Review #8 The Grape and Grain, Crystal Palace

The Grape and Grain, SE19 (websitemapTwitter)

(photo by EwanM)

Quiz on Thursdays and starts at 20:00. £1 per person entry. Five rounds. First prize cash – a good chunk of the pot. A piece of pie for the team in last place.

The Grape and Grain is a BIG pub on the crossroads at the top of Anerley Hill. It is a steep hill. If you walk to the pub from Crystal Palace train station you might think you were in San Francisco.

The general vibe is of a friendly, busy local pub. Age skews toward slightly older and the after-work crowd, rather than the ubiquitous South London trendy parents. If you’re into that sort of thing they have an excellent ale selection and dogs are welcome. Anyway. To Quizness.

The quiz is run by the very skilled MC Paul Partridge. Paul manages to be biting, approachable and very efficient all at the same time. I think he is proud of his last name and thus uses the Black Beauty theme music prominently in the quiz.

The first round is twelve current affairs questions – basically, if you read the Metro every day, you’re fine. Round two is another twelve questions, this time general knowledge with some kind of link. The first week I went, the first letters of each answer spelled (in reverse order) the name of a famous person. The second week, each answer began with the last letter of the previous answer. This is a nice device, because the questions were of a reasonable difficulty but if you have a few right, the letters give you a bit of a push towards the others.

After these rounds, there’s a longish break, during which teams are invited to join a game called ‘Hoop the Hooch.’ A bottle of squash is placed on a table. Teams are called up, starting with the lowest scoring, and given three hoops each, which they may distribute among their members as they see fit (ie one person could throw all of them, or three could throw one each yadda yadda.) People must stand at a designated point back from the table and try to hoopla the squash. If they do, they get to exchange it for a bottle of wine. However, once anyone has done it, the game is over. Does that make sense?

I haven’t seen something like this before and thought it was really fun. It’s a good way to keep people entertaining during the ‘going to the bar/for a smoke’ break, and also, because it starts with the teams with the lowest scores means that teams who would never be in with a chance of winning the quiz still might get something to take home.

Next is a film round with a slightly different format. Paul reads out four clues to identify a film. If a team guesses the film correctly after hearing the first clue, they get ten points. If they get it on the second, seven. Five for the third clue and three for the last.  I’ve seen this before but with celebrities. However, Paul’s clues are a bit more guessable, as a few (at least 3) teams usually get it on the first clue.

After the film clues, there’s a table round handed out. I don’t know what to call these types of puzzles, so here’s a couple of examples.

Offer – T F T P O O

Nostalgia – T D M L

Dump – G T O H-H

The letters are the initial letters of a phrase that the first word means. That’s a horrible sentence right there but I can’t work out a better way to express it. Maybe the answers will help. 1. Two for the price of one. 2. Trip down memory land. 3. Give the old heave-ho. Now do you see? These questions really divided our team. As a cryptic crossworder and general fan of word puzzles, I loved them, but they were a real turn off for others. However,  I really think that table round like this are great in quizzes, because they allow a team to sit and talk through the puzzles. Also, if you don’t know the capital of Michigan, you don’t know it – these you can have a really good try at figuring out. It’s Lansing, by the way.

Round Four is a music round. The first time I went it was a mix of answering questions and guessing songs from their intros, and the second time it was intros only. It is not an easy round at all. The rest of the quiz is of a fair difficulty level, but for some reason Paul really steps it up on this one.

The final round is a Wipeout round. If any answer on the sheet is incorrect, the team scores zero for the entire round. This is horrible for a quizzer like me who refuses to hand in a sheet with blank spaces, preferring a wild guest at the very least. It’s also a fun way for lower scoring teams to enjoy gambling, and means there’s a good chance the team who have been winning all the way through may not take home the cash.

Positives – Excellent quizmaster, good timekeeping, puzzle rounds, lovely friendly pub.

Negatives – Struggling to think of them! Not a totally perfect quiz but a very good one! It’s gets a bit busy and short on chairs, and I get the impression the same few teams occupy the top places all the time.

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Review #7 – The Bear, Camberwell

The Bear, SE5 (website, map, Twitter)

Image

(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.

Review #5 The Herne Tavern, East Dulwich

The Herne Tavern (website, map)

(Photo by EwanM)

Quiz starts 7:45, £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 £30 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 (joint with a few other teams)

A couple of weeks ago I went to the quiz at the Old Nun’s Head with my friends Kate and Mark, and we had a splendid evening. They were great quizzing partners, what with Kate’s studying up on world geography and Mark’s excellent music knowledge. So, on Sunday night we decided to try out another quiz, this time at The Herne Tavern and with my boyfriend in tow. This will be a short review, because the quizmaster (Luke) is the same guy who runs the show down at the Old Nun’s Head and the quiz was pretty much the same format. However, there were a few differences.

First off, the Herne Tavern is a really beautiful pub. Lovely wood panelling and stained glass all over the place. According to my pals who live nearby it attracts the ubiquitous Lordship-Lane-first-child-in-expensive-buggy crowd, but I guess not too many of them go to the pub on a Sunday night, and consequently the quizzers were a decent mix of age, gender and levels of drunkenness and excitability. I felt like there were a few more serious quizzers than at the Old Nun’s Head.

The rounds were a bit better than at the Old Nun’s Head. There were again two music intros rounds (five songs per half) which breaks up the quiz nicely and is good fun – a real plus point for me is a quiz with a “guess the song” round every week.

As for the other rounds, the quiz kicked off with a sport round (which strangely featured not a single question on football, cricket or rugby,) then a pot luck round, followed by geography and lateral thinking. I suspect there may be some that say lateral thinking puzzles have no place in a pub quiz as it’s a slightly different game, but I absolutely love them. Puzzles, riddles, dingbats – stuff your quiz full of them and and on a music round and I’d be the happiest little quizzer in the world. Anyway. The picture round was a really fun one – ten pictures of celebrities as children/teenagers and you had to name them.

The second half had rounds about kids’ stuff (MUCH better than the Childrens TV and cartoon rounds at the Old Nun’s Head as it covered stuff like films, books and nursery rhymes) and the human body. I actually don’t think I’ve come across a human body round before and it was a good one – tricky, but enjoyable.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed the Herne Tavern’s quiz more than the Old Nun’s Head and I think there are three reason for this.

1. It seems to be a slightly nicer pub overall

2. The attendees was different – a bit more into quizzing rather than a Thursday night crowd starting to get into the swing of drinking as a warm-up for the weekend.

3. A better set of questions. This is probably just my own personal preferences/biases coming out but I thought the questions were most interesting, covered a better spread of topic and were a bit more original.

At both the The Herne Tavern and The Old Nun’s Head the quizmaster did a great job of working the crowd and keeping things fun, but I feel that at the Herne he had a more engaged crowd and better questions to work with. For this reason, I’d give the Herne Tavern quiz 4 stars out of 5, a half-star improvement on its sister quiz!

Sidenote – For this quiz I busted out a team name that I’d been saving up for a while -“Quizlamic Fundamentalists,” and heard one that as a Manchester City fan I particularly enjoyed: “Why Always Us?” They didn’t win though.

Sidenote to the sidenote – A lengthy and exhaustive blog post on what to name your quiz team is in the works.

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.