Review #7 – The Bear, Camberwell

The Bear, SE5 (website, map, Twitter)

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(photo by EwanM)

Quiz starts 8:30 – sharp! £2 per person entry. Two round of twenty questions. First half general knowledge, second half ten questions of a given topic, ten songs to identify. First prize the entire pot (brownie points for this, The Bear!) second prize a bottle of wine, plus a round of drinks for best team name.

Result: Second place out of around 11 teams. A bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc was ours to take home!

First, I have to put this out there. The Bear is probably the most expensive pub in Camberwell. I believe for those in the know, it’s reasonably popular as an up-and-coming gastro-pub (and the menu looked quite nice), so that’s probably why. But just as a teaser, a sign advertising their Happy Hour had a large glass of wine at £4.75. In Happy Hour. Maybe I don’t drink wine that often, or maybe I’ve been confused by my recent trip up north, but if someone charged me that for a glass of wine I wouldn’t think that this price was specially come up with to make me happy.

Their quiz entry fee is also at the high end of the price spectrum at £2 per team member, BUT they absolutely get away with this because the entire pot goes to the winning team. That’s right: no cut, no “Play Your Cards Right” round, no round of drinks or bar credit, just lovely money. The money that the people you beat worked hard for. Feels good, doesn’t it?

The first 20 General Knowledge questions were fine – a nice mix of difficulty and a few current affairs questions thrown in. There were a few multi-parters – for example the quizmaster gave four large sporting events (e.g. World Cup 1990, 1980 Olympic Games) and we had to name the country they were held in.

The specialist round of ten questions in the second half were on the subject of spies and codes – fun and not too hard. On a previous visit the topic was European politics. Good subject choices as they were not as general as, say, films or history, but not so restrictive that a person without a specific sector of knowledge wouldn’t be able to have a go.

On to the music round. A friend who goes regularly had complained that the music round was very hard (clearly one of the teams agreed with him, giving #IMPOSSIBLEMUSICROUND as their team name) but while it was challenging, it was achievable. We got about 6/10 and the artists ranged from Gustav Holst and The Beach Boys to Arrested Development and LMFAO.

The USP of the quiz is that there is a leaderboard. Over a twelve week period, teams are awarded points for their place in the final scores with 12 for the winners and 10 for second place, 9 for 3rd etc. At the end, the team with the highest cumulative score wins a free meal in the pub. Not only is this a great way for the pub to encourage repeat visits and loyal punters, it fosters a healthy competitiveness and hopefully builds a community among the quizzers of Camberwell.

My main criticism of the quiz is one that could be pretty easily remedied – the quizmaster does not have a microphone. He does a good job of projecting but the pub has two rooms and if it is busy (which it was on this particular evening,) he has to go between both, repeating the questions and answers which slightly breaks up the flow.

However, the quizmaster is very helpful and friendly (he will give a clue for one question to each team over the evening), does a good job with the questions despite his lack of amplification. It’s a good solid quiz, and I’d give it 3.5 stars and my hearty recommendation.

Positives: Lovely pub, friendly staff, good level of difficulty, excellent prizes.

Negatives: Pricey, lack of PA, no picture round (I love picture rounds.)

Review #6 – The Mucky Pup, Islington N1

The Mucky Pup, N1 (fancyapint listing, map)

The Mucky Pup

Quiz starts 8:30, £1.50 per person entry. Five rounds of around ten questions each including themed picture round given out at beginning. First prize a share of the takings (on this occasion £35,) second prize a bottle of wine/round of shots.

Result: First place out of about ten teams and a share of the £35 jackpot! This was the first Serious Quizness win, and was the first time since starting this blog that I quizzed with a team larger than four, which I am sure was a big factor in the victory.

Last Wednesday was a real milestone in the life of Serious Quizness – the first quiz North Of The River. I have long been vaguely aware that there are quizzes outside the SE5/SE15 area if you know where to look, so I took a tip from my friend Ellie and decided to try The Mucky Pup.

I had been to the pub before a couple of years ago for a friend’s leaving drinks, and remembered really liking it. It’s similar to the better I’ve drunk in Camden – the ones that are a bit dive-y without too many tourists/people from Watford looking for an ‘indie’ night out, slightly hip but also local-friendly. In the beautiful scenic backstreets off Essex Road in Islington, it’s a dark-ish pub with pool, darts and rock posters/pulp novel artwork on the walls. They serve a good ale selection at reasonable prices. AND – they have a bloody great quiz.

So, the quiz started with a general knowledge round of about ten questions, covering things like winners at this year’s Oscars, a couple of history questions, and a type of question I hadn’t seen before – we were given three celebrities (Demi Moore, Prince Andrew, Andie MacDowell) and had to put them in order of age, which prompted some fun discussion.

Round two was cryptic clues for musical instruments, such as “dot dot dot toothpaste” (Tuba) and my favourite “stereotypical Japanese apple, orange, plum etc” (Flute – *groan*.) I really like these types of questions. I’ve been to a couple of quizzes recently where there have been similar rounds with cryptic clues or riddles, or lateral thinking puzzles. I like them because I tend to be good at them, but I also think they’re a great addition to quizzes because they can be worked out, and they encourage a team to try and talk their way to an answer, which I like.

The picture round was a little tougher – twenty celebrities to name, with bonus points for guessing the link between them and more bonus points for spotting the odd one out. Topically, they were all Best Actor/Actress winners at the Academy Awards, from Yul Brynner through to Charlize Theron, with the odd one out being Marlon Brando for turning his down as a protest against the treatment of Native Americans. (Sidenote – the quizmaster kept calling them ‘Red Indians.’ Bit weird.) The difficult part of this was that we were a team of relative youngsters, and this included quite a few older film stars, who we did mix up a bit.

Next was the music round, a full round of ten songs, nothing too obscure, mostly rock/indie  from the last 20 years or so. Good fun.

The final round was questions relating to Spring, as it was early March. We were asked to name the equinox that occurs in March, the bird that first signifies spring, the astrological signs in March and April, and a few other bits and pieces.

The overall level of difficulty in the quiz was very good, enough questions that most people would probably get and so not feel isolated, but a few trickier ones to separate the quiz wheat from the quiz chaff, especially in the General Knowledge and Spring rounds. The picture round was good too – we struggled slightly due to average age of team, but that isn’t really an excuse as all the people pictured were pretty famous – I just wouldn’t always recognize Henry Fonda in a picture even though I have a general idea of him and his career.

What I have omitted in this review so far, however, is the factor that takes this quiz from a decent quiz to an outstanding one, is the quizmaster. Graham, an extremely dry and detached bloke from Liverpool, is easily one of the best quizmasters I’ve ever seen. He was very funny throughout and exceptionally good at dealing with hecklers/people who quibbled over points. Also, when there was a tie for second place, he presided over an arm-wrestling match between the two teams to decide who won the alcohol. The questions in the quiz were fine, but in the hands of a lesser quizmaster, I’d have given the evening three stars out of five. Graham and the Mucky Pup have, however, earned this blog’s first ever FOUR AND A HALF STARS OUT OF FIVE RATING! I’m sure he’d be utterly thrilled to know.

Positives: Amazing quizmaster, interesting picture round, nice pub

Negatives: Finished a bit late (especially if you live in South London)

Sidenote – Just noticed on the Facebook group for the quiz it says “Serious quizzers f*** off.” Oh well. Sorry, Graham.

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!