Once again I am thinking of Trivia and quiz questions. All these years of watching quiz shows on TV, and occasionally attending quiz nights at schools and in bars, have taught me that you might as well have a guess. It’s worth having a guess as long as you’re not going to lose money or points or be eliminated from the game for being wrong. If a question begins with the words “Which British Prime Minister”, and you don’t know the answer, you might as well say “Winston Churchill”. If it includes a reference to an Egyptian queen it’s probably Cleopatra. If there’s mention of an Australian model it’s almost certainly Elle McPherson.
I referred to a few other examples back in March, in this piece, quoting Jeremy Paxman’s response some years ago to a question he had just asked on “University Challenge”. It concerned “a fictional family” and none of the eight students even tried to guess. He gave the answer as follows: “It’s ‘The Simpsons’. It’s always ‘The Simpsons’!” In that earlier piece I mentioned three other examples of questions that have come up repeatedly: “Which Tsar …” (it’s usually Nicholas II); “What kind of creature is a …” (probably a bird); and “Which English painter …” (it’s usually JMW Turner).
Since March I have been noting down, somewhere or other, many more examples of this kind of question. They are summarized in the table below, along with some of the examples mentioned above, and there are sample questions at the end of the piece. From now onwards, whenever I encounter any question for which there is usually only one answer (such as those that begin “Which Scottish poet …” or “What German sweet manufacturer …”) I’ll add it to the list.
For the record, I have changed my mind about questions involving Russian rulers. The answer could be Ivan the Terrible (“Which Tsar had more wives than Henry VIII?”), Peter the Great (“Which 18th century Tsar was succeeded by Catherine the Great?”) or Alexander I (“Who was ruler of Russia during the Napoleonic Wars?”).
And in case you haven’t encountered many questions about Scottish poets and German sweets, the answers are nearly always “Robbie Burns” and “Haribo” respectively.
|If a question includes the words:||The answer is usually or definitely:|
|UK Prime Minister||Winston Churchill|
|Ancient British queen||Boudicca|
|Australian model||Elle McPherson|
|British king||Henry VIII|
|What kind of creature||A bird|
|Diary / Diarist||Samuel Pepys (17th century) or Anne Frank (20th century) [the difference is usually clear from the context and pronouns, he/she, his/her]|
|Scottish poet||Robbie Burns|
|Danish toy (or toy company)||Lego|
|Terry Pratchett Book Series||Discworld|
|Beethoven opera||Fidelio (note: Beethoven only wrote one opera, so it’s always Fidelio)|
|Board game / defence / series of moves||Chess|
|Cartoon series / long-running animated series / cartoon family||The Simpsons|
|Pop Artist||Andy Warhol|
|German sweet company||Haribo|
|Female architect||Zaha Hadid|
|New York park||Central Park|
Sample questions (in the same order as in the table above)
Which Egyptian queen, who died in 30BC, was the daughter of Ptolemy XII?
“The Last Lion” is a biography of which UK Prime Minister?
Which ancient British queen is believed to be buried under Kings Cross Station?
Which Australian model is known as “The Body”?
Which British king was awarded the title Defender of the Faith in 1521 by Pope Leo X?
What type of creature is a Black Noddy?
“The Fighting Temeraire” is an 1839 painting by which English artist?
Which Spanish-born artist had a pink period and a blue period?
What dairy product is used in the dish chilli con queso?
Which famous 17th century diarist usually ended his writing with the phrase “And so to bed”?
In the 20th century Miep Gies helped to preserve whose diary?
The first work acquired by the National Portrait Gallery was a portrait of which playwright?
Pennoni is a type of what Italian food?
“Merry Muses of Caledonia” was written by which Scottish poet?
Which Danish toy company opened a theme park just outside Windsor in 1996?
Greebo is the name of a cat in which Terry Pratchett book series?
Don Pizarro is the governor of the prison in which Beethoven opera?
The Trompowsky Attack is an opening series of moves in what board game?
SP4 7DE is the postcode for which ancient monument?
“Moaning Lisa” is an episode of which cartoon series?
By what name is the doll, whose full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts, usually known?
“Pork” is a play written by which Pop Artist?
Which naval hero was made a Viscount in 1801?
What German sweet company makes Fizzy Farm Animals?
Which female architect designed the 2017 Brit award statue?
The Jacqui Onassis reservoir is in which New York Park?
More sample questions (not in the same order as the table above)
What type of creature is a white-throated dipper?
Which doll, now made by Mattel, was first launched in 1959?
Crescenza is an Italian variety of what dairy product?
Belvedere is a castle in which New York park?
Samuel Barber wrote an opera about Mark Antony and which Egyptian queen?
The Lemming Defence is a set of moves in which board game?
Which cartoon family lives at 742 Evergreen Terrace in the town of Springfield?
Which Australian model played Joey’s room-mate in the comedy show “Friends”?
Who was British Prime Minister at the time of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation?
Which female architect designed the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London’s Hyde Park?