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.

Advertisements

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.

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.