Just a few days ago in a quiz I was faced with a dilemma which I’m sure is all too familiar to the regular quizzers among us. I was asked a question – alright, nothing unusual there – but it was a question which had been phrased in such a way as to make it clear that there could only be one answer. The problem was that there are two possible answers. The question was “How many toes does a sloth have on each of its feet ? “ Now, I’m sure you know what I’m getting at with this one. For there are actually two families of sloths – the three toed sloths, and the two toed sloths. But it’s even more complicated than that. For the two toed sloths only have two toes on their front feet, but on their back ones they have three, just like the three toed sloths.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s obvious that either the questionmaster meant on their back feet, or he just meant the three toed variety, and so a safe percentage answer would be three. And you would be right to think so, and indeed we shoved down three , and earned the point. And maybe that is the point – knowing enough to ensure that we earned the point even when the question wasn’t that well thought out. But maybe it isn’t. For, strictly speaking, as the question was asked it was defective, since not each sloth does have the same number of toes on each foot. As Alexander Pope once said – a little learning is a dangerous thing ( although dangerous for whom I can’t be sure ).
Actually, if I’m honest, the experience brought a little warm glow of nostalgia to me. I’ve mentioned before that I had a year or two off in 1992 and 3 when my first team broke up, and I wasn’t going out a great deal, and then our then Head asked if I’d take a team of Year 11 kids to play in the Mayday in Melin quiz. We won, and when the second place team were satisfied that even though the team was just me and the kids it was all kosher and above board they invited me to join their League team, and I’ve been playing in quizzes at least once a week for most of the years since. Why I mention it is that I remember one of these duff questions being asked on the night. The question master, the late Viv O’Shea, had been a key member of the Neath Quiz League, and a good quizzer in his time. Viv asked the question , “How many strings does a guitar have ? “ Quick as a flash Andrew – with whom I would later play when I transferred my allegiance to the Royal Exchange after the team from Neath Workingmen’s folded – shouted , “Is that an 8 string guitar or a six string guitar ? “ to general laughter. To which Viv, without batting an eye, calmly replied , “Six string - next question . . . “ I admired that.