Missing a trick

There’s a fine line between a tricky question and a trick question sometimes.

Some quiz masters may be happy to write trick questions, but I try to avoid them if I can. It can be a little bit of a grey area sometimes, though.

There are various negative reactions a question/round/quiz might get. Here are a few –

– this is boring
– ghastly celebrity/soap tittle-tattle
– how could we be expected to know that?
– I wasn’t even born then
– oh, how clever-clever
– this is frustratingly hard
– this is unchallengingly easy
– this is for an unfairly specific and exclusive audience which doesn’t include me
– yuk, sport
– yuk, any other subject

As a quiz master, you certainly don’t mind some kinds of “negative” reactions – you don’t mind that fizzle of “damn, you fiend, you fooled me there” or “oh, how could i have missed that, I hate myself”, but what you don’t want is “hmph, that’s silly and unfair”.

Where’s the distinction between tricky (perhaps even tricksy) and trick questions? Tricky/tricksy questions can be very satisfactory for the quiz master, create enormous joy for the teams that got them right and a wry smile from those that get them wrong.  They’re a great part of a great quiz. It can’t be helped if sometimes some players don’t realise they haven’t, as such, been fooled, they’ve just been pleasantly outwitted. What’s a nice example?

Which 1972 Olympic gold medallist’s wedding was watched on TV the next year by a global audience of 100 million people?

90% of teams will be very pleased with themselves and put Princess Anne.

When they hear that the answer is Mark Phillips (an Olympic gold medallist, unlike his former wife) most let out a a phhh, a screech of disappointment even, but enjoy the question. Every now and then, someone will say “hmmph, that’s a trick”.

But it’s not a trick. All the facts are there in the question. Princess Anne is an altogether wrong answer. She is not an Olympic gold medallist.

A “trick” question … an unfair trick? Well, I suppose I’d define it as something where you can’t really fault the thinking of the players in their answer, but they are wrong on a technicality. A carefully worded question can eliminate those technicalities.

Here’s one people might have different opinions on:

What is the only English city whose name begins with the letter H?

Hereford is the answer. But Hull is what a lot of people put. But Hull is wrong, because the city is officially called Kingston upon Hull. Fine. It’s a trick of sorts. Plenty of people would be satisfied to miss that trick, and accept the answer. But some might say “look, everyone calls it Hull, it’s a city, that’s not really fair” …

I’m inclined to agree, or at least don’t want to court that disgruntlement. So, I might make the question ‘What is the only English city whose official name begins with the letter H?’. Once I’ve got the word “official” in, I wouldn’t have sympathy for any carping.

People have different views on this. Different quiz masters are sticklers for different things. I like tricky questions, and indeed a few tricksy questions, but I try to avoid trick questions if I can.

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