Sunday, 28 March 2010

Boot Sale Tales - 2

I’ve been at the boot sale again this morning. Well, you know how it is. Or maybe you don’t. It doesn’t really matter but whatever your own experience of boot saling, I took Mrs. Londinius and daughter number 4 to a boot sale, and we all picked up daughter number 1 from her flat while we were on the way. Yes, I know that this is going on a bit, but I like to think that these small vignettes add a little homely feel to a blog entry, don’t you ? Oh well, please yourself.

I picked up something which is not a quiz book as such, but is not without its own interest. If you’ve been quizzing for a while, you might just remember a series of quiz books , from the 90s, published by a company called Right Way. I remembered them mainly because of playing in a Sunday night quiz league in Cardiff and district at that time. One of our team recognised a set of a dozen or so consecutive questions one Sunday as all coming from Right Way’s Question Setters Quiz Book, Quirky Quizzes, or Question Masters Quiz Book - I forget exactly which one but it was one of that series. The rest of the team all hurriedly got hold of copies of the book, and for a couple of weeks it worked like a charm, until the setter switched sources. Whether someone had tipped him off that people knew where he was getting a sizeable proportion of his questions, or whether he changed sources as a matter of course I couldn’t say.

So when I saw a copy of Right Way’s How to Run a Quiz, I felt a little nostalgic. Now, I’ve been setting quizzes on a regular basis in the Aberavon Rugby Club for 15 years, so of course I think that I already know how to run a quiz. Still, the book was only 50p, and as in anything else, you should always be looking to learn if there are any ways that you can improve upon what you do, so I bought it anyway.

The usual boot sale drill is that I go round quickly, and then return to the car to enjoy the thrill of the first read of any purchases while Mrs. L. and the girls do their stuff. So when I got back to the car I began to look at the book a little more closely. It’s a little bit misleading calling it How To Run A Quiz. I mean, it does actually tell you how to run a quiz, but it only takes 42 of its 188 pages to do so. The rest of it is ‘sample questions’. Which is a little ironic, since one of the pieces of advice that the book gives you is
“it is inadvisable to use questions from published quiz books “.
Alright, I am taking that a little out of context. Basically the author, Dave Cornish, says that you should use quiz book questions as a starting point, to suggest better questions to you. I wouldn’t disagree with that, but I certainly wouldn’t say that you should never lift questions directly from quiz books. I just wouldn’t take a whole set. Cherry picking seems a reasonable way of doing it to me.

One thing I find interesting is the wide range of different types of quizzes that Dave Cornish gives you advice on running. I’ve no idea if he’s still doing it or not, but certainly at the time, he got around a bit, in quiz terms. The book was first published in 1992, which was actually right towards the end of my first incarnation as a quizzer. Due to break up of teams I was in, quiz friends being ill or becoming disillusioned, and general not-being-bothered-about-it-ness, I hardly went to any quizzes at all in 1992 - 4. I have made up for it a bit since. Still, things definitely were different in quizdom in the late 80s and early 90s. As late as 1995, when I became a born-again quizzer, I could play in three separate quiz leagues during the week. Now there’s only Bridgend still going strong locally. There seemed to be a lot more open charity quizzes then as well- this may be distance lending enchantment to the view, but it seemed like there was one in Port Talbot alone every month or so back then. There were annual local events too, for example in Port Talbot the Eddie Roberts, in Aberavon Quins Rugby Club, where I would dearly have loved to have been on the winning team once, but never was.

All this was brought back to me in the section where Mr. Cornish discusses quiz formats, and he gives you quite a few of these. Individual quizzes, for example. Head to head formats. Mastermind type formats. I’ll be honest, the only individual quiz I’ve ever taken part in away from TV, radio or Grand Prix was on the night of the finals of the 1988 Port Talbot Quiz League, where each team was invited to send one member to compete head to head for the individual trophy. Yes, I did, thanks for asking, although the trophy itself went the way of all flesh yonks back. He talks about how to set out the teams, and where to accommodate the audience . Audience ? Blimey, its difficult enough to get enough teams to run a quiz sometimes, let alone an audience. He even gives you a circuit diagram to make your own buzzers for a quickfire quiz – (I quote – “ for safety reasons , always run it off batteries and NOT the mains “ Quite. ) .

I was also interested, for reasons which I shall explain, in some of the things he brought up about what I shall call, for want of a better phrase, quiz etiquette . For one thing, this piece of advice had me diving for my biro : -

“ However attractive it may appear , never allow one team/person to mark the answers of another. “

As it happens, in the Thursday night quiz in Aberavon Rugby Club we do collect all of the rounds in, and either the question master, or sometimes a specialist marker, will mark them, but this method is very much the exception to the rule nowadays. Mr. Cornish cites his reasons for this piece of advice as – loss of tempo – disruption with teams trying to find out what others are prepared to accept as correct , which leads to – inconsistency .
Almost every quiz I go to now is a ‘swap your answers quiz’ and there’s a whole unspoken etiquette to avoid the above. For one thing, getting teams to hand in to a central marker is every bit as frustrating and time consuming as getting them to swap amongst themselves. As for the rest, I thought that it was fairly well understood in quizzes that you give the benefit of the doubt to the answerer, that is, if the answer has the gist, yet maybe not the exact wording, you give them the mark anyway. If you can’t make the call, then you ask the question master , who as we know IS ALWAYS RIGHT EVEN WHEN HE IS CLEARLY WRONG.

To be fair to Dave Cornish, as I’ve said the quiz landscape is quite a bit different from the way it was 20 years ago. Also, I do agree with a huge amount of what he says about setting a quiz. He is absolutely right to stress that it is crucial to get the phrasing of your question right – I’ve always said that this is a sadly neglected aspect of the question master’s craft in many , many of the quizzes I’ve played in. I also whole heartedly agree that its worth taking time and trouble to set the level of the quiz as appropriately as you can. I just don’t see why anyone would want to ask a question which not only does no one answer, but which they know that nobody will possibly be able to answer.

Moving away from the book, and returning to the question of quiz etiquette, the reason why I bring it up is that for years I have followed what I have always felt to be a generally accepted rule, which is, when a name is asked for in a question or a handout, unless a first name is specifically asked for, then a surname is quite sufficient. For which reason, unless absolutely certain it is usually better to just put down a Christian name. Now, last Monday night I accompanied my son to a quiz in Cardiff, which is a bit run of the mill, but has the distinct advantage of giving away a £100 first prize every week. I’m sure you can see the appeal. For the handout, which was photographs of famous sportspeople, we followed normal procedure of only putting surnames. The bloke who marked our paper wrote all over it, in green ink, which should have told me something -
– and refused to give marks until he was told to by the question master. I mean, when we put Best under a picture of George Best, I would have thought that it was fairly obvious that we didn’t mean Susan, Bert or even Baby David Best. Likewise Davydenko. At least the question master had the moral fibre to back us up on this one. Still, it did make me wonder what on earth would have possessed him to make such a fuss about it. Maybe the 12 points by which we beat him and his team to the money had something to do with it . So it is true, even in a social quiz, radix malorum est cupiditas. Either that or he was drunk. Or both.


Anonymous said...

I'm rather surprised by your thoughts on swapping sheets for marking. Admittedly I don't run all that many table quizzes these days - I stick to the buzzers, as it were - but while I appreciate that swapping sheets is usually expedient, I never thought it the better method.

I always found that there was only one circumstance in which swapping sheets was really workable, and that was when the majority of the people participating in the quiz knew each other - such as genuine regulars in a weekly pub quiz, or a quiz in a club or society. After all, if you're going to have to look the person in the eye later, there's an incentive not to be unpleasant (and indeed there can be a fair degree of entertainment from each other's answers).

But if I were running (as I do about once a year now) a "proper" quiz - that is, one like a big charity quiz, or a one-off event - then I always found the exact opposite: that taking in the sheets for marking by A N Other saved both an immense amount of acrimony and time, and kept the rhythm of the quiz going far better. It also means that when you get the inevitable idiot who decides to argue with your (correct) answer, it's just you and the idiot, as opposed to you, the idiot, and the person marking the idiot's answers.

Incidentally, by way of a more recent reference point, I have a copy here of a 2004 book called "Quiz Setting Made Easy", another of the many that aim to teach the unteachable(!) (full disclosure: I wrote a supportive blurb for the book's cover). The relevant section here merely notes that "both methods have their supporters" in relation to answer marking.

By the way, as I've rather rudely failed to introduce myself properly in the past when commenting on your blog, and my nom-de-internet has caused much other entertaining confusion in the past, I'm Rob Linham - UC 2001, UC:P 2008, now firmly retired, writing buzzer questions and running tournaments with BuzzerQuiz. Pleased to meet you!

Londinius said...

Hello Rob,

Ah, I am aware of your work ! Its nice to 'meet' you in the virtual flesh, as it were.

As regards the whole swapping sheets thing, well, I suppose that its just that the majority of quizzes that I go to do use that method, and as long as the QM knows what he's about there's usually no huge problems. Just my opinion - as always feel free to disagree. I have absolutely nothing against the central marking method - its just that it seems to be the exception rather than the rule down our way.

I haven't organised a big/charity event myself for some time, in fact come to think of it the only times I've ever done it I've doubled as QM / marker, so I can't really comment.

I've had my share of idiots arguing with my answers in my time, and yes, I am ashamed to admit it, I have actually been that idiot myself on occasion !

I think that the more recent book you quoted makes the real point, that both methods have their supporters and can work effectively in the right context. What prompted me to write the post was my surprise that the book is so adamantly, vehemently opposed to what is actually standard practice now in many quizzes throughout the land.

Thanks for your cogent and pertinent comments - don't be a stranger now that we've been introduced.

Dave C.