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Creativity

Creativity – perhaps as overused and meaningless a term these days as “interactive”, “passionate” or “110%”. I remember, for one of the first big question-writing projects I worked on for QuizQuizQuiz, shuffling with my colleague into the imposing offices of a large multinational firm who was our client, and being introduced to the various serious and important people there as “the creative” … I’m the creative, am I? If only I’d known …

It can vary how much creativity this job involves. If I read in the news that Leicester City have won the Premier League (I know, a ridiculous thought, but just as an example …), and then write the question “Who won the English Premier League in 2015-16?”, I accept that is not the very height of creative endeavour. Plenty of question writing is like that. You see simple facts and you package them into questions. In particular, this is the case with high-volume multiple choice, multi-level question writing, against a deadline.

We’ve had to write 20,000 Multiple Choice questions from scratch in a couple of months, with a very tight word limit on each question. There is not much room for anything but the barest form of creativity. But it’s still possible to get some satisfaction and show a little flair, usually in wrong answer options on easy questions. I think my favourite was “What follows this line in the Meredith Brooks song ‘Bitch?’ – “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover …”? to which one of the options was “My name’s Mitch, I’m your brother” … Well, you get your fun where you can.

Thus a lot of writing feels just as much reactive as creative. You take something that already exists and just reshape it. I try very hard not to use other people’s quiz questions. I’ve written before about how I get a certain bittersweet tang from seeing a really fine quiz question, knowing that it is not something that I will have the opportunity to think of myself. Indeed, I can’t use it. But I think it is acceptable to bank the facts in the question, and reshape it, a little while later, into something a bit different. If you couldn’t create quiz material from the same sources that other people create it  from, well, we’d all be done for.

We’ve been doing quite a lot of writing for TV in the last few years, and that certainly has plenty of scope for a satisfying creative process, be it trying to put together Hives for Hive Minds,  Only Connect sequences and connections (after 11 series, I sometimes think it’s amazing that we and the other writers are still able to come up with new material and, believe me, this requires digging deep into the well of resourcefulness and creativity) or, on The Code, nice sets of 3 answer/questions. We threw a few Easter eggs into The Code, little rhyming sequences or phrases, I spent a lot of time coming up with little nuggets of joy which only a few people spotted, but that’s part of the fun of it.

A huge amount of work can go into things which are still, at the end of the day, only quiz questions or quiz rounds. They’re not going to win any awards. But there is sometimes, dare I say it, a little of the rigour and discipline of poetry in writing a quiz round.

At our pub quiz, we used to have a round called Follow On (where each answer has one letter more than the previous) and another round called Blitz (30 quickfire questions, some of which were themed). For Christmas, we decided to write a Christmas-themed 30 question round where each answer was one letter longer than the previous answer, from 1 to 30. Frankly, I still consider it my finest hour … well, not hour, actually, but a week of writing … and five minutes of participation.

So, creativity, yes, I suppose this is a creative job. There have been many times down the years when we’ve had the opportunity to use a bit of imagination in our work. Anyone writing or running a quiz can mix it up, try new formats, be clever without being confusing. It should never become boring or a chore. We’re passionate about giving 110% to interactive, creative quizzery …

Water Displacement

Just a very brief blog about one insignificant question, but hopefully a little insight into the thought processes of someone trying to constantly come up with good quiz questions.

There’s a squeaky door in my house. That’s where I got the idea for this. I remembered, as the door squeaked, that I wrote a question about four years ago asking “What does the WD in WD40 stand for?” The question has, to my knowledge, never been used.

For all these years, it’s sat quite near the top of the huge excel spreadsheet I keep of potential QuizQuizQuiz Friday Quiz questions, many times for my eyes to pass over it, consider it, then go “Nah, not this week”. It was in our database for Corporate Quizzes for  a couple of years but I don’t believe it was ever used. It is a question that has truly not made the grade.

Why not? Although we’re justifiably proud of the Friday Quiz and effort and thought is put into it every week, it would be untrue, I admit, to claim that every question in its seven-year history has been a top-quality thriller. There has been the odd bit of filler, and yet WD40 has never been deemed up to the job.

What’s wrong with it? It has some hallmarks of a good question. Word origin questions are usually very well received. And questions about the everyday are often very popular, questions about things which are everywhere and nowhere. Everyone uses WD40, probably very few people know what it means – the best one can hope for in that circumstance is that response of “aah, I’m surprised I didn’t know that, you learn something new everyday”. But I just don’t think it would get that response. It would get “Meh, who cares …”. I think “displacement” is somehow too dull and disconnected a word, it’s unsatisfactorily hard to work out. It would be the dampest of damp squibs. I think … many times I’ve been tempted to think I might be wrong, and that it might be a surprise hit. That’s the thing …we don’t always know. Sometimes questions we think will be great don’t work, and sometimes seemingly dull, nondescript questions get an enthusiastic response.

If I’m wrong about this one, let me know. If you’re there, going “Wow, I use WD-40 all the time and I’d never considered what it stood for. Thanks, QuizQuizQuiz. The fact that it’s so named because it was the 40th attempt to make a formula for Water Displacement is one of the great hidden gems of the quiz world”, well, more fool me.

Of course, any life the question might have had I’ve surely killed now.

What are Good Subjects for Quiz Questions?

I’m not particularly going to write in this post about what actually makes a good question. I’ve done that plenty of times before. This is more about how some topics might lend themselves better to quizzes than others, how sometimes people might think they want a quiz on a particular topic, but they’d be better advised to reconsider.

This is based to some extent on personal experience, what I find it easy to write about and what the groups of people I ask questions to and provide questions for respond well to. There are people who’d instinctively disagree with what I’m going to say, and there may also be people whose experience is very different from mine.

An obvious first thing to say might be that a good question subject is what the people answering are interested in. This is mostly true, to the extent that it probably shouldn’t be a completely boring turn-off. But you can still have topics that don’t work, even if the participants are knowledgeable about and interested in that subject.

A topic shouldn’t be too narrow and esoteric [when i say “shouldn’t” in this context, I don’t mean you can’t have a good question, even a good round, about absolutely anything, if it’s well written, but I’m just talking about percentages really], it shouldn’t be something that wouldn’t be of wide interest to quite a large number of people.

I’m probably trying to find a polite way to say it shouldn’t be about dry, boring topics in the world of work. I’ve written in more detail about not having work-related questions at a work quiz, but “your business” is a good start for topics that don’t make good quiz questions.

OK, I’ve got that out of the way. What about the classic subjects? Let’s go through them in terms of Trivial Pursuit pies …

Entertainment – basically this is the backbone of a lot of quizzes, and lends itself well to questions. It’s likely to be of interest, in some way, to most people, it can make good use of images and sounds, it has scope for dry facts and gossip, there are lots of records kept, awards, things which are indisputable.

Sport – up to a point the same, but you have to be careful about a) the number of people that loathe sport and no really nothing about it and b) just how wide it is, just how many sports there are. But it has so many statistics, most of which are verifiable, and lots of “trivia” attached to it. For the right audience, it lends itself very easily to question writing.

Arts and Literature – can be good, but statistics and facts are less well kept. Much of the most well known art and literature comes from a time before records were very accurately kept. Also, people tend to know less than they think they do about these subjects (watch Pointless for proof of this!). Also, they are subjects with such depth, that it’s quite hard to write entirely satisfactory questions about them – the interesting aspects of great books are not necessarily the facts and the figures, the bits that anyone might know.

History – basically good. It is unchanging, it is fact based – history is, in some ways, the very essence of quizzes. Of course, has to be well judged for the audience.

Geography – also good, but a bit more subject to change and more open to dispute when it comes to the great wide world of nature … which brings us to

Science and Nature – Now, my caveat is that this is not my natural subject, but I do find that Nature, in particular, is a difficult subject to write about. It is a subject people enjoy and are interested in, but does not lend itself to verifiable facts. Again, if you want proof, go to different reputable “Wildlife” websites, eg National Geographic and Discovery, and see whether their “average heights” “average weights” etc for various animals are the same. Species and categorys are disputable and subject to change all the time.You can be on dodgy ground writing questions about this topic.

Probably this all seems very sweeping, and does betray my natural inclinations. There is no real limit on what can make for a good quiz, if the writing is skilled enough, but my experience does tell me that some subjects are more equal than others.

Testing Testing

As a QuizQuizQuiz Quiz Master and main Question Writer, all aspects of my job require testing things to see if they’re at the right level.

Of course, I do a sound check before every quiz. This is just as important when using our own portable equipment as when plugging into a venue’s own AV system, though the challenges are slightly different.

With our own  system, the challenge is placing the speakers so that everyone can hear properly with no one being blasted with noise, making sure there’s no feedback, that my voice sounds clear and crisp etc. Some rooms we turn up at can provide more of a challenge than others.

With a venue’s own AV system, whether in a pub, a hotel or a conference room in a company’s offices, it ought to be simpler, but there are pitfalls to avoid. The system should have been perfectly set up to suit the room, and often it is. Often it really is a case of plug in, play a little music, say a word or two, yes, this’ll be perfect. But as a quiz master, we’re very aware of how much more volume is required in a room full of 100 people than an empty room; aware of it in a way that sometimes a venue’s own AV specialist isn’t. Often, one has to politely suggest “I think I’ll need a little more than that on the mic” and be told “No, no, this is fine” when I know full well that as the hum of 100 people chatting and cheering and drinking grows, I really do need a little more on the mic.

Likewise, every now and then, a conference room’s sound may sound fine and clear at mid-volume, but may begin to struggle at a slightly higher volume –  a bit of hiss, a bit of crackle. Experience has taught me the importance of a rigorous test – or as rigorous a test as possible.

Likewise, testing is important for a question writer. We update the database for our corporate events regularly, write 100s and 100s of new questions a year, and we want these questions not just to be ok, decent, forgettable questions, we want them to be great, memorable questions. I have a  pretty good idea when I’ve written a question if it’s a cracker or not, but, in many cases, questions I think will be surefire hits get a muted response if not quite used right, while seemingly innocuous ones bring the house down.

So, we ask all our quiz masters to provide us with feedback on new questions they’ve used when we send out new questions. We’re always swapping ideas and thoughts on how a question has gone down or can be slightly improved – we all want every question we run to be a bit better than the last one we ran.

And, finally, in my capacity as the writer of our multiple choice questions, getting the right level is of paramount importance. Often, because of budget and timing, that testing has to be internal. If I’ve written 5,000 questions for a game, all of which  require a difficulty level, I (and the client) must rely on my own experience, my own hard-earned sense of what people know and what they don’t. I’m pretty good at it. As well as me, there’ll always be at least one other experienced question writer, editing and checking my questions, and if they  feel I’ve mislevelled a question, they’ll let me know.

Sometimes, if the budget’s higher, if the questions are more specialised, we can build a thorough question test into our schedule. You may know we’ve done that recently, with a game we’ve written and which we’re rather excited about. Because of the nature of the game, it was important to test the difficulty ramping.

And, we’re lucky, we’ve got a ready-made focus group, our Friday Quiz mailing list, who we think we’ve got a pretty good relationship with and who, frankly, enjoy a bit of a quiz. So we put a message out for anyone who wanted to help us testing and got a big response. It was hugely helpful to test how quizzers responded to all the questions in the game and will hopefully improve it for the wider audience we hope it finds.

Of course, part of the  experience of surveys and testing is not to blindly accept what basic statistics tell you. Above all, at QuizQuizQuiz,  we trust our own experience. We think we know what makes a good quiz question, a well-balanced round, a fair subject matter. Whenever that confidence is put to the test, we’re happy to see it confirmed (or not – and we learn from it!)

Pop/Quiz

Having thoroughly flogged the cricket/quizzing analogy in my last post, I’ll now delve deeper into the world of ill-considered comparisons by drawing a few parallels between the “art” of quiz and that of pop music.

Right now, I don’t know how far I’m going to take this. The chances are I’ll take it too far.

What got me started was thinking about whether a quiz is automatically better if the quizmaster has written their own questions. You can see where this is going already, I imagine …

We music snobs (I am one, or perhaps am a recovering one, a lapsed snob, a snob manqué – perhaps you are not) we scowl at these manufactured pop acts and cry “They don’t even write their own songs!” Like Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Martha and the Vandellas – well, such snobbishness already seems a little silly.

But I do love a good singer-songwriter, a musical auteur, whether it’s Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z or David Bowie. I like it when they do it all themselves. What’s a good equivalent term for the singer-songwriter? The quizzer-quizmaster, the master-quizwriter? The quizmaster-quizwriter?

There are various models to follow. Here at QuizQuizQuiz, we have a core question-writing team and we have several trained, skilled quizmasters who, even if they have not written the questions themselves, know our database inside out, can question it, adapt, create their own quizzes out of the questions that already exist. They make the quizzes and the questions their own.

Why not extend the analogy to the point of absurdity? If QuizQuizQuiz is Hitsville USA (the home of Tamla-Motown) there is room for the Temptations, for Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Four Tops, master interpreters, and there are the writers who also perform, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson, say. This is the point where I compare myself to Smokey Robinson… oh dear.

Likewise, there’s a very good pub quiz company based in London, whose nights are of a reliably strong standard, where the questions are mainly written by one person and who brings in quizmasters particularly suited to the task. So, perhaps he is Phil Spector and they are his Ronettes and his Crystals …

And then, there are some big pub quiz companies who write excellent quizzes and send them to 100s and 100s of pubs along a formula, and occasionally less care is taken that the quizmaster is in full control of their material, they can quite often just be whoever is available to read out the sheet on the night.

I can’t decide if an apt comparison is just a dodgy covers band or, yet more cruelly, the Stock Aitken Waterman hit factory of the late 80s. Don’t get me wrong, there may be the odd gem uncovered (let us say Kylie or, if you will, Rick Astley) but there’ll be a few Reynolds Girls or, dare I say it, Sonias …

Anyway, I’ve probably lost you by now. I just wanted to mention the Reynolds Girls. They’d rather Jack than Fleetwood Mac. A lot of people might prefer the good old-fashioned master-quizwriter, who writes and performs all his/her own material. Maybe there aren’t always that many bells and whistles, but there are clever solid questions, moments of genius, and it’s got integrity.

Who’s the Bob Dylan of the quizzing world, I wonder? And who’s the Woody Guthrie? Who’s the James Brown and who’s the Madonna? And who are the innovators, the ones who used technology to take it to a new level? Who’s Public Enemy and who is Kraftwerk? But who’s the Chico? The Nickelback?

Anyway, what’s my point? I suppose that it’s really important for a quizmaster to know exactly what they’re asking, that the question means something to them, that they ask it with purpose and understanding.

We’ve all seen kids on the X-Factor who, even if they’re technically proficient, haven’t the slightest relationship with the words they’re singing. And it’s horrendous.

But you don’t have to have written the questions to take ownership of them. Some of my favourite questions in our database are questions I haven’t written, some are questions I can’t remember if I’ve written or not. But they feel like mine now, and that’s what matters.

 

Levels of Questions

As something of a follow-up to my last post about Corporate and Company Quizzes, I’m going to write a little about the varying levels of difficulty you might find at different quizzes.

This is sparked by recently hearing a view from a pub quiz master that he believed that corporate quizzes are generally much harder than pub quizzes, which, I must say, is not my experience at all.

When we used to write one or two pub quizzes a week, and then use the accumulated pub quizzes as source material for our corporate quizzes, it was definitely true that the difficulty was significantly reduced from pub quiz to corporate. To be fair, this was a particularly strong pub quiz crowd. There were a high number of high quality teams, and we tailored the difficulty to reflect that.

And by and large, that’s what every quiz should do, so it would be slightly inaccurate of me to simply say “Corporate quizzes are easier than pub quizzes” – if I know that a corporate event I’m running is for a number of really good teams, I’ll up the difficulty level, and likewise, I’ve been to some really easy pub quizzes.

Generally, though, my reflection is that, because pub quiz goers are people who have gone somewhere to take part in a quiz, they tend to like quizzes and have some competence in them, whereas a corporate quiz is usually a pretty random assortment of workers who don’t necessarily have any inclination to quiz. Generally, that’s how I find it, and why, in general, pub quizzes are tougher than company quiz events.

Perhaps it’s more interesting to consider easy and difficult questions, and, to expand on that, easy and difficult quizzes, in a few different ways.

Firstly, it is, I think harder to write easy questions than to write difficult questions. To come up with a real gem of an easy question is always a great pleasure. Perhaps what I mean is it’s hardest to write easy questions that aren’t facile. “What’s the capital of Belgium?” OK, that’s not a hard question to write. “What three word phrase connects ‘Bob the Builder’ and Barack Obama?” – still very easy, but a little bit more pleasing to ask and to answer.

I’d tentatively suggest that a pub quiz may contain a few more facile questions – questions about what’s happened recently where all you need is to have read the paper to get it. That’s fine – in the context of any quiz, not everything needs be a beautifully constructed brainteaser.

Too many facile questions are, of course, a real turn-off. One can sometimes see the people that rate themselves at quizzes rolling their eyes if a question is a bit too simple. [Incidentally, a real delight then is the question that appears facile but, without being a trick, trips people up. I have a really good one of those at the moment, where I often see someone scoffing when it’s asked, then getting it wrong – “What year is 100 years after 90 BC?” Think before you join the scoffers …]

It’s not always about easy/difficult anyway, but more about suitable/not suitable to the participants. And then you can ask, which participants? All the participants, or the best, or the worst? What I find is that even very good teams rarely get over 90% in a quiz, even if it is “easy” – the easiness will mean that the less good teams’ scores will improve. A “hard” quiz is likely to mean greater separation, and, for me as a quiz master, that’s not really desirable. As I’ve said various times, I want a range between 60% and 90%. If I get close to that, I’m happy and know that I’ve done a pretty good job in question selection. If it’s 90% to 40%, less so. Then again, if it’s 90% to 80%, say, then I probably will have made the quiz too easy.

So, when should a quiz be hard? Well, rarely, I think. It is necessary, obviously, when a pub quiz has a reputation for being fiendish, of course: when difficulty is its calling card. And, for a corporate event, if we’re told they want it be tricky, well, sure, but even then, I’d use my discretion. I know that I could ask a good set of questions where no team would get more than 50% of them, and most questions would be answered by at least one of the teams…yet they’d still have a better time if I tone it down a bit and they’re getting far more of them right.

Serious quizzers like to be challenged, that’s why they watch shows like ‘University Challenge’ and ‘Only Connect’, but even then, you want to feel you’ve got a chance on the questions. When Paxman’s asked something where no one’s got a clue, it’s a bit of a damp squib.

The truth is, then, perhaps “difficulty” is a bit of a red herring – it’s about suitability of questions, quality of questions, maintaining interest, variation and and about offering a fair challenge.

Do you have a favourite “easy” question?

In Defence of Quiz

A quiz master should never be defensive, of course. In particular a QuizQuizQuiz QuizMaster who is trained and paid specifically for the skill to convert even the most fervently anti-quiz, to be inclusive and thoughtful and not make anyone feel like they’re stupid or too young or too old or not from the right place to enjoy the fun.

Sometimes, though, as part of the quizzing community, when one comes across certain expressions of contempt for the whole quizzle bizzle, one feels it reasonable to speak up a little.

“Who cares?”

Well, that depends. If no one cares, that’s obviously the quiz master/question setter’s fault. If hardly anyone cares, likewise. One shouldn’t ask questions that are so esoteric as to exclude all but the quizziest of quizzers.

But quizzes are a participatory, collaborational competition. If you’re in it, you’ll enjoy it more if you engage with it. If you don’t know an answer, well, someone else might, and even if you don’t know an answer, you might be able to provide a bit of information which will help someone else get the answer.

So, if a question is asked, and a fair proportion of the intended audience care enough about the answer, then that is a fair and reasonable question to ask and “Who cares?” is not necessarily a fair and reasonable question to ask …

“I wasn’t even born then”/”I’m not interested in modern celebrities/pop music”

Ever hear that one? A part of me understands and sympathizes. If excluded from the generational “sweet spot” of the quiz audience, and if a quiz is overly geared towards popular culture fans who grew up in the 70s and 80s, then you might feel a little discriminated against.

But if you’ve ever heard someone complain about a question about Buddy Holly (who died in 1959) as “bloody pop music”, or likewise about the end of the Cold War as “not fair, that was before I was born”, then you’ll hope that sometimes reluctant quizzers have to understand that they won’t be able to answer every single question, but a good quiz master does hope to give every team a fair crack of the whip.

If the age range at a quiz is from 18-70, you’ll try to throw something in for every generation, but if every single question was to be answerable by every single person in the room, you’d have a very narrow frame of reference and a very boring quiz indeed.

Quizzes are tests of knowledge. If you don’t know answers, hopefully there’ll be enough in the question that you can have some kind of fair guess. If you can’t have a fair guess, hopefully there’ll be someone on your team that can. There’s nothing too unreasonable about that.

I remember going to a pub quiz once which was so hard that my team got 18 out of 50 and still came second. Perhaps that was a little much, but I do remember that the questions were interesting and so I didn’t feel that put upon at the end.

And, sure, there are some people that like that mental challenge more than others, people whose brains work more effectively in other areas, and haven’t felt the need to store up bits of knowledge.

But, you know, sometimes it’s worth sticking up for quizzes a little. They are what they are, a test of knowledge, problem-solving and team work, and hopefully a fair one.

The Question Database

Whether participating in a quiz, watching a TV quiz show, or just catching sight of a set of quiz questions in any context, I always feel, alongside the sense of admiration, a pang of disappointment when I see a really, really good, clever question. Because I then think, “Damn, I won’t be able to think of that one now. There’s one more in the pot of really outstanding quiz questions which isn’t mine. I might have thought of that question off my own back in a couple of day’s time, but now, if I do, I’ll know that someone else got there first!”

Over the years, I’ve become more and more entrenched in trying to make sure the work we at QuizQuizQuiz produce is entirely our own. We’ve, at various times, used freelance writers, done question swaps, asked for and been sent material by quiz enthusiasts, but increasingly I’ve felt a certain sense of dissatisfaction with that, however good the material is. The fun of the job is coming up with the questions yourself.

Of course, it is a grey area, and no one is going to get sued anytime soon for using a quiz question they’ve previously heard elsewhere. At freshly written pub quizzes up and down the country, multiple question setters have probably come up with almost exactly the same questions as each other, whether because they were scanning the same news sites or because their minds were just working in the same ways.

I’ve had times when I’ve been watching ‘University Challenge’ and a question has been asked which is pretty much exactly the same as one I thought up earlier in the month and thought “Damn, people are going to think I nicked that”. Well, I really do my very best not to nick questions from anywhere, not because I necessarily think there’s all that much wrong with it, but just for the sense of personal satisfaction.

I’ve been at pub quizzes where questions have been used which I know have, one way or another, come from QuizQuizQuiz, either from one of our pub quizzes or, more recently from our weekly Friday Quiz, and, really, I don’t mind at all if it’s just the odd one or two. It’s a compliment.

We generally tried very hard to protect the integrity of our questions early on, so we would turn down requests from clients to see the questions in advance or to be sent the questions after the event (which we still do by and large), but there is a big, big difference between taking a whole quiz without asking and hearing a question/factoid one likes and thinking “I can use that”.

And since we kicked off the Friday Quiz five years ago, really, our questions are out there in the world – if someone really wanted to systematically hoard them for their own purposes, there’s nothing we can do about it. We just hope other quiz enthusiasts take as much pleasure in coming up with their own questions as we do.

The Flexible Quiz Master

Before we allow anyone to run a quiz night for QuizQuizQuiz, we put them through an intensive two-week yoga course to improve their flexibility. Well, we don’t, actually, though to be fair, sometimes the equipment we have to lug about and the tight corners we have to squeeze into in some pub’s back room do require a certain amount of physical flexibility. A pub quiz night can be great exercise for the quiz master!

But obviously that’s not what I’m talking about. Some of our quiz masters, sad to say, have not touched their toes since 2002. No, the flexibility which we’re really proud of can manifest itself in a number of diffferent ways.

Since we run several hundred quiz nights for different companies each year we have to be able to adapt.

We are prepared in advance for different kinds of crowds, different kinds of venues, to run different types of quizzes. We are prepared on the night for the numbers of participants in the quiz night to be totally different from what we were expecting, to have to shuffle teams around, for the timings to change completely, for the equipment at the venue to not be as we were anticipating. In any circumstance, we can adapt to put on the best quiz possible.

Timings, for instance, can often change a lot on the night, for reasons entirely out of our control – e.g. key guests turn up late, food from the kitchen is running late or early. Nevertheless, we still need to be able to run the quiz around whatever else is happening with timings. Just last week, one of our quizzes had to start 25 mins late, but still ended on time as I knew that that was important to the organiser, who was delighted that it still finished on time to ensure people could catch trains etc. and not be stressed about being out too late on a work night.

One of the main ways we can as good as guarantee that our quiz nights will be perfect for the occasion is the fact that we go into a quiz without a set script: we are prepared to change the quiz as we go, whether that means putting in or taking out rounds at the last minute, or deciding which questions to ask at the last minute. This is where a QuizQuizQuiz quiz master really earns his or her corn.

We’ve explained in some detail in previous posts how we put together our quizzes, so I won’t go into the technique much in this post. Instead I’m aiming to make a coherent case for running a quiz with an extremely flexible approach.

I suppose, without getting too grandiose about what we do (we know it’s not an artform, it’s just a way to help people enjoy themselves) think about going to see a comedian. Do you prefer it if they just go through their routine, one you’ve maybe seen them do elsewhere, without interacting, without improvising? Or, even more fittingly, what about a DJ? If a DJ just pops on a pre-mixed CD at the start of the night (and bobs his head up and down to the tracks and occasionally shouts something incomprehensible over his mic), is that likely to be as successful as a skilled practitioner who gauges the crowd, chooses each track carefully, judges the mood to a tee? [and believe me, i know what i’m talking about here, I’ve DJed at least, ooh, two weddings, and have managed to heed the groom’s instruction, at pain of death, not to, in any conceivable event, play ‘Come On Eileen’, in both cases].

Well, we back ourselves that our quiz masters are adept enough and experienced enough to get the quiz just right whatever the circumstance. For my own part, that doesn’t mean that I roll up with no idea what I’m going to ask. Of course I’ll have thought about it beforehand and done my preparation to the point where I’ll have a pretty good idea as to what kind of quiz I’ll be running, but the important thing is I’ll be able to change the plan, potentially dramatically, if necessary. I’ll be able to throw in a question that suits if I notice something about the crowd, or take out something that doesn’t. I might add in a round, make a round shorter or longer, or change the emphasis in a quiz depending on the mood of the event. Pretty much every quiz (in particular any given works quiz  / company quiz night) requires some adjustment on the night, minor or major.

Sometimes this approach can initially be a little bit of a surprise to our clients. We might be asked how many rounds there’ll be, what the rounds will be, how many points it will be out of, and sometimes clients will ask if they can see the questions in advance. For all parties, this is best avoided. We believe a lack of flexibility compromises the quality of our quizzes and a pre-scripted event can lead to the wrong questions being asked. As already discussed, you wouldn’t ask a DJ to send you a pre-recorded CD in advance, or have a comedian send you his script.

Of course we listen extremely carefully to our clients’ requirements, making sure we understand and adapt to the spread of age range, nationalities, jobs, etc. (just as a DJ or comedian would) – indeed this information is essential to our preparation. However, our experience tells us that a little bit of flexibility, and the ability to change things significantly on the night if needs be, goes a long way.

The other key element with our flexible method is that the participants only notice one thing: that the questions were bang on in terms of difficulty, content and context (i.e. format). It will never have occurred to the participants that we would, or could, adapt and craft the quiz in this way on the fly.

NB. I know pub quizzes are different from our corporate quiz nights, for a number of reasons 1. The Quiz Master should know his/her pub quiz audience well already 2. The quiz questions might have come from an outside source 3. There needs to be a weekly turnover of new questions 4. It’s perhaps more of a straight competition (as well as being entertainment). When we ran pub quizzes, they were, of course, pre-written. Even then, though, if a pub quiz master is not prepared to think on their feet, reword a potentially misleading question, add in a or take out a clue or two etc, then they may get into trouble.

 

QuizQuizQuiz: The App

In 2009, in association with Four Door Lemon, we wrote and released our iPhone app, cleverly titled ‘QuizQuizQuiz’ (we spent millions on focus groups to come up with that).

Without making us rich beyond our wildest dreams, the app was a very pleasing success, making it to the Top 5 on the App Store in the UK and all over Europe. We put a great deal of thought into it and feel it was a cut above the usual quiz apps. If we do another app, we’ll do a few things differently, and there were certainly a few things we’d improve upon, but generally we were very happy with our debut effort.

We made the choice to make it stand out by being a little offbeat, injecting as much humour as we could into it, by having odd categories, a few unexpected question types, etc. Generally, feedback on that was extremely positive. The delights of the App Store comments section meant that we came face-to-face with any objections and negativity. Beside the standard topics, our ‘Infinity’ topic included all manner of random categories, like ‘Biscuits of the 80s’, ‘The Big Lebowski’ and, to the rage of one commenter ‘The Life and Times of Ryan Giggs’ – even a pre-moral purdah Ryan Giggs was too much to bear. Imagine now!

Fair enough, really. Some people will get a quiz app because they want a straight serious set of quiz questions. Well, most people will. Our app had plenty of those, around 5000 questions in total (and that’s just in English: thousands more in French, German, Italian, Spanish), founded in good hard fact and general knowledge. The fact we injected a bit of fun, silliness and eclecticism into the game made it more enjoyable to write, hopefully more enjoyable for most people to play and, we think, more successful.

We may well build a new app very soon. What would be your dream quiz app?

Oh – and do read the blog post by Four Door Lemon about the app: it makes for interesting reading on the economics of a quiz app (or indeed any app).