Thursday, 21 April 2011

A Question of Quiz Books

I suppose that it all started with Howard. Howard is a regular in the rugby club quiz, and when I started compiling quizzes for the club 16 years ago, he was still working as a teacher in a local school, although not the same one in which I teach. Whenever I used to act as question master, Howard always used to ask if he could borrow the set of questions, so that he could take them to work the next day, and ask them in the staff room at lunchtime. –Good idea – thought I. However I took to actually asking just my questions before I used them in the club. The staff room seem to enjoy them, and they often ask me when the next one is going to be if I haven’t done one for a couple of weeks. As for me, it’s a useful acid test of the questions, being as my colleagues really aren’t quizzers – highly intelligent and educated people, yes, but not quizzers. So if they fare pretty well on the questions, then I know that its certainly not going to be too hard for the regular teams at the club.

This time last year our headteacher, Huw, moved on to a school in another authority, much closer to where he lives, saving himself a rather arduous commute each day. Our new Head is actually a former colleague of mine, who went on to other schools to further his career, and has come back to us as Head. So we already knew each other quite well when he started, and more importantly, he had played in many of these lunchtime sessions himself before he left. We share a lunch duty every Wednesday lunchtime, and a couple of weeks ago he asked me,
“Did you ever think of writing your own quiz book ? “
Interesting question. I can see where he was coming from with this. After all, I’ve produced many, many quizzes over the years for the club, and even allowing for the fact that you do recycle questions over a long period, I suppose that I must have set enough decent ones to fill a book in my time. I tried to put it into words exactly why it would probably be a non-starter, and probably failed miserably. What I think I was trying to get at was as follows.

There are many, many quiz books out there. The vast majority of them carry the same questions – with of course a few variations, but by and large there are huge similarities between a great many of the general knowledge quiz books out there you can buy. Why should anyone want to publish another just because I compiled it ? Even if you think of a gimmick to make it slightly different, chances are its already been done. My favourite gimmick for my rugby club quizzes is the connections quiz. You know how it works – three seemingly unconnected questions are asked, and the next question is to explain what connects the answers. I never invented this format of question – I nicked it from Geoff Evans in Neath, and he probably had it from someone else – but I was the one who introduced it in the rugby club. Its very popular, but in terms of quiz books, its been done. My favourite examples of this genre were the two Hutchinson QuizLink books- shame that they never did more.

An alternative would be to produce a very specialist quiz book on a particular subject. Actually, there are also a hell of a lot of these out there on the market. If you think of a specialist subject which has appeal to more than just a small handful of people, then chances are that there is already a quiz book about it out there somewhere. Special interests mean smaller sales, I would have thought as well. Which also brings me to the point that fun though it might be to compile a quiz book, even allowing for the unlikely possibility that you could interest a publisher in the first place, the question remains as to whether you would ever sell enough copies to make it worth the effort. In all honesty I don’t know how many copies an average quiz book sells, but I would be surprised if it’s a huge number.

This train of thought, though, did lead me to start speculating on a couple of related questions. First question - if you could write a quiz book about ANY subject, however esoteric, what would it be ? I must admit in answering this one I would be tempted to fall back on two of my Mastermind subjects – namely London Bridge, and The Bayeux Tapestry. Even though its almost a year since I was learning about the Tapestry, I feel I could probably sit down and write a good 500 questions about it from scratch now. Now, lets get to the second question. Thinking of all the quiz books in my collection, I picked up an aged copy of “The Hunting Quiz book” a couple of months ago, which I guess would probably be the most unlikely one that I’ve got. So I’m intrigued as to what people think might be the absolutely most unlikely subject for a quiz book .

Looking forward to your suggestions.


Anonymous said...

I would write a quiz book on the London Marathon - a potential specialist subject if I ever get on Mastermind.

My wife once bought me The Red Dwarf quiz book - probably the only expression of interest she's ever shown in quiz!

Londinius said...

Hi Chris - Good subject- full o interest but finite.

thanks for leaving a comment.

Dave said...

I could do a decent Blakes 7 quiz book. I'm a fan from back when it was first broadcast, so I have plenty of reference material for building a quiz. Michael, on the Mastermind production crew, is also a fan. When I was doing B7 as my specialized subject, Michael phoned me to discuss it prior to the 'chat' with John Humphreys and we just gossiped on for ages.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of rather specialised mini quiz apps for iPhone etc. I was somewhat surprised to be asked if we could write "2000 questions about the popular TV show Danger Mouse".

Londinius said...

Hi, and welcome to LAM.

I'm actually surprised if there isn't a Blakes Seven quiz book out there - I know that there was even a Blakes Seven magazine out there at one time.

Hi Jack

Congratulations - you have boggled my mind on how on earth anyone could either a) Find , or b) Want 2000 questions on Danger mouse - good as it was at times.