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. After this film Ginger decided to take a break from musicals. However, 10 years later, in 1949, MGM studios got the two of them together to make
The Barkleys of Broadway
and this was the last film they made together.
Advice - as a question master - get it right. As a quizzer, put down the right answer anyway, whether you think the question master will know it or not.

Who wrote the James Bond Theme ?

This is one of those questions that question masters love to ask, and quizzers hate to hear being asked. Half the time its asked, the answer will be given as
John Barry
Now there's good reasons why a quiz master might say so. A great many of the themes and scores for the individual Bond films were actually written by John Barry. Also, John Barry arranged the theme for the first film, Dr. No. However, the man who has received royalties for the theme since 1962, who has twice had courts uphold his claim to have written the theme, and who has successfully pursued libel actions against publisher who claimed that John Barry wrote the theme, is in fact,
Monty Norman
With the weight of the British legal system in his corner, I for one am not going to argue.
Advice - Look , its Monty Norman, alright. If you want to ask about John Barry, then ask who composed the themes and scores for . . . and give the names of some of the individual themes.

Which of the Marx Brothers did not appear in A Night At The Opera ( or A day at the Races - or The Marx Brothers Go West - or The Big Store )

This is an unusual question , since the answer you will normally hear given,
Zeppo Marx
is actually right. He did not appear in any of these Marx Brothers films. However, the problem is that it is not the only right answer. For there was another brother who did not appear in any of these films, called
Gummo Marx
Gummo never appeared in any films. However he was part of their vaudeville act before their film career began, so you can legitimately say that he was part of the Marx Brothers. So which one do you choose ? You're faced with the experience of having to play the man and not the ball. Will your question master possibly know about Gummo's existence ? Quite possibly not, and so its safer to put Zeppo. I speak from xperience.
Advice - if the answer you want is Gummo, then ask specifically for the Marx Brother who never appeared in any of their films. If you want Zeppo, then say that he did appear in 5 of their films, but not the one in questions.


What was Zeppo Marx's unique contribution to winning the war in the pacific in 1945 ?

Answer :

His engineering company manufactured the clips which held the Little Boy and Fat Man bombs in place before being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Alright, its not a wrong'un, but its interesting in its own right, so I couldn't resist including it.

Which was the first short cartoon to feature Mickey Mouse ?

You can forgive a question master for giving you the answer
Steamboat Willie
to this question. After all, it was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon to find a distributor. It was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon to have a soundtrack - and one of the first of any cartoons to have a soundtrack. BUT - it had been preceded by two earlier silent Mickey Mouse cartoons - the Galloping Gaucho, which was made before Steamboat Willie, but released after it, and the earliest one , called
Plane Crazy
This was released in May 1928, a good six months before Steamboat Willie. It gained little or no interest from distributors or the public.
Advice : - Avoid confusion, and ask the question the other way around - eg - who made his first ever film appearence in Plane Crazy , in 1928 ?

How did 10CC get their name ?

This one comes from the Department of Tenacious Urban Myths. This is the answer the question master will give you : -
The name denoted the average amount of a single human ejaculation
You can see why this one appeals to a certain type of question master. Yet my medical contacts inform me that the average volume of the above is much closer to 3cc. The real answer, according to band members is this : -
The name was made up by then manager Jonathan King, and he claimed he had seen it in a dream, in which the band’s name were on a massive posted outside a stadium.
Interesting ( if true ) but nothing like as funny
Advice – there’s enough naughty questions out there you can ask – this one probably should be avoided now.

Serial killer Charles Manson auditioned for which TV show ?

Wouldn’t it be ironic if psychotic Charlie Manson had auditioned for the madcap , cute and cuddly zaniness that was
The Monkees
Well, some question masters will tell you that he did. Unfortunately for them it is a matter of record that Manson was in prison when the auditions actually took place. Who started the rumour ? Who knows, but it stands right up there in the wrong’uns hall of Fame with the Captain Pugwash , Baker Street/Bob Holness, and Clint Eastwood /Stan Lauel myths.

Advice- Use it as a true or false question , and explain why its false when you give the answer .

What is the song “Puff The Magic Dragon” Really About ?

Put it all together – It was the 60’s – the title has the words – puff – and – magic – in it . Isn’t it obvious ? The answer often given is

Marijuana / cannabis / illegal substances of some or other kind.

Well, believe it or not , some things are as innocent as they seem, and this was one of them. Puff the Magic Dragon is actually a song about
Er – a magic dragon who is called Puff
The song was written by Peter Yarrow – the Peter part of Peter, Paul and Mary who recorded the song. He based the lyric on a poem written by a University friend, Leonard Lipton – who actually wrote it in 1959 – and it is exactly what it seems, a song about the end of childhood and the loss of innocence. Lipton was inspired by an Ogden Nash poem – “ Really – O Truly – O Dragon”

Advice – Use it as a true or false question – and make it clear that the answer is false.

Well that's the first installment - watch this space for more.

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