Life & Culture

A team adrift at the supper quiz

What's a competitive couple to do when the questions are too tricky?


LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Leah Williamson of England reacts during the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 final match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium on July 31, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images)

Off to shul we go! No, no, not for a service — I’m going soon anyway for my dad’s Yahrzeit and one doesn’t want too much of a good thing surely? — but for the Annual Supper Quiz. While a goyische quiz involves lukewarm beer and packets of pork scratchings, here the tables (with tablecloths and napkins, of course — we’re not savages) bear platters of cold fried fish, potato salad, coleslaw and haimische pickles. The Husband does venture to a side table to buy a bottle of wine, but we don’t need a second one even though there are ten of us.

Even though I usually dislike any kind of group activity, the quiz appeals because The Husband and I are very competitive. About everything. We go to the cinema (The Fabelmans – disappointing and too long. Snip, snip, Mr Spielberg! And could they possibly have found anyone less Jewish than Michelle Williams for the mum role? Harumph.) We park about two minutes’ walk away from the cinema. Husband turns one way at the same time as I turn in the opposite direction. We could go either way. The difference can’t be more than 20 seconds. Still, we spend twice that standing on the street, arguing over whether Husband Route or Wife Route would be better/faster even though a) we can’t prove it and b) it doesn’t matter anyway.

When we watch University Challenge, we keep a tally. The Husband’s strengths include geography, history and politics. Really, give the man a blank map with a red dot on it and he will tell you exactly where it is while I’m still wondering: Is that bit land or water? My strengths are food, literature and plants. On a quiz team, we are probably more worth having than not if you can stand the in-fighting.

In previous years, The Husband has not been quite so pressed and stressed at work so has had time to gather a team. This year, it’s just the two of us plus Husband’s brother and his wife, so we are grouped with six others for a team of ten. As the round tables are so broad, there is the same problem you get at simchas: if you want to communicate with a guest on the far side, you will need your set of semaphore flags. I ask one man if he is good on sport as it is far and away our worst subject. He says no, not really other than football, but his diffident manner makes me think he’s just being falsely modest. Sweet.

The quiz begins and, as our shul likes nothing to be straightforward (of course not — we’re Jews, you think the people who came up with ten volumes of Midrashim are going to offer you a straight quiz?), in addition to several rounds of themed questions, a simultaneous separate quiz includes a ‘Guess the crisp flavour’ round, lots of baffling ‘Dingbats’ (luckily, Brother-in-Law took his degree in these at Cambridge), and a selection of animal skeletons to identify (Why? We have no idea).

As we don’t know 60 per cent of the people in our team it proves difficult for us to cohere, despite attempts to engage their views by passing them notes like naughty children in class . I consult with those nearest and write down what we can then send the answer sheet round the table for the others to amend as they see fit. As we have no official captain, we are like a rudderless ship, wandering in one direction then veering randomly in another, crossing out answers multiple times.

The sport round begins. The very first question is about football: how many straight lines are there on a football pitch? This will clearly be a doddle for our football expert! He sketches a pitch on a scrap of paper and counts up. The guy two along from him does the same but gets a different tally. Finally, an answer is put down (it turns out to be incorrect.)
Who is the Captain of England’s women’s football team? I know this! It’s Beth Mead! (No, it isn’t, if you’re doing a quiz after you see this.) How many balls are there at the beginning of a game of snooker? We all start drawing little triangles of balls and again all come up with different answers. And yes, they’re all wrong.

The scores are displayed on huge screens at the end of each round so it is plain to see that, in the Sport round, we are bottom with two out of ten.

When the quiz finally ends after three hours, at least we are not bottom overall but we are in the bottom half of the board, territory we have always managed to steer clear of in previous years. Dispirited, we drift towards the exit, telling ourselves it was a good evening because at least we bought expensive tickets to Save the Building! And we didn’t have to wash up. And that coleslaw was really good.

As we leave, the Husband turns to me, eyes gleaming with unsated competitiveness: “When we get home, shall we watch an episode of University Challenge?”

Twitter: @clairecalman

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