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Putting together a quiz night (Part 1)

Here at QuizQuizQuiz, we don’t currently host any weekly pub quizzes, concentrating instead on corporate quizzes and question writing (as well as a few pretty exciting ideas in the pipeline). However, we put together hundreds of quiz nights every year and have written many, many pub quizzes in the past, so feel pretty well qualified to talk about how to put together a jolly good quiz for any kind of crowd.

In this post, I’ll limit myself to talking about quiz rounds as a whole, rather than specific questions (and their balanced distribution within a round and a quiz), which I’m sure we’ll come to at a later date. I’m talking about the overall construction of a quiz rather than the details.

How long should it be? How many rounds? How big should these rounds be? How hard should it be? What subjects to include? What should I avoid? What kind of rhythm should I establish within each round? What embellishments add to the magic?

Having listed all those questions, I realise that there’s rather too much there for one blog post. It goes without saying that these won’t be prescriptive answers, and that I, and no doubt you, will have been to plenty of excellent quizzes where the format was very different from what I lay out below. However, these suggestions reflect personal preference, a bit of common sense, and generally speaking, what we at QQQ have, over the years, discovered works best for us.

So, first of all, how long should a quiz be? Well, we get asked to run quizzes lasting anything from 20 minutes to 3 1/2 hours, and we like to think that, whatever the length, we’ll give our client just what they’re looking for (i.e. top notch quiz entertainment). However, quite often these shorter ones use the quiz as just one part of a bigger  showcase event or to be fitted in between courses of a formal meal, so I’ll concentrate on those where the quiz is the main focus of the event.

If you have an evening devoted to a quiz, whether a corporate event or a pub quiz, somewhere between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 hours is ideal – I’d probably plump for 2 hours of quizzing with a break in the middle. This is enough time to fit in a wide variety of question types and subject matter, to build up a real momentum, to make people feel they’ve got their money’s worth, yet can be broken up into convenient chunks so participants who feel desperate for a cigarette or something radical like a conversation with their colleagues have an opportunity to do so.

If it’s less than an hour and a half, I often feel there are things we’ve missed, and more than two and a half hours, well, maybe for real enthusiasts, but it can be tiring for everyone (think about a film that is 2.5 hours long – tiring, and you are just sitting back and relaxing…), and if half the participants aren’t extremely drunk by the end, you’d be surprised.

And, on a similar topic, how many rounds should there be?

Somewhere between 5 and 8, I think, bearing in mind that one round should nearly always be a table round (pictures/puzzles, that kind of thing). 4 can sometimes feel like too few, like someone’s speciality will be missed out and they’ll feel unfavoured. This can be addressed by including plenty of different subjects within hybrid rounds, but nevertheless, I’m in favour of a good spread. You don’t want to have too many rounds though – people will forget what came where and just feel a little confused. It’s quite hard to answer this question, though, without moving to the next, which is

How big should these rounds be?

Here, I think the important answer is that it can, and should, vary. Although it might make practical sense sometimes, 6 rounds of 10 questions ad infinitum is rather a shame. Think in terms of time rather than number of questions – I don’t think a round should be much less than 15 minutes and I don’t think even the meatiest of rounds should be much longer than 25 minutes. In this range, this will give you 10-15 questions, but there might be quite a few multi-part questions with lots of different points available.

It’s very much part of our modus operandi to keep players on their toes – so you know roughly what’s coming, but not exactly – mixing up the the pace of the rounds and the number of questions and points per round is one technique that we use to achieve that.

Lots more to come, but for now, what’s the longest/shortest quiz you’ve ever been to? What is the ideal length and structure of a pub quiz?

 

Profiling the Professional QuizMaster

Who becomes a professional quiz master?

If you run a quiz night, and get paid for it you are a professional quiz master. As Aleksandr Orlov would say: “Simples”.

But there is a difference between running an occasional quiz night and getting a bit of pocket money for it, and it actually being your main, or one of your main jobs. So I’m going to attempt to look at pub quiz masters, amateur and professional, according to the frequency (and type) of quiz nights that they run.

Mr. Church Hall / PTA / Charity Quiz Man Once or Twice a year

This quiz master is a very popular man in his local community. He will either be a bit of a character or will be famous for getting to the second round of 15-to-1 in 1994, not to mention the fact that he applied for Mastermind (and definitely not to mention that he was once the Weakest Link). He won’t be paid to run the church/PTA/charity quiz night, but he does an excellent job, and the quiz goes down well, and everybody says “We should do this more often” (but they don’t do it more often because it is a lot of effort to organise).

Mr. Landlord Pub Quiz Master

A pub landlord who runs his own quiz is almost always an excellent pub quiz master. He knows the locals and the regulars, and quite probably sets many of the questions himself. He is far more likely to be found hosting the quiz in a rural pub rather than an urban one – that’s just the way it is. Of course he does get paid – because he is the landlord, and the quiz night, all being well, results in a boost in takings that comfortably exceeds the time, cost and effort of putting the quiz together.

Mr. Bemused Desultory Member of Bar Staff

This is the awkward, often slightly inarticulate, cousin of the Landlord run quiz, and best avoided by punters and pubs alike. That’s not to say that a member of the bar staff can’t run a good quiz (and when they do it well they can elevate the quiz at least to Mr. Landlord Pub Quiz Master territory) but that when the wrong person ends up doing it then the worst kind of quiz experience is often the outcome, frustrating to all concerned.

Mr. Member of Last Week’s Winning Team

Plenty of pubs operate a “Win one week, set the next” system. This can result in wildly varying quality of questions and quiz master skills, and almost always results in one or two questions of monstrous difficulty on the quiz master’s pet subject. However, these quizzes often have the greatest variety, and in the right pub quiz environment can result in outstandingly good pub quizzes. No payment, but kudos.

Mr. Pub Quiz Master Once a Week

Not the landlord, but a regular at the pub who drew the short straw many a year ago, and now runs the pub quiz night once a week (apart from August and December when he takes one week off). Payment: multiple pints of beer.

Mr. Professional Couple of Nights a Week But Someone Else Writes the Questions

This quizmaster will work 2-3 nights a week, running a quiz provided by a company who does all the business side of things with the pub. Usually big quiz enthusiasts or people who like performing or some combination of the two. This is where we move from amateur to professional as payment now is half-decent and may even include a cut of the entry fees into the quiz.

Mr. Professional Several Times a Week and Writes His Own Questions

This is his actual job. Yes, his actual job. Writing quiz questions. Hosting quiz nights. What a job! He is, by definition, very good at both writing and hosting quizzes. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be busy enough and would need another job. He might well have another job anyway (but doesn’t need it) because he is a very talented man. Seek out such quizmasters and their quizzers. As the Michelin guide might say: 3 stars, worth a specific trip to visit. We recommend the Dale Collins Fun Quiz, which is on several times a week (six at the last count) in Oxfordshire and surrounds.

I’ve decided to stop here, and not comment on the world of the company quiz night that is our main world. It is a bit different, and we’ll talk about running corporate quiz nights and compared to a more traditional pub quiz night in a future post. We’ll also do some interviews with the QuizQuizQuiz QuizMasters in coming weeks and months so you can get to know a little bit more about the people behind this blog.

[A quick word on spelling. We always used to spell QuizMaster without a space and with a capital Q and M when referring to one of the professional QuizQuizQuiz QuizMasters, but we forgot about it, and actually once upon a time google wasn’t quite so clever at distinguishing terms and it seemed to help our search positions to spell it quiz master, with a space. So –  nowadays our spelling of this all important word (or words) is a bit haphazard!]

Quizman’s Holiday

I was lucky enough to attend the pub quiz at the Fox in Putney in its 2005-2006 pomp. Lucky on three fronts 1. it was a great pub quiz 2. I happened to be in a very good team so regularly went home with a bit of cash in my pocket 3. attending that quiz led directly to the job I have been doing for the last six years.

That was my first experience of a QuizQuizQuiz quiz, and it’s not idle promotion of our brand to say it was by far the best pub quiz I’d attended, and up to that point I’d attended quite a lot. I’d not necessarily been a furious all-year-round quizzer like a lot of my colleagues and their associates. If I found a good quiz in my area I’d do it and if my friends invited me along to one I’d do it. As much as I enjoyed quizzes, I sometimes held myself back from doing them because I tended to get a little nervous from the expectation of winning and also rather tetchy at any perceived injustices that might prevent said victory, be it poor marking, poor questions or the knowledge that other competitors were cheating. [Frankly, my former self would be a nightmare for my current incarnation as quizmaster.].

Still, it’s fair to say that I liked a good quiz, and I was good enough at quizzing, as is reflected by the fact that my participation at the Fox led to me getting this job – a very successful and enjoyable interview. The one downside of getting the job was that I could no longer take part in the Fox quiz. I had mixed feelings about the fact that my former team continued to prosper without me, too!

Because the job of running quizzes instantly took up at least two evenings a week, my participation levels dropped. My old team were still taking part in a quiz I was now helping to write, I was tired on my free evenings, I might be a bit quizzed out, also the days of the week I was booked out might vary, so I couldn’t find a regular night. In fact, I haven’t been a regular at a pub quiz since then.

But I have been to plenty of quizzes. And what this post is about (after my rambling introduction!) is what it’s like to attend quizzes when your job is on the other side.

Well, I’d like to say that my former tetchiness and nervous competitiveness had faded as I gained empathy for the tough job a quizmaster has to do, but, in truth, the opposite has happened. I’ve become more horrified at the prospect of not winning, more intent on picking apart bad questions rather than just answering them, more critical of long pauses and mispronounced questions. Even when my team has won, a sign of the success of the evening would be more likely to be me saying “That wasn’t a bad quiz” rather than “Woohoo! We won! I’m rich! Rich beyond my wildest dreams!”

I don’t feel too bad about that though. Running a decent quiz isn’t that hard (not that easy either, mind you) and when they fall below a certain level it is reasonable to hope for better. Indeed the last pub quiz I went to (quite a few months ago) left me thoroughly underwhelmed and grumpy. It had not been written on site (fair enough) but one could tell that whoever had written it (I’m not saying who) had done it without any enthusiasm. Also, an eight minute gap between Question 2 and Question 3 of Round 1 while the QuizMaster said farewell to his girlfriend was unconventional and, dare I say, not wholly successful as a technique for getting the teams to a fever pitch of quizzy delight. I’m sure my eventual disgruntlement had nothing to do with the fact that, for the first time in years (if not ever) my team had finished outside the Top 2. “Look, at the end of the day, if I haven’t won, there’s something  seriously wrong with these questions”. Like any formerly good sportsman past his best, I blamed everything but myself …

But it is interesting what effect running quizzes and writing questions has had on my quizzing skills. Initially, I’d say, all was positive. Scouring the news all week and really getting into the mind of a quizmaster gave me a big advantage. The day I went to a local pub and won on my own by 12 points was the day I realised I had to know fewer facts.

Which is broadly how it’s gone. I’m still in with a good chance at any quiz I take part in, but success is not guaranteed. I think my style of question writing has changed somewhat, for one thing. I’m more looking for the fun fact in what is common knowledge rather than casting around for every possible news story which provides a question. Also, I’m doing more and more “written to order” multiple choice questions for machines/games etc where you tend to focus on a particular topic for a period of time, rather than cover everything under the sun.

So, how are pub quizzes for me now? Well, to be honest, I don’t go to that many anymore, which is rather sad. I still love a good pub quiz, but i wonder if the quality of QuizQuizQuiz quizzes has rather spoilt me. Which is not to say that there aren’t lots of good pub quizzes out there, I think it’s just my time to find them is less than it used to be. I hope that my job doesn’t entirely take one of my favourite hobbies away from me.

If you both run and take part in quizzes, how do you find the experience on both sides of the fence? Does it spoil or enhance the experience of an old-fashioned pub quiz for you?

Cheating in pub quizzes

This is the big topic for anybody who runs or attends any kind of quiz night these days. Once upon a time it was about people sneaking a look at reference books in their bag. Then it was about texting friends to ask them for help, or indeed for them to look something up for you. But nowadays it is like an arms race between quiz teams who cheat, quiz teams who don’t cheat, and the quiz master. There are so many tools available to the quiz cheater, and so many people seemingly willing to use them.

So in this post we’re going to look at who is cheating, why they are cheating, and how they are cheating. We’ll also look at a selection of counter-measures that can be used by quiz masters. As always we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Who is cheating at pub quizzes and why?
I have seen all types of people cheat at quizzes – old, young, male, female, clever, stupid, and people from all nationalities and social demographics (actually, people from countries without a pub quiz culture are more likely to cheat from my experience, probably because they don’t know and therefore are less able to respect pub quiz convention). The most obvious explanation is that people cheat, or try to cheat, because they don’t know the answer and want to know. But it is more than that.

People cheat because they are too lazy to work out the answer – because we live in a world in which you can hear something that you don’t know much about (be it on TV, in a conversation or anywhere) and within seconds have full details on the subject on your smartphone to read some background. This means that we have become accustomed to always knowing the answer in real life. If you are a smartphone user, or someone who spends a great deal of time with access to the internet (and let’s face it, this applies to most pub quiz goers) you are incredibly rarely in a situation where you can’t very rapidly get hold of some information you don’t know in your head. In other words, we no longer cope with a situation of “not knowing”, and for many people the solution to that situation is to look something up. And that of course is fine in a social/work context, but it defeats the point at a quiz night.

You could say that the sort of people who cheat at quizzes are those who don’t care about the conventions of a quiz night – or more likely simply don’t care about the quiz at all and don’t want to be there. They don’t want the mental effort of thinking because they have become so used to instant technological access to answers. This tends to be more of an explanation for attendees at corporate quiz events – to which non-quizzy participants will generally go because of social pressure from work colleagues – compared to pub quiz nights which most of the participants are enthusiastically and voluntarily attending. Yet cheating is a problem in the quiz at your local pub just as much, if not more, than at a work quiz night. So this “not interested” explanation doesn’t cover a big chunk of quiz cheating.

We can cover some of the remaining cheaters as people who should know the answer and don’t want to look stupid/want to look cleverer than they actually are in front of their team mates or rival teams (which could often be friends/foes/work colleagues).

In this category are people whose response to being challenged with wikipedia in full flow in their hands is: “I used to know that/I read that the other day, so looking up isn’t cheating, it’s refreshing my memory.” This brazen response usually comes from people who are supremely self-confident and can justify to themselves and to their teammates that this is entirely “acceptable cheating”.

At a pub quiz, where you might not really know the other teams (except by repute or frequent attendance at the quiz night), there is no shame in getting a question wrong that other teams get right. In fact, at some quizzes the opposite is true. It is indeed very common to see teams gleefully boasting that they know nothing about “Glee” and are pleased to have got it wrong (whether they actually feel this, or are just making their excuses for not winning the quiz is academic here: my point is that there is a way to cope with lack of knowledge that does not reduce teams to cheating). So do people ever cheat at a pub quiz to avoid looking stupid? Yes they do, but it is just as likely to be one rogue individual on a team cheating without the knowledge of his/her team mates. If a question comes up on a team member’s “specialist subject” then the pressure is on. I would suggest that a large number of cheating incidents at a pub quiz are committed by one or more members of the team, unbeknownst to their team mates. And as such any accusations against that team can be quite easily denied – it only requires one person on the team to be a good liar. My conclusion here is that a team that cheats may in fact be an honest team with one bad egg that the team itself is not aware of.

At corporate quiz nights (which is very familiar territory to us) it is perhaps easier to understand why people might cheat to avoid looking stupid. Most workplaces are very competitive, even if not on the surface. Put people into teams, and make them compete on anything and the competitive juices start flowing. This is emphasised when the people are work colleagues and the real prize for winning the quiz is not the cheap bottle of champagne but gloating rights for months (or indeed years. Who can forget the time in 2003 when Bill’s team of shelf-stackers from the warehouse came from behind to win the work quiz night on a tie-break against the team from Accounts?). So we sometimes see people trying to cheat at company quiz nights to avoid the ignominy of coming last, or to take the glory of coming first. In short – to avoid looking stupid in front of work colleagues.

The most obvious reason for cheating at quizzes ought to be a desire to win the prize. There are pub quizzes out there with £500+ jackpots, £100 bar tabs etc. People might see the (albeit relatively modestly sized) dollar signs in their eyes and end up using subterfuge/fraud to get their hands on the prize – but is this really different from a drugs cheat in the Olympics or a benefits cheat? Not really, and when the prizes are large it isn’t just “a bit of fun” but actually it is just fraud. Wikipedia, that great quiz resource, defines fraud as “intentional deception made for personal gain or to damage another individual…defrauding people or entities of money or valuables is a common purpose of fraud… [as is]… to gain prestige…”. Clearly the consequences of pub quiz fraud are unlikely to be more serious than being booed or banned from the pub. It is a fairly well known phenomenon that winning anything, however small, stimulates a buzz, so this could explain people who cheat for even small prizes.

How do people cheat at quiz nights?
Once upon a time cheating was looking something up in a book or nipping out to the phone box to call a friend, but technology has advanced dramatically. We’ll look at some hi- and low-tech cheating methods.

Low-tech
At school, cheating will often mean “copying” from another student. This definitely still happens in quizzes: teams try to sneak a look at other teams’ answer sheets. I’ve seen this done very surreptitiously and very conspicuously: someone goes to the bar, but weaves their way round a few tables glancing towards the answer sheets; someone talks to the quiz master and tries to sneak a look at his computer or question sheet; a player leans over to talk to their friend on another team, all the while casting their beady eyes towards the answer sheet; a team sends a scout to try and steal another team’s answer sheet (yes, really, I’ve seen this!).

Then there is cheating by eavesdropping / overhearing. The former is, I would say, cheating. The latter is, I reckon, carelessness by the team speaking too loudly! If you genuinely hear another team say something, then it is really impossible not to at least throw that answer into the mix for your team. I’ve run a handful of quizzes in which several teams have all put down the same unlikely and uncommon wrong answer to a question, although there are explanations other than mass cheating for this phenomenon (like shared experiences at work places). The flipside of this is that you get teams saying comedy wrong answers deliberately loudly to try and put other teams off the scent (although occasionally they’ll say the correct answer out loud having completely missed the point of the question).

Mid-tech
Send a text to 63336 and they’ll text you back the answer (this is the phone number for AQA, Any Question Answered). Or send a text to your friend or just sneak outside and call them. They can look the answer up for you. Not much more to say about this really. If your friend is so good at quizzes that they can tell you the answers without looking up, then they should be with you at the quiz night…and if they are looking things up online for you, then that is much naughtier.

Hi-tech
I reckon that you could have most answers to most questions at most quizzes answered pretty easily with Wikipedia, Google Maps, Google Goggles and Shazam. Assuming a pub has 3G access (and many even have Wifi) then most smartphone users will be able to do their cheating under the table or in the toilet or outside whilst “taking a phone call from their dad”.

  • Wikipedia – well I think most people know about Wikipedia, the single greatest knowledge resource ever known to man. For even faster mobile access try the Wikipanion app.
  • Google Maps – an underused but stunningly powerful quiz research (and hence quiz cheat) tool, and not just for Geography questions
  • Google Goggles – finally, a way to cheat on picture rounds. It works best on pictures of celebrities, logos, paintings – I believe it works on anything that Google can look up in its database and see if it has the same picture in its database.
  • Shazam – a way to cheat on music questions. Shazam only needs to hear a short snippet (less than 10 seconds) of some music and it can compare it to its database and tell you what it is.

The other higher-tech cheating technique I have seen combines the good old “text your mate” with Twitter. This works particularly well for celebrity quizzers with vast twitter followings. We ran a Hallowe’en quiz with Paul Daniels in 2011 which had an almost entirely celebrity audience (TOWIE type celebrities). During the quiz, the Twitter feeds of the participants were buzzing with requests for help from their followers.

How to stop people cheating

For every reason that people cheat, and every method people use to cheat, I believe there is a counter-measure, or combination of counter-measrues. There is a lot of crossover in preventative techniques, as well as some general principles, all of which should combine to reduce or eliminate cheating. So here we go. This is how you stop people cheating:

Fire up the mobile phone jammer and configure any available wireless networks not to accept connections from mobile devices for the duration of the quiz, and/or monitor all network traffic on your wireless network so you can see what sites people are visiting and what they are looking up.

OK, this is a bit unrealistic, and probably illegal. Let’s try some realistic ways to stop people cheating:

1. The quiz master should start the quiz night with a firm instruction about phones. Try this: “Before we start, a very important announcement about iPhones, Android devices, Blackberry phones, or anything else: keep them out of the way, keep them off the table, and in your bags or pockets. If they are seen at any point during the quiz, it will look like you are cheating, even if you are not. We don’t want anyone to be unfairly accused of cheating, so keep your phones out of the way. Turn them off if you dare.”

If you see someone using their phone during a quiz, pick them on it very rapidly, and do it publicly and humorously. Even if you can see they aren’t cheating, you need to emphasise the message about phones being kept completely out of sight. Mobile phones in quizzes are just an unacceptable as phones in the cinema or theatre, albeit for very different reasons.

2. If the prize is large, you could consider adding to the announcement above: “We’ve got a big prize tonight, and as such we will treat any attempts to win it using anything other than the brains of your team as fraud. Please don’t make our life complicated. Keep your phones out of the way and switched off. If you can’t trust yourself not to use them, then you can hand them in at the bar for safekeeping.” This is a bit extreme, but seriously – if people are cheating to win large sums of money off other punters at the pub, then why is that any different from another type of theft/fraud? I don’t recommend using this line unless you have a genuine, evidence-backed concern about the integrity of your participants.

3. Make the first 5-10 questions of the quiz quick and easy. Every team has to feel that they could have got 10/10 on the first 10 questions. As soon as you throw in a question that teams could never have got (because it is too hard/specialist etc.) then you risk people cheating. It’s ok if they end up getting 6 or 7 out of 10, as long as they feel they could have got 10 out of 10. People cheat if they feel that is the only way to get to an answer.

4. Ask some questions early on that every team will get or get close to, but that they have to go through some easy to identify thought process to work out. e.g. ‘In the ‘Wizard of Oz’, which one of Dorothy’s three main companions does she encounter first on the Yellow Brick Road from Munchkin Land to the Emerald City?’ Why does that work? Well, pretty much everyone has seen the film. They might not remember it that well, but they will be able to establish that it is multiple choice. They know they can at least make a guess. They have some options to discuss. You have to ask questions that people can get their teeth into. If you ask a question and see that nobody is making any progress on it, then give them a little handle to be working on.

5. Get some answers and scores given out within the first 15-20 minutes of the quiz. Show people that they are getting things right.

Points 3-5 are about showing people early on in your quiz that the questions will not be so difficult that they need to consider cheating to get answers. It gets people into the habit of answering questions from their knowledge (because the questions are accessible). It shows people that the fun of the game is in using your brain, not in looking things up, and by giving some answers and scores early on your provide positive feedback for this, correct, way of the participants getting to answers. Which brings us onto the next one…

6. Don’t ask questions that are too difficult or boring. Each question that you ask that nobody in the quiz knows or finds interesting massively increases the chances of people cheating. If you don’t let people interact with your quiz in the way you want them to because your material is unsuitable then you push people towards using their technology. Yes, I am saying that a badly set quiz is often a reason why people cheat.

7. Don’t give people longer than they need between questions. Keep an eye on your audience and understand the difficulty of a question. If a question is easy, move on to the next one quickly. If it is hard, give them enough time to get into the question, but not so long to start looking things up. You can tell how teams are getting on by watching them, and seeing the level of their thinking/discussion. If you give them more than a minute or so to work out the answer to a question not only will they get bored but it then gives them time and space to start on the dirty deed. If you keep the momentum going, then any effort to cheat on a question will be interrupted by the next question coming along, and so and so forth. The net result is that any sustained cheating effort will become more and more obvious as a player will have to be permanently attached to his/her phone to keep up.

8. Ask some cheat-proof questions, like lateral-thinking questions, or connection questions. Actually, totally cheat proof questions are difficult to set week in, week out, what with all the tools available to the well-prepared and determined quiz cheat. And indeed a whole quiz of puzzles, observation questions, and backwards-music clips could quickly become tedious. You need the variety, and you need to reward honest quizzers for their knowledge.

9. To counteract Google Goggles cheats on picture rounds there are a few options. First – you can add some kind of fuzziness or scrambling to your pictures. Second – use non publicly available pictures from paid-for picture libraries (although this can be expensive). Google Goggles generally doesn’t cope with those, but it is an expensive option. Thirdly, and most fun (but regular quiz teams and indeed any regular quiz cheats will catch on to it, so use it sparingly and intelligently) put in a high quality picture of someone not famous or recognisable but who has a significant online profile, e.g. an academic, or a very famous popstar from another country who has no profile at all in this country. Any team getting it right is probably using Google Goggles.

10. Ask teams to identify a famous phone number. “Which service would you reach by calling the following number…” and then give them a SkypeIn number you have set up specifically to divert to a cheapo pay as you go mobile phone that you have bought. Anybody who calls…well, ring them back and when their phone rings expose them as cheats.

11. Play music between questions to stop teams overhearing each other.

12. You could consider offering two prizes at the quiz: one prize of £5 or a single pint of beer for teams that wish to use their phones during the quiz, and the proper main prize for everyone else who plays honestly. Set a simple rule that as soon as you see a phone on a table, or being got out of a bag or a pocket that is automatic entry into the “cheats” competition. The danger with this approach is that you risk tempting people to try and cheat without detection, but I have heard of this system working well in some pubs, particularly ones in which there are a few very strong “real teams” and a lot of weaker teams. You then actually have some fun seeing if the technology can overcome the real quiz teams.

My best advice to prevent cheating is a combination of a firm, but good natured, warning at the start and engaging, gettable questions. As we wrote back in December in a related post:

“There is far more to preventing cheating than having Google-proof questions. In fact, counter-intuitively, one of the techniques used by our QuizMasters to prevent cheating is the exact opposite of having Google-proof questions. If you can start the quiz with a selection of questions which would be easy to find on Google (or any other cheating means) BUT are engaging enough and interesting enough and gettable enough that players and teams realise the enjoyment is in working out that they know them, then you are onto a winner. Players discover that the fun is in the challenge of working out that they know the answers (or can work them out) without resorting to naughtiness.”

This is a big topic…we would love to hear your thoughts on any of this, and indeed any other cheating counter-measures you have tried or seen used effectively.

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.

Organise yourselves into teams of 4

What is the optimum size for a pub quiz team?

The two great team based TV shows of our age, ‘Only Connect’ & ‘University Challenge’, would suggest that 3 or 4 is a good number, but really for a pub quiz that is often going to be too small. For TV it is a small enough number to get to know each contestant a little bit in 30 minutes but enough people to ensure that there is a bit of a spread of characters and knowledge.

So, let’s look at different team sizes:

1 person: well, not really a team, but I suspect some readers of this blog may have done a pub quiz as a singleton. I won’t go into this any more, as I think “solo pub quizzing” is a post of its own!

2 people: significant risk of simply not having an important subject area covered, or some minor news event having passed you both by.

3 people: getting there, but still a little bit short staffed. You begin to get into the realm of disputes and arguments with 3 different opinions on contentious questions. This can of course be very healthy, and can lead you down the right path to a a tricky answer.

4 people: just outside the perfect team size. Major plus is that it is still easy to confer as a foursome on a typical square pub table. As team size increases, assuming reasonable quiz aptitude,  there is an obvious and natural improvement in knowing things. This tails off at around 7-8 people.

5 people: In my view 5 is the optimum quiz team size. The only downside is that seating configuration can risk leaving one player marginalised. A round table, or a small rectangle with two on each side and the scribe at the end is recommended. Just enough people to cover most major areas, plenty of different perspectives, and an odd number in case a 50:50 decision needs to be made.

6 people: almost as good as 5, and actually my preferred number for teams at a quiz (for non-quizzers) that I am hosting rather than taking part in. The extra person just makes that little bit of difference to cover the likelihood that one or more people in the team turn out to be a bit rubbish.

7 people: starting to get unwieldy. Very difficult to confer properly as a group, and you end up with people writing things down and showing them to each other rather than discussing properly – and of course well set quiz questions are best solved by discussion not by people just silently thrusting their answer suggestion across the table (often accompanied by a slightly irritating nod+eyebrow raise combination). When I’m running a quiz with teams this size (and upwards), then I’d start throwing in some much harder questions and dipping into more niche subject areas s the large number of people on the team makes it far more likely that the range of knowledge will gobble up the easy questions, and you risk too many teams all getting the same high scores. Has the odd-number advantage of the 5-person team (obviously).

8 people: I’m still pretty happy with 8-person teams (for quizzes I run, but certainly not for quizzes I attend), but it can be difficult for the participants to work together properly. Plenty of scope for arguments on things like guess the year questions. If I’m running a quiz after dinner, and tables are 8 person tables then fine. If the tables are rectangles rather than round though I’ll sometimes break them into 2 x 4.

9 people plus: too many. The extra people don’t help particularly, and as numbers get higher and higher it is harder for the team to work together, and individuals within the team who aren’t near the action won’t engage as well.

What is your preferred size of quiz team?

Does your pub quiz impose any limits and/or scoring adjustments for different team sizes?

Born in the 1990s

At a comedy club I regularly attend, the compere will always pick on a young looking chap in the audience, and ask him what year he was born in…inevitably, if he is under 21 and the answer is 1990-something then the whole audience gasps “No way”, “1990! That’s so young!”, “How can someone born in the 1990s be allowed out at night” etc. etc.

It’s a cheap win for the compere, but for quizmasters such gasp inducing youth poses a challenge of its own. These children of the 1990s were foetal, at best, when Thatcher left office. ‘Thundercats’ means very little to them. Even PJ and Duncan means little.

If you go to quizzes from time-to-time (as I assume most of our readers do), then you will almost certainly have had the experience of finding the questions badly out of your knowledge zone. It is one thing to find that there are too many questions on (e.g.) sport or music for your liking, but another thing to find that you are a young person at an “old man quiz” or an older person at a “Radio 1” quiz.

A quiz master/mistress should know his/her audience, and equally you might say that a quiz punter should choose the right sort of quizzes to attend. However, it is always possible to set a quiz that caters to different age groups. At QuizQuizQuiz our quiz masters earn their plaudits by their ability to create an entire quiz in realtime that is perfectly suited for the audience, but here are a few pointers that can help with the age issue. We’ll deal with other demographic issues in future posts.

1. Include some content that very directly addresses a minority age group in the audience. Seems obvious, but I’ve been to plenty of quizzes which have ignored the young / old  contingent. Easy enough to throw on a bit of Buddy Holly or Kings of Leon to keep everyone happy that at least one thing was friendly to them.

2. Put the majority of questions in the middle ground – things that everyone should know, and for which age is irrelevant. This doesn’t mean you have to steer clear of popular culture – some pop culture is pretty much universal, particularly “event” TV / films. A question about The King’s Speech at the moment should do the trick for most age groups.

3. Think a bit laterally for suitable topics. Different age groups will know about different subjects in different ways. Take children’s literature, and specifically Roald Dahl. Almost everyone British (again – dealing with international audiences another time) will be familiar with his children’s books. They will either have read it for themselves when younger which could mean 50 years ago or 5 years ago (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for example, is from the 1960s), seen a film adaptation, read it to their own children, or simply be aware of it by cultural osmosis, such is the cultural status of the books.

4. Ensure guessability – this is almost always a requirement for a fun and inclusive quiz question. You don’t need multiple choice for this. But many questions can be virtually multiple choice in the way you phrase them.

Here are some sample questions that I think would work at almost any quiz with any age spread, assuming the participants are all (or mostly) British:

1. In ‘The Wizard of Oz’, which one of Dorothy’s three main companions does she encounter first on the Yellow Brick Road from Munchkin Land to The Emerald City? (almost everyone young or old has seen the film and/or read the book, and even those who haven’t will probably be aware of at least one of the companions)

2. On British road signs, what symbol is used to indicate a zoo? (everyone has seen such a sign – can you remember what is on it?)

3. In the Superman movies, what colour is Superman’s belt, when he is in his full saving the world costume? (You barely need to have seen the films. Anyone and everyone will at least have seen a picture of Superman in his garb)

4. Which of your lungs is larger (assuming your organs are fairly normal) – Left or Right? (you can just guess if you like, but with luck you can try and work it out – and everyone should be able to contribute to the thinking process)

5. How many ball boys and ball girls are there on Centre Court at any one time during a match at Wimbledon? (find me a person who has never watched at least 20 minutes at Wimbledon on TV…you might know this from observation, or from knowledge, or you might be able to work it out, or try to visualise based on a match you enjoyed watching.)

Do you have any solid “age-inclusive” questions that you’ve heard or written recently?

 

 

Entry fees for pub quizzes

I’ve been thinking today about relaunching a regular QuizQuizQuiz pub quiz somewhere in  London.

We ran a well-attended weekly pub quiz for the best part of 5 years at various venues in Hammersmith and Putney, but the recession hit, and we decided to concentrate on our core business of company quiz nights and team-building quiz events..

Most pub quizzes charge £1 per person, some charge £2, and some big event quizzes will charge £5-£10 (including food). I’m not counting here big charity events (which  might easily charge £100 per head), but regular pub quizzes.

What is a fair price to take part in a pub quiz, and what do you expect to get for your money?  And what should the pub do with your money? Put it all in prize fund, pay the quiz master or a bit of everything?

Life After Mastermind

We hope you’ve been enjoying our blog since we launched a few weeks ago.

There are loads of good quiz blogs out there, and we’ll do our best to highlight some of our favourites from time-to-time.

For starters, we think that readers of the QuizQuizQuiz blog will enjoy David Clarke’s ‘Life After Mastermind‘ blog. We particularly enjoy his blog for the blow-by-blow accounts of the main serious UK quiz shows (Mastermind, University Challenge, Only Connect, Brain of Britain – shows that many of our team have done well on) and also for his tales of quiz participation and quiz setting.

‘Life After Mastermind’ also includes great swathes of quiz questions most weeks to keep your quiz brain cells sharp.

What’s your favourite quiz blog?

 

Quiz Nights around the World: Cebu City, Philippines

In April of this year, my travels took me to Cebu City in the Philippines. I wasn’t there for quiz business, but why not make the most of the opportunity…

I discovered a company called Cebu Trivia Nights and once it was clear that everything at their quiz night would be in English, I managed to organise a team of colleagues to go along. I was particularly satisfied that the quiz was being held at a restaurant that was, so I was told, famous for its crispy pork.

This was a quiz night unlike any other I have ever attended. This was to be no typical pen and paper quiz. Each team had a small whiteboard and a marker pen. All answers were to be written on the whiteboard, and held aloft after 10 seconds, at which point the glamorous assistants around the room looked around to work out who had got the answer correct and updated their scoresheets there and then. After each question the whiteboard gets wiped clean ready for the next question.

The quiz was split up into rounds (or “sets” as the host called them) with varying numbers of questions, but on a generally very specific topic. The host was amusingly camp, and an excellent presenter, and I think he may have also been the question writer (at least judging by the first two topics of the evening). The night I was there, the topics included: Characters from ‘The Sound of Music’, Contents of ladies’ handbags, Corporate Headquarters, Famous Explorers, Figures of Speech, In the News, and various others that I can’t recall now (but all, bar one, very accessible to a non Filipino like me).

There was a good variation in question difficulty – but a couple on the Figures of Speech round struck me for being extremely tricky. This is a topic I am quite good on, having done Latin and Greek A-Levels and enjoyed collecting a range of little-known terms for different figures of speech. I was very very surprised not to be the only person in the room to know Synechdoche and Tmesis.

My main frustration with the quiz was that every question was “either you know it or you don’t”. And because the answer to each question had to be given within 10 seconds there was very little time for conferring (more a case of thrusting the whiteboard and pen at the team member who looked the most likely to know it), and absolutely no time for trying to work something out or dig it out from the recesses of memory. For me, this is one of the joys of quizzing – working stuff out, rather than just knowing something straight off. I think this kind of quick-fire quiz is fun, but I would always enjoy a bit more variety in the pacing of the quiz.

Despite this frustration, I absolutely loved the quiz, as did the rest of the crowd, and these guys clearly have a massive following in Cebu and beyond. It was very interesting to take part in a quiz that operates in a completely different way to what we are familiar with in the UK.

The closest we come to this kind of “instant feedback” quiz is interactive keypads, which we use in some higher-end company quiz nights but we tend to use them in moderation and only for very specific types of round, rather than for the sake of the technology. For example, we’d use them to reward teams specifically for speed of response with their correct answers, or to allow them to gamble points on each question.

Does the instant whiteboard answering quiz format sound like something you would enjoy?