Here's your starter for 10. What pastime has seen a huge up-tick since the lockdown began? The answer - hey, no peeking at your phones! - is, of course, the quiz. 'Quizzing', and yes that's a word now, has replaced Twitter pile-ons, Instagram humble-bragging and banging on about how Normal People has changed your life (honestly, it probably hasn't - that's just the social isolation talking) as the internet's favourite time-killer. Or so you might conclude if you've been hanging with pals on Zoom lately.
Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen have hosted quizzes from their living rooms. As have British comics Lenny Henry and Jo Brand and, rather inevitably, Stephen Fry. Somewhere out there, Hozier - the only person in Ireland not suffering haircut withdrawal symptoms - is probably hosting an quiz even as we speak. Possibly Bono and Matt Damon too. Everyone's at it. All interests and knowledge levels are catered for. Mirren and McKellen's Luvvypalooza quiz includes a round on the UK's National Theatre (first question: what is the UK's National Theatre?). And former Stranglers singer Paul Roberts makes sure to include music questions in his weekly virtual quickfire jamboree.
Added to that, the profile of quizzing in Ireland has taken a leap following the victory this month of Edinburgh-based Dubliner Dave McBryan in the latest season of the BBC's Mastermind (specialist subject: fencing). A few weeks previously, another Irish clever-clogs, Lucan student Conor McMeel, won Britain's University Challenge as part of the team from Imperial College London.
"All of the quiz societies in England are a lot more serious, academic and University Challenge-focused," the Trinity College Dublin graduate told the University Times. "In Dublin, it was a lot more casual."
Also in Ireland, comedian Joe Rooney hosted his first Father Ted themed quiz night, 'Is There Anything To Be Said for Another Quiz?', from his home last Saturday on Facebook. Such was the response, he plans to put on further quizzes each weekend for the foreseeable future. Father Ted will still be the principal theme, but he will be expanding to other TV shows and, later, sports, music and sundry ecumenical matters.
"Father Ted is part of the appeal," says Rooney, who famously strapped on a collar to play tearaway Father Damo on Ted. "But, really, it's the social element that draws people in. The great thing about it, whether it's for work or family, is people from all around the world can get together and have a laugh and a chat," he says. "The quiz keeps things going. But between rounds and afterwards, people are interacting and sharing stories.
"I'm still coming to terms with the technology and that can be a bit stressful," Rooney adds, "but I really love hosting them and having the craic with people from all over the world from the comfort of my own home."
The popularity of online quizzes has boomed as coronavirus has forced us to stay at home, says Gary Stephens of the Irish Quiz Organisation, which oversees competitive quizzing in Ireland and runs the Irish heat of the World Quizzing Championships.
"We have noticed a huge increase in interest in quizzes. Traffic to our website jumped by a factor of 25 almost overnight, just around St Patrick's Day. Quiz hosts who previously ran events in pubs have moved online, using a variety of technologies, and people are running their own family quizzes on the likes of Zoom. The most visited page on quizireland.ie is the quiz questions page: lots of people are looking for question sets so they can host their own family quiz."
"Everyone is now spending way more time on Facebook then ever before," agrees Leon Andersen of Limerick-based Quiz Masters, which hosts quizzes online and, prior to lockdown, around the mid-west. "It has definitely changed how we do quizzes. But when everything is 'back to normal', will we still be quizzing on Facebook or will we all be back in the pub? Who knows. But for the Quiz Masters, we'll be doing both."
If you're setting a quiz, how should you go about it? "You need to get the difficulty level and balance right, which can be tricky," says Stephens. "Many first-time quiz setters make their quiz too hard. They work on the assumption that since they know the answers to the questions they are setting, everyone else must do too, and they make the questions too difficult.
"One useful principle to follow is to choose questions where people who don't know the answer can at least make a decent guess. For example, if the question is "In which European country…?" people can, at worst, just randomly guess a country, even if they have no clue as to the answer. And ask questions where even if people don't know the answer, they feel they ought to have known it, where as soon as the answer is revealed, they are annoyed with themselves that they didn't get it."
Even in the midst of a pandemic, quizzes bring out our competitive side. So what's the key to becoming a quizzing high-achiever? Stephens says a broad range of knowledge is useful. But when a team is involved, it helps to have specialists too.
"A good quizzer should be knowledgeable for sure, and why not know it all?" he says. "Some people are like sponges. They absorb information better than others. And that's the difference between good and bad quizzers.
"For a solo quiz, such as a TV quiz show, yes, being a good all-rounder can be key. For team quizzes, which is the kind of quizzing most people do in pubs and the like, there's definitely an advantage to having some degree of specialisation. For each question, as long as one person in the team knows the answer, that's plenty. There's nothing to be gained by having all four team members know the same answers and nobody knowing other answers."
Doing your homework helps too. Not surprisingly with quizzes, this involves spending a lot of time reading up on random facts.
"Perhaps in the general population, we do know a little less because of the internet. But amongst elite quizzers, the likes of Wikipedia offers a chance to bone up on the areas in which you are weak, and the standard at the top end of quizzing is amazingly high," says Stephens.
"In the quiz world, there's definite value in knowing stuff without looking it up, as any winner of a big cash prize on the TV quiz show will testify. Unfortunately, though, the UK has a great range of quiz shows, from low-brow to high-brow. There are very few opportunities for quizzers in Ireland to win big. RTE and other broadcasters in Ireland don't seem to make quiz shows any more. Which is a shame as there is clearly a lot of demand, especially since the lockdown began.
"In terms of how quizzers prepare, if at all, for quizzes, some are more into learning lists of facts, others concentrate on filling in gaps in their knowledge. And some just turn up! Some might think you can't prepare, because in a quiz, you can be asked absolutely anything. And there's no way you can learn off every fact in the universe. But you'd be surprised how often certain questions - known in the quizzing world as 'chestnuts' - keep cropping up, and you definitely want to familiarise yourself with those.
"A good question setter doesn't ask about totally random facts, of which only an 'anorak' would know.
"Rather, they are looking for noteworthy nuggets of information that would form the basis of a genuinely interesting question - or things that, even if a quiz player doesn't know the answer, they feel they ought to have known it."