Look behind you

January 5, 2012 in EQC, Quizzes, Thoughts

Happy new year one and all! Let’s hope 2012 holds as much quizzing fun as 2011 did.  For a final moment though, let’s look back at the highlight of 2011, our trip to the European Quizzing Championships, one last time.  Mike and myself have already had our say.  Now it’s David’s turn.

And so, late to the party I arrive and whether I’ve brought the finest wine or the cheapest bottle of generic vodka will be in the eye of the beholder. The entrées have been provided by John and an intriguing little number supplied by Mike but enough of tortured party metaphors and let us talk of Bruges.

Looking back after this length of time, it is even more obvious to me that there are fundamental failing within Irish quizzing that mean that Ireland as a nation is a long way from ever appearing in the finals of the EQC. John and Mike have made most of the salient points on this issue but there are a couple more I’d like to throw into the mix

I think Mike nailed it on the head by challenging quiz setters to no longer pander to their audience. Something I’ve been accused of more than once is setting table quizzes that are far too hard and I did write half the questions for the supposed quiz from hell (see Don’t work… too hard; however, the shocking round was written by the silent-but-deadly Michelle) but I honestly believe that a) it wasn’t that hard a quiz and b) that making it a quiz where the scores are higher, the central premise of it being a GK quiz, i.e. the display of more general knowledge than your opponents, would have been lost. This is not the Special Olympics, not everyone “can be a winner” so why not accept that and reward ostentatious outbursts of intellectualism?

The dumbing down of quizzing is a real bugbear of mine going back to my own brush with TV quiz glory. I’ve always felt that Challenging Times was doomed once it moved from the intelligent time zone between Prime Time and BBC Question Time to the slot after Home & Away on Network 2. The time change seemed to influence the standard of question as in later series, the early rounds were frankly basic (Smart kids do well because they do anyway but they do really well as questions are aimed at the less smart kids). For a while it appeared Mastermind was changing tack with specialist rounds on pop culture replacing those on the classics but at least there is still a need for obscure minutiae even if the topic is ‘The Life and Works of Katie Price’. However, one show that has driven me to despair with its dumbing down is Pointless. The clue is in the title and yet most contestants are clueless. It is a show where to win cash, you need obscure, particular knowledge (Steve, quizzings’ Tony Cascarino proved this by winning the jackpot) yet when teachers can appear on it and say Mexico is a state of the USA and everyone goes “Oh what larks”, I find myself yelling at the TV “No they’re morons! Please treat them like Morons!”

Pointless becoming easier may be traced back to it moving from BBC2 to BBC1. It is significant that more intellectual programming remains on BBC2 and BBC4 (to our chagrin we cannot go on Only Connect, damn having to actually live in the UK) where viewing figures and yoof programming are not the be all and end all.

But at least they have quiz shows in the UK. It occurs to me (and I am open to correction on this) that the only regular show where Joe Soaps are asked about obscure knowledge is Ceist GAA on TG4, whose fundamental failing as a General Knowledge Quiz is quite obvious. When UK shows like 15-to-1 disappear, there is still Mastermind or Brain of Britain on Radio 4, my love/hate (love the quiz and knowledge; hate the mong contestants) Pointless or the less heralded but equally interesting The Chaser. Since the demise of WWTBAM (IRE), Irish TV and quizzing have gone their separate ways. But it was not always so. As well as Challenging Times, there was Blackboard Jungle, Rapid Roulette, Where in The World? and Murphy’s Micro Quiz-M. However, since Bunny Carr and the late Peter Murphy left our screens, there has been no consistent multi-series General Knowledge quiz on Irish TV. Yet table quizzing remains strong in the country so in theory Ireland should be producing as many international quality quiz teams as an equivalent country such as Belgium.  So why don’t we?

John’s audioboo with Stejn and Mike’s discussion with Chris from Belgium explain how different Belgian quizzing is from our own.  The non-use of pubs is a red herring as one of the British quizzing scene’s biggest threats is the closure of village pubs, something I discussed with former Mastermind winner David Edwards (in a gratuitous namedrop). As Mike has points out, it is more than just an issue of team make-up or question phraseology so  maybe Irish quizzing has within it an inherent flaw. There were thirteen countries in the Team competition in Bruges and while none of the British Isles teams were as aided by local questions as we felt the German and French were, we were surprised that there wasn’t at least one gimme question for an Irish team in any of the four major quizzes. Is that the fault of the question setters? Of course not, as it doesn’t have to be compulsory to pander to contestants. In Ireland, however, we do, not just in making questions simple but in the major failings in Irish quizzing of all forms: Hibernocentrecism and parochialism.

In our fund-raising quiz, I asked a question about who were the 2010 Galway Senior hurling champions, using the logic that that Clarinbridge were also All-Ireland champions. But this very simple question highlights one of the faults of Irish table quizzes. GAA questions only appear in Ireland but, as such a central tenet to Irish life, it would be difficult to leave out any mention of GAA in an Irish quiz. However, given that they won’t come up in international quizzing (and that has to be the context in which this whole diatribe is seen) it is time that parochial and Irish questions be set aside for more worldly topics. After Bruges, I know I don’t know Central European literature, the myths of India, South American geography and the flora and fauna of Asia. These topics don’t come up in Irish quizzes but Gráinne Seioghe always seems to.

If Ireland wishes to make an impact on world quizzing, then we need to abandon the insularity and accept that unless we embrace Polish harpsichordists, or classical music as a whole.  Compare Challenging Times’ and University Challenge’s music rounds – we will never impact the finals.

4 responses to Look behind you

  1. Very interesting points raised here by David and I agree with a lot of what he discusses. The dumbing down of quizzes and the general lack of quizzing opportunities in Ireland are major drawbacks in our chances of ever making an impact on the global quiz scene.
    I have been thinking about the “insularity” point that you raise and I’m not sure if that is necessarily a deciding factor on how Irish quizzers are to perform in big international champs. There is no harm in Irish quizzes reflecting national issues so long as those questions are of an adequate standard and proportionate to the number of questions in the quiz. I’m sure on the quizzing scene in Britain there is a similar focus on general knowledge that is specific to the British audience yet they produce quiz goliaths (as a certain Eggheads host would put it). There is nothing wrong with quizzes including a fair amount of questions that are specific to a national audience. I think the key factor which you rightly put forward is that these questions must be of a decent standard and not just thrown in to pander to the crowds. Irish quizzes do tend to trolly out the usual mish-mash of boring questions that cater for the brain-dead but there is an astonishing lack of focus on other Irish based topics that are somtimes (somewhat embarrassingly) overlooked…for example, I would say a lot of top quizzers in Ireland would be more at ease answering questions on British monarchs and British Prime Ministers than they would be at trying to answer on similar subjects on Irish Taoisigh or Irish Presidents (I confess, I would know a lot more facts on the monarchy of Britain than I would about past political leaders in Ireland). Probably this disparity has arisen due to the fact that much of the quizzes I consume are on British T.V. or from U.K. produced quiz books.
    Raising the standard of quiz questions seems to be the ideal way of ensuring that Irish quizzing can improve both domestically and on the international stage. The type of people who would be aware of more obscure facts regarding Irish culture or the likes would be the type who could well also read up on subjects with an international flavour (due to the fact that they enjoy consuming interesting information). What I do have a problem with however is the parcohial based questions that you would invariably come across in Irish pub quizzes that tend to punish outsiders or “blow-ins”. How such questions could reflect fairly on individuals’ quiz credentials I will never know!!?
    Anyway, great blog David, really enjoyed reading it.

  2. Hi Dan.

    First off call me Dave-only John and my mother call me David.
    Secondly thank you for your kind and considered feedback. I have to say you raise a very fair point which I hadnt really considered about it being more of a British Isles bias. May I also throw in to the mix something that’s occured to me. In a cultural context we gravitate to cultures more readily available so while the british influence is obvious, it cannot be ignored that in terms of film, tv and music we look trans atlantic rather than continental. Even though a number of questions come up on US music and film in these comps, an equal amount if not more come from europe.
    My last point is that while Norway and Finland made the nations final and Belgium were in the semis, the other three major quizzes were won by England. This doesnt negate any points raised here but shows that despite the flaws, winning quiz teams could emerge from the Irish system

    • Hi Dave,

      thanks for the response,

      the point that England do very well in both the European quiz and World Quiz champs would suggest that it is conceivable that Ireland could also one day do just as good. I think the big advantage in Britain is that there is a competitive quiz scene…competition is key. There are greater rewards available to the British public both in terms of T.V. quizzing (basically non-existent in Ireland) and domestic table quizzing. Due to this healthy competition it means that more and more quizzers are pushed to become better and better eventually to the point where you have some individuals who actually do daily research to anticipate the kinds of questions that may presented to them in the big quiz competitions. We are certainly a long way away from that end in Ireland at the minute…in Britain, there are opportunites for people to earn princely sums for demonstrating their quizzing prowess but in Ireland there is little reward for anyone with good quizzing skills. I can’t be sure, but I think that this is what has a lot to do with our chances of performing well in the big competitions.
      I mean, (I may get slated for this but here goes…….) quizzers like Kevin Ashman and Pat Gibson are no doubt very intelligent people with a huge capacity for consuming knowledge. Their performances on the quiz scene can only be commended and sometimes you sit and wonder, how the heck do they come up with the correct answers to the most obscure questions. Having said that, I think there are plenty of people who have this capacity to retain information it’s just a matter of whether they a) are bothered about quizzing in the first instance and b) are handed an incentive to strive to be a better quizzer.

      Anyway, as I said, very interesting blog Dave, enjoyed the read.

  3. Nice discussion boys. I completely agree with you both on the lack of TV quizzing in Ireland. It’s a shame but what can we do? Make one on the cheap and somehow sell it to RTÉ? I don’t know.

    Let’s see if Mastermind Ireland actually happens.

    On the larger issue, I believe that the more we compete internationally, the more we’ll improve our scores. Like every quiz, those held by BQA have a certain style that, with time, one can learn. After attending the World Quizzing event in June, I felt I was a bit more prepared for the Europeans in Bruges. I’m still not a studier but it helped me to be more aware of what kind of facts to look out for in my day-to-day existence.

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