Quizzing without a break (or a brake)
Guest blog time. At the European Quizzing Championships, the Irish team was accompanied by Brendan Daly, a radio documentary-maker. Here is Brendan’s take on quizzing’s greatest weekend of the year.
I always wanted to know what Ringo Starr must’ve felt like during The Beatles’ heyday and as I tagged along with 12 Irish quizzers during the three-day European Quiz Championships in Liverpool earlier this month I felt an irrevocable kinship with the drumming mop-top: sartorially inept, intellectually outclassed but generously indulged.
I followed the Irish team to Liverpool with the idea of making a radio documentary about the event and the people who attend it. I wanted to find out a few things: what makes these quizzers, some of whom have travelled thousands of miles, come to a tournament like this? Is it about answering questions or is there something else? And do they know the capital of Azerbaijan?
I’ll be honest: I had my reservations. In his candid autobiography, I, Partridge, Alan Partridge reveals how he frequently breaks into an impromptu braking distance quiz to plug an awkward silence at a cocktail party. Is this what I had let myself in for? Not a chance. There wasn’t a single question about stopping distances or even road safety standards, for that matter.
That’s not to say the questions weren’t bruising. There were questions about magnesium chloride, He-Man, an endangered Kyrgyzstani antelope, Roseanne Barr, an opera set during the first Crusade, an Ecuadorian rap artist, Hermann Göring, and a transgender Bosnian supermodel (not in the same round, mind). Like Ringo’s drumming on ‘She’s Leaving Home’, I was feeling out of sync. What would make anyone want to spend three days of their life holed up at quizzing carnival groping for answers to ridiculously difficult questions?
Well, for the average quizzer it’s a chance to rub shoulders with the elite. Most of us will never share the same pitch as Messi or Ronaldo, but here you can compete at the same table as quiz royalty like Kevin Ashman, Pat Gibson and Jesse Honey. They have all won, among their crates of silverware, ‘Mastermind’. You’re not expecting to beat the aristocrats – you’re here to beat your own personal best. And obscure questions can nudge you into investigating a painter or period you would’ve never considered reading about.
Of course, it would be dishonest to suggest that it isn’t fuelled by baser instincts: beating your arch rivals and reminding them you beat them until time immemorial. But one of the main reasons quizzers descend on this event, and the reason I least suspected, is camaraderie. Yes, it’s a competition but you couldn’t spend three days engulfed in this quiz-fest if you didn’t enjoy the company of kindred spirits. Many of these quizzers have been coming to this event since its inception 10 years ago and it’s a chance to renew genuine friendships.
Do these people have a problem? Absolutely. Make no mistake: they are addicts. These people cannot get enough quizzing. After 14 hours drenched in ‘official’ quizzes on Saturday, many of these junkies decamped to the pub… for another quiz. On Sunday evening, after hearing almost 1,000 questions over the weekend, the worst offenders trudged to the pub… for another quiz.
The weekend gave me a glimpse into a closeted world and I was warmly embraced by the quizzing fraternity. (A cynical ruse to prevent me from entering next year’s event and crushing the opposition? Possibly: these quizzers know a thing or two.) I certainly learned lot: ‘Britney Spears’ is an anagram of ‘Presbyterian’ and ‘Liam Brady’ is an anagram of ‘admirably’.
All going well, the radio documentary should air in early 2014. I’ll let John know when it does.
As for me, I’m already looking forward to the inaugural International Crossword Championships in Baku.
Thanks very much Brendan. I feel the heat of a spotlight being shone in my direction! However, I am looking forward to hearing your documentary when it is ready.
Here is an interview I did with Brendan on the Sunday of EQC 2013.