Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Me and Quizzing right now - Brain of Mensa

If you were with me with my previous post, then you’ll know what’s been going on with me for the last few months. Reading it back, I can see that it might give you the impression that I finished with quizzing completely during this time. That’s not true, at least, not quite true.

I said that I made up my mind during that time that I was going to step down from playing in the Bridgend Quiz League after the end of the 2016/17 season. That is actually true, and I still have no intention of playing next season. It’s a little bit complicated. I’ve already written in the blog about things which happened in the 2016 AGM, which led to my decision not to play in the league in the 2016/17 season, a decision I had to renege on due to the sad passing away of our mate Brian. I didn’t want to leave the team in the lurch mid season, so I played, but enough is enough now. Put simply, my heart isn’t in the league any more, and so I’d rather say that by and large it’s been a fun 7 years, and I’d rather me and the league part as friends.

I also said that I’d begun missing Thursday night quizzes in the Rugby Club. That’s true, and may well happen again. I suppose that one way I’ve changed a bit in the last couple of months is I’ve stopped doing things which I don’t have to do out of a sense of duty. I’ll try to explain that. Prior to 2017, if there was a quiz in the rugby club, and I wasn’t out of the country, or at some work business I couldn’t get out of, then I’d be there. For most of the 20+ years I’ve been going to the Thursday night quiz I really wanted to, anyway. There have been times in the last couple of years when I haven’t really wanted to go, but I’ve gone anyway out of a sense of obligation to the people who’ve taken time and trouble to compile a quiz. (Yes, I do appreciate you all, even though I may moan like hell while the quiz is actually on. Can’t help it.) Since my treatment started, though, I don’t go if I don’t feel like it. The nice thing is that most weeks, I do feel like it, and I do want to go. We still don’t win that many, but when we do, it brightens the whole week for me.

And so to Brain of Mensa. Ah yes, Mensa. That’s a word which tends to put some people’s backs up, and in a sense I can understand why. I’m sure that you already know, but basically Mensa is a society founded in 1947 as an organisation for people who can demonstrate that they have an IQ in the top 2% of the population. The whole idea of intelligence, and how accurately any IQ test can measure whatever intelligence is, well, that’s a whole can of worms which is not best opened here. It’s difficult to argue against the idea that Mensa is an elitist organisation, however much we might like to think differently. It’s also difficult to respond in any meaningful way to the assertion – ‘I don’t need any organisation to tell me that I’m intelligent’ - . So maybe Mensans are the insecure and pitiable figures that certain individuals and sections of public opinion think we are. Personally, when I’ve been involved in a Mensa event, I’ve found that the people involved are a pretty wide cross section of society, and the only characteristic that links all of them is that they are members of Mensa. I’ve yet to see two people swapping IQ scores for that matter.  OK, so I guess what I’m trying to say here is, yes, I know that Mensa as an organisation is something a lot of people take a very negative view of, and that’s fine. If that’s your view, nothing I say is likely to change your mind, and I can live with that.

So – Brain of Mensa. When I first heard about the competition in about 2008, I filed it away in my memory as something to come back to in the fulness of time. I took the test and joined in the summer of 2013, and entered the 2014 competition, where I reached the final and came third. I enjoyed the competition, and very much wanted to win it if I ever could. Back in 2014 I gave myself 10 years to win it. I didn’t enter in 2015, then last year I entered, got to the final, and the questions fell my way. Not being modest here, they did. The great thing about winning last year was that I don’t have to worry about winning now. Seriously, having won it once, everything now is just for fun, and if I never win it again – and let’s face it, that’s the most likely prognosis – that’s fine by me.

Still, I never enter a quiz without wanting to win it, and so I was pleased to get through my first round heat on Saturday just gone.

If you’re not a member, or you are and you’ve never played in the competition, you might be interested in the way that it works. There are three rounds – first round heat, semi final, and final. One winner from each heat goes through to the semi finals, and the winner and second placed in the semis contest the grand final. One of the features of the competition that I really like is that each heat and semi final is hosted by one of the competitors. In theory this doesn’t have to be at anyone’s home- it could be at another venue arranged by the nominated organiser. In practice though it’s usually the organiser’s home. On Saturday I played host for the first time.

I don’t know, but I imagine that the Geographical aspect of the competition can make organisation tricky. To give an example, I live in Port Talbot South Wales. The other two competitors in my heat were from Rhyader in mid Wales, and Wexford, in the Republic of Ireland. Geographically, we were the latter’s closest competitors. I imagine that there’s probably a lot less travel involved for participants living in the South East of England. I’m lucky. Living in Port Talbot I know that I’m probably going to have to travel, and I love it. I’ve been to heats and semis in Chard in Somerset, in Stevenage in Herts., in Marlborough in Wilts. , and in Derbyshire. That’s not counting the two finals, one in Birmingham and the other in London.

As for the quiz itself, well, I think that it’s the hardest individual quiz I ever play in. The breadth and depth of the questions are a real challenge, and that’s the way it should be. The way it works is probably best explained if we take a round involving 4 players, the final or semi. There are 120 general knowledge questions. The questions are set by the estimable Brian Daugherty, who is also question master for the grand final, and they are far above the level of your local pub quiz. They are asked in rounds of 20 questions. Each player would be assigned a letter, A,B,C or D, and a seating position – A 1st, B 2nd and so on. In round 1, A would be asked first question, then B and so on. Should A answer his or her question incorrectly, then B gets a chance for a bonus, if he answers incorrectly then C and so on. Then B would be asked his or her first question, and should he/she answer incorrectly, then it would be offered to C, then D, then A. You see how it works, I’m sure. Each correct answer is worth a point.

Now, after the first 20 questions, seating positions are changed. So while A might remain in seat 1, B,C and D would all swap. This is done in the interests of fairness. In any group of 4 quizzers, while they might all be strong quizzers in their own right, some are going to be even stronger than others. So there is a distinct advantage to coming immediately after one of the comparatively weaker players, in terms of the chances to answer bonuses which you may receive. So after each set of 20 questions the seating arrangements are changed, with the idea being that every player gets a fair crack of the whip with regards to bonuses.

It’s a terrific quiz, and over the years it has been won by some very well known quizzers, whose blushes I’ll spare. Suffice it to say, though, that in the last ten years, the competition has been won by either a Brain of Britain Champion, a Mastermind Champion, or an Egghead 7 times, while the player who won on the other three occasions is easily good enough to win BoB or MM.

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