Tuesday, May 2nd 2006
It's me, Ivan, Pete and Pete's dad tonight. Pete and Ivan are both avoiding doing any work - Pete for his finals, Ivan for his PhD. I don't have any work to avoid. Pete's dad has done his work.
Round one starts very promisingly. I know that George Bush Intercontinental Airport in in Houston because I passed through there on the way to Central America. Pete's Dad knows that the Royal Engineers and Oxford University are former FA cup winners. Pete knows that the Belgrano survived Pearl Harbour before it was bought by the Argentine Navy, and Ivan knows a few things as well. Pete has a flashy pen to write the answers down but sadly he can't spell. Despite this, when the scores come back we're in joint 1st place.
Round two is not bad as well - we're managing not to talk ourselves out of correct answers like we usually do, and although we drop a few marks we're still joint first.
The beer round consists of five answers linked by a theme. We work out that all the answers are books from the Old Testament, but we only get four out of five, and so we're forced to buy our own drinks before round three begins.
As we feared, round three sees the onset of a slump in form. It's a music-themed round, and it's all about the kinds of music we don't listen to. One of the answers was David Hasselhoff. We've slipped to third, five points off the lead, and we fear we may be flouncing out of the pub in disgust at closing time.
As round four progresses, though, we feel a bit more confident. Pete's dad supplies several inspired answers, saying 'that's the kind of thing you used to learn in the pre-gameboy era'. Ivan insists that Emlyn Hughes used to play for Melchester Rovers - none of us believe him but he looks angry so we put it down. I almost convince myself that Equatorial Guinea is the smallest country in mainland Africa before I see sense and write down Gambia. When the answers are read out, we're astonished to hear that we've scored full marks. Ivan is vindicated and floats about two inches above his chair, radiating smugness.
But the drama's not over - we've caught up but we haven't overtaken, and we're in a tie-break situation for first place. We knew in the previous round that Matthew Parris has run the fastest marathon time for an MP - now we have to guess what it is. I know it's around 2 hours 30 - the others think that's way too fast. I insist. The other team puts 3 hours 4 minutes. The correct answer is 2h32m57s, and I feel almost as smug as Ivan. We walk away with 25 pounds, and even failing yet again to win the snowball doesn't matter too much.
Tuesday, May 9th 2006
We arrive at the pub at 8.30 and take our places at the quizmaster's table, for tonight we are setting the questions, and in our hands is the task of making everyone's Tuesday evening a fun one. "here for the quiz?" asks the barman, thinking he might have to move us on from the table. "We're not here for the quiz", we reply, "we are the quiz".
I love being the quizmaster. I feel omniscient and powerful as I read out my finely-honed questions. The task, of course, is not to set questions that no-one can get, and not to set questions that everyone can get, but somewhere in between. We once caused uproar in the pub when two teams scored no points at all on one of our rounds, but tonight we've got it about right.
My personal favourite of the questions I set was a multiple choice one with two answers. If every team had picked randomly, half would have got it right, but in fact only one team got the right answer. Most of them would have got it right had they not tried to psychologise - they all thought it was a complicated double bluff. The questions are below: see if you fall into the same trap.
Tuesday, May 23rd 2006
Pete's dad is not around this week. Sadly it seems he's vital to a successful pub quiz as we struggle this time to match our blistering form of a couple of weeks ago. We are fourth more or less throughout, and in the end we miss out on the money by a scant point. It's the worst possible place to finish, and there's not even the consolation of being able to bitch at each other for insisting on wrong answers because no-one did that this week.
It's not all disaster though - we win the beer round. It's always been our forte, especially since we developed the average method for the tiebreaker. Everyone simply writes down the number they want to guess, and the answer we give is the average. It's amazing how often the technique succeeds. We get the connection between the five beer round answers (they were all mentioned in the Only Fools and Horses theme tune), and the average technique sees off the opposition on the tiebreaker and sends us to the bar to enjoy 10 pounds worth of the finest drinks the Prince of Wales can offer.
Tuesday, June 6th 2006
With a team named in homage to Trinidad and Tobago's Jason Scotland (he plays for St. Johnstone) and with the world cup just days away, what could go wrong? Every single answer in this week's quiz is related to a world cup country, but unfortunately I arrive badly late, missing all of the first round, and therefore the question whose answer was Ecuador. I am always pretty confident on my South America knowledge, and get a couple of related questions, but fail to get Buenos Aires from a translation of its original name, or Argentina as a country named after something it exported. Derision is duly heaped upon me by my team mates.
The Argentina answer costs us the beer round, which is a terrible shame as our 'average technique' would yet again have won us the tie-break. But in the main quiz we are doing well - second after the first round, we get top marks on the second round and do well on the third round as well. It all comes down to the final round, and our hearts sink as the quiz setter announces it will be a music round, with him playing the keyboard. We had one of those in our early days as regulars and we'd almost flounced out in disgust when one team got full marks. We're still sure they must have cheated.
But this time, somehow, we do well. Just as he did last time, Ivan claims that one of the tunes is called 'Dear old Stockholm', but unfortunately just as last time it isn't. Other than that, we get almost all of them right, to our great astonishment. And when the scores are read out, we're top. With two wins in our last three appearances we're starting to get cocky. Bring on next Tuesday...
Tuesday, June 13th 2006
Ivan has some lame excuse for not turning up this week, something about preparing for a talk which could make or break his PhD. In his place, though, we've got Stu, the fifth man on our University Challenge team, who is over from Ireland trying to get jobs as a filthy bloodsucking lawyer. And Pete's Dad is along as well, looking to prove that we can only win when he's on the team.
A burst water main in the Tottenham area is my better-than-normal excuse for being late, and I arrive right at the end of the first round. "Do you know any darts commentators?" demands Pete's Dad. I confessed my ignorance. "Then you can go back home". I settle down for the usual - a pleasant evening in good company, with undertones of pure aggression. Also present in the pub this evening are a University Challenge quarter-finalist from a few years ago, and someone from Eggheads. If we hadn't been to the final of UC, we might have been concerned.
After round one, we're 6 points off the lead, or, to put it another way, 3 points off last place. I suppose my arrival must have provided the morale boost the team needed, though, because the second round goes far better. We score maximum points, and suddenly we're storming up the rankings, feeling that victory is possible after all. And then, the beer round - always our favourite round. We score the requisite five out of five to be in with a chance of a free round, correctly working out that our answers are all related to Arsenal footballers. We then apply the infallible average techique to get our tie-breaker answer. We have to guess the number of times Bernard Cribben presented Jackanory, and although I arouse fury among my teammates by suggesting 30, our average guess of 85 is closest to the actual 110, and we're beer round victors yet again.
Our good form continues in round three, and we move from third to second place. The final round stands between us and the first prize, but it looks tough - we have to make up five points on the first place team, 'Quizlamic Jihad'. Although we know, amongst other things, who owned Animal Farm, and can list five books in the Old Testament which begin with J, so can our opponents and we finish, still five points down, in second. Two pounds each is all the reward for our endeavours. To compound our disappointment, some snotty out-of-towner then wins £650 on the snowball, on an outrageously easy question about the Hanseatic League. I flounce out of the pub in disgust, vowing never to return - well, not for three weeks anyway because I'm going on holiday.
Tuesday, July 4th 2006
Pete has qualified as a doctor. So now we have two doctors on the team, one medical and one proper doctor. Does it help us to win? No it does not.
Tuesday, July 18th 2006
It's our turn in the hotseat again. The main problem we face is that the Prince of Wales' always unreliable microphone gives out entirely after the first round, and no amount of pulling the wire around can get it to make noises again. We are forced to shout the questions. Unaccustomed to the exertion, we are not sure we'll make it to the end and still be able to speak, but then we have the bright idea of asking if we can borrow a microphone from the Angel, down the road. They have their quiz on Wednesdays. Happily, they lend it to us, and we are back to a non-shouty quiz. The landlord assures us he'll buy a new microphone before next Tuesday.
The questions I set are here:
Monday, August 14th 2006
It's only me and Ivan around this week. As we are both habitually late, we miss almost all of the first round and have to answer all the questions as the quizmasters recap them. Our score is modest. Subsequent rounds see us scoring well, and if we'd been on time we might have been in with a chance of some cash, but as it is we finish outside the money. We both agree that if we'd been on time we would have won by miles.
Monday, August 28th 2006
My lesson learned from two weeks ago, I arrive on time. Ivan turns up as the first round is being re-capped. It's not too bad a start and we think we might do alright this week, but things soon unravel. The luck goes utterly against us, and we're both on pretty poor form as well. Ivan insists that OJ Simpson was offered the lead in Ghost before Patrick Swayze. I suggest equally outrageous answers, occasionally claiming I 'have a feeling' they might be right. The beer round is normally our forte but tonight it is the nadir of a terrible evening as we score nul points, and give an answer for the tiebreaker that's a factor of 50 wrong. We finish a long way down the field. The only positive thing is that no-one wins the snowball.
Tuesday, September 12th 2006
Getting there on time was a disaster last time, so I decide to arrive after the first round had already been completed. Luckily Pete and Ivan were there on time and we're off to a respectable start. My most useful contribution in round two is knowing what was unusual about the Tyrell P34 formula one car (it had 6 wheels). I also know what was unusual about the Brabham BT46 (it had a massive great fan on the back) but the quizmaster didn't ask that.
In place of the usual beer round, tonight's quiz is sponsored by Transport for London and at stake is a massive £130 of Oyster Card credit. I haven't had any income for several weeks and if we win I'll be able to go to work tomorrow without borrowing money. The first question involves identifying tube lines from their seat covers and I feel absolutely certain that I recognise the Bakerloo Line, even though I seldom travel on it. I am wrong. Luckily neither Ivan or Pete knew the right answer. We finish with 11 out of 13 - good but not good enough because another team got 12. The shits.
Round three involves giving 10 of the 18 most popular pub names in Britain (The Prince of Wales is the 19th), assisted by clues. Ivan insists that the Marquis of Granby is one of them, although it doesn't match any of the clues. We overrule him and give a different wrong answer instead. Ivan also fails to identify the pub name which is an England cricketer. "Well, Bell's a rubbish batsman anyway", he claims.
We're just outside the money. But we're on blazing form tonight and round four goes well. I do my best to harm the cause by insisting that Neptune is green. I feel my teammates should defer to me given that I have a PhD in astronomy. They feel otherwise. They are right and it's blue. I slightly redeem myself by getting the 1970s film named after a piano lesson book (Five Easy Pieces). We score 20 out of 20 and we've sneaked into third place, winning 8 pounds. I might not have got 45 pounds worth of Oyster Card but at least I can buy a single bus fare.
Obviously none of us win the snowball. Annoying Dave whose number comes up far, far more often than statistically possible, skips up to the front for about the 45th time in the last two years. I've seen him win probably more than a thousand pounds, and nice guy though he is, I deeply resent his unfair snowball success. So I'm very happy that, when asked what city was built on the sight of ancient Tenochtitlan, Dave is the only person in the pub who doesn't know it's Mexico City. He offers Gateshead. It's been a good evening at the pub quiz.
Tuesday, September 19th 2006
Tonight it's a story of bitterness and recrimination. We have a team of five - as well as the usual Pete, Ivan and me, my friend John is here because we're going to Santiago de Compostela in the morning, and Pete's girlfriend is here as well. Presumably she's the reason Pete arrived only a little bit late but showing clear signs of extreme hurrying.
Among the questions in round one is this: what else is in the set of objects that contains Ceres and 2003 UB313? As I may have mentioned before I'm an astronomer, and I know the answer is Pluto. John did a degree in space science and he knows it's Pluto. Ivan's doing a PhD in mediaeval history so no-one asks whether he knows what the answer is, but it's so obvious that he probably knows it's Pluto as well. Pete, though, becomes bizarrely convinced that the answer is Charon, Pluto's moon. He doesn't elaborate on why - he just writes it down and then scowls angrily at us. John and I protest but to no avail. When the answer comes back Pete is duly castigated. "OK", he mutters, "but dogs can look up".
The second round provides a horrible sense of deja vu. The question is, which Christian sect is found around the Mediterranean, but particularly in Syria, Lebanon and Cyprus. Ivan and I both say 'Druze' straight away, but then I begin to doubt it, and think 'Maronite' instead. I can't remember whether the Druze are actually Islamic or not, and Ivan believes in his original answer. I'm not certain, so I don't push it, and Ivan says that because I said Druze as well, I am not allowed to whinge if I'm right after all on this one. The answer is Maronite. I whinge.
Depite our catastrophes and a general sense of failure falling over the team, we're not doing badly - just outside the money, but we would have been second if my damn fool team mates had listened to me. Among the round three questions is 'in what year did women get the vote in Australia?'. We're offered a choice between 1902, 1922 or 1932. I know New Zealand gave women the vote in the 19th Century so I say 1902. Ivan says 'and what the fuck does New Zealand have to do with anything?' and writes down 1932. You can guess who's right.
The fourth round is OK but we've shot ourselves in the foot by throwing away six points, and we end the evening in the worst position, just outside the money. At least no-one wins the snowball.
Tuesday, September 26th 2006
I'm shattered. I've spent the last five days in Spain enthusiastically adopting the ridiculous Spanish habit of not eating until 11pm, going out for drinks after that and then thinking about possibly going to club at around 5am, although they won't get really busy until nearer 6am. But Ivan's emigrating to France shortly, to spend nine months studying mediaeval history in Paris, so I stagger up Highgate Hill to arrive just in time for the quiz.
Ivan has come prepared. At the slightest hint of a dispute arising, he unfolds a poster of the planets which came free in the Guardian this week, and which shows Neptune looking slightly blue-ish. Despite lingering bitterness and resentment from last week we are doing pretty well after the first two rounds. Questions like 'What country is entirely surrounded by South Africa' are music to our ears (it's Lesotho), but it's not all plain sailing. Australian landlords normally specifically ban the use of Durex for what purpose? Fuck, we think, but it's not that. Apparently it's for sticking up posters, because durex is what those crazy people down under call sellotape.
As always we think we can do well on the beer round. The answer to a long and tortuous first question involving Guantánamo bay and a Cock and Bull story is Michael Winterbottom. Alain Prost used to drive for McLaren. Ivan knows what a mercer is and we know that England football managers are the connection. We get all five questions right and so it's down to the tie break. How heavy was the biggest conger eel ever caught in British waters? We say 4.5 stone, thinking that would be one hell of a fat eel. The other team who got five out of five think it was over 12 stone. I'm revolted at the thought of an eel as heavy as I am, but they're almost exactly right, and we are forced to buy our own drinks this week.
Distracting us as the quiz goes on is a photographer from the Telegraph. A book of quiz questions, compiled by the organiser of the quiz Marcus Berkmann, is going to be serialised in said paper over the coming months, and they're after suitable images to accompany it. Ivan does his best to look photogenic but just can't quite pull it off. The photographer takes a photo of me, and then one of my hands, writing down an answer. Ivan looks upset.
The rest of the quiz passes by without us ever really hitting form, although Ivan redeems himself slightly for his outrageously wrong suggestion a few weeks ago that OJ Simpson was offered the lead part in Ghost. Who's film career began with The Towering Inferno in 1974 and ended with Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult? This time, it is OJ. But it doesn't help - when the final scores are read out, we're yet again in fourth place, the proverbial 'just outside the money. And then, in a clear sign that it's all completely stitched up, the quiz setter wins £200 on the snowball question. We storm out in disgust, vowing not to return for at least a couple of weeks.
Tuesday, October 10th 2006
Ivan emigrated to France two weeks ago, but to everyone's surprise he's back. He's off again on Thursday though. I am late, and the first round is almost over by the time I get there, but Ivan seems to be on form. I hardly contribute anything to our answers but we're in a healthy upper mid-table position. Problems arise during the second round when we're asked to name the five US states which have shores on the Gulf of Mexico. Florida, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, that's easy, but what's the fifth. Mississippi, says Ivan. For some reason I decide that I'm sure it's not a state, because Missouri is definitely a state and surely there's not two states named after rivers. Why do I think this? I've no idea, but I'm wrong and Ivan is bitter.
We fail to win the beer round. The average theory for the tiebreaker definitely needs more than 2 people to be present. The quiz goes on and after the third round it's looking like we might still have a tiny chance of a little bit of cash, but round four is not so good - Ivan fails to get a cricket question, and that's something that only happens when things are really going badly. So what was it the Flintoff did in India in March that only 5 people have done before? I can't remember - even thinking about a cricket question bores me to tears. The final scores are read out, and luckily we're not in the worst position to finish - we're one below that, in fifth.
So onto the final act of the evening. The winning ticket for the snowball is number 202, which astonishingly I have in my possession. For only the second time in two years I head for the front, ready to take on the toughest trivia questions. Sometimes the snowball is worth hundreds of pounds but tonight it stands at a modest £65. If I'm ever going to win it, it will be at a time like this. But I make the tactical error of picking envelope C, which turns out to have a question about tennis in it. I guess, wrongly, that Boris Becker might have beaten Ivan Lendl in the 1985 Wimbledon final, but it turns out to have been Kevin Curran. Stupid sport anyway.
Ivan is emigrating to France again before next Tuesday, but Stu is immigrating from Ireland, Pete is heading south from Luton, the pub has just been featured in the Sunday Telegraph and we're setting the quiz. Pack your quizzing bags, people, because next Tuesday is going to be a large one.
Tuesday, October 17th 2006
Despite the Telegraph's publicity, the pub is not too much busier than usual. Maybe it's because Highgate is more of a muesli-eating Guardian-reading sort of place. Or maybe it's because the article exhorted readers not to come because the pub is too small even to fit the regulars in. Maybe next week will be busier because now the pub is featured in The Independent as well.
We're not too upset that it's not so busy - we'd been expecting frantic times marking 30 quiz sheets between rounds. We enjoy setting the quiz, the teams seem to enjoy answering our questions and now you can see if you like them as well:
It's a round about astronomy because I am an astronomer.
There's a connection between these answers...
Tiebreak: what's the distance from London to Paris, in furlongs?
Tuesday, October 31st 2006
I suppose we are doomed from the start tonight. We name our team because we are under the impression that Barcelona have beaten Chelsea 2-1 in the Champions' League. Unfortunately we haven't realised that the Bastards scored a late equaliser, and we look ridiculous. Suffice to say we do not trouble the money this evening.
Tuesday, November 28th 2006
After a few weeks away from the quiz, me and Stu and Oli are back and ready to take it by storm. We feel good after round 1, in a comfortable fifth place from which a strike at the lead seems eminently possible. We know which seas you can find Trabzon, Archangelsk, Qingdao and Eilat are found on*, and we also know how to pronounce 'Qingdao' (Q being pronounced 'ch' in pinyin-transliterated Chinese) which the quizmaster doesn't. Round two seems less promising though, and we fear the usual late-evening slump in form has already started.
We pin all our hopes for the evening on the beer round. It's about naming cities from their parliamentary constituencies, and we have shamelessly brazen political geek Oli to give us all the answers. Everyone in the pub knows that Edgbaston, Erdington and Ladywood are in Birmingham, most people know that Attercliffe, Heely and Hallam are in Sheffield, a few people know that Riverside, Garston and West Derby are all in Liverpool, but only Oli knows that the city with constituencies called Central, East, North, Northeast, Northwest, South and Southwest is Glasgow. We are the only team to get all five right, which is great because our answer for the tiebreak proved to be a terrible overestimate of how long it would take a snail to travel round the world. Who'd have thought they could reach speeds of 40 metres an hour? Surely their shells would crack under the strain.
Newly fortified with a beer, two lemonades and seventeen packets of mini-cheddars, we get our heads down for the second half. But as we feared, the Slump rears its ugly head. Despite our best efforts, we finish way down the order, not even close to any cash. To top it all off, Patrick, who apparently won the Snowball last week, has his number come up again. The air is crackling with hatred and resentment as he steps up to take the question, but luckily he doesn't win it.
* Black, White, Yellow and Red respectively. The connection was almost too subtle for me to spot at first.
Tuesday, December 5th 2006
It's our turn in the hotseat again. I've persuaded some of my friends from college to come along and give it a go, and have promised them that it's not so much that the questions are hard here as that the regulars are some of the die-hardest pub quizzers there are. I am not sure they agree with me as they find themselves propping up the bottom of the league at the end of round 1.
A question about which three countries have non-rectangular flags causes a surprising amount of anger and bitterness in the crowd. Some people disagree with our assertion that squares are not rectangles. One team becomes bizarrely convinced that we didn't give them a mark for getting Nepal (the other two are Switzerland and the Vatican City) that they spend the rest of the quiz writing increasingly abusive messages to us on their answer sheets.
In our beer round, which is about naming films from their French titles, one team is so proud of knowing that 'Le Samouraï' is 'The Samurai' that they write their answer in Kanji script as well as English. Pete is not impressed and calls them 'wankers' when he reads out the answer. 'Clever', he concedes, 'but still wankers'. Meanwhile, the team writing us abusive notes realise that we marked them correctly after all, and contritely ask us not to disqualify them. We disqualify them.
At the end of the quiz, my friends have almost, but not quite, moved into second-last place. They pin their hopes on the Snowball, but Evil Patrick's number comes up for the third week in a row, which I am sure is statistically impossible. He wins, and the pub breaks into applause of the very politest kind. We suggest that if his number comes up again before next July, he should be barred.
Try my questions here:
Tuesday, December 12th 2006
The pub is absolutely rammed this week. With about 70 people crammed in and the fire roaring it feels like the Black Hole of Calcutta, and I feel sure people will start fainting before too long. It's probably because of the book, even though it specifically requests that readers do not come to the pub because it's too small. Regulars grumble as they gasp for air and we are all hoping that at least some people will flee in terror when they realise they've accidentally come here on a quiz night.
Our team stakes out its square foot of territory in front of the bar. We do pretty well on the first round, although we fail to guess what Radio 4 listeners chose as the best invention ever in 2004. We spend ages trying to think what sort of an invention ageing middle-class fuddy-duddies would think was particular fine, and we come very close to writing down 'bicycle'. For some reason we put something else, and of course the right answer was bicycle. We do know, though, that the Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment Corporation sued Youtube.com, and we find ourselves in a promising fourth position.
OJ Simpson is back to haunt us this week. We're asked who was considered for Terminator before Schwarzenegger got the role, and I tell everyone about Ivan's 'Ghost' debacle from a few weeks ago as we write down Sylvester Stallone. Everyone else in the pub writes the same thing, and everyone is aghast to be told it was OJ, but no-one is quite as outraged as I am.
The beer round eludes us this week, but we're still in the running for the main quiz. After round three we're in second, no less, with four points to make up if we are to claim the top spot. But even though we know which football club plays its home games in Europe and most of its away games in Asia (Istanbul's Galatasaray), and we can name 7 out of the 10 football people knighted since the war, and we can even name fucking OJ fucking Simpson's proposed recent book, we end up in joint third. A tiebreak about the number of nuclear power stations in the word is required to determine who's best out of us and the Ian Woan Memorial Team this week, and we narrowly win it to take home a massive £1.50 each.
Evil Patrick's number comes up for the fourth week in a row. This is becoming more than suspicious.
Tuesday, December 19th 2006
It's the last quiz of the year. Ivan is back from Paris, and has been looking forward to nothing so much as a good quiz. He says living abroad is making him feel more English than ever, which is strange because he's half-Spanish and half-Croat. Judging by the evening, living abroad is actually making him quite a lot louder and slightly more bitter than usual. Pete turns up unexpectedly, looking a bit traumatised after a journey from Luton. Stu and I have just come up from central London and we're not traumatised at all.
Evil Patrick is setting the quiz this week, which ought to mean he won't win the snowball. We agree before the quiz starts that we've got a good feeling about it, but by the end of round one this feeling has entirely evaporated. We only know three answers, and we have a horrible feeling that the answer to a question about an actor might be OJ Simpson. But we have gathered that this round's answers have some kind of biblical theme that we don't quite understand, so we write down 'John', 'Luke' and 'Isaiah' in various boxes and hope for the best. We are astonished, when the answers are read out, to find that we are in joint first place - our guessing must be inspired tonight.
Round two's answers are all connected with Christmas food. For a question about a house by the River with well-preserved 17th century gardens, I think the answer can only be Ham House. My team-mates ridicule me. We also work out that the bark of the Ceiba tree must be used for stuffing, and that the Italian for 'with onions' is cipollata. Ivan inexplicably starts shouting and swearing in Italian on hearing this question. When the answers are read out, I'm vindicated about Ham House, but we've slipped into second place.
The beer round involves filling in the blanks in quotes about marriage. We only get one right, but Patrick has said he'll give points for any particularly witty wrong answers. Presumably we're on some kind of comedy form because he gives us five points, which to our great astonishment is the joint top score. It's all down to the tiebreaker: when was 'The Night Before Christmas' written? We say 1848. Everyone else in the pub gives 20th century dates, but the actual answer is 1823 and so the beer money is ours.
Round three is about more food. I had no idea that Canadians call nice spring days 'sugar days', but luckily Pete did. And we all know that Dr. Seuss's book which only uses 50 words is 'Green Eggs and Ham', although we're no longer sure that there's a Christmas connection going on here. The biggest challenge is working out what links Agulhas, Azores, Antarctic, Alaska, Antilles and Angola. The minutes tick by, and an intense silence hangs over our table. I know that Agulhas means 'needles' in Portuguese, but at the moment this knowledge is useless. Patrick is demanding our answers in tones of increasing irritation. We've almost given up when Stu suddenly says 'currents'. They're all ocean currents of course, and against the normal form we've moved back up into the lead.
We feel sure we're about to crack under the intense pressure, and there's sudden chaos when Ivan manages to collide with someone while buying drinks. As the bar staff sweep up shards of glass, we get our heads down for the fourth round. After intense scribbling we work out that a seasonal anagram of 'Australian' is 'Saturnalia', and we also know that Mikhail Gorbachev was the world leader who resigned on Christmas Day 1991 and that David Healy is the footballer to whom fans sing 'Away in a Manger'. We don't know why they do that, but it doesn't matter - almost every team in the house has scored 16 points and so we preserve a narrow lead to win for the first time in ages. Of course none of us win the snowball, lack of Evil Patrick notwithstanding, but we head out happily into the cold foggy night, wondering just what to blow £5.25 each on.
Monday, January 29th 2007
We've spent the last few weeks being busy with other things but feeling that having ended 2006 on a high, we'll be invincible when we return to Highgate. Ivan's gone back to France but the rest of us are all here, and when there are four of us we usually find ourselves contending for the cash. In round one, after a bit of a struggle, we work out that Scaramanga was the only Bond villain to have been played by a relative of Ian Fleming's, and we find ourselves in second place. Round two sees us slip into third place; even with two Scots on the team we don't know enough about snooker to name the four Scottish world champions. Ally McCoist is not one of them, apparently.
The beer round is not our friend today. We don't get the connection between the answers at all, even once we've got three of the five answers, and Stu is reduced to hysterical laughter by my suggestion for one of the answers, saying it's as preposterously wrong as Ally McCoist was. We buy our own drinks before round three gets underway.
In the third round a question asks in a roundabout sort of way who wrote Atrocity Exhibition. I insist it's J.G. Ballard because it sounds like the kind of thing he'd write. Pete says it was the title of a song by Joy Division, which confuses things, but we put Ballard and it's right. I've never read any J.G. Ballard. Despite this, we're dropping points like Watford in the Premiership, and we're a seemingly insurmountable 15 points off the lead when the scores are read out.
We fight valiantly in round four. One of the questions is who was the star of When the Whistle Blows. "You have to be very precise with the answer", says the quizmaster. I think that sounds a bit like pub quizzing code for "I enjoyed writing this question a lot more than you'll enjoy answering it", but we work out what he means when we realise it's Andy Millman from Extras. But despite this fine effort we've only struggled back as far as fourth place.
Snowball? Evil Patrick's number is preposterously drawn yet again. We are incandescent with rage. The question is about an obscure American actor; what part was he the first to play? With an demonic laugh Evil Patrick gives the correct answer. Clearly, the hand that draws the tickets is guided to Patrick's numbers by forces that no man can comprehend. We flounce out of the pub and would surely not ever return again, if it were not for the fact that we're setting the quiz next week.
Tuesday, February 6th 2007
It's our turn to set it again this week. My friends who had what is known as a 'challenging' time last time have given this one a miss, but the pub is no less busy than normal. Most of it goes very smoothly, although my beer round in which teams have to identify what kinds of webs spiders spin when they're on various drugs (something mankind knows thanks to a bizarre experiment carried out in 1995) is less successful than I'd hoped. No team gets more than two right, and most fail to identify the web spun by the clean spider.
Rancour erupts on the final round. Two teams query their marks, and it turns out both failed to hear part of a question and so didn't give the answer to it. Luckily the team to my left vouches that I definitely said 'what poet and what work', but the teams are not too happy. They are tied for second place but having failed to bully me into giving them extra marks they will have to answer a tie-breaker to see who gets bumped into third. For the first tie-break, both teams put exactly the same number, so we require a tie-tie-breaker. Luckily this splits the teams. I discover later that the third-place bunch actually got a mark they shouldn't have got earlier in the quiz, inexplicably having been given a point for believing that Sofia is on the Danube. So, in the end justice prevails.
The snowball stands at a modest total having been won last week. I will be furious if Evil Patrick's number is drawn again, but luckily his forces of darkness fail to work this week. "Must be some mistake", he claims as someone else's number is drawn. This week's question is 'By what single word is the honey bear (potus flavus) better known?'. The person whose ticket was drawn doesn't know, and Chris who writes the snowball questions asks, as normal, if anyone else does. A pause. "Paris Hilton's got one...", prompts Chris. "Beaver!" comes a happy yell from somewhere in the pub. But no - rather more boringly it's a kinkajou.
Try my questions here:
Questions 6-9 were written by Pete.
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Tuesday, March 13th 2007
After a month off from quizzing we return to the Prince of Wales feeling like we are going to win. The normal practice is for me to to turn up half an hour later than agreed and the others to curse me, but this time we all turn up at more or less the same time but somehow manage not to see each other. I'm sitting in one corner of the pub cursing Stu and Oli, and they are in another corner of the pub cursing me. Shortly before the quiz starts irate text messages are exchanged and we work out the situation. Despite this poor preparation we start well. After round one we are in joint first place. Round two sees us slip into second despite our correct guess that someone once sued Uri Geller for uncoiling her contraceptive coil through the medium of television.
The beer round is always our friend, though, and this week we're given a list of dead comedians and asked to say whether they died in their thirties, forties, fifties or sixties. Oli doesn't have a sense of humour so he leaves this round entirely to me and Stu. We agree on most of them but have to haggle over Bud Costello, Kenneth Williams and Eric Morecambe. Neither of us have any idea who Bud Costello actually is, so we average our guesses. Stu insists that Williams was in his sixties and I refuse to concede that Morecambe was anything other than fifty-something when he died, so we trade those off. To our amazement we get full marks. For the tie break we need to know the half-life of Uranium-238. It doesn't matter that we get it wrong by a factor of 8.2 million because the other team on full marks are wrong by a factor of 45 million. Our science degrees have saved the day again.
Since time immemorial, the beer round prize has been ten pounds behind the bar, but the winds of change have swept through the Prince of Wales and in a moment of madness they've increased the prize to fifteen pounds sterling. There are only three of us and to spend it all we are forced to buy no less than fifteen packets of crisps. We can barely hear the third round over the sound of determined crunching, and perhaps because of this we've slipped to third, five points off the lead.
But we come out fighting again in the fourth round, and get every single question right. To our consternation we even know that Noel Edmonds wrote a book called Positively Happy. Is it enough to snatch an unlikely victory? Oh, so close, but not quite. We're second, a mere single point off first place. And so to the snowball. Evil Patrick's supernatural run of luck appears to be over, but some lucky git gets a very easy question asking which god had ravens called Huginn and Muninn. This is such an easy question that I would probably have got it wrong out of sheer confusion if my number had been drawn, but the git correctly says Odin and walks away with almost £300. We polish off the last of our dry roasted peanuts and flounce out of the pub in disgust.
Tuesday, March 27th 2007
I am more late than normal tonight, so Stu and Oli have to choose a team name and answer all of round one without me. To my chagrin, the team name gets loud approval when it is read out - there is almost a round of applause - and we're in joint second place. And worse, it all goes downhill from there. We drop to seventh after the second round, and we're closer to last place than we are to first.
We're struggling to scrape together drink money because the cashpoint outside the pub is broken, so we hope for our usual form in the beer round. The first question is who baked the cake that appears on the cover of Rolling Stones' "Let It Bleed". I hear myself say "Delia Smith" but I've got no idea why I said it, the thought just appeared completely uninvited into my mind. The others look at me as if I'm mad but it turns out to be right. We get four questions out of five, and from the tie break question we learn that Wanker appears at 55,000 in the list of surnames in the US in order of popularity, but another team gets all five questions and ours is a round of half lemonades.
We're sinking fast now and rounds three and four offer us no respite, except for one question. Which great Briton's name is an anagram of "Man making rubber dildos"? "Think of long names, like Isambard Kingdom Brunel or something", says Stu. For several seconds our concentration is intense. I'm thinking "Buckingham? Marlborough?" but then Oli says "Um, maybe it's Isambard Kingdom Brunel..."
We finish fifth, and all our hopes now rest on the snowball. But Evil Patrick's been conducting terrifying rituals again and defies the laws of statistics to get his number drawn once more. And what an easy question - which cartoon character lived at 52 Festive Road, Putney? Luckily, Patrick is about the only person in the pub who doesn't know that it's the legendary Mr Benn. No-one feels too sorry for him.
Tuesday, April 3rd 2007
All change at the PoW this week. The quiz master is sat at the bar, not at the quizmasters table; he wants us to think of team names before we start the quiz; he says teams will be marking each other's questions instead of him frantically doing it between rounds; and the entire theme of the entire quiz is music. Pete and I are unsettled by all this and fear that it heralds a 'challenging' evening.
But on the plus side, every round will be a beer round and we like beer rounds. The five rounds will cover the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s, and I am already looking forward to the last two rounds. Pete, though, is a fifty year old in the body of a young man and has the first round covered. The seventies see us drop a few points, although we do manage to get three of the six Eagles albums released in the 1970s, purely on guesswork. Stu's furious hatred of the Eagles doesn't stop him getting one of the titles. Marcus and Chris, who organise the quiz and are one or two decades older than us, are in the lead at this point.
I start to get into my stride in the 1980s. Who was Rick Savage the drummer for? It's a rare pleasure to be able to write down 'Def Leppard' in a pub quiz and I relish the moment. And the final question of the round is a song played over the stereo, from which we have to identify the band. It's Deacon Blue and we have a brief debate on their merits. Stu hates them almost as much as he hates the Eagles. Dignity is a classic track, I contend. Pete agrees - "Name a better song that name-checks John Maynard Keynes", he quite reasonably demands of Stu. "Give me five minutes and I could write one" claims Stu.
The 1990s requires us to do some very easy things like name Radiohead's three 1990s albums. We laugh at such simple questions and find ourselves second, three points off the lead, but beaten in this round by the Ian Woan Memorial Team, who dress like old men but are almost as young as we are. The older generation is fading fast, and they concede afterwards that while they were indeed around during the 1990s and we were not around in the 1970s, they were "how shall we put it? Not very interested", according to Chris.
The final round is a tense affair and involves some unpleasant questions about Coldplay, but when the results are read out, we've won this round's beer money, and sneaked into joint first place. Clean sweep? Surely one of us will win the snowball. Evil Patrick is absent this evening. But no, someone else gets a question about who entered the 1991 Eurovision song contest. He doesn't know, and perhaps even if he did he would have feigned ignorance because to know that would just be seriously embarrassing. No-one in the pub admits to knowing it was Samantha Janus.
Tuesday, April 10th 2007
We are undone this week by a picture round. It's just a bonus fun thing, really, in addition to the normal four rounds and a beer round. But when we look at it we're completely stumped. Not a single one of the 15 or so faces on the page look at all familiar. One, Stu and I both contend, looks a bit like Charlotte Church, but Oli stirs up dissent and paranoia.
Confused by the picture round, we flounder in the main quiz and by the end of round two we've long since abandoned any hope of money. After failing to win the beer round, we have to hand in the picture round. We have mostly put down random names and have no clue about the connection that Dave the quizmaster claims exists between the answers. When the answers are read out we've got three, and somehow everyone else in the pub has done far, far better. I hear people tittering when our score is read out.
Between round three and four, as we slip yet further down the rankings, Dave passes by on his way to the bar. "Was it you guys who only got three on the picture round?", he asks. Yes, we say, irritably. "I can't believe how badly you did!", says Dave. Thanks Dave. Round four does occasionally see us make a dramatic comeback. Not tonight.
Tuesday, May 1st 2007
I am in a blissed-out jetlagged haze this week, having just got back from China, and presumably because I'm still thinking in a time zone seven hours ahead of here, I make a startling break with precedent and arrive before everyone else. The quiz is being set by a first-timer tonight, and it's certainly challenging. But some are finding it more challenging than others, and at the end of the first round we have 16 points, another team has got 15, and everyone else is in single figures. A couple of teams have scored nothing at all - we almost got lynched once when something similar happened in one of our quizzes, but everyone obviously feels that these questions were hard but not unfair and the quizmaster survives to read another round.
Following our habit that now seems unshakeable, our form is hit in round two by the Slump. We are not obsessed enough with football to know that West Ham were the last non-top division team to win the FA Cup, and even though we know that Man U v. Newcastle in 1999 was the last FA cup final between two non-London clubs, we still drop into second. Our cause is bolstered when Pete's dad arrives just before the beer round, though. It's been a while since he was last here and he's keen to remind us of his tremendous command of pub quiz trivia. The answers to the beer round all turn out to be related to Shakespeare plays, and it's Pete's dad who gets the tricky final answer, about two DC Comics heroes and an album released by the Insane Clown Posse. They're all called Tempest.
But dissent breaks out over the tie-break, in which we have to guess the number of different airline sick bags in the world's largest collection of them. Oli says 17,000; Stu and I think he's insane. Pete and his dad are unsure but becoming infected by Oli's madness. We follow the average theory, and I'm tempted to put in a negative guess; we discuss this briefly and decide that guesses have to be physically possible. We end up with 10,240, which Pete's dad is now convinced is far too low. "We got all five questions, and now we're throwing it away on the tie- breaker", he says, "so I'll be buying the next round I suppose". The answers are read out. The tie is between us and one other team. They put 23,000. "Given it away", says Pete's dad, morosely. But the world's largest sick bag collection numbers a mere 5,034 items, and we've taken the round.
Back to trying to win the quiz. We have an entertaining discussion in round four about where Madame Butterfly was set, in which almost every city in Japan is mentioned at least once. Pete's dad says Nagasaki and he seems very sure of that, but for some reason he is over-ruled and we put Yokohama. The answer is Nagasaki. We end the quiz miles off first place but miles ahead of third, and three pounds for each of us is the prize for our endeavours.
Tuesday, May 15th 2007
The pub is heaving this week, and I want to call our team "Who the hell over-publicized this place anyway?", seeing as Marcus, who over-publicized the place with a book about it, is setting the quiz. Stu over-rules me, saying it "won't do us any favours", and so we have a dig at the landlord instead. With 17 teams in, Marcus becomes headmasterly in his efforts to control the proceedings. "Will you all.... please.... shut.... UP!", he shouts. The rabble calms, and the quiz gets underway.
Our first two rounds are marked by some astonishing guesses. What product's logo features Major General Sir Hector MacDonald, being served tea by an Indian servant? Sir Hector was apparently a Victorian military legend, serving with the Gordon Highlanders in Afghanistan, Sudan and South Africa to widespread acclaim. This isn't any sort of clue, but Oli has some vague recollection that Camp Coffee has someone in a kilt on the front of it, so we put that and it's right. Rather poignantly, it turns out that Sir Hector shot himself in 1903 when facing a court-martial for homosexuality.
We also manage to guess that the Mountain Chicken of Montserrat is actually a frog, and when faced with a profusion of questions about Poet Laureates, we score two out of three by putting whichever seems most plausible out of Betjeman and Tennyson, these being the only two Poet Laureates we know. But I earn aggressive disapproval from my team-mates when I insist, for reasons I can't entirely recall now, that Cardinal Wolsey was Archbishop of Canterbury rather than York as they believe.
The beer round involves naming films, given the title of the short story they were based on, and the year the film was released. Stu is on blazing form with this, and quickly gets six of the seven, including 2001: A Space Odyssey being based on The Sentinel and not, as Oli and I had thought, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The tricky seventh is the 1946 film based on The Greatest Gift. I think it must be It's A Wonderful Life - more than that, I know it must be that. Stu says that was released earlier than 1946. I protest, but he and Oli invite me to remember Cardinal Wolsey, and they put down Miracle on 34th Street. We buy our own drinks before the start of round three.
We're looking to make up about five points to get into the money, and we think we might have a chance after a good third round, in which Stu recalls after several minutes of gripping his forehead fiercely that Cal Trask, Jim Stark and Jett Rink were the three major roles of James Dean. But we slip up, when asked what happened when Ashley Revell sold every single thing he owned, and bet it all on one spin of a roulette wheel, changing his mind on what colour he called after the ball had been released. We think the ball must have landed on zero, or at the very least that his change of mind was a terrible, terrible error, but somewhat prosaically it turns out that he actually doubled his money. We finish in the worst position of all, just outside the money.
The snowball is worth 180 pounds this week and Evil Patrick is looking strangely confident. We are very relieved when someone else's number is drawn. Which band released albums called Second Coming and Garage Flower? The person who is on the spot doesn't know, so as usual Chris asks if anyone else knows. Everybody else knows, and people elsewhere in Highgate must be wondering why they just heard a hundred people shouting "The Stone Roses!". I am now reconciled to the fact that never will an insanely easy question coincide with my number being drawn.
Tuesday, May 22nd 2007
Evil Patrick is setting the quiz this week, and last time we were here for one of his we won it, so we feel confident. This feeling soon disappears. We don't do so badly on the first round - Patrick asks who was associated with Approaching Menace until he died earlier this year, and we know it's Magnus Magnusson, but we earn the disapproval of the quizmaster when we suggest that the great Icelander is still associated with the tune, even posthumously. "If there's going to be any pedantry this evening, it will be coming from me", he says, but despite the reprimand we find ourselves in third place.
But things begin to slip, and the second round goes very badly. Oli is the only one of us who knows that Jose Mourinho's dog is called Gullit, which is remarkable considering that Oli is extremely proud of his utter ignorance of football and everything to do with it. The only time his number has ever come up on the snowball, the question was which Dutch footballer is the only person to have won the Champion's League with three different clubs - despite the hundreds of pounds at stake, and the anguished cries coming from Ivan who knew the answer, Oli looked delighted as he said "I have no idea and I can't even offer a guess".
We have a bonus round this week - from extracts from poems we have to name the poet. I can offer no help here, except to suggest that Tennyson and Betjeman may well be among the answers. Patrick's quizzes are unashamedly highbrow, and he obviously relishes being able to say things like "Quite a few teams put Sappho for that one, but it refers to Lesbia, not Lesbos and the answer is of course Catullus". Of course. Our score is modest, and we drop down the order. Afterwards, I say to Patrick that poetry has never been our team's strongest point. "Clearly", he says.
As the quiz goes on we are slipping further and further from the money. We do know the three players other than Federer and Sampras to have won Wimbledon in the last 15 years (Richard Krajicek, Goran Ivanisevic and Lleyton Hewitt), and after much debate we realise that what connects Natasha Hamilton, Alex Best, Nell McAndrew and Javine Hylton is not that they are or were all married to footballers but that they've all won Rear of the Year. Patrick's quizzes do occasionally contain such lowbrow moments but I am not sure Patrick really enjoys them. But we are enraged by a preposterous question which requires us to know not just that Laurence Olivier was born 100 years ago today, but also what each of his three wives were called. Marcus tells us afterwards that he actually got this question right, and I may have to refer to him from now on as Smug Marcus. Come the final reckoning we are a horrific 18 points off the lead, and yet again we're in the worst position, just outside the money. We're setting the quiz next week and we all agree that will be a lot more fun.
Tuesday, May 29th 2007
The pub is having one of its Black Hole of Calcutta weeks this week, and there is barely even enough space for me, Pete and Oli to stand by the bar. Marcus accuses me of papering the house but there's only three people I know here. I think the huge turnout must be because of the spiralling popularity of this blog. Or something. There is a photographer here tonight taking pictures for a feature in a London newspaper. This is a good thing because we like appearing in the press, but also a bad thing because I didn't go to work today and I may now be rumbled spectacularly.
With 16 teams, we have a frenetic evening marking and adding. The quiz goes well but to my enormous disappointment the beer round has only one clear winner; I have spent a non-negligible amount of time devising what I think may be the best tie-break question ever, and my efforts have been in vain. Further disappointment comes at the end when my ticket is not drawn for the snowball. This is no longer as heartbreaking as it used to be - my hopes have been dashed so often that I'm hardened to it. But the person whose number is drawn has never been to the Prince of Wales and didn't even know it was quiz night until he turned up. Thankfully he doesn't get the question right. Nobody does - the answer is "Televised sheep dog trials" and even in the Prince of Wales you don't get people who know the answers to questions with answers like that.
After the quiz, as I am chatting to Marcus and Chris, I am accosted by Tosser. Tosser is someone I've never seen in the pub before but who complains about the wording of one of my questions, which began "If you were reasonably young in the early 1990s..." and to which the answer was the Tetris theme tune. Tosser's team got it wrong, and he thinks I should have said "mid to late 1980s or early 1990s", because according to Tosser the game was originally released in 1984. Marcus and I suggest that the exact wording was really not that important. Tosser starts telling us a detailed history of the game, and when it was released on which machines. "I cannot believe", says Chris, "that I am even taking part in a conversation like this", and moves swiftly on to another part of the pub. Undeterred, Tosser starts looking up websites on his mobile phone. Even as we leave the pub he is calling after us, saying "But according to Wikipedia...". If Tosser is there next time we set a quiz he can expect some fantastically harsh marking.
All our questions are here:
Tie-break: What is the average number of a London bus?
Tuesday, June 5th 2007
We have hit the big time this week. I had expected that the 'feature' that last week's photographer spoke of would be a tiny box on page 80, but actually it was a double page spread, mentioned on the front page, with a startlingly large photo of me used to illustrate it. It's a lesson learned - never again will I bunk off work the day I set a pub quiz. I find it oddly disturbing being surrounded by pictures of myself on my commute home from work and I hope I won't unexpectedly appear on the front page of London rags too often.
Only Oli and I can make it this week, and normally if only two of us are there it's an evening of humiliation and despair. Round one lulls us into a false sense of security, though, as we find within ourselves knowledge such as the word both Sean Connery and Johnny Depp have tattooed on themselves (Forever - Scotland and Wino(na) respectively), and the European capital built on 14 islands connected by 55 bridges. As I reminisce about my travels to Stockholm the scores are read out and we are surprised to find ourselves in fourth place.
But round two brings possibly the most spectacular slump in form we've ever experienced. We flounder badly on our way to four correct answers out of a possible 14, and we have plummeted down the order to somewhere distressingly close to last. The beer round brings no relief - I mostly watch moderately pretentious subtitled European arthouse films so the fact that all the answers are roles John Hurt has played escapes me. Despite the fact that we only answer one question out of five, Oli and I actually spend a couple of minutes arguing about what to put for the tiebreaker.
Before round three starts we briefly consider whether to do a runner as we're sure we're not going to get back into the respectable scores. But we stick around, and luckily so because this round goes slightly better. One answer troubles us, about a classic whose author refuses to let it be performed in schools and dislikes it being referred to as a classic. I am sure I know it and I am staring into the middle distance pondering intensely when I suddenly realise that I'm actually staring at the answer - David the quizmaster is reading out the questions again and his question sheet has intercepted my line of sight. J.D. Salinger's Catcher In The Rye is the answer, and seeing as we're doing so badly we think we should accept this small piece of good fortune and decide to, for the want of a better word, cheat. To our horror, when the scores are read out we've actually vaulted into second place.
We spend much of round four discussing the morality and ethics of pub quizzes. I am maddened by the sudden scent of victory and I want to win at all costs. Oli is far more honest and says we will have to throw one answer. But there are some great answers and I don't want to throw any of them - my favourite question asks for the most famous work by fictional artist Basil Hallward. I like it enormously because I work out that it is the portrait of Dorian Gray about a second and a half before we hand the sheet in, and I would have thought it was a rubbish question if I hadn't worked it out until after that. Despite my deeply dishonest protestations, Oli insists on replacing one correct answer with a wrong one, and we end up in third place, with five pounds each that we feel is just slightly dirty money.
Evil Patrick, to everyone's outrage, has his number come up yet again for the snowball. "Woohahaha", he says as he reveals himself from the shadows and steps up to take the question. The question is about a poet known as the Ettrick Shephard. Despite my anger, I still find it within myself to be amused as Oli virtually collapses to the floor in agonies because he knows the answer. Patrick says he knows the answer too and offers a name. "The answer I've been offered is..." says Chris, pausing X-factor style. "...is...". Oli is consumed by grief. "...not the right answer!", says Chris and quite a few people start clapping. I may have been one of them, I can't recall for sure. We leave the pub happy if a little bit ethically confused, and vow not to sit so near to the quizmaster next time.
Tuesday, June 26th 2007
Ivan is back from Paris, I am back from the Canary Islands and for possibly the first time ever, all five of us who formed the University Challenge team are here. Ivan has brought his girlfriend along, and Pete's dad is here as well, so in fact we are one over the team size limit. After last week's dubious ethics I feel we should be getting back on the straight and narrow, but my teammates overrule me. Oli says he felt surprisingly guilt-free after last time, and seems to have discovered an unsporting side to himself that he never knew he had. So we try to look like six people, and worry about what to do if we win any money later.
Among the first round questions is one asking how you would know if a dog has been eating bones. Ivan says he's an expert on dog shit after nine months in Paris, and correctly says that the shit will be white. But so long away from home shores has wrecked Ivan's once-encyclopaedic knowledge of cricket and he fails to identify WG Grace as the cricketer who scored 224 not out for England, then left the match before it was over to win a quarter-mile hurdles championship. None the less, we are in a respectable mid-table position after two rounds.
The beer round involves naming films from their working titles. We get six of them without too much trouble, and after intense debate Pete's dad and Stu decide that 'Not tonight Josephine' was the working title of 'Some like it hot'. We have got all seven and it's down to the tie-break, a magnificently silly question about the number of Old Etonian bow ties found in Guy Burgess's Moscow apartment after he died. But for once, the average theory lets us down and we vastly overestimate.
Round three contains a question about a chemical element whose symbol is apparently a joke, which has many crystalline forms, would give you lung cancer if you inhaled it, and explodes on contact with water vapour. I recall a happy moment from my school days when I set fire to quite a large area of desk by dropping water on a lump of sodium, but we do not think that sodium gives you lung cancer. I recall another happy moment from A-level chemistry when I got spectacularly high on ether, but this has no bearing on the question. After much discussion we settle on plutonium - Pete's dad has a degree in chemistry and reckons the physical properties fit, and I am sure that giving it the symbol Pu is just the kind of thing some deeply tragic chemist would find highly amusing. And we are right - Glenn T. Seaborg is apparently the wacky guy responsible for 67 years of chemical hilarity.
We are apparently in the lead after the third round, and we are now slightly concerned about what to do if we win with seven people on the team. "We just share the winnings outside the pub - easy" says unscrupulous Oli. But luckily, our lead was due to a marking error, and the final round sees our form slump, most notably in a question asking for the South American country which shares its name with an area of London just north of the Westway. South America? Move aside, allow me. But what region of London is named after any of them? We struggle for ages. I can tell them all the countries in South America, easily, but we still don't have a clue what the region of London is. Frustrated, we hand in the answer sheet with Colombia written in sheepishly light biro. To our outrage, the answer is Venezuela - Little Venice. We were thinking far too literally and we've dropped into an ethically-acceptable fourth place.
The snowball prize is building up to epic proportions, and apparently someone that no-one likes has been buying absurd numbers of tickets. Purchases are now to be capped at five. I suggest they should also permanently exclude anyone who has had their number come up more than five times. Everyone but Evil Patrick likes this idea. The snowball rolls over after a difficult question about a Hollywood actor who boxed under the name of Packy East. No-one in the pub knows it was Bob Hope, and the pub will probably be rammed next week because the prize will be more than £500.
Tuesday, July 17th 2007
After two ethically questionable outings, it's time for a return to the straight and narrow this week. We stick to the team number limit and sit well away from the question master. In the first round we have to name the two European countries whose anthems have no words. We all know that Spain is one of them, but no-one knows the second. Pete says it's probably Bosnia because it's unlikely that the two halves of the country would agree on any lyrics, and happily this is correct. We find ourselves in second on 17 points, as do about half of the teams in the pub.
Round two sees dissent break out as we have to name the five most densely populated countries in the world. Stu says Holland, but no-one else is entirely sure of that. Oli says that Malta and the Maldives are definitely in there, but I am certain the answers will all be city states. Stu says Holland is definitely one of them and if we don't put it down he'll be extremely angry. Reluctantly we put it down, but Oli is completely over-ruled. When the answers are read out, Malta turns out to be one of them after all. Oli is furious. Luckily he is so consumed by rage that he doesn't actually hear that the Maldives are also on the list.
The beer round contains five sets of paired answers, all connected by a theme. After three pairs of questions we work out that it's comedy double acts, and after Ivan tells us that Sammy McIlroy is the manager of Morecambe FC, we presume that the director of Underworld and husband of Kate Beckinsale must be called Wise. But when the answers are read out it turns out he is called Len Wiseman. "Morecambe and Wiseman?" says Stu, incredulously. "Clever question" says Pete. "Morecambe and WISEMAN?" says Stu, now becoming quite angry. Two teams overcame this trickery to get all the questions right and so we spend the first couple of questions of round three in the queue for the bar.
At the end of round three, we think the quizmasters might have said we have 36, when we actually have 46. But we're not sure if we just misheard them and we would only be in fourth place anyway, so we play on. Then when the final scores are read out, we have apparently scored 10 for 54. This doesn't entirely make sense, but we think we are outside the money anyway. I am not too fussed about complaining, but as the money is doled out to the winners, everyone else says we must find out exactly where we came, even if it's sixth. So we query the adding up, and it turns out that the setters did think we were on 36 after round three, and they mis-read our fourth round score which was 18. We've actually got 64 points, and somewhat embarrassingly we are in fact the winners. The Ian Woan Memorial Team's celebrations are interrupted as they are required to return the third-place prize and go home penniless. They're more gracious about this than we would have been if this had happened to us.
The snowball is reaching epic proportions, and Pete and Ivan buy a colossal nine tickets between them. Evil Patrick is not about this evening so we all feel confident. When the prize is over £500, as it is tonight, punters have three chances to win money - if the first question is answered incorrectly, half the prize is then offered for another question, and then half again for a third if necessary. But none of our numbers come up, all the questions are answered wrongly, and we'll all be along next week to gamble away a few more pound coins.
Monday, July 30th 2007
Evil Patrick is setting the quiz tonight, and the one time we stormed to victory in one of his quizzes has made us all forget the numerous other times we've floundered in them. All five of us are going to be here this week, and we think the odds on us making it two victories in two weeks are not too long. But Stu is running late, having apparently had an appointment with a Hong Kong tailor that over-ran. He arrives just after we've handed in the answers to round one, not looking very tailored and seconds too late to tell us that Reggie Perrin's middle name was Iolanthe. But in the second round he shames us all by knowing the first three Irish winners of the Nobel prize for literature, while the four of us who are British score zero between us when trying to name the first three British winners.
The beer round answers this week are all terms relating to cricket, and despite Ivan's deeply tragic knowledge of the sport and its history, we do not get full marks. Luckily this saves us from an argument over the tie-break. How many VCs have ever been awarded? We follow the average theory, as always. Oli says 1,200. I think this is preposterous, and I make a low guess to bring the average down, as do the others. But the answer is 1,356, and so it's a good job we weren't even in the running.
Round three contains a question that sounds slightly familiar. Who was originally lined up to play the Terminator before Schwarzenegger got the part? OJ Simpson is our bête noire, frequently coming up as answers to questions he has no right to be the answer to, and which we inevitably get wrong. But we think we've had this one before, so we put him down and for once he is the correct answer. We are also the only team which knows that hills with a relative height of more than 150m are known as 'marilyns'. This is what passes for humour among fell-walkers, the Scottish peaks higher than 3000 feet being known as Munros.
In the final round we struggle to work out who might have invented Meccano. It's French, according to Oli and Ivan, but that doesn't help much. In the end, Pete writes down Hornby just for the sake of not having an empty box, and we're amazed to find that he's correct. But when we are asked whether it's true or false that the element Cerium was named after the asteroid Ceres, Pete refuses to accept my assertion that it's true, saying that they must both be named after Ceres the goddess of agriculture. It's been almost a year since I said that Neptune was green but I still find it almost impossible to get my team-mates to accept my answers to astronomy questions.
We finish the evening in third place, and we're all buying up slightly more snowball tickets than usual. Our shocking luck persists, though, and none of our numbers are drawn. Someone from a table who we suspect are pooling their tickets has his number come up, and wins £250 with a question about the first British team to win a European football competition. He answers London, apparently correctly, and we flounce out of the pub in disgust. We'll be back next week though, for two reasons - firstly because there is still over £500 in the snowball pot, and secondly because we're setting the quiz.
Tuesday, July 31st 2007
The pub is quieter tonight than it has been for ages. While it's always nice to have a full house for a quiz, it is also nice to only mark 10 team sheets at the end of each round. It's slightly surprising that there are not so many people in, because the snowball prize is massive, and I feel throughout the quiz that people are seeing it as just a slightly annoying distraction before we get on to the serious money. Actually it's probably just me that's seeing it like that. The quiz is fairly successful although some people dispute an answer involving Harrison Ford. All I can say is, I got the fact involved from an article in The Guardian, and they are not known as the Grauniad for nothing.
Once the tiresome business of the main quiz is out of the way, we're onto the snowball. My number is 250, a nice round number, and not only that but the bar woman wrote down the amount in the pot for us to announce on the back of my ticket, so all possible omens are with me. And yes, my number is drawn, for only the third time in three years. Normally when a quiz setter's ticket is drawn I feel deeply suspicious, but tonight I think anyone harbouring such thoughts is being incredibly uncharitable. I hurry up to the front of the pub, insofar as it's possible to hurry half a metre, and pick my envelope. I feel good and I'm hardly hyperventilating at all at the thought of going home £650 richer.
"Clem Hemingway was the real name of which character from a popular British sitcom?", says Marcus.
So I won't be going home £650 richer tonight then. I can't even offer a guess, and I'm then disgusted to find that the sitcom in question was the answer to one of my questions in round four. Luckily, no-one else in the pub knows the answer either.
Because the pot is so huge, up to three tickets are drawn each week these days, with the second and third tickets being worth a potential £250 and £125 respectively. The second ticket drawn belongs to a team who are trying to circumvent the "five tickets per person" rule by pooling their tickets, but Marcus is having none of it and ensures that the person who bought the ticket answers the question. The person they wanted to answer the question looks visibly pained as his team-mate gets it wrong. His misery is then compounded when the third ticket drawn belongs to the same person. "Please, please can't I answer this one?" he pleads, just before his friend gets it wrong again. I'm delighted - if I can't win the snowball I don't want anyone else to either.
Here are all our questions:
(this will be here soon...)
This one is all about geography.
Give the English titles of the following films (except the one that is already in English, for which the Spanish is required)
Tuesday, August 14th 2007
The team this week consists of me, Stu and Oli, and although I arrive catastrophically late, Stu and Oli have got round one pretty much covered, and all I need to do is help think of a team name. Stu's suggestions are all quite amusing, but tasteless to the extent that we'd probably have to leave the pub when the names were read out. Luckily we come up with something inoffensive, vaguely amusing, and slightly topical. It gets a slight laugh when it's read out, but it doesn't help us much as far as scores go - we start the evening in the mid-table.
Sadly things don't get any better. It's a good quiz but somehow we're stretching out the gap between us and the money by many points each round. The beer round is a disaster as we completely fail to spot the connection between the answers, and then during rounds three and four I am distracted by the team next to us. The snowball prize, as you may have gathered, is now so big that it's driving quizzers to the edge of sense and honesty, and it's turning me into a deeply suspicious curtain-twitcher. A maximum of five tickets per person which are not transferable is the rule, but there have definitely been tickets bought by thickos and passed to team-mates with greater reserves of intense trivia. The team next to me buys fifteen tickets between them and straight away put them in one large pile on their table. I look across and try to convey wordlessly that I know what they are up to and I will grass them up if one of their tickets is drawn. It must work because next time I look they each have their own five tickets in front of them. But a few questions later, the tickets are back in a pile, and they stay that way until the end of the quiz. We've finished out of the money by a huge margin, but I'm imagining a triumphant public denouncement of the poolers, possibly followed by a dramatic snowball win for myself. Sadly, it doesn't work out like that, and fortunately for everyone not one of the fifteen tickets in their pool is drawn. I'll be keeping my eye on them next week as well though...
Tuesday, August 21st 2007
I arrive late again, and Stu has already taken care of a team name, which commemorates the recent thirtieth anniversary of Elvis's unfortunate demise and gets an impressive reception when it's read out. There are a ridiculous 19 teams in the house tonight, and during round one we're standing by the fireplace, which we agree is never good for the concentration. Luckily, Stu has already had words with two women who have a table but who are not quizzing, and as round two begins, glances are exchanged and we dive across the entire width of the pub to claim the table before any of the other hoverers.
There are a plethora of excellent questions this week, and despite being a team of only two, we're on fairly blazing form. We don't actually know many answers but we're managing to work them out. A bird which comes in Atlantic, Tufted and Horned, and which is the only bird whose beak moults? Puffin, I suggest. What did Clement Wragge start naming in the 1890s? Stu works out that it's hurricanes. After two rounds, we're a very respectable three points off the lead.
The beer round looks like being a disaster. There are six questions, and we really don't know any of the answers until we get to number six, which quotes some song lyrics. Stu says they're from "More than a feeling", but this leaves us none the wiser. But then the crazy thought occurs to me - could the connection be insurance companies? It's almost too ridiculous to suggest, but we've got nothing to lose so I mention it, almost as if I'm joking. But that's it, and suddenly we're hitting form. Who said in 1989 how wonderful it was that East Germans now had access to lots of lovely shops? Anne Diamond. Which station saw the tube's first ever birth? It's Elephant and Castle. A question about a Led Zeppelin song has to be Dazed and Confused, and the butterfly whose scientific name is vanessa atalanta must be the red admiral. Finally, magnificently, Stu remembers that the company that was at the centre of the arms to Iraq affair was Matrix Churchill. The tie-breaker asks us how many miles the queen travelled on her 1953 commonwealth tour, and following our tried and tested method of winning tiebreakers we average our guesses. But this method definitely requires more than two guesses to work properly, and heartbreakingly we are the furthest away from the right answer of the three teams who got all the answers right. The only consolation is that Evil Patrick's team didn't even hand in their questions because they didn't get the connection.
We have already been working out how many packets of peanuts we would have been eating with our £15 prize, and are slightly downcast as round three starts. It's a challenging one and puts an end to our distant hopes of a victory, but we're still in with a shout for third. Round four trips us up with a question to which the answer really should have been Elvis but was actually Lord Lucan, but at least we guess correctly that the 1958 newspaper headline "Is this man too sexy for television?" referred to Cliff Richard. It's not enough to get us any further up the order, and we end up in fifth. We think that's not bad for just two people, especially when the winning team appears to have at least seven people on it.
The first snowball ticket drawn is number 370; I have number 371. The question is one that I probably would have guessed correctly. which is a little bit upsetting. But none of the three lottery winners gets their question right, and next week will see the pot go over £1000.
Tuesday, August 28th 2007
I am writing this entry weeks and weeks after the quiz. Can I still maintain the use of the present tense to give readers the sense that all the action is happening right now? Probably not. I can't remember anything about the quiz - I think I've given up remembering stuff about evenings at the Prince of Wales because I normally write it down. I think we finished third, though. Or maybe we won. I'm pretty sure none of us won the snowball though.
Tuesday, October 2nd 2007
I am an astronomer. Astronomers need to use telescopes. Telescope application deadlines come twice a year, every year, at the same time of year, without fail. Somehow I have never quite got to grips with this system, and this year I decided to go on holiday to far-flung parts of Eastern Europe just before the October deadlines. Thanks to this poor timing and resultant two weeks of working late, I haven't been quizzing for a month. So tonight, I'm raring to go.
Our team title, let me specify clearly, is suggested by Oli this week. Unfortunately whatever comic impact we might have hoped for is lost when the quizmaster reads it out as 'general election' after the first round and then calls us 'Gordon Brown etcetera' for the rest of the night. As happens quite often, we're in the lead after the first round, helped on the way by my recollection of the first syllable of 'I's name from Withnail and I. It takes me the whole round to get anywhere near it - I ignore all the other questions and simply make sounds beginning with M as I struggle to remember it. I get as far as 'Mar' before we have to hand it it, so we put Marwick. The answer is Marwood but the quiz master is generous enough to give us a point for it.
But from the lead there's only one way to go, and week after week we find ourselves hurtling down the order as the rounds progress. It happens so often that it's probably purely psychological now, and even if round two started by asking for the capital of France we'd probably get it wrong these days. By the end of the night we're in a disappointing fifth, eleven points off the lead.
There is still the snowball. The pot is now so huge that the top prize is limited to £1000. Across the way from us, a team of despicable poolers have bought twenty tickets between them and seem to be thinking about getting the smuggest member of their team to have a crack at the question if any are drawn. Luckily their numbers don't come up for the first question, which asks who is the third longest-serving manager in the Premiership, after Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. The person on the stand doesn't get it but one of the despicable poolers knew it. The second question names two albums and asks which band released them. Again, the person on the stand doesn't know, and this time the entire team of despicable poolers shouts out "Whitesnake". It seems they have very dodgy music tastes as well as a highly unethical approach to pub quizzing. The third question asks for the country whose name means hippo and whose capital's name means crocodile. I'd have guessed Mali, which turns out to be the right answer. But the whole pot rolls over to next week, and even if someone wins £1000, there will still be several hundred pounds left.
Tuesday, October 9th 2007
The team tonight is me, Pete, Stu and Stu's new flatmate Ian. In their youth, Stu and Ian appeared on an Irish schools quiz television programme, losing in the first round but apparently in the most exciting round ever seen, in which they clawed back a 17 point deficit to take the lead with seconds to go, only to be retaken at the very last possible moment after a cheeky interruption from their opponents. Given this auspicious quizzing history we should surely be in contention tonight.
Ah, but it's one of Evil Patrick's quizzes. We won one of them once, but that was an unusual Patrick quiz because it wasn't dominated by poetry and classics, and the sort of cerebral, cultural questions that young folk like us struggle with. Tonight's is, but despite mostly guessing in the first round, we find ourselves second. Pete arrives incredibly late but just in time to tell us that the radio station that stopped transmitting on 30 September 1967 was not Radio Luxembourg but the BBC Home Service. How does someone in his mid-20s know such things?
We had thought that if we did really badly in the first round we might actually improve in subsequent rounds, but having come in second we know it's all downhill. We're asked which company, 'appropriately', Helen Sharman was working for before she became the UK's first astronaut. I say Mars, my team-mates say Comet. I'm sure it's Mars but I decline an invitation to veto comet, saying I'll be happy just to be insufferable if Mars is the right answer. It is, and Comet is not just wrong but so wrong the quizmaster singles us out for specific ridicule. As people laugh almost hysterically at us, I don't have a single word to say.
By the fourth round we need to make up six points even to get back into third place. It looks like an impossible task, and it proves to be just that. I try to save the day by claiming that the definition of callipygean is fat-arsed. Unfortunately it actually means 'nice-arsed' and Patrick says that anything derogatory about arses doesn't get any points. We finish fifth again.
A snowball pot of over a grand and a half drives people to madness, and Stu goes over the edge with a five ticket purchase. It doesn't help him - the first question is answered wrongly but the second question finally sees some money taken out of the pot. The question is which were the two states before Alaska and Hawaii to be admitted to the US, and the man whose ticket was drawn whips out a pen and paper and starts drawing crazy doodles to help him remember them. I'm sure this is outside the rules but he scribbles uninterrupted and eventually goes for Arizona and New Mexico. It's the right answer and he's £500 richer. There will still be £1000 or more in the pot next week.
Tuesday, October 16th 2007
The team tonight is me, Stu and Pete. We agree that it's been a while and it's definitely time we won, or at least got some money out of our evening. We start with a good first round, correctly identifying Jools Holland as the author of Barefaced Lies and Boogie-woogie Boasts, and Eric Gill as the sculptor of the statue outside Broadcasting House. I say that as if we all know all about Eric Gill, but actually I've never heard of him and I don't think Pete has either. Stu's the man with the necessary ridiculously obscure knowledge this evening.
Somehow in round two we avoid our normal collapse. Pete knows enough about hockey to say that it starts with a pushback, and between us we manage a pretty good stab at naming all the British winners of the Nobel Prize for literature. We don't manage to work out the animal whose name is also the acronym for the Harry Potter equivalent of A-levels, which turns out to be newt rather than toad. We decide to have a few bitter recriminations, as I say I knew it would have a W in it and the others demand to know why I didn't mention that. I did, but they weren't listening.
When the results are read out, we're in second, but Chris is tonight's quizmaster and he seems to have taken some kind of offence at our team name and states very clearly that we are not going to win tonight. We thought no-one would be too upset by our comment on some Liberal Democrat leadership issues, but it seems Chris might be a hardcore Ming fan.
Can we even hold onto second place? Round three is pretty tough but a question asking for all the countries that border Algeria is a big help. I love this kind of question and we get all six right (Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali and Niger). And after much scribbling and disagreement, we also manage to name seven of the last eight foreign secretaries. The only one we miss out is the man who is in the job right now - his name's Milliband or something, apparently.
As round four progresses, we discover that Chris is not a diehard Campbellite, but that Marcus has been spreading the vicious rumour that the 'old git' was Chris and that 'ginger pisshead' refers not to Charles Kennedy but to Evil Patrick. At least two other regular quiz setters think that ginger pisshead might refer to them. Patrick seems very offended that someone might call him ginger. We set the record straight, but still we don't win - second place is ours, though, and we each go home £4.33 richer.
Tuesday, October 23rd 2007
It's us in the hotseat again. Due to a series of miscommunications between us in the previous few days, we turn up to find we've got 70 questions between us instead of the required 40, and we have some whittling to do before things get under way. In the best tradition of quiz setting, about half of my questions self-indulgently reference my recent holiday, so I scrap about half of those in the cull.
At the end of the night, there is still over £1000 in the snowball. And, for the first time ever, Stu's number comes up. Unfortunately for him, it's a question about an architect who designed a fountain at Chatsworth House. Stu's chance of a grand is gone, and the second ticket drawn belongs to none other than Evil Patrick. His question asks for the father and son who were both prime ministers and who were not the Pitts, because everyone knows them. Patrick thinks for a few seconds, then his eyes flash red and he says "Greville". Actually, the answer is Grenville, but his answer is judged close enough and he wins £500. Even in the Prince of Wales, no-one is pedantic enough to begrudge him the winnings for the sake of one letter. Except me. A bit. Once Patrick's taken his money, there is £666 left in the pot...
Try our questions here:
This was Oli's round.
Tiebreaker - when I travelled through the breakaway Republic of Transdnistria recently, how much in total did I have to pay in bribes to enter and exit?
Stu's round: rest of the questions appearing imminently.
Tuesday, November 13th 2007
To everyone's astonishment I arrive first this evening. I bag a spot by the fireplace and give evils to two people sat at a nearby table, hoping they'll be leaving before the quiz. But it turns out they are two friends of Pete's so all is well.
We start reasonably well, especially when the first question asks which country had identical twins for its president and prime minister until October this year. We asked almost the same question more than a year ago so we know it's Poland, and at the end of the first round we're in third. The second round is good - we can name all four Shakespeare plays in which ghosts appear, and we only drop points on the final questions, when we can only name three of the five tube stations named after pubs. Going into the beer round, we're sharing the lead with three other teams.
To earn a free round at the bar this week, we have to identify the golfer from the menu they chose for the US Masters Champion's Dinner. Oli is disgusted - he thinks we have no chance and wants us to hand in an empty answer sheet. But then we realise that most of the answers are quite easy thanks to the validity of crude national stereotypes. Paella? Olazabal. Haggis? Must be Sandy Lyle. Burgers is Tiger Woods, and wiener schnitzel and black forest gateau must be Bernhard Langer. The only one we struggle with is one which is obviously a Canadian because it involves elk, but who the hell knows any Canadian golfers? It turns out Stu does. For the tie-break, we have to say how many of Ferdinand Magellan's crew actually made it around the world. Averaging our guesses gives us 27. The answer is 18, we're closest and even with six of us we can just about squeeze a whole round out of £15.
Things take a turn for the worse in round three. The only bright spot for me is an astronomy question - Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka hold up whose trousers? They are the three stars of Orion's belt, but we've somehow slipped into fifth place. All socialising is off in round four as we try to claw our way back into the prizes. After much argument we decide it's Noel Coward and not Ian Fleming who is buried in Firefly Hill, Jamaica, and we end up in third. But it's joint third and we need another tie break. How many chinchillas went into the making of Madonna's favourite coat? Again we apply the average theory for a guess of 67, but for once it lets us down as apparently only 40 were required, and the other team put 30. Thus robbed, we flounce out of the pub in disgust.
Friday, November 16th 2007
Just three days after our last outing, we're back at the Prince of Wales for a one-off charity quiz. It's strange being in the PoW on something other than a Tuesday night, and the quiz is also a little bit different to the strictly-followed PoW format of two rounds, then a beer round, then two more rounds and then the snowball. We have eight rounds this evening, and we also have a joker which we can play to double our score on any round if we feel really confident.
The first round sees dissent breaking out. A question about the author of The Log from the Sea of Cortez splits me and Stu, with me being as sure that it's Hemingway as Stu is that it's Steinbeck. I am holding the pen so I write down Hemingway. Then, just as we're about to hand in the paper, I have a crisis of confidence and tell Stu he can change it if he wants. He declines the opportunity. The answer is Steinbeck. I blame Stu for not changing the answer.
The second round is science and technology. I'm an astronomer and Oli has a degree in science studies (which is of course about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds) and so we play the wildcard. As question one is read out, the quizmaster says "Oh, and by the way, when we said science and technology, we meant science and nature". Most of the questions are about animals, and we feel deeply aggrieved that we played our wildcard.
But we still manage a decent score, and find ourselves in the lead at this point. Unfortunately I have to leave before the end of the quiz, missing the geography round on which I'd surely have excelled, and surely because of that we finish the evening (so I'm told later) in second place. I also miss the snowball, which normally involves a single ticket drawn for terrifyingly high stakes, but in this charity quiz involves multiple draws for more modest prizes. I am hugely disappointed to learn that Oli's number was drawn, and his question was about the subject he is least equipped to face a question on: football. How I wish I'd seen his face when he heard it.
Tuesday, December 11th 2007
Oli has managed to get to the pub long before I turn up, which is no surprise but he seems angrier than usual this week. Stu turns up quite some time after even me, and I join Oli in slating his slack attitude to punctuality. Oli names our team in homage to Hugo Chávez moving Venezuela into a new time zone half an hour later than the previous one, and we get under way.
The most memorable question of the night is one which asks what words like wizard, bevy, hovels and vole have in common, and which US president's surname also shares this property. We struggle to think of anything likely, and it looks like we're going to struggle in vain. But while Stu and I work on the rest of the round, Oli goes into a kind of trance, writing down alphabets and scribbling furiously in his notepad. Just after question ten is read out, he emerges from his trance to tell us he has the answer. If A=1, B=2 etc, then the sum of the first and last letters and all the other letter pairs working inwards is 27.
The only problem then is to work out how to write this down sensibly in a box four inches wide and half an inch high. This takes us the rest of the time allowed. And the US president? James K. Polk, of course. We're massively pleased with ourselves, Stu and I in spite of our minimal contribution to the answer, but we're very disappointed to find that two other teams also managed to get the answer. We decide they were probably the two teams either side of us.
At the end of the quiz we're yet again in the worst position, just outside the money in fourth position. Maybe we'll do better next week when Patrick will be setting a quiz on a Christmas theme. He does this every year, and last year we won it. I tell him this and say we'll be hoping to do the same next week. He tells me we might have a chance because the Christmas quiz is always dumbed down a bit for the occasion.
Tuesday, December 18th 2007
It's the last quiz of 2008, and only Oli and I have made it up here for Patrick's Christmas special. If the quiz is anything like the normal Patrick fare of poetry and classics we could be in for a grim evening. Oli says he'll leave before the beer round if we don't look like having a chance of some money.
And the first round seems like a disaster. Many quizzes have themed round, and sometimes the quizmaster doesn't tell you what the connection is. That's fine, we can handle those. But this time in each round there are three separate connections going on, and although we manage to work out that some of the answers seem to be Monopoly properties and some seem to be numbers, we only get four questions right. Luckily, it seems that everyone else is having trouble as well, and we're in a shock second place.
Things get better in the second round. This time we are definitely looking for the three pink monopoly properties, and the numbers four, five and six. We work out that Pall Mall is the street named ultimately for a ball game, but we can't remember the other two pink properties. Despite this we have now moved into joint first place, and Oli grudgingly agrees to stay until the end.
But then it all begins to unravel. We fail to get a single question right in the beer round, and then the quiz goes all poetry and classics on us. We don't know our Greek mythology and I can't even remember what the question was, to which Aglaea was the answer. We get one question right in round three, and from joint first we've plummeted to seventh out of eleven teams. Evil Patrick can scarcely conceal his glee as he reads out our score, although he tries, saying he doesn't want rude things written about him on the internet. The shit.
The fourth round does not offer much solace. We are quite pleased to notice that the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, is one of the answers which involves numbers, but we get just three correct answers, and finish the quiz well into the bottom half. Oli instantly runs for the door, saying his bus is coming. I follow shortly after.
Tuesday, January 8th 2008
Having finished 2007 in ignominy, Oli, Stu and I are looking for a better start to 2008. My punctuality has slightly improved and I'm there by five past nine, but for some reason the quizmasters got the thing under way at bang on 9. I redeem myself by knowing that Amity Bay was the scene of Jaws, and the benefits of having an astronomer on the team are clear when we are asked what royal position Martin Rees is the current holder of. I'm so pleased at knowing it that I say it loudly enough for the team next to us to hear. But fortunately, when the scores are read out, they are last and we are first. Round two contains the first of a series of questions about the royal family. We are far from royalists but we still manage to work out that the queen's most recent grandchild is eighth in line to the throne. We don't know what title the child has been given but even so we've managed to hang on to first place.
It's my round, but hold in, it's the beer round. We have enough faith in ourselves to hold off buying drinks. I know that the longest country name which has no double consonants and no double vowels is United Arab Emirates. Bruce Lee died at the age of 32, and despite my suggestion that it's blue, the most common colour on flags globally is red. 40 in Latin is XL, and the connection is sponsors of premiership teams. We get four of the five answers, and take a sledgehammer to the nut of the one we don't know by trying to write down every single premiership team and their sponsor. But it's in vain - we fail to work out that Eileen Derbyshire is the second longest serving actor on Coronation Street, someone else gets all five, and I'm off to the bar.
The pub's sound system is notoriously unreliable, frequently cutting out or generating feedback that makes me think of the opening scene of Scanners. This week it outdoes itself during round three when a speaker falls off the wall into the lap of someone on the team next to us. He says he's uninjured "except my hand might be broken", and after a pause to reattach the speaker to the wall we get back underway. I foolishly persuade my team-mates that the word dungaree comes from Bengali and not Hindi but against all our expectations we've held onto the lead. We are a single point ahead of Chris, Marcus and Evil Patrick, and it's a rare week in which they finish outside the money so we are concentrating intensely as round four begins.
More royalty questions and our team of three republicans seems to see the prize slipping away. But somehow I know that Sandringham is in Norfolk and we're feeling good. Then we have a question about the scorer of the most goals in a single world cup game. I know he was Russian, I know it was against Cameroon, and I also know it happened 13 years ago and there's no way I'll remember who it was. Fortunately, Stu does - it was Oleg Salenko and he was "awesome in Championship Manager 93" apparently. For the final question of the quiz we are given five postcodes and simply have to say what you would find at them. We know that two of them are Downing Street and Buckingham Palace, and that the final one is the very pub we are sat in, but have to make wild guesses for the other two. While the sheets are being marked, Marcus's team tell us they put the London Eye for one of them, just for a laugh because they didn't know it. To our horror and their delight, we got Downing Street and Buckingham Palace in the wrong order, and the London Eye was correct. We can hardly bear the tension as the scores are read out but we've managed to hold on for our first win in ages.
Tuesday, January 15th 2008
Buoyed by last week's victory, we're all keen for tonight's quizzing action. Oli and Stu are fed up with me being late every week, so I tell them I will buy them both dinner if I get there even a second after 8.45pm. I arrive at 8.50, but luckily they are both later and I can pretend to have won the bet.
So, will tonight see a second victory on the trot? By about the fourth question we think it's already clear that it won't, and by the end of the second round we know we're not even in with a chance of the money. Our aim now is just to avoid humiliation. At least by starting off near the bottom of the field we can avoid the usual slump in form.
The beer round requires us to guess which is longer of six pairs of Wikipedia articles. We spend a long time trying to work out what would be longer out of Charles and Diana, and Mercury the planet and mercury the metal, arguing like there is some logical way to work it out when really we all know this is pure guesswork. We manage to guess four out of the six, but other people have managed to get five, and we enter the last half of the quiz drinkless. By the fourth round, we're more than 20 points off the lead. We decide that if we score more than half of whatever the winning team gets, we'll consider that a moral victory. When the scores are read out, our final tally is 33 points, and the winners have 64. We are so happy that everyone else in the pub thinks we've won and give us evils.
Evil Patrick is on the winning team, and to no-one's great surprise but everyone's despair and disappointment, his number comes up in the snowball yet again. Luckily he doesn't win it this time, and the pot will roll over. Next week's quiz will be set by a crack team of UCL graduates and will be a tremendous evening for sure.
Tuesday, January 22nd 2008
We're back in the hotseat. When I say we, at first it looks horribly like it might just be me as my co-setters are nowhere to be seen at 9.05pm. I am frantically trying to think of twenty more questions when Oli turns up. Now we just need ten more, but luckily Pete appears just before we get really worried. He is ill, but has dragged himself here from his sickbed to deliver us ten questions and a beer round. Such is our dedication to the cause of setting a good quiz.
To make things more exciting tonight we multiply all scores by a million in the style of an eighties video game. This goes down quite well, with even the lowest scoring teams enjoying scoring 25 million points. At the end of the quiz, a team of staggeringly clever people who have come over from Belfast especially for the quiz take the victory with 75 million points. They won the beer round, and then amazingly one of them is in possession of the winning snowball ticket. He correctly answers the question to win £333, or half an Evil Patrick, and his team have taken a clean sweep. That doesn't happen very often. Luckily, they will be safely back in Belfast next week and the rest of us will have a chance of winning something.
Try my questions here:
Tuesday, January 29th 2008
We've assembled a Dream Team this week - Pete's dad is around for the first time in ages, as is Ivan. We should be in with a good chance of a second victory in four weeks, and if there are any cricket questions we'll be laughing. Well, I'll be groaning but Ivan will be laughing.
One of the questions in round one is which painting depicts a scene at a farm near Flatford Mill. I say it's The Hay Wain, but Pete and his dad both say it's American Gothic. I don't like to try to overrule both Hinstridges at once so we put American Gothic. I should have overruled them. Such are the disadvantages of a team of six. Luckily, the advantage of a large team is that at least one of us knows the answer to almost every question. We're in a solid-looking second at the end of the round.
Round two sees us leap into the lead, pulling out four points where we'd been two behind. We then get all five answers correct in the beer round - they are the five films recently nominated for best film in the 2008 Oscars - but so do several other teams. The tie-breaker requires us to guess the total number of epsiodes of Dallas, and we apply the usual average theory. Pete, Stu and Pete's dad are going for numbers in the three hundreds; Oli, Ivan and I are going for sub-100 guesses, so we end up on a bit less than 200. The answer is 357 and most teams were closer. I offer my apologies and head to the bar.
My favourite question in round three asks who is the youngest person ever to score a point in Formula One. It's my favourite question because I turn out to be the only person in the pub who knows that it's Sebastian Vettel. By the end of the round we have an eight point lead, and even with our abysmal record of collapsing in the later stages, we think it would be hard to lose this one.
The final round sees us agonising for a very long time about US states and their capitals. These are a pub quiz standard but tonight's setters have given us an impressively original take on it. We have to work out which state and its capital have common male names as first syllables, which have common female names, and which has a male name for the state and a female for the capital. Oli says 'Alaska and Juneau' startlingly quickly, suggesting he might actually have thought about this question beforehand. While Pete writes down all 50 states, I suggest Kentucky and Pete's dad says the capital is Louisville so that seems to sort out the male syllables. We struggle for a while on the females, narrowing it down to one of Louisiana, Maryland or (possibly) Pennsylvania. The capital of the first one is Baton Rouge and the last one is Harrisburg, so we think it must be Maryland. But what's its capital? Stu suddenly remembers that it's Annapolis, and even though it turns out that the capital of Kentucky is not Louisville but Frankfort, we've done enough to preserve our lead and take a dominant victory.
But the Dream Team will be losing a member, at least temporarily. The newly Doctored Ivan is moving to St. Andrews to do teaching and research. We'll just have to hope that Pete's dad can make it along more often than he has done in recent months, or that the frequency of cricket questions in Prince of Wales quizzes drops dramatically.
Tuesday, February 26th 2008
We all know that after a dominant win comes a humiliating defeat. This is why, since our last outing three weeks ago, everyone's been coming up with bad excuses and avoiding the quiz. Oli and I eventually decide to turn up and take one for the team.
Chris is setting the quiz, and he's a fan of the dirty North Londoners who beat the dirty West Londoners in the league cup the other day. He takes offence at our team name, which doesn't surprise us at all, and tells us we're not going to win. That doesn't surprise us either. Even if we called our team 'Chris is a legend' we wouldn't be fighting for the title tonight.
At the end of round one, we're four points off the lead, which is not so bad. But at the end of round two we're already in freefall, some 12 points off the pace. This is despite a good question about a current Premiership footballer who played for Liverpool in 1995 and who was a fashion model in 2005. We struggle for a while before I realise it's ex-Watford keeper David James. Being a hornets fan is surprisingly useful for pub quizzing. But the slump continues, and our main mission is to avoid total humiliation. We define avoiding total humiliation as being less than 20 points off the lead at the end of the quiz, and to our surprise we manage it. We're miles outside the money but we've got a half-respectable fifth place.
The snowball is worth quite a bit at the moment. My ticket has a round number on it and I feel sure it will be drawn, but it's not. At least Evil Patrick hasn't been called up. The question begins "No two fermions..." and already I know that the answer will be the Pauli exlusion principle. If I was back on University Challenge I'd have been on the buzzer and ten points would have been mine, but I'm not on television, I'm at the Prince of Wales, and all I can do is stand around looking gloomy. The ticket holder offers Planck as the originator of the principle. Chris knows that I know the answer and thinks I might be the only person in the pub who does. But there are a couple of other scientifically-minded people in tonight so even that minor glory is not to be mine.
So we know that a good win is always followed by a crushing defeat. Next time we come we'll be testing the hypothesis that the opposite can also be true.
Tuesday, March 11th 2008
Two thirds of the Dream Team is here tonight - Stu says Tuesdays are conspiring against him and is at work, and Ivan is in Scotland, but the rest of us are here to see if we can make it three wins out of five appearances in 2008. I am writing this three months late, and I have no idea what happened, except that we won, and I wouldn't like to let this go unrecorded.
Tuesday, March 25th 2008
This year so far we have roughly alternated between winning, and losing spectacularly. It seems to be an unbreakable law of quizzing that it's impossible to win two weeks in a row. Tonight, we lack both Ivan and Pete's dad from the winning team of two weeks ago, so we feel sure it's going to be challenging. Things start badly when we are asked who was voted as the most Scottish person in the world by readers of the Glasgow Herald in 2003. This is the Prince of Wales so it's unlikely to be the obvious choices, but who would have thought it would be one of the most disturbing children's entertainers of all time, Jimmy Krankie? What makes this particularly aggravating is that I'd actually suggested it, but no-one took me seriously. I hadn't intended it seriously, though I tried to pretend I had afterwards.
But things get better. The last person to be named as a murderer by an inquest jury, we correctly guess, was Lord Lucan. And a statue recently unveiled in Caerphilly by Anthony Hopkins has to be of Tommy Cooper. By the beer round, we're in the lead.
Our five questions which can earn us a round at the bar tonight are linked by a theme. The theme turns out to be arses. Five different words for rear end are the five different answers, and barely has question five begun ("What 1990s television programme...") before we are writing down Bottom. The tie-breaker is then simple: what's the highest score ever recorded in a game of Scrabble. The usual average theory is followed, and the usual disputes arise. I offer something well over a grand, on the basis that I've scored over 500 points in a game of scrabble so it must be way higher than that. Everyone else thinks it's far lower. We end up offering 900 or so, and as it turns out we're closest because it's 830.
Normally we expect a slump in form after the beer round, but tonight, fuelled by dry roasted peanuts from our 15 pounds of bar money, we manage to hold on to our lead, and for the first time ever we've won on two successive outings. Next time we come we are bound to crash horrifically, and I predict that none of us will come for weeks in a vain attempt to avoid Fate.
Tuesday, April 15th 2008
As predicted, we haven't turned up for weeks, because two wins in two outings means we're dead certs for a disaster. And so it proves. A challenging evening ends with us in fifth place. There are only eight teams in the pub. Perhaps the cause of our downfall is that we are doing two pub quizzes simultaneously. Oli's brother is in a pub in Brighton, shamelessly texting us every couple of minutes. We do better in Brighton than in Highgate, managing third place down there. Sadly it's winner takes all in that pub, and we go home financially, morally, ethically and generally poor.
Tuesday, April 22nd 2008
The only thing I recall from tonight's quiz is a question about Jorge Luis Borges. Dave (formerly known as Annoying Dave, but he hasn't won the snowball in quite a while and thus can lose the insulting prefix, for now) is setting the quiz tonight, and asked us last week if we happened to know how to pronounce Jorge Luis Borges. We gave advice, but it was not heeded and the question seems to be about George Lewis Bodges. But pronunciation doesn't matter - the important thing is knowing what George Lewis Bodges described as 'two bald men fighting over a comb'. We do know that - it's the Falklands War.
Our performance throughout the evening is unremarkable and we fail to return to winning ways. Has our blazing form in the early months of 2008 faded away?
Tuesday, April 29th 2008
Tonight we return to the hotseat for the second time in 2008. Here's the questions I set:
Tuesday, June 10th 2008
It's a return to the Prince of Wales after a long absence for me, Stu and Oli tonight, and surely the omens are good as it's just over four years since we first turned up here, and just under four years since we filmed our first round of University Challenge. As always, I turn up late, but I redeem myself slightly by knowing that the artist originally known as Richard Melville Hall is the high prince of middle class coffee table music, Moby.
After the first two rounds, we're in third place. We do quite spectacularly badly on the beer round, though, struggling to two correct answers out of six. We somehow manage to care about the tie break anyway, arguing far more furiously than is possibly justifiable over how many episodes of Frasier there were. We are close to the answer but some other bastards get the beer.
I like the third round the best, because it includes some questions about Formula One. I believe my knowledge of it is unsurpassed - in an episode of Mastermind I happened to watch a few weeks ago, it was someone's specialist subject and I outscored them by five points. The first Pole on pole (nice question) was Robert Kubica, and the Singapore Grand Prix this year will be unusual because it will be run at night, thanks to another hare-brained scheme from midget Machiavelli of motorsport, Bernie Ecclestone. Sadly, Formula One questions are rare at the Prince of Wales, while cricket questions are unpleasantly common.
We think we're in third place at the start of round four, but we have probably miscounted because when the final scores are read out, we're in the horrors of fourth place, the legendary "just outside the money". It's an inauspicious return to Highgate. We'll hope for better things next week.
Tuesday, June 17th 2008
Ivan is back in London after a few months away in Scottish parts, and Pete, Oli and Stu are around as well. I am around, but forever delayed, and I turn up half way through round one. My main contribution is to guess that the answer to a question involving divorce is Wallis Simpson, and to my own anti-royalist disgust I'm right.
In round two we have to name the country which contains five of the ten highest waterfalls in Europe. I say Norway, while Oli and Stu say Switzerland. I am not totally sure it's Norway, but despite occasional evidence to the contrary I always feel supremely confident on geography questions, and bristle at the suggestion that I might be wrong. I am holding the pen, and so I write down Norway. When the answers are read out, I'm bracing myself for serious abuse if it's Switzerland, but fortunately it is the land of fjords.
We are thirsty and it's the beer round, so we are concentrating hard. It is to no avail, as we do not remotely spot the connection between the answers, which relate to British female olympic gold medallists. The tie-break question asks for the distance in miles between Manchester and Baghdad, and with our infallible average theory, we end up with a guess that is within ten miles of the right answer of 2659 miles. Sadly some other bastards got the questions right and take the beer money.
Round three throws up a cricket question. With great ceremony and deference, we pass the answer sheet to Ivan, who has missed being the fount of all cricket knowledge on our team, and inscribes the answer on the sheet in gothic calligraphy to mark his return to the role. Sadly, he gets it wrong. Luckily he redeems himself by knowing that Marco Pierre White is one of two presenters who has got into trouble recently for using the word 'pikey'.
At the end of the quiz we're in the mid-table positions, and all our hopes for money rest on the snowball. And whose number should come up but Pete's. Off he goes to the front of the pub, to get the question "who was the first female tory cabinet minister?". He gives a reasonable answer, but it's not the right answer. Who has ever heard of Florence Horsbrugh? Not anyone in the Prince of Wales, anyway. This is the eighth time one of us has been up for the snowball, and eight times we've failed. Surely next time....
Tuesday, July 29th 2008
I've been off travelling around the Balkans for the last few weeks, so I'm hoping for questions like "What is the newest country in the world?", "What is the second-newest country in the world?", and "Is Podgorica the most boring capital city in the world?", the answers to which are of course Kosovo, Montenegro and very much so. But there is not a lot of geography in tonight's quiz, and by turning up even later than is my habit, not only do I give Oli the opportunity to name the team but I miss the question asking which country has the highest lowest point.
Round one is over by the time I arrive, and although Oli has got us into a very respectable fourth position, I can still berate him for not knowing that the country is Lesotho. And nor does he know that the band whose members included Johnny, CJ, Dee Dee and Joey was the Ramones. So surely, now, with double the manpower, we will storm into the lead in round three. Sad to say, this does not turn out to be the case. As the evening goes on we slump spectacularly down the order, and the quiz ends with the two teams tied for first position about thirty points ahead of us.
The tie-break to separate the teams asks what is the highest possible score for a first move in scrabble. I guess 125, and the answer is 124. I am quite impressed with myself, and feel this goes some way towards making up for our shocking performance, but unfortunately both teams get the answer exactly right. Cruelly denied even this minor consolation, we leave the pub in disgust, wondering how we've fallen so far from the giddy heights of two consecutive wins earlier in the year.
Tuesday, August 5th 2008
Tonight the team is me, Oli and my friend Eldrik, who knows lots about tennis and mountain bikes. In all the time I've been coming to the Prince of Wales I think there have been two questions about tennis, and none about mountain bikes, but never mind. We start off by correctly guessing that Bernard Matthews is the person who was called in by Krushchev in 1964 to modernise the Soviet poultry industry, after a brief moment of confusion when I mistakenly suggest Bernard Manning. Our main struggle in the first round, though, is to think of a team name. Eventually we come up with a suitably tasteless reference to a recent event, and it gets a good laugh when it's read out. Sadly our score gets a bigger laugh, because for what we think might be the first time ever, we are in last place.
Luckily round two looks a bit more promising. What's the hottest planet? Oli leans across and says 'Venus', a bit unnecessarily seeing as I'm an astronomer. We also manage to recall from somewhere in the depths of our current affairs recollections that a man called Andreas Grassl became well known as the mysterious Piano Man. He got famous by turning up soaking wet on a beach and then not speaking to anyone for four months, which seems as valid as any other reason. Thanks to him, we've moved up four places, to a slightly less embarrassing 11th out of 15.
The beer round turns out to be about astronomy, sort of. The six answers are the surnames of the first six people to walk on the moon. We only get one of the answers right, an unhelpful one which gives us the surname of the sixth man on the moon. And who, really, has ever heard of Edgar Mitchell? Well, maybe we should have done - he recently came out as a crackpot. He believes that life is widespread throughout the universe (which is an entirely sensible belief), and that UFOs have been visiting us for the past 60 years, although governments have covered it all up (which is not).
Unusually for us, we seem to be getting better as the quiz goes on: after round three we're up to ninth, and round four we blaze through, getting the second-highest score. One question in round four asks us which two Labour MPs, other than Gordon Brown, have been in the cabinet ever since 1997. Oli is the undisputed political geek of the team, but he comes close to losing his crown here, when he gives us Jack Straw but can't think of the second one. To demonstrate his geekery, he starts writing down every single member of the cabinet, to try and work it out, and eventually correctly decides it's Alistair Darling.
But there are not just four rounds tonight: there is a bonus round, in which dances are described in words and we have to identify them. A team of three blokes might not be expected to do well with such a round, and indeed we do not. We confuse the Macarena with Saturday Night by Whigfield, and Saturday Night with the Locomotion. We do manage to get YMCA at least, but the end result is that we finish eighth. It's a bit better than last, but only a little bit.
Vast sums are up for grabs with the snowball. With more than 500 pounds in the pot, if the first question does not yield a winner, another ticket is drawn and half the money is offered. And if that doesn't get got, a third ticket is drawn for a quarter of the cash. I've got a tenner in my hand and I'm almost tempted to buy the maximum five tickets instead of my usual one, but I resist. Eldrik doesn't buy a ticket, saying that there is simply no way he would ever know any of the answers. As it turns out, though, he knows that the river over which the Millau Viaduct soars is the Tarn. Luckily, the person required to know this doesn't, and we'll all be back next week to yearn once more for filthy piles of cash.
Tuesday, August 12th 2008
After last week's horrific placing we're hoping for better this week. Things look good for the first two rounds, but then we collapse spectacularly, scoring just five points in total over rounds two and three. Once again, all our hopes are pinned on the snowball.
There is 600 pounds in the pot. The owner of the first ticket drawn crumbles under the fearsome pressure and goes home with nothing. The owner of the second ticket is Marcus, and he gets a question about a recently deceased saxophonist who recorded on over 700 albums, with artists as diverse as Steely Dan, Charlie Mingus, Aerosmith and Frank Zappa. With barely a second's hesitation he says it's Michael Brecker and he's right. No wonder his team is in the top three almost every week without fail.
Marcus gets £250 for that, which means there's still £400 or so in the pot for me to dream about winning next week. It's going to be a question about astronomy. I'm sure of it.
Tuesday, August 19th 2008
Our team name tonight is Stu's idea. We like it a lot but feel that Stu should have the honour of writing it out on our team sheet. By the end of the night he's just writing "Greetings!" and the quiz setters have long since stopped reading it all out anyway.
We are six this evening. Besides me and Stu, Ivan is back in town after sojourns in Coventry and Rome, and Oli, his girlfriend Sarah and her sister Alice are here as well. Alice is a physicist, so if there's a science round we'll be sorted. I arrive late as always, but just in time to answer a question asking which 1970s film prominently featured Devil's Tower in Wyoming. It's Close encounters of the third kind and we are in third place.
There are a lot of questions about the Olympics this week. I used to live next door to Britain's Greatest Olympian Steve Redgrave, years ago, but there aren't any questions about him unfortunately. We think for a long while about which two British medallists this year have almost the same surname, and we're about to put Thomson and Thompson for a Tintin-inspired guess, but then Alice says she reckons it might be one of the cyclists. I remember that Nicole Cooke was Britain's first medallist of the games, so we guess there must also have been a Cook who won a medal, and we're right.
The beer round is fairly easy this week, the answers being ten people who appeared on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hears Club Band, and we and five other teams get them all right. It's down to the tiebreak, and so we apply the usual average theory to guess how many competitors there are at the olympics this year. It's mostly my fault that we don't win - my low guess of 4,500 puts our average too far from the actual total of 10,500.
In round four we're given a list of words including warmth, spoilt, bulb, and cusp, and asked what connects them. For a while we think we're onto something with the idea that they are the only words that end with the three letters that they each end with, but then Stu says 'built' and Oli says 'spilt' and we go back to the drawing board. We end up putting that they are the only words which contain the letters they contain, in the order that they contain them, which can't really be faulted but isn't the right answer. We were painfully close with our first idea - they are words without rhymes. We finish the evening just outside the money. Normally this is quite disappointing but after last week and the week before we'll take fourth and be happy with it.
So it's snowball time again, and there are hundreds of pounds to be won. I am always amazed when I read about lottery winners who say they will carry on going to work as normal despite their newfound wealth. I bloody wouldn't. I'd probably think about quitting if I won the snowball. Sadly I will have to go to work for at least one more week because my number is not drawn. The question is something ridiculously obscure about a cricket match in 1981 - the kind of question that makes me recoil in horror. Ivan loves this kind of question, and he knows the answer. He's smug but not nearly as smug as he would have been if his ticket had actually been drawn.
Tuesday, September 2nd 2008
My friend Quinn is here tonight. I met her in Albania, she's from Australia, and she makes me realise what a horribly anglocentric thing a pub quiz can be. There are endless questions about cricket, counties and television programmes that no-one from beyond these shores would ever care about. That said, I am pretty shocked that she's never heard of Doctor Who. Stu and I explain it in detail, but if you haven't had the cultural experience of hiding behind the sofa in terror of the Daleks, you'll probably never understand it.
One of the few questions that is not arcanely specific to the British Isles is, happily enough, about Australia. What are pokies? Some kind of dangerous spider would be my guess, but luckily Quinn can tell us it's slot machines. Sadly it doesn't get us into the money, and we finish fourth. We're making a horrible habit of this at the moment.
Tuesday, September 9th 2008
The team is just Stu and I tonight. The only time I've done well in a team of two here at the Prince of Wales was when Oli and I cheated, so I fear a challenging evening. Things start badly in the first round when we are asked whether it's crickets, grasshoppers or both that have ears in their knees. Neither of us really know, but Stu's guess turns out to be the wrong one, so of course I slate him for his abysmal knowledge of insect-type things.
Things get better though. From some grotesque examples of fawning journalism about them, we identify Paul Gascoigne and David Beckham, and Stu knows that Tom Fanducci, Fred Dietrich, Frank DiGiorgio and Chico Gonzalez have been among the many partners of 'Dirty' Harry Callahan. Then we have a round in which all the answers begin with Z, though it takes us until about half way through to realise this. Even when I know the connection, I still struggle to work out who is the only person to have won olympic golds in the 5,000m, 10,000m and the marathon. Emil Zatopek, I think, and then I wonder "but is it really?". Of course it bloody is. What other long distance runner ever had a surname starting with Z?
The final question in the Z-round is about Chicago. Who played Roxie Hart in the 2002 film? I don't know anything about the film, except that Catherine Zeta Jones is in it, so that must surely be the answer. But Stu doesn't know much about the film, except that Renee Zellweger is in it. It's a pub quiz nightmare - 50:50 question, only two people on the team. After much argument we decide to go for Zellweger. When the answers are read out, half the teams cheer wildly, while the other half descend into bitterness and recrimination. We are in the first group.
At the end of the quiz, we're in a disappointing joint seventh. But seeing as teams were tied for first, third and fifth, we prefer to say we've got the fourth highest score. With the snowball dangerously large, we've got three chances for our numbers to come up. But they don't come up: Evil Patrick's does. Luckily, he doesn't know that the city at the other end of the Appian Way from Rome was Brindisi, and the money rolls over yet again.
Tuesday, September 23rd 2008
Stu's team name is very prescient - I've just bought Music Is My Sanctuary by Gary Bartz, and it's fantastic. But it turns out he hasn't guessed that I've been buying 1970s funk records, he's just noting the fact that I'm even less punctual than normal this evening. Working at a university was bound to end up with me doing some teaching eventually, and I've been roped into doing a lecture course that happens on Tuesday evenings. For the next term I'm going to be exceeding even my own high standards of outrageous lateness.
I've missed round one, but luckily round two starts with a science question. What are the five elements with only four letters in their names? This is my chance to redeem myself, but before I can even reach for the pen, Stu's taken the wind out of my sails and written down iron, gold, neon and zinc. Luckily he pauses, and I manage to think of lead before he does.
The beer round is an embarrassment. We struggle to a lame score, only to find that the answers are all squares in Bloomsbury. We both went to university in Bloomsbury. I work there even now. I've been studying or working there for more than a decade. We are ashamed.
Our morale shattered, we plunge down the order, and by round four we've completely given up. Who presents the Top 40 on Radio 1? Stu, filled with rage, says 'Probably Fearne Fucking Cotton or someone', so I write down exactly that. What was the third biggest port in England in 1900 (this question is ridiculous obscure even by pub quizzing standards)? We guess 'Fucking Skegness or something'. And what county's motto is 'unconquered'? I write down 'Fucking Kent or something'. And amazingly, two out of these three are right. The port is Fucking Manchester, but we've managed to get the highest score of anyone in this round. Sadly this only elevates us as far as Fucking Fourth, yet again.
Tuesday, October 7th 2008
I'm early this week - the first round is not even over when I leap off the bus and into the pub at 9.20pm. I'm just in time to tell the team which Ealing comedy which took its name from a Tennyson poem. And I also tell them the answer to a question asking which capital city has tourist sights to the north east of it known as the Golden Ring. I tell them with absolute certainty that it's Reykjavík. I've been there after all. But to my horror it's actually Moscow. I've been there as well, and now I realise that the sights to the north east of Reykjavík are called the Golden Circle, not the Golden Ring. Well anyway, I'm a traveller, not a tourist. Bloody day trippers.
The beer round answers are all connected, but what the connection is is not apparent. One of the answers is Cherie, though, from which we guess that the answers are all prime ministerial spouses. We get them all right, and so it's down to the tie breaker. How many escalators are there in New York? Or did they say elevators? Maybe because of this uncertainty, my guess is way too high, and we lose out. But we go on to finish the quiz in second place, the first time we've been in the money for about six months.
Our numbers don't come up in the snowball, and I'm a bit upset when the winner's question starts "Which two countries...", because despite occasional evidence to the contrary I think I know the answer to any question that might start with those three words. On this occasion, though, the following thirteen words are "...are members of the International Paralympic Committee, but not the International Olympic Committee?" No-one expected that, and it's quite honestly one of the most ridiculously hard snowball questions that has ever been asked. Even the greatest Paralympians from the Faroe Islands and Macao wouldn't have known that their two countries have this distinction. So there will be more than a thousand pounds up for grabs next week, and I might even have to get to the pub before 9pm if I don't want to stand all night.
Tuesday, October 14th 2008
I used to arrive at the Prince of Wales half way through the first round, but these days I'm getting less punctual and I usually arrive just after it's finished. This week I miss a question asking for the second to sixth largest countries in the world, which is a shame, because I know Brazil is one of them and my team mates don't.
Pete, Stu and Oli are here, and we have a random extra team member this week. A girl called Jude is with the others when I arrive, and I assume she's friends with one of them. Turns out she just randomly decided to join the team. She contributes a pound to enter but, it has to be said, very few answers.
Patrick is setting the quiz tonight. Normally this means we're in for an evening of poetry and classics, but tonight for some reason there are loads of astronomy questions. Astronauts come from the US, cosmonauts come from Russia, but who comes from China? I did once know the actual mandarin word for astronaut, but I've forgotten it, so I have to just write down taikonaut. Then we're asked which is the only planet with a day longer than its year. It's Venus, but Pete wants me to write down Uranus. About two years ago I told my team mates that Neptune was green when it's actually blue, destroying forever their trust in my astronomy knowledge. This time I insist on Venus, and to my relief it's right.
Round three includes a question about last year's Booker Prize winner. If I ever knew the answer, I would have forgotten it slightly less than a year ago. Luckily, the winner was Irish, and Stu knows it was Anne Enright's The Gathering. We also get a cricket question, so it's a shame Ivan isn't here. Luckily Pete knows it - I don't even understand the answer once he's told me. Something about Garry Sobers and the non-striking batsman.
We've been moving steadily up the order this evening - third after the first round, and second after the second. Now we're in joint first. Almost exactly four years ago, when we were still young, we won the quiz for the first time. It was a few days before we went to Manchester to film the final of University Challenge. We lost the final and I've always been sure it was because winning at the Prince of Wales took too much out of us. Tonight, helped by yet more science questions like what is the third most abundant element in the Earth's atmosphere and which country contains the Baikonur space centre, we break clear in round four and win by a couple of points. It's our first win for a long time, and the missing link must be either Pete or Jude. I reckon it's Jude.
The snowball is worth almost a thousand pounds. Oli splashed out this week and bought two tickets. Somehow he ended up with numbers 901 and 903, and so is deeply upset when ticket 902 is drawn. Inexplicably it belongs to someone sitting miles away from us. Oli is then driven into paroxysms of despair when the question asks who is the UK Independence Party's only sitting MP? He's the only person in the pub who knows that it's Bob Spink, and the money rolls over yet again.
Tuesday, October 21st 2008
Ivan's here this week, for the first time in ages. He has not lost his ability to answer uncannily obscure cricket questions, but neither has he lost his tendency to say the answers to questions just a little bit too loudly. Lionel Richie, Oasis, the Jam and Lisa Stansfield all released songs called what? I say "All Around The World", quietly. Ivan says "Hello", much more loudly, attracting the attention of several nearby teams. He then says "Hola! Guten Tag!" even more loudly, in a not altogether successful attempt to divert attention away from us. Stu and Ivan seem very certain about "Hello", but the answer is All Around The World. They both then accuse me of not even having suggested All Around The World.
The beer round used to be our forte, but we never win it these days. This week's tie break question asks us how many items does the world's largest collection of airline sick bags contain. We had this question once before, and I know the answer is somewhere around 5500. We average our guesses as usual, but I tell the others that their guesses have to be close to 5500. We end up just 80 bags out from the correct answer of 5468. I think that actually knowing the size of the world's largest airline sick bag collection may be even more tragic than owning it.
The final round also contains a question we've had before. Hitchcock said that the length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human what? I know this because I set the same question a while back. It's no surprise that the same questions sometimes come up more than once and at least it's not a question related to Bjørge Lillelien. The Ian Woan Memorial Team are setting the quiz tonight, and they were the first people I remember asking a question about the Norwegian's legendary 1981 "Can you hear me Margaret Thatcher?" speech. At least three times since then, people have asked us to name all the British figures that Lillelien shouted about, and they always say with amazement "and one team got them all right!", as the Woans chuckle away in a corner.
Last week Oli ripped some hair out and thumped the table in anguish when he knew the answer to a snowball question but didn't have the ticket, and this week Ivan does exactly the same. The question is which author, best known for crime fiction, was said to be much more proud of her translations of Dante's 'Divine Comedy'. Hair is torn and tables punched. It's Ivan's birthday today, and at his great age he would be well advised not to tear too much of his remaining hair out. Luckily the question is incorrectly answered, and Ivan can show off a bit by telling us it's Dorothy L Sayers.
Tuesday, November 11th 2008
After a long break we're back in the hotseat tonight. Each of the groups who set the Prince of Wales quiz regularly bring something unique and recognisable to it, and one of the things we feel that we do well is to give the evening a slight sense of shambolic disorganisation. We excel this evening, over-running by twenty minutes and then finding out that two teams managed to claim the beer round prize. No idea who the fraudsters were but we'll be watching carefully next time.
Here's some of our questions:
Tuesday, December 16th 2008
It's been weeks since we last competed, but finally there are enough of us around to form a sensible team and we return to the Prince of Wales. It's packed, and we are forced to stand next to one of the roaring fires. Heatstroke threatens, but luckily Chris knows how to turn it off.
Evil Patrick is setting the quiz. When this happens, there is a small chance that we'll do well (we won one of his quizzes, once), but a much larger chance that we'll do horrifically badly (we dropped from joint first to seventh in the space of one round in another of his quizzes). Luckily, the first round is quite easy. Helped by knowing all eight Tottenham managers from the last twelve years, and also perhaps our team name, we score full marks and we're in the lead. Round two is a little bit more difficult, but we only drop a couple of points, and not only do we not lose the lead, we actually stretch it a bit.
The cash machine outside the pub is offering every conceivable financial option except for withdrawing money. We're all down to pennies and we're very thirsty, so we concentrate hard on the beer round. It's to no avail. We get that the link is about a Shakespeare play, but we don't know which one so we can't answer question 5 - who was the constable? As far as Shakespeare goes, if the answer is not Hamlet, Macbeth or Julius Caesar then I'm not much use. I head outside to try the cashpoint again.
Our habit here has always been to start well and then slide towards humiliation as the evening goes on, but round three sees us continuing to buck the trend as we hold on to the lead. We're four points in front, and already cracking under the pressure. Round four is much harder, and we begin to struggle. There are two astronomy questions, but it turns out that Tycho Brahe's nose was not made of any old metal but was gold, and Patrick is not giving points for anything less. Luckily there is a question about the Solar system - what's its eighth-largest body (excluding the Sun)? I turn out to be the only person in the pub who knows that it's Ganymede, Jupiter's largest moon, so I think it's an excellent question. We still feel sure we'll have managed to drop into fourth place, but we haven't - we've held on for a win.
Onto the snowball. The cash situation outside means that I had to borrow a pound off Stu to enter, but luckily I pay him back with the quiz winnings before the draw, and so I'll be under no obligation to share the money I'm planning on getting my hands on. Sadly it's not my number that comes up but Oli's. Who was Daphne Du Maurier's husband? No-one knows it, but Oli's happy at least that it wasn't a football question.
Tuesday, January 6th 2009
During 2008 we went to the Prince of Wales 24 times, and took six victories. We finished second twice, didn't finish third at all but finished fourth four times. Clearly this must mean that every time we're in third before the last round we crack under the pressure.
2009 starts with an evening of fearsome cold. Temperatures in Highgate are well below freezing, my glasses steam up the moment I walk in the pub and I stumble around blindly until I bump into Pete. Chris is setting the quiz, and inexplicably wants us to think of a team name before round one even begins. Normally we spent most of round one ignoring the questions and concentrating on the team name instead but tonight we have to submit something lame.
Does this free our minds and allow us to score highly? It does not. The quiz tonight is all about things that happened last year, but we must not have been concentrating and our scores are modest. Who published his bank account details to prove that no-one would be able to do anything with them, only to have 500 pounds stolen the next day? We remember that it was Jeremy Clarkson, and the memory makes us happy, but it doesn't help us to anywhere but a mid-table finish. But this is a good thing: if we are going to win a quarter of the time this year, and we've already got a non-win out the way, I believe that statistically we are more likely to win next week.
Tuesday, January 13th 2009
Our quiz setters tonight prudishly neuter our team name, After the first round we think they may have just misread our handwriting, so we write very carefully on the round two answer sheet. They still render it as 'twit'. We suspect they are also prudishly neutering our scores, because once again we find ourselves mired in the mid-table.
This is despite some impressive knowledge of dogs from Eldrik, who comes along once in a while. He knows a lot about biking, tennis and Sweden (and amazingly, one time he came along the very week there was an entire round about Sweden, allowing us to take a handsome victory), but tonight the question is what are Kerry Blue, Fox, Boston and Rat all types of. Kerry Blue? No way is that a type of dog. But Eldrik insists, and he turns out to be right.
Tuesday, January 27th 2009
Tonight's quiz setters are Keith and Anne, and their quizzes normally include at least one question about motor racing, which I like, and one which is some kind of pun, which I don't so much because I'm rubbish at getting them. Example: what kind of alcohol can a child buy if ice is added to it? Liquorice. Groan.... Tonight's, though, has neither. Though we struggle in the first round, Pete and I start to pull ourselves together in the second round, and get better from there. By the start of the fourth we're only just outside the money. Normally this is the point at which we fall apart, but somehow tonight we manage to score almost full marks on the final round. We haul ourselves into third for our first cash of 2009.
Last week I was in Tenerife, and of course that would be the week that an obscenely easy question comes up in the snowball. I find out that Marcus was the lucky owner of the winning ticket, getting the question "What was unusual about the birth of Virginia Dare in 1587?" This is about the first snowball question I've known the answer to since about 2006.
Still, on the positive side: a) there is still more than £1000 in the pot, and b) at least Evil Patrick didn't win it.
Tuesday, February 3rd 2009
It's an evening of near misses tonight. We used to frequently win the beer round, but it's been years since we last claimed the 15 pounds. Tonight we almost do it, correctly answering five questions, but slipping up on the tiebreak. Demoralised by this, we finish fourth in the quiz, the legendary "just outside the money". Demoralised by that, when my number is drawn in the snowball for only the fourth time in almost five years, I don't know the answer.
The question was which author killed his wife by ill-advisedly trying to shoot an apple off her head. When we bought the snowball tickets, I bought Stu's because I owed him a pound. I decided which of the two tickets I had bought I was going to give him, and so it could just as easily have been Stu going up for the chance to win £500. And naturally, while I have no clue about the answer, Stu is one of the few people in the pub who does actually know it. If I was him, I'd probably never speak to me again. Luckily Stu is more magnanimous than I am.
Monday, February 23rd 2009
Pub quizzers are a tragic bunch really - everyone who goes to the Prince of Wales has been gripped by the finale of this year's university challenge and almost every team name tonight somehow relates to it. We are the same. We're always upset to see Corpus Christi winning, but on the other hand, Manchester being overtaken in the last few minutes is a good result in our book.
Tonight's quiz is what is known in the parlance as a 'challenging' one. We mostly guess the answers, relying on certain inalienable rules of quizzing: the only cricketer who existed before 1920 was WG Grace, and in the 19th century, there were but two politicians, and they were Gladstone and Disraeli.
One question we should obviously get right is about astronomy. Which planet is 30 astronomical units away from the Sun? An astronomical unit is only 150 million kilometres, and I look at things billions of times further away. I think it's Neptune but Oli thinks it's Uranus. I try to work it out by independently rediscovering Bode's Law on the back of the answer sheet, and eventually decide it's Uranus. I confused these two once before, and I've confused them again. We finish in the mid-table.
Tuesday, March 3rd 2009
We're back in the hotseat for our first quiz of 2009. The number of people who come to the pub each week varies according to factors that no man understands, and this week it's absolutely rammed. We mark furiously between rounds and somehow manage to avoid over-running as much as we usually do.
Here's our questions:
Tie break: in a paper published in the Royal Society of Chemistry's journal Chemical Communications, a Chinese team, Yang et al, published a paper entitled "Electrochemical Synthesis of Metal and Semimetal Nanotube-Nanowire Heterojunctions and their Electronic Transport Properties.". In it, they discussed how they made nanotubes (abbreviated NT) from copper (chemical symbol Cu), and thus derived a very unfortunate abbreviation. How many times, in three pages of dense academic text, did this unfortunate abbreviation appear?
Answers on request...
Tuesday, March 17th 2009
We like our team name tonight. It's great. Now that is scientific fact - there's no real evidence for it - but it is scientific fact. Unfortunately no-one else in the pub tonight is a fan of Brass Eye, it seems, and no-one else finds it particularly amusing.
It's St. Patrick's day outside the pub, and Evil Patrick's day inside. Sometimes we win his quizzes; sometimes we leave the pub humiliated and ashamed. Tonight starts off quite promisingly, with a spectacular guess about a highly obscure cricket question. For those of us who are not Ivan, all cricket questions are highly obscure, and a question asking for the silver medallist at the 1900 Olympics is as baffling as any. Ivan is not here, so we guess France, and we turn out to be right.
After the first couple of rounds we're in a solid-ish fourth place, only a few points away from big money. But then it goes horribly wrong. Poetry and classics are really not my thing at all, and they're not Oli's, Stu's or Eldrik's either, but they are definitely Patrick's, and they feature heavily. We score a woeful two points in round three, hurtling down the order from quite near the top to very near the bottom. The fourth round sees no recovery. And then, adding insult to injury, someone wins 250 pounds on the snowball.
Tuesday, March 31st 2009
We've been coming to the Prince of Wales for almost five years now, and in all that time I think I've been the first to arrive no more than once. I still owe Oli dinner for losing a misguided bet that I could arrive by 8.30pm if I wanted to. Tonight, the tables are turned, and Oli and Stu are both catastrophically late. I do round one more or less by myself, but it's nice and easy. I've watched "24 hour party people", and I know that the 1976 gig that virtually everyone who ever did anything in Manchester all claimed to be at was headlined by the Sex Pistols. Oli and Stu turn up just in time to tell me which countries turned the G6 into the G7 and then G8, and we manage to drop just one point to find ourselves in the lead.
You'd think that by tripling the brainpower between rounds one and two, we'd start running away with it. Sadly it doesn't work that way. Asked which former Leicestershire County Cricket Club player said of being bowled out for a very low score in a match against Germany, "I always score one against the Germans", we work out eventually that it's Gary Lineker, but that's pretty much the sole bright spot as we slip into second.
The third round is a Prince of Wales classic. The answers are all connected in that they can be spelled using only letters that score one in scrabble. We know what these letters are, and we start off in blazing form, but we're undone by what is by far the easiest question of the round. What could refer to, among other things, a Scottish singer, and locally unwanted land use? Marcus enunciates the last bit very clearly, emphasising each word. I think he's just being slightly pretentious, perhaps, but somehow we fail to notice he's actually giving us the answer, which is the first letter of each of those words. We're just about the only team in the pub that doesn't get this. Disastrously we've dropped from a podium position into sixth, and it doesn't get any better in the fourth round. Our confidence shot, we stagger into a lame seventh.
Tuesday, May 26th 2009
Oli and I make a last-minute decision to turn up tonight. It's actually later than last-minute - I get there half way through round one, and Oli makes it just before round two. Probably as a result, we find ourselves mired in the mid-table.
The only bright spot is the beer round. Once upon a time we won quite a few beer rounds, but it must have been a fluke, like monkeys producing Shakespeare, because it's now been years since we last triumphed. This time, we twig early on that all the answers begin with A and end with Z. An island discovered in 1775 by Juan Manuel de Ayala - that would be Alcatraz. And Fred Astaire's actual surname was Austerlitz. A ship which ran aground in the Channel in 1978 causes us some trouble, but somehow Oli drags the name Amoco Cadiz from the depths of his memory.
We get all five answers, and all we need to do now is say how many times Joe Kinnear swore at the press in his infamous diatribe. I say 45; Oli says 63, so our answer is 54. The actual answer is 52. Surely we've won! But no! A team of lucky shits has put 53. We're cruelly denied. Will we ever win a beer round again? Is Joe Kinnear a well-spoken gentleman?
As is customary we now descend into bitter infighting. We're asked the least common letter in the periodic table. I reckon it's A, Oli says O. I don't know why I write down O but I do, and it's wrong. We're then asked which is the only element to contain all the vowels in its name. After we've handed in our sheets, Oli tries to look up the answer on his iphone. He is rummaging through the periodic table as the quizmasters tell us that the answer is praseodymium. Oli is outraged at the obscurity, and virtually shouts at some nearby teams, demanding they show him where in the periodic table this preposterous element is. They don't look too pleased and surely must think we have been cheating despicably. We depart the pub rapidly at the end of the quiz, and I think we'll have to lay low for a couple of weeks.
Tuesday, June 9th 2009
For something like the third time in a row, I am at the pub first. I'm not used to this and it freaks me out. Stu rolls up at about ten past nine and the quiz gets under way shortly afterwards. It's an Evil Patrick quiz tonight, but despite that we start off in fine form, lying a surprise second after round one, though we slip back to fourth in round two.
Oli and I came close to winning the beer round two weeks ago. We come even closer tonight. A question about a Czech author starts us off. There may be Czech authors who are not Milan Kundera but I don't know who they would be. We anticipate 'Milan' being the key to the connection and so it proves. A question about an actress - Sienna Miller. First recipient of some award or other in 1907 - Florence Nightingale. And then a fantastically lucky guess - the name of a flag on a ship is requested, and out of total ignorance we write down 'Genoa', which turns out to be the right answer.
So, the tie-break. How many individuals won gold medals for Great Britain at the Olympics? I guess 65, Stu guesses 50, so we average the two and put down 57.5. Only one team put a lower number - they put 57. The actual answer is 27, and we're denied by half a point.
Our morale is shattered, and we plummet down the order to a disappointing 6th. The snowball prize is 1000 pounds, as it has been for a long time now, and we continue to dream. My number doesn't come up, and it's more disappointing than usual - the question is which European language has dialects called Gheg and Tosk? After travelling in the Balkans last year, I know it's Albanian. The ticket holder doesn't know it, so we get another question. What happened in the Audubon ballroom in Manhattan, on 21 February 1965? Again the ticket holder doesn't know. This time Stu's the only person in the pub who knows that Malcolm X was assassinated there. A third question: who did Antoinette Gardiner meet while working on the set of Lawrence of Arabia? I haven't known the answer to any snowball questions for months, but for the second time tonight I know one - it was King Hussein of Jordan.
I knew two out of three answers. Therefore, I also know that if my number had actually come up, I'd have picked the third question. We've been coming here for five years, and still I hope that one day the snowball prize will be mine, but it's an increasingly irrational and forlorn hope.
Tuesday, July 14th 2009
It's almost dark when I arrive at the pub half way through round one. This disturbs me; I've just arrived back in the UK after three weeks in Greenland and Iceland and I've got used to 24 hour daylight. There was a question about Greenland in the quiz the week before I left, and we got it wrong. Will there be more tonight? I doubt it.
Me and Stu form the team this week. As is customary when there are just two of us, we struggle. The only bit we do at all well on is an excellent bonus round in which we have to name songs whose titles are verbs, given the artist and the year. Tragically enough, two of them are by Take That, and we get the both. But it's still not enough to get us anywhere near the money. And there aren't any Greenland questions either.
Thursday, July 23rd 2009
Tonight, once more, the responsibility of ensuring that the trivia-obsessed denizens of Highgate have a fun Tuesday evening is ours. The quiz goes OK, perhaps a little bit on the hard side or perhaps the quizzers are saving up their knowledge in case they get called up for the snowball. I certainly am. I'm distraught, then, when my ticket doesn't come up and the winning question is about Formula One. Who made the first British car to win the British Grand Prix? I know it. Does the ticket-holder? Yes, he does, and my ever-growing Snowball enemies list gains another entry.
Here's our questions - answers on request.
Tie-break: thanks to a landmark study published recently, humankind now knows that dog fleas jump higher than cat fleas do. How high does the average dog flea jump?
Tuesday, August 4th 2009
Normal order is resumed tonight, as I arrive much later than everyone else. Stu looks a bit under the weather and it turns out he's joined in the pandemic fun that's sweeping the world and had swine flu. He reckons the infectious phase is over.
The quiz seems pretty tough tonight. Keith and Anne are setting it, and I always rely on their penchant for the odd Formula One question but tonight they've gone all Linnean and half the questions seem to be about the names of phyla and genera of various plants and animals. Accordingly, we struggle, and it's not until round three that we finally get the F1 question. I almost don't get it - the question asks who recently replicated the achievements of Walter Wolf's team in 1978 of winning at the first attempt, but I mishear it as 'Walter Wolfstein'. I realise in time that it's Brawn GP, who will no doubt be hoping that their emulation of Wolf doesn't extend as far as following up a winning debut season with a season of mediocrity, a season of inadequacy and then bankruptcy.
We're firmly entrenched in the mid-table. The last round includes a question asking which is the only US state whose last four letters form the first four letters of its capital. It amazes me how many different questions you can ask about US capitals. Why don't people have the same urge to fill their quizzes with questions about counties, or départements, or oblasts?
The answer isn't obvious to us, so we take a sledgehammer to this walnut of a question and start writing down states. After a few minutes we've only got a woeful 27 of them, but we persevere and as the quizmasters start to demand answer sheets we've managed to write down 49 of the 50. Does this help us? It does not, but we still try to work out the 50th to convince ourselves that we can remember some pointless stuff. Finally we get it - Vermont. Oli suddenly starts as if he's been jabbed in the ribs, says "Montpelier!" and our walnut is duly cracked.
Feeling like we're on a high from that, we all push the boat out and buy two tickets for the snowball. And Stu's number comes up, for only the second time. Oli and I have a quick discussion about whether or not we want him to win and decide we'd probably be very grudgingly pleased if he did. But he doesn't. It's a question about motorbike constructors from the 1950s and no-one in the pub knows the answer. Five years of snowball failure continue...
Tuesday, August 11th 2009
I went to pub quiz in Highgate last week that wasn't the Prince of Wales. One of the other teams at this heretical quiz had an amusing name, which we steal shamelessly. Fortunately they aren't here and we get away with this blatant thievery.
The quiz starts off with a nice easy one. What's the Catalan word for pan? I know that, I've been to Catalunya - it's paella, and we're off to a good start. There are many "Blue Mosques" in the world, but where's the one that's also known as Sultanahmet? I've been there as well - it's Istanbul. We may only be half way through round one, but already I feel that we're in contention for a long-awaited win.
Round two, question one. Who was arrested in 1994 for the murder of Ronald Goldman? Whenever we don't have a clue about an answer, we put OJ Simpson, no matter how inappropriate. In this case, OJ is actually the answer, and we can legitimately write him down for once. After two rounds, we're in a competitive-looking fifth place.
Can we make it into the money? Oli knows that Roddy Doyle wrote the Barrytown Trilogy, and I know that a company called "More Balls Than Most" make juggling balls, and better than just knowing these things is that there are questions in the quiz about them. Then again, we don't know the four longest serving monarchs after Queen Victoria. OJ Simpson is not one of them unfortunately. At the beginning of the fourth round, we're in fourth position, just behind the Ian Woan Memorial Team. They have an unshakable reputation for failing to finish in the money, but tonight, somehow, they hold on, and we're in the horrors of "just outside the money". Will we ever win again?
Tuesday, August 25th 2009
Me and Stu make the trek up to Highgate for the quiz tonight. There are a staggering number of teams in the house tonight, and we do very badly. In the end, we finish about 15th out of 17, just ahead of a team of jokers who weren't taking it seriously and a team who gave up before the end.
There's always the snowball to hope vainly for. I've taken to buying two tickets instead of one these days, which makes me twice as angry when my number doesn't come up. The £1000 question is, who was the first Prime Minister of Nigeria after it gained independence? I wish my number had been drawn because I'm the only person in the pub who knows it's Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. And then to compound my woes, someone wins £250 on the third question.
Tuesday, September 1st 2009
The team is Stu, Oli and me. This is the first time in weeks that there have been more than two of us, so we may yet escape ignominy. We start well with a question about a hill in Nepal that was recently renamed after someone. Stu reckons it's Joanna Lumley, which is an answer too good to be wrong. But then we have a question about a war poet who died in 1967. Stu suggests Siegfried Sassoon but for some reason I'm sure he died in the war. He didn't. I blame Oli for failing to arbitrate properly in the dispute.
Paul McCartney has sold 100 million records as a solo artist and as a member of a band. Who's the only other person to have done this? We guess that it might be John Lennon, but we've failed to take into account that it's the Ian Woan Memorial Team that's setting the quiz tonight. Several teams at the Prince of Wales have an answer they always like to get into the quiz when they set it; Oli always asks a question about San Marino, for no apparent reason. Evil Patrick normally gets in Casablanca. The Woans, inexplicably, always get Phil Collins in. As they read out the answers they tell us that he may or may not appear later on in the quiz as well.
Luckily we move off music for a while with a question about exploration. After Amundsen and Scott went there in 1912, no-one made it to the south pole until 1958. Who got there then? It was Edmund Hillary, and I've fractionally redeemed myself. But then it goes wrong again. Who gave a benefit gig for the Natural Law Party in 1992, his first UK gig for 23 years? Easy enough - it's George Harrison. And for a bonus point, who joined him on stage to play the drums? Ringo Starr would be an obvious answer. But could it possibly be Phil Collins again? Somehow, we fail to fully appreciate that Phil Collins is a right wing nut job who threatens to move back to the UK if the tories win elections. When the Woans said that he "may or may not" appear later on, it turns out they meant the latter.
We end up in fourth. We kind of expected this. What's heartbreaking is how close we were to winning - we finish on 61 points, two teams in joint second have 62, and the winners have 63. One more correct answer and we would have been in first place. We have a quick Mexican standoff of blame before leaving the pub in disgust.
Tuesday, September 8th 2009
This is the 18th time we've set a Prince of Wales quiz, but tonight we've made a drastic change to the arrangements. Instead of the usual mix of questions from all of us, It's just me and Oli setting it, and Stu and Ivan are here to compete. Next time out, they'll set it, and Oli and I will compete. I'm kind of hoping Stu and Ivan don't win because if they do it will surely reek of a fix.
I set the first and last rounds; Oli does the middle two and the beer round. Oli's questions are definitely harder than mine; one team who had felt pretty confident after the first round say that they "feel raped" after the second.
Even with 15 teams in the house and only two of us to mark the answers, we manage not to over-run as horrifically as we normally do, and it's on to the Snowball. As always these days, there is more than £1000 in the pot. As Chris starts cranking up the tension, I'm suddenly accosted by someone nerdy-looking. Apparently he didn't even take part in the quiz but has some bizarre objection to one of my questions. I explain to him why he's wrong but he's getting oddly excited and can't seem to hear what I'm saying. He then starts grabbing nearby people and saying "but he just won't admit that he's wrong!". A growing number of people tell him that he's making a complete knob of himself, but he doesn't want to shut up. His incessant jabbering eventually provokes a few sharp words from Chris, who is normally an extremely mellow person, and the idiot grudgingly leaves us alone.
The first ticket drawn belongs to someone from the team who won the quiz. I'm disgusted but luckily they don't win. The second ticket is drawn by Annoying Dave, whose number also came up last week. I'm disgusted but luckily he doesn't win either. The third ticket belongs to me. Everyone else is disgusted and cries of "Fix" echo around the pub. It's a question about cricket. Once more I go home empty-handed, and the only consolation is that no-one, not even cricket statto Ivan, knew the answer.
Tuesday, September 15th 2009
Oli and I are the team for most of the first round tonight. We're doing OK but we have no idea which tube station might have been inspired by the Moscow Metro. Luckily, Stu turns up seconds before the end of the round to tell us it's Gants Hill. With this inspired bit of obscure knowledge, we get off to a decent start, hovering around the money positions.
A question in round two starts "Laurent Cassegrain", and immediately I start writing down "telescopes". There is another team in the pub that is also looking happy at this point; they are also astronomers, friends of mine from UCL, but for them, this will be a rare moment of happiness during this quiz. We maintain a decent position; they hover worryingly close to bottom spot.
The beer round is a disaster. We have no idea about the answers and write down OJ Simpson for several. The tie-break asks how many people from Chapel Street in Altincham volunteered to serve in the First World War. We put 160, and the answer is 161, but it does us no good.
One of the questions in round three should suit those of us with science educations. What is the penultimate letter in the Greek alphabet? We take the sledgehammer approach which worked so well with US states a couple of weeks ago, and start writing down all the Greek letters we can think of. We make it to 23; we're not sure if any of them is the penultimate one so we write down χ and hope for the best. The one letter we could not remember was ψ. Guess what the answer was.
Disheartened, we suffer a fourth round disaster and slip from second to fourth place. Our cash-free 2009 continues.
Tuesday, September 22nd 2009
I arrive very late this evening but I'm just in time to tell the team which African country Ali Bongo is the president of. Sadly I tell them the wrong answer as I unaccountably confuse Gabon with Equatorial Guinea. Luckily I do manage to correctly say that the Netherlands is the country immediately east of London City airport.
The team is me, Stu, Ivan for the first time in ages, and Annoying Dave whose regular team have gone AWOL. Annoying Dave's snowball ticket is drawn outrageously often, which is why he's annoying, but strangely, people sitting close to Dave often find their number being drawn as well. We're hoping for this phenomenon to be observed this evening.
The quiz is a 'challenging' one. There is a cricket question, which makes Ivan very happy, but geography and science questions are not figuring much. My favourite question asks who was known for a while in 1992 as Steve Romana. David and I both know that it's the guy who fraudulently appeared on 15 to 1 twice by going on in a disguise. But what's his real name? Eventually David says "Trevor", and I realise his surname was "Montague". Top teamwork - right answer.
But it's all downhill after that. We're nowhere near the money and we end up in eighth, and then Dave's outrageous snowball luck fails to work for any of us. My only consolation is that a bunch of my friends from UCL came, formed two teams and claimed that both would wipe the floor with my team. Fortunately, they found the quiz even more challenging that we did.
Tuesday, September 29th 2009
It's late September, the time of year when I start complaining about my nice relaxing university being full of bloody students. I have to teach some of them, on Tuesday evenings, and for the next three months I'm going to be arriving at the pub even later than usual. By the time I get there this evening, round one is almost over. Ivan's been working away on his own. The other astronomers are now turning into regulars here, and one of my rival teams only has three people on it. Ivan and I decide to join them. We pool all the answers we've got so far, and we end up in fourth place after round one. My negligible contribution to the answers so far doesn't stop me flicking Vs at the other UCL team across the pub who are a few places behind us.
There are an unusual number of popular culture questions tonight. There's a question about Dan Brown's most recent book, something about Wallace and Gromit's latest film, and a great question about the TV program that used to get higher viewing figures than the population of the country in which it was made. It has to be Neighbours.
Later rounds are more cerebral. There's a question about composers born in 1685, and Ivan and Sam both know the answer is Scarlatti. I've never heard of him. I reckon Herbie Hancock invented music. Before that it was just tuning up. Argument ensues.
We're constantly running just outside the money. By the fourth round, though, there's a six point gap between us and cash. Can we make it up? Turns out we can't. We finish sixth but we're pretty pleased with that. There were 18 teams in the house tonight, so the competition was fierce. And our friends across the other side of the pub finish 16th. 18th went home after round two; 17th was a guy on his own.
The snowball prize is a grand, as it's been for a very long time now. I've been coming to this pub for five years and my ticket has only come up five times. Ivan has never yet even had the opportunity to choke on a snowball question. No-one gets the £1000 question, or the £500, but £250 would still be nice. And who's number comes up but Emily's? She's only been coming to the pub for three weeks. Luckily the question is about obscure artists on Stiff Records. To the best of anyone's knowledge, Cliff Richard never did sign for Stiff. The money is safe for another week.
Tuesday, October 13th 2009
Throughout most of this year our team has consisted of only two or three of us. Normally if there's two of us, humiliation results. With three, we almost inevitably finish fourth. If there are four of us, we can compete for the money. But for a while now we've been wondering what has happened to Pete. Since we set the quiz in July he's gone underground and no-one's heard a word from him. Tonight he surprises us all by putting in an appearance.
I am late. I miss the first round entirely, but this seems to have done the team no harm as we're in third. In the second round, all the answers are types of alcohol, and my only contribution is to suggest that a description of a village in Somerset must surely be of Butcombe. It is, we've got full marks and we're in the lead.
The third round answers are all pubs in Highgate. Many regulars don't actually live in Highgate and thus don't go to any Highgate pubs except the Prince of Wales. I used to be one of them but now I'm a local. Unfortunately I'm a local who walks around with his eyes shut - I know where a lot of pubs are but can't remember for the life of me what most of them are called. Still, I remember that the pubs opposite my flat are the Winchester and the Boogaloo, and this helps us work out which town was called Venta Belgarum, and what Ringo Starr's biggest solo hit was. But I have completely forgotten what the big pub on the corner down the hill is called, and we end up in joint first.
The fourth round is all about princes of Wales. Edward II was the first, Edward VIII was the penultimate one - this we know, and we manage to drop only one point, but so do our competitors. We're joint first and there is a tiebreak. What's the most Oscar nominations anyone has accrued without actually winning one? We follow the average theory and put 14. The other team put 19. The answer is 20. Turns out the other team is Evil Patrick's, and he rushes around the corner to jeer at us. It's fair enough - we would have done the same.
Wednesday, October 28th 2009
Perhaps tonight I am not on the best form for quizzing. I went clubbing last night, got home at 9am, then had to give a two hour lecture at 6pm. By the time I arrive at the pub, extremely late, to meet Ivan, I'm so exhausted I can hardly remember my own name, let alone any interesting trivia.
Keith and Anne are setting the quiz. I like their quizzes because they always contain a question or two about Formula One. Tonight, though, my hopes are dashed. At least I think they are. Maybe I just fell asleep for a moment when they ask the question. What I do notice, though, is that in round four, a lot of the answers seem remarkably familiar. We are asked what Bill Clinton's middle name is. It's Jefferson, and wasn't there a question earlier about Thomas Jefferson? My addled brain seems to recall that there was. We eventually conclude that all the answers are things that appeared earlier in the quiz.
This genius idea for a round means that although we finish a poor fifth out of ten, we go home happy. I expect that next time I set the quiz, some derivative variant of this idea might be used.
Tuesday, November 10th 2009
I'm late to the quiz this evening, as so often. Luckily Ivan and Oli arrive in time to cover round one and most of round two, and they get us into a respectable position.
The beer round involves paintings. Back in the day we used to win the beer round with impressive regularity, but inexplicably we lost the knack and we haven't won it for about two years. We have almost given up trying to win, though we still never buy drinks until we know we've lost it. Tonight it doesn't look good - we've got to identify the artist of a selection of 10 paintings, in which only the eyes are shown. My sole contribution is recognising the Mona Lisa. But Oli and Ivan between them know almost everything else. We get nine out of ten, and it's down to the tiebreak.
If you took 100 pounds to the post office, changed it into US dollars, then changed it back, all at the most favourable rate on offer, how much would you have? I travel a lot so I should probably have an idea. But on the other hand I'm extremely financially careless and I get all the foreign currency I need at cashpoints. I have no idea how much this costs me because I never check my bank balance.
So it's down to the average theory. We put £77.50. Another team, in a display of touching naivety, puts £102. A third team, in a display of breathtaking cynicism, put £55. It's bad but it's not that bad - you'd get £88.70 back, and to our complete astonishment, we've won the beer round.
It's very hard to keep concentrating in round three, especially as it's unusually complicated - right answers are not required. Instead, the quizmaster wants us to give the most commonly given wrong answer, according to some survey or other. Luckily Stu arrives, and after we've plied him with a drink or two from our winnings, he helps us to get almost full marks.
Round four involves a lot of anagrams of tube station names. We're on blazing form now and we get most things right. What station is between Togetherness Thinking and Teary Swab? We can get the anagrams but are we bourgeois enough to know the answer? It turns out we are. But it's not enough to get us into the money - we finish fifth, again.
Monday, November 23rd 2009
Our team is split into factions tonight. It's me and Oli v. Stu, Pete and Ivan - they are setting the quiz, and Oli and I are hoping to put in a decent performance.
It doesn't look like we will at first. Ivan's round is pretty tough, and it includes a question about Rome. Who or what are the biancocelesti? We haven't got a clue and I'm having flashbacks to a time when Ivan set a whole round about Rome in which two teams scored no points at all, and we almost got lynched. The biancocelesti are Lazio football club, as it turns out. We manage to score three points, and decide not to lynch Ivan, for now.
The beer round questions are completely beyond us, but we still end up arguing fiercely about the tie-break. It's a list of food items, and Pete wants to know how much more the list would cost in Waitrose than in Sainsburys. Oli and I pointlessly manage to come closest to the right answer, but we didn't get any of the questions right, which is unfortunately a prerequisite. We buy our own drinks.
Stu's questions make a few references to places he's just been on holiday. This should give us a slight advantage, and we get a question about Argentina easily enough. But which country did Eliza Lynch become the empress of, in the mid-19th century? Not Argentina again, surely. Brazil had emperors, we think, so we put that. But I'm forgetting, despite hearing from Stu while he was there, that he went to Paraguay on his South American travels.
By end of round 3 we are in fifth, and have a chance of making fourth. But it's not to be, and we slip disastrously down the field to end in 7th. And so our hopes fall once again on the snowball. We would be outraged if Evil Patrick's number were to be drawn; we're even more outraged when it's Stu's number. Luckily it's yet another impossible question, and another ticket is drawn. It's Evil Patrick's. Fortunately it's too tough for him as well. A third hapless punter is called up, and they too fail to answer the question. The money rolls over again. It rolls and rolls and rolls, this snowball pot. It will yet be mine.
Tuesday, January 12th 2010
2009 was a poor year for us at the Prince of Wales. We didn't win the quiz, nor the beer round, nor (obviously) the snowball. Would 2010 be any better?
We start the quiz on blazing form. We know everything in round one, except for one question - what was the first oscar-winning film to have an all-male cast? We think it might be "12 Angry Men" - luckily Stu arrives just before the end of the round and tells us it's "Lawrence of Arabia". We've got full marks and a three point lead. Surely we're going to win.
But it's all downhill from there. By the end of the second round we're only in joint first. The third round sees Ivan get a cricket question wrong, and us stumble into fourth. We're not far off the money and our table is a scene of grim concentration during round four. It does no good - we continue the Slump and finish fifth. It's a disastrous start to 2010.
Tuesday, January 26th 2010
There are 19 teams in the house tonight, the biggest field ever seen. The Prince of Wales is not a big pub and it's like the Black Hole of Calcutta on evenings like this. The quizmaster faces a daunting task of marking furiously between rounds. He doesn't do himself any favours by starting the quiz ten minutes late, and is forced to read out the questions in the style of a horse racing commentator.
We dominate in round one. We did this last time out as well, and we know the form: we will do really badly in round two and squander the five point lead. We all agree that this will be a difficult task, but we concentrate hard and manage to do it - after round two we're in second. We're impressed that we pulled this off and there are handshakes and congratulations all round.
Round three has a nice question about Harry Nilsson and Mama Cass - she died in his flat, as did Keith Moon, and everyone at the Prince of Wales knows this because every regular quiz setter seems to have asked this question. But who had hits in the 1990s with covers of their songs? That's a bit more difficult, but I know my middle-of-the-road 90s chart successes. It was the Beautiful South, but despite this we drop another couple of points.
Furious arguments erupt in round four, and our answers are scribbled out so often that our sheet is more ink than paper when we hand it it. Purple quality streets - did they once contain hazelnuts and then brazil nuts, or the other way around? Jon and Bill Pertwee - did they co-star in Worzel Gummidge, Dad's Army or Doctor Who? Ivan sneaks out for a cigarette to avoid getting involved in a fight, but ends up getting the casting vote when he comes back in. "Dad's Army", he says. Stu and I shout "no way!" and throw our arms up in disgust. ""OK, ok, Dr. Who", he says. Oli and Pete shout "no way!" and throw their arms up in disgust. We put Worzel Gummidge.
It's right, and we've snatched back first place. It's our first win since 2008. We are overjoyed, but cold water is soon poured on our excessive celebrations when David tells us actually he mis-marked and we should have been second. We should probably feel a bit deflated by that, but we decide that even a false win is better than the miseries of fourth.
Tuesday, February 2nd 2010
I am very late; so late that I'm almost sacked from team. They're doing OK, but I know that Wilbert Vere were the first two names of Awdry and they don't, so I am allowed to stay on, until round two anyway. They have everything else covered, and we find ourselves high up the table.
Keith and Anne are setting the quiz tonight. Apparently their beer rounds have been rated as too hard so they've dumbed this one down especially. The first two answers are Jimmy Hoffa and Marie Celeste, and I feel sure the connection has something to do with the Osmonds. But it's simpler than that, it's just things to do with disappearances. We get all six questions right, and it's down to the tiebreak. How long is the longest golf course in the world? We guess 779 miles and hand in our sheet. The answer is apparently required in kilometres but we can't be bothered to multiply anything by 1.609 right now. We say, go with the flow. 779km will do. The answer is 1365km, but we're closest anyway, and we enter round three with thirst slaked.
One of the questions in round three involves book titles of 2, 3, 4 and 5 letters. From their descriptions, If, Kes and Scoop are easy enough to get. But a book about a girl who dies in a boating accident we don't know. I suggest "Gulp". This is not correct. We find ourselves in joint second with three teams. Can we avoid fourth? Amazingly, we can. We're helped by Keith and Anne's usual grand prix question. Which sport's championships have been decided for the last five years at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace? It's Formula One, and second is ours.
Stu is in possession of the winning snowball ticket. Could we take second place, the beer round, and the snowball? If only it had been Pete's ticket, we could have. He knows that Dundee United used to be called Dundee Hibernian. Stu doesn't. It's been more than five years now - surely our snowball time is coming.
Tuesday, February 9th 2010
I am late again. By the time I arrive, I've missed most of the first round, and the team name has unfortunately been chosen. But I'm just in time for a Formula One question so I should be able to redeem myself. It's a question about three time world champions, and I inexplicably fail to remember that Niki Lauda was one of them. The next question is about Buzkashi, a national game involving a goat corpse. Which country's national game is it? I'm sure it's Afghanistan. The others want to put Mongolia. I'm sure it's Afghanistan but I'm chastened by my earlier failure and so I keep quiet. It's Afghanistan.
By the time of the beer round it's clear we're not going to be troubling the money, so we concentrate hard in the hope of salvaging something from our evening. It's an excellent beer round - the quiz master showed his small children some classic album covers and noted down their descriptions of them, and now we have to name the classic album from the descriptions. We get Led Zeppelin IV, Velvet Underground + Nico, Parklife by Blur, Screamadelica by Primal Scream, and Autobahn by Kraftwerk despite me trying to convince the others that it might have been Man-Machine. The description mentions cars, so why would it be anything by Autobahn? Luckily the others don't listen to me.
We put down the wrong Blondie album for question six and end up with 11/12. But we are mismarked, given 12 and proclaimed the winners by a point. Moral debate ensues. We eventually decide to be honest. Stu goes to fess up, and we find ourselves needing the tiebreak if we want some drinks. But then the other team on 11 makes an appeal, saying their handwriting was misread. They actually got full marks, and the beer money is theirs. We are left merely with a round of applause for our honesty.
Being honest losers is no fun. Our morale is shattered and we finish in the mid-table.
Tuesday, February 16th 2010
There are only seven teams in the house tonight. It's the quietest night in years, so we have to fancy our chances of getting into the money. The quiz is pretty easy tonight, by Prince of Wales standards, even including a question asking for the capital of Australia. Such straightforward questions are manna from heaven for us, but also to everyone else in the pub. We find ourselves in fifth at the end of the first round.
Luckily our form improves, and we get into second place. The beer round answers are all cricket grounds, but even Ivan doesn't know that the SWALEC stadium is one of the test cricket grounds. I don't even understand what test cricket is, let alone where it's played, but I berate him anyway.
We finish the quiz in joint third place. The quiz masters have overrun a little bit and decide that it's not worth a tie-break to sort out who wins the five pounds of prize money, and we get £2.50 for our efforts - 83.3p each for me, Ivan and Oli. It's probably the smallest prize we'll ever get at the Prince of Wales.
Tuesday, February 23rd 2010
We start this evening on blazing form. Prince of Wales quizzes often have a "nice easy one to start", but tonight's is about Icelandic corporate raiders. Despite this, we work out why Baugar named their offshoots Kcaj and Arev. They must be fans of Coronation Street, which I never watch and know nothing about, except that I know there are characters called Jack and Vera. After this complicated start, we get almost full marks and find ourselves in the lead.
There is only one way to go from here. Round two is a bunch of questions which have an easy answer and a hard answer. We are big enough fans of the Manic Street Preachers to name both their songs which have "Life" in the title (and they are both masterpieces), and there's a cricket question for Ivan as well. We hold narrowly on to the lead.
But then we begin to slip. The patron saint of Jersey, we guess, is St. Helier, but then there's a question about a sitcom which ran from 1979 to 1981 and then returned in 2007. We argue fiercely, very very nearly write down To The Manor Born and then decide to write down the wrong answer instead. We fall to second.
Can we retake the lead in round four? It does contain a travel/geography sort of question, and I do like them, but the question is what are the five most populated islands entirely in the western hemisphere. Many options are considered, some plausible and some implausible. One that we didn't consider at all was Long Island. We did get Cuba, Hispaniola, Ireland and Puerto Rico, but it's not enough. We are three points off the win, and have to content ourselves with 12 pounds for second place.
Tuesday, March 2nd 2010
Tonight only Ivan and I can make it. I'm in training for some endurance mountain bike races, and I'm running late so I decide to cycle up Highgate Hill straight to the pub, instead of up Archway Road to my house and then to the pub. I took on Highgate Hill once before, slightly too soon after eating, and felt sick all evening. Tonight I do a bit better, but it's a hell of a hill and I'm destroyed by the time I get to the pub.
As a result, I contribute almost nothing and we finish poorly. Must remember to keep cycling and quizzing separate in future.
Tuesday, March 23rd 2010
This month I am ridiculously busy, preparing a paper on some of the first results from the Herschel Space Observatory. But I escape from the office for a brief couple of hours to make it to the quiz. I am horrendously late even by my own standards, and arrive at the start of round 3. My arrival must surely be the reason we rocket astonishingly up the order, from 10th to 3rd. My only real contribution is knowing that Robbie Coltrane played Eddie Fitzgerald, better known as Fitz from Cracker. None the less I feel like I must deserve the credit.
I have no idea what it must mean, then, when round four sees us plunge back down to 8th. Disappointed, I head back to the office for a few more hours of work.
Tuesday, April 6th 2010
I arrive strangely early at the pub this evening. Stu and Oli are already there but still, it's not even 9pm. Is it because I sense good things in the offing tonight, or is it just an accident? Who knows? Either way, the quiz starts well and we're in second place after round one. We hold on to the spot in round two, rise to joint first in round three, and remarkably we take an outright victory with a sterling performance in round four. We also come very close to winning the beer round, only narrowly missing out with a poor tiebreak guess. We share out 24 pounds between us and we're very satisfied with our second win of 2010.
But for reasons which are about to become clear, I can hardly remember the actual quiz. The reasons are snowball tickets number 45 and 46, which I bought way back in round two. It's been almost six years since we started coming here, I've bought one or two tickets every single time, and my number comes up about once a year on average. Every time it does, I get some stupidly hard joke of a question about cricket, fail to even guess, and go home humiliated. Then the following week some other bastard normally gets a laughably easy question about physics or geography and takes home wads of cash. Actually winning the snowball has become a distant, impossible dream. I hardly know why I buy tickets any more - it only means that every Tuesday ends in bitterness. But I do. We all do.
Tonight, the prize fund stands at £1000, as it has done for a long time. Remarkably my number comes up, for only the sixth time. I sidle up to the front, already wondering what nightmare question might be. If it's about cricket, I think I might punch Marcus to the ground and run out of the pub, never to return. I feel horribly certain that even if it's not cricket, it will be ridiculously obscure. In times past I've been actually shaking with nerves when my number came up, even when I was facing a maximum win of £67, but tonight I feel quite relaxed.
Which African country has a lowest point that is higher than any other country's lowest point?
Wow. Did Marcus really just say that? Forget punching him to the ground - I almost have to stop myself kissing him. I hear myself saying "Lesotho", before I've even had time to consciously realise that I know the answer. Then I have a second or two of horrific, crushing doubt. Did I mishear the question? Is Lesotho actually right? Have I just made an idiot of myself in front of the whole pub, again?
"...is the right answer!", says Marcus, and I almost collapse to the floor in shock. I can hardly believe even that my number came up, let alone that I could answer the question, still less that it's just made me £1000 richer.
The rest of the evening passes in a haze of geeky happiness that knowing obscure trivia can bring such rewards. Now I know what winning the snowball feels like, I might up my stake to a fiver each week. Pretty soon, I'm sure, my numbers will start coming up as often as Evil Patrick's and Annoying Dave's do, and I'll have to call myself Shitty Roger or something.
Actually, it's much more likely that I won't win anything else until 2016, so I will enjoy this moment of triumph for quite some time. I laugh loudly to myself all the way home.
I've decided to finish on a high note, and this is my last dispatch from the Prince of Wales. Thanks for reading - see you in the pub any Tuesday you care to drop by.