Or What I Thought I Knew and Know
Where do you start? Where do you begin at the beginning of a quizzer's life? How to get the multitude facts you need to compete? It was the range of quiz books in my local WH Smith in Bognor Regis. They showed me the initial way. I bought them in bulk and read them voraciously whenever and wherever I could. But one stood out: Jim Hensman's Pears Quiz Companion
. It became my handbook, a kind of trivia vade mecum. It was a bargain at £5.99.
Only the other day when I picked up my old copy for the first time possibly this century; the one I bought way back in 1996. It will be a decade this autumn. Its pages are curled scroll-like, and dozens of fracture lines striate its spine and back, like thin white hairs coursing all over it in constant parallel. It has been well and truly thumbed and graffitied with thought, as evidenced by the dots, circles, lines and ticks that mark every margin and entry; there are even small flowers and intricate pyramids. I forgot I had spent so much time with it. Back then it seemed like the world.
When I started out I knew I had to lay a good foundation. I may see it as lightweight now, but it was brilliant as an entry level book. Since then I have found it is easy to become a good quizzer, but if you want to become a great one it takes far more knowledge. At the time it was all I needed. It was a useful education. Pears showed me exactly what people thought constituted the body of trivia knowledge, no matter how puzzling (heraldry) or conventional (capital cities). Here be chestnuts, it should say now.
I never get sentimental about quiz books the way I do this one. And I am aware of the truth that when you buy one, you cross the quizzer equivalent of the Rubicon. It's getting serious, too serious for many. But they are motherlodes, pure sources of targetted knowledge that open your eyes. I know that when I am buying one in a respectable book shop, not a remainders' like The Works, and hand it to the semi-hip and utterly literate cashier with nice hair, who are so used to disdaining the bovine masses for buying Dan Browns in their millions, that they are too shocked to register that is what you are doing. You're buying a quiz book. No, really. A QUIZ BOOK. You big nerd.
But when I opened up me old Pears I didn't expect to learn anything. I thought it had all been done. Maybe I wanted to joust with my younger self; the ticks of certitude allowed me to do so. The plants still don't go in, my mind being an environment where flowers can never truly seed and thrive. It is a rocky place stratified with layers of hard history and literary fact. All man's achievements have overcome the vastness of the natural world, it seems. Or maybe I just seem to remember people's names more easily.
I remember a quizzer once came up to a group of us, the pre-BH pool as it were, at an event a few years ago. He spied our reading material (you know, you sit around and shout out answers in maniacal fashion as someone chucks out questions from the reference book) and saw John Smith's How to Win Any Pub Quiz. He immediately sneered, saying it was ignored by decent quizzers because of its errors.
But who gets 100% of their questions right? I immediately thought in reaction to this paternal fascism. Or even 90%? Then he got into Pears: it was "riddled with errors", "awful" and so on. Yet I had learned so much of it. Never mind the prize boo-boos, of which I concede there are many, it had loads of facts in one convenient place. It had helped me get up to speed more than any other source. It fed me the right kind of nutritious diet. It formed the basics of what I knew then and now, and I believe, always.
Pears provides the hardy fall-backs for quiz setting. The familiar and reliable cliches. Maybe, in a bit of pop psychology worthy of a Springer-esque Final Thought, people tend to do the same thing with other people. They make a few mistakes after they have put their trust in you, and cast you off and curse you forever. The bad is always made of a heavier and denser substance that what constitutes the good of a person's character. That's why an imperceptible hole can sink a mighty ship. It appeared to be the same with Pears (though I remain curious as to where he and every other person gets the stuff they know; actually I'm so curious I think everyone should provide a "sources list"; perhaps, we could all find new and better ways of learning general knowledge, scores would change, reputations soar, while others melt into mid-table mediocrity ... I'm dreaming now).
Funnily enough no such pariah errors came to mind. I never noticed the mistakes. In fact, I have only just spotted my first howler; the kind that makes you write righteous letters. Tradescantia's other name (well, apart from Spiderwort, which is absent) is listed as "Wondering Jew". Of course, the "o" should be swapped for an "a." That could have cost a Pears devotee dear. A more experienced quiz mind does yield others. These recent spots include:
The Orchid Man ... Georges Carpentier
Ian Kilminister ... Lemmy
Ur (Sumeria) discoverer ... Charles Woolley (well, he was really better known as Leonard)
Shakespeare daughter ... Sussanah
currency Brazil ... Cruzado
inventor of googly ... Nicholas Bonsanquet
Did Massine choreography The Rite of Spring? I'm sure it was Nijinsky.
founder of the Proms ... Sir Henry Wood
founder of Cynics ... Diogenes
invented cyclotron ... James Lawrence
It could do better, sure. It has turned many quizzers puce with rage (see the Amazon customer reviews), and I would never use it to compile a quiz - I'm not that stupid. I wonder why it doesn't state the first case that Perry Mason took or the only one he ever lost ("Velvet Claw"; "Terrified Typist"). Or what painting did Ruskin get sued by Whistler in the "flinging a pot of paint in the public's face" libe case (Falling Rocket?). No Cluedo murder victim or venue. Fashion & Dress is derisory. Only two pages of non-fiction books. And I'm still wondering the name of the horse that killed Emily Davison at the 1913 Derby.
Did such condemnations of Pears make me feel like I should ignore it forever more? Nay. Perversely, it made me feel prouder. It had helped my progress, despite all the slings and arrows people had aimed at it. I had no truck with accusations of uselessness, as I do with any criticisms of quiz reference books (they're all good enough for me).
Flicking through its pages even now, makes me realise I can still learn something from it. Who was this chef "Careme", for instance? I swore I had never heard of him. This all could come up, you think. If it has gained admission into such select company it must be worth the price of absorption; I'm thinking this as I read: "Argonaut's Voyages Retraced, 1984 ... Tim Severin". Who he?
I do have the new Pears edition, but I hardly look at it. The same content, slightly tweaked. Thinner, smoother pages. Looking at one section, detectives for instance, and you think they have missed a huge opportunity. Where is Rebus for example? It has pictures on the front - wooh, how attractive, but is that it? But the old one, the formative one holds me more. I get an 'inkling' of the naive quizzer I used to be.
Then again, I can't believe I spent so much sixth form going through it when the mass of A-Levellers were playing army-a-side football games outside. Possibly because I was scared of my rusty footer skills being laid bare, possibly because my fag habit had taken the footballer out of me and locked it in a room with a pack of Marlboros. But no-one ever really took the piss. Odd that.
I am amazed by what I was ignorant of before. In Novels, next to Men at Arms by Evelyn Waugh I have roughly squiggled: "Also wrote Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall". Now that Waugh is probably my favourite English novelist (though Scoop is like soooo overrated), it embarrasses me slightly. Ah, the callow and blind sweet bird of youth. The entries with ticks next to them elicit an instant reflex in me. An answer barks back in my mind. There is no thinking involved. But the ones that are ticked become invisible in a way. The tick acted as an eraser. Insecurity asks me if I should have. Nothing is certain. I feel like going back and asking of every single one, do I know you? Laziness suggests I can't be bothered.
I am willing to forgive Pears, even if its hyperbolic self-praise - "the one reference book that will supply you with all the answers you'll ever need" - is patently untrue. When you are young and green you tend to trust such haughty claims and accept them. But, of course, you have no idea. Not least how much general knowledge grows every day. I get a feeling you need a book ten times bigger, at least, to do all the basic GK stuff justice.
It makes me think that there is a book of trivia yet to be written that astounds and amazes, with its networks of unique and interconnected tidbits, of the kind me and my fellow BHs seem to come up with before every quiz league matches, in a weird show of esoteric, but nevertheless useful strength. Pears' lack of elaboration and shortcomings are manifest, but it allows for reflection on how much more you can do and have done, and how you have obtained really in-depth stuff.
It has to be said that Pears is genius for the way its cuts down the information to its barest bones; the trigger words. The way it split up the question components and constructed a clear spacey corridor. And it has some feeling for the giveaway words and the standout facts you gotta know. The only Czech Wimbledon champion you'll ever need? Jan Kodes, of course. It does make you think of the quiz truism: You're only good as the places you look. And admittedly, there is something unsavoury and even lazy about having it all in one volume. And conversely, something satisfying about being a true detective or a hunter profiting from the spoils one has gone foraging for in a variety of locales.
There is no little pain either. Looking through Pears, the answers I needed for Worlds, Brain of Britain, and various GPs stick out. I remember them. Now. You always remember the ones that got away: Intourist! Dacia! Ogaden! Bromine! The Brabanconne! and more!!! So yes, it still does have some use. A lot of use, in fact. The kind that makes a difference in your competition placing.The Pears I never could quite remember
So I have to give you a raft of facts. It's what you deserve after such ramblings about a quiz book. A QUIZ BOOK. You big nerd. These are the facts I seem to have circled and underlined two or three times, but still can't remember. These are my "eternally confused" factoids. There is no little amazement, especially after nine years. I lay them here just for one more push into my long term memory.
discovered Niagara Falls ... Louis Hennepin
baseball, 1st pitcher's perfect game, 1904 ... Cy Young
Equestrian events, fence made of poles and hedges ... oxer
althlete drug test, 1st disqualification, 1976 ... Danuta Rosani
Earl Anthony, famous name in sport ... Ten Pin Bowling
Kanamori scale measures ... earthquake magnitude
Petra quote: "Rose red city, half as old as time" ... Dean Burgon
Bazooka name for weapon from musical instrument of comedian ... Bob Burns
airplane nicknamed Whispering Giant ... Bristol Britannia
Joshua Slocum 1st solo-circumnavigated world on boat ... Spray
how many gun salute for opening of Parliament ... 42
Edward Lear's The Book of Nonsense written for kids of ... Lord Derby
other name for bird Little Grebe ... Dabchick
Duncan/Marsh Seedless varieties of plant ... Grapefruit
maiden name of John Lennon's 1st wife Cynthia ... Powell
maiden name of Priscilla Presley ... Beaulieu
wrote cartoon The Fosdyke Saga ... Bill Tidy
Gangster James Cagney played in Public Enemy ... Tom Powers
Kramer v Kramer based on novel by ... Avery Corman
played Pearl Chavez in Duel in The Sun ... Jennifer Jones
discovered Uranium ... Martin Klaproth
1st nuclear power station ... Obrusk, USSR
cigarettes invented by Turkish troops at Battle of ... Acre
Gas caused Bhopal disaster in 1984 ... Methyl Isocyanate
played Colonel Saito in Bridge on the River Kwai .. Sessue Hayakawa
1st Tarzan ... Elmo Lincoln
Zorro's deaf servant ... Bernardo
sculpted Trevi Fountain... Nicola Salvi
painted Flight into Egypt ... Jacopo Bassano
maiden name of Marie Curie ... Sklodowska
Jesse Owens real 1st two names, gave initials for famed nickname ... James Cleveland
location of Correggio's The Assumption of the Virgin ... on dome of Parma Cathedral
designed Rijksmuseum ... PJH Cuypers
term Impressionism invented by ... Louis Leroy
3 English styles of Gothic architecture ... Early English, Decorated, Perpendicular
number of teeth in human child ... 20
Andorra ruled by President of France and ... Bishop of Urgel
Debussy's Clair de Lune from his work ... Suite Bergamesque
Ravel's Bolero written for dancer ... Ida Rubenstein
Hanging Gardens of Babylon built by Nebuchadnezzar for wife ... Semiramis
Oklahoma based on Green Grow the Lilacs, play by ... Lynn Riggs
song A Walk in the Black Forest ... Horst Jankowski
Rectangular US state with Colorado ... Wyoming
Gin made from (flavoured with juniper) ... corn
rulers in Hierocracy ... priests
Treaty of Tilsit (1801) signed in middle of ... River Niemen
said about Richard Nixon: "Would you buy a secondhand car from this man?" ... Mort Sahl
lived at Sutton Place ... Paul Getty
St Alban martyred for ... Sheltering Amphibalus
other name for plant Gypsophila ... Baby's Breath
baby Gnat ... Bloodworm
sportsman nicknamed The Clockwork Mouse ... Niki Lauda
place name changed from Bathurst ... Banjul
(final) Mrs Dale in Mrs Dale's Diary ... Jessie Matthews
song "Big Bad John" ... Jimmy Dean
Battle King Pyrrhus of Epirus won his Pyrrhic victory ... Asculum
Racine's Phedre based on Euripides play ... Hippolytus
fastest stooping bird ... peregrine
male donkey ... Jack
Yucca tree pollinated only by ... Pronuba Moth
The General, train in Buster Keaton film, chased by ... The Texas
Baron Von Richtofen plane ... Fokker Triplane
alternative name for plant Brinjal ... Aubergine
British ambassador in Uruguay kidnapped by Tupamoros in 1971 ... Geoffrey Jackson
Trade Unionists, known as Terrible Twins ... Jack Jones, Hugh Scanlon
Hercules' horse ... Arion
plant Cheiranthus common name ... Wallflower
Goolet boat, from country ... Turkey
nationality Sirhan Sirhan ... Jordanian
Nigerian politician found in crate at Stansted airport ... Umaru Dikko
play No Sex Please, British We're ... Anthony Marriott, Alistair Foot
longest snake ... Regal Python
place inscription on stamp Drzava ... Slovenia
tennis's Four Musketeers (excepting Borotra, Lacoste) ... Jacques Brynon, Henri Cochet
rarest British stamp ... 1904 Sixpence Purple
maker of Stealth B2 Bomber ... Northrop
Sao Paolo on river ... Tiete
malaria carrier ... Anopheles mosquito
Dogs, 1st animals to return safely from space ... Belka, Strelka
most common stitch in needle work ... Running Stitch
Sherlock Holmes's last case ... Shoscombe Old Place
Bourdon Gauge measures ... Pressure
stage name of JP Richardson ... The Big Bopper
poem Curfew must not ring tonight ... Rose Thorpe
poem Barbara Frietchie ... John Whittier
actor played title character in TV's Rhode ... Valerie Harper
oldest tree, nicknamed Old Methusaleh ... Bristlecone Pine
plant family of leek, garlic, onion ... lily
song I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles from musical ... The Passing Show
only no. 1 Chanson D'Amour ... Manhattan Transfer
Toreador in opera Carmen ... Escamillo
1st to land of Pilgrim Fathers ... John Alden
plant in Mexico blooms once in 150 years ... Puya plant
latest Geological Era ... Cenozoic
Mercedes Benz named after daughter of financier ... Emil Jellinek
And, of course, all pedants are invited to correct any of the above. Your powers of veracity can never be undervalued.