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Levels of Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have a favourite “easy” question?

What’s a Corporate Quiz like?

We write a lot in this blog about Corporate Quizzes and Company Quiz Nights, and I realise it may not always be entirely clear what that is, and in and of itself, it may even be rather a forbidding term. Visions of people in suits being questioned on tax in near silence, perhaps.

But, in truth, our corporate quiz nights come in many different shapes and sizes. We are very happy to fit in to our client’s vision for the evening (and often we help them shape their vision), however formal or informal, however grand or relaxed.

So, what does a corporate quiz look like? Well, frankly, quite often, it looks exactly like a pub quiz. It takes place in a pub, with teams huddled together round tables, relaxing after work. There are pints, there are crisps, there are goujons and little sausages, there are people popping out for a fag: you get the idea.

And is the substance of this quiz much different from a pub quiz? Well, no, not necessarily. We use similar rounds to those we have used with great success in pub quizzes, we employ a mixture of topics and styles. There’ll be more music and visual questions than the standard pub quiz, there may even be a few fancy gadgets you wouldn’t ordinarily see, but generally, nothing immediately, wildly different. Just better.

Of course, sometimes our “corporate quizzes” are a little more corporate, whether they’re in an auditorium within a company’s headquarters, or a large conference room in a smart hotel. Sometimes the dress code is strictly business and there are elegant waiters walking round dispensing fine wines.

And sometimes, our clients may want to make their quizzes more company-specific by asking us to include questions about their company or their line of work. Experience has told us that this is very rarely a good idea, but we will find ways to make it work if needs be.

Why do we tend to persuade clients against including company questions?

– usually, people are trying to get away from work and relax at quiz nights.

– sometimes, questions about the company are good-naturedly booed, which is not great for company morale, I imagine. It can certainly dampen the atmosphere.

– Sometimes, people supply the questions themselves, which has one advantage, that they know the company better than us. But as they are not written by professional quiz writers, they are not going to be of the right quality, nor can we verify their veracity, nor can we judge whether they are at the right difficulty, or whether they are going to be facile for some parts of the company and impossible for others.

– If we write them ourselves, well, it is a rare occasion where we know the subject matter less intimately than the participants, however well we research the questions.

– How can I put this, and we mean this as no insult to anyone’s business, these questions are just usually a little … dull, compared to good pub quiz questions.

– Sometimes, the company questions are more personal and light-hearted, along the lines of “What football team does Geoff support?” “Who once snogged Jimmy from 911”? Though these can be fun, they are often full of errors, a little divisive and can be embarrassing for all concerned.

Once in a blue moon, someone from within a company comes up with some nice neat clever interesting questions related to their company, and we then try to headhunt them …but, honestly, I can only think of about twice in seven years where a quiz I’ve run has been enhanced by company-based questions.

So, to get back to the question, what’s a corporate quiz like? Well, usually, not that corporate. It will be clever, well-judged, well-balanced, classy if that’s what’s asked (without sacrificing how much fun it is), raucous and silly, or indeed anything else if that’s what is right for our client.

 

Training Quiz Masters

Things don’t stand still at QuizQuizQuiz. In the last ten years, our business has grown steadily, and this has led to the need to find and train more Quiz Masters to run our corporate quiz nights just how we like them to be run.

Finding the right people can be a trickier process than you might think. Some pubs may just rotate whichever member of the bar quiz is willing to hold the mic that night, but we are very serious about who can run quizzes for us and how they do it.

Someone who might be a very good quiz master in their own right may not be quite right for us. In fact, we often prefer people who don’t have much experience of running quizzes. Personality isn’t enough on its own, nor is a good quiz brain. We are looking for the right combination of authority, good humour, discipline, calm and technical savvy.

So we take on new quiz masters rarely and we don’t just throw them in at the deep end. Every time we run a company quiz, our good name is at stake, so we don’t want our standard to drop from one quiz to the next.

The process goes a little like this – we meet a new applicant, we get to know them, then we ask them to help at a few corporate quiz nights. Assisting at these events helps a prospective quiz master to watch the process of running a QuizQuizQuiz quiz, how it differs from a usual pub quiz, the full range of duties one is required to carry out. Frankly, this can be a little daunting. Realising you have the responsibility for 150 people’s enjoyment, to be in charge of a room of a 150 baying punters, and that you are doing so in the name of a respected company might be enough to discourage a few.

Usually, the process of just assisting will last a couple of months or more. Then, we’re likely to hold a training day, where we go through all the rounds, run through setting up equipment, talk about common pitfalls, and point the new quiz master to our substantial (internal only) quiz master guide.

At which point, we might deem someone ready to be a quiz master. But even then, it’s not straight in without a paddle. For the first few quizzes, a new quiz master will do nothing but ask the questions prepared by whichever of our most experienced quiz masters is helping them that night.

Then, they will be asked to prepare the rounds and format for the event, selecting questions from our quiz question database.  Then, they will be asked to be in charge of the equipment for the night (e.g. playing music clips, getting sound levels right, running the big screen visuals, etc.), till finally, they will be trusted enough to do so without an experienced quiz master present.

This extensive vetting and training process means that we have built up a really strong team of confident professionals who can provide you with what we think is the best quiz night you could possibly have.

There is a lot more to it than this as well – but we can’t give too much away! Needless to say, though, we put the work to make sure all our quiz events are a good as possible – and a quiz night is usually only as good as its quiz master and the quiz questions.

Corporate Quiz vs Pub Quiz

We’re finally drawing to the end of our busiest quiz season, when our team of quiz masters run quiz night after quiz night – themed quizzes, Christmas party quiz nights, wedding anniversary quizzes, intern quizzes, school quiz evenings – anything people ask for. What we haven’t done much of late is run straight up pub quizzes, and so I’m going to write a little bit about the difference between corporate quiz nights and pub quiz nights.

QuizQuizQuiz has, at different times, run regular quiz nights at five different pubs, most notably for several years at the Fox in Putney and the OSP in Fulham, then later the Normanby, also in Putney. Great fun, halcyon days – we tried to take the same perfectionist approach to our pub quizzes as we do to our company quiz nights, tried to make each one an “event”. Since I first encountered QuizQuizQuiz as a participant in the Fox quiz, I’m well qualified to comment on the excellence of the QQQ pub quiz experience!

But, of course, there are big differences between a pub quiz night and a corporate quiz night. I imagine, of those of you reading who have run or participated in quiz nights, the vast majority have been pub quizzes. So, it is worth going through the main differences between the two.

[There are some corporate quiz events which are absolutely nothing like your standard pub quiz – there’ll be keypads, or particular themed rounds, there’ll be fancy meals, mariarchi bands, huge screens, dressing up contests, there’ll be jellybeans, buzzers, flying monkeys, the lot … however, most of our quiz nights are very deliberately similar to a classic pub quiz – it’s those two I’ll compare, the “standard” pub quiz (no doubt quizmasters up and down the land bristle at their event being described as standard, and rightly so) and the “standard” corporate quiz].

Similarities

1. Players are in teams, usually of between 4 and 8. Teams think of their own names – one of them is called Quiz Team Aguilera

2. Questions are in the sphere of general knowledge – entertainment, music, sport, general stuff

3. Paper and pens are used

4. Rounds are marked and there is a winning team which wins a prize

5. They often (though not always) take place in a pub

6. There is, usually, a demon team who everyone boos and are too good!

7. People eat, drink and have a good time

Differences

1. A corporate quiz is a one-off event, rather than part of a weekly/monthly series. Consequently, there doesn’t have to be the same rapid turnover of questions –  a quiz master can select his/her questions carefully for the specific event.

2. Importantly (for QuizQuizQuiz at least), the above means that we can adapt the quiz as we go along, the questions are not set in stone in the way that they must inevitably be for a pub quiz. [A minor point developing from that is that there can be fewer current affairs questions at a corporate event]

3. Following on from that, at a corporate event, you usually know who is coming beforehand (in terms of numbers/demographic etc) and can prepare accordingly. This is kind of true for a pub quiz, but it is, of course, open to anyone.

4. People all work for the same company, or have some connection in those terms. Friendly rivalries can be developed and played upon.

5. [Perhaps the key difference] At a corporate quiz, not everyone is there of their own volition. Indeed, sometimes they don’t even know there is a quiz coming. They may hate quizzes and it may be a horrible surprise and they may only want to go home. You have to cater for that and give those people an enjoyable evening. Pub quizzes are for people who like quizzes, often people who are very good at quizzes. This is not so much the case at corporate events and you have to tailor the questions accordingly.

6. It is, however relaxed it may or may not be, still a work environment. There are positive and negatives to that.

7. Equally, at least, at a corporate event, there is no one there who is not there for the quiz, who is nattering away in the corner and entirely uninterested in what you’re saying.

8. Again, a very key point. At a corporate quiz night, the crowd could well be much more varied in terms of nationality, understanding of quizzes, range of knowledge. Having said that, in a different way, at certain events (and because everyone works for the same company) it might be much less varied. Basically, the key point here is that there will be more non-British people, and that has a big effect on the questions asked.

9. The drink is often free …

10. A corporate event has a higher all-round budget, so there’ll be more technology available. There is more of an onus, therefore, on professionalism and smoothness and on keeping people focused. Like it or not, it is a little more of a “show”.

11. The prize is usually not money, usually not a “stake” that people have put in [champagne and perhaps a trophy a standard example]. I don’t know exactly what, but I think that makes a bit of a difference to the fervour with which people compete to be the champions.

At different events, there are loads more differences, but what I’ve done is highlight the differences between a pub quiz and a corporate event which is most “similar” to a pub quiz. The main things, from a quiz master’s perspective, I’d say, are being able to select your questions carefully, having flexibility, and the fact that it is not an audience who necessarily enjoy quizzes.

Have any of you had experiences of both? Can a corporate quiz event capture the best qualities of a pub quiz?

The Flexible Quiz Master

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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?

 

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.

Putting together a quiz night (Part 2)

Rather belatedly, I’m going to follow up the post from March 30th on putting together a quiz night. Apologies for the delay – a long gap in time between blog entries is a sure sign that the question-writing side of things is extremely busy. So a rare free hour presents itself, and it’s time to see if I can remember what I was talking about.

A recap: so far, I’d covered ‘How long should it be? How many rounds? How big should these rounds be? ‘. Next up on my list of topics – How hard should it be? What subjects to include?

How hard should a round be?

On this subject, I’m happy to be pretty firm in my opinion. Not too hard is the answer. Hard quizzes are for hardcore quizzers, not for inclusive events. Anyone can come up with a set of questions which most people don’t know the answer to. Where’s the skill or fun in that?

As an example, I ran a quiz recently which generally went very well, but I ran one round out of 12 where the top score was 8 and the bottom score 5.

I consider that round a failure on my part (a relatively rare one, I hope!) – certainly not on anyone else’s.That was the only round where I felt the level of engagement dipped slightly, as there was a sequence of 2 or 3 questions which few of the teams got right. In general, I am aiming for something  pretty specific, which is a range on any given round from 60% to 100%. If any team does not know more than half the answers, that is a shame. Some Quizmasters might prefer to avoid teams getting full marks on their rounds, but I don’t mind it all. You certainly don’t want more than a small number of teams getting full marks, but it’s actually pretty rare that anyone does, and if it happens I think I’ve done my job well, not badly.

People like to know stuff. They don’t want to feel stupid. Simple as that. And the thing is, if one team has one really bad round, that can be really insidious for the overall atmosphere.

A further note – however easy I try to make a quiz, no team has ever got close to getting 100% (I’m not sure there’s even been over 95% and over 90% is fairly rare) overall on any quiz I’ve ever run. It just doesn’t happen. The desire to test and to throw in a few testing questions comes naturally, so telling yourself to remember to keep it easy will only balance that out in a positive way.

What subjects to include?

I’ll answer this in two ways and here, I’m much more aware that personal preference is key, rather than having a definitive answer. The two ways will be ‘what subjects to include in the quiz as a whole’ and ‘what subjects to include within each round’. Up to a point, the answers to both questions is clearly ‘whatever you like’ and ‘as wide a range as possible’. Simple as that, up to a point.

Another important point about what to include as a whole is you have to consider your demographic. For QuizQuizQuiz, running events, this can mean we’ve had specific instruction on what to include (which we might run with or perhaps adapt a little), or we tailor what we’re asking according to the age/nationalities of the players. I could write pages about this (and indeed, I have, in our treasured and exclusive QuizMaster Guide), but suffice to say, some quizzes are more suited to questions about 80s British TV than others. I’ve already written a long blog about whether to include sport, and many of the points made there apply across the board.

Of course, for a standard pub quiz, you may be less aware of your demographic or, indeed, there may be a more ‘standard’ demographic (ie people who like to go to the pub and people who quite like quizzes) so you have to worry less, but hopefully, some of these points are still relevant.

The issue of whether to include Entertainment and Music is less rare than the issue of whether to include Sport, but still there are times when those are best avoided. [I probably include TV/Film/Music to a fairly large extent in about 95% of the quizzes i run, however].

Beyond that, we’re careful about being too specific, and more often try to make each round a mixture. A Food and Drink round, a Fashion round, even a Geography round, all run the danger of becoming boring in themselves if they are not subjects people are interested in. If people don’t know what the next question is going to be about, all the better. So more than half our round formats do not have a specific subject or give anything away about the subject matter in the title. That’s the way we prefer it. If your questions are good enough of course, you can have a truly great quiz which includes say, a TV Round, a Sport Round, a History Round, a Science Round, a Current Affairs Round and a special guest Fly Fishing round.

So, i’ve pretty much answered the second question, which was ‘what subjects to include within each round’. Mostly, our rounds are a mixture, flitting between subjects. Even when they’re not and we do do a sport round, say, or an Entertainment round, mix it up, don’t have too much football, have TV and Film evenly spread, American TV, British TV, don’t have too many questions where the answer is a number, or too many questions where the answer is a name. All pretty obvious stuff, but the cardinal sin for a quiz is to be boring and entirely predictable, I think.

Do you attend a difficult quiz, and do you disagree with me on how much fun they are? And how is your quiz structured? Are there regular rounds? A wide range? What’s the best quiz round format/title you’ve come up with, or come across?

To Mark or Not To Mark?

At our quiz nights, the quizmaster and/or the quizmaster’s helper(s), does the marking. But I’ve been to many a pub quiz night in which the routine is for teams to swap papers and mark each others, and even quizzes when teams are trusted to mark their own quiz sheets.

In an earlier post about our crack squad of speedy and efficient quiz night assistants we wrote the following about teams swapping:

“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.” [and that one good marker could be the quiz master in many circumstances.]

In an exclusive extract from the QuizQuizQuiz QuizMaster guide (which is for internal use to help our professional Quiz Masters share ideas) this is what we say about marking:

“We do all the marking ourselves. Why? Because we’re better at it than other people. Swapping papers is just something we never have to do. Anything that involves other people takes away our professionalism increases the chances of bad feeling, and will not end up saving time, as every five seconds someone will want to know if they should give a point for x or y and if the spelling matters. To be fair, this is never really an issue. People usually take pleasure in seeing us mark quickly.

There is another slightly lateral, but arguably even more important, reason for us doing the marking. 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.”

If you run a pub quiz night (or attend one), what is the form at your quiz night (and please tell us more in the comments!).

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