Monday, October 30, 2006


Saturday Setting
I've been wrapping up the starters and bonus sets for the Liverpool GP on Saturday. As usual I've been extremely pernickety and time-consuming in the proofing and going over and over the questions, and taken out one or two of the TV and literature starters (questions I love and cherish) against my natural entertainment-inclined instincts for the good of balance. Well, I suppose I will use them one day (what another buzzer quiz competition? I must be mad).

Now I just have to put in the darn pronunciation guides, something which always vexes me.

Also, I must warn my victims that I have gone a bit doolally on the six-part bonuses (the FFPE questions). But hey, it sure helps me with the list learning. It's all about me. Innit.

TQBWSYL Progress Report
I've also been racking up the questions on the Lulu book and have decided to end each post with a questions done counter (see below). It is heavy going, but strangely satisfying, as well as subconscious quiz revision via running my eyes over thousands of old bits of trivia.

Going through the old files to find suitable posers, I am shocked and bemused by what I've learnt and what I've forgotten. Man, did I use Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable in 2000 or what? (Er, I did. Loads. Blame the 1999 BQC). I cannot believe I wrote so many questions which look like strangers to me. I cannot believe I wrote the same question again and again (e.g. the one on semelparity).

Things are different now. I use more sources, for instance. Interesting ones. I am more focussed and aware of what I need to know. Therefore, I also get the feeling that I wasted vast amounts of time on nonsense. All those summer days in Littlehampton library spent transcribing stuff I will never need. Oh well. At least I wasn't smoking crack on the beach.

Actually, I'm thinking of calling it Quiz Me Deadly. Inspired mostly by the Robert Aldrich film, of course. And probably because the brutal questions will remind you - Cloris Leachman's nasty naked plier torture, the speccy git who gets his hand slammed in the desk drawer, the nuclear device exploding in someone's face - of the sadistic streaking running through that particularly brilliant movie (nah, I'm joshing. I'm a serial josher, as you know. They're fine if hardy specimens).

One question
Here's a silly question I've been thinking about. Ignoring the need for the lower or upper case lettering, what chemical compound is Frasier Crane's Seattle radio station?

Answer ... well, I'm sure you'll look it up and work it out. Anyway, there's probably something wrong with my thinking. There always is.

Lulu question count: 624

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Slightly Sickly BH104

Oooh, not feeling too well today. Queasy and exhausted and on the edge of something truly nasty. I was going to watch the pretty fireworks flash their lovely light all over L.A., but instead am rolling around in bed, groaning at regularly timed intervals. Then Chris sent me an enigmatic picture of something (I hope he didn't butcher it while grinning like a happy monkey) and it reduced my resolve even further. So I stayed in. Then I got bored and put together this quiz because that is what happens when boredom takes hold. That is all. Til whenever I bother to post again...

1 The 1980 spoof Airplane! takes its plot, lead character name and some of its dialogue from which 1957 disaster film starring Dana Andrews?
2 Which team have just beaten the Detroit Tigers, winning the games 4-1, to take the 2006 baseball World Series?
3 Created in 1867, the handwritten newspaper The Wild Goose: A Collection of Ocean Waifs was aimed at what particular audience?
4 What cocktail is "purple drank"?
5 Where is the plaza known as Roald Dahl Plass?
6 Which US president dedicated the Statue of Liberty in October 1886?
7 Where did the Roman Emperor Constantine defeat Maxentius on October 28, 312, ending the Tetrachy?
8 What in Russia is the "Rodina"?
9 Johannesburg International Airport has been renamed in honour of which political figure?
10 What Islamist militant organisation of mostly young Dutch Muslims of mainly North African ancestry takes its name from the original codename the Dutch secret service AIVD used for the network and leaked to the media?
11 In memory of Andres Bonifacio y de Castro (1863-1897), which country celebrates Andres Bonifacio Day on November 30, the anniversary of his death?
12 Which Jamaican-born boxer, brief holder of the WBC title and the last man to fight Muhammad Ali, died on October 28 this year?
13 In which country was the first university in the New World, the Universidad Santo Tomas de Aquino, opened in 1538?
14 Thomas Edison applied for his first patent on October 28, 1868. What was it for?
15 The 1922 March on Rome led to which Pope calling Mussolini as being "a man sent by divine providence"?
16 German SS forces arranged the massacre of more than 9,000 Jews of the ghetto of which Lithuanian city on October 28, 1941, assembling them all on the large Demokratu square to be shot and buried in gigantic ditches?
17 On October 28, 1971, Great Britain launched its first and as yet only satellite into a low Earth orbit atop a Black Arrow carrier rocket. What was it called?
18 Which French mathematician published his empirical work, Essai sur les probabilite's de la dure'e de la vie humaine/An Essay on the Probabilities of the Duration of Human Life in 1746, and can be considered, after Halley and Struyck, one of the founders of the estimation of longevity and the issues surrounding that concept?
19 Born in 1793, what was the first name of the blacksmith who designed the now famous Remington rifle at 23?
20 One of the oldest unsolved problems in number theory and in all of maths, which Prussian mathematician gave his name to the conjecture that states: "Every even integer greater than two can be written as the sum of two primes"?
21 Before summarising previous work, which French mathematician stated the law of quadratic reciprocity; having been discovered by induction and enunciated by Euler it was first proved by him in his Theorie des Nombres (1798) for special cases?
22 Coined by Velimir Khlebnikov in 1913, what word is used to describe the daring language experiments of Russian Futurist poets such as Khlebnikov and Aleksei Kruchenykh and is made up of the Russian prefix for beyond or behind and the noun for the mind and has been translated as "transreason" or "beyonsense"?
23 What name was given to the highly influential St Petersburg-based Futurist group, including Khlebnikov, Kruchenykh, Vladimir Mayakovsky and David Burlyuk, that was born in about December 1912 and issued a manifesto entitled A Slap in the Face of Public Taste?
24 Published in February 1948, which Evelyn Waugh novel centres around the young Dennis Barlow and the suicide of his uncle Sir Francis Hinsley?
25 Subtitled A Romance of the Near Future, which 1953 Evelyn Waugh satire is set in a dystopian quasi-egalitarian Britain and follows the life of an arsonist released from prison?
26 Born Clementina Dinah Campbell in 1927, who is the only person to have received Grammy nominations in the jazz, popular and classical music awards?
27 Which motor racing team did Bernie Ecclestone buy in 1972 and run for 15 years?
28 Which Brazilian footballer, who died aged only 49, had the real name Manoel Francisco dos Santos?
29 Which author and convicted murderer, who inspired the film Heavenly Creatures, published her first novel The Carter Street Hangman under the name Anne Perry in 1979?
30 Founded in 1963, which British band had a US number one with The Game of Love?
31 Which French baroque composer, one of the first to have no patrons but make a living simply by writing new works of music, composed the cantatas Les Quatre Saisons (1724 and the opera ballet Les Voyages de l'Amour (1736), while a notable piece of his still often performed is Deuxieme Serenade Ou Simphonie?
32 The first self-proclaimed civil engineer, which Yorkshireman commenced an extensive series of engineers that included the Coldstream Bridge over the River Tweed (1762-67), the Newark Viaduct over the Trent (1768-70), the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal (1782-89) and St Austell's Charlestown harbour (1792)?
33 A pupil of the above, which British-born American architect (1764-1820) is best known for his design of the United States Capitol?
34 The Swedish chemist Johan August Arfwedson discovered which chemical element within the minerals spodumene and lepidolite in a petalite ore in 1817?
35 Prior to which German's inventor of linotype in 1886, no newspaper in the world had more than eight pages?
36 Which American jazz and rhythm and blues alto saxophonist formed his own band in 1945 and had his biggest hits with such songs as Temptation, Sleep, Flamingo, You Go to My Head and Cherokee?
37 A Figurehead for his country's modernist movemment, which Egyptian writer is best known in the West for autobiography El-Ayyam, which was published in English as An Egyptian Childhood (1932) and The Stream of Days (1943)?
38 One of the major early French Surrealist painters, which artist was known for such works as Verre et Poire (1924), Jacques and Sylvia (1940), Woman from Martinique (1941) and The Seeded Earth (1942) and on fleeing the Nazis had a cache of erotic drawings denounced as pornographic by US customs officials, who ripped them up before his eyes?
39 Opened on January 6, 1870, which concert hall in Vienna is considered to be one of the three finest in the world along with Boston's Symphony Hall and Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, and is home to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra?
40 Which architect, inspired by Leipzig's Neue Gewendhaus, designed the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam?
41 Which Premiership team began when the Stanley Cricket Club form an association football club in November 1881 to play during the winter after the cricket season had ended, and won their first match 5-0 against Elswick Leather Works 2nd XI?
42 John Wardle is chairman of which Premiership football club?
43 Vallenato and cumbia are the most popular forms of folk music in which South American country?
44 Derived from the Greek for "to split", which group of medium grade metamorphic rocks is chiefly notable for the preponderance of lamellar minerals such as micas, chlorite, talc and graphite?
45 Oliver Cowdery is closely associated with the founding of which religious movement?
46 The actor Len Adamson is most famous for playing which role on Coronation Street?
47 Which Liverpool-born horror writer published his first collection The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants in 1964 and is known for such other books as his collection Demons by Daylight (1973) and the novels The Face That Must Die (1979, revised edition 1983) and The Count of Eleven (1991)?
48 TV writer Brian Dooley is best known for creating which recently axed sitcom?
49 Sometimes abbreviated as >H or H+, what name is given to the international intellectual and cultural movement which supports the use of new sciences and technology to enhance our cognitive and physical abilities and ameliorate what it regards as undesirable aspects of the human condition such as disease and aging?
50 Born Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat in 1743, which French philosopher and mathematician devised the eponymous method that determines a single winner election method in which voters rank candidates in order of preference, and explored a paradox in 1785's Essay on the Application of Analysis to the Probability of Majority Decisions, which describes the intransitivity of majority preference?
51 In calculus, which theorem is named after the English mathematican, who stated it in 1712 and gives the approximation of a differentiable function near a point by a polynomial whose coefficients depend only on the derivatives of the function at that point?
52 Which Greek Cypriot filmmaker (b.1922) is best known for his 1964 film Zorba the Greek?
53 Which Polish film director, dramatist and actor, who made his directorial debut with 1960's Oko wykol/The Menacing Eye, provided the dialogue for the script of Roman Polanski's Knife in Water and also made such semi-autobiographical films as Rysopsis, Walkover, Barrier (1966), Hands Up! (completed 1967, released 1981) and Success is the Best Revenge (1984)?
54 In physics, what form of elementary particles that are distinct fromthe other known family of fermions, the quarks, and has three known flavours: the electron, the muon and the tau?
55 Prior to 2005, O'Hare airport in Chicago was the world's busiest in terms of takeoffs and landings, but that year mainly due to limits imposed there by the federal governments to reduce flight delays, which other US airport became the busiest?
56 Glasgow-born though he grew up in Bournemouth, which singer-songwriter and musician is best known for his 1976 single Year of the Cat and its 1978 follow-up Time Passages?
57 Which forthcoming film adaptation of a Joseph Kanton novel features George Clooney as an American journalist called Jake Geismar who arrives in Berlin soon after the end of WW2?
58 Steven Soderbergh, the director of the above film, uses which pseudonym for his cinematography?
59 Found in tropical South America and Trinidad and Tobago, what sort of creature is the Machete Couesse?
60 Including lizards and snakes, what is the largest recent order of reptiles?
61 What is the common name of the genus of flowering plants known as Alnus?
62 What does T in the frequency band THF stand for?
63 Chiefly remembered for his Donation of Sutri in 728, Liutprand was king of which Germanic people from 712 to 744?
64 Which male tennis player was the only player to win the Australian Open both on grass and on hardcourt (known as Rebound Ace)?
65 What name is given to the winner of the Men's Singles Challenge Cup at the Australian Open?
66 Who in 1915 became the first Briton to win the Australian Open Men's Singles?
67 The 1955 recording Cry Cry Cry, released with Hey Porter on the front side, was which singer's first successful tune?
68 What is the smallest predominantly Muslim nation in the world and the smallest predominantly Muslim UN member?
69 Originally called the Big Meadow and Funny Field, the Field of Mars is a large park and square covering almost nine hectares in the centre of which major European city?
70 Which famed painting was commissioned in 1562 by the Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, and after it was completed in 15 months by the year 1563, hung 2.5m from the floor in the monastery for 253 years before it was plundered by Napoleon in 1797 and shipped to Paris?




Answers to BH104
1 Zero Hour! 2 St Louis Cardinals 3 Convicts being transported to Australia (specifically for prisoners aboard the Hougoumont, the last ship to transport them there) 4 Mixture of codeine cough syrup and soda drunk by Southern rappers 5 Cardiff Bay (used in Dr Who) 6 Grover Cleveland 7 Battle of Milvian Bridge 8 Political party (Motherland-National Patriotic Union 9 Oliver Tambo (OR Tambo International Airport) 10 Hofstad Network 11 Philippines 12 Trevor Berbick 13 Dominican Republic 14 An electrical vote recorder 15 Pius XI 16 Kaunus 17 Prospero 18 Antoine Deparcieux 19 Eliphalet 20 Christian Goldbach (as in Goldbach's conjecture) 21 Adrien-Marie Legendre 22 Zaum 23 Hylaea 24 The Loved One 25 Love Among the Ruins 26 Cleo Laine 27 Brabham 28 Garrincha 29 Juliet Hulme 30 Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders 31 Joseph Bodin de Boismortier 32 John Smeaton 33 Benjamin Latrobe 34 Lithium 35 Ottmar Mergenthaler 36 Earl Bostic 37 Taha Hussein 38 Andre Masson 39 Musikverein 40 Adolf Leonard van Gendt 41 Newcastle United 42 Manchester City 43 Colombia 44 Schist 45 The Latter Day Saint movement 46 Len Fairclough 47 Ramsey Campbell 48 The Smoking Room 49 Transhumanism 50 Marquis de Condorcet 51 (Brook) Taylor's theorem 52 Michael Cacoyannis 53 Jerzy Skolimowski 54 Leptons 55 Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta 56 Al Stewart 57 The Good German 58 Peter Andrews 59 Snake 60 Squamata (as in scaled reptiles) 61 Alder 62 Tremendously (high frequency) 63 Lombards 64 Mats Wilander 65 Norman Brookes Challenge Cup 66 Francis Lowe 67 Johnny Cash 68 Maldives 69 St Petersburg 70 The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese

Friday, October 27, 2006

Knowledge is not Dour

Bet Lynch in a brown wig on Bollyoaks? Well, at least she's getting work.

Now that I've got the obligatory tabloid press-style snarky comment on today's thriving, some might say diabolical, pop culture (I like it, otherwise I wouldn't be so good at remembering the subtitles to the Halloween sequels or actors who make cameo appearances on Eastenders - is that Geoffrey from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air that I see before me?!), I can get on to trivia matters.

You-hoo Lulu
I am making some progress with the quiz book I was going to compile and publish on I always take time every day to pop in a dozen into the "This Quiz Book Will Save Your Life" file, and you know what they're not that boring. The question count is currently 250. So I should finish up by about March 2008. Put that date in your diary.

I only realised, having written 322 questions for the Liverpool GP, another 370 for the BH quizzes, work questions and some others somewhere else (in a pad? On freshly prepared vellum?) during the last week or so, that I really need to take a break from this writing lark. I am fatigued. Brain is going into shock of some sort. You realise that I am not some ceaseless question generator pumping out tens of thousands of questions every year. Oh wait.

What I mean is that I'm going to rest it until Paris and just read and read and read. The only problem with that is I tend to fall asleep. Which means I have to write questions to keep awake. So you see I am caught in a sado-masochistic cycle situated between the devil sitting on rock and a hard place situated somewhere in the middle of the deep blue sea. Reminds me of a Hot Shots: Part Deux gag, but enough of that.

I was determined to get out of the house before sunset yesterday. I succeeded. Hurrah.

So I went to see a film: The History Boys. I don't tend to go to the theatre (saw The Producers and that's about it for the last two years) and seeing the movie adaptation didn't actually make me pine for a live production with the original actors and the unmissably outsized (in more ways than one), beetroot-coloured Richard Griffiths in it. (I'm worried about the guy: true, in Naked Gun 2 1/2 he wasn't exactly Peter Crouch thin and was using a motorised wheelchair to get around as the portly environmental scientist non pareil Dr Albert S Meinheimer, but now he seems to have turned into a scarily obese pink hillock crowned with snow).

This was because the film was more than enough. It was poignant and funny. In two more words: utterly brilliant. I'm thinking that the reviewers who gave it less than three stars had seen the original play and let their usually sterling critical faculties be fantastically warped by the strange situation of seeing a drama production translated onto screen with the same director and cast in double quick time.

The only stagey thing about it was the pupils' well-drilled dialogue, endlessly inventive, clever and sarcastic and spoken by each young actor in turn, as if it was some sort of relay race for fluent, erudite and highly-nuanced chatter. In real life, even the better class of A Level students speak in single syllable words, e.g: "Wah?" "Sir?" "Shaddup" "Read" "Muhehuhhh" "Twat! "Oi!" "Mrrrrrr" and so on. It was amusing nonetheless.

I was, however, extremely annoyed that so many dastardly critics had ruined the pure pleasure of Alan Bennett's lines by quoting the play so much. It is different when it is a popular stage play. A film reviewer can try to describe an amazing explosion or the amazing detail in some computer rendered (not Jar Jar ... not Jar Jar), but he will only be able to tell you how great he thought it was. But take the actual words from a character's mouth and slap it on the page and you already convey something their true essence even if it is slightly divorced from the context. Yes, maybe the point is not to read reviews, even if it is such an ingrained habit that it comes as naturally as breathing (I must have read an average of 30 arts reviews a day for the last 14 years ... which explains a lot).

Funny THB coming out and Starter for Ten being imminent too. My original thoughts on David Nicholls's utterly amazing Dostoevksian masterpiece of social mores are at the aforementioned link, and truth be told if the movie adaptation isn't a bag full of rotten cow guts perfumed with the Impulse-like spray of woe-mantic comedy, I shall buy all of David Nicholls's other books and his Cold Feet DVDs and NOT burn them in the hellfire they so richly deserve, but treat them with a kind of muted respect.

Both films have a lot in common. The education (yuh, obviously), the actor Dominic Cooper who is a reliably rounded presence in both films, Irwin going to Bristol/Starter for Ten being set in Bristol, the 80s setting for both - for starters and the main course. But while SFT is ostensibly about a quiz, it is really about some nerdlinger (who looks and sounds like James McAvoy and is therefore geeky in the same way as Zadie Smith might think she is, but plainly isn't) getting it on with hot actresses pretending to be ordinary students and finding lurve at the end of his puke-inducing rainbow of a denouement; not about using knowledge to make himself a better person, and knowledge's value in life. Which is what The History Boys is all about. The film/play is about passing on knowledge to others and making them believe in its intrinsic worth and its ability to expand your horizons and make you a better person (or act as source of consolation for the melancholic and highly educated losers, telling them they are not alone, as is admitted). It is not about getting your leg over with the college hottie and drinking Sodastream coke (or whatever 80s cliches that need to be aired to excite nostalgic sadsacks) and laughing like drains at the silliness and sweet pain of it all.

Knowledge is knowledge. It may have many hues: the trivial, the intellectual heavyweight, the Heat magazine, but it is still knowledge. I often forget that some people's idea of general knowledge (dahn the pub: Monopoly properties ... that kind of abject crap) is far removed from my own perception of what it really means (getting my head round game theory and Wittgenstein and trying to finally read all those Elias Canetti autobiographies I bought at the LA Oxfam last year ... and failing miserably). I err on the intellectual and academic: look upon my BH quizzes and despair. In THB I could see something of my own self since I used to learn snatches of Hamlet, Robert Burns and all of The Soldier by Rupert Brooke just for the sake of knowing it back in my teens (not anymore ... no room up there ... very sad I know). It makes me sad to think I can't recite poems like To a Mouse in their entirety because to know something off by heart is to remember the precious words of someone, who is gone but will never be forgotten. Their genius lives on.

Only I tend to think I am the cynical adapter of books and facts and other ammunitions dumps for competitive means that is so subtly condemned in THB. Using it to a certain ends. Ends with trophies and ranking points and high placings. I can't deny that, but I love reading for its own sake, and using the other side of my brain (why do you think I set questions on The Adventures of Augie March and Bill Buford's latest that never get asked by anyone else?). I probably use the same side of my brain when dealing with quiz and getting my hooks into fancy literature, but it sure doesn't feel like it.

And while Starter for Ten is the world of the chick lit, bloke lit, no brain lit brandished by Mr and Miss Tube Commuter; The History Boys embraces and should find itself snuggling deep within the realm of classic and enriching literature, the kind that stretches you and makes you think, before too long. If you love the idea of knowledge, and the idea of consuming it and learning it, you will love the Mr Bennett's little play/movie.

Anyway, do not fret. There's no way I am not going to let Starter for Ten slide right under my radar, like a slippery, slithery stealth turd. I'm going to review SFT (which has already suggested several scatalogical acronyms in my head as I type these words), not once, but TWICE. Stay tuned to see how exactly I do it. (Do fret: I can only disappoint you)

I do realise the parantheses are getting out of hand, as well as the post-modern smart-arse deconstructionist touches. I promise, for one week that I will write in a straight line, as it were, with no asides, no tangents, no references and no brackets. Actually. Can I do that? It may be unpossible. (You see I couldn't resist quoting Ralph Wiggum)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

BH103 for a Blue Sky Day

Feeling slightly at a loss for things to do on Tuesday night. This is because our QLL opponents cancelled on us this week and we have next week off. So: bubkus to do. What you say? Go back to doing whatever you did before on those particular evenings? I can't even remember that far back.

Also, I've enabled and started moderating the comments so anyone can leave their little typographical footprint below each post. I dunno why I didn't allow it before.

Le Quiz
This quiz is basically predicated around two themes: the world and war. Which are quite substantial as it is.

The questions have been set from (just so I don't get funny and therefore unfunny accusations chucked at me) Nicholas Hobbes's Essential Militaria and Patricia Schultz's 1,000 Places To See Before You Die (yes, I've used the latter publication again. I was encouraged to do so when I saw its entry on the Ida Davidsen sandwich restaurant in Copenhagen, which was a question at the 2005 EQC, and since the Euros are coming, it wouldn't do any harm looking through all these famous places I have never heard of before in my entire life).

1 Now known as the Indian state of Orissa, which region was conquered in 261BC and saw more than 100,000 of the region's inhabitants killed by the invasion of the emperor Ashoka?
2 The greatest sea battle of the Peloponnesian War, which 406BC naval clash saw 150 Athenian triremes defeat 120 Spartan vessels, though six of the eight Athenian generals involved in the engagement were later executed for failing to pick up survivors?
3 In medieval times, what sort of weapon or piece of military equipment was a "culverin"?
4 Five times the size of Great Britain, which highly restricted area of Australia in the Northern Territory is owned and managed by the Gummulkbun Aboriginal people, whose home it has been for 65,000 years?
5 Among the world's lowest and smallest volcanoes, which volcano in Tagaytay on Luzon in the Philippines is renowned for its blue and green panorama and had its first recorded eruption in 1572?
6 In which city will you find the national museum known as the Bardo, a complex of 13th to 19th century buildings that includes the Beylical Palace and houses Africa's largest and perhaps finest selection of ancient mosaics?
7 The city of Luxor stands on the site of which ancient city, once the flourishing capital of Egypt's New Kingdom?
8 Famous for its dates and olives, which oasis in Egypt's Western Desert is located near the Libyan border on a centuries-old caravan route and made news headlines in 1995 when the alleged tomb of Alexander the Great (who passed through in 331BC) was discovered?
9 Situated at a stunning site on the "Danish Riviera", which museum of modern art was opened in Humlebaek in 1958 and shares its name with a US state?
10 Including the Royal Palace and Cathedral, which majestic complex of Gothic and Renaissance buildings presides over Krakow from a high, rocky valley above the Vistula River and was the Polish royal residence for more than 500 years?
11 Found in Switzerland's Bernese Oberland, which 11,400-foot high terminus has been the highest railway station in the world for more than a century?
12 Misleadingly called a "Forest", which enormous 250 acre walled arboretum in Coimbra has been tended by local monks for centuries and was the site of the last summer residence built by the Portuguese monarchy (commissioned in 1834 and completed in 1907, one year before Carlos I's assassination)?
13 Which rich Armenian tycoon, who died in 1955, bequeathed one of the world's greatest art collections to Portugal that is now housed in an eponymous museum in Lisbon?
14 Built for the Dominican order in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, which major Florentine church is home to the pulpit from which Galileo was denounced for saying the earth orbited the Sun, a Ghirlandaio fresco that is situated behind the main altar and Masaccio's Trinita, the first painting created using perfect linear mathematical perspective?
15 Which city, nicknamed "la Grassa" meaning "the Fat One", is home to the food district known as the Quadrilatero?
16 Described by Mark Twain as "the Lear of inanimate nature - deserted, discrowned, beaten by the storms, but royal still, and beautiful", which German red sandstone castle was built by the Prince Electors over three centuries (1400-1620) and was sacked by Louis XIV's troops in 1689?
17 Opened in 1897, which city is home to the world renowned Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten?
18 What is also known as the "Swabian Sea"?
19 Which wine region is home to the Montrachet, Meursault and Pommard vineyards as well as the Cote d'Or ("Golden Slope")?
20 Strasbourg, as in the home of the European Parliament, is associated with which regional peasant-style speciality made of sauerkraut, bacon, potatoes, pork and various sausages?
21 Which legendary Ulster warrior of Irish myth was said to have created the Giant's Causeway as a bridge to his lady love on the Scottish island of Staffa?
22 Which battle of 260BC resulted in the execution of every one of the 400,000 survivors from the Chinese state of Zhao's 450,000-strong army when they surrendered to the Qin general Bo Qi?
23 Issued on April 30, 1945, what did the order codenamed Regenbogen demand?
24 Who was the Mayan god of war?
25 Which dam on the river Ruhr, with a capacity of 72 million cubic metres, was not breached during the Dambusters raid of May 17, 1943?
26 Task Force 777 is the special forces of which country?
27 Started by an inflammatory Bolivian postage stamp, conflict arose between Bolivia and Paraguay in 1932 over the contentious sovereignty of which border region?
28 In Irish legend, the War of the Brown Bull came about when which queen of Connacht became jealous of her husband's great "white-horned" bull Finnbhenach and stole the bull Donn from an Ulster chieftain?
29 Which military figure of the 20th century believed he had led seven past lives, including a prehistoric mammoth hunter, a Greek hoplite who fought the Persians, a Napoleonic marshal and Hannibal?
30 The Okonyktia, meaning "eight nights", was part of which ancient military training regime?
31 What line in Shakespeare's Henry V comes after: "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more"?
32 Thanks to sinking 47 ships with 274,386 tonnage, who is credited with being the greatest German U-Boat ace of World War Two?
33 Which Russian aircraft was the most produced fighter or bomber of World War Two with 42,330 units built?
34 Which Governor's daughter led a troop of women who broke the siege at Marseilles in 1524 during the war between the French king and the Constable of Bourbon, and dug a mined trench known as the Tranchee des Dames that became the Boulevard des Dames?
35 Which king famously lamented: "God is an Englishman"?
36 In the British army, what rank comes between Major General and Colonel?
37 At which battle was the ancient Greek king Pyrrhus finally defeated by the Romans in 275BC?
38 What was the animal mascot of the French ship, the Chasse Maree, that was wrecked in 1805?
39 What is the Latin motto of the Royal Marines?
40 Surmounting impossible odds, 12,300 Berbers and Arabs under Tarik ibn Ziyad defeated the Visigoth King Roderic's army of 90,000 at which 711 battle? Afterwards, the Jews of Toledo welcomed the Muslim conquerors as liberators.
41 On a Roman legionary's suit of armour, what were "ocreae"?
42 A commodore at the time, Horatio Nelson fought aboard which ship when he won the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1797
43 Often cited as the last battle of the Wars of the Roses, where did the Lancastrians/Tudors win on June 16, 1487?
44 Which aircraft manufacturers made the following bombers: a) B-17 Flying Fortress b) Lancaster c) Vulcan d) B-1 Lancer e) Grumman B-2 Spirit?
45 Which mid-3rd century Greek theorist was the author of the earliest work on military tactics, though only On Siegecraft survives of his oeuvre?
46 Which military theorist (1669-1752) wrote New Discoveries About War and coined the phrase "fog of war"?
47 Who wrote the classic Montana-set novel A River Runs Through It?
48 In which US state capital will you find The Mark Twain House at 351 Farmington Avenue?
49 What is the name of Robert Louis Stevenson's home located three miles south of Apia on the Samoan island of Upolu?
50 The Sepik River is said to inspire the same reverence to natives of which country, as the Congo does to Africans and the Amazon to South Americans?
51 "Discovered" by Captain William Bligh in 1789 just days after the mutiny on The Bounty, Aitutaki is in which group of islands?
52 What place in Laos, 130 miles northwest of Vientiane in the mountainous north, has a name meaning City of the Buddha of Peace, and was where royalty held court until its abolition in 1975?
53 Reached by boat on the Mekong river from Pakse, what complex of hilltop temples in Champassak in Laos was built in stages between the 6th and 14th centuries (thus predating Angkor Wat by 200 years) and was rediscovered in 1866?
54 The fifth largest in the world, what diamond made its first public appearance on the coronation turban of Mehmet IV in 1648 and is now on display in the Topkapi Palace?
55 In which capital will you find Durbar Square ("Durbar" meaning "palace"), home to more than 50 temples, shrines and old palaces, including Kumari Ghar, the three-storied residence of the Kumari Devi (Living Goddees)?
56 Taking place during the end of October and start of November, the Hindu holiday of the Tihar Festival honours which god or goddess?
57 What is the meaning of Mount Everest's alternative name Chomolungma?
58 One of the largest animal markets in Rajasthan's Thar Desert, what Pushkar fair takes place each November before the full moon and is said to be unequalled for its colour, costume, music and festivities?
59 What name is given to the narrow, labyrinthine alleyways of Beijing where only the awning-covered vehicles can maneuver?
60 The capital of Wadi Hadhramawt since the 3rd century AD and believed to look today much as it did in the 5th century, which city was in its heyday the most celebrated Arabic Islamic city in Yemen and is known for 500 clay-tower buildings of up to eight stories all crammed into less than a third of a square mile?
61 Having its entrance by the gate in the northern wall at Bab al'Amarah, which magnificent mosque in the Old City quarter of Damascus was once the site of the Basilica of St John the Baptist (his head is believed to be buried to be buried in the mosque's sanctuary) until the Muslims arrived in 636AD and is considered one of Islam's greatest architectural achievements?
62 The Al-Ain/Buraimi oasis straddles the border of which country and which sultanate?
63 Known for tombs dating back to 100BC and often compared to the pink-stone ancient city of Petra, what place in Saudi Arabia on a once thriving frankincense route was carved out of large rocks in the Arabian desert but had a short-lived heyday (the last tomb was built in 76AD) due to the Romans importing incense by boat on the Red Sea directly to Egypt?
64 Described by TE Lawrence as "the finest castle in the world", what finely preserved Syrian castle was constructed and expanded by the Knights of St John from 1144 onwards after they chose a site because it as the only significant break in the mountain range between Turkey and Lebanon on an age-old caravan route between Damascus and Syria?
65 Hwange is which country's largest, best known and most accessible national park?
66 Considered the gateway to Lapland and to Finland's Arctic Circle, what place 536 miles north of Helsinki is also known as Santa's Village?
67 Found in Finland's Lake District, the home of composer Jean Sibelius in Jarvenpaa was given which name after his wife?
68 Sibelius was not born in Jarvenpaa, but nearby in Finland's oldest inland town. Founded in 1639, what is it called?
69 What do Hungarians call the river Danube?
70 Budapest's Gerbeaud is what kind of famous institution?
71 Which French soldier claimed: "It takes 15,000 casualties to train a major general"?
72 Who wrote during the 4th century: "Qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum" (Let him who desires peace prepare for war)?
73 The (last) words of Swedish Admiral Baron Lorentz Creutz - "In the name of Jesus, make sure that the cannon ports are closed and the cannon made fast, so that in turning we don't suffer the same fate as befell the Wasa" - did not prevent which flagship sinking in 1675 as her predecessor had done in 1628?
74 Which evocatively named tax revolt took place in western Pennsylvania in 1794?
75 In 1212, which precocious military commander and 12-year-old shepherd led a several thousand-strong army of boys to retake the Holy Land in the ill-fated Children's Crusade?




Answers to BH103
1 Kalinga 2 The Argusinae Isles 3 Smallest variety of cannon 4 Arnhem Land 5 Taal 6 Tunis 7 Thebes 8 Siwa Oasis 9 The Louisiana Museum (of Modern Art) 10 Wawel Hill 11 Jungfraujoch 12 Bussaco Forest or Floresta do Bussaco 13 Calouste Gulbenkian 14 Church of Santa Maria Novella 15 Bologna 16 Heidelberg Schloss 17 Hamburg 18 The Bodensee/Lake Constance 19 Burgundy 20 Choucroute 21 Finn McCool 22 The Battle of Changping 23 That almost the entire Kriegsmarine be scuttled 24 Mayan 25 Sorpe Dam 26 Egypt 27 Gran Chaco 28 Queen Medb 29 General George S. Patton 30 The Agoge (of Sparta) 31 "Or close the wall up with our English dead!" 32 Otto Kretschmer 33 Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik 34 Ameliane du Puget 35 Philip II of Spain after the "English winds" that destroyed the Spanish Armada 36 Brigadier 37 Beneventum 38 A small monkey dressed in miniature uniform (that was famously hanged by the people of Hartlepool) 39 Per Mare, Per Terram (By Sea, By Land) 40 The Battle of Guadalete 41 Shin-protecting greaves 42 HMS Captain 43 Stoke 44 a) Boeing (1935) b) Avro (1942) c) Avro (1956) d) Rockwell (1985) e) Northrop (1993) 45 Aeneas the Tactician 46 Chevalier Folard 47 Norman McLean 48 Hartford 49 Vailima 50 Papua New Guinea 51 Cook Islands 52 Luang Prabang 53 Wat Phou 54 The Spoonmaker's Diamond 55 Kathmandu 56 Lakshmi 57 "Mother Goddess of the Universe" 58 The Pushkar Camel Fair 59 Hutongs 60 Shibam 61 Omayyad Mosque 62 U.A.E and Oman 63 Mada'in Saleh 64 Krak des Chevaliers 65 Zimbabwe 66 Rovaniemi 67 Ainola 68 Hameenlinna 69 Duna 70 A coffeehouse 71 Ferdinand Foch 72 Vegetius 73 The Kronan 74 The Whiskey Rebellion 75 Stephen of Cloyes

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Interview: That Guy Off Jeopardy!

Gizmo's impersonation of Ken losing to Nancy Zerg*

* Okay, so he didn't scream in terror. But it is Gizmo's own interpretation. Leave him be.

Me Intro Blurb
Here in the UK, million-pound quiz show jackpots will forever be associated in the public's mind with such winners as Judith Keppel. Over in the States, when asked who's the biggest game show winner of all time and therefore has mountains of gold coins spilling out of their platinum-coated mansion and a rocket car idling in the driveway, just about everyone on the street will undoubtedly utter the name Ken Jennings.

In 2004, Jennings's stalwart turn on US game show Jeopardy! saw him win 74 games and record the longest ever winning streak on the programme, notching up a winnings total of $3,022,700 in the process. He became so famous in fact that he racked up countless newspaper column inches and unfathomable media coverage and was interviewed by such ultra-famous chat show hosts as David Letterman, as Jeopardy's growing army of viewers tuned in to see whether he could win yet another game.

Since then the 32-year-old has taken time out from his glamorous life as a jobbing software engineer to set up his own trivia-themed website and blog and write a non-fiction book which weaves his experiences into a fascinating history of the American trivia scene.

Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive of Trivia Buffs has, of course, been reviewed below, but I should reiterate that it is a must-read for anyone who happens to be an, er, trivia buff and is still available to buy from any online bookstores with the ability to import their wares from America, for instance,

I emailed him a few questions (okay, 31) related to his life as a resplendent trivia emperor and he lobbed some answers back at me. Which was very nice of him.

First, the most important question of them all: what is your favourite colour?

My favorite color is orange, so I guess my favorite colour is ourange.

Please tell my predominantly British audience of quiz fans why you have written a book about your experiences and why they should buy it.

Put simply, this is the book I would have liked to read as a trivia-obsessed ten-year-old in 1984, at the height of Trivial Pursuit-mania.  Not a book about how I was going to earn millions of dollars on TV twenty years down the road (though I would have liked that book too, I imagine) but a book about the history of trivia and the culture of quizzing, an attempt to explain what there is about our brains that makes it fun for us to Know Weird Stuff.

Brainiac is a vastly different book for a British audience that it is for Americans.  The average American reader, I expect, would want backstage dirt on the popular US quiz show Jeopardy!, and would be surprised that there even *is* such a thing as American "trivia culture"--that is, hardcore fans of quiz games.  For audiences in the UK, on the other hand, where quizzing is a respectable and venerable pastime, Brainiac is exotic anthropology: a look at a culture where quizzing is often marginalized under the rubric "trivia" and is seen as the province, mainly, of fringe weirdos and annoying know-it-alls.

Also, there's lots of cool stuff about the early history of trivia, all the way back to Jacobean London, and a list of airports named for people who died in plane crashes.

What do you put your longevity on Jeopardy! down to? Study? Sheer luck? Buzzer technique?

I don't know what the equivalent expression in British sport is, but American sportscasters often speak of "home field advantage" winning ball games.  There's a powerful "home field advantage" to the champion's lectern on Jeopardy!  You've figured out the buzzer timing by that point.  You're not as nervous anymore about the lights and the camera and the realization that every person you've ever met, every girl who ever turned you down back in school, will be watching you make a fool of yourself on national TV.  And there's also this:

Did your champion-status intimidate your opponents as your winning streak grew longer and longer?

Very often, yes.  You could feel the air go out of the folks in the greenroom when the contestant handlers revealed that there was a 20- (or 30-, or 40-) game champ in their midst.  Remember that the rules limiting the streaks of long-time champions had just been changed on Jeopardy!, and the idea of anyone winning more than five games was like science-fiction.  Many of my games were won right there, in that moment.

Describe the sound of your own voice, as heard on TV.

If you've ever disliked hearing your own voice on, say, an answering machine tape, try listening to yourself for six months on TV.  Oh, and you have to watch all your suddenly-annoying facial expressions and mannerisms at the same time.  And it's all on videotape so it's too late to change anything.  It's hell.   

What was the most surreal moment you experienced during the time of the Jeopardy! madness?

There were plenty of odd moments, but nothing was weirder than the phone calls I got from prominent, front-page American politicians encouraging me to run for "Congress" (like your Parliament, except that they like to IM underage boys).  The consensus, at the highest levels, appeared to be that, having appeared on a quiz show, I was now a viable Senate candidate.  If this doesn't tell you what's wrong with American democracy, nothing will. 

What are the most common things strangers say on recognising you?

Jeopardy is a senior-citizen phenomenon--sorry, a "pensioner" phenomenon--in the US, so typically it's "My aunt loves you!"  "My grandfather never missed you!"  "My mom called every night to tell me that you won again!"  That kind of thing.  Often prefaced with, "I'd never heard of you...but!"  I figure my fan base will all be dead in ten years and I can go back to the anonymity I so richly deserve. 

How do you feel about being called stuff like "trivia's undisputed king"?

It's all marketing hype.  I also often see a quote from a magazine that called me "the Seabiscuit of geekdom," which is a little more problematic.  America really has no organized high-level quiz contests--a show like Jeopardy! is pretty much all we have.  So if my crown is "undisputed," it's mostly because there's no venue in which to dispute it.  If anyone would care to.

And did you really weep like a baby when the New York Times called you "the most annoying man in game show history"?

Er, no.  Winning a couple million dollars at something tends to make you immune to "But he's a nerd!"-style name-calling.  That article was by their TV-kibitzer-in-resident, Alessandra Stanley, who, I was amused to see, got into a media snafu herself a few months later when she made similarly snarky distortions about Geraldo Rivera's reportage from Iraq, and got called on it. 

Reversing the traditional question and answer format, as happens on Jeopardy!, must seem as easy as pie to yourself, but seems annoying and pointless to everyone who doesn't live in the US. Do you think this has been an obstacle to the successful transplantation of the format overseas?

The syntactic reversal *is* pretty goofy, especially since the "answer" rarely works as a response to the "question."  "What is Frankenstein?"  "The X-Files episode entitled 'Post-Modern Prometheus' was an update of this classic 1818 tale."  Nope, doesn't make sense.  But the gimmick becomes second-nature very quickly to US audiences, even ones initially unfamiliar with the show, so I don't think it's necessarily a deal-killer.

You often use the term "Opie-looking" to describe yourself. What does this mean? And who's Gavin McLeod? (Don't worry I know who Pauly Shore is. Unfortunately. Budddd-ee.)

I apologize to Commonwealth readers for all the US-specific references in the book, but I felt a book about trivia should be littered with pop-cultural detritus.  Gavin McLeod captained the Love Boat.  Suggested British replacement: anybody bald.  Neil Kinnock.  Duncan Goodhew.  Opie is the baby-faced, red-headed son of widowed Sheriff Andy Taylor on 1960s TV's The Andy Griffith Show.  (Played by a young Ron Howard, by the way.)  Suggested British replacement: no idea.  Rupert Grint?  Someone with more experience in 60s British sitcoms would have to advise me here.

Ever been a victim of Gingerism, i.e. ginger racism? There is a lot of that over here, especially from Charlotte Church.

I just had to Google "ginger racism."  The idea is that redheads have it hard?  This is possibly true, but, despite the Opie comparison above, I'm actually an ash-blond.  Or at least I can "pass."  So I wouldn't really know.

Are you aware of horribly jealous trivia aficionados out there who want to knife you in the guts for winning so much money and acclaim?

America is full of great living-room Jeopardy players who will never try out for the show, so I do hear things like this sometimes.  "You're living my dream!" and the like.  They don't usually mention the knife, though. 

Have you always wanted to be a writer and believed you had a book in you? I just got the impression you've always wanted to write, i.e. lowly software engineer dreams of writing the Great American Novel, or at least the trivia equivalent of Stefan Fatsis's Word Freak.

Well-spotted.  (I'm dropping in non-Americanisms like "well-spotted" just for you.)  Yes, I was a frustrated English major in college, and only switched to computer science in hopes of actually paying the bills from time to time.  I knew I didn't have it in me to write The Great American Novel, but I was perfectly willing to settle for writing The Great American Quirky Nonfiction Book Of The Moment.

There is this line: "And yet there's no prestigious World Trivia Championship". Say it ain't so Ken! Please explain this outrageous sentence.

I agree, it's an outrage!  Why IS there no prestigious World Trivia Championship?   Oh, wait.  You're outraged that I didn't even mention the (not necessarily presitigious, but at least existent) World Quizzing Championship here.  Well, Brainiac focuses almost solely on the American trivia scene, mostly because of my appalling ignorance on international quizzing.  But I think my general point stands: that excerpt compares quizzing to other brain games like chess (headline-making international faceoffs with million-dollar purses) or Scrabble (whose national tournaments are now broadcast on one of America's leading sports networks) or even spelling bees (the largest American one was on network prime-time this past year).  I'm guessing more people enjoy quiz games than Scrabble or spelling, and yet all we have to show for it are little-known niche events like, in Europe, the WQC, or in America, like...well, nothing at all, really.

Do you think the US will properly integrate into the quiz world and compete in such competitions as the World Quizzing Championship?

I think the US academic quiz bowl community would love WQC-style quizzing: the format and question style seem right up their alley.  So I am optimistic that, with the right bridges built, American quiz fans will become more familiar with that style of quiz. 

The concept of the all-prestige, no-cash prize or shiny new car, academic quiz has thrived on national TV in the UK and survives to this day in the form of University Challenge and Mastermind. Why hasn't it caught on in the US?

I'm not sure: the last successful knowledge-for-its-own-sake quiz show in the US was the GE College Bowl show that went off the air in 1970.  Maybe there's more of a high- culture/low-culture divide in the US.  Game show viewers want the excitement of big-money payouts and "play-along", not cultural erudition, while the better-read and -educated segment of the population might pooh-pooh TV quiz shows as frivolous and seek their solace only on the printed page.

How would legendary Quiz Bowl player Andrew Yaphe do on Jeopardy!?

Hard to say.  I've seen college quiz bowl all-stars like Eric Hillemann and Raj Dhuwalia get bounced from Jeopardy after just a day or two.  The deep and specialized academic knowledge needed to excel at quiz bowl is sometimes at odds with the broader, shallower, and more pop-cultural emphasis of a TV quiz show.  (Keep in mind that stodgy British academic-quizzers like University Challenge or Mastermind are emphatically NOT the norm in the US game show arena.) 

Did you read Marcus Berkmann's quiz culture book Brain Men? And if so, what did you think? And what do you make of the incredible similarity in cover illustration?

I liked Brain Men quite a bit, since I knew little about UK quiz culture before tracking it down.  It also demonstrated to me that the mere asking and answering of quiz questions can be well-dramatized in book form, at least for readers who are aficionados, which was encouraging for Brainiac.  I would have to chalk up the cover resemblance to the similar titles: "Brainiac" was my publisher's idea, and once you have two books on trivia culture with "brain" in the title, the illustration sort of takes care of itself, I guess.  I doubt anyone at Random House was familiar with Brain Men; it's never been in print in the US.

In the book, why do you keep on calling pub quizzes, "pub trivia"? This will annoy practically every British reader who calls it a pub quiz.

I also use the offensive word "truck," which will annoy practically every British reader who calls it a lorry.  Brainiac was written primarily for American audiences (mostly since Jeopardy! airs nowhere else but the US and Canada) and "pub trivia" is simply the most commonly used name for the pastime in US bars.  Anyway, I decided very early to stick with the "trivia" nomenclature throughout the book and not to vacillate back and forth between "trivia" and "quiz."  It helps unify the book, which, structurally, is pretty scattershot in a lot of ways. 

More on the word "trivia": it seems that the word is used far more in the US than here in the UK (in fact the word "triva" is never used to describe a quiz contest or book unless there is some alliteration needed). You lament that the word "trivia" being used and is somewhat inappropriate while interviewees says the term shortchanges it,. However, you bandy it about without abandon. Why didn't you just use the terms "quiz", "facts" and "general knowledge" more, like us Brits?

This was a huge problem in writing the book: the nomenclature.  In America, there's only one word for question-and-answer games as a hobby: "trivia."  It's immediately understood.  You do run into the semantic problem of questions of more serious subjects (history, literature, etc.) being clearly "nontrivial," but that doesn't seem to bother anyone.

So I don't like the term or think it's particularly appropriate, but at this point, in American English, we're sort of stuck with it.  "Quiz," to paraphrase Monty Python, is right out.  Its American usage is pretty much limited to grammar schools or relationship surveys in Cosmo.  It's easy to say that "facts" or "general knowledge" would work just as well, until you see the sentences that result.  "GENERAL KNOWLEDGEal Pursuit stole almost a third of its GENERAL KNOWLEDGE from Fred Worth's popular series of GENERAL KNOWLEDGE encyclopedias." Or use it as an adjective.  "Trivia fans" sounds fine, at least to US ears.  But "facts fans" or "general knowledge fans"?  Doesn't really convey the spirit of the hobby at all. 

There was also the problem that "trivia" means both "odd but fun general-knowledge facts" and "quiz games about said facts."  So when Brainiac digs into the history and culture of "trivia," I often equivocate on which of the two definitions I'm using, and even shamefully lump them together.  So far, no one's called me on this though.  Shhh.

How many times do you use the word "trivia" in the book? It seems an awful lot.

Feel free to count.  I'll offer a prize.  In other news, Dickens' A Christmas Carol also uses the word "Christmas" a shameful amount, and I can't believe how many times the word "Beatles" appears in Bob Spitz's recent Beatles biography.  If you act now, maybe you can blow the lid off this thing.

What do you think of the term "useless information"?

Not always an oxymoron, but often.  After all, any time we're discussing some piece of "useless information," it's because it JUST CAME UP: in conversation, in a quiz game, on TV, et cetera.  Wasn't so useless after all, then, was it?  "Useless information" serves us as cultural glue, as conversational fodder, or as an excuse to ponder the infinite weirdness of the universe.  Nothing "trivial" at all about that.

You honeymooned in London. So what do you think of British food?

Best lamb vindaloo I've ever eaten.  Great job with that whole cruel-subjugation-of-India-for-centuries thing. 

I got the feeling that there is a large group of trivia/quiz lovers in the US, but it is spread out or concentrated in clumps such as Quiz Bowl. Kind of nebulous, in fact. Or diffuse, if you know what I mean. This is in stark contrast to Britain where the quiz community is identifiable and all know each other and is seen to compete in many forms of quiz, e.g. pub quiz, quiz leagues, championships, TV and radio quizzes, on a regular basis. It seems over here that you can immerse yourself in the quiz culture. Do you think that is something you can't do in the US? Is it something to envy?

Absolutely.  The reason why "trivia culture" is an interesting subject for a book in the US is because no one has the idea there is any such thing.  It's a little-known demimonde, not a well-lit, well-structured organization.  And at most levels, it's discrete pockets: the pub trivia (sorry) players aren't the Jeopardy! champs and the quiz bowl players aren't the NTN (computer-networked restaurant quiz) teams and so on.  But get to the highest levels and everything converges.  The best NTN teams are anchored by the quiz show millionaires, and the quiz show millionaires were the college quiz bowl MVPs, and so on.

It must be nice to live somewhere where a mention of organized quiz games is met with a simple nod instead of a confused look.

What's your favourite trivia-related movie or TV show scene?

I always think back to Kevin Bacon in Diner, watching the GE College Bowl TV show on TV and beating the nerdy contestants to all the answers.  That kind of smart-but-directionless heckler persona sums up a lot of trivia people I know.    

Practising Mormon and lead singer of The Killers, Brandon Flowers, i.e that guy with the stupid moustache, recently claimed that you "can't be a Mormon and be cool!". Do you agree? Are you a living embodiment of such an axiom? And if you disagree, please name some really cool, hep-cat Mormons.

Most LDS celebrities do seem to fall into the square/nerdy quadrant of the pop-cultural map, not that there's anything wrong with that these days.  Mormon athletes like the NFL's Steve Young or baseball's Dale Murphy are as squeaky-clean as they come.  Ditto for the Osmonds.  Jon "Napoleon Dynamite" Heder is a nerd.  I'm a nerd.   I assume this is an inevitable consequence of the no sex/no booze/no dope lifestyle that Mormons lead.  Note for British rock fans: Mick Ronson was from a Mormon family, though (shocker!) I don't think he practised.

What is your favourite Low album? I reckon they haven't topped Things We Lost in the Fire.

Did you know I liked Low?  Or is the assumption that all Mormons must listen to the one slo-core band with LDS members? (No! ... Er, yes, partly. Or at least the ones who like indie-rock)  Things We Lost in the Fire is my favorite album as well (I hope they see some money off the upcoming movie of the same title) except during the holidays, when I listen more to their Christmas album. (I knew it ... you indie-rock Mormons,you) I've seen them perform as well and they're great live.  Most bands don't have to take five when their baby starts crying offstage, but it happened twice at this Low show.  Even Sonic Youth got a nanny.

Do you have any remaining trivia ambitions? Do you still retain a love of trivia and want to keep on learning?

For me--and this is partially a result of the lack of US quizzing I mentioned--trivia is less a hobby and more a frame of mind.  It's not something I chose; it's just the way my brain is wired.  I can hardly read a two-paragraph magazine article without noticing something "trivial": either "This would make a great question," or "Wow, didn't know that."  In that sense, I'm in for life.  Besides, there's a niche.  In America, thanks mostly to the Internet and the rise of nerd culture in general, there's less knowledge stigma  than ever nowadays.  When you get right down to it, everyone is a "trivia" expert on something, in that they have reams of pop-culture knowledge at their disposal on their own pet subjects: favorite TV shows, sports teams, bands, playwrights, whatever.  We're all trivial now.  But--apart from Trivial Pursuit, Jeopardy!, and maybe NTN, there isn't any successful branding in American trivia. And I'd be happy to be the go-to guy for that.  I have the curse of finding myself interested in--or at least curious about--almost everything, and trivia is a good way to indulge every interest at once.  

Do you have any nascent plans for a follow-up book?

Probably a book OF trivia questions, now that I've written the book ABOUT trivia.  A chance to get out of my system all the trivia factoids I accumulated for Brainiac that I'm now using solely to annoy my wife and friends.  After that, I'd like to write about something different.  I've been tossing around some ideas for a book on human memory.  Memory's a total mystery to me.  People ask me how my memory works, as if I'd be the expert, and I'm like, "I have no idea."  It fascinates me, how complex, nuanced glances at our past can be stored somehow in crackling neurons and squirting synapses.

Finally, how many of his plays did William Shakespeare set in Britain?

Wow.  Okay, Lear, Macbeth, As You Like It, Merry Wives.  Most of the histories: Henry IV (2 parts), Henry V, Henry VI (3 parts), Richard II, Richard III, Henry VIII, King John.  Aha, Cymbeline.  That's fifteen, and I've sat here for ten minutes trying to think what I might be missing.  Am I close?

Close, but no cigar. I believe the answer is fourteen. As You Like It was set in France.

Many thanks to Ken for giving such fulsome answers. Fulsome as in the new meaning of the word, not the slightly pejorative old. Just thought I'd clarify.

*A version of this interview has appeared on the website along with news of some Transatlantic bridge-building (not the literal kind). Go and have a look at plans for an Anglo-American quiz Grand Prix. G'won, g'won, g'won.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Memory is All We Have

President's Cup: Sussex 35-37 London

Well, that was a bloody disaster. Kathryn quoted her father in apt fashion to describe how this game went: "We pissed that game up the wall". I couldn't have put it better, though I could always add a slew of filthy expletives.

It started so brightly. We were up 8-1 after the first round and we were still clinging on to the five-point lead (22-17) at the halway stage.

Then round six arrived, like a big brawny brute, and clonked us on the heads to the tune of eight (them) to three (us) thus, making the score 37-35.

So we didn't have our thrashed asses handed back to us. No, instead we blew it.

Blame it on my Sunday sleepiness or blame it on some of my idiotic answers. Let's go for a 20/80 per cent split that combined to instill errors upon my wayward tongue. Not taking my time on Ludovico Manin was one such mistake. Yes, I did say Doge of Venice eventually, but this was AFTER I had said the last castrato and London made a failed attempt.

I said "Ochlophobia" was a fear of the dark: EH-EHHH (wait, how do you render an incorrect buzzer sound phonetically?). Neither could I even hazard a guess at the actress who played such characters as Kay Weston (the lady with the granite breasts and cheesy brain). And let's not get into the loose bonus points, like Art Blakey and his Messengers. I may start hitting myself in the face with the Vittel raspberry flavour mineral water bottle that is close to my right hand.

It is quite frustrating in retrospect to consider that if I took a single moment or a couple of seconds to compose myself mentally to let the answer settle in my head to save it being subject to the flames of impetuity, or even think a tiny bit more thoroughly rather than lazily calling it up from the memory in the manner of a lackadaisical sorcerer magicking something into existence out of nowt, then I would have done better. And I wouldn't want to give myself a damn good thrashing. (With a random tree branch, of course).

And yet, the rule is we always remember the errors in the last round because they are the valiant last attempts to salvage a situation, or they are abject screw-ups which put a complexion of regret on the game. This time it was Peter's turn (oh, how Kathryn and I laugh over Devizes now - eeek). It happened to be on Ushuaia, a Colossus quiz question. It was a 50/50 for him, while I had my certain fist out. He decided to call (was watching Late Night Poker Ace final last night so excuse me for the slightly loose equating but still appropriate application, in my view, of the terminology). He came out with "Chile". Over it went. One name later we get a three-point net loss. A vital three-point net loss. (Not that I'm saying it was his fault and he should fall on his sword or drive his car off a suitable Sussex landmark like Beach Head, immediately. The burden of faultage falls on all our heads in nearly equal percentages).

I didn't make any noises, however. No Nooooos!!! this time. I would only mention it to him afterwards. About three or four times.

In truth, Peter was livid with himself perhaps more than he should have been (there were terrible errors on both sides, e.g. Paul saying David Threlfall for the new Doctor Who David Tennant), but had one of my wild answer attempts actually been correct we would have done slightly or much better than lose a game we shouldn't have.

Anyway, the aching pain of capitulation and surrender is already receding into the past. I am already looking forward to our next nail-biting loss to whomever it may be.

PS If you did The Colossus quiz and returned it to me and still haven't got your answers yet, please e-mail ASAP and I will get them in speedy fashion.

The Friendly
Unfortunately I had to read the friendly out myself (never a good idea) thus rendering my new policy of getting someone else to do it rather moot. So I stumbled, mumbled and sounded oddly posh in various places.

Some questions were too long, but that is always the way with non-chestnuts, and I read the opera and film pairs to the same side. Then I marked in the scores incorrectly because the sides were sitting opposite to the position on the sheet. A bloody good job, you will most certainly agree.

Anyway, the score was 37-23 in a three-a-side game. Not as good as my last one, but I still find it just as interesting (I also noticed that some people share my confusion-ridden weaknesses with myself - Greek islands! The bastardos). But then I would because it is just another tool for my GK improvement. Like every other question on this blog. But then I've told you that and am aware of certain repetitions creeping in here. Soon, I may have to resort to more Franglais, Spanish swear words that refer to the honour of your mother and absurd usages of Roget's Theasaurus, in order to disguise the poverty of my creative mien.

Minor note for those who actually played: Carl Orff really was German, not Swiss. I've just checked. He was born in Munich.

*Double stumper: neither side got the question

President's Cup friendly 22/10/06

Round 1
1a Only two women have won consecutive Best Actress Oscars. Name either.
LUISE RAINER (1936 and 1937), KATHARINE HEPBURN (1967 and 1968)
1b Only two women have received Oscar nominations for their acting five years running. Name either.
BETTE DAVIS (1938-42), GREER GARSON (1941-45)
2a Which Gilbert and Sullivan operetta features the characters Captain Fitzbattleaxe and King Paramount the First?*
2b What do the initials "IST" in the confederation ISTC stand for?
IRON and STEEL TRADES (Confederation)
3a The rich, sharp cheddar Windsor Red originates in which country?*
3b The moist, creamy tasting cheese Yarg comes from which county?
4a What do the initials "HSE" in the confederation COHSE stand for?*
4b Which Gilbert and Sullivan operetta features the characters Ernest Dummkopf and Dr Tannhauser?*

Round 2
1a Which Disney cartoon character is called Battouta in Arabic?*
1b Which actress famously died at 12305 Fifth Helena, Brentwood, Los Angeles?
2a To which country did the US peacekeeping mission code-named "Restore Hope" go in 1992?
2b Which Disney cartoon character is called Bondock in Arabic?*
3a The artwork of one hundred cast-iron life-size statues, collectively known as Another Place, is to be removed from which Merseyside beach on safety and health grounds?
3b Which artist used his own body to cast that statues that make up Another Place?
4a Which notorious gangster was shot and killed on June 20, 1947 at 810 Linden Drive, Beverly Hills?
4b To which country did the US peacekeeping mission code-named "Uphold Democracy" go in 1994?*

Round 3
1a Which of the Crusades saw Emperor Frederick II embark for the Holy Land in 1227?*
1b In a forthcoming adaptation of which Giles Foden novel does the American actor Forrest Whittaker play Ugandan dictator Idi Amin?
2a What form of pasta takes its name from the Italian for "twins"?
2b What form of pasta takes its name from the Italian for a "three-cornered hat"?
3a Which Czech composer's lesser known works include his opera Rusalka, as in The Water Nymph, which was first performed in 1901?
3b Which German composer's lesser known works include his opera Die Kluge, as in The Clever Girl, which was premiered in 1943?*
4a Which American actress plays the title character in the new Sofia Coppola film Marie Antoinette?
4b Which of the Crusades saw the crusaders set out from Venice and sack Constantinople in 1204, but never actually reach Jerusalem?

Round 4
1a What significance does the recent discovery of the existence of a man called John Kent, who was born near Carlisle in around 1795, have?*
1b Which man, who joined the Metropolitan Police in 1966, was previously believed to have been the first black police officer in the UK?*
2a Better known for his rock and pop music, which English musician's album Songs from the Labyrinth is currently topping the UK classical charts?
2b At £5.5 million, Emile Heskey was which Premiership team's most costly signing this summer?
3a At £3.7 million, Souleymane Diawara was which Premiership team's most costly signing during the last transfer window?
3b Which TV news presenter has written a recently published non-fiction book called On Royalty?
4a Which outspoken English singer-songwriter has written a recently published non-fiction book called The Progressive Patriot?
4b Which 26-year-old Welsh mezzo-soprano has spent more than 50 weeks in the classical charts with her album Living a Dream?

Round 5
1a Which rugby union team in this year's Heineken Cup play at Ravenhill?
1b Which boxer, holder of the IBF and WBO belts, is set for a supermiddleweight unification title bout with the Danish WBA champion Mikkel Kessler, who recently beat WBC-title holder Markus Beyer in three rounds?
2a Also of Italian parentage, which Welsh boxer and WBO holder wants to reunify the cruiserweight division with the Jamaican WBC, WBA and IBF champion O'Neil Bell?
2b Richard Rogers and his partnership won the 2006 Stirling Prize for designing which European international airport's fourth terminal?
BARAJAS airport, Madrid
3a Which Baghdad-born architect's Phaeno Science Centre in Wolfsburg was seen as the favourite for this year's Stirling Prize?
3b Which Swedish chemist proposed that chemicals produced by living creatures should be termed "organic" in 1807 and six years later devised the chemical symbols and formulae still used to represent elements and compounds?*
4a The founder of physical chemistry, which Swede suggested that electrolytes dissociate into ions, atoms or groups of atoms that carry a positive or negative charge in 1884 and also predicted global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels?*
4b Which entrant in this year's Heineken Cup play most of their home matches at Stradey Park?

Round 6
1a The 20 million-year-old skull of which prehistoric ape was discovered by Mary Leakey on Rusinga Island in Lake Victoria, Kenya in 1948?*
1b Which retailer has produced a new catalogue called The Big Red Book?
2a The clown Feste features in which Shakespeare play?
2b According to Bishop James Ussher, the world was created on this day (October 22) in which year?
4004 BCE
3a On this day in 1926, J Gordon Whitehead sucker punched which man in the stomach in Montreal, although appendicitis rather than the actual blow probably killed the man in question?
3b Living in East Africa from about 2 to 1.5 million years ago, what first true human being is also known as 1470 Man from a museum number of a skull found in Kenya in 1972?*
HOMO HABILIS ("Handy Man")
4a First compiled in 1986, what are found on the "Red List"?
4b The clown Costard features in which Shakespeare play?*

Round 7
1a Which Greek island group includes Andros, Mykonos, Milos, Paros and Santorini?
1b Published in 1853, which Charlotte Bronte novel sees Lucy Snowe travel to the eponymous city to teach at an all-girls school?
2a Which one-sided battle of 216BC saw Hannibal's Carthaginian army encircle 80,000 Romans under Consuls Varro and Paulus and kill up to 70,000 for the loss of only 5,700 men in the republic's heaviest defeat?
2b Which Greek island group includes Patmos, Tilos, Kasos, Simi and Kos?*
3a In the title of a mid-1980s BBC TV series, who was Megan Roberts?
3b Which one-sided, 18-minute battle of 1836 saw 783 men led by Sam Houston defeat 1,500 Mexicans who had been ordered to take a siesta by General Santa Anna, killing 630 men of the Mexican army for the loss of only nine Texans?
4a Published posthumously in 1857 though it was her first ever novel, what Charlotte Bronte book centred on the eponymous young man William Crimsworth and his eventual career teaching at an all-girls school?
4b In the title of an 1989-90 Channel 4 series, who was Gabriella Benson?

Round 8
1a Which chart-topping American band were known as The Blue Velvets and The Golliwogs before changing their name to the one they became famous with in 1968?
1b Which song, inspired by the story The Devil and Mrs Webster, became a UK number one for Creedence Clearwater Revival in September 1969 and was later used for appropriate scenes in the 1981 film An American Werewolf in London?
2a To which order of mammals do cats, dogs and bears belong?
2b Omar Al-Bashir has been dictator of which large African country since 1989?
3a Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, or just President Obiang, has been the dictator of which tiny West African country since 1979?
3b To which order of mammals do pigs, deer, cattle and camels belong?*
4a What did the electrical engineer Edwin H. Armstrong famously invent and patent in 1933?*
4b Born in Stroud, Gloucestershire, the engineer Edwin Beard Budding famously invented which machine in 1930?*

1 Elena Roger is currently playing the title role in which West End musical?
2 With 75 shops, Albemarle & Bond is Britain's biggest chain that specialises in what business?
3 What is the only American state with a one syllable name?
4 What term, beginning with the letter "A", describes a rhetorical form in which the same word is repeated at the beginning of a phrase or sentence?*
5 As in the form of pasta, what is the meaning of "orecchiette"?

Come to think of it, there were a bit too many unanswered questions. The experimentation continues.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Review - Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs

Finally that review of Ken Jennings's book that I've been coddling for so long that it crumbles before my very eyes every time I edit or enhance or add some surreal flight of fancy. To the river I cast thee.

Something truly surreal happened to Ken Jennings back in 2004. This self-confessed "mediocre" software engineer became the most famous quiz contestant in American television history. Not exactly an easy feat.

His record-breaking 74-show run on Jeopardy!, the hardiest and most enduring of all US quiz formats turned him into a bona fide media star, double millionaire and ultimately the author of a non-fiction book detailing his own bank balance-boosting stint on the show as well as an overview of trivia history. And you know what? It ain't half bad.

Jennings can plainly write (you get the feeling he was one of those many secret scribes who dream of a proper opportunity to show off their writing skills, but otherwise would have stayed safely anonymous) and does so with searching insight and without recourse to predictable platitudes. He interviews dozens, possibly hundreds of key figures from all over the American trivia scene and delineates a world that many non-US readers know precious little about. In fact, I reckon few of our Transatlantic cousins will be aware of many of the trivia crazes that have possessed vast sections of the populace throughout history (you will be surprised).

Yet the strange thing about Brainiac, the thing that subsumes all my thinking about the book, is that it depicts a Bizarro world. To British readers it portrays an alternative universe where the world of quiz developed along starkly different lines. We are through the looking glass, people. Jennings comes to the seemingly startling conclusion that "the play's the thing". The cash don't matter one jot. Yet this is obvious to all regular quiz competitors (or at least those who aren't going all out for Millionaire) in the UK. Any cash is a bonus. You think we play in quiz leagues on Tuesday nights for the food and mayo dip and intellectual badinage? You loon. Truth be told, we just love the thrill of knowing and accumulating trivia and putting it on public display on a regular basis. And, of course, smashing opponents into weepy submission (but we are too modest and devious to say that).

The book makes clear a fundamental dichotomy in the Anglo-American quiz-sphere. While we adopted Mastermind and University Challenge, two no-money, academic and all-prestige shows, as our flagship quiz programmes, it appears that primetime TV in the States could only see the point in big money quiz and game shows. College Bowl, for instance, didn't make it out of the sixties. No money = no sense - they might have asked where's the bright shining aspiration? The American Dream of advancing yourself materially through the means of your own mind? But if a show such as Mastermind had become an serendipitous beneficiary of some scheduling accident sometime in the 70s over there, who knows how the American trivia world might have developed differently?

Some will love exploring this alternative universe, a brave new world few Brits have even fleetingly glimpsed. Meanwhile, others will stare in blankness at Ken's skillfully deployed but intensive use of TV cultural references. I suppose, the British edition could always substitute Man About the House for Three's Company, but how ugly was Milton Berle? I have no idea (didn't have have a giant you know what?) Was his face as craggy and formless as Tommy Cooper's? Did Berle's ugliness cause people to projectile vomit in his face when they caught sight of it? Questions and puzzlement result. Then again, I can always look this stuff up on the interweb. When mention was made of Michael Chiklis's signature smooth dome, I swear I thought to myself: very bald guy from The Shield, yes! I know something about US TV! Or maybe that's because I remember how rubbish he looked playing The Thing in The Fantastic Four movie.

US pop cult connoisseurs will lap up the knowing nods and evidence of a life imbued by the knowledge gained while spent growing up in front of the TV and sucking in such shows as Family Feud. You see, here in Blightly we got Ask the Family and its inbred bastard offspring Dick and Dom's Ask the Family Not too much bending of space and time is needed to get across the fact that they are peas in the same pod, albeit with different accents and prizes.

But semantics matter. Because of the evocative impressions that simple names make in the mind and the emotional connections and flashbacks such titles as The Price is Right incite. You spend ten years watching a show and it becomes a part of the mental furniture, a reliable friend. If you have never come across a show such as Tic Tac Dough before, it is to all intents and purposes a complete stranger in which you have invested not one second of your viewing time. Therefore the show is meaningless. On the page it means nothing.

Thankfully, Brainiac avoids the pratfalls of foreign weirdness and cricket pitch subject matter with regards to what it covers. Foreigners like me won't mind all these strange and unfamiliar show names, because at the heart of it, a love of trivia reigns. Every quiz addict the world over will empathise. Having said that, however, if there is one show you love and it happens to be Jeopardy!, your existing emotional attachment to Jeopardy! means that this book is a must-read. Thankfully, the cultural investigation aspect provides ample reading for those who can't get their head round the weird reverse question and answer format and Trebek-gazing (funnily enough, if you substitute Jeremy Paxman or William G Stewart for Alex Trebek's name it all makes far more sense).

Pedantic British readers will be inclined to point out little things. For instance, Q&A newspaper columns are still alive and well in the UK, most notably in the form of the slightly batty Notes & Queries feature in The Guardian. And ho ho, major pedantry alert, on page 91 Ken writes about a certain Charles Ingram causing contestant contamination problems despite being stuck across a very wide ocean: "an army major won a million pounds thanks to some well-timed coughing by confederates in the crowd" and therefore he invites the nitpicking of those who remember Tecwen Whittock's allegedly substantial contribution from contestants' row. Which isn't really the crowd is it?

Jeopardy! is also advanced as a "fast-paced show" with 61 questions squeezed into every episode. And this is true, compared to the glacial running of Millionaire with its increasingly irritating umming and awwing. However, what about the 40 quick-fire questions finalists in every show of Fifteen-to-One answered in less than ten minutes (forgetting the first half of the programme). And what about the 35 to theoretically maximum 40 questions every Mastermind contestant receives in the space of four extremely nervy minutes in Gestapo-style interrogation (it's true. I never make Nazi jokes)? If Jeopardy is a rat-atat-tat machine gun, then Mastermind is a Gatling gun going "RRRRRRR". Or that Mini-gun Jesse Ventura brandishes in Predator. You get my drift.

This does not reflect badly on Ken's conclusions. Far from it. It just shows up the differences that divide the US and UK quiz cultures (never mind the vast portions of sport, local politics and other paraphernalia that are alien to both ... I mean, NCAA basketball, college football ... sheer bloody madness). We were brought up with different expectations and different formats. We think different things. It is something to bear in mind.

Take the term "trivia". Trivia is the actually the American equivalent of what we call "quiz" or "general knowledge". It took me a few dozen pages of this book to finally get my head round it. Though Ken says he doesn't think much of the name "trivia" and meets aficionados who think the term shortchanges what the true worth of the pastime, he never ceases using the word "trivia" and never does what any Brit would do and call it "quiz". Come to think of it we never even use the term "trivia" over here to denote anything to do with quiz (unless it is a quiz book title that needs a spot of t-t alliteration). I hate the word, not that it is trivia's fault. But it is one letter away from being trivial.

Somehow Jennings's occasional wrestling with the term seemed oddly moot because it is something that never troubles British quizzers like myself. If we've over-used "quiz" and "general knowledge", we then resort to the simple straightforward word "facts". Just like Isaac Asimov (I bet he would have hated calling his Books of Fact "Trivia Books", even though the contents were basically identical to every other trivia book). You cannot doubt the authority of the word "fact", unlike that casual, dumbed down, good for nothing, party dude "trivia".

Actually, I only really recoiled from the use of "trivia" when it was used in the phrase "pub trivia" to refer to that proud British icon the "pub quiz". Even using the phrase "pub trivia" one time was enough to irk me. Once was too much. A desecration of the traditional quiz glossary. This is because term "pub quiz" or "quiz night" implies an event. What does "pub trivia" mean to you? I think it sounds silly. To me, it signals trivia to do with the pub; i.e. questions about The Lamb public house; pub rituals like drinking beer from trainers, and questions on all bar snacks from chilli rice biscuits to cockles. Where's the beginning and the end? When will it stop for the love of God!!!

I can't for the life of me recall a single pub quiz book that had the words "pub trivia" in its title (yep, go prove me wrong with dozens of examples and rub them in my face). It was the only chapter (Ken has a fun old time playing in a pub trivia contest with a long serving and nicely obsessed team) I felt like going "Oi! Jennings no!" (that's a British TV reference by the way ... une peu de vengeance).

Looking at it objectively, the American use of the term "trivia" and our use of "quiz" does reflect something of the national character, if I may say so very haughtily. Trivia is breezy and easy-going and fun. Quiz on the other hand stands for seriousness, respect and achievement. Both have their positives and negatives. Plus, you have to remember that quizzes are called tests in UK schools. Us Brits reserve purely the "quiz" word for trivia contests and competitions, so there are no real connotations of educational snootiness.

Sample line for British readers: "So why is pub quiz still a niche activity in America when it's practically a national pastime - certainly up there with cricket, whining and overcooking their food - in the United Kingdom?" (p.219)

Don't worry I've whined myself out.

Those niggly little things should, however, be overwhelmed by the countless gems and trivia-related factoids, starting the revelation of the one time big money British radio quiz champion Plantagenet Somerset Fry, who won a princely sum of £512 back in the fifties. Then there are the various phenomenona laid out before us: the long history of the trivia book, the campus trivia fad of the sixties, the infamous Columbo's first name lawsuit, why women don't go for quizzes the way us blokes do - all explained and discussed in compelling detail. These mini-investigations could have been stand alone chapters, but are instead skilfully weaved into the chapters that begin at some point in the Jennings' success story. Come to think of it, it's like those flashback scenes in Wayne's World. I liked those bits and the way the screen went wavy.

The chapter on question-writing and the nine styles of questions may not have revealed anything that this setter didn't already know, but it crystallised many of the precepts I adhere to, as well as give me the word "pin" for that arduous process I endure every fortnight when I have to triple-verify a batch of 59 quiz questions. Were it not for that self-imposed process I might again suffer the horrific pain and indignity of numerous know-alls posting on websites, emailing me, writing me letters and phoning me up, just to tell me that Z in the phonetic alphabet does not stand for Zebra. If you get something wrong, be sure that there are teeming masses of people who want to wag their figures in your face and correct you with glee.

Only my reasons for writing vast numbers of questions seem out of kilter with the rest of the setting-community. Granted I do it for a bit of money, but the overwhelming reason is because I want to learn more about subjects I feel relatively weak on (just like Quiz Bowlers). I also write questions on what interests me. In truth, it's just another weapon in my unceasing bid for quiz champion pre-eminence. Yes, world domination. There I've said it. And since it has gone into overdrive during the last year, it has helped me no end in nailing down stuff I've been confusing for years. (As it has undoubtedly aided Kevin Ashman since he gave up his civil service job to write questions for Brain of Britain that Radio 4 "general knowledge contest").

Brainiac also builds on and illuminates the stories you heard before. The explanation of the Twenty One scandal also makes for compulsive reading as it extricates the history from the death of the American dream fictionalision portrayed in Robert Redford's film Quiz Show. Much of the story and incidental details made it into the film, but somehow I found Jenning's take on it and his analysis of the original show tapes much more compelling. He has the quiz addict's eye for what really matters to us, e.g. there was no way they could possibly spell out the full name and title when the surname will surely do.

However, being a sucker for stories of the Quiz Bowl circuit I found that particular chapter the most fascinating. QB is quiz competition taken to its highest, most esoteric and academic heights and is played by hundreds of teams and thousands of players across the US. Just reading that Subash Madipotti wrote 8,500, yes, eight and a half-thousand possible lead-ins for starters at the 2003 NAQT ICT where he top scored in astounding fashion by averaging 11 starters a match, not only plants a note of sheer admiration and awe in me. It also gives me ideas I never considered about my so far seemingly shoddy preparation for tourneys.

That level of organisation, obsession and participation has never taken root here, despite the valiant attempts of Rob Linham (quoted here as "British quiz veteran" and lover of questions to do with Viagra) and the Oxford University Quiz Society. So I am extremely envious of our American cousins in that regard. In the UK, University Challenge sates most students' trivia ambitions and has the added bonus of being on evening television. Why would they want to do it away from TV cameras and adoring audiences? Who sees the fun in competing with harder questions against battle hardened teams? Apart from me and my mates, that is.

The writing style never grates. For the most part Jennings avoids the bombastic wise-ass prose adopted by AJ Jacobs in his yuk-yuk book about reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and seen at its most off-putting in such mouthy gits as sports scribe Rick Reilly (hmm, then again, there is that comment about Alex Trebek's now departed moustache ... I said "for the most part"). One reviewer has commented it is too glib, but then it is a high-wire balancing act trying to be funny and self-deprecating in a book that at the heart of it boils down to one giant march to trivia glory. He could have fallen into the sad and cheap celeb biography trap that ensnares so many overnight stars or turned his book into the trivia equivalent of Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom (which might have been funny). He doesn't.

In Brainiac Jennings never once looks like plummeting to earth or teetering in woah-there fashion, though yet another reviewer (perhaps the same one) has mentioned that the book is a bit light on the whole Jeopardy! winning streak. Sure, you do realise that you get a number of snapshots and vignettes rather than the full-on Jeopardy! experience. And that's a good thing. Including more games, no matter how scintillating, might have resulted in the balancing act being upended. You don't want to skirt the realm of the obsessive chess kibitzer, analysing game after game in microscopic detail. Having said that, people can always go on the J-Archive and relive the matches in their own little way (wigs, flat daddies as contestants, home-made set with Xmas tree lights, tape recordings of Trebek).

Jennings's book acts as a worthy companion piece to our own survey of the British quiz world, Marcus Berkmann's Brain Men, as if illustrating the aforementioned alternative dimension. I just hope it sells more than Marcus's nifty little opus, which he told me in disappointed tones sold one-fifteenth as many copies as its quasi-prequel on obsessed club cricketers, Rain Men.

The crux of the problem, as I see it is that quiz subculture in the UK let alone in the US may not be pervasive enough to make a book examining the trivia phenomenon a true bestseller. The problem is not that the books are bad - far from it - the problem is convincing sizeable numbers of book lovers and quiz show and trivia fans to buy it. There are many trivia books out there, take fancy Schott's Original Miscellany, but they provide pure streams of knowledge and the constant joy of discovering something you don't know in a sea of apparent randomness. Try to explain the obsession and readers might think you lose some of the magic. Try to explain that you have written a book about why people like to answer questions and they may think you are nuts.

The very concept of a book which surveys the entire quiz subculture is utterly alien to the book-buying public (and I would say trivia buffs are firmly in that camp). In fact there is no tradition about first person quiz show addicts exploring their obsession in book form. In this way, Brainiac is trying to set a precedent in the US market. I am inclined to believe that it has to create a new audience or at least draw the willing yet disparate readers out from their assorted nooks and crannies and get the book in their hands and set them off. It is a hard ask.

Put simply, trivia buffs are not united by a common format everyone adheres to like chess or Scrabble. It is nebulous and diffuse; the formats, games and TV shows are many and varied in number. People often subscribe solely to one form of the quiz: be it pub trivia, quiz bowl/buzzer quiz or just doing TV and radio shows. Many shy away from attempting them all or leaving a self-perceived comfort zone.

There is no central organising body as in games such as Scrabble and therefore no unified system to buy into with a clear set of achievable objectives and ultimate endgame (e.g. the nationals or the world championships). Of course, things have changed in recent years, but the vast majority of quiz lovers live in ignorance of such events as the World Quizzing Championships. There is something about addiction to trivia that is not specific enough. There is no single board game that people can pull out the world over with the word QUIZ emblazoned on it. People most definitely have the urge, but not the uniform means to indulge it with absolutely everyone else.

Certainly, Stefan Fatsis's brilliant book on Scrabble - Word Freak - took advantage of everyone's singular focus on that game. There aren't any rival word games diluting the audience. Scrabble is the master of its lettered domain and so there was a massive ready made readership waiting to see their almost identically passionate and no doubt fraught relationship with the game reflected in the highs and lows of Fatsis's attempt to make it as a first rate Scrabble player.

Trivia fans are different. They can live in their own world, just feeding off a weekly showing of University Challenge. Scratching that fact-hungry itch every Monday night is enough. Then they easily slip back into civilian life. Figures may suggest that one in ten Britons consider themselves a "quizaholic", but the vast majority (99 per cent I think) are happy to sate the quizzer in them by just sitting in their comfy armchair and shouting their answers at the screen.

I am certain that TV love of quiz shows has dissipated the appeal of competitive quizzing. If it wasn't such a regular presence on TV, acting as a convenient and cheap schedule filler where everyone can play along at home, then more people would get together and indulge their hobby. Sturdier organisation and heavily subscribed tournaments would surely follow.

Therefore, a lack of standardisation that makes for a weakness in harnessing a trivia-loving audience for not only the book, but also quiz championships. Also, think of the way that a beautifully simple format such as Texas Hold 'Em has enthralled millions of poker players all over the world. The trivia world does not have that.

How can we unite and become one global community? Give me a few years to ponder that particular dilemma. And a few thousand quid as well. For my trouble.

Anyway, I'm just rambling now. I hope Brainiac sells well. It deserves to. Spirited, pleasingly inquisitive (as it had to be, as Ken admits: "I started writing this book knowing next to nothing about the history and culture of trivia") and perhaps most importantly witty. Wit matters. If something doesn't make you smile on a regular basis, then it just ain't worth it.

Brainiac basically tells you things you never knew before and introduces you to people you have never heard of but certainly want to know more about. Which is all I can ever ask of my chosen reading material. Oh, and the book has trivia questions up the wazoo. Obviously. Each chapter includes about a dozen embedded trivia teasers that directly relate to the narrative, with their answers revealed at the end. They are pretty good.

Finally, there is one line for British quiz fans that will certainly ring bells of realisation. When asked why the British filled their life with trivia and extraneous detail which they loved to collect and hoard and later spread the habit to the States like some nerdy plague, one interviewee replies "the weather". Gosh. Everything suddenly makes sense.