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First Hand Experience of Question Difficulty

This is a follow-up to the last post – I want to expand on how the different aspects of our work fit together. (These two strands are hosted quiz nights and quiz question writing for TV shows, games, iPhone apps etc.)

Those have always been the two main areas of our business – over the years the hosted quizzes have taken the lead, certainly they’ve been more consistent. The question writing side obviously depends a little more on what comes along. I mean, we’re always writing questions, but we’re not always working on a major commission – more like bits and bobs here and there.

In the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of really good question writing work, so much so that there has been less time for our main question writers to run quizzes.

Yet, the experience of hosting quizzes is vital, I think, to our writing questions successfully.

I’ve run over 400 quizzes for people all over this country and occasionally overseas, for people of all ages, in different industries, for different purposes. I’ve asked questions on every topic that makes a good quiz question and a few that don’t.

And I get to see, first hand, how those questions go down. I get to see what people know and don’t know, what they’re proud to know and what they don’t care about knowing, what’s workoutable and what’s not.

And because our quizzes are for different clients, we get to re-use questions, so we know whether a response, positive or negative, is a one-off or not.

And that’s just me – between us, as a company, we’ve run over 3000 quizzes, and we ask our clients and our quiz masters to feed back on every event. So, we know very well if a question is a big hit or not.

This gives us a vital edge when it comes to question writing for TV, we think. To us, calibration, alongside entertainment, is more than guesswork. We have evidence to back up the fact that we know how to set quizzes, to write questions that people want to participate in and puzzle over.

It’s not just the hosted quizzes, either. There’s also the Friday Quiz, which started in 2008 and now goes out to thousands of people a week. Every week, I look at how people have done, how many people have bothered trying to answer each question, how many have got it right. This is vital information to understanding what people do and don’t know.

Anyone can reasonably think they’re an expert in quizzes, anyone who writes questions, participates in a lot, watches a lot, but we think our combined experience puts us in a privileged position. You’re left with egg on your face if you think you always know exactly how a question is going to be answered, but the numbers work themselves out.

We see hundreds, if not thousands, of people answering our questions. Most question writers only ever see one or two people answering questions they write, so they get very skewed calibration feedback.

We tell our quiz masters, when they run quizzes, that the right level involves the worst team not slipping much below 50% and the best team not getting above 90% – an ideal spread is between about 60% and 85%. And that’s what happens. Almost every time.

It’s not a naturally easy thing – the first round I ever set, which I was terribly proud of, the scores ranged between 6 and 11 out of 20. It was a disaster. The questions, in and of themselves, were mainly interesting enough, but they were all at the harder end of the scale, some of them weren’t possible to work out. Despite my love for quizzes and my concern for getting it right, I didn’t yet have the first-hand experience of getting the overall level right.

So, this is what we do. We host quizzes and we write questions. They feed into each other. Every question I’ve ever written and every question I’ve ever asked and seen answered feeds into how I write now.

Questions about Ed Balls

When a blog falls silent, it’s usually either a good or bad sign. Thankfully, in this case, it’s the former. We’ve been BusyBusyBusy rather than QuietQuietQuiet (sorry, that’s terrible …).

I’ve been writing, rather than hosting, a lot – almost exclusively. in fact. This blog has had three main purposes since it began – 1. (being honest) to help bring traffic to our website 2. to provide specific information on our quiz nights for our clients and 3. to just be informative and a bit of fun while being a bit of an authority on all things quiz.

A lot of my posts over the last few years have been about the joys and pitfalls of running quiz nights, and, as I say, they’ve served as places to point a client about the way our quizzes work. Until last week, though, I hadn’t run a quiz for about 9 months, so I just didn’t feel inspired to be writing all that much about quiz nights (as well as the fact I’ve written over 100 previous posts and I’d run the risk of repeating myself).

The writing work has been good – interesting, creative, exactly the kind of work we want to be doing. For me, it’s also often quite solitary, and a world away from the quiz nights. The atmosphere at quiz nights varies, but they do very often turn into loud and raucous mass participation events, which appear to be barely on the edge of control (though in reality we are always in control!). The best ones do, anyway.

For the last year, though, I’ve more often been in my special sound-proof QuizQuizQuiz shed trying to construct quiz questions/rounds/shows as if they’re haikus hewn from the very core of language and knowledge. Who knows, maybe sometimes they are …

Anyway, what’s my point? (I’m out of practice at writing blogs with a point.) Just that it’s a big quiz world and getting bigger. Gosh, some of those quizzers are turning into rock stars, as this rather good  documentary http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b084fs6s claimed. Even our own director, Jack, has been on the radio talking about the whole quiz thing (among other things) on ‘The Museum of Curiosity‘. It’s a broad church.

For me, as a quiz writer, the essence is now boiled down to knowing what people know. I’m good at that now. Whichever people, in whatever setting, whether online, on a TV show, in a room, in a pub, that’s a skill I’ve got. It’s far from faultless, though. There’s as much joy in someone unexpectedly knowing something you thought would stump them, as there is despair in people using neither knowledge nor knowhow, and failing miserably when you least expect it.

Quizzes should always reward knowledge and knowhow – it’s a bit of a shame when people apply good reasoning to a question and still get it wrong. That applies to any quiz situation.

For some reason, this year, I’ve written a lot of questions, often in completely different contexts, about Ed Balls. Currently no man alive lends themselves better to slightly comical quiz questions. Thank you Ed Balls. And as my own little tribute to Ed Balls Day … Ed Balls.

I ran a quiz last week – a big old quiz for 200 people in a bar in London – an old routine I’d fallen out of but thankfully fell back into pretty quickly. My joy for the last year has been applying a fair bit of science and a little bit of art to question writing, initially on my own, then in close, limited collaboration. However, last week I remembered the joy of playing ‘Sound of da Police’ at high volume to a room full of tipsy but fiercely competitive business-folk, and, of course, I remembered the age-old rush of saying “And the year when they were all Number 1 is Nineteen …. ninety ……………. nine”

The best quiz you’ve ever been to

When I first became a quiz master for QuizQuizQuiz, almost ten years ago, I remember Jack, David and Lesley-Anne,  the company’s founders, all telling me independently that even though I’d just started, this, the first quiz that I was going to run might well be the best quiz night that most of the people attending had ever been to.

Not so bold a claim as it might first appear – notwithstanding that it might just be the first quiz night some people at our corporate events had ever been to, it might well have been that many attendees had previously encountered only run-of-the-mill pub quizzes, with 50 lifeless questions rattled through for a tenner, and we could be entirely confident, 10 years ago, that the material, the care, the thought, the variety of our quizzes was at a higher level than most people had ever encountered before.

Can we still be so sure of this? No, probably not. The world of quizzes has moved on (we’d like to think, following our lead). There are many more companies and individuals who claim to run high end quiz nights, there is wider availability and understanding of the kind of technology that can spruce up a quiz. There’s a good chance that plenty of the participants at one our of quiz nights have been to some pretty good quizzes before. Furthermore, so many of our quizzes our for repeat clients, who book us again and again, that an awful lot of people at an awful lot of the quizzes we run have been to a number of marvellous QuizQuizQuiz quizzes before. The quizzes where you’d get a buzz of excitement just from unveiling a fancy image on a screen are few and far between.

Can we really keep on exceeding ourselves? Well, we can try. It’s still important to go into every quiz thinking that it might be/can be the best quiz that some participants have ever been to, that it might stoke a dormant passion for quizzes in someone. When you’ve run several hundred quizzes, you may not find that every quiz you run is the most exciting and brilliant that you yourself have ever been to, you may encounter different obstacles, different crowds, different timings which make it easier or harder to run the ideal quiz, but there’s still a very good chance that if we keep on writing questions with care, innovating with round formats, devising new ways to engage people at every level, creating new audio and visual material, reconsidering the best ways to organise and compere quiz nights, it will be the best quiz lots of people in attendance have ever been to.

Too Easy/Too Hard

I recently recalled the first round of quiz questions that I ever set for QuizQuizQuiz.

It was March 2006, I’d been given a job with the company, I was full of myself and raring to go. I’d already run a couple of quiz nights, which I hadn’t written the questions for. I’d been given some rounds to write for our two weekly pub quizzes (now dormant) in Putney and Hammersmith.

I wrote various questions for various rounds and was assigned the 20 question Jackpot rounds for both quizzes. Excited to see how they went down, I was at the Fox in Putney on Monday night, not as quiz master, but as marker.

I had form with this quiz. In fact, I’d participated in it very successfully for several months – that’s how I got the job. It was a very high standard quiz and the jackpot round was, deliberately, the hardest round. Teams had to score a minimum of 17/20 to have a chance of the money. I knew the target audience, I knew how to pitch it, I thought.

Now, bear in mind, as someone who loved quiz nights, this was my blank slate. They often say about first and second albums that the first is full of the songs the artist has been perfecting their whole life, while the second is something they only have a few stolen months to write. Well, this was my first album, these were my questions, the best I had.

9/20 was the highest score. The quiz had been, as every week, buzzing at the usual expertise of the QuizQuizQuiz quiz master, it was at fever pitch for the culmination, the jackpot round. And my round killed it stone dead. Puzzled looks and shrugs, shouts of “it’s too hard”, “I don’t get it”. I was a little bit crushed.

I’m just looking at the round now on our database. Any gems? A couple, but yes it’s far far too hard, and there are quite a few ambiguous questions – the subject matter is a showy-offy display of my own interests – Scottish indie pop, linguistics, philosophers, 60s athletics and rock music, Medieval history, Art pranksters, ancient Greek, 90s comedy, old radio adverts, Pubs and Beer, African politics, cricket-playing Irish playwrights. I didn’t realise the extent to which my history was not shared history.

I should have, I had no excuse. I’d been to the quiz night for months. But I got it totally wrong.

I still get it wrong occasionally. I ran a corporate quiz with entirely new questions last month and slightly misjudged the first round so that scores ranged from 5 to 9 out of 12 rather than a preferred 7 to 11. I quickly adjusted the difficulty for the rest of the quiz.

Judging the difficulty of quizzes is something anyone can get wrong. People’s gauge is based on what they themselves know and don’t know. To some quiz masters, difficulty may not be that important if they think the questions are interesting enough, but it ought to be.

After 10 years of doing this, we’re now very good at gauging difficulty. We’ve seen 10s of 1000s of questions, we get statistics on how well they’re answered. We’ve turned it into a little bit of science.

It’s still not perfect, as the example of my recent opening quiz round shows. I thought the crowd would know a little more than they did. They were untested questions. But such instances of small misjudgement are pretty rare.

Despite the misadventure of the first round I ever set, I now have a confidence bordering on bullishness in the suitability of my quiz rounds. I have not written a round since where the highest score was less than 50% (well, not without intention and very good reason!)

 

Saying No

During the planning stage of every quiz night we host, we send our client a full questionnaire asking for a range of information on every aspect of the event – we’ve honed it over the years, and we’ve got pretty much everything covered. We want to know as much as possible about who is taking part in our quiz night and why – we want to give every different company/school/charity/party/department/individual exactly the right quiz for them. That’s what we think makes us good at our job.

Another thing that makes us good at our job is that, on any given night, we can adapt. There are way more teams? Fine. You need two extra rounds? Fine. Dinner’s early? No problem. You’ve just told us that there’s a whole team made up of Slovenian tailors? OK, we can make that work.

We can change, we can adapt, our attitude is never “this is the only way we do it and we’ve got to stick to that” or “sorry, that’s more than my job’s worth …”

but …

There is a fine art to saying no … sometimes …

That’s why we have the questionnaire. We, as quiz experts, people who have run thousands of successful quiz nights, want to know what you want from your event, whether its team building, networking, fundraising or just a good drinking session punctuated with a few questions, and we’ll help you to make that as good as we can. Through back and forth before the quiz, we’ll iron out any logistical issues, any ideas that may be impractical, we’ll be set up and ready to go.

And, on the night, we can certainly be flexible, but our quiz masters know that there is a point where it is better to, as politely as possible, say no. If everything is set, there are five minutes to go until the quiz, and someone of uncertain seniority approaches us to tell us that there must be jokers, there must be bonus points for funny answers, anyone suspected of using their phones should be summarily ejected from the venue, they want to take the mic(or indeed take the mick) and run a round on squid, we are prepared to say “I’m sorry, we won’t be doing that. It’s not going to help the quiz run well”. It happens very rarely, that’s why we’ve got the questionnaire, and we really are amenable and flexible to a lot of last-minute requests on the night, but I hope our clients trust us that we have an understanding of what will compromise the quality of a quiz.

So, yes, strange as it may sound, sometimes the very best thing we can do on a quiz night is say no.

Running Quiz Nights

I’ve run quite a few quiz nights recently, and they’ve all gone smoothly. It’s not for me to judge if everyone there had the best time of their lives (I expect they did!) but there were lots of smiles and cheers and nice comments at the end. Very pleasing, and what I’ve also noticed is that there hasn’t been a single “issue” to deal with, no connectivity problems to sort out, no awkward room spaces, no accusations of cheating or changes in timetable, nothing like that.

Tempting fate I know, but pretty much every quiz night I’ve run this year has gone exactly according to plan. If they didn’t go swimmingly (which I think they did) it would have been no one’s fault but my own.

Is that preferable? Yes, pretty much. Having said that, it can be very satisfying to triumph against the odds, to deal with tricky situations and run the best quizzes we can. Quiz nights like those I’ve run recently are basically as easy as they look , but quite often it’s rather thrilling to keep everything looking controlled and easy while working extremely hard, just beneath the surface.

That, above all, is what being a QuizQuizQuiz Quiz Master is all about – if something goes wrong, being able to cover it so no one notices that anything has gone wrong. I remember, nine years ago, at one of the very first events where I was a professional quiz master, doing a full sound and visual check at a hotel conference room, then leaving the room for a work presentation, only to come back and find that there was no audio feed from my laptop and no one could figure out why. I managed to just run the best quiz I could with a complete change of questions, emphasis on visuals and interactivity and none of the participants were any the wiser. One thing I was told very early on, which we’re proud to say is still true, is that, whatever problems I have to deal with, it’s still going to be the best quiz most of our clients have ever been to. We really think that. In fact we know it.

So, sometimes, I have a run of quizzes which go completely without a hitch. The timings are spot on, the teams are smart, polite, cheerful, well-organised, the room is the right size, the sound is crystal clear, the food is good, the angels are singing etc …some time soon, the food will come out late, there’ll be 5 more teams than we were told, there’ll be a team made up entirely of people who don’t speak English, the mic i’ve been provided with will cut out, it happens … and it’s still a great quiz night, in fact sometimes even better than it would have been. And those are the ones which are often the most memorable of all for a quiz master.

World of Quiz

Quizzes seem to be everywhere at the moment. There’s a new show I’ve seen advertised on Sky (I haven’t watched it, I confess) called Quiz Nights, which seems to take a structured look at pub quiz nights around the country, there are the ever-intensifying knockout stages of UC and OC on a Monday evening for a small but significant demographic to get excited about, there’s the chap from The Apprentice introducing a larger demographic to the very notion that a quiz company is an actual thing that exists (We briefly considered changing our slogan to ‘QuizQuizQuiz: it’s a thing’ as a consequence – catchy, eh?), and, of course, there’s my day-to-day working existence, which gives me the false impression that everything, everywhere is about quizzes … so maybe quizzes aren’t everywhere at the moment …

But … there is a big and expanding world of quiz, isn’t there? In the nine years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen more and more quiz companies springing up, more and more people who are interested and have some background understanding of what I do, more and more subscribers to the famous QuizQuizQuiz Friday Quiz, and, if I’m not mistaken, more and more TV shows where the quiz itself is the essence, rather than the prize or the catchphrases.

Here at QuizQuizQuiz, we try to stay across the whole world of quiz as best as we can. Obviously, we’ve got our particular areas when it comes to the cold hard business of it all. We run corporate quizzes, event quizzes, quizzes for limited groups. We write questions … for our own quizzes and for people who pay us to do it. Those are our areas of business and so sometimes we’re entirely focused on them, rather than all the other areas of quizzing e.g. standard pub quiz nights, competitive high-level quizzing, ideas for new quiz show formats, TV quizzing (mainly) etc. That’s not to say that members of our team don’t partake of all the above or that we’re against going into those worlds, it’s just that, for the most part, we concentrate on our core business.

It’s nice, though, when we do things which cross over into the wider world of quizzing. Nothing I’ve ever done has elicited as much admiration and interest as the mere mention that we contribute questions to Only Connect (indeed, that my name’s in the credits). It’s nice sometimes to be asked to assist with other people’s ideas for TV quizzes or major quiz events, whether in a small or large way. Over time, we’ve built up a pretty good range of experience and expertise. I think we know pretty well what makes a good quiz, and that knowledge is transferable across a range of contexts.

It is a big world, quizzing. Sometimes I’ll be surprised to hear about companies or events that I never knew existed. Often, I’ll come across new shows, new ideas, new players in the game.

Quizzing occupies a slightly awkward place, though, where it’s not really looked upon seriously by the wider world as a sport, or as an art form, or expected to be a major commercial enterprise. It’s not that far away from being all three. Let it be what it is, many would say – a diversion, a once a month pleasure with a few pints, a once-a-week half hour shouting at the TV. “Trivia?” That’s the word, spoken with gentle contempt by some hard-working professional that wounds me most when I say what I do for a living. Well, not to me, no, quizzing’s not trivial.

Quiz Master Checklist

When we send quiz packs out to clients to run quizzes themselves, we always include an extensive ‘Quiz Master Guide’ to help them run the event smoothly, which breaks down the format, the running order, etc. And when we hire a new professional quiz master to run quizzes for us, we train them, ease them in, get them over a period of time to the point where they can confidently and skilfully run a quiz for us.

This post will be rather more informal. It’s just a few observations and hints which I just about feel qualified to give to anyone who fancies running a quiz, is new to running quizzes or is trying to get the hang of running quizzes.

First of all, it’s true that anyone can be a quiz master or quiz mistress. At its basic level, it doesn’t need any special talent. We’ve all been to (and still enjoyed) enough quizzes run by dozy, disinterested bar staff to know that’s true.

But not everyone’s going to be good at it. It does require a base level of confidence and clarity in speaking in public, a certain degree of composure, of decent judgement and, in my view, it really does require that you yourself are pretty decent at quizzes.

Having said that, this checklist is for quiz masters, not quiz writers. That’s a different ball game. I’m not going to talk about actual round construction and question writing here.

So here’s a bullet list of tips as they come to me. You may not feel they are universally applicable, but I think they’re a decent place to start.

  • Know your material – I’ve said it here and in other places many many times, but for me this is the Number 1 fundamental. Even if you haven’t written the questions, you have to seem like you have, you have to know their context. This applies to everyone from a TV quiz master to a humble pub quiz host. Otherwise you risk looking like an idiot and a fraud very quickly.
  • Don’t try and be too funny. The quiz is the main thing, funny can be a nice side product. We get a fair few enquiries from aspiring quiz masters telling us they’ve got cracking banter, or words to that effect (if you want to be a QuizMaster for us, we don’t want you to be the entertainment…you are the medium for the entertainment).
  • Be nice. People can be annoying and sometimes you do need to be firm with them, and sometimes it’s ok to put someone down a little to show you’re in control. But, by and large, stay calm, be patient and be nice.
  • Have a clear table/space on the bar in front of you to keep everything tidy and nicely organised..
  • Keep people informed on exactly what is happening in the short term, so they’re not confused and irritated, but keep the long term plans back so that you can adapt, and also retain an element of pleasant surprise.
  • Have a helper to do the marking and field enquiries if you can.
  • Be aware of what is and isn’t pleasant to listen to. It’s really important to get the acoustics as close to right as you possibly can. Do a sound check beforehand, and be aware of where people are sitting in relation to the speakers.
  • Repeat things, sometimes a lot. Questions, question numbers, instructions, answers, scores etc. There’s always someone who wasn’t listening first time, there’s probably someone who will tell you that you didn’t make something clear, and you will be able to be absolutely confident you did if you repeated it!
  • Don’t give half marks.
  • Don’t make up magic bonus marks on the spot!
  • Be aware of pacing. Give people time to work things out but don’t let it drag. Don’t run rounds which turn into epic adventures. Don’t run “sessions” which are too long. One and a half hours is probably longer than one session of a quiz night should be without a break.
  • You don’t have to have background music, but it helps to avoid “dead air”. You can cover not knowing what you’re doing for a second by playing a little background music.
  • What if, heaven forfend, you’re wrong? How do you deal with it? Is the quiz master always right, even if he/she is not? I’m going to sound like a right pompous chump here but I don’t quite remember, as it’s been a long time since I’ve actually run a quiz where one of my answers was wrong, wrong, wrong. That goes back to point 1. I’d say, “no, the quiz master is not always right”. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. People have google. Who are you trying to kid? Find a way to swallow your pride while holding your dignity if there’s a blatant mistake. However, quite often, a question might have some manner of viable alternative, which people suggest, which the quiz writer hadn’t thought of… I can only say “be flexible” and be prepared to be generous. Use the magic of the internet yourself to confirm facts quickly.
  • Don’t disqualify people. You don’t want a fight to break out.
  • Don’t drink while running a quiz. Well, drink water. Anyone might stumble over their words once or twice within a couple of hours. Stumbling over your words looks a lot worse if you’ve a beer by your side. Also, a little tip from personal misadventure. Don’t drink too much Diet Coke while running pub quizzes or corporate quizzes! Just don’t, trust me. It’s a hard habit to break.

Ok, that’s all I can think of for now. A lot of that is probably blindingly obvious, and I’ve probably missed quite a lot of it. You mightn’t necessarily agree with all of it, but hopefully it’s of some use.

A Year in Quiz

We’re approaching the end of the busiest quiz season – our quiz masters have been flat out for the last few months running charity quizzes, school quizzes, brand launch quizzes, company quizzes, quiz competitions, university quizzes and Christmas quizzes up and down the country. And then, when it gets to the few days before Christmas, naturally enough … nothing. Not for a while, anyway. It gradually picks up again as January progresses (a good time to get a free date in our diary, if you’re interested) and hits a decent stride again in February.

But late December and early January gives us the breathing space to take stock and look closely at our product. We review all our feedback from the year, we look at all our material, write new questions where needed and collate everything we’ve produced in the previous year into a brand new database.

Every year, we want our quiz masters to run better quizzes than they did last year, so we have to improve our material and train people to use that material as well as possible.

At the start of 2014, in particular, we made a determined effort to improve our quiz nights as much as possible (I keep on resisting the urge to use a phrase like “take it to the next level”, “give us the wow factor”, “dial up the quiz experience to 11” … phew ….). We gently phased out a few old favourite rounds which perhaps belonged to a different era; we redesigned our on screen graphics, we created a lot more video content; we improved our picture rounds; created lots more varied audio content; came up with several new round ideas and determined to actually use them rather than relying on the tried and trusted; we bought a few new little gizmos and gadgets which just make quiz running a little smoother; and we continued working on further technological advances (technology not being my own strong point, I shall elaborate no further out of mild ignorance).

Anyway, it’s been a more exciting year than usual, seeing how all these new quiz night ideas stood up, seeing if we’re bringing a noticeably better quiz than in previous years.

Speaking for myself as a quiz master (rather than as a question writer), it’s been great. My first quiz with all the new material was for 55 teams in a huge conference room in London … and was being filmed … so no pressure. But I instantly saw what a positive response the new stuff was getting. One of the best things has been having a larger range of rounds to choose from. I can go into a quiz confident that I have different styles and lengths of round to suit every occasion, to adapt on the spot if needs be. Countless new questions have rapidly become old favourites.

As we’ve gained more and more repeat clients down the years, it became a challenge ensuring they were getting something fresh in terms of quiz rounds and content every time, but this year, we really haven’t had to worry about that so much. There’s so much new, fun stuff, it would be impossible to do something that was same-old, same-old.

And the good thing is we’re full of ideas to improve our quizzes for next year. There’s a massive bank of new material to incorporate and a few great new round formats to work on promoting from the “lab” to the “field”. Just need a little Christmas break, and then back to it!

Weird Places to Run Quizzes

I ran a quiz recently in a London night club, which isn’t a particularly weird place to run a corporate quiz. Quite often clients arrange for their quizzes to be in rooms in clubs – sometimes this is ideal, as we can just plug into a perfectly set up DJing booth.

On this occasion, there was one little problem: the “separate” room we were in had swing doors through to the main dancefloor with nothing in between – I fought a battle with the cheesy hits coming from the adjoining room all night – I think I won the battle, but ended the evening a little hoarse and a little deafer than I was before.

It got me thinking about the stranger/less ideal places I’ve run quiz nights.  It’s one of the main differences between what we and most quiz masters do: we travel around and set up ad hoc to run quizzes in many, many different venues. We always get it to work, but sometimes it’s easier than others.

There isn’t, as such, an ideal venue. What we’re looking for, roughly, is a room where everyone can see us/the screen(s) (so columns, nooks and crannies and L-shapes are usually a bit of a no-no), where either portable/in-built speakers can be placed where they don’t deafen participants or give feedback, where there’s enough space for everyone, where there’s at least enough light to read and write, where there’s atmosphere rather than sterility and, above all else really, a distinct space where there isn’t noise from somewhere else seeping in and likewise where we don’t have to worry about disturbing other people who aren’t taking part in the quiz. Different kinds of rooms can suit different events, and, like I say, we can make it work even when it’s not perfect.

Generallym, our clients choose the venue and we help them in advance as much as we can – it’s very rare that we say a venue they’ve chosen is really impossible, but we do sometimes advise a repeat client that a venue they used one year really shouldn’t be used for a quiz again.

It usually works very well. There’ve been some tough ones though. Open courtyards in the rain, while 100s of office workers looked on from the outside, bemused. Sections of restaurants separated from the rest of the venue by no more than a bench. Nightclubs where the light could not be raised above a dim twilight. Riverboats with very small indoor sections. Private member clubs without chairs or tables. Downstairs rooms at curry houses where I had to set up on a fridge. Tiny alcoves where our helpers had to sit on the floor, under the table. Such a severe lack of space that our helper had to sit on the other side of a closed door. Space museums with teams in separate exhibition rooms. Leith Dockers Club at 10pm on a Sunday after karaoke night (that was probably my all time favourite). Those are just the ones I can remember. Often, though, a room which ought to be fine has some surprising problem, but rarely anything which can’t be solved out of the QuizMaster’s bag of tricks (both literally and figuratively): vast lengths of cable, an ingeniously positioned speaker or two, huge amounts of duct tape, auxiliary cables, standing in exactly the right spot and speaking at exactly the right volume. It’s all part of the fun, I suppose.