Review #3 – The Gowlett SE15 – or not!

Tonight, I got burned, but I learned a valuable lesson. Don’t go to a quiz that you haven’t been to before without checking that it is definitely on.

For a long time I have been using the fantastic site QuizList, a very thorough directory of London pub quizzes. Today, keen to review another quiz, I checked QuizList for pubs in my area with Monday night quizzes and landed on The Gowlett. I have been there twice before and really liked it. It’s a nice backstreet local pub with a few things that set it apart, like original art on the walls and exhibitions in the upstairs room, and AMAZING stonebaked pizzas made to order at reasonable prices (I think around the £7 mark, and they are big.) Even better, it manages to be the sort of pub that has art exhibitions and stonebaked pizzas while remaining the sort of pub that actual south Londoners go to and hasn’t just been annexed by Lordship Lane types with long-haired toddlers of indeterminate gender with names like Matilda and Silas.

Anyway, I arrived at The Gowlett for about 8:30 and there was no quiz in sight, just half a dozen or some people sitting about having a quiet drink. I asked the barman if the quiz was on and he said that for the last nine months or so, the quiz had been monthly, and took place on Sundays. No quiz for me tonight.

The webmaster of QuizList clearly says on their site “Please check out whether the quiz is running or cancelled due to sport or whatever, with the pub, before you set out to a particular quiz listed.” 

I did not follow these good instructions, and so, I missed out. I also wasted a night when I could have actually gone and done a quiz. I still stayed for a bit and had a drink and played a couple of games of pool with my boyfriend and we had a nice time. However, I really wanted to do a quiz, and I didn’t get to do a quiz and I have no one to blame but myself. Lesson definitely learned: if going to a quiz you haven’t been to before and don’t know someone who goes regularly, ring them up and check it is on. Or you will suffer like I did.

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Great Quizzing Blog – Quiz Quiz Quiz

Quiz Quiz Quiz Blog

There aren’t many blogs about quizzing. I can’t imagine why – it’s pretty much the best hobby ever (educational, builds social skills, there is booze involved) and there is tons to discuss! Tactics, favourite questions, trickiest rounds, round-buying etiquette of a quiz team, team names, prizes, keeping a spreadsheet of all your team’s results and who in the team scored which points so you can see who is and isn’t pulling their weight. Lots of things to talk about.

The best dedicated quiz blog I’ve seen so far is by the team at Quiz Quiz Quiz, a company  who provide a service designed to meet everyone’s quiz needs. Not only do they host quiz nights for pubs, corporate events and charity quiz nights, they also write questions for TV, print and those infuriating but addictive quiz machines in pubs.Their directors have appeared on University Challenge, Fifteen to One and the Weakest Link among other shows. These are serious quiz pros. These are the people I dream of being one day.

The blog on their website is a humorous and interesting look at quizzing for the perspective of a quiz compiler or quizmaster (rather than a lowly punter like me) and covers important topics like how to prevent cheating, writing quizzes that people of all ages have a fair chance at, and this great post on the pros and cons of different team sizes. Check out the rest of the blog here and leave them some nice comments.

Review #2 The Old Nun’s Head, Nunhead

The Old Nun’s Head, Nunhead (website, map)

Quiz starts 8:30, £2 per person entry. Two rounds of twenty questions divided into themed rounds. A round of five music questions in each half. A picture sheet given out at half time for ten points in the second half. First prize of £25 bar tab, entry fee also gets every player a raffle ticket to participate in ‘Play Your Cards Right’ at the end for a rolling jackpot.

Result: 4th place

I went to the quiz at the Old Nun’s Head with my lovely friends Kate and Mark who live close by. A while ago they’d been burned by a quiz they did in a pub in Haworth, which apparently featured questions like “What is the local dialing code for Haworth?” and “Which motorway links Haworth and Leeds?” so they were hoping for a better experience.  I’m assuming there was probably a round about the life of the man who runs the post office in Haworth. The Old Nun’s Head definitely did a bit better in that respect.

The quizmaster at the Old Nun’s Head was Luke, an actor (check out his showreel here! he’s been on Doctors!) Luke did a good job – his acting training clearly helped him speak loudly and clearly, despite a couple of microphone issues, and he was friendly (though not as friendly as Simon, who really set the bar.) I feel it would be remiss of me to not mention that he is also pretty good looking.

The quiz consisted of two halves of twenty questions, divided into rounds of five questions, except for the picture round which was ten. The rounds in the first half were: Brit Awards anagrams, History, Song Intros and Film Quotes. The second half had Kids’ TV, Music, and the picture round, which was Cartoon Characters.

The questions seemed to have a wildly fluctuating level of difficulty, with the easiest being “Which film featured the line ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’?.” Somewhere in the middle there were nice, slightly tough ones that were possible to get right with an educated guess (“Who was pictured on the first British stamp?” Queen Victoria, btw,) but the Children’s TV round had a couple of real stinkers. One involved knowing the names of individual Moomins. A bit much.

I think the rounds were a reasonable mix but was a bit annoyed that 15 of the 40 questions were about children’s tv/cartoons. Either would be fine but to have both rounds in one quiz was excessive. Also, they were the kind of questions that if I don’t know the answers, I’m annoyed if I’m not getting the points but other than that I don’t really care. If I scored badly in a round about Charles Dickens, or world capitals, it would probably make me think “ooh, that’s interesting, and something I should probably learn more about.” If I can’t answer a question about Worzel Gummidge, I definitely do not have the same reaction. I think a quiz should, to a certain extent, inspire you to learn more exciting things about the world. Worzel Gummidge and Moomins don’t really do that, for me at least.

I did enjoy the anagram round – a real gold star to the quiz compiler for putting it first and thus letting us having something to puzzle over for a while. They were also great puzzles because they weren’t just the names of bands of artists, they were all things Brits-related. For example, one was ‘BARRACK THE TOUGH.’* The great thing about anagram questions is you know you can get the answer if you just put in a bit of time looking at the letters again and again and working it out, and we were delighted to get all five of them eventually!

Going with the five-star rating system, I’d give the Old Nun’s Head a 3/5. I really enjoyed the mix of different types of question (standard, anagram, picture, music), and the quizmaster did a good consistent job.

Postives: Mix of types of questions, very lively, lots of music questions

Negatives: Needed a bit more crowd control as people talked over the questions and music, 15 points on children’s TV was too much, quizzes that advertise a large jackpot that can only be won by winning a long gambling game annoy me a bit.

*Breakthrough Act

Review #1: The Phoenix, Denmark Hill

The Phoenix, Denmark Hill (website, map).

Quiz starts 7:45 for 8. £2 per person entry. Two rounds of twenty pot luck questions, interspersed with music questions. A picture sheet given out at half time and some second round questions refer to it. Bonus rounds for spot prize of free drinks. First prize was cash if team chose to gamble, second prize was a bottle of nice cider.

Result: 2nd place.

My haul: Bottle of Aspall’s “Curee Chevallier English Cyder.”

I thought I’d kick off with the quiz nearest to my flat, at The Phoenix, the pub in Denmark Hill rail station. It’s a nice place, especially considering what pubs in train stations are usually like. Ever been to The Mash Tun in Victoria? I’m shuddering just thinking about it. I’ve visited before a few times and enjoyed the the now-standard slightly fancy quasi-gastro-pub fare of risottos and smoked trout salads and steaks frites. They offer three courses for £13 or two for £10, which is pretty reasonable.

For the first time ever, I quizzed solo tonight. Because, as I have discovered, I am the sort of person who wants to spend a night out essentially doing an exam. Doing an exam and then going home and blogging about it.* There were only four teams, and I was proud to come second by only one point.

The quiz at the Phoenix is run by a man called Simon from Let’s Get Started (@LondonPubQuiz,) a company who appear to run quizzes at pubs all over London, and supply quizzes for charity and corporate events. I do tend to be a little suspicious of quizzes provided by a central company, having attended one in my home town where the quizmaster may as well have been a robot, rattling off fifty questions in a monotone. However, Simon was great. He was very friendly, introducing himself to me at the start, asking for my name (a nice touch) and checking in regularly to offer to repeat questions and offer encouragement. He had the vibe of a beloved English teacher, and really made a loser like me at a quiz on her own feel very welcome.

The quiz consisted of two halves of twenty questions each. Both halves were a good mix of general knowledge questions, ranging from the very easy (What shape is the President of the USA’s office? SPOILER ALERT – It’s oval) to the harder and more interesting (Which three elements make up the majority of the Earth’s mass? Oxygen, silicon and aluminum.)

Each half ended with a few music questions; the first round had three pop songs from consecutive decades with a point each for naming the band and the song, and the second had one song from a musical and one from an opera.

The second half featured more general knowledge interspersed with questions related to a picture handout, which included an anagram, a distorted picture of a celebrity, and a number puzzle.

At various points throughout the quiz, members from different teams were called up to do a head-to-head Play Your Cards Right round. Two players were given a card and had to guess higher or lower, with the player guessing correct answers for the longest winning a free drink. I won a free drink. It was great.

While I haven’t yet decided on a rating system, if I had one I’d give the Phoenix’s quiz a solid 3/5. The questions were not especially original or creative, though they had a good level of difficulty throughout, and there were a few “ooh, I didn’t know that” moments. The thing that really elevated the quiz above other fairly generic quizzes was the friendly and helpful quizmaster. Not only was he pleasant, he was efficient without rushing. The quiz was over by 10pm, even though he’d spent plenty of time with each team making sure everyone had heard every question. Go Simon!

Positives: Straighforward, great quizmaster, short and tight.

Negatives: Very convoluted-sounding gambling game for winning team to get prize money, sparse attendance (probably because it was Shrove Tuesday and everyone was at home cramming pancakes into their mouths).

*Well, I quizzed solo for the first half (and was coming second by one point) before I bumped into two friends who joined me for the second half, and helped a little bit with a picture and an opera question.

Picking your pub quiz team.

I thought I’d start by addressing a pivotal question of the pub quiz process – who do you want on your team?

Recently I went to a great quiz at the North London Tavern (Mondays at 8pm, £2 per person, highest-scoring team wins cash prize) with some friends with whom I had not previously quizzed. We were a team of five, and I only knew two of the other four people. We had a fantastic time; I killed it in the “Riddles” round and did pretty well on the “TV from 2010” round, and in the end we won by about six points.

The next week I saw one of the people I’d gone with, who told me that their other friends had been delighted with my performance and I could come back any time. Great! Apparently, they were often suspicious of newcomers to quiz teams, because if the team wins, any hangers-on add to the number of people the prize fund is divided by. I could have shown up, done nothing apart from eat crisps and look pensive every so often, and then walked off with £13 I didn’t deserve.

When you’re a serious quizzer, the quality of your team mates is crucial. If you’re just going along to have a few pints and entertain yourselves, then it’s irrelevant. But you’re reading this blog about pub quizzes. You want to win. You’re like me. You get a little rush when the quizmaster arrives at your table with his pint glass full of pound coins and pens. And you’re going to read my list of tips for putting together your team.

1. Make sure there is someone who can do the sports round. 

It’s certainly not unknown for a team of dedicated quizzers to lack a sports expert. Let’s face it, we’re indoor kids. We skived off games to hang out in the library. We’re people who really love quizzes. When you think of your cleverest friends for your team, the first people who pop into your head are going to be brainy types – puzzlers, people who know Latin. They’re great, They will get you far. But winning is what matters, and you’re not going to win if you can name every actor who has played The Doctor but you only get one point on the sports round. Find your sports buff – it might be someone’s husband, it might be your friend at work who doesn’t shut up about the football match last night (there was always a football match last night somewhere) – and get them on your side.

2. Make sure you have a good spread of knowledge

The best quiz team I have ever seen (and not been on) were regular visitors to a pub in the town I grew up in, The Bax Castle. Nearby was Christ’s Hospital, an amazing school so serious that the children wear uniform that has barely changed since the 16th century. Every week, a group of teachers from Christ’s Hospital who all taught different subjects showed up at the quiz, and they won. I went to this quiz at least ten times, and these bastards always won, because not only were they all clever, they were all clever in different ways.

Actually our team (of me and my parents) usually did pretty well. My mother is a history expert, my father is an accountant with a degree in engineering and I’m a dilettante who watches too much television. Like the teachers who always beat us, we covered a broad range of knowledge bases.

It is a simple point, but it’s crucial. If you and your friends are all very cultured, make sure you’ve got someone who watches Britain’s Got Talent (in fact, a general rule is to make sure you have someone who watches all the main talent shows. They will always be useful). If you’re going to quiz with your workmates and you’re all scientists, make sure you take a friend with a literature degree. And, as above, if you and your friends are all nerds, make sure you have someone who watches rugby every now and again.

NB: This doesn’t apply if you’re going to a specific topic quiz (these tend to be film or music-based), in which case you want all your weirdest and most obsessive friends on your team. The ones who write fan fiction.

3. Make sure you’re comfortable overruling them

If you’re serious about quizzes, sometimes there will be arguments. People will mis-remember things, or guess the wrong answer. Sometimes you’re going to have to get into it a bit with your team mates and tell them in no uncertain terms, while banging on the table that Matt Cardle did win X Factor in December 2010, and you know because you remember watching it when you were in Somerset with your friend who fancied someone out of One Direction and made you watch the final with them.

You probably won’t be able to argue like this with your boss, or your in-laws, or someone you’re on a first date with. They might not like it. You might feel awkward, and worst of all you might let them put down the wrong answer because you don’t want a scrap. This should never happen.

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Generally, the people you have a good feeling about are going to work. If you have a friend who can usually bring up some interesting fact about a conversation topic, or always knows what’s going on in the news, they’ll probably do well on a quiz team. If you really want to finesse your selection process, however, the above guidelines should take you pretty far. Especially the first one. You’ll feel like such tools when you’ve got full marks on the Literary Devices round but you can’t name three Premiership sides Peter Crouch has played for.

Do you agree? Have I missed something? Who was on your best ever quiz team? Please let me know!