Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Full "How To" Article

Got a nice bottle of Andrew Motion's Oloroso, I 'ave

Of course, there was a lot more I wanted to put in the article (I could have added 2000 words in fact) and much ended up being cut to fit the space (my own fault for overwriting), so this is what I actually filed.

Unedited How to be a whoo-weee at quizzzy stuff

It was a moment I had been dreading. We had been lagging behind, but magnificent 100 per cent scores on the fifth and sixth rounds of this year’s PEN Quiz had propelled The Times’ Thunderers into a tie for first place with HarperCollins and The Guardian.

As the paper's elected representative – the one who happens to set the times2 quiz – the heavy burden of taking to the stage, winning the tie-break and bringing home the trophy for only the second time would, gulp, fall to me.

After the first tie-break question about the origin of the word “bombast” elicited only wrong guesses (I swear I thought Philip Hensher - standing to my right - would have got that), another came and, as the words “Francis II” “bought” and “portrait” came out of host David Mitchell’s mouth, my mental reflexes kicked in and I spat out “Mona Lisa!” Correct. It was something I recalled reading in a book about art that came free with The Observer.

Winning this prestigious quiz for the first time since 2004, a fundraising event attended by many of the biggest brains in the literary and media world, was no easy task and, it must be said, involved a lot of luck. Sheer good luck, as in plumping for the right choice in a 50/50, is often the decisive factor when the score margins are so tight.

But, good fortune aside, how do you win any quiz? The answer is so obvious I feel idiotic saying it: you must know the answers. Actually, let me put it another way. A quiz is essentially a general knowledge lottery. The more tickets you buy, i.e. the more facts you collect and store away, the more likely your numbers will come up. And it is all the better if you have an innate talent for remembering stuff allied with a ravenous hunger for the world and all it contains. This curiosity has, in my case, translated into full-on quiz addiction.

If you want to win a standard, humdrum pub quiz, you can bore yourself senseless by rote-learning trivia books of interminable lists filled with FA Cup winners that do nothing for your soul or mental well-being. But to win the kind of quizzes that invoke descriptions of participants weeping at the sheer difficulty takes a lot more skill than simple “What is the capital of Croatia?” recall.

The best and most interesting kind of questions – the ones often asked at PEN – may appear maddeningly obscure at first glance, but because they have been laden with enough clues (e.g. a year, a certain noun), require deduction and a just a touch of lateral thinking to solve them. It also helps to remember that, presuming they are not sadists, they wouldn’t ask it if the answer was so boring as to be pointless. A question about which Eurovision Song Contest winner appears in the lyrics to John Lennon’s 'Imagine' may appear initially absurd, but once you ponder the song’s utopia-inclined content, there is only one feasible answer – Brotherhood of Man.

It also helps to know the tricks of the quiz-writing trade: the little tics and techniques setters employ when constructing questions. The aforementioned addiction has evolved into a question-writing career. Aside from penning quizzes for The Times, my various TV jobs include being one of the University Challenge setters.

Thus, I spend my days filling dozens of notebooks with potential material for starters and bonus sets, gleaned from every possible medium whenever I can. And after a while you develop an eye for the kind of trivia titbits that jump out of a newspaper article and demand to be made into questions, which helps when you are doing other people’s quizzes and you realise that the setters have had the same “Eureka” moment.

There is, however, no substitute for serious participation, and this is where the thorny accusations of “professionalism” truly come to the fore (as if the question-writing wasn’t enough). I am a long-time regular on the Quizzing circuit, a series of monthly national and international events where competition is fierce and the questions are always taxing. Recent performances have ensured my regular selection for the four-man England team, as well as a ranking of fourth in Europe.

Earlier this month, I took part in the European Quizzing Championships in Holland and very nearly did a “Michael Phelps”. Having won gold medals in the National Team, Club and Pairs events, I fell short in the individual competition where I placed a very respectable second behind Kevin Ashman, the man deemed to be the greatest quizzer in the world.

Playing against the very best on the very hardest questions will prepare you for any quiz, and my own regime for competing in them, and all trivia-related contests, boils down to this simple piece of advice: read as widely as possible and remember as much as you can.


Anonymous Jura Quiz Master said...

Hi That Quiz Guy!

I hope you don’t mind me contacting you, but I just wanted to let you know about the new online Pub Quiz that we’re running for Jura single malt on www.isleofjura.com.

Every week, Jura will be giving one lucky winner a bottle of whisky from their classic bottling range (ranging between around £25 and £50 per bottle) for correctly answering the Question of the Week.

At the end of 12 months, the Diurach with the maximum correct answers will win a bottle of the very special Jura 1974 (worth over £500). All you need to do enter is sign up on the Jura website.

Let me know if you'd like more info?


5:25 AM  

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