Comment: Cheating defeats quiz whizz dreams

Comment: Cheating defeats quiz whizz dreams

Comment: Cheating defeats quiz whizz dreams

First published in News Watford Observer: Photograph of the Author by

What exactly is coulrophobia? How far is the oche from a darts board? And what was built on the site of Jones Road sports ground?

If you can answer these questions, then I applaud you. I really do, and you should take that as high praise because I like to think I’m pretty good at general knowledge. 

I’ve been in the team that’s won the school quiz and doubled that up with a narrow - and highly controversial - defeat in the Scouts quiz. 

But on holiday this past week, I’ve seen a whole new world of quizzing, and it centres upon coulrophobia, Jones Road and the distance of the oche. 

No normal person knows all those answers. You might luck into knowing one of them, but not all three. 

And so, beyond the obvious sprinkling of sour grapes, envy and dismay that greeted my defeat in the holiday camp quiz, my instincts detected the distinctive aroma of a rodent. Friends, I smelled a rat. 

For one thing, the winning teams were rivals, who were obviously trying to outdo each other.

For another, each team seemed top-heavy with youngsters, barely into their teens, who seemed to have answered an amazing number of these obscure questions. 

Now I’m not being ageist here, but these didn’t look like the sort of youngsters who instinctively knew which year Mrs Thatcher first came to power (1979, of course), or even which Shakespeare play featured Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (that would be Hamlet). 

They were smart lads, no doubt about that, but my guess is their brains were, at least partly, hidden in their smartphones.

The smartphone is killing the quiz. Two decades ago, the only way you could really cheat in a pub quiz was to bring along a mate who knew everything. 

I knew a few of those people, including a couple who used to make decent money by going round pubs and learning all the answers to a certain brand of trivia machine.

Once they’d done that, they would find out the locations of all the same machines, drive round to them all and gradually empty them of cash while bewildering the other locals with their knowledge of African flags and Latin bird names. 

Then came the advent of early mobile phones, with the temptation to text a friend. There you would be, confronted with the challenge of remembering the name of David Copperfield’s mother, and all you would have to do was now text your mate Paul and ask him to look it up. 

Five minutes later - bosh. Ping goes the text message and the word Clara goes into your answer sheet. 

For the professional quizzer, this was a very easy route. Four blokes in the pub and someone at home, in front of the computer with the mobile on standby. 

But for the rest of us, it was still too much like hard work. Did we really have a mate to bother with confirmation about who won the 1966 FA Cup

And could we really face the horrific prospect of being caught, and branded a cheat? Was it really worth the effort? 

But now, I fear it’s getting to be too easy for the cheats. A smartphone tucked in the pocket, or hidden on the lap, and a subtle glance down to tap into Google. 

A moment later that impossible question about which currency they use in Guatemala is solved. 

"Quetzal" says the phone, and it’s time to move on to the picture round, sure in the knowledge you’ve got it right while all around you, people are scratching their heads in bemusement. 

Quizmasters are wise to all this, of course. They always ask for phones to be switched off and for people to be honest.

But it’s hard to tell a room full of people to ignore their phones for the evening when mobiles have become such an integral part of life. 

If you’ve left your children with a babysitter, you’re not going to turn off the phone in case there’s a problem, are you? 

You’ll probably check the screen every now and then to see if you’ve got a message or text. 

You’re honest, of course, but how do you know if the person on the next table is also checking up on the kids, or actually discovering the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated (Spencer Perceval - correct spelling please). 

And by the same token, is that bored-looking youngster over there just texting his mate or is he setting up Shazam for the music round? 

The problem is twofold, you see. It’s not just cheating that damages the fun of these quizzes, but the knowledge that you can cheat. 

As technology becomes smaller, quicker and increasingly pervasive, you wonder whether these quizzes will just wither away. 

A colleague of mine at work has a pair of Google glasses, which allow him to connect to the internet all the time. And however good I might think I am at trivia quizzes, I don’t think I could beat Google. 

And to answer the opening questions - coulrophobia is the morbid fear of clowns; an oche is 7ft 9.25 inches from the board and Jones Road Sports Ground was redeveloped into Croke Park stadium, in Ireland. 

And if you got all of them - without using Google - then you are a wonder. 

I followed Watford’s opening fixture from afar, but even from France it’s clear a 3-0 win is a brilliant way to start the season. 

There seems to be an air of quiet confidence round the club at the moment and goals from Deeney, Vydra (ah, welcome back fella) and Forestieri only highlight the talent available to the Hornets. 

Having predicted a good season last year, and then watched with mounting disappointment, I shan’t be cracking open the crystal ball any time soon. But it feels good.

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