Monday, January 28, 2013

LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF TRIVIA: One of our correspondents notes that he's thinking of starting a pub quiz night in his locality and has asked for tips.  As part of a team that is quite regular at The Big Quiz Thing in NYC and has done other trivia nights from time to time, I'll offer some advice:
  • Remember that not everyone who comes to the event is going to be good at trivia, so make sure the show is entertaining for them even if they're not getting a ton of questions right.  Have audio and visual elements to keep folks entertained (audio and video rounds or questions are a great thing as long as the venue is set up in a way that makes them work).  The BQT also awards "smart-ass points" for wrong but funny answers, which is another great way to keep people engaged in the show when they're not terribly good at the game.
  • Scoring between rounds always generates a lull.  Make sure to have enough folks "staffing" the game that it goes quickly and offer something between rounds to keep folks engaged--I've seen short films, had live comedy, had a good DJ, or had mini-games offered in those segments.  
  • Question difficulty is hard to gauge, and may have to be adjusted over time depending on the crowd.  Well written questions, I find, have both a front door way and a back door way in--with the back door way ultimately being easier, but requiring picking up on an internal clue or piece of wordplay.  Also, make sure that unless you're specifically promoted as a specialty area night, you've got a wide range of questions, so everyone's niche of knowledge gets to contribute.
  • Have fun--if you're not having fun up on the stage, the people in the room aren't going to be having fun either.
I'm sure other folks here have experience and thoughts, and to the comments we go.


  1. Adam B.10:16 AM

    All my past Netroots Nation Pub Quizzes can be found here. I'd definitely echo what Matt said on giving many questions both a front door and a back door. Two examples from last year:

    Born Lij Tafari Makonnen, this 20th-Century African leader’s reign was almost derailed by a coup attempt in 1928.

    Translation: "did you notice Tafari in his name?" It's Haile Selassie, spiritual icon of the Rastafarian movement.

    When Cesar Chavez was jailed in 1970 during the Salad Bowl Strike, he was visited in jail by Ethel Kennedy and what Olympic gold medal winning decathlete?

    It's not really a question about Cesar Chavez at all. It's "can you remember an American gold medal-winning decathlete"?

  2. Not to be crass, but a hot, sassy Quizmistress doesn't hurt.

  3. victoria3:35 PM

    I've played pub trivia regularly in the past and helped write questions/run trivia nights for friends who did that as a business and for fundraisers.

    I guess the three things I'd say that haven't already been mentioned are:

    1.) At some point, you'll be wrong about something. There'll be an alternate answer you haven't thought of, something will have changed between the time your source was written and now, your source will be just plain wrong, etc., etc. Be firm when you know you're right, but be very willing to double-check -- players are really forgiving about these things if you're cool about it and really unforgiving when moderators are jerks.

    2.) YMMV, but I really like formats that have some sort of element where you can bid points in some way based on how sure you are about the question. It's another way of keeping people engaged even when they're not getting all/most of the questions.

    3.) As much as you can, avoid questions that are pure almanac trivia. I used to go to a trivia night that would do things like, give you six song titles and have you rank them by the number of weeks they spent at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, or given six nations rank them by their average beer consumption per capita. Those kinds of questions tend to feel like real crapshoots.

  4. isaac_spaceman9:20 PM

    We used to joke about first-half questions in the old Trivial Pursuit days. The first half of the question gave you like a 90% chance of getting it right. You don't need "what Swedish Prime Minister was assassinated in 19xx?"; you just need "What Swedish Prime Minister?" Does anybody know two? What Senegalese singer? What mythical sword? What German dictator?

    But your question isn't really a first-half question. The correct answer to "which decathlete" could be Thorpe, Jenner, or Dan/Dave, depending upon whether the second half was "stripped [or Native American]," "Wheaties [or Kardashian]," or "fizzled," and none of those would have been the right answer.