May 28, 2005

The RAG Quiz

"Has the RAG Quiz deteriorated in recent months?", is, I'm sure, a question on many of your collective lips. Along with some crumbs, if you're anything like me.

Ever since I took a few of my first-year corridor friends to it, I've gone nearly every week (At least 80%) with a variety of teams. The zenith was undoubtedly when the University Challenge team won about 6 on the trot in a period of such domination that:
a) We were half-heartedly asked to stop coming and
b) I had 17 litres of lager that I'd won. I think my mother still has some, as beacuse I'm not fond of Foster's and Carling, I gave it to her to make Gary Rhodes' lager batter for fish. We were happy with Kudos.

Of course, due to the electability of the quiz master, the quality could change year on year. In this academic year, Neil Faraday produced an excellent quiz, with interesting questions and some innovative rounds. Unfortunately, I beleive the quality has deteriorated with the new regime. Some examples:

A recent question asked "Which Balkan country borders greece to the South and Yugoslavia (Or was it serbia? It doesn't matter) to the North?" We naturally put down the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Unfortunately, the given answer was Albania. Here is a map. Of course the problem here is that both are valid, and this is therefore a poor question (If anything, FYR Macedonia is a "more valid" answer, as the 2 parts of Yugoslavia that Albania borders have semi-autonomous characteristics).

Film rounds usually have links at the end. One recently was "A Bridge Too Far", and my team correctly answered this. However, as the answers were being read I overheard another team comiserating themselves for discounting this fine war film, as it had been a link within the last couple of months. They were correct, it had been.

Music rounds are getting more obscure. I freely acknowledge that "popular" music is not the speciality of myself or my team, and it is usually our poorest round. However, when you look at the the scores, the music round is probably the lowest scoring round, with the majority of teams scoring badly, and only a few – who happen to know and like the particular music being played – doing exceptionally weel compared to the mean.

The accumulator question is an exciting new innovation. However, when there is £24 at stake, innaccurate answers are even more likely to make my blood boil. Recently, the accumulator question was "How many States of the USA end in the letter 'a'?". An excellent question, as virtually nobody will know for sure, but many will be able to make an educated guess. My team vastly underestimated, but when the answer was revealed as 21, I was suspicious. Sure enough, when I checked (with a little more that a minute available) the real answer turned out to be 18.

So, has the quiz lost its way? I don't think it's as good as it could be, but I'll still attend anyway. What do you all think?

Lastly, a little thoguht about what, to my mind, makes a good quiz. I've been to many and written a couple, and here are my thoughts.
I think a good question works on 2 levels. Firstly, there is the actual knowing something. Obviously, if you know the answer it's easy, as Mr Tarrant likes to say. But, more importantly, there's being clever, skillful and logical and being able to work something out.
A question which says "Who did such and such?" is dry and boring, and requires one particular bit of knowledge. If you know it, you know it. If you don't, you sit there, bored. A question along the lines of "Which (nationality) profession (eg scientist) did such and such in (date)?" is far better for a couple of reasons. Somebody with a real general knowledge can have a decent attempt at working it out, as there are several clues. The answer's been narrowed down to a nationality, and a time and a profession. This doesn't have to make the question easy – facts can be easily found to slightly mislead the quizzer but still guide them to the answer. For example, perhaps the subject wasn't best known for that profession, or nationality.
This also cuts out that tedious thinking at the end of a round, when somebody's there trying to remember a particular name or date from just one fact, which, if you haven't remembered already is very difficult. If you have more pieces of the jigsaw, no matter how small, the process becomes a bit easier, and more rewarding and fun.

The actual selection of the question is important too, for the same reasons. Take a recent sport round at the RAG quiz. There were two questions I remember, both of which had people as their answer. One asked you to name a tennis player based on a Wimbledon result a couple of years ago (I forget now, but it was something like losing finalist). That's actually quite tricky for a casual observer, as past final merge into one through the mists of time, years get mixed up etc. Another question was about Rugby Union, and an English hat-trick scorer in a particular World Cup match. A little thought, and you realise that anyone who scores a hat-trick in Rugby Union is most likely one of the back 3, and sure enough the answer was Full-back/Occasional winger Josh Lewsey.
Obviously, neither of these discriminate against those who simply know the answer, but whilst the first may leave those with a general knowledge of tennis scratching their head sifting through a dozen or so successful tennis players, the latter allows those with a true general knowledge to make a decent educated guess at World Cup winning back.

Think for a moment about the questions on University Challenge and Mastermind. They are riddled with sub-clauses and little clues, titbits of information which allow the participant to deduce the answer, or in the case of the former, allow the sharpest and most knowledgable competitors the chance to buzz in extremely quickly. That's why they're the best quiz shows on television.

So, quiz-setters, not just here, but the world over, let's have an end to boring questions with one route in, and better rewards for those who can think about, rather than recite their answers.


- 16 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. I've just that I just wrote over 1000 words on quizzing. If only I could have been that passioante about my degree!

    28 May 2005, 16:46

  2. I cannot comment on the relative qualities of different RAG quizzes, however, I couldn't agree more with you that it is fundamentally necessary for the quizzers to have the right answers!

    That they have made mistakes recently makes a feeling of righteous indignation boil up inside of me!

    28 May 2005, 17:21

  3. Sounds like you'd be a good candidate to volunteer as a RAG quizmaster!

    28 May 2005, 18:57

  4. Indeed, I emphatically agree with Simon! I certainly enjoyed the quiz you wrote for WSO - being generally useless on the general knowledge front it was nice to be able to work out a few answers – you made a slightly dim blonde feel useful!

    28 May 2005, 19:10

  5. Yes, all the things you say are correct. The great thing about Mastermind and University Challenge is that even if you know the answer to the question, you often learn something you didn't know, because of the way the questions are phrased. They are difficult questions but interesting and thought-provoking.

    At the other end of the scale, pub quiz machines are the worst. You'll be motoring along fine until you get to the question that could actually win you some money, which is normally something like this: 'In which year was the noted Slovakian high-jumper Boris Dvsorta born? 1956, 1957, or 1958?'

    Other questions I dislike are the ones which assume a definite date for events whose dates are actually historically disputed. For example, I once had a question about when the Vietnam war ended, which you could write an essay on!

    When/where is the RAG quiz? I've never been there.

    28 May 2005, 19:32

  6. i second daisy – where and when is this famous quiz?

    And Andy, would you be around to take over the quizzing???

    29 May 2005, 15:59

  7. It's Sunday (ie Tonight) in Cholo. It used to start at 8, but now it seems to start at around 8.30, making it hard for Leamingtonians to get the last bus home.
    Quiz co-ordinator is a RAG exec position, so I'd have to join and wait a year, which would get in the way of me leaving…

    29 May 2005, 17:11

  8. I agree completely – an intelligent post indeed. But I can't let another opportunity for shameless publicity go amiss. RaW's widely lauded Arts Quiz is still available to listen to at www.radio.warwick.ac.uk/artsquiz and features Mr. Andrew Lay himself. Gosh I'm feeling insecure now though. Were my questions alright Andy?

    29 May 2005, 20:16

  9. Quiz Enthusiast

    More comments to follow – but out of interest Andrew don't you think the present quiz master makes the quiz fun by virtue of his personality and enthusiasm for the quiz?

    31 May 2005, 01:18

  10. Andrew Lay

    Yes, I'll certainly grant you that – and the quiz is still fun. I still go (Disappointed there wasn't one on Sunday) and enjoy it. It's just my enjoyment is diminished when the quality of the quiz falls below its usual levels.

    31 May 2005, 10:39

  11. Warwick Skinner

    Nostalgia for the quality of quizzes past is all very well, but I seem to remember back in the old days we had to argue at least one inaccurate answer pretty much every week. On the other hand, one diid notice it lost a certain something when the new RAG exec took over. Though I shouldn't knock anything that left me with 50 cans of beer, 9 bottles of wine and 4 of vodka at the end of my exams. An entertaining few weeks…

    Seriously though, when setting I think if each question hasn't been answered correctly by someone then you have failed to some degree. If something is so obscure that people can't even come up with a plausible guess then you're going wrong. Unless of course it's an obscure but entertaining fact. For example a simple one would be "The mother of one of the Monkees was the inventor of which aid to inaccurate typists?" Something like that. As long as you make people think and argue amongst themselves – e.g. "What is lowest score possible in snooker to leave your opponent needing a snooker?" – and if they smile rather than sigh when they hear an answer then you know you've done it right.

    31 May 2005, 23:24

  12. Andy Holmes

    I know this entry is now half a month old, but I couldn't resist adding something. As someone who has been heavily involved in RAG for the last three years I would like to say thanks for a very thoughtful analysis that echos many of my own feelings about the quiz.

    Firstly, in Paddy's defence (he's the new quizmaster by the way). Taking over from Neil was always going to be a challenge, because not only did he write and present a very good quiz, he also happens to be an incredibly intelligent bloke. I've been involved (or at least around) for the first few quizzes of the last four quizmasters and, with the exception of Neil, all have taken a while to get used to it.

    I don't know how many people reading this will ever have written a quiz round, but it is not an easy thing. Writing questions that are entertaining, interesting, have only one answer and are of the kind of difficulty you want is not easy, and is also very very time consuming. Getting good at it takes time and I'm confident Paddy will grow into it. (I probably complain more than anyone else about his questions at the moment). Being on the RAG exec takes up a lot of time as it is, but writing and presenting the quiz alone takes up about 8 hours a week. Which is more than a lot of students spend studying. It is inevitable that sometimes questions are wrong. Every answer should be checked and nothing is simply made up, but sometimes things do slip through.

    Paddy will be a great quizmaster for the next year (or 8 months or so). As was pointed out above, he is a very funny guy and I think anyone who turns up to the quiz can't help but be entertained by him.

    Secondly, considering the types of questions asked and the structure of the questions. I fully agree with a lot of the points made above. The use of clues in a question in particular is a great point, which I hadn't consciously noticed before. There are difficulties however, particular in the kind of quiz the RAG quiz is. The range of knowledge some people have (including the owner of this entry and cohorts for example) is quite staggering to me. I'm decent enough at quizzes, but nowhere near that standard. At the other end of the scale you have to cater for people that don't have fantastic general knowledge, and are just out for a good evening. A quiz is no fun if you are scoring only 1/10 or 2/10 on each round, but making the quiz easier for them makes it too easy for the others.

    There was one quiz earlier this year when my team got 10/10 on five rounds, plus two 9s and an 8, and came about 6th having dropped just 4 marks out of 80. I'm sure no one would want to be in this position. When writing rounds I tend to aim for the average team to get 6 or 7. I think this keeps everyone entertained. Afterall, the point (from my position) is to get the maximum possible number of people doing the quiz, and hence raise as money as possible for charity. But I also tend to include 2 or 3 questions that are really very hard. Not obscure, but just something that the average person or team would not get. This ensures that the people who really know their stuff are rewarded.

    Anyway, I'll forward a link to this on to Paddy, or at least mention the main points. I've never lived in Leam but I know that the quiz finishing late is a real problem because you miss the last bus. (continued in next comment)

    14 Jun 2005, 23:07

  13. Andy Holmes

    Sorry, apparently the maximum length for a comment is 4000 characters, which I had exceeded.

    Anyway, I really hope anyone who reads this decides to come along to the quiz this week. 8pm in Cholo. Neil has convinced Paddy to let him write it, so I hope everyone enjoys it. I will be there competing as usual, though for the last time. For anyone interested I used to do the sound for the quiz a couple of years ago, and I also co-wrote (and am frequently required set up or fix) the scoreboard thing that gets displayed on the screen, which I hope people find better than the whiteboard. I will likely be found sitting near the front with a couple of fairly loud guys who probably just irritate everyone else, for which I apologise.

    14 Jun 2005, 23:09

  14. Andy, thanks for you excellent comment, with which I am in almost total agreement. I fully agree – an ideal winning score should be about 70%, in my opinion. That said, I've just come back from quirte a fun quiz in which my friend and I came 2nd with 35/60, so there's a quite a range permissable on that subject. I'm not sure what the teams getting 19 thought of it though.

    As I tried to point out previously, I do actually think the RAG quiz is fun, and will continue to go – making extra effort this coming Sunday. See you there!

    15 Jun 2005, 00:03

  15. I'm a little late joining in this conversation, but I truly cannot resist. Writing quizzes is not an easy thing to do for a potentially very diverse audience. Andrew, you and I, as I'm sure you are aware from our numerous conversations, favour quizzes with a high academic content. However it is often necessary to cater those who prefer something based on popular culture. I hated writing rounds about television because I don't watch any, but that was what I found myself doing.

    With regard to question structuring and appropriate levels I worked on the basis of teams of four getting a minimum of three (this is obviously entirely speculative). Sometimes I was wrong but most of the time I was right. At the other end of the scale I didn't like too many people getting ten on a round. I have been to many a quiz in a large team where the questions are so easy that I don't even bother to answer them. For more academic based questions I always tried to give three clues that would at least lend themselves to an educated guess. For instance, I often found myself doing this on the film round (I love film, particularly classic era stuff). A question I once set was,

    "Who starred and directed in the 1934 film 'The Lady from Shanghai' alongside his wife of the time Rita Heyworth?"

    The answer is Orson Welles (who is my hero incidentally) but the question clearly has four clues, which makes guessing a little bit easier whilst not excessively discriminating against those with a considerabe film knowledge. Incidentally I also tried to inform and provide additional information where I could. When giving the answer to this question I also mentioned that Orson Welles asked Rita Heyworth to cut her long hair and colour it silver in his directorial capacity. Their marriage was on the rocks at this point and divorce swiftly followed.

    The quiz at the moment is different in nature to mine. Paddy has brought more of a popular culture element to it, which will probably be favoured by the majority.

    Andrew, if you ever need another member in your team then I'm always available!

    11 Oct 2005, 17:29

  16. Warwick Patel

    I am extrodinarily complused to comment here as we have a Warwick University Challenge Captains’ love-in:

    2002/2003 Andrew Lay
    2006/2007 Daisy Christodoulou

    Of course, it will not mean very much to anyone else but me, who has been at university long enough to be under their influences.

    01 Apr 2007, 03:20


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