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 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”

I quiz to remember …

I ran a quiz recently which was organised as an event to mark a campaign called Digital Amnesia, based on research suggesting that the more people have used their phones etc the less they are actually storing in their brains.

The participants were asked to hand over their phones at the start, which some were even willing to do! Now, the nature of a pub quiz is that it is still a place where phones are a no-go area, so I said at the start I hoped scores wouldn’t be significantly lower than usual, or I’d realise people had been cheating at my quizzes for the last 10 years. Thankfully, scores were fine!

Most people who go to quizzes know that cheating defeats the whole purpose. I say most people …

… some people, both at this quiz and others, do find it harder and harder to be away from their phone for a minute.

I’m not one to talk – resistant as I was to technology when I was young (no email till 20, typed university essays, no mobile phone till 25) I succumbed wholeheartedly, and now barely can contain myself from regular, meaningless checks of, primarily, sports news (as if there are actually fascinating things happening within the world of sport every 10 minutes … omg, it’s still 0-0 between Brentford and Rotherham, this is life-altering! etc).

So do I agree with the hypothesis? Do I remember less now? Well, I certainly remember fewer phone numbers, they’re the first to go, of course. Apart from that, I suppose I’m not a fair example, as my very existence involves constantly looking up information online, and then processing. A lot goes in and  no doubt a fair bit is forgotten, but most of it is turned into something useful.

Perhaps quizzes and quizzing are so popular because they remain a refuge from the digital world. Both we at QuizQuizQuiz and clients often consider ways to incorporate technology in quizzes, and we have always done it, in various ways, throughout our quizzes.

But we also still think the best quiz  almost always involves no phones, no internet, no texting, no downloading, just good questions, good atmosphere, paper, pens, teamwork and brain work – maybe parts of the brain that haven’t been used much for a while …

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.

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.

Writing for ‘Only Connect’

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about how, as a professional quiz question writer, I have to adapt to writing for vastly different levels. I gave examples of setting I did for everything from buzzer quiz questions for school children right up to writing for that most thinky-puzzly-quizzy of TV quizzes, ‘Only Connect’.

Since last year, my colleague Jack and I have been writing a significant percentage of questions for the first two rounds of the show (Connections and Sequences), with a looser remit to write Connecting Walls (which we haven’t done yet, though are building our brains up to it!) and Missing Vowels (of which we’ve done a handful). We had both been on the show: Jack in the first ever series back in 2008 [including the first ever episode], and David in series 5 in 2011.

It’s just possible that someone who reads this blog has never watched ‘Only Connect’ so, in brief, it’s a BBC4 show that built up a strong following (among the most watched shows on the channel) before moving to BBC2 for series 10, starting on September 1st 2014. It is a quiz requiring general knowledge but also teamwork, lateral thinking and the ability to apply knowledge in interesting ways. My reaction on first watching it, years ago, was quite similar to the reactions of many others on first seeing it: a few minutes of mild confusion and wondering if I was quite smart enough for it, followed by “Aah, I like this, this is good”, building up over a few episodes to “Ooh, this is very good, very good indeed.”. At its best it is, in my opinion, simply the most satisfying quiz show to watch on television.

All the above reflects the experience of writing for it as well – general knowledge, lateral thinking and teamwork are all part of the process, then, when we feel like we’ve formulated a top quality question, it’s one of the most satisfying feelings I’ve had in quiz question writing.

For Jack and I, having been both contestants and fans of the show has been really helpful in coming up with questions. We know the types of questions we like and the ones we like less. By its nature, ‘Only Connect’ is eclectic and the best questions often incorporate several different subject areas. In that sense, our collaborative approach has worked really well – if it was just me, I might come with a bit too much on film, pop music and sport, and if it were just Jack, well, far be it from me to suggest there are any gaps in his knowledge, but let’s just say there might not be enough on film, pop music and sport! Our areas of expertise dovetail nicely.

Our questions have been well received, as far as we know, both by the show’s producers (we were asked to carry on writing after our first series at least!) and by the teams on Series 9 that’s recently concluded. It was very pleasing to see most of our questions going down successfully – quite a few went exactly as I’d “planned” them – for it’s important to have a plan as to how a team will, ideally, answer a question in ‘Only Connect’.

So what is our process? Firstly, we come up with ideas for questions independently. Sometimes an idea will be close to fully formed, sometimes it will be the bare bones – perhaps a couple of possible clues but another two missing, or sometimes just a very shard of an idea that feels like it just ought to be an ‘Only Connect’ question. The other person will take a look at the ideas and see if they can make any positive changes and additions or indeed spot any fatal flaws. Then, every few weeks, we go through all the ideas together – often discarding, thinking of improvements, ways to “ramp” the difficulty of the question better, plant subtle hints and indicators in how the clues are presented to help point contestants in the right direction., etc. So many things can be important to a good ‘OC’ question  – order of clues, red herrings, variety, fairness, clarity, even humour.

Once we’ve been through all of them, we pitch those we feel are “ready” to the question editor from the show (the excellent Alan Connor). He will look at them and let us know if we should submit them or not. Sometimes Alan will be aware of a very similar question already being worked on for the series, or indeed he’ll identify something that doesn’t quite feel right in which case it is back to the drawing board (though inevitably with helpful suggestions as to how to tweak or refine the question to make it work better).

Finally, then, I have the important (though sometimes arduous!) task of putting the question into the submission format, which includes finding multiple good sources for every question and clue. Of course we’ve already made sure that all the facts are ok, but at the submission stage, a question might still fall by the wayside: we might find with further digging that it’s not quite verifiable enough, and we can’t find a way to fix it with alternative clues or revised wording. (And this is our own verification process, the show itself has its own very rigorous verification process before the questions makes it onto the show).

So, it’s a long process, A question idea that I come up with might go through several stages before it appears on the show. Sometimes, it can be a little tricky to recall if the germ of an idea was mine or Jack’s.

Seeing them on the show is great. My mother’s an avid fan of ‘Only Connect’,  so each Tuesday, after it was broadcast the previous evening, I’d ask her to guess which of the questions were mine. I think she developed a pretty good idea of my style!

The new series is about to start on BBC2 (on Monday September 1st, 2014), and we’re really pleased with several of the questions we’ve submitted. I hope they go down well.

Common Quiz Night Complications: Part 4

Another entry in this ongoing series, where I highlight recurrent, apparently reasonable enough,  requests from clients which we prefer not to include in our corporate quizzes and charity quizzes. So far, I’ve mentioned

  • Exaggerated Theming
  • Penalty or Bonus Points
  • Buying Clues

Now, it’s time to discuss (and eventually dismiss)…

Running Scores

Firstly, we’ll admit there isn’t a right and wrong  with this one. Plenty of good quizzes have running scores being read out, or indeed displayed on a flipchart, screen or laser display board.

You might well say “It’s like suggesting there shouldn’t be a Premier League table throughout the season. That would be rubbish”. Well, that would be impossible, for starters (unless Sepp Blatter announces even more sinister top-down proposals than he has managed to yet), but would it really be rubbish? Think how many dull games between mid-table teams with nothing to play for there used to be at the end of  the season, how much that lack of inspiration can still, even now when financial incentives have been brought in so that every position is worth fighting for to some extent, adversely affect the end of a season.

Here’s another sporting example. Occasionally, in Championship Boxing, someone’s had the bright idea of having the judges’ tallies being announced to the crowd (and hence to the fighters) at the end of the 4th and 8th round. But they found that the disheartened boxer who discovered he was miles behind on the scores would just give up, knowing that without a spectacular knockout there was no hope for him. Now, opponents of boxing might suggest that’s a good thing, that a boxer getting soundly beaten might be spared further punishment, but the point is that something introduced with the intention of providing the crowd with greater excitement actually had the opposite effect.

It’s not even necessarily the teams at the bottom who might lose interest. There’s glory in being rubbish and acting up to it. It’s those teams who might have gone into the quiz thinking they had a decent chance, but if they’re gradually dropping a few points per round, they’re falling behind. If it’s just the odd point here and there, they might well think they’re in with a chance right to the end, even though in truth, they’re about 10 behind. If they know it, disappointment and ennui might become evident, it’s only natural. No one wanted to be Spurs throughout the 90s (even, really, up to now), did they, with their endless mid-table boredom, and trust me, I was a Spurs fan, almost wishing we could have the occasional relegation scrap to liven things up.

We appreciate that people think that reading out running scores might keep things lively and exciting, foster and nourish rivalries, but, really, it can have the opposite effect. Here are a few other reasons …
1. It adds excitement to the final round, which in our quizzes has a format carefully designed to include an element of jeopardy. Teams gamble a little bit on what answers to write, and that gamble is more fun if they don’t know exactly what they’re aiming for. E.g. if the top team knows going into the last round they are leading by 6, they know they can play it very safe on  the last round – if they don’t know exactly, they have to take a bit more of a gamble, and, if they blow it spectacularly in the last round by getting lots wrong, well; that just adds to the fun.

2. Time. Our quizzes run to a well orchestrated flow. We build momentum and like to keep it going. Reading out running scores at the end of each round will slow the quiz down. This is only exacerbated if, as we’re sometimes asked, we put scores up on screen. In this case, the amount of time for scores to be added up and typed up will severely slow the quiz down. The only way to do this even remotely quickly is by inputting the scores directly into an excel sheet with a formula and then switching the signal to that laptop displaying the scores (as the quizmaster’s laptop will be in constant use and everything would come to a grinding halt if he had to stop using his laptop for a considerable time while scofes are inputted).

There would be cost of significant time and/or an extra, expensive piece of equipment.

3. The marking. We pride ourselves on the speed and quality of our marking, the way it blends seamlessly into the running order of the quiz. Running scores would make life a lot harder for the markers and prevent them doing their job as best they could.

Mistakes can be made, in both marking and adding up. In marking, it can take a fair bit of work to decipher some teams’ messy scribblings and getting all the sheets, correctly marked, to the quizmaster in time to read them out. Our markers are very good at it, but part of the process involves double-checking, throughout the quiz, that we totted each sheet, each round up right, so that we can be sure we’ve got it spot on by the end. Running scores puts pressure  on the marking to be perfect every step of the way, but any minor mistake, which we’d pick up during ongoing checks, would be highlighted by instantly giving out running scores.

What we do, always, is give out the scores for each round immediately the round is finished (though sometimes just a handful of the top scores in a larger quiz, for the sake of  time and momentum, though we’ll do our best to make sure all the team names, funny or not, are read out at some point).

Alert and sharp teams may well have a very decent idea of how they’re doing and who their rivals are – that’s fine. Likewise, sometimes individuals come up to us and ask us how they’re doing. We’re happy to give a vague idea – indeed I often announce how many points are separating teams etc. but anything more precise is to be avoided.

Really, tension and suspense is at the heart of it. It’s a similar case to when people hand in their answer sheet and say “Ooh, number 7 was a tester. What was the answer?” and we say “We’ll let you know when we read it out” and they say “But we’ve handed it it now, what’s the harm?” and the harm is that, once they know the answer, that will probably spread through the room, and so, by the time I read out the answer, which teams have been quarrelling over, rather than the roar of joy/shriek of despair which will greet it if teams are kept from knowing, there’ll be a damp pfft if everybody already knows. Might as well just hand people a sheet at the start, take it in, mark it and hand it back without a word.

Likewise, if teams know their scores all the way through, the tension will gradually be drained from the evening. Who knows, some teams might go home, start throwing paper planes, start cheating.

I said there wasn’t a right and wrong answer, but I’ve written this post as if there is! There are, I’m sure, positives to giving out running scores, but they don’t work for our format of quiz – and so we don’t do running scores: generally when people hire us they do so because they want us, with our thousands of quizzes worth of experience, to do what we know works best for our quizzes,

The Return of Fifteen to One

A new series of the classic quizzer’s quiz show, ’15 to 1′, has been and gone. How did they do?

A constant feature of my last few years at school and my university years, Channel 4’s magic hour from 4 to 5 was the perfect time for the all-round quizzing brain. ‘Countdown’ for the problem-solving, ’15 to 1′ for the pure knowledge. It was simple and brutal, and you got a phenomenal number of questions for your money. It stopped after 15 years in 2003 (I myself had just made a disappointing appearance on the show – Vivaldi, dammit, why didn’t I say Vivaldi) and came back for a 20-part series presented by Sandi Toksvig.

I was not yet a professional writer of quiz questions or a quiz master in 2003, so my perspective is a little different. I’m not interested in being hypercritical – and in truth, I only watched a few episodes of the revamped show – but it’s impossible not to have my quizman’s hat on.

I think, by and large, it was fine, true to the spirit of the old show and very solid. It was a full hour (it used to be half an hour, didn’t it) and I think there was a little more, though not much, in the way of chat and banter. The main format change, which every quiz show seems to be doing now, is that contestants get more than one chance. Three, in fact. Again, I like that. You spend all day at the studio, you might have come from miles away, I think probably it was overly brutal to get 2 questions wrong and then go home!

I heard a criticism that there could be a huge disparity in the difficulty level of questions but twas always thus, wasn’t it? That was part of the fun of the show, I always thought. Will I get lucky? Will I get a couple of stinkers? It would be really hard to produce that many questions of a similar difficulty.

And how were the questions? Pretty decent, generally. Often rather different from the kind of questions I write for pub  and corporate quizzes, where I have a general unwritten rule that the answer to a question will always be a word of phrase that everyone taking part will at least have heard at some point. There is, nor should there be, no such concession to “giving people a chance” in 15 to 1. There’s a lot of “you know it or you don’t” stuff, but for a quiz show like that, which really is about the people who know the most winning, well, that’s fine. You can’t blag, guess or  think your way through.

How about Sandi Toksvig? I think she was good. She’s got a bit more banter than William G Stewart, she’s obviously very clever, an experienced quiz host, maybe brings a bit more (incongruous) warmth to the show.

She read the questions off a tablet, and I’m not too sure about that. The way she’d scroll to a question, then look at it, then ask it, rather highlighted the fact that sometimes she was looking at the question for the first time. Occasionally she’d mispronounce words too. It’s pretty hard to know every question inside out when you’re asking that many, but that’s what William G Stewart was masterful at. As producer and presenter of the show, he really did seem like he’d written every question and knew absolutely everything. I remember him appearing on Celebrity Mastermind a few years ago and I was shocked that he was good, but not great.

I’m sure she’ll grow into that, and the producers will realise the importance of it. In almost all circumstances, from the humble pub quiz to the most prestigious game show, the quiz master should give the impression that they wrote the question, even if they didn’t. Only in certain circumstances does the matey “we’re all finding something new out together” thing work, and it’s even worse when a quiz master undermines the question in any way.

Anyway, I hope this revived series was a success and I hope they bring it back in a big way for a prolonged run. Formats come, formats go, but there’s something about its purity and simplicity which will always find it an audience with quizzers.

Love Hate Pub Quiz Relationships

Another guest post by Barry Bridges, a veteran QQQ QuizMaster

As I near the first decade of my QuizMastery at QuizQuizQuiz, I feel it’s the right time to let you into a little secret. First though, you need to promise not to tell anyone. Promise? In which case, it’s time for a revelation:


Not running them, of course: I love that. Being a QuizQuizQuiz QuizMaster is quite possibly the best job you could wish for, with a wide range of quizzical audiences eager to be stretched, pulled and probed nightly thanks to some outstanding mind-meltingly smart questions. I mean, I hate taking part in pub quizzes.

There’s a very simple reason for it. All of my friends know that I work for QuizQuizQuiz and so there is an absolute obligatory expectation that if you take part in a pub quiz you will win. And I don’t like that sort of pressure.

Granted, I do my best. In the past 5 years I’ve managed to get away with just 1 pub quiz every year (which, coincidentally, I’ve won every time), but around that I’m starting to run out of excuses as to why I shouldn’t be part of a friend’s pub quiz team.

For me, part of my dislike of pub quizzes stems from my knowledge of just how good a QuizQuizQuiz quiz actually is; most other quizzes are poor in comparison. I get really angry and frustrated when I’m taking part in a quiz and hear a badly-worded, ambiguous, unfair quiz questions to which a perfectly valid answer isn’t accepted. Or a question that is incredibly subjective, you-know-it-or-your-don’t in style, which divides a crowd and is so obscure that there’s just no fun in providing an answer.

If you ever want someone to run your quiz, I’d love to. But if you’re looking for someone to join your pub quiz team, count me out.



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.


Nice Quincidences

A couple of things have happened lately which have given me pleasure at the growing reach of QuizQuizQuiz.

One of them was just a gratifying tale of a friend seeing her colleagues busy in their office on a Friday afternoon, her asking them what they were doing, and them saying “Oh, we’re doing the Friday Quiz” … and it turned out to be the QuizQuizQuiz Friday Quiz. The mailing list for the Friday Quiz has grown slowly but surely (six times over) since it began five years ago, but we always suspect that there are way more people out there doing it than just those I send an e-mail to and those that fill it out, whether huddled round a screen, or forwarding it to friends or on Twitter or Facebook. If you aren’t on the Friday Quiz mailing list, then you can sign up to receive an email at 12:30 every Friday.

It’s nice to get concrete evidence of it being a fixture in offices all across London and beyond.

The second incident is an even greater personal pleasure, which has to do with the huge volumes of question writing for games etc. we’ve done over the years. Sometimes, I rather forget everything we’ve done and where it’ll end up.

Anyway, one former flatmate of mine, who now lives in Oz, was on a QANTAS plane and playing the in-flight entertainment quiz, when he saw the name of my other former flatmate as an “alternative” answer to a multiple choice question. Delighted by this (but perhaps unaware of the likely reason), he posted a picture of it on Facebook. I was also able to confirm that it was definitely my handywork by the presence of obscure 90s presenter and DJ Steve Penk as one of the other alternatives – Penk was a favourite running joke of that very flatmate, so I hope it gave him great pleasure to see his name up in lights next to him.

I do remember writing some questions which were going to be used as aeroplane entertainment quite some years ago, but like I say, sometimes the whereabouts of all the questions I do gets rather lost, so this was a lovely reminder that one way or another, QuizQuizQuiz is everywhere!