Quiz night

A form of social entertainment which has gained remarkable popularity in recent years among a generation of baby boomer parents (and others).

The idea is that a number of teams all compete to prove how much trivia they know.

The main elements of the Quiz night are as follows (but not necessarily in this order):

Teams Questions and question categories Marathon Jokers and Donkeys Scoring systems Heckling Prize-giving Alcohol Cheating


Each team consists of a number of disparate individuals: friends, workmates, and/or professional trivia experts. Each team is typically made up of between four and 10 members. More members is not necessarily good: two people might end up arguing over the correct answer to a question.

A good prototype team might include the following people:

Barry Norman, or other person who knows every film ever made, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, or other explorer-type person who travels a lot Betty Boothroyd, or other knowledgeable politician Prince Charles, or other person who knows a lot about history Kenneth Branagh, or other actor-type Shakesperean expert Dr Robert Winston, or other medical type guru Barbara Windsor, or other soap-opera star David Attenborough, or other expert on obscure animals, wildlife etc David Beckham ,A person who knows a lot about sport Victoria Beckham A person who knows something about contemporary music

Note, the mere fact that a person is famous is not important, rather their knowledge in the above areas of trivia. Also, it does not matter that the person is unpleasant, repulsive and/or the antichrist, because the point of a Quiz night is to win. This cannot be stressed enough. Winning is very, very important, and quiz nights are not light-hearted affairs, but deadly, frighteningly serious battle grounds of mental agility.

Questions and question categories

No-one except the quizmaster and sidekicks (and cheats) knows the question categories before the quiz starts. Usually there are about ten categories of question, each has an obscure name, designed to conceal the true nature of the questions. This has a bearing on the use of the Joker and/or Donkey (see below). So the round entitled Countdown might have ten questions, the first referring to the Ten Commandments, the second referring to the lives of a cat, the third referring to.the eighth Wonder of the World. On the other hand, it might refer to the history of the spaceflight programme, or to a popular TV series in which Carol Vorderman demonstrates her mathematical talents.

Within each category, there are typically ten questions, they vary in difficulty and obscurity, but they normally approximate to the final five or six levels in Who wants to be a millionaire].

Traditionally, at least one round is an audio round, featuring either popular songs, or less popular songs, or perhaps snippets from famous radio shows, or maybe politicians making speeches. The idea is to identify the person and/or the event.

Sport, history and geography also play a traditional role in the Quiz night. Other optional rounds include food and drink, soap operas, local knowledge, books and literature, films and their stars, and so on. Geeky type questions normally play a subordinate role to arts and literature questions. The quiz masters have the option of putting in not more than one quirky round, such as the History and culture of Thunderbirds, Famous robots and their makers or The mating habits of nematode worms. More obscure quirky subjects, tend to trigger increasingly violent heckling. Nematode worms are generally regarded as very obscure. More than one such off-beat round is considered bad form.

One further observation for aspiring quiz nighters: occasionally a question will come up such as “How many elastic bands, to the nearest 100, were used by the British Post Office in 1997?” The correct answer to this is, who cares, which will earn full marks. It is optional to insert one or more profanities into this response, but if the Quiz night is organised by the Mormons, such profanities may be marked down. Any other answer, such as 143, 771, 235 (which is very nearly the right number) will be laughed off the stage, and voted marked down.


Another traditional aspect of the Quiz night is the Marathon round, This is a series of questions which team members can consider over the space of multiple ordinary rounds. Traditionally, this is a picture round, involving 25 or more pictures of people, all of whom should be identified. The standard format for these images is poor black-and-white photocopies from newspapers and magazines like Hello.

However, other ideas include pictures of local pub signs, complex anagrams, and other types of trivia. Normally, full marks on the Marathon round will deliver two or three times the score obtainable on any individual round.

Jokers and Donkeys

In more sophisticated quiz nights, teams have access to a Joker. Each team must decide which round to play this on, based on the title of the round, before any questions in that round have been asked. The Joker doubles the score achieved on that round. This is why the naming of each round is so important for quiz masters. The aim is to convince a team of NASA astronauts (for example) that the Countdown round is about the spaceflight programme, when it is really about the nine lives of Fritz the Cat. In this way, teams can be lured into wasting their valuable Joker.

The Donkey is an unusual feature, but works as the opposite of the Joker. It halves the score on any given round, but it must be played. The Joker is used on a round where the team expects to do well, but a well-played Donkey mitigates the effect of a poor round.

Scoring systems

These are usually made up on the night, and are to be taken as seriously as the XP system in Everything2. Sometimes it is two points for a correct answer, and one for a half-correct answer. Sometimes one for the right answer and nothing for anything else. It all depends on how many drinks you have bought the quizmasters.

Once a round is finished, there are two schools of thought. One method is for each team to swap papers with an adjacent team, and the quizmaster reads out the answers, with competing teams doing the marking. The advantage of this is that it encourages strong and bitter rivalries among teams as errors are made either by accident or deliberately, and it is easier on the quiz master. It also encourages a lot more heckling (see below).

The other approach is for all the papers to be gathered up, and marked by a professional group of adjudicators on the top table. This is far more work and much less fun, but is likely to produce a marginally less unfair result.


This is the core of the Quiz night. There is always one person among the competitors who knows more than the quizmaster, and the idea, if you happen to find yourself in that fortunate position, is to prove it by shouting very loudly that the furthest planet from the Sun, “as we speak” is Neptune, because Pluto crossed inside Neptune’s orbit on June 24 this year, and will only become the most out-lying major planet again in October 2004 (these are not true, by the way, but used only to make the point). The idea is to see how the quizmaster evades the trap. A good quizmaster will have phrased the question accurately enough to avoid all such traps, and will have done the research to answer such heckles easily. A poor quizmaster won’t and this is where competitors can really start to enjoy themselves.

Other possible heckles involve querying the marks awarded by the adjacent team; questions over the addition of totals, general comments on ability, dress and/or physical appearance of the quizmaster. These are all traditional parts of the evening’s entertainment, and will never be taken amiss by the quizmaster.


Cheering and applause is impolite. Remember, this is not supposed to be fun, but is taken very seriously. By all means yell, “Cheats!” or , “Fix!” at the top of your voice. These accusations will, in any case, be accurate, for no team can win without cheating.


Alcohol is essential to the good Quiz night experience. Beer, wine, spirits, meths. Anything. Contrary to medical opinion, quiz teams get more incisive and accurate as the evening wears on, and the drinks bill mounts. This is especially applicable where teams have to count the number of words in the first and second verses of the National Anthem for example.


Once more, an essential part of the British Quiz night scene. Mobile phones are useful for this purpose--especially when fitted with those hands-free headsets. Other possibilities are the ubiquitous Palm, with the Encyclopædia Britannica on board, or buying the quizmaster some drinks the night before the quiz. A more sophisticated approach is to organise two friendly teams, and ensure that you each mark the other’s papers.

Finally, of course, you could decide to organise the quiz yourself. It’s much more fun, but do remember to anticipate all possible heckles.

See also pub quiz and table quiz for much briefer explanations

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