The Perfect Pub Quiz?

Have you ever read this, George Orwell’s famous little essay on his perfect London pub, with its open fire, stout on tap, bar snacks, lack of music, glasses with handles, where everybody knows your name (hang on, doesn’t he mean Boston bar …)? One suspects that Orwell might not have approved wholeheartedly of that more recently developed mainstay of the British pub, ye olde pubbe quizze.

But then, what of Orwell’s Moon Under Water? How perfect is it really? It sounds rather nice, indeed reminds me of some very cosy pubs I’ve been to (Holly Bush in Hampstead, say, at least as I remember it from a few years ago) but, then again,  by general standards, I am a pubby person. I mainly drink ale, like a chat in a comfy seat, a game of bar billiards, some pork crackling. It’s up my street (quiet backstreet, no doubt). But, you know, it’s a little prescriptive, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s great if a pub has a quality jukebox or playlist, if it’s got a few quiz machines, if it’s showing the football, if it has a full lunch and dinner menu, sometimes, heaven forbid, I want to drink a couple of bottles of that vulgar lager stuff. It varies.

And lots of people aren’t “pubby” in the traditional sense at all, of course. Arguably, Orwell’s idyll is only remotely close to being an idyll for a pretty narrow section of society.

So, I’ve read quite a lot of articles over the last few years – as the fashion for our noble art form increases – by people talking about what makes the perfect pub quiz or perfect pub quiz question. “A great quiz question should be …” … it’s a little prescriptive itself, isn’t it? The bland and the facile, these are the main enemies (notwithstanding the ambiguous and the plain wrong, of course!). Even though I’ve written 10s of 1000s of questions, many of which I’m very pleased with, I can read these articles and question myself. Am I working hard enough to eliminate mediocrity from my question-writing process, to make each question a little event in itself? Gosh, this question writing is mentally exhausting.

But, I suppose, my point is, if one fills one’s quiz with quality, finely wrought questions, it might get a little exhausting for the participants too. I’ve said this before but, the more and more years I spend in the quiz business, the more sure I am that there is a place for the supposedly facile and bland (though not the ambiguous and the plain wrong).

Just as many people aren’t pubby and won’t fall in love with Orwell’s dimly lit, open-fired, ale-serving enclave, so many people aren’t quizzy. Certainly not at the quizzes I run. That doesn’t mean they’re anti-quiz or don’t sometimes enjoy a good quiz (dealing with those is a different matter), but let’s not forget it’s quite a narrow strand of us whose quiz idyll is ingenious brainteaser after brainteaser.  Quite often I’ve come up with a question I think is a little marvel, tested it on a “layperson” and been met with indifference and mild irritation at how clever I think I’m trying to be. If I test that question on one of my quizzy friends or colleagues, I’m more likely (though not guaranteed!) to get just the response I was hoping for. Doesn’t mean it’s a bad question one way or a great question the other.

Sometimes, for the right crowd, I can run a fiercely “quizzy” (sorry for my overuse of the adjective quizzy, but you know what I mean, don’t you?) quiz all the way through, and that’s perfect, but sometimes, a well-paced, well-judged quiz involves highs and lulls, testers and gimmes, quiet conversation and loud music, lukewarm ale and cold lager.

Let’s not forget, pub lovers and quiz lovers, where George Orwell’s big ideas got us. “Big Brother” led to an interesting social experiment of a TV show called ‘Big Brother’ which became vastly successful and led to a monstrous televisual beast called ‘Big Brother’. ‘The Moon Under Water’ led to a chain which attempted to fulfil the ideas of the perfect British pub, with many of its pubs being  called The Moon Under Water, which became vastly successful and led to, with all due respect, the Wetherspoons which we know and avoid.

So, hopefully we can avoid thinking of the perfect quiz and the perfect quiz question, set high standards in the quizzes we run but not try to be brilliant with every question. One crowd’s perfect pub quiz might be another crowd’s night at a Wetherspoons.

What are people trying to achieve at a quiz?

I’ve been thinking about the fact that different people at different places want different things from quizzes. That’s obvious, really, but it’s definitely worth every quiz master remembering that fact.

What I want from a quiz that I am hosting (from a personal perspective) can coincide loosely with what the event organiser wants. Event organisers, depending on the event, may want a variety of things like team building, networking,  employees feeling good about their employer, the publicising of a brand, a particular message to get across – all these generally boil down to it being a good, fun event where people get on, enjoy themselves and people will say afterwards that it was a good event.

That last bit’s what I want too, basically, for different but linked reasons. I want it be a good, fair, lively, competitive quiz, for it to be smoothly and well run; I want it to stand out from other quizzes they’ve ever had, I want people to think the questions were memorable, the rounds were innovative; I want there to be no mishaps and controversies. Above all, I want people to be entertained.

At the back of my mind, I know that’s because I want the client to think well of QuizQuizQuiz, to book us again, to think we’re a safe pair of our hands and to think we live up to what we promise.  By and large, I forget about that once the quiz is underwasy and the momentum of the event takes over: I want the quiz to be fun and competitive because of a mixture of professional pride and taking pleasure in other people’s enjoyment.

These are all good solid motivations. I’m a professional working for a business and I’m trying to do my job well, which is to entertain and provide an enjoyable evening.

But sometimes a quiz master might forget that the motivation of nearly everyone else there is different from that. Many participants may not really care about there being a positive atmosphere and thinking  that it’s a nicely put together quiz, that it’s all being run smoothly and with clear direction A few might notice that kind of thing and it’s great if they do, but basically, most people want to win the quiz and feel that they, personally and their team, have had a good time. Purely and simply.

They’re not thinking about any kind of bigger picture. Of course having a few drinks and a laugh is an important part of it for many people, but, above all, the really important thing is that they want to  get as many right as they can in order to win.

Whereas, obviously, I, as the Quiz Master, don’t care at all who wins. I’d rather one team didn’t win by a huge margin but, otherwise, I’m a bit removed from people’s fierce competitiveness.

If you’re not careful, it can take you aback. A participant might act in a fiercely competitive way, for example marching up to me while I’m speaking and demanding I repeat a question I’ve already repeated twice because they were in the loo, and a quiz master might think “does this person not realise that this is a small delay which adversely affects the excellent momentum this quiz has built up and the altogether delightful atmosphere?” Well, of course they don’t, or if they do realise, they don’t really care. They want to win and they’re going to fight for it.

That’s what many people can be like when they take part in quizzes, anyway. Even for me, though I have a professional hat I can put on, and I can think “aah, that was a good question, this is a very efficient quiz master, this room has a good atmosphere etc …” I still will put that all aside in my effort to win the quiz.

So, it’s an obvious thing for every quiz master to remember. On a good night, where everyone is in perfect harmony, it can seem like every participant is collaborating with you with the same agenda to have a fine all-round quiz evening. But above all most people are just trying to win the quiz.

Killing the atmosphere

We’ve written before about different methods for marking answer sheets. Our method at QuizQuizQuiz quiz nights is always to mark them ourselves. The Quiz Master or assistant will do all the marking: compared to other methods, it’s quicker, more accurate, and crucially (for the purpose of comparison in this blog post) helps with the atmosphere of the quiz.

One of the reasons why we like to mark is that it helps us create more suspense, and from there more excitement, at the answers.  As we wrote in a previous blog post: “Many of our questions require teams to think very carefully about answers – and are designed to make them feel clever when they come up with the correct answer. Often they will not be 100% sure that they have the correct answer until we announce it. Now, if they are marking another team’s paper then they may see that this other team put the same answer as them. They will be much more sure they are right with this confirmation, and when the correct answer is read out they will cheer much less if at all. Multiply this to every team, and a guaranteed spontaneous cheer from the entire room could disappear completely.”

I went to an excellent quiz the other night at a local pub – but it was suffering from a lack of teams over the summer (we were one of only 5 or 6 teams playing compared to the usual 12-16 that they said they normally have). To make matter worse the QuizMaster did things in a rather unusual way. She took the answer sheets in to mark herself (which we approve of!), but then she handed them back out complete with ticks and crosses BEFORE reading out the answers. This meant that the only source of suspense for us was waiting to hear what the correct answers were for the ones we had got wrong. There was no sense of suspense or excitement on the several (for it was a well written quiz) questions where we were making carefully deduced guesses but weren’t sure if we had plumped for the right answer. Of course we knew we had (or hadn’t) before the answers were read out, so it wasn’t very interesting at that point.

Maybe I am being harsh, but these things do matter!


Cricket and Quizzing

What do they know of quizzing who only quizzing know?

Fans of both cricket and quizzing might recognise that I am paraphrasing a famous quote by Trinidadian academic CLR James in the great cricket book ‘Beyond a Boundary’ – “What knows he of cricket who only cricket knows?”

[Fans of cricket, quizzing and poetry might recognise that James was himself answering Rudyard Kipling in ‘English Flag’ – “What do they know of England who only England know?”]

It’s a phrase that can be re-applied pretty universally, just as so much of cricketing jargon and folklore has spread throughout English culture – “playing with a straight bat”, “sticky wicket”, “it’s just not cricket”, “stumped”, “going into bat for …” etc.

Which leads me to a couple of cricketing analogies which can be applied to quizzing.

Firstly … let us call this one the Wicketkeeper Rule, or, if you wish, The Slip Rule.

If you are a wicketkeeper, you can guarantee that the one ball you decide will absolutely certainly not come to you – but will go off the middle of the bat, so you take your eye off it for a second – will be the one that takes an edge,  and you drop. Disaster.

So it is that when you hear the start of a quiz question which appears to have nothing to do with you, is on a subject you have no interest in, it will come round to be right in your sphere of knowledge, and you will curse yourself that you didn’t concentrate.

As with wicketkeeping or fielding at slip, you cannot let your concentration waver for a second at a quiz.

Secondly … let us call this the Broadgate rule. So, in the first Ashes test of the summer, England all-rounder (there’s another one!) Stuart Broad edged a ball, which then deflected off the keeper and was caught by first slip. He was given not out, Australia had used up their reviews, and he stood their insouciantly and continued with his innings, making several more crucial runs.

Australians, and various pompous parts of the cricketing world, were outraged. How dare he not walk? “Blatant cheating”, Darren Lehmann, the Aussie coach called it. Darren Lehmann, a man who, as far as anyone knows, has never walked in his life. The only Aussie cricketer in living memory who was a full-time walker was the great Adam Gilchrist (no doubt he learnt it playing for Old Actonians Under-17s in the Middlesex Colts League!) and, by all accounts, this led to great resentment from his more hard-nosed colleagues.

So, why such outrage when Broad didn’t walk? Well, because, retrospectively, it was pretty obvious he’d got a big nick, but more because it was absolutely crucial to the outcome of the game.

So, what’s my point? He should have walked. Sure. That’s what I think. I walk. To be fair, the number of times it’s actually relevant, that you get a thin nick, you know you’re out but the umpire doesn’t spot it, is miniscule. I played a lot of cricket when I was younger and can only think of one time I walked when the umpire didn’t think I was out. And let’s just say that was not at a level with quite as much pressure as the first Ashes test, and I think I already had a few runs to my name. I was happy to stroll off merry and self-righteous.

And I have been outraged when an opponent didn’t walk for a blatant nick, of course. But have I been outraged when a team mate, or when an England player, didn’t walk for a blatant nick, like Michael Atherton versus Allan Donald in 1998, or Stuart Broad on this occasion? No, of course not. It’s all part of the game, we say to ourselves. He should have walked, but I’m glad he didn’t.

So it is with quizzes. If you are mismarked on a round, you complain vociferously if you’ve a mark too few but do you make your way to the front to demand a correction if you’ve been given a point or two too many. Do you?

And though outrage is reasonable enough when you catch an opposing team looking something up on their iPhone, make sure your outrage is accompanied by the knowledge that can you say hand on heart you’ve never seen or suspected a team mate of yours of doing the same. You’d rather they didn’t, of course, it’s not exactly cricket, but I bet everyone else is doing it …

This is no apologia for cheating, far from it. We hate cheating at our quizzes, and we do our level best to prevent it, pretty successfully. Accurate marking is also absolutely vital to us, and if ever any kind of mistake creeps in, we are shamefaced and remedy it at once. Fewer and fewer mistakes happen as we’ve taken more and more steps to make sure all our markers perform the right checks through out the quiz.

And we will very happily hear an enquiry about whether the marking is spot on, whether a question is accurate (it will be!), or what we will do about QuizTeam Aguilera using an iPhone. But we do hope that the enquiry is made politely and reasonably, without outrage or too much blame attached to anyone.

If Michael Clarke gets a massive nick and doesn’t walk at a crucial stage of the first test of the return Ashes this winter, let us hope we are able to shrug and take it on the chin and remember that when the good luck comes our own way, we readily accept it.

The Return of Quiz Quiztofferson

Considering my job, I really don’t take part in many pub quizzes these days. Indeed, it had been a couple of years since I’d last risked my reputation in that way. So, on a Wednesday night when I was off quiz-running duty, I took myself off to a local pub and took on the world.

It was fun. I like quizzes, I realise.

It was your standard “sent out by a successful company” quiz and, I’ve got to say, the last time I’d done one of theirs, I’d found the questions pretty disappointing, but this time round, I was pleasantly surprised – they were tight, pretty clever and interesting [I went back again this week, and the questions were even better]. It goes to show – if you’re writing questions all the time, as the writers of these quizzes are, and as I do, you have good days and bad days. Some days I sit down to write questions and will only come up with a few limp and obvious ones, and then the next day I’ll write 50 questions which I know can be used and re-used. Quality can inevitably vary, it’s just about having an effective quality control system.

It’s fun taking part in a quiz on your own, albeit it’s more like a school exam than a proper pub quiz experience, where banter and discussion and working things out together is part of the fun. Notwithstanding the obligatory barflies trying to give me help when their help is the last thing I wanted, there was no banter for me.

Still, I was pleased. I pretty much nailed it, in terms of eking out the points I could possibly get, and I was pretty confident I’d win, especially when the third place team had a score 11 points lower than mine. But, no, I was thwarted, by one point, dammit, though was happy enough with a little share of the kitty. [The excellent showing of this winning team, incidentally, directly affected my performance on my second visit last night, where I took a wild risk on the wipeout round thinking I’d need everything to beat them, only to find out at the end that if I’d played it safe I’d have won].

Funnily enough, of the nine points I dropped, five of them were on football-related questions, which just goes to show that what you think is your strength isn’t necessarily so. On one of my few ghastly TV appearances, I took on sport as my speciality only to come up horribly short. And yet, I live and breathe sport, always have done, still do. I’ve written about this before in terms of writing questions, that the best questions we write are usually not on our own favourite subjects, but maybe it applies (to a lesser extent) to answering questions as well – we don’t use the problem-solving part of our brain so valuable for quizzes when the subject is something we think we already know  about. Who knows?

Anyway, it was fun to get back in the game. The essence and heart of what we do is the good old pub quiz, so I shouldn’t let so long go by without one in the future.


Pub Quiz Night Ideas

It’s seven years to the day since I started running pub quiz nights for QuizQuizQuiz, and it’s interesting to consider what’s changed and what hasn’t changed in that time.

Obviously, the company has grown, taken on many new challenges, in particular when it comes to question writing. In essence, though, a lot of what we do is just the same. We run fun quiz nights for people.

The first quiz I ran, at a venue in the city, was probably pretty similar to the quiz I will run tonight. QuizQuizQuiz was on to a good thing from the off. Jack, Lesley-Anne and David, who started the company, loved quizzes before they started the company and knew how to make pub quiz nights great for other people. They had great questions and great rounds. Quite a few of those rounds are still rounds we sometimes use, varied and fair and fun.

However, it would be remiss to just sit on our hands and just keep things exactly as they are. We’re constantly renewing our questions, trying to write new classics which will puzzle and entertain people, which will work for different ages and nationalities and demographics.

And we’re also constantly trying to come up with new pub quiz night ideas, which will elevate quizzes we run above the quiz night norm. Just this year, I’ve started running four different types of rounds which I hadn’t been running previously, all with success. It’s always gratifying when a new idea gets the desired response, contains something which participants can latch on to and enjoy.

There’s nothing wrong with a solid quiz of six themed rounds of ten questions, but we do things a little differently. We have a variety of formats and a variety of question styles. Yes, some of the old ideas are still great, but we want our pub quiz nights to be more than just your average quiz night, and we put a lot of thoughts into new ways to make that happen.

How does your quiz night keep it fresh?

Understanding the Pub Quiz

I travelled to Durham on Wednesday to take part in a pub quiz – which is a long way to go from London (where I live) at the best of times, but it was even further to go given that on Wednesday morning I was in Lithuania.

But there was a good reason for the trip (if going to a pub quiz is not quite a good enough reason by itself). I was attending an event organised by Dr. Nick Pearce of Durham University about Understanding the Pub Quiz.

The event itself was “just” a pub quiz night, but was designed to increase awareness of the university’s work in sociology, and to kick off some research into the role of the pub quiz in British culture. A podcast was recorded before the quiz night started, involving comments and chit-chat from Dr. Pearce, some of his colleagues, the QuizMaster and bar staff at the pub, and me, to start getting into the topic of “Understanding the Pub Quiz.”

You can listen to the podcast here.

Some of the questions that the research might be able to answer include:

How and why did pub quizzes start?
How uniquely British is the phenomenon?
How have they evolved over time?
What role do they play in British culture and social interatcions?
What is the future of the pub quiz in our ever-changing world?

But here is a question for readers of this blog: when did you first go to a pub quiz?


Drinking and Quizzing

Pub Quiz. Pub. Quiz. The relationship between our line of work and demon alcohol is quite explicitly established. As a professional quiz master, I’m regularly offered a glass of wine by the kind host when I’m running a quiz night, but have never accepted, and never will. The reason is simple. In the general course of running a two hour quiz, I might well stumble over my words once or twice, which is absolutely fine. However, if i were to stumble over my words and I’d just be seen taking a sip of wine, that veneer of professionalism might slip, even if there was no actual correlation between the two.

However, we obviously have no problem with our participants drinking. As a participant in pub quizzes, I have seen plenty of teams going dry, perhaps to aid their quiz skills, perhaps because that’s just the way they roll. I’ve pretty much never felt a few beers curbed my quiz powers – I only remember one night in a jackpot round suddenly finding that my powers of clear thinking were a little blurred – that might just as well have been the sheer high-octane pressure of the situation though. It’s safe to say though that quizzing is not one of those activities, like driving, playing football, or walking in a straight line, which is seriously inhibited by drinking.

Having said all that it would not be true to say that we are not a little wary of how events wil turn out if we know participants will be extremely well lubricated as the quiz progresses. A conference, say, at a hotel, where there is a break of a couple of hours between end of day and dinner, then an hour’s dinner before we start the quiz – we can be fairly sure that the atmosphere will be significantly livelier than at a quiz starting at 6 straight after work. Livelier is perhaps the wrong word. Lively is altogether good. Lively and merry is what we aim for. Drunken could occasionally tip over into belligerent and disruptive. That is when quizmaster skills are really called upon. I once ran a quiz in Leith Dockers Club starting at 10 pm on a Sunday night after a charity karaoke night. That was perhaps the most extreme example of dealing with merriness I’ve ever had. I quickly worked out that the best way to run the quiz was to speak as little as possible. Despite my Celtic heritage, my moderately plummy English tones were a source of some amusement and gentle abuse. Once I worked out how to play it, the quiz night was great fun.

People who are drunk don’t want to be mocked or told off. I’ve found the best way to deal with a generally drunken atmosphere is to be firm, polite and a little indulgent. I’ve never had the mood turn at all ugly at any quiz I’ve run (touch wood). Considering that pub quizzes contain a slightly dangerous combination of competitiveness, the possibility of cheating, and alcohol, that’s something to be fairly proud of.

Are you a teetotal pub quizzer, or do you find a few pints helps you perform better at the quiz?

Mainstream Knowledge

I’ve already written in a previous blog post about how much I enjoy the BBC show ‘Pointless’ – one further positive I didn’t mention is that it actually serves as a fairly effective market research tool. So yes, I can watch the show as part of my job, which is nice.

The show’s premise is based on finding out how much a group of 100 unseen people know about a certain category. So, for me as question-writer of both corporate quiz events and databases of quiz content for multiple choice “quiz game” projects, finding out what people will name within a category can give me a reasonable idea of the extent to which subjects and things within subjects are common knowledge.

The results can be a little surprising initially, but make sense when you think about it: extremely high results might be (these are examples i vaguely remember, though not necessarily exact):

  • Name an English footballer beginning with D, and 95% will say David Beckham,
  • Name an American city, and 97% will say New York, that kind of thing.

Knowledge of Geography, household matters, popular TV from a few years ago, extremely famous celebrities, very general knowledge, tends to be pretty good.

There are striking gaps in knowledge though – the first one that amazed me was actually when, of the 8 studio contests, 6 of the 8 of them could not name one, not one, Robert de Niro film. The same pattern followed for Robert Redford films and films starring the Fiennes brothers. Seemingly huge gaps in knowledge, both for the survey of 100 people and for the studio guests.

Likewise, when people were asked to name a song by either Coldplay, Snow Patrol or Muse. Pretty odd, you might think, since those are, for better or worse, as big as British rock bands get these days.

But it does make sense, when you think about how culture is compartmentalised these days. You don’t need more than about 50,000 sales in a week to have a number 1 album. If you follow a band, and see that they’ve got to Number 1, you might think they’ve crossed over into the mainstream, but, even if an album’s sold 200,000 copies, or indeed a single (that’s an awful lot for a single), that’s 2% of the people watching Coronation Street every week, and a fraction of a per cent of the people who learnt a few capital cities when they were at school, or whatever.

Likewise with films. A massive blockbuster will be watched by a few hundred thousand or maybe pushing into the low millions at the cinema. That still leaves the vast majority who haven’t seen it, and there’s no particular reason why knowledge of it will filter into people’s lives.

And there’s no Top of the Pops anymore, and the concept of TV film events, where we’d all sit down and watch a premiere on terrestrial TV, has pretty much gone.

A tiny number of modern films and songs really cross over into mainstream popular consciousness these days , and this is noticeable when I do an Entertainment or Music round at a corporate quiz. Everyone will recognise, say ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears, or ‘Umbrella’ by Rihanna (when i say everyone, in this example, I mean a majority of people between 20 and 40), people will get a question about ‘Avatar’ or recognise the theme to ‘Lord of the Rings’, but even something like a Red Hot Chili Peppers single (from their biggest album), or, say, the theme to ‘Inception’, will have quite a small percentage of correct answers.

On the other hand, knowledge of stuff from the past, where there was Top of the Pops, where we did all watch films and they’ve been on TV lots of times, is excellent. ‘Jump Around’ by House of Pain? ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘Groundhog Day’, ‘Die Hard’  or ‘Big’? Widespread recognition.

It’s all pretty obvious stuff, but only when you actually take time to think about it (which is my job), but for me, it was a lesson to learn for me starting out running quizzes and writing questions.

First of all, what I’m into, even if I think they’re quite big, like a band I go and see where the audience is 5000, they’re still, in the scheme of things, tiny. Likewise, with films. If you’re a film fan, Robert de Niro or Robert Redford is about as big as it gets – you wouldn’t think they were minority subjects at all – but actually it’s still going to be quite a small percentage of the population who have both seen and can remember seeing any/many of their films.

That’s why Entertainment and Music rounds, though absolutely key to a fun quiz in my opinion, need to be carefully handled to avoid blank looks.

Have you ever come across really surprising gaps in knowledge at quizzes? Times when you’ve thought “How can you not know this?”

What other factors affect how one thing is in popular consciousness and another thing isn’t? I’m sure I’ll have missed a few key things.

A Very British Thing

My colleague Jack has written a couple of entertaining posts in this blog about the variations in the pub quiz night around the world, and down the years we’ve been in contact with quiz companies as far afield as New Zealand, Kenya, South Africa, India and the US.

Nevertheless, there’s little doubt that the pub quiz night is, primarily, a British phenomenon. It’s rare to go past a pub in the UK which isn’t advertising some kind of quiz night. They’re as much part of British culture as overpriced music festivals, phone hacking and cricketers born in South Africa.

And that Britishness, of course, informs content – every nation has its own exclusive reservoir of shared knowledge,  that moment when something is mentioned that a person of that nationality will respond to instantly with a knowing smile, and a foreigner will be entirely bemused by – and it’s only natural that questions in a pub quiz tap into that. As I’ve written before, you want people to know the answers to your questions, but you want them to feel that they’re part of an elite club in knowing those answers – this is an aspect of that phenomenon.

But, for our Corporate Quizzes, it’s not so easy. We’re responsible for doing more than run a competitive, accurate quiz with some fun quizzes, we’re responsible for giving all the staff of a company, who have paid us as professionals, an enjoyable evening, an evening where they don’t feel left out, disinterested or stupid. And bearing in mind the pub quiz – which is basically what we do, with a few significant bells on – is such a British thing, one has to work hard to avoid the risk of making non-British employees feel left out, disinterested or stupid.

This effort to make the quiz a hospitable environment for all runs right through our process, from finding out in advance who it is for, to judging how much needs to be explained at the start (from very little beyond the fact people need to write a team name to a very clear explanation of what the quiz is and how it will work) to changing the questions we are going to ask while the quiz is going if we realise the crowd is more diverse than we’d thought. You can also right wrongs. You might have asked a question about British TV and then overhear a mildly vociferous “How am I meant to know that, I’m German”. Well, then, we can throw in a few questions about Germany – we’ve got a huge database of questions and they’re ready to be used.

There are different scenarios, and we try to arm ourselves in advance by finding out as much as we can about who is taking part. In some ways, it is easier to prepare the quiz if you know it is a hugely cosmopolitan crowd – I did a quiz recently where I was told that 50% would be Indian, the other 50% from all over Europe. I could simply discount anything Anglocentric in my preparation, do a bit of research to write some Indian questions, it all worked pretty well.

When there is a large crowd of whom you know the majority are British but there are a fair few of other nationalities, the balance can be harder to strike. The fact is, a lot of our best question are on British culture, those little things we as question-writers remember that we are pretty confident our participants will remember or work out too – that can be one of the great joys of a quiz. If, as quizmaster, you know that the question works for 80% of the people there, surely that’s fair enough? Well, yes, but it’s got to be balanced out with international questions, even questions that people not from Britain have a better chance of knowing every now and then.

It can be tricky – if you make a quiz too universal, do you run the risk of making it bland, not much more than a general knowledge test? e.g. What is the capital of Sweden? Where were the 1996 Olympics? (yawn) Not if your questions are good enough.

At QuizQuizQuiz, there are two main sides to our business, and that need to write “international” material is even more prevalent in our question-writing business than in our quiz-running business. I’m not going to say too much about this now, just touch on it briefly. We do big projects where the target market is British, or American, European, wherever. We have writers and translators of lots of different nationalities to make sure we can cover pretty much any enquiry that comes our way. When you’re asked to write 10,000 questions and the target market is “international”, it can be a little tricky to know where to target it. Who is this putative “international” quiz player to whom all my questions will be suited? Sometimes I can’t help but visualise some translatlantic man of mystery who holidays in Monte Carlo, has homes in London and New York, spent a year travelling through Asia, and spends their time reading National Geographic and watching the Discovery Channel. This is the 21st century modern quizzer… well, perhaps not, but we hope that our skill is, over time, working out how to write questions which prove that quizzes are not just a British thing.