If you can’t go to the pub quiz, let the pub quiz come to you. Friends and families across the globe are uniting online to argue over whether Marilyn Monroe really had six toes
Twenty years ago I used to frequent a weekly pub quiz and have avidly tuned into Mastermind and University Challenge ever since. On that basis I ought to be a mine of information, a boffin worthy of sitting in the big black chair itself, except I’ve the memory of a fish* – which is great for re-reading books (because I’ve forgotten how, say, Gone Girl ends) but dire for regular quizzing.
On the inaugural night itself, we had chilled beer and bar snacks ready – he even made a backdrop sign (‘Family Misfortunes’)
Still, my insatiable appetite for general knowledge persists, so when my boyfriend announced he was setting up an online “pub” quiz for his family, I agreed quicker than you can say “Can I have a P please, Bob?”
On the inaugural night itself, we had chilled beer and bar snacks ready – he even made a backdrop sign (‘Family Misfortunes’) – but stopped short of buying metal Guinness plaques, making the floor sticky and hiring a staple bar-fly to interrupt our conversations, to truly simulate an Irish pub. Sure, it’s only a matter of time before a Zoom-bomber ticks that last box anyway.
Speaking of Zoom, the fun and games started when my boyfriend set up his parents, remotely, with the virtual conferencing software du jour. Wails of “I can see you but I can’t hear you…” to four baffled teams went on for the first 30 minutes as they grappled with the technology. But practice has made nearly perfect: now the Barry Family quizzes only take two hours instead of three.
Also, the concept of couples working as a team was initially lost on his mam and dad, who squabbled so much over their answers that they each proposed separate ones, much to the family’s chagrin. Half points have also proved to be moot. For instance, is it fair to give a single player an extra point per category when they’re up against couples? Or is it tough titty?
Eureka vs Uranus
Virtual quizzes also work on the trust that no one is secretly Googling the answers off-screen, similar to the real-life sneaky Petes who might shuffle off to the loo, to type in ‘Which country has the longest coastline?’ (answer: Canada). However, apart from Charles Ingram, most ardent quizzers take the whole business very seriously indeed and would rather shout “Uranus!” to any old answer than resort to dirty rotten cheating.
It's just you, your quiz partner and a notepad with some delicious slips of the pen, such as ‘Wutherings Heights’ and ‘Cheewahwah’ (chihuahua)
You are on your own here. There’s no 50/50, asking the audience or phoning a friend. There’s no Jeremy Paxman giving short shrift if you’re taking too long to come up with a definitive answer (“come on!”). No Countdown clock heightening the suspense. Just you, maybe your quiz partner and a notepad with some delicious slips of the pen, such as ‘Wutherings Heights’ and ‘Cheewahwah’ (chihuahua). It’s always the wrong answers that cause the most mirth, such as attributing You’re So Vain to Kate Bush. “Kate Bush wouldn’t piss on that song!” he hoots, as his sister facepalms.
And over on Skype, my family. Suspecting that Canadian street food probably hasn’t arrived yet in Britain’s East Midlands, as quizmaster I ask for the three ingredients in poutine – and am pleasantly surprised that two out of three teams get it right. That’ll teach me for being a liberal elite snob, I conclude. Mum and dad, though, get it very wrong. “Crabs, salmon and cream?” which is subsequently met by a unanimous peal of liberal elite snobbish laughter.
Ever the provocateur, my Dubliner boyfriend tells my British brethren, “So the next category is on the English occupancy of Ireland…” It’s all in good fun, of course, and technical mishaps aside – the obligatory screen freeze rendering your opponents grotesquely pixelated – you quickly start to enjoy the comforting motifs: the holding up of a large writing pad to “secretly” confer", the weekly refrain of “I can’t remember his name but I can see him as plain as day!” and the shared trials and tribulations of supermarket shopping during halftime “comfort breaks”.
The same questions will crop up so that those with even the shortest memories will remember that babies are born without kneecaps, New York was originally called New Amsterdam, octopi have three hearts
When you’ve been doing these quizzes long enough and with different groups, the same questions will crop up so that those with even the shortest memories will remember that babies are born without kneecaps, New York was originally called New Amsterdam, octopi have three hearts, Pete Conrad was the third man on the Moon and Vatican City is the world’s smallest country.
Many quizzers use the same online resources so when it’s your turn to compile questions, don’t just click on the first three pub quizzes Google throws up. Dig around and also make up your own head-scratchers based on, for instance, your favourite films, books, music or, er, rivers.
You're the one that I onesie
Also be sure to fact-check before you think you’re satisfied with your list. A bit of post-match analysis after one quiz revealed that giraffe’s tongue can be variously and correctly described as blue, black or purple in colour, and Marilyn Monroe never had six toes at all – it was a Chinese whisper based on two Joseph Jasgur photos from 1946 that looked like she had an extra digit. Ha! Learn to be an expert quibbler if not an expert quizzer.
Next week my parents are back in the quizmasters’ chair and we’re all wearing onesies for no reason. Perhaps not the men. And definitely not my sister, who wouldn’t stoop to such slovenly levels so long as sequin and leopard print separates exist.
So to paraphrase Olivia Newton-John: Let’s get quizzical. You won’t regret it. Except, perhaps, when you’re racking your brain to remember that thing you learned about the Vatican City last week. Doh!
*All good fact-checkers - and nature fans - will know that fish do actually have more than a three-second memory. It’s a mere myth that is helpful to the likes of writers trying to string one sentence to another in an opening paragraph about quizzing.
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