Are you brainy enough to answer these questions? “Which capital city appears in the title of a Shakespeare play?” or “What does the Italian dish Spaghetti alle vongole have as its protein ingredient?”. And, name, in three minutes, 20 UN countries that start with A or B.
If you think you are you will do well in the quizwizz, a weekly quiz organised by quizmaster Larry Benjamin in various venues around town. I thought I would see if I was so I got together a bunch of silver foxes last week to test our rusty memories against other old brains and sparkling millennials. The venue was one of my favourite: the Troyeville Hotel, and we had a lot of fun amid the high fives and aahs and yes’es.
Teams have exotic names like the Ravishing Rattlesnakes, the Glamorous Greyhounds, the Voluptuous Vultures, the Dazzling Ducks, and the Whimsical Whippets. We were the Comatose Camels, which seemed pretty apt at times.
The winning team, the Whimsical Whippets, raced in with 96 points, six points ahead of two second place teams, who tied at 90. The camels limped in on 75 points, taking 8th position out of 12 teams. The whippets were just that, a bunch of young bloods who are well read and sassed. The unofficial leader of the whippets was Benjamin Burger, 31. He says: “It’s not about the winning, it’s an opportunity to see friends and get out, not sit at home watching a movie or going out and drinking.”
He sees the quizzes as a hobby, “a mental release, academic enrichment, and socialising”. He says luck plays a role but at the same time he is into reading, pop culture and music and keen to expand his general knowledge. So much so that he and his girlfriend and quiz partner, Nicole Taylor, will happily spend an evening learning all the capital cities or major rivers of the world. “I want to absorb as much as I can about everything. We sit and challenge ourselves.”
He has been doing quizzes since 2008 and says that you do learn to anticipate the questions. He has a BA in classical studies and English literature and works for a cargo shipping company, which means he has to have an understanding of the world’s major cities and economies.
Twenty-seven-year-old Siphiwe Majaja, whose greyhounds came second, describes herself as an all-rounder, with strengths in music, history, literature, pop culture, movies and a bit of sport. Just what a good quiz wizard needs. Her team has won on a previous occasion, and although she’s only played three times, she finds it fun and stimulating.
Benjamin says he spends his Sundays compiling his quiz for the week, which he uses in different configurations, depending on the audience. His questions range across general knowledge, trivia, speed quiz rounds, who am I rounds, colour picture quizzes, music and mystery voice rounds. To compile them he uses quiz books and his reading of newspapers, in addition to having “a room full of material”.
He does about 20 quizzes a month at six different venues: the Brazonhead in Sandton, the Baron on Main in Bryanston, the Radium Beer Hall, the Colony Arms Pub in Randburg, Big Reds in Mondeor, and the Troyeville Hotel.
He caters for everyone from 18 to 80 years so, for instance, his music questions include singers from Bing Crosby and Supertramp to Pitbull and Swedish House Mafia. He reckons you have to have a sense of humour to be a quizmaster. But more too. “You have to have a big personality, to handle different situations and a large crowd. You have to enjoy trivia and general knowledge, and be a people’s person.” Benjamin says he is “a sports fan, and I enjoy trivia and general knowledge”.
He says that different quizzes have different vibes – some are quite competitive, others are relaxed, with people there to have a good meal and a fun evening. Part of the fun for him is to customise the quiz. For instance, for the Irish South Africa Association he will use Irish songs and refer to Irish comedians, which takes a bit of work to get together. He customises the quiz for other customers: the banks and big corporates like SABMiller, KPMG, Deloitte, BMW, Ernst & Young, GIBS, or Sasol, who will use it as a team building exercise. Schools and colleges use the quiz for competitions, while birthday and bachelorette parties just have plenty of laughs.
Benjamin maintains that there are not many activities that bring people together like this - he finds it gratifying. But then he puts some effort into it. “The quiz is written with care and cognisance, and can suit just about any occasion.”
There are several other quizzes around town but they work on a different format. Pub Trivia sounds rather impersonal – there is no quizmaster, questions appear on a TV screen or on cellphones, and they are all multiple choice. It is largely based in Pretoria and doesn’t seem to have come to Joburg yet. There’s the Keg & Filly quiz night at Sunninghill every Tuesday, which pulls in around 150 people every week. The questions are compiled by a company, says Mario Sarikos, the manager of the Keg and Filly, and obviously Tuesdays are the pub’s busiest nights.
But Benjamin maintains that his quizzes are still superior. “My quizzes attract people of all ages and backgrounds – whereas many other quiz nights in Joburg appeal more to a younger, drinking crowd.”
There are prizes but don’t expect to come away with bulging pockets - cash prizes of R600, or meal vouchers, or theatre tickets, or wine. It will cost you around R50 to enter, in addition to your meal and drinks, and teams are generally between four and eight people.
So, were you brainy enough to answer the questions, Joburgers? The answers to the first two questions are Athens, from the play Timon of Athens; and clams. We got those answers, our secret weapon being an Italian team member with a good knowledge of the classics. The third you can compile easily, with some quick thinking and smart team members.
I am thinking of getting those Comatose Camels together again for the next quiz night at the Rand Club.