A Question of Sport?

Although it’s generally seen as an archetypal subject for quizzes, the most divisive round I run, without question, is the Sport Round. There are many occasions where I avoid including Sport unless it’s specifically asked for, unless the crowd is quite clearly sport-orientated or unless the length of the quiz dictates that there must be.

I’ve actually taken to asking teams whether or not they want a sport round and if there is a clamour against it, I do something else instead, and throw in a bit of sport elsewhere in the quiz. This is what happened at my quiz in Dublin on Wednesday. I asked if they wanted Sport, they said yes, and, to be fair, the standard was extremely high. Just as often, though, when I ask the question, there is a loud chorus of “Noooo”.

So, what is it about Sport which makes it not actually an ideal topic for our quizzes? Especially when so much “trivia” seems to be sport-based, when there are so many statistics and so many stories to get your teeth into.

Well, in a way, that’s part of the problem. There’s just so much of it, so many areas and angles that it can be hard to know where to pitch it. Someone might know a great deal about, say, snooker, cricket and rugby, but be utterly indifferent to other sports. If those sports don’t come up, they’ll feel as left out by the sport round as someone with no interest in sport whatsoever.

And what else? Well, quite frankly, lots of people hate sport. Hate it in a way that it’s pretty hard to hate music or films or geography or general knowledge. They manage to exclude it entirely from their life, and why shouldn’t they? Having it suddenly imposed upon them can cause real resentment.  Interestingly, both on review sites and amongst friends who bought it, one of the few quibbles about our highly successful iPhone app (called QuizQuizQuiz) was that there was a “disproportionate” amount of sport categories. In fact, there wasn’t, there was the same percentage of sport questions as there was all the other main categories, but that indicates the extent to which Sport looms like a grisly beast to those that don’t like it.

On a personal level, I’ve been obsessed with sport and sports statistics from a young age (I pretty much memorised every Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack between 1984 and 1991), but that was almost a drawback when I started out writing quizzes. It’s not the minutiae and the geeky facts that are of interest to any but a tiny minority. The key to a sport round working for an audience, like we have at our corporates, that may not even like quizzes, let alone sport quizzes, is to be fair, broad, not too hard, have lots of stuff which is possible to work out/think through on a general level, questions about men’s and women’s sport, questions about sporting legends who almost everyone has heard of, nothing which will make people think sport is even more pointless than they already do!

Here are one or two examples of sport questions, all, in their own way, fun questions (in my opinion) but in different ways.

1. (A general knowledge, thinky question, which actually has very little to do with what you know about sport, so works for most audiences)

In which sporting event does the winning team move backwards, and the losing team move forwards?

2. (This is a real sports geeky question. I love it, but teams rarely get it right, it requires both serious knowledge and a bit of lateral thinking)

Which is the only team in the Premier League at the moment that has never been relegated from the top division of English football?

3. (This is the kind of question which works well near the start of a sport round, it’s about sport, but not, it lets people who fear sport know that there’ll be stuff in the round they can help with)

Rod Tidwell was a successful but temperamental wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL. Who was his extremely famous agent?

4. (This is a good solid sports question, about a legendary sportsman who everyone has heard of. It requires a bit of knowledge, but not too much, and has a nice 50/50 element to it)

What name was given to Muhammad Ali’s 1975 fight against Joe Frazier?

Good luck with those, sports fans!

Bright Jackets and Sparkly Bow-Ties

What should a quiz master wear?

Of  the hundreds (and thousands) of clients for whom we have run quizzes over the years, the vast majority, say 99%, are entirely happy that we will dress appropriately for the event. Sometimes they don’t even tell us that the event is Black-Tie (luckily, we always ask, so we can dress suitably).

However, some people are desperate for us to wear bright jackets and sparkly bow-ties (but the majority would be desperate for us not to!). Events companies seem keen for us to wear black, when we’re meant to be in the foreground and not fading into the background. We’ve even had a client worried that the quiz master would be wearing clown shoes (I think she might have been confusing a quiz master for a clown – generally, but not always, they are different).

In my view there are only two rules, one obvious, one less so, but both about not making an issue out of clothing:

1. Dress at the same level of formality as the audience (and find out in advance, if necessary, what that will be). Let your quiz running impress the audience, and don’t let your attire (whether too formal, or too casual) distract from that.

A good example of this was Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee running a quiz with us the other day. It was Hallowe’en fancy dress, and they played along spectacularly.

2. If it is hot, and/or you are the sort of person who sweats a lot, then wear an extra layer under your shirt to absorb sweat, thereby avoiding unsightly patches emerging during the quiz which could distract the quiz participants!

What do you think a quiz master should wear? Is a quiz not a quiz if the quiz master isn’t dressed ostentatiously?

The Golden Cheer

So what, at a quiz night, gets the biggest cheer? Though I will, at the end of this post, give a definitive, cast-iron answer to this, I will provide a little musing and analysis on the subject beforehand.

The loudness of a cheer at the answer to a quiz question is dictated by two important factors 1. How many people are cheering 2. The amount of noise each person is making. Rocket science this, isn’t it?

People cheer if they get something right, so, first of all, you want a question that loads of teams get right. That deals with issue 1. But how much noise will they make? They will make more noise if they are delighted with themselves for getting something right than if they knew they were going to get something right. So that deals with issue 2. It is no good just asking lots of questions that every team is guaranteed to get right and they know instantly they’ve got right – the resulting cheer will be desultory at best.

You want a question, therefore, that most teams will get right, but they won’t be sure until you’ve given the answer that they have right. You want them to have considered more than one option and then chosen the right option. But rather than pure multiple choice questions, where you give them the options, you want teams to have come up with the options themselves. People cheer loudest if they think they might be the only team in the room to have got a question right, but of course the loudest cheer of all comes when every team thinks they are the only team to have got a question right.

Cheers are lovely for a quiz master, as they are for anyone with a microphone, I suppose. [Never having been a rock star, my experience is limited]. I remember at the first corporate quiz I ran in 2006 there were teams cheering answers, and me thinking “Gosh, this actually works. I can do this”. Not only are cheers good for the quiz master’s ego, they are a good gauge of how the quiz is going and the nature of the crowd. In giving the answers to Round 1, I’ll usually have included one guaranteed “big cheer” question (to which the answer is often Antarctica!) and until I’ve heard that, I can’t be entirely sure what kind of night it’s going to be.

There isn’t a formula  – some times the cheer is a bit of a surprise. I have a question at the moment to which the answer is ‘Snakes on a Plane’ and I have no idea why saying that answer sends teams into raptures and makes middle-aged men in suits bang their tables and spill their drinks in delight, but it does. Part of the fun of asking new questions at corporate quizzes is getting that first surprise cheer when testing a question and thinking “That one’s a keeper!”.

Anyway, I said I’d give a definitive, cast-iron answer and i’ll be true to my word. Here’s how it goes. One of my colleagues last week was assisting a “celebrity host” at a big charity quiz (we love doing charity quiz nights, but they can be challenging because of a typically very broad demographic) . This celebrity host is a famous, well-liked, extremely funny (in my opinion), clearly intelligent stand up comedian who is often seen on telly performing to large audiences. Before giving the answer to one question on the music round, my colleague said to him “Just say “And all those songs were UK Number 1s in Ninety Ninety (pause) One” and you will get the biggest reaction you’ve ever seen” “Really?” said the comedian. “Really” said the quiz master. So, he read the answer as instructed, got the expected reaction, and turned to my colleague with a smile on his face.

And that’s how it is. I’ve run hundreds of quizzes, but i know without doubt that the greatest eruption of joy and noise, the golden cheer of the evening, will greet me saying a year with a little pause in the middle.