The Art of Quizzing

This post began as a tribute to Alex Trebek. About 25 years ago, I remember he appeared on my television set with a moustache asking questions. At that time, I was obsessed with the Bournvita Quiz contest as were most of the kids in my peer group. We thought Derek’O’Brien, the host of the BQC, was immortal.

Stupid kids.

What I should have paid attention to was that the two ingredients of success, learning and consistency were right in front of me, but I went searching instead for suave, polish and flash. This is a lesson that I learn this year (a few years away from the big 4).

The recipes for success in an individual are a combination of these 3 things.

  • Curiousity (I know I spell it with a U)
  • Persistence
  • Hard work

Each of these things are topics by themselves and I have taken many notes on each of them which I will share with you soon. Don’t worry.

But a soft skill and an ingredient of success that isn’t talked about much is Integrity. Integrity is the quality of being honest and having principles. But largely it means having character and class in every fiber of your being. Being classy isn’t about yielding a knife and fork with a British accent, it is about being genuine and empathetic.

That was Alex Trebek to all of us, but specially to me.

The art of presenting quiz questions when people are palpipating with their finger on the buzzer, while racking their brains when there’s money on the line can drive anyone up the wall but it takes immense character to see that and calm them down. To remind them that they are here to have fun. This is entertainment much as it is competition.

And that’s what I have learned a lot today about Quizzing. I come fresh off hosting my second Jeopardy quiz to a fantastic group of insiders in the hope of making it a regular weekly event. It isn’t about knowing, it is about experiencing.

That was Alex Trebek to all of us.

Alex Trebek

A gentle demeanour, an intelligent disposition and most of all a calming presence. At least in front of television.

I have been spending a lot of time trying to learn how they write questions on Jeopardy but half the reason why the show works so well is because Alex Trebek was there to host it. He died to Cancer recently. He’s gone but will always remain a legend.

It’ll be interesting to see Ken Jennings take the title and try to bring his own flavour to it but Jeopardy cannot, and will not, be the same without Alex.

Thank you for everything Alex.

Back to the quizzing aspect. I have been spending some time now learning how to learn, retain and recall information about quizzing. I have looked at different formats of quizzing too but I keep coming back to Jeopardy and that’s because outside of a few topics you just need to know, a lot of the clues are present in the question for you to make a guess.

Except it’s incredibly hard to write good questions that aren’t obvious but provide enough of a direction to the quizzer to decipher. Let’s take an example for a category called Anagrams.

Anagrams are words that can be rearranged/re-spelt to give you another word. An example would be Kitchen and Thicken. I took the anagram; Dirty Room which is technically two words for it’s anagram “Dormitory”.

The easiest way to publish this would be “What is the anagram for Dirty Room?”.

It’s straight, to the point and incredibly boring. No one should be pained to come and be entertained because of a lack of effort on the quizmaster’s part. But how does one make it interesting? I wrote the question as “THIS MIGHT BE A DIRTYROOM BECAUSE OF ALL THE BOYS IN THIS SHARED ROOM”. It had rhyme, it focused on the word but also the clue shared room (and some humour because boys dirty all rooms so it’s not very obvious).

Interesting as it might be on it’s own. It isn’t really the best thing that I could have done. I do have 50 questions to do overall so time and effort is spent on making all of them good enough not just one. But I am spending time now to see how the Jeopardy writers write about this and will share that with you in tomorrow’s post.

Thanks for reading.