Thursday, September 24, 2009
When I moved to London two years ago, I started to notice a common theme among the pubs in my neighborhood: pub quiz night. Naturally competitive and overly confident in my knowledge of random British trivia, I got excited about the idea. My expat friends did not. They completely refused to buy into my idea that it would be fun to subject ourselves to more than our normal dose of ridicule for being stupid Americans.
My friends were justified when we unwittingly entered The Flask on a pub quiz night and sat right in the middle of the quiz area. When the answer sheets were passed around, we had no choice but to shell out a few pounds, ready our pens, and brace ourselves for the first question.
As soon as the quiz started, I understood why my friends had not been eager to participate. After three cricket questions, a bonus round that focused solely on the 1975 Manchester United lineup, and a name-that-tune from a 1970′s children’s TV show on the BBC, we were in last place. We didn’t recover.
After the defeat at Flask Walk, I decided that quiz night was something I would only attempt again in the presence of a large team of English people. But a couple weeks ago I got an email from a fellow member of the Brown alumni club asking if I would participate in an All Ivy pub quiz night. After some initial reticence, I said yes. I figured that if we were all Americans, we would either get American-style questions or we would all lose together. It was perfect.
Last night I met my fellow teammates at a pub in the City. We crammed ourselves in alongside teams from other Ivies and schools like Georgetown, Notre Dame, and Wellesley. It was hot. It was crowded. We were ready to compete.
There were six rounds in our quiz, including a photo round where we had to correctly identify twenty celebrity photos. I quickly noticed that most of the photos were of either Americans or famous enough non-Americans that even we could recognize them. I had a good feeling.
The guy who was in charge of the quiz (I’m sure there’s a name for this person, but I have no idea what it is) soon stood on a chair and started calling out questions. There were six rounds with 15 pieces of trivia each. This was serious stuff.
The rounds ranged from American Places to American Presidents (which somewhat oddly featured Martin Van Buren as the answer at least 30% of the time) to Space and Time (a bit random) to The Simpsons (a bit stereotypical). The questions, which were obviously written by someone who was not American, ranged from “What state is Little Rock the capital of?” to “What U.S. president was a doctor before becoming head of state?”. Apparently those two were supposed to be of the same difficulty level. Could have fooled us.
My team did well on most of the rounds, as would be expected from a university where students double major in subjects as disparate as Neuroscience and Philosophy (those were the majors of my peer advisor, I swear). We fell a bit behind on the Space and Time category, as would be expected from a university where students are not required to take a single math or science course during their entire four year career (and a lot of them chose to go there for that very reason).
There were occasional moments of anxiety when a person had an answer on the tip of her or his tongue but couldn’t remember exactly what it was. This happened to my teammate when trying to recall which president was in office for the shortest amount of time. There were also occasional lucky guesses. This happened to me when trying to come up with an answer to “Who founded the American Institute of Public Opinion?” In a flash of Merlot-induced inspiration, I guessed Gallup. I was right.
Mostly there was a lot of laughter, not least of all at the gaffes of the guy who’s title I don’t know the name of as he butchered the names of American people, places, and presidents. His Arkansas was Ar-Kansas, he told us that there was a U.S. state that started with a B (who knew that Baltimore was a state?), and he said that Martin from the Simpsons played the lute (okay, so that last one was true, but we still laughed). It was refreshing for the Americans to not be the ones looking clueless for once.
At the end of quiz night, the results were announced amidst great anticipation. My team knew it probably hadn’t won, but we still hoped for a top half finish. As he read the names of the University of Illinois, Andover, and several others, we felt relieved to have finished higher up.
In the end, Brown was just about in the middle. It beat my previous pub quiz finish, but left plenty of room for improvement. Whatever the score, I was happy the outcome was a quiz night that didn’t have a single question about cricket!