Chaser, Jenny Ryan (Photo: Rex)

    How to host the perfect quiz night

    26 December 2020

    Anyone planning a Covid-safe Christmas and New Year might have taken note of SAGE’s announcement – published last month – that families should avoid board games (and presumably Twister too) in favour of the more socially-distance friendly option of an old-fashioned quiz.

    Could anything have spoken more to the out-of-touchness of the government’s scientific boffins? After all, as a nation we Brits need no encouragement when it comes to engaging in a spot of quizzing.

    Still, planning the perfect family quiz can require some preparation – and a bit of help from the experts. And who better to ask than the hosts of Fingers on Buzzers, a podcast dedicated entirely to all things quiz show?

    Jenny Ryan (best known as one of the Chasers) and Lucy Porter (a stand-up comic with a stellar record on quiz shows) have been obsessing about quizzes for years now. They now host a weekly podcast dedicated to just that.

    ‘Oh we got everyone on there,’ says Lucy, speaking down the phone. ‘Professional quizzers themselves obviously, but also people who write the questions, people who watched every episode of Bullseye – that sort of thing. I think one of the best guests was Roger Tilling: the voice of University Challenge.’

    But why do so many comedians in particular seem to love quiz shows? ‘I think they appeal to our socially awkward nature,’ she says. ‘We also pick up a lot of local knowledge from touring around – and that can be very useful.’

    So if you’re planning your own Christmas quiz, here’s Lucy and Jenny’s guide to making it go as smoothly as possible:

    Nail the questions

    ‘There is a real art to coming up with a good question,’ says Jenny Ryan. ‘While it sounds obvious, you really need to make sure there is only one possible correct answer – and that none of your questions can be contested.’

    ‘I’ve spent too much time telling people off for their rubbish questions,’ she adds, noting that – as you might expect – the cheap question books are usually the worst offenders.

    As a serious quizzer, she insists it’s always the responsibility of the quizmaster to think these through in advance, and make sure their questions are up-to-standard.

    ‘There’s nothing worse than someone who tries to get out of it by saying “well I didn’t write the questions!” after someone complains,’ she says. So there – you’ve been told.

    Make everyone feel clever (within reason)

    You don’t have to be a professional quizzer to realise there’s nothing worse than being made to feel you know nothing – something that’s bound to ruin that festive spirit.

    ‘You really don’t want anyone in the family to feel out of their depth – or that they’ve got nothing to offer,’ says Jenny.

    ‘If you’ve got someone who isn’t a general knowledge whizz, make sure you drop in a handful of questions about their particular area of interest. Maybe some K-pop for the teens – that sort of thing.’

    Vary the format

    As connoisseurs of quiz formats, the Fingers on Podcasts hosts understand better than anyone about the need to shake it up a bit.

    ‘Always have at least one round that isn’t just general knowledge-style questions,’ says Lucy. She adds that Big Pictionary – played on a white board – is a favourite in her house.

    Likewise, she says, it’s also good to have questions that require people to do a bit of thinking, rather than just the pot luck of knowing the answer.

    Asking your guests to estimate something they couldn’t possibly know – such as the percentage of Brits with a pet – will get teams debating their answer amongst themselves.

    Nostalgia is always a winner

    When it comes to coming up with questions that are bound to get your relatives engaged, there’s nothing like a blast from the past.

    ‘One of my favourite quiz games is to get hold of an old Argos catalogue – which you can find plenty of online – and then have everyone trying to guess the price of different items,’ says Lucy. ‘It’s basically my version of The Price is Right.’

    Master the Zoom quiz

    In the year of the ubiquitous Zoom quiz, we’ve all learnt a thing or two about the shortcomings of technology. So if you’re planning to use video conferencing to page in relatives from afar, make sure you temper your expectations as to what’s realistic.

    Streaming any kind of video – or music – can be particularly tricky over video conferencing, so don’t overcomplicate things on the pop culture round.

    And don’t overlook the basics either. ‘It’s probably worth circulating an idiot’s guide to using Zoom ahead of the event,’ adds Jenny.

    Expect the occasional argument

    Finally, don’t worry too much if a little bit of bickering breaks out.

    ‘Family quizzes are a pretty natural outlet for a bit of frustration,’ says Lucy. ‘And at least it’s a good thing to argue about.’

    Although if you’re arguing in person, you should probably pay attention to the rest of SAGE’s guidelines – and try your best to keep those voices down.