Table Quizzin’ in the USA

February 18, 2011 in Culture

Here’s a guest blog from Kevin Dillon, an Irishman living in the USA, who emailed this week.

Last September I fled, for a while, from the harsh economic winds assailing Ireland, to Washington DC where I was quick to find the tradition of table quizzes (referred to as Trivia Night or Pub Quiz over here) alive and well in Irish pubs across the District.

However, there are some notable differences in quizzes on the American side of the pond. They tend to be shorter. Our regular haunt in James Hoban’s, DuPont Circle, on a Wednesday night is only 30 questions spread over four rounds with double points in the last two rounds. Insert American attention span joke here. The first two rounds cover general knowledge, the third round is music where you listen to a piece and answer the song and the band while the last round is film where a topic is chosen, such as Ridley Scott films, a quote read out and you have to answer what the movie is. I am quite enjoying this quiz although I would like an extra general knowledge round thrown in to lengthen it out just a bit.

This week’s quiz had some interesting general knowledge questions which we failed to get:

  1. What is the only country whose capital is an anagram of its former capital?
  2. Which band released the song Radio Active Man*? (Admittedly as young, hip professionals we should have got this)
  3. What Mr. Potato Head piece was removed in 1987?

My team finished a respectable third with no real regrets on the answers, in terms of any angry “I told you that” moments.

Our re-occurring problem is that sports questions here do not exactly suit the two Irish lads on the team. Séamus Darby hasn’t been the answer to a question yet! Meanwhile, our American friends range from disinterested to outright hostile towards sport. Thankfully sports questions are few and far between in this quiz and we usually clear up in the movie round which makes us feel far better about ourselves.

Some quizzes in DC simply give you out a 100 question sheet which you fill in over 1-2 hours then hand it up at the end. The scores are counted and the winners are announced. This undermines a lot of the tension I enjoy about table quizzes: jostling for position with real or imagined rivals (we have a few in Hoban’s and if they’re reading this – we will get you), bouts of acrimonious bickering over who got what question wrong and wildly celebrating obscure answers. The emphasis is placed on dingbats etc in these types of quizzes.

One man and his Groundhog

One interesting pub, Meridian Pint in Columbia Heights, has a distinctive approach to the table quiz where every second round has three questions: one worth 3 points, one worth 6 points and one worth 9 points, with your team deciding which answer will be worth which. At the end of the quiz you could gamble up to 20 points on a question before it was asked so, if you got the question right, you won 20 or wrong lost 20 from your final tally. The questions were however remarkably specific. Two NFL sports rounds and I don’t mean the GAA kind. That was a humiliating experience. The film round was solely focused on Groundhog Day which none of us had seen for a while so we fared poorly in that as well.

Whilst the plight of the emigrant is somewhat lessened by the piece of home that is the table quiz, I have never felt further away from Sallins than when we were asked who the MVP of the 1998 Superbowl was. However, things are getting very serious in James Hoban’s from March 2 when the annual tournament starts with eight weeks of trivia, culminating in the overall winner receiving plane tickets to Ireland.

Trivia is, literally, my ticket home.

Quizmaster’s notes:

* It’s no surprise they didn’t get this one as the song is actually called Radioactive.

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