Even at the tender age of 20, I’m something of a quiz veteran. I’ve done quizzes since I was around 8 or 9, when I was part of the winning team of the (now defunct) Dingwall Gala’s Quiz. It was a night that got me hooked on flaunting my considerable, yet otherwise useless, general knowledge. Since then I’ve been involved in countless quizzes in different locations and for different reasons.
The highlight of my quizzing career has got to be getting to the Scottish final of the Rotary Primary School Quiz twice, and coming 2nd and 3rd. However, the one I’ve enjoyed most has easily been the one hosted at my local pub, The Mallard, every Wednesday. It’s been perhaps the only constant in my week since I turned 18 (when I’m at home in Dingwall), and is an event that I wouldn’t miss come hell or high water. It’s got a killer mixture of being challenging and fun as well as having my friends and a steady stream of drinks there as well.
I think the beauty of quizzes is that they are all different, and that anyone with a bit of a brain can win one depending on the type of quiz.
Here are the seven things that a quiz needs to be a good ‘un:
Easy(ish) to Win
Let’s face it – it’s not fun to sit in your chair question after question and sigh as you’re asked to do the impossible. You can’t answer what you don’t know, so a quiz should aim to give the majority of people the chance to do well. Having a close finish with a few teams is even exciting for those lagging behind, as it gives the place a buzz that’s great to be a part of. You’re there to take part, but taking part is so much more fun when you’re [in with a chance of] winning. In saying that though, without a challenge to the questions people will start to lose interest as if one person can cover all the answers themselves there’s no real reason for the rest to pipe up. As with everything, you need a healthy balance.
Those Brain-racking Questions
Every quiz should have a few questions where people are left kicking themselves when they learn the answer. Having those tip-of-the-tongue answers are not only all the more memorable when you get them right and an overwhelming sense of pride takes over – but also when you don’t, as a new weapon in your trivia arsenal. These should be what separates the winners from the losers at the end of the quiz and should inspire such clichéd classics as “We’d have won if we’d known ” and “It’s that  question that got us”.
A quiz shouldn’t be over before it’s begun, but neither be too long-winded that people get bored. Too short and people wonder why they’ve bothered turning up and too long people find more intrigue in the drinks behind the bar than the questions. I think five rounds of ten questions is probably the sweet-spot, with enough time to get into the quiz if you miss/do badly at the start but also short enough that doing well early on will win it for you. It also means you don’t get too plastered if everything goes completely Pete Tong.
Staring at question sheets or plain old text on a screen for a few hours repeatedly can get a little stale at times, so livening things up with something a bit more interactive is important. Having rounds where people need to look or listen to something is another great way of getting people to get involved, and often lets them have a moment of glory that they wouldn’t otherwise.
A quiz isn’t a quiz without a round that does something a little bit differently. At The Mallard’s quiz it’s the Connections round, where the first nine answers are joined by a common theme which you have to find to answer the tenth and final question. It’s a brilliant way of getting people involved in the quiz and thinking a bit more laterally about their answers. People who don’t normally contribute pop up with their guesses, because having a wrong answer isn’t something to fear. There’s many other great novelty rounds as well, such as a Pointless round (named after the TV show: a team that guesses the most obscure answer wins more points than anyone else) or a round where you can bet some of your points on you being right with the chance of earning more.
We have all seen some stereotyped version of a quiz with old fogies individually huddled around tables with only the dulcet tones of a slow quizmaster and the odd clink of glasses to be heard. That’s not a fun time. Quizzes should be fun. There should be some sort of entertainment on between rounds to keep things ticking over while people discuss what could or should have been. People should be allowed to talk as they please and as loud as they want, surely giving away answers to other teams is punishment enough if they do.
A Great Quizmaster
This is the absolute make-or-break element of a quiz. A great quiz needs a great quizmaster to make it run as well as possible. The quizmaster should be able to keep things flowing nicely and above all make sure that the quiz is fun and worth doing. They should have a laugh and a joke and keep the mood light. They should step in and stop people that are out to ruin things by cheating or otherwise disrupting the quiz.
These are the things that make a quiz great, and it’s no coincidence that I’ve basically described The Mallard’s pub quiz in detail. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea most of the time, but I think when it is done right that a pub quiz can be as good a night out as any.