THOUGHT PIECE the carling team

Who Doesn’t Love A Pub Quiz?

After four months of doom and gloom looking at climate change and carbon dioxide emissions we thought we would stay in the pub but consider something lighter and a lot more fun – the pub quiz.

We are all aware that pubs are having a tough time at the moment. But happily there does seem to be a surefire way of bringing paying customers through the door: the humble pub quiz. It is said that about half of the nation’s pubs have a weekly quiz. A recent survey suggested that Durham was the country’s pub quiz capital with 24 weekly offerings in a city of 50,000, with Chichester, Wakefield, Salisbury and Preston making up the rest of the top five.

The pub quiz is mostly a British phenomenon and a relatively recent one. There were quiz leagues rather like darts teams in some northern counties just after the war but the idea really caught on after the success in the mid-1980s of Trivial Pursuit. Now you can hardly turn the telly on without being asked questions in increasing bizarre circumstances as channels vie for popularity.

The first mass-market pub quiz company was Burns and Porter founded in 1976 and soon dominated a growing industry producing books and also providing their services to the BBC. Sharon Burns and Tom Porter made sure their quizzes became an easy way to boost trade on the quieter nights of the week. It was, as it has remained, an easy sell. Cheap to host, quizzes attract a regular clientele of dedicated regulars, often obsessive as well as those who just want to have a good time and a few beers. These rabidly competitive hardcore quizzers will challenge the question master vehemently if he mispronounces a word!

Advertising is key to letting folk know that there is a quiz on in your pub. Note the Belgian one

You do not need to be a Mastermind or an Egghead to take part. Not all of us are good at karaoke or darts. We all have specialist knowledge, some very specialised. From my own experience the very burly prop forward from the local rugby team knows all the lyrics of Britney Spears songs while his opposite number has an encyclopedic knowledge of past Love Island contestants!

Why do people go to pub quizzes? There is good company and camaraderie, hopefully during a night of fun and laughter. A chance to chill out with friends on an evening to look forward to each week. A chance to have a few beers away from the TV set or the PlayStation enjoying friendly competition with other regular teams. For some it is a chance to show off your knowledge, learn something new or the chance to win free drinks, prizes or money! Either way you will certainly feel a part of a community.

The picture round from Redtooth, there are six other spoken rounds

It costs a fortune for a pub to screen a football match and folk sit there for ninety minutes nursing a half pint. You can get a very credible pub quiz for less than £9 a week from biggest provider Redtooth. It seems that as the camaraderie and excitement unfold that quizzers drink more than footy fans! Redtooth is a pub entertainment company which sends out ready-to-go quizzes to more than 3,000 pubs a week. Once there was single weekly quiz and those determined to win would get the answers from one pub on a Tuesday night and then go and win at another pub on the Wednesday! Some would follow amateur quizmasters around as they would most likely ask the same questions in a number of local pubs.

Cheating will always be a problem now that we all have mobile access to the inexhaustible knowledge of Mr Google. Is the pub quiz now just a test of who can text their brainy mates the quickest? A warning to put phones away and leave them on the table if you have to go to the loo usually works and there is a deterrent effect if the host uses a roving microphone. If he does walk round the room make sure that the paper he is reading from does not contain the answers! Quick fire verbal answers also work but they usually end up in raucous bedlam which is difficult for the host to control.

Quizzers in action at a Coventry pub

So what makes a good quiz? You need interesting questions that are not too difficult. My neighbour went to a session at the local pub, he only went the once and has christened it the ‘Quantum Physics quiz’. Here each table took turns to provide a question master. Setting questions is an art in itself and clearly he went when that art was lacking. It is a matter of making things interesting. Question providers need to check the question is unambiguous and that the answer is correct. ‘The decision of the quizmaster will be final, even if later proved wrong’ will not engender a long term career in the post. The quiz should be perfectly pitched: hard enough to serve as a challenge, yet accessible to the point where victory is a realistic prospect.

There are no hard and fast rules to what does and doesn’t make a good pub quiz. A robust mixture of questions and the sense that a degree of passion and thoroughness had gone into its composition. Christmas cracker shorties are to be shunned. Author Marcus Berkmann is reputed to run the country’s most difficult quiz at the Prince of Wales in Highgate, London. Competitors comments include ‘perfectly difficult’ and ‘joyfully frustrating’!

Feelings can run high anywhere. Biros and beer have been thrown and there can be a lot of gloating and sulking as emotions take over. One dispute between a contestant and the question master led to a £17,500 county court case while police in Bristol were called to a quiz which got a bit out of hand. Why do some competitors enter civilised and good humoured and leave bitter, irrational and extremely hostile?

Richard Curtis in front of his webcam during the Covid.

To engage customers who could not get to the pub during lockdown, many pubs turned to on-line quizzes as well as home deliveries. Records were broken. Richard Curtis of the Portsmouth Arms pub in Basingstoke got into the Guinness Book of World Records for conducting the longest quiz. Following a 34 hour and 11 minute virtual quiz, Richard raised more than £21,000 for The Pink Place Cancer Charity in Basingstoke. He had previously raised £40,000 for local charities through his on-line quizzes. There were three 50 question zoom sessions on Saturday and Sunday with two each day during the week which must have kept him very busy. Another Guinness record during lockdown went to Jay Flynn, a former publican for his 182,000 participating households on April 30, 2022. Jay is credited with raising over £1.3m for various charities through his Facebook and YouTube contests and that gained him an MBE for ‘raising the spirits of the nation’.

The image of the amateur local quizmaster toiling away at his labour of love, recompensed with a few pints from the bar, is perhaps a romantic one. Provision is becoming increasingly professionalised. We have seen Redtooth which will post a pack of questions along with 20 picture round pages. Paired with a capable host, they work well but there are now many fully electronic offerings out there. The pub needs big screens, enough so that all teams can see one but it does save the faff of linking a laptop into the pub PA system and the question master is available on line and does not get through six pints during the evening.

In my view that is not the same as having a quizmaster – you cannot argue against the computer! So here we have a simple format, with simple joys. People love to argue the toss over anything.

But the quiz continues to evolve. Spare a thought for the Outrageous Speed Dating Pub Quiz which has teams of six, with three boys and three girls. Apparently it is all about speed! After each round, the boys will move and you’ll have the chance to mingle with some more singles! A mixture of daring challenges and trivia questions we are told.

The quiz should be fun

To sum up, this is what ChatGPT came up with… Diverse questions on a mix of topics and difficulty levels to cater to various interests and knowledge levels. Well-researched and balanced questions that do not favour any particular team or individual. An enthusiastic and entertaining quizmaster who can keep the atmosphere lively. Rounds should incorporate interactive elements with pictures, music or physical challenges. Why do tables of female quizzers persist in making playdough penises?

There must be clear rules on team size as ten brains must stand a better chance than two. A maximum of six is usual. Each individual or table would pay an entrance fee to go towards the prize fund. You can even offer a bonus point for a team name which makes the room laugh.

The quiz should be of a reasonable duration to keep participants engaged without dragging on too long. There should be breaks to encourage replenishment of glasses, the pub needs to make something from the evening after all. There should be attractive prizes or incentives to motivate participation and competitiveness.

The social atmosphere must be right, creating a fun and sociable environment to encourage participation and repeat attendance. The pub needs a regular schedule: weekly or monthly. Feedback from participants will help hone the evening to perfection.

Remember, the key is to strike a balance between challenging questions and a fun, inclusive atmosphere.

The quiz should be fun. The pub quiz is a little community and that is what pubs are made for.

To finish with…these are stinkers….

At which Olympics did women’s boxing make its official Olympic debut?

Which English philosopher wrote ‘Leviathan’ in 1651?

Which British cathedral is known for its central octagonal tower?

In Celsius, what is the melting point of gold?

What is the largest species of owl in the world?

What is the capital of Tajikistan?