On my radio · Trivia

12 quiz questions that need updating

If you have any quiz books that were printed in the first decade of this century, they may well contain questions that are no longer valid, answers that are no longer correct, or answers that used to be unique but no longer are. This piece looks at 12 examples of such questions and answers, and contains over 1,200 words.

1 “What is the only national flag that consists of just one colour?”

If you were asked this question before 2011 the answer would have been Libya (a solid band of green). These days, the question is no longer valid. The flags of every nation on earth consist of at least two colours.

2 “What is the largest country in Africa?”

The answer to this one also changed in 2011, but this question is still valid. The answer used to be Sudan. Now it’s Algeria, which became the largest country in Africa when South Sudan became an independent nation.

An explanation

[The following two paragraphs give some background to this piece. Scroll down if you want to go straight to question 3.]

Last year, in this piece about flags, I mentioned Libya’s old single-colour flag, and noted, “’Quiz questions that are no longer valid’ is a theme that I plan to return to sometime soon.” It has taken me well over a year, but here we are. These words have been prompted partly by the latest episode of “Paul Sinha’s General Knowledge”, an excellent new series on BBC Radio 4. It’s described on the station’s website as follows: “Award-winning comedian and quizzer Paul Sinha improves your general knowledge through fascinating facts and hilarious true stories”. The latest episode (the third in the series) is available here for the next 24 days and was recorded four months after the previous one, a delay caused in part by Sinha being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. I wish him well. As a trained doctor he knows far more about the condition than I ever will.

While explaining the delay between recording episodes 2 and 3 of the show Sinha also discussed “seismic shifts” in the world of quizzing, changes that will render many items in quiz books out of date. Boris Johnson’s appointment as UK prime minister in July 2019 was his starting point. Questions 3, 4, 5 and 8 below were all covered in the show.

3 “Who is the only UK prime minister who was born overseas?”

Until July 2019 the answer was Andrew Bonar Law, “the forgotten prime minister”, born in New Brunswick. The question now needs to be modified. The current prime minister, Boris Johnson, was also born overseas, in New York.

4 “What is the only surname shared by both an American president and a British prime minister?”

Again, until July 2019 there was only one answer to this one: Wilson. I recall hearing this fact on an episode of “University Challenge”. The question was neatly phrased, with a second part providing enough information for you to work it out even if you didn’t know the answer immediately: “The US president with this surname was in office when the future UK prime minister of that name was born, in 1916”. If you knew that Woodrow Wilson was president during the First World War you had the answer. Boris Johnson shares his surname with two US Presidents, Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) and Lyndon B Johnson (1963-69). The latter was in office when the current prime minister was born, in 1964.

5 “What is the capital city of Kazakhstan?”

If you didn’t follow the news from the world’s largest landlocked country earlier this year, you might believe that the answer is Astana, but the city’s name was changed in March 2019.. It’s now Nur-Sultan, in honour of long-term President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

6 “Who is the UK’s longest-serving monarch?”

This is probably the easiest of all quiz questions that have needed updating in recent years, but (like me) you might have difficulty remembering exactly when Queen Elizabeth II overtook Queen Victoria as the nation’s longest-serving monarch. It was 9 September 2015. In 2017, after 65 years on the throne, she became the first to celebrate a Sapphire Jubilee. This quiz question will be valid for at least another 67 years.

7 “Who is the only Nobel Prize-winner with a songwriting credit on a UK and US #1?”

For most of chart history the answer to this one was Charles G Dawes, US vice president (1925-29) and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925. His “Melody in A Major”, written in 1912, was the basis for “It’s all in the game” (words by Carl Sigman) in the early 1950s. Tommy Edwards took it to #1 in 1958 on both sides of the Atlantic. Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 means that there is now a second Nobel laureate with a writing credit on a US and UK chart-topper. The song in question was “Mr Tambourine Man” (The Byrds, 1965). It’s Dylan’s only writing credit on a US #1 but he has three more in the UK: “The Mighty Quinn” (Manfred Mann, 1968), “Knocking on heaven’s door” (Dunblane, 1996) and “Rise” (Gabrielle, 2000).

8 “Who is the only person to win a Nobel Prize and an Oscar?”

Again, the answer to this one changed with Bob Dylan’s 2016 award. Previously the only recipient of a Nobel and an Oscar was George Bernard Shaw: Nobel Prize for Literature (1925, the same year that Charles G Dawes won the Peace Prize) and Academy Award for Best Screenplay (1938, “Pygmalion”, shared with three others). Before winning his Nobel in 2016, Dylan had won the Academy Award for Best Song (for “Things have changed”, from the movie “Wonder Boys”, released in 2000).

9 “Who is the only US president to have been divorced?”

Like the previous two questions, this one had a unique answer until 2016. Until then, Ronald Reagan was the only US president who had been divorced. Donald Trump is the second, and the only one to be divorced more than once.

10 “Who was the oldest person to become US president?”

As with the previous question, the answer to this one changed with the 2016 US election. Donald Trump, then aged 70, overtook Ronald Reagan, who was 69 when he was elected in 1980. Reagan remains the oldest person to win a US presidential election (aged 73, in November 1984) and the oldest person to hold the office of president (77 when he was succeeded by George HW Bush).

11 “Which former US president has lived the longest?”

The title of longest-lived former US president has changed a few times this century. Once again Ronald Reagan set the record (93 years, 120 days when he died in June 2004). He was overtaken by Gerald Ford (93 years 165 days before his death in December 2006), who was then superseded by George HW Bush (94 years, 171 days when he died in November 2018). Jimmy Carter, who is still alive and due to turn 95 on 1 October 2019, is now the longest-lived of any US president and has also lived for the longest time since leaving office (38 years, 238 days and counting). Neither of these records is going to change any time soon. In addition to the current incumbent there are three past holders of the office who are still alive. Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and George W Bush are all 73 and Barack Obama is 58.

12 “Who is the only man called Gary to win an acting Oscar?”

Until the Academy Awards ceremony in February 2018, for films released in 2017, the answer to this one was Gary Cooper. He won two Best Actor Awards, for “Sergeant York” (1941) and “High Noon” (1952). With his Oscar-winning performance as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour”, Gary Oldman is now the second Oscar-winning actor called Gary.


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