Zoom Quizzes are the New Friday Night

How many countries do the Alps touch?

Which actor voiced Baloo in the 2016 adaptation of The Jungle Book?

😠 👊 🤕 🏎️ 📺 ❌ — what event does this series of emojis describe?

These are all questions I’ve been asked during various rounds of zoom quizzes over the last few weeks.

As we enter our fifth week of lockdown with no end yet in sight, Britain’s newest craze also shows few signs of slowing down. Zoom quizzes have been sweeping the nation, replacing physical meetups and allowing us to connect digitally, with a glass of wine in one hand, a pen and paper in the other, and game face on.  

A pandemic? Lockdown? It seems one of Britain’s most treasured institutions – the trusty pub quiz – won’t be beaten that easily. 

It’s Friday night. The classic conversation on the newly created Whats App group ‘Isolation Quiz’ starts. 

‘Anyone got a free zoom account with work?’

‘Yep, I’ll send the link around’. (These people are the unsung heroes of your group). 

‘Great thanks!’ 

8 o clock (prime quizzing time), everyone opens Zoom, to see multiple faces populating the screen in individual rectangles. There’s the customary ‘cheers’, and ‘how’s lockdown treating everyone?’ and ‘ooh, nice G and T you’ve got there! What’s everyone else drinking?’. Normal pleasantries – lockdown hasn’t turned us into complete animals yet.  

Then the quiz master for the week (the winner of last week’s quiz) will take charge. Most quizzes have a tried and tested formula. There’s usually a good old general knowledge round to ease everyone in, followed by a combination of  film clips, a music round, geography and politics every now and then, depending on the mood and audience. But, quizooming (see what I did there) has also introduced some new, less traditional rounds not normally found in the pub. 

One popular new round is the Emoji special – which involves a series of emojis, of which you have to decipher the meaning. Think London landmarks and tube stations, films and even current events – a truly millenium phenomenon. Another deviant from the normal pub quiz I experienced last week was a round entitled ‘Who said it: Jesus or Yeezus?’  This was not a high scoring round for me. Jesus and Yezus coincidentally had a very similar outlook on life. And lastly we have the Facebook round, where the quizmaster (depending on how committed they are) will dive into the deep dark depths of the participants Facebook timelines, digging out statuses and getting everyone to guess who the culprit was. 2008/9 preoccupations largely involved school problems, seeing ‘who’s going town?’ and if anyone was up for a cheeky Nandos. 

And of course, a Zoom quiz is no normal pub quiz. Unlike reality, digital quizzing brings a whole host of weird and wonderful quirks. The biggest difference lies in that well known phrase ‘can everyone who isn’t talking mute themselves’ – yep, the magical mute function, which brings its own pros and cons. 

  • Pros – you don’t have to listen to everyone slurping their drinks or nibbling snacks. Also, (when used correctly), you can freely and loudly discuss your potential answers without nearby eavesdroppers listening in. 
  • Cons – when everyone is muted, this can leave the quiz master feeling a little lonely, and compelled to fill the gaps between questions with inane chatter. And without a doubt, at some point someone will forget they are muted and generously start discussing the answers freely and openly. To be honest, depending on how the quiz is going that week this can sometimes be a blessing in disguise… but is not really keeping in with the whole quiz spirit.

Then its results time. Honesty is key here – without the normal passing of sheets between tables, it falls to the participants to act with integrity and high moral standards. Any cheating is deeply, deeply frowned upon and will almost likely result in a tattered reputation, immediate expulsion from any future virtual quizzes, and probably the friendship group altogether. 

Coronavirus has removed many enjoyable aspects of life that we all took for granted. But, it appears that the pub quiz has avoided joining the casualty ranks. What is it they say – in adversity, it is the companies that pivot, innovate and adapt to the new environment that emerge stronger than ever. Think Blockbuster and Netflix for example – both of which had their origins in the mailing videos industry. Once everything started moving online, one sank while the other flew. The humble pub quiz is a metaphorical Netflix – adaptable and resilient, even in the hardest of times. 

So what is it about quizzes that us Brits can’t get enough of? They’re actually a relatively new phenomenon – the first pub quiz was recorded in Britain in the 1970s, by a company called Burns and Porter to encourage people to go to the pubs on quieter nights. Fast Forward 40 odd years, and quiz night is one of the busiest nights at the pub – in London, you often have to reserve tables to participate. 

 I recently finished watching ITV’s ‘The Quiz,’ (detailing the story of the Ingham’s, who were accused of cheating their way to the top prize on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’). A scene in the first episode saw an all too familiar pub packed full of serious quizzers – heads together, avidly discussing and debating potential answers. A character described the phenomenon as ‘a uniquely British institution…combining our two great loves: drinking, and being right.’ He does a pretty good job in summing up their allure whilst accurately describing us as a nation of overly competitive know-it-all alcoholics. 

Similarly, Jeremy Vine (the very respectable quizmaster of Eggheads) helped explain the popularity of Eggheads in the UK, simply by saying “Britain is the most fanatically quizzy country. In this country, knowledge and information is status. People love to know stuff.

And indeed, if we’re not going down to the local for a midweek quiz to prove to everyone how clever we are, we can get quizzy from the comfort of the living room. Quizzes literally litter the TV schedule. There’s the more accessible ones earlier on in the evening – The Chase (a personal fave), Pointless, Eggheads; all of which the average Joe can shout out answers to, and be confident of achieving a few self congratulatory pats on the back. 

Then there’s Monday night, which is a different league in itself, and reserved only for the elite of the elite quizzers. Us mere mortals can only watch in awe and disbelief, as these superhuman quizzers on University Challenge and Only Connect battle it out to be crowned the ultimate quiz champions. 

Virtual zoom quizzes have certainly filled a void in the lockdown age. First and foremost, it is the perfect way to connect with friends without descent into anarchy as multiple people shout into zoom (a recipe for disaster). The organised fun nature of the zoom quiz allows us all to get together whilst also preserving a pillar of British culture and one of our best loved traditions – that of drinking and simultaneously proving how much we know about geography and film scores. The transition from Zoom quizzes back to real ones will be a welcome return – but Zoom is a pretty good substitute in the meantime. 

And a final top tip from quiz master general Jezza Vine – “if you’re planning a quiz for lockdown, take it seriously – because your teams certainly will.” Truer words never spoken. 



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