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 #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 #4 – Hoopers, East Dulwich

Hoopers, East Dulwich (website, map)

Image

Photo by Ewan, check out his great album on photos of London pubs on Flickr

Quiz starts 8:45, £1.50 per person entry. Six rounds of around ten questions each including themed picture round given out at beginning. Prizes of £10, £10 and a bottle of wine and £30 and a bottle of champagne for third, second and first place teams respectively. Gag prizes for all other teams.

Result: 5th place, won a copy of a children’s book. (there were two of us, all the teams that beat us had at least four people and winning team had nine. Just saying.)

Since moving to this area about four months ago I had heard a lot of great stuff about Hoopers. Anyone I knew who lived within a couple of miles of the place had tipped me off to its excellent beer selection and general awesomeness, so when my friend Tom drove all the way from Chatham to come to a quiz with me on a Thursday night, I knew it was time to finally pay Hoopers a visit.

We got there far too early: 8 for a quiz that ostensibly started at 8:45 (they never do,) but it was a good way to see what the general atmosphere at the pub was like. When we arrived we had a chat with the Pete the barman, who it transpired was also the quizmaster. He did a great job of bigging up the quiz, but also told us that it was his last night working there.

The quiz consisted of six rounds of ten questions each (except for the music round which was only six songs.) The categories were current affairs, music, picture round, beer, connections (all the answers involved the names of US sports team, eg Which 1995 Michael Mann film featured both Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro? Heat.) Pete ended with a round that he called Examples. I’d come across the type of question before but never a whole round of them, and it worked really well. He would read a list of words or phrases which were all types or names of something and you had to name what they all were. Types of tea, varieties of butterfly and characters from the Tempest all featured.

Pete seemed fond of rounds featuring connections, as the picture round consisted of people whose birthday was the day of the quiz. It was one of the harder picture round I’ve come across, featuring famous faces from Levi Strauss to Jah Rule.

What I particularly liked about the quiz was the variety. There were some very hard questions and no super-easy What is the capital of France type questions. Most involved a bit of thought. It definitely seemed like a quiz that had been written either by the quizmaster or someone from the pub, rather than one just bought from the internet, and I always appreciate that kind of effort.

The main issue that occurred to me during the quiz was that it was very much a locals pub, and a locals quiz. By locals pub I certainly do not mean unfriendly, everyone there from the quizmaster downwards was  very friendly and I had a couple of really nice chats with people who introduced themselves to me during my cigarette breaks. However, everyone seemed to know each other and know the quizmaster, which was both a good thing and a less good one. The camaraderie didn’t quite hit cliqueyness, but was slightly off-putting to a newcomer. However, all the regulars seemed so nice, and I’m sure that if you went there even three or four times, you would become part of the quiz-gang, and that would turn a pretty fun quiz into a really great sociable evening out.

I get the impression that the team who won probably win every week, and when talking to a couple of them afterwards I found out that they always donate all their winnings to St Christopher’s, a hospice based in Penge, so long may they continue winning. They set a great example, as the second and third place teams also donated their prize money. I don’t know if they also donated the bottles of wine and champagne that they won to the terminally ill, but here’s hoping!

The prizes for every team also gave a nice touch to the end of the quiz. We won a copy of Diary of a Wimpy kid, but I also saw teams receiving a box of dog food, a bag of Cadbury’s Mini Eggs, and a box of man-sized tissues.

Just a quick note on Hoopers itself – a really friendly old-fashioned backstreet local with an astonishingly good beer selection and the kind of ale card you’d expect to find in a much poncier pub. I really felt like I’d found a gem of a local and even if the quiz doesn’t continue with Pete’s departure, I look forward to going back multiple times just for the drinks and atmosphere.

I’d give the quiz a solid four out of five. Good, varied questions with some quite tricky ones, and fantastic level of enthusiasm from both quizmaster and quizzers.

Positives: Friendly crowd, great and varied questions, good level of difficulty, fun and friendly quizmaster.

Negatives: Felt a bit strange essentially being at the leaving party of someone I didn’t know, didn’t finish until 11:15.

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.

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!