I'll take "trivia questions" for $200, Alex
August 7, 2019 9:12 AM   Subscribe

Ever wanted to roll your own trivia quiz? Get advice from quizbowl master Yogesh Raut or get it from professional quiz-writer Paul Paquet.
posted by jacquilynne (12 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I wrote a quiz for my 40th birthday party a few years ago, before I saw Paul Paquet's advice (and before I started playing in his trivia league) and before Yogesh Raut's blog post was written, and man, I sucked at it. Everyone hated it and found it way, way too hard. It is so much harder to write good trivia than it seems like it should be.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:15 AM on August 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

Paul Paquet's examples need to be updated, because the CN Tower hasn't been the tallest freestanding structure in the world since 2009 (although it is still the tallest in the Western Hemisphere).
posted by hanov3r at 9:39 AM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just piping in to say that Yogesh Raut is a pretty friendly guy, which is not always a given for someone as talented as he is at trivia. His blog is a lot of fun.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:07 AM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've played a lot of trivia (or "quizzo" as they call it here in Philly) and run a few sessions myself. Yeah, it is really hard to come up with questions that strike the right balance. I think there's something to be said for stage presence - you can definitely be engaging without tormenting your audience with bad jokes. Sometimes you'll get heckled or someone will yell something out or complain, and having a witty response goes a long way. Audio effects, if you are amplified, can also be used to great impact. I was hosting a night at Canal Bar in Brooklyn and the amp had an echo option, so when it came time for the last round I turned on the echo and said "FINAL! FINAL! FINAL! ROUND! ROUND! ROUND!"

People dug it.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:17 AM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oooooohhhh I wish I could make a living writing trivia, I got to do it for our version of Cash Cab up in Canada for a few seasons and it was the best I've ever fit in a job. Finally a use for the useless facts rattling around my head since I learned to read. We had to write 10 questions a day and I was almost always done those by noon so I could spend the rest of the day learning weird stuff online to repurpose the next day. I'd write stream of consciousness lists of things in a notebook then read it over and over trying to find a good jumping off point. I'd hit RANDOM CARD on a Magic the Gathering database and see if that would trigger anything. I'd try to work in pop culture, I managed Seinfeld and Zelda and Spice Girls references, but I could never explain the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle in a pithy enough sentence to ref Breaking Bad.

The instinct is to make hard questions and prove yourself clever, but honestly you really need to shoot for what you'd consider easy. Especially in that environment where there are crazy flashing lights and adrenaline and the contestants weren't even anticipating trivia, you'd be surprised how easy it is to trip on the most basic stuff.
posted by yellowbinder at 10:29 AM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh how I wish I'd seen this article a few years ago; we decided to do a trivia icebreaker game for our wedding tables in the style of Pursuit, with categories and coloured pies and everything...

Looking back at the Google Doc is making me cringe a bit, now armed with the information that is presented in the Paquet link.

I think the "Double Down" trick is so crucial for trivia, and we managed to hit that keystone on a few questions purely by instinct (or maybe by just aping what we thought trivia questions should look like).

i.e. not everyone will know when our parents met, but they MIGHT know when Woodstock happened and can deduce from that information.

Such a great post! Thanks for sharing!
posted by Khazk at 10:35 AM on August 7, 2019

Ah, this reminds me that I've got an outstanding application for Geeks who Drink in, and need to finish it.

(Also, Paquet seems to find editing his HTML to display properly too trivial; luckily, it's all there in the "view source.")
posted by klangklangston at 10:44 AM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Those write-ups are outstanding. After our local school trivia night had a dreadful year of questions like "who won the Emmy for best miniseries in 1994" (from a paid quizmaster, even!), a friend and I took over planning and running the event. We were successful enough that we were recruited to a neighboring school, and have had a recurring gig for the last several years at both events. It has been some of the most fun I've had.

Planning coherent/fun/challenging-but-not-too-challenging categories is a definite art. We obsessed over design, wording, mix, and presentation, and tested the heck out of each category. One of my favorites was a "lightning round," where instead of 8 nuanced questions we did 25 straightforward ones in rapid-fire succession. Then question 26 was "reading the first letter of each answer, what movie did we just reference"? The first letter of each answer spelled out "BESURETODRINKYOUROVALTINE." We gave them several minutes to work on that one. It was great to see people puzzle it out, because inevitably they had a few wrong or incomplete answers and so they didn't get the message straightaway. Then the lightbulb would go off, they would answer question 26, and they'd go back to the old questions that they knew were wrong because the first letter was off and try to correct them.

My own advice would be to make the last category something light. As people get progressively more drunk, they become much harder to herd.

(It was Prime Suspect 3, on PBS. Duh.)
posted by AgentRocket at 12:19 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh man, I used to run quiz nights for the local foreigner population in rural Japan, and I assure you that I pushed the very limits of what Keynote could do (including finding an exploitable bug in Keynote ’09 that let me do multiple builds simultaneously on the same object).

It really helps to think of it less as a pure test of knowledge to challenge your attendees, and more of an evening’s entertainment that comes in the format of trivia quiz. I found it was great to get silly at times: for instance, I did a round once that was all numerical answers, and whichever team was closest got the points, and I closed that round out with “I’m thinking of a number between one and ten.” I showed the answers to each round immediately after finishing each round, so there was no ambiguity as to whether I was playing fair.

Other fun stuff included a music round with no music (featuring a fake “mute” popup as intro music abruptly stopped) and perhaps my crowning glory. For this, I initially opted to give a speech, taking a paper out and putting on reading glasses over my regular glasses. “When you tell someone you’re doing trick questions, or even imply it,” I began, “the mind goes into a sort of paranoid overdrive, and every single word and phrase is carefully scrutinized for potential double meanings. Instead of fighting this, I have chosen to reroute this energy to my benefit, like aikido, with the use of one simple statement: at least one of the following questions does in fact have the obvious answer.”

That was fun.

Otherwise, it’s mostly about giving the whole thing texture. Various subject matters, various structures (multiple choice, arrange answers in the right order, etc.), some questions you can figure out by thinking about them, some questions you just have to know (“What really whips the llama’s ass?”).

As a general rule, simple questions about obscure stuff and in-depth questions about common things are good.

Most of all, though, it’s just great to make sure it’s fun for everyone who came, even if they don’t win.

Oh, and fact-check ALL your answers. Trust me.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:11 PM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm part of a team that write (sorry, compile) quizzes for a newspaper publisher in Australia. 15 questions per quiz, five each of beginners, intermediate, advanced. One thing I've learnt is that it's easy to write a really difficult quiz. What's hard is crafting a quiz that entertains and challenges the reader and doesn't leave them bummed. An ideal quiz question for me is one smuggles in a clue. (I also do the occasional quiz with a hidden theme: when Prince died I managed to write a quiz where every question contained a veiled reference to the Purple One)
posted by misterbee at 3:52 PM on August 7, 2019

I write a weekly quiz for a movies podcast for the co-host and occasional guest. These links will be most helpful, thank you!
posted by Molesome at 5:59 AM on August 8, 2019

Heh. I have known Paul for years and years. When I alerted him to his moment of fame on MetaFilter, he remarked ruefully that he should have updated that page more recently.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:54 PM on August 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

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