Pub Quiz Cheating

Here is a video of a talk given by our QuizMaster Jack at an event in Leeds recently on the topic of pub quiz cheating.

The event was Bettakultcha, in which  a dozen or so speakers talk on different topics for just 5 minutes – and none of the 400+ audience know what the topics are going to be in advance.

If you are interested in the topic, you should read our post from last year on Pub Quiz Cheating.

All About the Music

Music is a large part of pretty much every quiz night we run. We always have background music suitable for each round; we test teams on film and TV themes and various other questions involve music in some form. I play music before a quiz starts and during whatever breaks take place.

However, this post is, specifically, about putting together what is nearly always one of the most enjoyable rounds, the Music Round. More than any other round, the Music round serves a dual purpose, as both quiz competition and straight up rabble-rousing entertainment. Frankly, not every question within the music round needs to be a test – if it gets a roomful of people singing along to some mid-90s hip-hop one hit wonder, well that’s just fine.

I nearly always include a music quiz round, and my music round is nearly always heavy on clips of popular music. There can be a little bit of variation between our quizmasters on this – some might, occasionally, include music inside a larger, more general Entertainment round, some might include significantly more pieces of classical music and, say, songs from musicals. It always depends on the participants, of course. But I, for the most part, like a good solid “Name the artist” (with one or two variations) music round.

I really look forward to the music round in each quiz event. Most other rounds I’ll have mostly planned in advance, but I pretty much choose my musical clips on the night, thinking about what will work at that particular moment. Having said I really enjoy the music round, that isn’t necessarily because I actively like the music I’m playing! Sometimes quite the opposite.

It would be a big mistake if I actually played music I was into – failed singer-songwriters, 90s Scottish indie, 60s garage bands, and several Bob Dylan songs, that would be my music round. And it would be rubbish.

When I started running quizzes, I felt I had to remind myself of that. So I would deliberately start the quiz with something I loathed, just to separate my own taste from what I was playing – ‘It’s All Coming Back to Me Now’ by Celine Dion was usually the thing. Right, the only way is up from there, I’d think.

In putting together the music round, there are a few different reactions I’m looking for over the course of the round.

– I know that one, that one’s easy

– Ooh I have an urge to sing along to the chorus of this one

– Ooh, this one’s tricky, it could be this or that

– I’ve no idea about this one, oh actually is it …

– This is a really nice song actually

-Hmph, these songs aren’t from my era, oh no hang on this one is, this is the good stuff

– I recognise the song but I don’t quite remember the band

– What is this ridiculous nonsense?

– Is it Tamsin Archer or Tasmin Archer?

Those are just some of the reactions I’m hoping for – I want a good range of eras and styles (the temptation can be to stick to 80s/90s but I’d say one should try to fit in at least one from pretty much every decade, including this one), I want some sing-a-longs, I want the odd slow number, I want a horrible novelty song, I want time-specific dance moves.

The majority of my ideal music quiz round is ‘Name the artist’, but there are some other things thrown in – things like Rewinds, recognise the song from the 1st Note, Missing Link and Mystery Year. The first two of those work really well because, invariably, people think that is going to be very difficult but it turns out to be very gettable. Though the first note of ‘Come on Eileen’ does sound a lot like the first note of ‘Summer Lovin”.

The Mystery Year question, with which I usually finish the music round, is quite often the highlight of the whole quiz. I don’t know exactly why (well I do actually), but teams will always have debated at great length where they were when they first heard the songs from the mystery year, and someone will be convinced it was her first year at Uni so it must be 1986 and someone will be convinced it was the year his baby sister was born so it must be 1987, and when I announce the answer, the howls of delight/anger are something to behold.

So, that’s the music round. Not cleverly worded questions, but plenty of thought, not deep intellectual knowledge, just a good recollection of the songs you grew up with.

New Adventures in Quizzing

Whatever else one can say about running quizzes for a living, it’s not that often that you find yourselves risking life and limb to bring knowledge and entertainment to the people.

However, my first corporate quiz of the year, in Eastbourne, turned into an awfully big adventure. First of all, the journey itself turned unexpectedly into a bit of a blizzard, and then, when we arrived at Eastbourne, though there was no snow lying on the ground, there was a howling gale, sheets of rain, and there was our venue – at the very end of Eastbourne Pier (the client had certainly chosen somewhere spectacular!).

We braved our way down the walkway, and after finding a couple of locked doors, made our way into the extremely nice venue and began to set up. After a while we were joined by the quiz organisers and we awaited the participants.

Suddenly, I was ushered over and informed that the pier was to much of a safety risk, and, if I agreed, the venue for the quiz would be changed to a nearby hotel.

Now, usually, we’re pretty scrupulous about making sure the venue which the client has chosen suits the needs of the quiz, and in this case, we were using the venue’s equipment, rather than our own, so I was hesitant, but assured that the hotel could provide a good sound system.

And so it proved – the slippery walk back along the pier gave merit to the decision to change venue, and I very quickly set up in a spare function room of the hotel for over 100 people.

The sound was good, the quiz was only a little delayed and seemed to be a success. It was a good example of how flexible one occasionally has to be. Admittedly, I’ve never been instructed to change the venue of the quiz before at the last minute, but the timings, the numbers, the difficulty level, the subject, the quality of sound can all be altered at very short notice, and it is up to us to adapt and still provide a high quality, seamless, professional service.

Even though this was my first quiz of the year, there wasn’t thankfully, too much ring rust and I managed to get through the Battle of Eastbourne Pier unscathed.

Jokers in Quiz Nights

This post is all about why we don’t use jokers in QuizQuizQuiz Quiz Nights. And by jokers we mean a device with which a team can get extra points (usually double points) for a round in the quiz.

Jokers are ideally suited to 10×10 style quizzes – quizzes in which there are 10 rounds of 10 questions. Or it could be 8 rounds of 8 questions or whatever. But for jokers to work fairly (if indeed jokers are not inherently unfair) each round needs to be worth the same number of points, each round needs to be of equal difficulty, and really each round needs to be on pre-specified subject area. And in our view these restrictions make for a boring and inflexible quiz.

Here are some of the reasons why jokers don’t suit our quiz night format:

1) our rounds are of different lengths so double points on one round is a greater advantage on one round than another (and our round lengths can change on the fly – in order to adapt to timings, and other factors).

2) our rounds have different formats (so we can’t even say “double points for first 5 qs in a round” as 5 questions in one round may mean 15 points and and in another round may be just 5 points).

3) it would mean having to reveal round titles beforehand, which takes away something from the element of surprise, as well as setting in stone what rounds we do, when we might want (or need) to adapt. And adaptability is a key part of the recipe for a QuizQuizQuiz quiz night.

4) there is no possibility to create a difficulty curve during the quiz: start nice and easy (read our thoughts on preventing cheating in quiz nights to understand about this), add in some real meat in the middle of the quiz, and then end with a good mix of easy and hard (depending, partly, on how drunk everyone is).

Sometimes our new quiz night clients will have only ever been to quizzes with jokers, and will feel that they are an essential part of the quiz night experience. So we ask our clients to trust us to get the format right for their event (after all, our professional expertise and experience is partly what we are being paid for). Sometimes this means trusting us that jokers (or another format variation idea) don’t work. Sometimes this means that our clients explain to us why a particular theme or format suggestion has come up – and then it is our job to turn that idea into a format, round or feature during the quiz night.

In the 2000+ company, charity, and pub quiz events we’ve run over the years we’ve dabbled with many format variations, and we continue to evolve our formats, but generally we have a very good feel for what works and what doesn’t.

So there we go – jokers just don’t fit our format. And indeed any format variations need to be carefully prepared, as an added gimmick or format tweak can have a significant impact on the success of a quiz night – and often in ways that are not necessarily obvious unless you spend your life thinking about how to make quiz nights better (which is, of course, what we do).


Stadium Gigs

Last month I played Murrayfield Stadium. Oh yes. QuizQuizQuiz has really hit the big time now… Sadly, I wasn’t spreading the word of quiz to 60,000 adoring fans, but for 200 or so people in a corporate suite.

We quite often run quizzes in rooms at stadiums. Indeed one of the first ever QuizQuizQuiz quiz nights, back in 2003, was at St. James’ Park in Newcastle. Running quizzes at places such as Old Trafford (Cricket and Football), the Emirates, Hampden Park etc. can be a nice vicarious thrill, and, in any case, 200+ people is a pretty large number for a quiz.

I think the most people I’ve ever run a quiz for is just over 300, and we ran a quiz for over 800 people once upon a time with around 120 teams in the Corn Exchange Shopping Centre in Leeds.

Is that too big? What kind of difference does the number of people or teams make?

Theoretically, there’s no limit, but the main inhibiting factors are space, sound and vision, engagement with teams, and, of course, marking.

Big enough venues with really good sound systems, where you feel like you’re fully in touch with all the teams and you know you’re engaging them can be hard to find. And obviously, if you want to mark sheets yourselves, as we do, the more teams, the more good markers you need. [We can run a quiz night using keypads, which to some extent removes the marking factor, but the vast majority of our quiz events rely on pen and paper, at least to some extent, and thus need marking by hand].

Personally, I love running quizzes for massive crowds – the cheer is louder, the sense of occasion is bigger. In some ways it is less intimidating than just running a quiz for a few people, where you can see and hear what everyone is thinking. It’s pretty important, though, that the venue is a good, open space, without lots of nooks, crannies and corners – both in terms of considering sound and people seeing screens, but also in terms of people staying fully involved.

Likewise, whatever the venue, we need to conduct a thorough check that the sound in the venue is good before we start, and this is particularly vital for a big venue.

Any venue and any number can provide it’s own challenges, though. Sometimes we have our own portable equipment, sometimes we plug into a venue’s own, and, with experience, I’ve got the hang of getting the sound right, speaker placement, where teams should be sat etc. I’d like to think that if we ever were asked to put on a quiz for a stadium full of people, we’d find a way to make it work.

Stadium quizzing might just be the next big thing. Comedians are the new rock stars. Maybe QuizMasters will be the new comedians. Or perhaps not. It’s a nice thought though.

Ties and Climaxes

We try extremely hard to ensure that all of our quizzes have an exciting climax. Sometimes it is pretty obvious to everyone which team has won, because they have been doing well all the way through, but even then you can try and build in a bit of suspense by at least making the top few teams feel that they are still in with a shout. I often say something like “the top three, in no particular order are…” partly to build suspense, but also just to make sure I haven’t accidentally missed out a team when reading out the rest of the scores.

However, even then, it is difficult announcing second place without the winners starting to  celebrate even before they have been announced (because obviously they know they have won). This is even harder when you have prizes to give out for third and second places. I’ll return to this topic of climax  when I’ve put it all in a bit of recent context…

I had a very interesting situation at the corporate quiz night I hosted yesterday for a law firm, and some of their clients and contacts, in Lewes. It was a very close quiz overall, but one team was about one point per round better than anyone else.

They were leading the pack by about 5 points going into the final round. Our normal final round has an (very straightforward) element of gambling involved, and the leading team went for broke, and unfortunately it went a bit wrong. So they did very badly on the last round, while other teams did rather well in general. So they were caught, and indeed overtaken at the death.

Now – I could see on the scoresheet that I had three teams tied on 75 points (incuding the team that had been leading all the way through) and one team had won on 76 points. There were prizes for first, second and third place, and no easy way to divvy up the 2nd and third prizes between three equal teams.

I was quite pleased with the tie-break game I came up with in the heat of the moment…

As it happened we had been running a buzzer round as part of the quiz, so I already had the buzzer set up, so it made sense to use them for a buzzer quiz play-off. However, I didn’t want to announce the winners and then do a play-off between the other three teams – a play-off for 2nd and 3rd place is not a good enough climax for a quiz night.

So – I explained the scores to the crowd (without telling them who had won) and invited one person from each of the top four teams to play on the buzzers at the front. I declared that the winning team (even though they didn’t know who they were) would play in the buzzer play-off, and we asked five questions on the buzzers which was enough to separate all of the tied teams to sort out 2nd and 3rd place.

So we had done an exciting buzzer play-off, the winners (who actually did poorly in the final buzzer contest) still didn’t know they had won, the leaders throughout the quiz had done very well on the buzzers (but may have thought this was academic as most teams, themselves included, thought they had won already…).

And then I was able to announce the final results to genuine excitement, and we managed to finish the quiz on a high, rather than a slightly anti-climactic 2nd-3rd play-off.

Well, I thought it was quite good!

Have you ever had interesting or unusual tie-break situations to resolve?


Crowd Control and Rabble Rousing

Some audiences can be extremely difficult to manage, and require a Quiz Master (or indeed any other entertainer / speaker) to use all the tricks of the trade and force of presence and personality to keep things under control.

I recently ran an 80s themed quiz for a very exuberant group of 120 sales people, 30s-50s, and 80 % men. The room was tightly packed, everyone had been drinking for a couple of hours before the quiz started, and noise levels were very high. Most of them hadn’t seen each other for a couple of months as they work all over the country, and there was a great deal of general machismo, back-slapping, guffawing and gentle-to-aggressive sales person banter going on amongst colleagues.

After the quiz, our client said: “I’ve never seen this group so effectively engaged and entertained for so long. Normally they are impossible.”

Before the quiz, this is what our client had said: “It must be stressed that you can expect everything from this group. Literally. I have seen a professional comedian leaving the stage almost in pieces and saying this was the most difficult group he had ever handled. Don’t get me wrong – they are a good bunch, but with lots of energy and will let it be known if they don’t like something. So I usually pre-warn all entertainers.”

We have a section in our QuizMaster bible called “Crowd Control and Rabble Rousing”. I’m not going to divulge many QQQ trade secrets (!), but the key is to manage every aspect of the quiz and be in full control the whole way through. The crowd need to know you are in charge, but you hope to do that in a way that allows them to let their hair down. You hope to have plenty of singing along and shouting and cheering, and but at the same you want to try and ensure that for participants it feels entirely spontaneous (and generally, it will be). However, if you get it right as a QuizMaster then you should be able to know, almost to the nearest millisecond, exactly when the crowd will react and when. If you can get them singing and shouting and cheering (preferably extremely loudly!) on your own terms then that is a good result..

And above all, you have to keep the pace up, and try not to give the exuberant crowd any breathing space to get bored or wander off.

When we work with celebrities as quizmasters they often start very well, but lose energy, concentration, momentum, and thence the crowd as the quiz goes on. Running quizzes is not easy, in particular this type of event is never easy. Auto-pilot is out of the question. Experience in running all sorts of corporate quiz events plays a massive part so that you know what techniques to use for a particular event.

So it is all about this vital combination of Crowd Control and Rabble Rousing – you have to try and do both. The former without the latter is a recipe for boredom for the participants, and the latter without the former is a recipe for disaster and misery for the entertainer.

So there we go. This particular event went very well, and (without bigging ourselves up too much more!) is a good example of why our clients come back to us for their company quiz nights – because they know we’ll get it right, whatever the circumstances.

Fast Work

It’s obviously very nice when people come to you at the end of an evening and compliment you on the quality of the quiz. It’s particularly gratifying when they pick up on one of the elements that (we think) distinguishes a QuizQuizQuiz quiz from many other quizzes.

One of the most common things people commend us on is not even the quiz master him/herself, but the speed of our marking. When we run a quiz, it is imperative, however many teams there are, that the sheets are marked and the scores for the round ready to be announced by the time the quiz master has finished reading out the answers. So there is immediate feedback on performance when it is fresh, relevant and still exciting, no dead air, no time to wander off and become disinterested. What’s more annoying at a gig than the band spending minutes tuning up between songs?

Over the years, we’ve developed and trained a crack team of superfast, super-efficient markers at our QuizQuizQuiz Fast Track Academy (or something like that!). From a quiz for three teams to a quiz for sixty teams, we’ll make sure we’ve enough competent people to deal with it and keep the quiz running smoothly. Up to around eight teams can, if needs be, be handled by an experienced quiz master on his or her own with no delay to the quiz (though a helper is probably preferred so that the QM doesn’t get too frazzled), up to around twenty by one fast marker, after which it gets exponentially trickier.

Occasionally, a client might simply expect that teams swap sheets at the end of a quiz, as is common practice at pub quizzes. We never do this at a QuizQuizQuiz event. It allows inconsistency, foul play, all kinds of grounds for querying, makes players work when they should be having fun, and is, simply, not as professional. It is also no quicker, if not indeed slower, than having one good marker doing all the sheets.

So how do we keep the quiz flowing with fast marking?

Well, we encourage the teams to be legible, to remember to put their team name at the top, and we cajole them to get their answers in well within the time limit so that the marker can get a headstart.

We want our marker to have a tidy table in front of them and a good system, to know exactly what the round is out of, to be familiar with the questions and to know what variables might be allowed. Indeed the marker has to make their own answer sheet (with help from the quiz master if required) to become really familiar with the answers.

We want them to be unflustered and neat, to be able to communicate clearly with the quiz master at all times, to check their working and, of course, to be competent at basic maths. At the same time part of the skill of our professional quiz masters is to pace the quiz and the giving out of answers in a way that is both natural but also appropriate for allowing the scores for the round to be ready on time.

I remember the first time I attended a QuizQuizQuiz pub quiz, I was amazed at the speed of the marking, but once you get used to doing it, it’s really not that exceptional, just a good, solid system. Sure – it’s more expensive to have a helper, but we think it makes our quizzes better and we are happy that our clients recognise this as well in the quality of our quiz events.

Likewise, I gave a friend who was running a quiz this week a few tips, and the first thing he thanked me for was the instructions on having a helper doing the marking.

To me, it’s a vital part of a good quiz experience.

How does it work at your regular pub quiz? (either that you attend or run?)

Handling Queries

There’s nothing more annoying, when participating in a quiz, than a set of questions which is riddled with ambiguities, mistakes and unclear instructions. It is the responsibility of a quiz master to make sure everything about the quiz is as free from doubt and irritation as possible – if you do that, the chances are you’ll avoid having to deal with countless queries throughout the night, though sometimes the queries come and have to be dealt with no matter how clear you’ve been, or think you’ve been.

As discussed in a previous post, the bare minimum for a a quiz master is to have read through the questions beforehand, checking pronunciations, making sure he/she is comfortable with the facts, and looking for any inaccuracies. You may not have written the questions, but you do want to make it seem like you have. That doesn’t necessarily mean withering contempt for any wrong answers, a la Paxman on University Challenge, but it may mean giving off little bits of knowledge around the questions and answers. Not too much, just a little.

So, when a query comes in about an answer you’ve given, you’re able to be confident in rebutting it. I asked a question last week about countries in the Commonwealth (I won’t reveal the exact question!), and one member of the team who would go on to win – who were clearly serious quiz buffs – said ‘What about the Falklands?’. I said, “it’s not a country, it’s an Overseas Territory.” He said “but they take part in the Commonwealth Games”. At which point, one may get a little flustered and concede the point, but I was able to say “Yes, but so does the Isle of Man. Mark Cavendish’s 2006 Commonwealth Gold was won representing the Isle of Man”, which satisfied him. Though the facts of the question were never in doubt, sometimes you need that little extra knowledge to satisfy a determined querier.

NB the ambiguity about the word “country” is one of the most common sources of dissent. You should always make sure you say “independent country” or even “UN Member State” otherwise I guarantee you’ll get all kinds of ‘What about Wales?’ type enquiries.

On which point, as well as checking facts, check for any kind of possible ambiguity in the way the question is asked. Another example of this would be, say, “Which cities have hosted the Olympics …?”. Clarifying you mean “Summer Olympics” will save you plenty of bother.

Nevertheless, however much you’ve checked and however clear you think you’ve been, there’s still be a few folk determined to make their point. It is surprising how often people can be extremely convincing in their query, but still be wrong. “What do you mean Pimlico is not an independent country. I was there last week! I had to go through border control”, that kind of thing. It is also surprising how often people think the best way to express this query is to shout it at you while you are speaking to a roomful of people, rather than having a quiet word between rounds. One should generally of course be polite and attempt to clarify and assuage them with facts alone. However, if you can tell you’ve got a good atmosphere going and the crowd are generally on your side, there’s nothing wrong with putting a dissenting voice in its place with a little sarcasm, a little display of superior knowledge. It is, after all, your job in the circumstance to know more, and as long as it’s good natured, tends to get a great response.

Gauging whether any query or complaint is reasonable is key. Sometimes, someone might claim, say, you were talking too fast, or you said something other than what you think you have said. All you have to do is to check against what other teams wrote. I once asked “What’s the next prime number after 90?” – on being told 97, one woman, furiously, said, you said 19, not 90. The fact every other team put an answer above 90 was enough to suggest she might have listened more closely. However, this would be an example of where you should avoid ambiguity by saying “90 – Nine Zero” [I’m pretty sure I did!]

Even then, after all that, there will be the odd query that’ll bamboozle you a little. My best recent example was a question about a recent Hollywood survey where it was revealed that Robert de Niro had died on screen more than any other star. When this was revealed, a man came up and said “We’ve been racking our brains and we can’t think of the films de Niro has died in. What are they?” Now, funnily enough, it wasn’t me who’d conducted said survey of all the Hollywood films ever released, I was taking the survey on trust, but since De Niro is one of my favourite actors, I did say I’d try to think of them, and started scribbling down film titles. I quickly realised I was getting distracted from the rather more important business of running the quiz, shrugged at the man, and put that one down to experience.

One strategy that can work very effectively in ensuring the smooth running of the quiz (if not necessarily in satisfying the person who raised the query) is to make it clear that if the actual outcome of the quiz is affected by the issue then you will go to lengths to resolve it. And if the outcome of the quiz is not affected by the issue, you can usually just give them the benefit of any doubt to keep them happy, and hope that they will check it as thoroughly as you, the quiz master, will when you are next online.

If you run quizzes yourself, how do you deal with queries?

What’s the strangest query you have ever heard at a quiz?

Always read the questions

I’ve been to two pub quizzes in the last week, and at both I’ve experienced a regular irritation: the quiz master not having written the questions (fine – perfectly normal) but not having taken the trouble to read through them to be sure he understood them all first.

As a result, you get a quiz master saying things like “I have no idea what this is about” …or “that’s all it says here I’m afraid”, and this diminishes his authority and has the potential to lessen the enjoyment of the quiz for the participants.

So quiz master tip of the week is: if you haven’t written the questions yourself, then always always read through them beforehand just in case there is anything that you don’t understand. (I have this problem with some modern pop music questions). Any you don’t understand, you can look them up, or even replace them with something you do understand. Doesn’t take more then 10-15 minutes, but can save a lot of pain on the night.

What are your top tips for quiz masters?