Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How (not) to do it - Trivia Quiz edition

I finally got around to trying the reborn Kro's Nest recently, and... I was not impressed: pricey, godawful location (for me, at least: it's easier these days to get to Tianjin than it is get to somewhere on the eastern arm of the Line 10 subway), and the pizzas seem to have taken a nosedive in quality from those at the original Gongti incarnation. But more on this, perhaps, at another time....

I went there on this occasion with a few friends to try out their mid-week Quiz Night.

I give credit where it's due to the friendly young organisers, Jim and Tao: there was quite a variety of topics and question formats, the degree of difficulty was well judged (not discouraging the weaker teams, but achieving a suitable level of differentiation by the end), and the questions were well-phrased (simple, uncontentious, accurately researched) and displayed in full on PowerPoint slides. In many ways, it was the best organised quiz I've been to, and I can see why it's becoming so popular.

But now.... the quibbles:

1)  Somewhat too much of an American bias
Now, all quizzes inevitably have some sort of cultural bias deriving from the nationality, age, and particular interests of the quizmaster. These guys had at least made an effort to broaden the mix a little, to throw in a few questions that would suit non-American rather than American participants. But even so... only a few non-American or international games in the opening picture round on classic board games, only ONE British band in the music round. I would say at least three-quarters of the questions very strongly favoured Americans. And that's rather too high a proportion, if you want to draw a more mixed international crowd.

2) An avoidance of any of my favoured topics
Well, it happens sometimes. But these chaps, in their quest for amusing novelty, had managed to pass over just about all of the more usual quiz topic categories. And it was uncanny, dispiriting how little their questions were suited to my areas of interest and expertise: there was only one question on literature, one on history, two or three on cinema, nothing on (non-American) sport, nothing on geography, nothing on China (apart from a set of questions on the Beijing subway map). Ordinarily, I can answer something close to 50% of the questions in a quiz on my own; sometimes, substantially over 50% (I have managed to finish in the prizes as a solo competitor a few times). On this night, I don't think I would have got into double figures.

3)  Overly complex
It's nice to have spot prizes occasionally. But for every single round (with the corollary that you're usually going to have to have a tiebreaker for every single round to determine which team gets the prize!)?? And a tiebreaker at the end as well - when there hasn't actually been a tie?! It's good to try to keep the result open to doubt as long as possible in order to maintain the leading teams' interest. But insisting on a play-off between the 1st and 2nd teams after the main quiz is over I find a bit naff (especially when the first two prizes are of similar value, and you're only playing for the right to choose which one you get!). It's also redundant when the last round of the quiz proper has been a 'randomizer' (a gambling round where teams can stake a chosen number of points on each question, thus creating the possibility of a large swing of points and allowing any of the top 4 or 5 teams to sneak the win). Even quizmaster Jim seemed to have got bored with this final tiebreaker idea, burbling the explanation of the format - and then abandoning a threatened second round of the contest without explanation.

4)  Too goddamned LOUD!
It's a bad venue: bare walls, harsh acoustics; the background din of a large and lively audience would get to be quite an assault on the eardrums on its own. So, we really DO NOT NEED to have music playing constantly as well - mostly rather shit music (sorry, Tao, it's a generational thing) and played WAY TOO LOUD. It was difficult to confer on the questions. It was almost impossible to have any kind of conversation. It became impossible to hear myself think. I got tinnitus. I got a headache. It was like being at a rock concert - only without the hot chicks and the crowd-surfing. Not fun.

5)  Too goddamned LONG!!!
A quiz does not need to be more than about 2 hours long. After that sort of time, fatigue and boredom start to set in. You might just about push it to 2 hours 30 minutes - if you have a substantial break in the middle. And if you start EARLY. This quiz was advertised as starting at 8pm, but didn't in fact get under way until nearly 8.40. And then it lasted nearly 2 hours and 45 minutes. Without any major breaks. By the end, everyone was exhausted and impatient to leave; in fact, most people did leave before the otiose final play-off. And even those who stayed to see that denouement had mostly not bought any more drinks in the last 40 minutes or so (not good for the venue!). Most people would like to get away before 10.30pm, to have a chance of getting home on the subway (fairly straightforward, if you live around Guomao or Shuangjing, as so many foreigners seem to these days). On a 'school night', an 11.30pm finish is definitely WAY TOO LATE.

Well, chaps, if you like doing it this way, and no-one else is giving you any critical feedback, and you're drawing big crowds of Young Americans.... well, carry on, and good luck to you!

I won't be back until you strip it down, simplify it, SHORTEN it. And tone down the American bias in the questions just a tad more. And turn the bloody music off.

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