Perhaps that headline is harsh—after all, I love this city. But some slight pwning did pretty much occur last night, from a trivia perspective…
The reason I haven't blogged in more than a week is that, as you'd know if you follow the BQT on Facebook or Twitter, I'm currently (on the tail end of) an extremely lovely trip to the Big Smoke. I won't say I've done it all—there is much to do in any city this mind-bogglingly cosmopolitan—but I've covered a fair amount. The Eye, Westminster Abbey, Camden Town, Indian food, Harrod's, eating novel chocolate, rain, West End theater this afternoon, getting stabbed by Jack the Ripper (ehh…), and much, much riding of the Underground. Which I cannot utilize without hearing this brilliant song in my head:
I'm going to blog more about my trip later (my customary post-travel post about exotic foreign products, and some thoughts about the linguistic differences between USA and U.K.), but for now, I must discuss the professional highlight of my visit, a pub quiz. (This is what enables me to write off the whole trip as a business expense, BTW.) London is—if not the birthplace of the pub quiz a.k.a. bar trivia a.k.a. the primordial ooze from which the Big Quiz Thing concept developed—the incubator of the pastime, so I wanted to make sure I hit an honest-to-goodness example while I'm in town. And at the advice of Brit acquaintance Dan, who lives that vida quizzo (dude paid for a plane ticket to the USA entirely with pub-quiz winnings), I headed to the Old Queen's Head pub in Islington (very hip and expensive neighborhood) for its weekly quiz, proclaimed on the wall as "the best quiz in town" ("It's in a gilt frame, so it must be true," Dan said).
I prepared for a right royal spanking: I know shit-all about English premier league football and members of British boy bands that somehow don't translate across the pond and Posh and Becks and Will and Kate and bangers and mash. But with the help of Dan, his Brit girlfriend, an Irish former BQT regular and my genius sister, I planned to give it my best effort. I mean, I was a major anglophile as a kid, rooting like crazy for these guys:
The Old Queen's Head was a rather lovely venue—a charmingly large fireplace, animal heads on the walls—a nice place for the friendly, low-key gathering that was this quiz. Only four rounds, alas: Round 1 was very British current events, or, as the quizmaster put it, "Things I read about in The Sun." Round 2 was food, specifically geographical food, ranging from the shockingly easy "What country is haggis from?" to the I-kicked-myself-for-not-knowing "What country is the world's largest producer of sugarcane?" (And no, the former was not a trick question; when I asked a teammate if it's possible that the skinny-jeans-wearing quizmaster was pulling a fast one with whether Scotland counts as a "country," she said, "Only if he's a real wanker.") Round 3 was general knowledge, and round 4 was music (questions, not song clips). A fun quiz, but not a world-beater by any measure; most of it wasn't figureoutable, and there were reallt no questions I was tempted to steal for my own purposes, which is sort of my litmus test of whether another quiz is a real winner (though he did include a super-tough question I've used in the past: "What's the only letter that doesn't appear on the Periodic Table of Elements?"). I knew Union jack-shit, at least compared with Dan and his lady, but I pulled my weight during the unique, between-round minigames…
This was interesting. When we arrived, we found our table equipped with a small foam toy airplane, a bottle of soap bubbles, and a kazoo. Hm. Pregame, the quizmaster asked the "pilot" of each team (naturally, me) to line up at one end of the bar and throw our planes toward him—the closest won their squad a round of shots. Pure luck, what do you know, it was me, and my team threw back some serious-as-fuck old English whiskey. Plus, I got a fake mustache and a mini compass.
For the bubbles, we had 30 seconds to blow the largest one we could; I was deemed a finalist, but not the winner. But on the kazoo round, it was onnnnn! A rep from each team had to kazoo and dance along to a series of classic-rock tunes, with the less impressive participants eliminated after each song. First "Back in Black," then "Dancing in the Dark," then "Rock the Casbah," when I totally let loose by stripping to my T-shirt, dropping the kazoo, and hitting the floor for some sweet breakdance movies (y'know, like Joe Strummer and the armadillo did in the "Casbah" video). The two other finalists basically abdicated at that point, and the bar gave it up for their NYC interloper. More shots for my team, plus a set of wind-up chattering teeth. These were great additions to the standard pub quiz format; my genius turban goes off to the quizmaster (whose name I didn't catch—the think accent was definitely a handicap from my POV).
And what do you know, when the final scores were tallied, we won! We were fairly shocked, but it became clear to use that the 11 or so other teams weren't taking things to seriously, so victory kind of fell to us by default (not to denigrate the skills of the ace Brits on my team). We got a bottle of champagne, woo-hoo. (Though we failed at the bonus question, for 100 pounds—"What year did the world's first women's golf tournament take place?" Who knows, who cares, but no one knew, so that jackpot rolls over to next week.) I am presently three-for-three for the bar-trivia events I have stayed till the end for in the past 13 months.
Which brings me to my general impression of this London pub quiz: It's really not much different from a New York pub quiz. The bonus games were a great touch, and the final 100-pound question was interesting, but otherwise, it's the standard pleasant quiz evening: a local guy on the mike with varying levels of charisma (this guy had way more personality than most), reading trivia questions of varying levels of interest and challenge, for a friendly crowd looking for something extra to spice up their weeknight boozing. A good time, but no Big Quiz Thing, of course.
Still, can't believe I won. I love you dearly, London—thank you for helping make a poor American boy's dream come true.