That’s the Real Quiz


The Office, BBC, 2001-2003

From The Guardian:

Last March, when I went to Las Vegas for the very first time, I made sure to pack pens and paper. I knew we would need the supplies. We converged from various points on the US map: six of us, a guys’ weekend in Sin City. On Friday afternoon, we dawdled in the Hard Rock hotel, waiting with impatience for the action to begin. Dusk fell, the neon rose, and we gathered in the lobby. Together we walked through the maze of slot machines and blackjack tables, past the bar and the steakhouse, past the flyers for burlesque revues and up into the nightclub.

And there, having spurned the vices of Vegas, we indulged our own, clustered around our team’s answer sheet as a quizmaster barked questions at us. The weekend, Geek Bowl XIII, had been put together as a blowout for quiz fiends who attended bar trivia nights across the US and still yearned for more. Friday was a warm-up quiz: calisthenics before the big game. On Saturday, 240 teams spent the evening packed into a Hard Rock auditorium, sweating their brains over 65 questions. You could buy beer and snacks while you quizzed, but no one seemed particularly keen on alcohol. You drink to forget; you quiz to remember. The only Elvis impersonators I saw that weekend were part of a special round in the quiz, in which Vegas street-theatre performers staged cryptic re-enactments of famous movie scenes. (We had to identify the movies.) Another round had questions to which the answers all included types of cheese: Alison Brie, Goat, Grand Coulee Dam. In a third, we had to construct portmanteau phrases from images of snacks and celebrities. NutElla Fitzgerald. OvalTina Turner. Desmond TuTuna Helper. No quiz I’ve ever attended has provoked this much pained groaning at the answers.

Which is saying something, because I’m entering my fourth decade of addiction. In my quizzing, there is to be found a story of my life. It is the single constant to which I’ve clung as I bounced between schools, universities, jobs and cities. In India, where I grew up, my obsession began with inter-school quizzes: teams of two or three, sitting behind desks, fielding questions in turn. When I was eight, I took part in my first, in Delhi. We missed out on winning on a tie-breaker, and for a week afterwards, I replayed that moment in my mind so vividly that I found it hard to fall asleep at night. In 1999, when I went to an American university to study journalism, I discovered Quiz Bowl tournaments, for which we practised once a week, dividing up into teams and holding mock-contests in empty classrooms late into the night. I returned to India and, while working as a reporter, sank into the circuit of “open” quizzes, so-called because anyone is free to form a team and take part. Three years ago, after my wife and I moved for a brief stint to Ireland, I joined the Dublin Quiz League, conducted in pubs but otherwise a serious affair with difficult questions.

“Question time: my life as a quiz obsessive”, Samanth Subramanian, The Guardian