Pub Quiz

pub quiz by Sean O'Connor

A pub quiz is a quiz held in a public house (or pub for short). Origins of the pub quiz are unclear but there is little evidence of them existing before 1970 in the United Kingdom. Pub quizzes (also known as live trivia, or table quizzes) are often weekly events and will have an advertised start time, most often in the evening. While specific formats vary, most pub quizzes depend on answers being written in response to questions which may themselves be written or announced by a quizmaster.

Generally someone (either one of the bar staff or the person running the quiz) will come around with pens and quiz papers, which may contain questions or may just be blank sheets for writing the answers on. A mixture of both is common, in which case often only the blank sheet is to be handed in. Traditionally a member of the team hands the answers in for adjudication to the quiz master or to the next team along for marking when the answers are called.

It is up to the quizzers to form teams, which are generally based on tables, though if one table has a large group around it they may decide to split up. Some pubs insist on a maximum team size (usually between six and ten). The team members decide on a team name, often a supposedly humorous phrase or pun, which must be written on all papers handed in.

People often have to pay to participate – ranging from around 50p to £5 per person. This is often used as prize money. But, many pub quizzes require no payment at all, as the pub quiz is simply a way to get customers into the bar (typically on less busy nights like week nights) to spend money.

There may be between one and more than half a dozen rounds of questions, totaling anything from 10 to upwards of 80 questions. Rounds may include the following kinds (most common first): factual rounds (general knowledge, sports, entertainment, true/false questions); picture round (photocopied or computer-printed hand-outs with pictures to be identified, such as photos of famous people, possibly snapped out of context, or else partially obscured, or logos of companies (without tell-tale lettering), famous places or objects pictured from a strange angle; who am I? (a series of clues to the identity of a famous person or thing); music round (excerpts, often only the intro or other non-vocal segment, of songs played over the PA system for teams to identify); puzzle rounds (crossword puzzles, anagrams, Ditloids, Dingbats and basic math problems); and novelty rounds (themed to specific words or names).

In some quizzes teams are able to select one or two rounds in which their points will be doubled (or tripled etc.) The number two is used because a pack of cards has two jokers in it. Selection of the appropriate round(s) is usually made before the start of the quiz. Jokers may be made available on all rounds or certain round(s) may be specifically excluded (usually the first). Teams who consider themselves to be particularly strong on certain subjects can thus improve their chances with a good joker round. Conversely, if their joker round is more difficult than expected their chances of doing well may nosedive.

With the mass use of mobile (cell) phones and mobile internet access, cheating has become a problem for some pub quizzes, with covert calls and texts made in the toilets, recent newspapers and magazines brought along especially for the event, ‘ringers’ and so on. Though a maximum number of members set for teams may help to prevent huge numbers of people collaborating, groups posing as several distinct teams are quite common. Some quizzes now ban the use of mobiles and nullify the score of any team found to be cheating.

One case exists where a landlord banned the use of mobile phones completely from the establishment during the quiz evening and in order to guarantee that no contestant used such a device, an FM radio tuner was connected to the public address system. Should any team member use a mobile phone during the duration of the quiz, loud pulsing sounds would be heard while other teams tried to locate the culprit.

Some quizzes also now ban re-entry to the pub after the quiz has started, in order to prevent team members from going to use public internet stations, public telephones and mobile devices out of sight of the quizmaster. Generally, though, a pub runs its quiz alongside its normal operation, making such a measure impractical.

Another format for quizzing is called ‘infinite bounce.’ This format is generally used when the number of teams in the quiz is large – usually around 8–10. Every question is addressed to the team succeeding the team that answered the previous question. If no team answers the question, the next question is addressed to the team succeeding the team to whom the previous question was addressed.

In a digital pub quiz wireless handsets replace the more usual pen and paper. A computer receives and records the answers from each team’s handset and the results are exported to a spreadsheet at the end of the quiz. A time limit can be set for each question (e.g. 60 seconds) and it is possible to determine which team answers in the fastest time for spot prizes, tiebreaks etc. The first digital pub quiz was held at the Woodlands Hotel in Blackburn, Lancashire in 2010.

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