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Tuesday 04 March, 2008

Moseley Masterteam has been a fixture on the Moseley Festival schedule for the past four years. It's basically a pub quiz, but not held in a pub. Teams of up to six answer ten rounds of ten questions. The team that gets the most right answers win some cheap bottles of wine and a rather splendid silver cup. Without wishing to brag, I'm quizzingest quizzer in Moseley, having been on the winning team three times out of four - the last two times as part of the Budding Geniuses, the Moseley in Bloom team. The Moseley Society runs a similar, if slightly more genteel, quiz in the winter. The Geniuses were second last year, and won it this year.

Last Friday, as a kind of leap year bonus, the Festival held an extra quiz to pump-prime this year's fundraising. We won.


Apparently, our reign of general knowledge terror is causing some resentment among other quiz-going types. I can sympathise slightly, because we did get a little rowdy this time round, but I'm not entirely sure what we're meant to do about it. We could not enter I suppose, but that would smack rather of snobbery - Sorry chaps! You're simply no threat. Alternatively, we could do badly on purpose, but that's hardly going to make whoever did win feel any better is it?

It's not like we're winning on purpose. We've never secured a win before the final round, and frequently aren't in front until then. What we are is consistent, generally scoring seven points or better in each round.

I guess if other people don't like us winning, they'll just have to get better at general knowledge quiz questions. Quizzes aren't Mastermind - you don't get to swot up on your favourite subject - so what do you do? Here's the big secret.


Pay attention.

That's it.

Last Friday, for instance, there was a picture round on modern art. This is not a subject I would consider myself any kind of expert in. Despite never having seen any work by Marc Quinn, Rachel Whiteread, the Chapman brothers, or Tracey Emin, and never having visited Tate Britain, I myself was able to answer well over half the questions.


Easy - Front Row.

Quiz questions fall into three categories

  1. Questions you know the answer to or you don't
  2. Questions you don't know the answer to, but can have an intelligent guess about
  3. Questions you should be ashamed if you don't know the answer to

Which football club's group is closest to Mersey? That's a category one. The obvious answer is Liverpool or Everton. But then you stop and think - aha, it's a trick, it's the other Liverpool team, Tranmere Rovers. That was our answer - Barry, born and brought up in Liverpool, gave us the answer. We were wrong. It's a trick on a trick, and the answer is Stockport County. You know that, or you don't. An awful lot of current affairs and sport questions are like this, but just by listening to the news you should be able to have a fair crack at them.

What, geographically speaking, is significant about Church Flatts farm, near Coton in Derbyshire? For us that was category two. Well, it's pretty of central. It's not anything obviously like the highest or lowest point. Could it be the geographical centre of Britain? Maybe, but seems a bit far south for that. How about the place furthest from the sea? And that's what it was. We didn't know, but we had a good guess. As a general rule, if anyone on the team offers an answer, take it. If not, you're in category two, so stay calm and apply a bit of logic.

What was Marcel Duchamps' Fountain made from? Where is the largest known volcano? This category of question might be where the complainy-pantses should hang their heads. This is the kind of stuff you just pick up as you go about your business, it's the cultural background radiation we're all exposed to throughout our lives. Radio Four is champion, as are kids cartoons, but mostly you'll just absorb it if you're willing to. First man on the moon, inventor of the miniskirt, Frank Whittle's home town, founder of Tescos. Everyone should have that, not necessarily at their fingertips, but there or thereabouts.

I may have made our quiz success this all sound rather calculating, but it isn't. It's pretty much down to remembering things, and the more stuff you're exposed to, the more you'll remember. So, whiney-wingebag quiz-teams, pop the radio on and read the weekend papers. Works for us.

Russ L said "it's the cultural background radiation we're all exposed to throughout our lives"

'White Knowledge', as Terry Pratchett has it.

Having said that, I only knew 'first man on the moon' out of your six illustrative factettes, there. But then again I wouldn't complain about losing a pub quiz, and would (nay, in the past have) accept it as an inevitable consequence of Being A Bit Saft. [added 4th Mar 2008]

Well, you're young yet. I might have been a bit OTT with the Frank Whittle question, although I'd hope you would know the name.

I hadn't heard the phrase white knowledge before, BTW, but it describes exactly what I'm talking about.

[added 5th Mar 2008]

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