The Volatile World Of Quizzing

A look into the competitive world of the local quiz league, where a wrong answer can have the fieriest of consequences
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It was all going to kick off. There’d been an undercurrent all evening. Something wasn’t sitting right. Tension simmering. The odd barbed comment. The odd snipe. The odd stare. Building. Balled fists tightening. Then it happened. Chairs screeched back. On their feet. In each other’s faces. The confrontation:

“You’ve been doing this long enough to know the rules!”

“You’ve been at it all night!”

“He asked him for more and he couldn’t give any!”

“Nehru should be good enough, it’s ridiculous!”

“Just sit down and play the quiz!”

Welcome to the strange and often volatile word of quizzing.

The quiz in this case is the local quiz league. I’m asking the questions. The question that led to the threat of physical violence?

“Which leader of the Indian independence movement became the first Prime Minister of independent India?”

The answer I was given?


The answer on my sheet, provided to me by the first division team who set the questions:

‘Pandit Nehru’

You see, the rule is if the word or phrase is underlined, that’s the part needed in the answer. ‘Nehru’ on its own wasn’t good enough. My hands were tied. They knew the rules. We knew the rules. We all knew the rules for God’s sake! Yet such is the ferocity of competition in the world of quizzing that this can be cast aside. Indignation takes hold. Outrage and arguments follow.

Oh, and the other rule of quizzing? The quizmaster is always right. Pandit was to cost them dear. The match ended in a draw.

For those unfamiliar with quiz leagues, you can find them all over the country. There’s no doubt one near you if you have a quick Google. My local league, the Airedale is in its 46th season – running from September to May – one of the oldest was formed in Bootle in Merseyside in 1959, whilst the Derbyshire league has a great website which gives you an idea of what it’s all about.


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Teams play out of pubs (remember them?) and assorted members’ and sports clubs. Teams can be friends, workmates, drinking partners… you get the idea, and play each other home and away in a league system, scoring points for wins or draws. The exact rules of play vary from league to league but there’s usually two teams of four answering either individual or team questions. If you’re lucky you might get food – anything from sandwiches to takeaway pizza, and get to see those mysterious back rooms in pubs, not accessible to mere mortal non quizzers.

Sadly though, successive governments’ war on pubs and drinkers through extortionate taxes and misinformation has seen a decline in both the number of teams entering and the number of pubs hosting. In some cases teams bearing the name of one pub now play out of another - the original pub now flats or a Tesco Express. Teams have become nomadic, and leagues which once boasted three divisions have been cut down to two.

But don’t let this give you the impression that quiz leagues are dying out. The British appetite for quizzing is obvious. Just take a look through the TV schedules. The success of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Pointless, The Weakest Link and The Chase shows enduring lure of simple question and answer based entertainment.

Of course questions and answers set correctly to start with helps. Nothing riles the dedicated quizzer more than a badly researched question, or one that’s plain wrong. Examples such as:

Q What was the first reggae song to reach #1?

A Diary of Horace Wimp by ELO

A genuine example by the way. These can be met with at best ridicule and at worst full on temper tantrums and arguments about what the ‘correct’ answer actually is. We are playing for points here after all. The retired teachers, doctors, civil servants and real ale drinking quizzers are capable of being frothed up into the highest levels of pedantry at the drop of a vowel.

Make a name for yourself on the quiz circuit though and you could make a living out of it. Barry Simmons competed in the Airedale Quiz league for years. Looking back through the records sees him crowned champion (Aire Brain) or runner up numerous times in the individual or paired events. If the name seems familiar, that’s because he’s now on BBC2’s Eggheads along with Going For Gold winner Daphne Fowler and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire millionaire ever though she already was a millionaire Judith Keppel. He is a professional quizzer. Living the quizzing dream.

The retired teachers, doctors, civil servants and real ale drinking quizzers are capable of being frothed up into the highest levels of pedantry at the drop of a vowel.

If the slightly too po-faced Quiz League isn’t for you, there’s always that other great British tradition, the pub quiz. With prizes ranging from bottles of wine, to cash or a gallon of ale they’re slightly more laidback affairs, and a decent local one is easy enough to find.

Aimed at getting drinkers through the doors on quiet weekdays, the pub quiz has gone on to be a worldwide phenomenon. Whilst in their homeland they’ve manfully battled against the tide of cheap supermarket booze, beer taxes, the smoking ban and mobile phones with Google. A good pub quiz will still draw people through the doors. I should know. I run one at my local. The Tuesday night General knowledge quiz at The Shipley Pride.

It’s not easy running a pub quiz. Anyone who’s tried to do it will know. Thinking of interesting picture rounds each week to lure in players – I’ve done everything from puppets to famous homes and serial killers to human organs – and trying to keep the balance of the questions right. No one wants to walk into an unfamiliar pub, decide to enter the quiz and then be made to look thick by getting 9 out of 50. The trick is to keep everyone in with a chance but still ensure the best team will win. It keeps everyone happy. No one is humiliated and the good quizzers will battle it out at the top.

And whilst I say pub quizzes aren’t as serious as quiz leagues, there are still prizes at stake and you will be pulled up on informed questions with some ferocity. After being shouted down by the tap room for setting a slightly ‘ambiguous’ question, I now triple check every answer and write notes to back them up in case some smart alec thinks they know better. It is worth the effort believe me. And winning the quiz as a stranger in the wrong pub, well that doesn't always go down to well either. Often you'll find yourselves having to down a the prize of a gallon of ale in the 20 minutes before last orders. You're not regulars are you?

What I have found on my various pub quiz and quiz league exploits is that in most cases it’s not the points, or the prizes or the league position that matter simply the kudos of victory over your rivals on the night. The competitiveness is above that of most other pastimes. The quiz is the natural home of the pedant, maybe even the pub bore. Yet the ability to answer a question is open to all. Regardless of age or physical ability. That just out of reach tip of the tongue answer. The ‘I should know this’ factor. The 'why didn’t I know that?' And the ‘I’ll remember that for next time’. That’s the hook of the quiz.

Oh, and if in doubt, a tip -  the answer's more often than not 'Brazil'.