Why having the right quiz answer doesn't make you a winner

Séamas O’Reilly
Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

Like any couple who’ve been together for more than a decade, my wife and I are quite frank about the things we most dislike about each other. For me, it would be her inability to deal with air travel. There is not a single aspect of flying that does not present itself as an opportunity for her to become angry and resentful. Her terror of being late for things – fostered, I should admit, by my incredible skills in that very area – means she takes no risks with timing. This has become worse over time. We started out arriving at the airport three hours early. Now we set off about eight weeks before departure, allowing time for her to powerwalk through duty free, loudly considering every tragedy that might befall us between there and our destination.

I begin by being ‘a bit grabby with the pen’, before graduating to ‘full-on megalomaniac psychopath’

Her least favourite thing about me is the way I act during quizzes. I like to think that a lifetime of acquiring useless trivia has given me an ungovernable zeal for dispensing it as accurately, and efficiently, as possible. In reality, I begin by being ‘a bit grabby with the pen’, before graduating to ‘full-on megalomaniac psychopath’. All mercy is suspended, every relationship rendered moot. Put me in a quiz against a beloved child and I will tear them limb from limb in pursuit of that win. And I’ll grass them up to the quizmaster if I see them anywhere near a phone.

This subject has come up now that family Zoom quizzing is en vogue. We’ve done three so far (it would be gauche for me to say we won them all but, fortunately, I am very gauche indeed). Considering how much of a bore I must have been on each of those times, my wife’s delight when it was our turn to host was as surprising as it was ill-conceived.

Perhaps she thought I’d be less of a pain on this side of the podium, but it was not the case. I was prepping two weeks in advance, peppering her with questions and overhauling rounds every few days. ‘Are Hitler, Prince Charles, and Kylie and Jason too obvious?’ I asked, hovering over a photo gallery of terrible waxworks I settled on for a picture round.

Perhaps she thought it would put manners on me. She was right. There were blank stares for my overly wordy teaser about braille. Few were enthusiastic about my insistence that the Antarctic is the world’s largest desert, and the less said about that guess-the-waxwork round, the better. Things were only restored by a flurry of questions about our son, their sole nephew and grandchild. Sure, they didn’t know that the dot over an ‘i’ is called a tittle, and, yes, one couple identified Kylie and Jason as the Moors Murderers, but on the topic of the boy’s favourite things, we all agreed the evening had been a grand success.

It turns out the secret to correcting my worst qualities was to give the people what they want. It’s just I’m unlikely to remember this fact in future. I mean, it’s not going to come up in a quiz, is it?

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