Springingtiger's Blog

Quizzical Minds


On Tuesday evenings it is my habit to go to the Admiral Bar in Glasgow for their Pub Quiz. I don’t go just for the quiz, but to meet people and for the entertainment and the best Macaroni Cheese in Glasgow. The Admiral Quiz is a community event with a core of regulars who verge on being friends while doing their damnedest to get one over on each other. However the glue that binds them is a love of quizzing.

I have no idea what the fascination of quizzes and puzzles is, I am sure psychologists may have explanations, but not I. It seems to be part of human nature to solve problems, the realm of literature is well filled with detective novels, but even old folk tales often contain unexplained mysteries. Mathematics as a tool for solving the worlds problems seems to be as old as humankind. Ancient structures suggest a sophisticated grasp of the principles of geometry and astronomy by ancestors that until recently we tended to dismiss as uncivilised. We have always loved riddles. But why do we love puzzling so much?

When we sit and solve sudoku, or whatever, in the paper there is the satisfaction of overcoming the challenge, a pleasure in celebrating the working of our own minds. I think this is part of our motivation for reading detective novels, the need to make sense of our world. It is the same urge that drove philosopher like Socrates and Marx, scientists like Da Vinci and Darwin, and explorers like Shackleton and Scott. The quest for knowledge as a tool to subject the universe to order and reason underlies all human endeavour and is as essential to religion as to science and politics.

Humanity is also inherently competitive and so we compete against each other in quizzes. When I was was young we had shows like Brain of Britain (we still do), Ask The Family, Top Of The Form, and later University Challenge and Mastermind. They can change the format of the shows to give us things like Only Connect and the one I watched for the first time today, Hive Mind, but the underlying principle is all about showing off one’s knowledge. Occasionally there are shows like The Krypton Factor or The Crystal Maze that focus on problem solving, however most shows rely on giving the people to demonstrate their knowledge.

That someone wins a quiz does not mean they are cleverer than their opponents nor that they know more, merely that they knew the answers to a particular set of questions. The quiz team that can ace a picture round on vintage biscuits may well be left floundering when faced with the task of identifying twenty football strips. I think one of the joys of the Admiral quiz is that the variety of questions means that no team wins all the time. It touches on something people too often overlook, that knowledge is not only useful, but that it can, and should, be fun.


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