Shut up, I’ve been busy.
But since you’re already preoccupied about the amount of time that has passed since my last entry, let me take you back to the tail end of 2004. I’m in a pub in Newcastle, Australia; trying to impress a pretty girl I’ve hooked up with whilst travelling by showing off my broad ranging trivia knowledge in a pub quiz. I’m fairly certain she is impressed, despite my hogging the answer sheet and dismissing most of her helpful suggestions as utterly wrong. Some may have mistaken her folded arms and apparent frown as consternation, but I knew that deep down inside she was admiring the fortitude of a winner – someone who refuses to scribble down an obviously incorrect answer just to curry favour with a girl he fancies.
The round was so far going well – the questions were banal and fairy easy – until the quiz “master” suddenly fired off the following brainteaser from his pointlessly loud microphone:
“Which actor played Darth Vader in the film Star Wars?”
This badly phrased and poorly conceived question was in danger of derailing my march towards the title of ‘Pub Quiz Winner’ and my grateful receipt of a $10 drinks voucher – if indeed, for the purposes of this metaphor, I were marching on a train.
“Oh, have we finally got to one you don’t know?” said the girl, feigning irritation but clearly beguiled by the font of knowledge sat beside her. “It’s a shit question,” I responded. “The actor who physically played Darth Vader on set was David Prowse, but the voice was provided by James Earl Jones. I mean Sebastian Shaw played him as well in Return of the Jedi, but he definitely said Star Wars, didn’t he? But that’s still not being clear enough.” The girl shrugged, not with indifference I sensed, but more as a way of spurring me into action so that she could witness my attempt to reconcile this sticky situation. I attempted to get the host’s attention.
“Body or voice?” I called to him. He merely stared at me blankly and repeated the question as written. Time was not on my side. The clearly incompetent compere announced the next question. All I could do was what any sane person would do and scribble the following: BODY – DAVID PROWSE, VOICE – JAMES EARL JONES.
As the quiz progressed I could feel the title slipping away. There was a whole round on sports, which just isn’t fair, and even this specialist round appeared to focus mostly on cricket, rugby and Aussie Rules football. I felt the predominantly Aussie teams grow in confidence as the one thing they knew anything about began to dominate proceedings. That Star Wars question would prove pivotal, I knew it…
We swapped sheets at the end of the quiz and, to my horror, the answer to the Vader question was revealed to have been simply ‘James Earl Jones’. When the answer sheet was returned, my worst fears were realised: they had given me half a mark. A HALF MARK! FOR BEING MORE CORRECT THAN THE BLOODY QUIZ MASTER!! I immediately queried this slight, supported in spirit by my date, who was now talking to someone else at a different table. “You put down two answers,” they argued. “We couldn’t give you a whole point – you were hedging your bets.” A detailed breakdown of the various acting talents involved in bringing Darth Vader to life on the silver screen – and Hayden Christensen – did little to convince them, so I took it up with the frankly terrifying looking man who had hosted this event. His counter argument consisted of showing me the answer in the book he had used to compose this travesty of organised entertainment. That, and the fact that I was several points behind the eventual winners and that it made no difference.
“Made no difference”, friends. Made. No . Difference.
Tell that to hundreds, if not thousands of contestants that are cheated of their dignity due to a poorly phrased conundrum. Tell that to the teams who spend more time trying to understand the question than pooling resources to agree on an answer. Tell that to my beautiful companion, who had left the pub in disgust at their carefree attitude towards this most hallowed of drinking establishment traditions.
On that day I made myself a promise. I would never allow myself to take part in or contribute in any way to a pub quiz that sold its participants short. I would stand as a beacon of integrity when organising my own nights of booze and trivia-based hilarity. I would place more thought and care into every single question asked of my assembled teams than I would into my own relationship, should I ever be lucky enough to develop one. I would be a firm but fair quizmaster – feared but respected, understanding but ultimately infallible. I may stumble along the way, but as any person who has had the great privilege to participate in one of my Really Rather Wonderful Pub Quizzes™ will attest, I come bloody close!
I think it’s the mixture of my broad knowledge of trivia and my humility that makes me such a good host.
And what, you may ask, of the lovely lady who accompanied me that fateful night? I’m proud to say she is now my wife. And I’m fairly sure that witnessing the eruption of my pub quiz principles was the principle reason she fell in love with me, no matter how much she protests otherwise. So, for any would-be quizmasters, I offer you my tips and secrets for making your quiz night go off without a hitch, and for making it fun and enjoyable for (almost) everyone. (I mean, there’s always one, isn’t there?)
TIP 1: Make every question guessable A question that starts “Which Hollywood actor” or “Which famous author” or “Which kitchen-based implement” allows everyone to take a wild stab even if the rest of the question offers no further clarification. Too many questions where a team can’t even make an educated guess and they will get frustrated and lose interest. So, “Which cockney actor’s real name is Maurice Micklewhite?” is a better question than “Whose real name is Maurice Micklewhite?”
TIP 2: Be wary of your own specialist knowledge It’s easy to think up questions for subjects you know a lot about, but make sure you’re not loading the quiz with questions that you think are easy simply by virtue of your specialist knowledge. Also be mindful of the age range of your participants; a favourite round of mine is identifying 80s children’s TV themes. But if everyone taking part is in their 20s, they will struggle and get annoyed.
TIP 3: For specialist rounds, try single questions with multiple answers The problem with “sports” or “history” rounds is that if you’re not that good at those subjects, you may struggle to answer a single question while other teams pull away. You can avoid this happening by asking a single question that has multiple correct answers – some obvious that everyone can score points with, and some more difficult that reward those with specialist knowledge. I’m terrible with geography, but “Name the nine countries that border Germany” still allows me some obvious guesses, while an expert will still earn an advantage.
TIP 4: Mix it up and make it fun Try to avoid two rounds in a row that require you to read out questions and the teams to write down answers. Throw in a picture round, an audio round, a taste-test round – anything to keep things fresh. Just reading out a seemingly ceaseless list of questions will get really boring really quickly.
TIP 5: Establish the rules Monica from Friends was right – rules help us to have fun! Seriously, for the people that are into it and having fun, nothing spoils proceedings more than another team looking stuff up on their phones or asking people for answers at the bar. This is why you should split a quiz into rounds, so you can collect answer sheets and allow people to get drinks in and visit the toilet without fear of any cheating. Also try to implement a strict “no phones during a round” rule – anyone spotted using a phone during a round, no matter how innocently, scores their team zero for that round. I also recommend that you don’t let anyone leave and then come back during a round – if they get up halfway though, they can’t join in again until the round is over and answer sheets have been handed in. Like I said, firm but fair.
Christ, I don’t know how this went from a rant into a public service, but hey… you’re welcome.
P.S. It’s Michael Caine.