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Feeling quizzical? General knowledge battle ramps up

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Group quiz night has become a favourite pastime in our community, and it’s mostly due to international relations expert Larry Benjamin.

A Johannesburg quizmaster and compiler of quizzes, Benjamin started doing quizzes 16 years ago at a pub.

“Virtually every second restaurant is now doing a quiz,” says Benjamin, who lectures in international relations at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Benjamin began his quiz master journey around 2008 with one quiz night twice a month or fortnightly. “By about 2015, we had at least 200 quizzes a year, and more than 250 in a single year just before the COVID-19 pandemic. Then we slowed down a little bit, but we still do tons of quizzes – I would say about 12 to 15 quizzes a month.”

For about a year and a half during the pandemic, Benjamin held the quizzes online. “People got their quizzes by email. We also did quite a few quizzes on Zoom, including corporate quizzes. We’re now doing them exclusively in-person again.

“People of all ages, from all backgrounds, get involved. You can have a group of people in their 60s and 70s sitting next to a group of people in their 20s. What you then have to do is make sure there’s something for everybody in the quiz.”

Regular contestant Natalie Louria says the quiz is always challenging and fun. Her quiz team, Baby Bulldogs, started as a Meetup outing “when quizzes were still at the Colony Arms with sticky floors and a hit-and-miss menu”.

“Baby Bulldogs was initially made up of different people who put their names down first,” Louria says, “but we soon became a few regulars and spun off from Meetup.”

Daniel Schmukler, another regular competitor who has been attending quizzes for about eight years at different venues, says the contests are great fun and competitive. “The quizzes test a broad range of general knowledge, include interesting picture quizzes, and have the best music rounds.”

People enjoy the quizzes, Benjamin says, because “they are an opportunity to get together with their friends, have a laugh, work together in a game type of situation, get to know other people, enjoy good food, and get two hours of good entertainment”.

Shaeera Garvutt and her husband were on a date night at Blind Tiger where a quiz happened to be taking place. “It was so much fun,” she recalls. “It ended up being a kind of commitment. With my husband and I working, it gives us time to spend together. Sometimes it’s funny because, especially in winter, you don’t really want to leave the house, but once you leave, it’s just so much fun. It’s such a good vibe. You feel like you’re learning interesting facts, you’re laughing with each other, challenging yourself, relaxing, and connecting with others. It’s something you don’t miss unless there’s a crisis.”

A quiz league was recently set up in Johannesburg, and about 100 people will pit their wits against each other over the next three months to win a substantial prize. The league, which started on 27 February, includes a total of six rounds of quizzes. The remaining quizzes are spread across fortnightly Tuesday nights.

Thirteen teams are signed up. The winning team will need to have the highest total based on its top five scores recorded at the end of the six rounds. The league includes general knowledge and trivia questions, a jeopardy round, picture quiz rounds, a music round, and table quizzes.

“In the picture quiz rounds, teams have to name things like countries based on their outline, posters of different movies, famous South Africans, caricatures of famous people, types of pasta, or breeds of dogs,” Benjamin says. “We have rounds that have all those kinds of elements in them.

“In the music round, we play between 10 and 15 songs. Teams have to identify either the singer, group, or song title. We also sometimes feature themes from TV series. The many different types of table quiz rounds that we use including word search and matchup rounds.

“We also do a jeopardy round, where you get minus points for incorrect answers. Every round is different. This distinguishes us from some of the other quiz companies, which just tend to do five rounds with ten questions.”

All quiz league participants play in a team, normally comprised of a minimum of four people and a maximum of eight. “Normally a team of family members, friends, or colleagues get together and book as a team,” Benjamin says.

Garvutt and her husband enjoyed their first few quizzes so much, they invited her niece and nephew to be part of their team. “My husband is like a sports encyclopaedia and also knowledgeable about current affairs because he reads the news. My niece is really good with popular music. My nephew is good at current affairs and rock music. I’m quite good at literature.”

Other quizzes tend to be slightly easier and less competitive than those in a league, Benjamin says. “All the venues have good food and nice vibes. People in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, some in their 60s, enjoy the quizzes.”

Garvutt has noticed that quizzes have increased in popularity over the past year. “More and more people come more and more regularly,” she says.

To keep his general knowledge sharp, Schmukler follows headlines and major sports events. After all, Benjamin, a West Ham United supporter, always throws in, Louria says, “a few questions or even rounds based on sport”.

Participating in quizzes can make you feel clueless at times, Garvutt says. “Questions come up that you realise you should know. What’s quite startling is how incredible the general knowledge of some people is.”

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