A pub quiz is a quiz held in a public house. These events are also called quiz nights or trivia nights and may be held in other settings. Pub quizzes may attract customers to a pub who are not found there on other days. The pub quiz is a modern example of a pub game. Though different pub quizzes can cover a range of formats and topics, they have many features in common.
The pub quiz was developed in the late 1970s by Burns & Porter Associates who took the concept of having a few individual quizzes in pubs and developed this into a national institution comprising upwards of 10,000 teams competing weekly in their pub leagues and knock-outs.
Pub quizzes (also known as live trivia, or table quizzes) are often weekly events and will have an advertised start time, most often in the evening.
While specific formats vary, most pub quizzes depend on answers being written in response to questions which may themselves be written or announced by a quizmaster.
Generally someone (either one of the bar staff or the person running the quiz) will come around with pens and quiz papers, which may contain questions or may just be blank sheets for writing the answers on. A mixture of both is common, in which case often only the blank sheet is to be handed in. Traditionally a member of the team hands the answers in for adjudication to the quiz master or to the next team along for marking when the answers are called.
It is up to the quizzers to form teams, which are generally based on tables, though if one table has a large group around it they may decide to split up. Some pubs insist on a maximum team size (usually between six and ten). The team members decide on a team name, often a supposedly humorous phrase or pun, which must be written on all papers handed in.
People often have to pay to participate – ranging from around 50p to £5 per person. This is often pooled to provide prize money. Many pub quizzes require no payment at all, as the event is simply a way to get paying customers into the venue, typically on less busy nights of the week.
The person asking the questions is known as the quizmaster. Quizmasters also mark and score answers submitted by teams, although formats exist where teams will mark each other's answer sheets.
The questions may be set by the bar staff or landlord, taken from a quiz book, bought from a specialist trivia company, or be set by volunteers from amongst the contestants. In the latter case, the quiz setter may be remunerated with drinks or a small amount of money.
Often questions may be drawn from the realm of 'everybody knows' trivia, therefore leading to controversies when the answers are false or unverifiable. In addition, as the quizzes are not formal affairs, slight errors in wording may lead to confusion and have led to a 2005 court case in the UK.
There may be between one and more than half a dozen rounds of questions, totalling anything from 10 to upwards of 80 questions. Rounds may include the following kinds (most common first):
- Factual rounds – these are usually spoken, either over a public address system or just called out. Common topics include:
- General knowledge – covering the topics listed below (if they are not in a separate round) and also topics such as history, geography and science and nature. There may well be more than one of these rounds.
- Sport – comprising the statistics and minutiae of popular, well-known sports and general facts about others.
- Entertainment – movies, TV shows and music (see also below).
- True or False – questions to which the answer is True or False.
- Picture round – these use photocopied or computer-printed hand-outs and consist of pictures to be identified, such as photos of famous people (possibly snapped out of context, or else partially obscured) or logos of companies (without tell-tale lettering), famous places or objects pictured from a strange angle.
- Who Am I? – A series of clues to the identity of a famous person (or thing). Clues are given in order of descending difficulty. The earlier a team can identify the correct answer, the more points they are awarded.
- Music round – these consist of excerpts (often only the intro or other non-vocal segment) of songs played over the PA system. Usually the teams must identify the song and also the singer or band (sometimes the year the song was released is also required). Variations include the inclusion of film soundtracks and TV theme tunes (requiring the title), and/or classical music (also requiring the composer).
- Puzzle rounds – generally on a hand-out sheet. These may consist of crossword puzzles, anagrams, Ditloids, Dingbats and basic mathematics problems.
- Novelty rounds – themed round a specific word or name (e.g. all the questions relate to a famous Norman); 'connections', where the last answer in the round provides a link to all the previous answers; true or false; and various others to break up the general stream of questions.
In some quizzes teams are able to select one or two rounds as "jokers", in which their points will be doubled (or otherwise multiplied). Teams usually select their joker rounds before the start of the quiz, although some rounds may be excluded. Teams who consider themselves to be particularly strong on certain subjects can improve their chances with a good joker round, but risk wasting the joker if the questions are unexpectedly difficult. The idea of using a joker in a game may come from the BBC television programme It's a Knockout.
Some quizzes include a bonus question, in which a single answer is required with one or more clues given each round making the answer progressively easier to solve. In some variants, the first team to hand in the correct answer wins either a spot prize or additional points to their total score. In others, the questions continue until all teams have the correct answer with each team been given progressively fewer additional points the longer it takes them to submit the correct answer.
Some quizzes add a small, separate round of questions to the end of a regular quiz, with the chance to win a jackpot. Each week an amount of money is added to the jackpot, and if no team answers the questions correctly, the money rolls over to the next quiz. The maximum amount of the jackpot may be limited by local gaming regulations.
Cash jackpots may be won by a variety of methods including one-off questions and dance-offs.
In some cases, the papers are marked by the bar staff. Alternatively, teams may have to mark their own answers and the handed-in papers are consulted only to check that prize claimants have not cheated by altering their answers. Another method is to have teams swap papers before marking, though this can be divisive.
One or two points are scored for each correct answer; some quizzes allow half marks for "nearly right" answers (such as a celebrity's surname when their full name was required). In some quizzes, certain questions score higher marks, particularly if they are unusually difficult.
With the mass use of mobile phones and mobile internet access, cheating has become a problem for some pub quizzes, with covert calls and texts made in the toilets, recent newspapers and magazines brought along especially for the event, ringers and so on. Though a maximum number of members set for teams may help to prevent large numbers of people collaborating, groups posing as several distinct teams are quite common. Some quizzes now ban the use of mobiles and nullify the score of any team found to be cheating. Though more prevalent where large sums of money are at stake, cheating can be observed even for relatively low stakes.
One case exists where a landlord banned the use of mobile phones completely from the establishment during the quiz evening, and in order to guarantee that no contestant used such a device, an FM radio tuner was connected to the public address system. Should any team member use a mobile phone during the duration of the quiz, loud pulsing sounds of electromagnetic interference would be heard, allowing other teams to attempt to locate the culprit.
Some quizzes also now ban re-entry to the pub after the quiz has started, in order to prevent team members from using public internet stations, public telephones and mobile devices out of sight of the quizmaster. Generally, though, a pub runs its quiz alongside its normal operation, making such a measure impractical.
Prizes are awarded to the highest scoring team, and often to runners-up. Prizes are usually one of the following:
- alcoholic drinks: a case of beer or some money on a bar tab to spend at that pub are common.
- cash: if money was charged for entry into the quiz, this is often pooled to form prize money. This may all go to the winning team. Alternatively, there may be a separate short set of questions or even a single 'jackpot' question to win the cash; if no team gets the right answer, the money is typically rolled over, making a larger prize the next week.
- vouchers: such as cinema discount-coupons, food discounts, or even drinks vouchers for use at the bar holding the quiz.
- drink-related promotional items from a brewery, such as t-shirts and beer glasses advertising their products.
- miscellaneous or novelty prizes, such as chocolate or cheap toys. The winning team may get first choice to pick a prize from a range on offer.
Another format for quizzing is called "infinite bounce". This format is generally used when the number of teams in the quiz is large – usually around 8–10. Every question is addressed to the team succeeding the team that answered the previous question. If no team answers the question, the next question is addressed to the team succeeding the team to whom the previous question was addressed.
In a digital pub quiz wireless handsets replace the more usual pen and paper. A computer receives and records the answers from each team's handset and the results are exported to a spreadsheet at the end of the quiz. A time limit can be set for each question (e.g. 60 seconds) and it is possible to determine which team answers in the fastest time for spot prizes and tiebreaks.
As the pub quiz concept spread to the US in the 1990s, several companies formed to provide services to bars and restaurants organizing quizzes. Different from the quiz league in the UK, US commercial pub quizzes typically involve more than just two teams and can have as many as 25–35 teams playing in a single location, with up to 6 people per team. Quiz companies charge bars a fee for hosting the quiz, which may range from $80 per week to $175 or more depending on attendance. At least 20 different pub quiz companies currently exist in the US, with most operating events concentrated in major metropolitan areas.
Leagues and competitions
A quiz league is an organisation that runs quizzes, normally in pubs, though such competitions are distinct from the standard pub quiz as they will normally involve two teams and often include a number of individual questions. No prizes are normally awarded at such a league match, but prizes and kudos may go to the quiz team winning a league or a knockout competition. The National Trivia Association runs a nationwide contest involving various pub trivia games played around the US.
Teams from throughout a region, county, state or country meet annually for more prestigious competitions, with greater prizes. Representative teams may either be the best team from each pub, or a team selected from the best individuals.
Livewire Entertainment in New Zealand have held an annual Champion of Champions quiz in Auckland since 1999. Initially open to teams from pubs within the greater Auckland region, it is now open to teams from throughout New Zealand. In practice, travel costs prevent most teams from the lower North Island and the South Island participating, although Christchurch, Nelson and Wellington have all provided teams.
In the United States National Trivia Association presents "The Riddle", a finals event open to eligible teams who play the official NTA "Quizzo!" live trivia game. Approximately a thousand players attended the 2008 event in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
In popular culture
Pub quizzes have appeared in the British sitcoms Bottom, Gavin & Stacey and Early Doors, amongst others. A January 2013 episode of Anger Management features Charlie Sheen's character involved in a game of 'bar trivia,' by Brainstormer. The New Zealand television drama Nothing Trivial centres around five characters who meet regularly at a pub quiz.
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