What’s your job?

People love my job. For the eight years I’ve been a professional quiz question writer and quiz master, when I tell people what I do for a living, I can only think of one occasion when it was meant by mild disinterest … “Oh, right … and moving on …” and on all the other 100s of occasion the response has been something like bafflement … “What? That’s an actual job? I didn’t know that job existed!”, or sheer delight “Oh my god, that’s the best job ever” or fierce interest “I love quizzes! What kind of quizzes? Who for? When? What’s your business model? How did you get into it? Can I have a job?”

This is great, of course. It’s lovely to have a conversation starter, something to talk about. There are times I feel more conversational than others, of course, and I’ve often found myself playing it down, knowing that before I can stop it it I may involved in an intricate and lengthy conversation when I’m more in the mood for chillin’. Many’s the time I’ve gone out and then only spoken about my job for the whole evening. But there are worse things. I generally like talking about it, and I enjoy hearing people’s opinions on it. Lots of people love quizzes, and have interesting things to say about them.

Of course, there are chestnuts I hear over and over again – “Where do you get your questions from?” … LIDL … “You must be great to have on a pub quiz team” … Not really, I’m terrible company … “Do you have a specialist subject?” … Wikipedia, the Golden Years … and, of course, the phrase I love/dread to hear “This’ll make a great quiz question …”. I’m not entirely sure that phrase has ever prefaced something that has actually made a great quiz question, but it does often lead me to an odd, esoteric fact which is too obscure for a mainstream quiz but interesting to me in its own right.

Quizzes being more often an amateur than a professional pursuit, there are lots of people determined to instruct me on both the content and format of my quizzes but also our very business structure. Again, though I’m not sure any of this advice has ever resulted in any concrete change, it is, far more often that not, fun and interesting to hear people’s thoughts ideas.

So if you should ever meet me out and about and you should discover my profession, I shall be delighted to encounter your enthusiasm, I shall certainly listen closely to your ideas, and I will do my best not to raise my eyebrows should I hear you say “This’ll make a great quiz question …”

How long is a piece of quiz?

When people book a quiz night with us, they can book us, as long as we have availability, for whenever they like and for as long as they like.

But that is not to say that we don’t have a good idea of how much time a good quiz should take up. We can make a 20 minute quiz great and we can make a three hour quiz great, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be a bit better if they were closer to the optimum length.

I’m going to carry on with my theme of comparing quizzes to other forms of entertainment. How long is a good gig? Generally if you get less than an hour, you feel short-changed, and if it’s over two hours, you’re running out of puff. There are exceptions, of course. I saw Leonard Cohen last month and the old genius played for three hours (including a 20 minute break) and it was all magnificent. But, two things 1)  to my chagrin, I had to leave a minute before the end of the final song of the 3rd encore, otherwise I would get caught in the crowd leaving and definitely miss the last train home. As it was I only just made it (as you can tell, I’m finding it hard to forgive myself) 2) Leonard Cohen is a legend of 20th century culture who I and 20,000 other people felt privileged to be in a room with. QuizQuizQuiz QuizMasters are all excellent at our job, but we don’t presume to hold such personal sway!

We provide entertainment. When a gig is entertainment (as opposed to recital/masterclass), it has an optimum length (1 1/2 hour- ish), as does a film (between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2, and even 2 1/2 is pushing it, take note The Hobbit etc). A masterful work-of-art film, watched by real fans and buffs, may take longer to unravel, but again, we know, as QuizMasters, we are not creating a work of art.

Furthermore, a quiz is a participatory experience – it is more mentally draining than a film or a gig. 3 hours of quiz could give anyone brainache!

What else? Booze. We’ve written before about the role of booze in a quiz. it’s unavoidable and it’s also perfectly welcome. But I think we all know a room full of people drinking for 2 hours has a very different atmosphere and attention span to a room full of people drinking for 3 hours.

I’m pretty happy running a quiz for anything between an hour and two and a half hours, but I do think 1 1/2 – 2 hours is optimum. This gives time for a real momentum, a real test of different subjects, a spread of scores to develop, for the cream to rise to the top, for any quietness and reticence at the start to be completely overcome, but it also means that people don’t begin to get quiz fatigue.

We do often get asked to do longer quizzes, sometimes people will book us from 7 to 11, but we are usually able to persuade people that is a bit long.

The thing is, people may be used to slow and steady quizzes with long gaps between rounds where the marking is done, lots of general awkward spaces, and 3-4 hours time being just enough time for, say, 100 points. Because of the way we run our quizzes, with the speed of marking and emphasis on pacing and flow, we can probably fit in more in a shorter space of time (while also giving people plenty of time to think).

All the timings I have given have not mentioned breaks. Breaks are also an important part of the evening. Again, there is probably an ideal of one break, of 15 to 45 minutes, depending on what food people have. More than one break, for whatever reason, can shatter momentum, as can one break which is too long. However, if I’m doing any quiz of over an hour and a half, even if a break is not written in to the evening, I’d recommend one – and usually put one in, if only to avoid a mass cigarette/loo/fresh air exodus at a point where a sudden, temporary emptying of people will affect the momentum of the quiz (and indeed my control of that momentum).

So, what’s the optimum? Honestly. Notwithstanding “we’ll fit into any schedule”, true though that is.

I like a quiz that starts at 7 (with people hanging around and having a drink or two for half an hour or so beforehand), breaks for half an hour at 8, finished by 9.30. Perfect. It’s amazing how many event planners see things exactly the same way. I’ve probably done more quizzes that fitted that precise time frame than any other. Within that time, I’ll be able to fit in up to 9 rounds of different lengths, pacing and format, including picture rounds and buzzers, and there will be 100+ available points. That seems like plenty!

How long is the quiz you run, or take part in? Could it be longer or shorter, and how do you maintain people’s interest for the length of time?


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].


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


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 Professional Pub Quiz Night

When people ask me what our company quiz nights are like, they’ll often ask “Are they like pub quizzes, or different?” and generally I’d say, yes, basically, it’s a pub quiz night, but better than other pub quiz nights you’ve been to.

Don’t get me wrong – we are innovative, we do use clever technology in clever ways (keypads, buzzers etc.) and we have loads of fresh quiz ideas to give the companies who want a quiz night from us something they’ve never seen before. We can run a quiz night on anything under the sun (there’ll be a blog post on Themed Quizzes coming up quite soon) but equally we, and our clients, are generally most happy (because it works best) running a “classic” pub quiz night in something like the traditional format with pens and papers and rounds and scores and all the usual stuff (but no jokers…!)

So, you might ask, if that’s what you do, just a plain old pub quiz night, why should we pay you to do it rather than do it ourselves?

A few simple reasons – it takes away the hassle, it means everyone can take part, it gets rid of any accusations of bias. Even if you have someone really capable in your company, who loves pub quizzes, and would make a good quizmaster, these are still issues.

But, more importantly and straightforwardly, our quiz night will just be better. It will be smoother, more fun, more inclusive, less likely to contain mistakes, it will run to time, it will be surprising, comical, entertaining, competitive, relaxing: everything that you hope a work night out will be. We take being professional quiz masters seriously and offer the sorts of guarantee that you just don’t get if it is run by someone within your company. Cost is also a factor – the cost in terms of lost productivity if a colleague prepares the quiz night is probably not that different from the cost in actual terms that we charge for the quiz event as a whole.

It starts with the quiz questions which have been carefully crafted, checked, edited, narrowed down, tried and tested. We’re not just trying out questions off the top of our head on subjects which interest us, we’ve got a huge database of questions which have been thought through, ranked, rated and discussed, and we’ll ask you the most suitable for your pub quiz night. We’ll ask questions that appeal to your group, and any sub-groups within that.

We’ll provide the right professional quiz master and the right additional staff to make sure that the evening keeps ticking over, to make sure it’s time well spent for everybody rather than just a few hours after work you’d much rather be at home for!

At the end of a company quiz night, people invariably come up to and say: “I go to a lot of pub quizzes, but that was the best quiz night I’ve ever been to.” That’s great – but preaching to the converted is relatively easy. We know that a pub quiz night is not everybody’s choice of a night out.  The number of people who come up to us after our quiz and say something like “I don’t usually go to pub quizzes, I don’t enjoy them, but this was totally different, I loved it” is really the best justification for what we do.

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.

Quiz Master Bingo

Some things come up every now and then at QuizQuizQuiz events, some more than others. Let’s have a look at some of things people say at a quiz night…

In no way am I mocking the use of these phrases, in no way am I saying these are phrases people shouldn’t use or that in any way cause me to bridle or sneer, they’re simply phrases one hears, and part of the fun and games of being a professional quiz master. Do they ring any bells?

So, in no particular order, here are the phrases that I’ve heard once, twice or maybe even rather a few times:

  1. If I slip you a tenner can I see the answers?
  2. Do you need them in order?
  3. Do you do weddings?
  4. Can I have a P, please, Bob?
  5. They won last year. Can you make sure they don’t win again?
  6. I wasn’t even born in 1980. How could I know that?
  7. Do you need the name of the song or the name of the artist?
  8. Can you repeat Question 4?
  9. If there’s a sports round, there should be a fashion round too.
  10. This is by far and away the best quiz I’ve ever been to. QuizMaster, you’re a genius, and I’ll definitely recommend you and your company to all my friends.
  11. Sorry, it’s on two sheets.
  12. We’ve written on the back of the sheet, and put PTO at the bottom of the first sheet.
  13. Where do you get your questions from?
  14. Can you tell me where the toilets are, please?
  15. What happens if you leave it blank?
  16. Can you tell that team to stop using their iPhone?
  17. We should get a higher number of points because there’s only four of us.
  18. Sorry, there’s beer on the sheet.
  19. Your flies are …wa-hey, made you look.
  20. Are they all from the same year?
  21. Do we need to answer all of the questions on the picture handout sheet?
  22. Can you give us an update on the overall scores?
  23. Is this your actual job?
  24. Shouldn’t we get a half mark for that?
  25. You said it would be General Knowledge. Geography isn’t General Knowledge.
  26. Can I have a bonus point for getting it in first?

Anything else along these lines that you hear people saying at a quiz night? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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?

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?

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?