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Thousands of Britons flock to their local pubs each week to participate in the pub quiz, which offers entertainment, prizes and bragging rights for the winners. Writer Darren Sketon explains one of his favorite pastimes.
Text by: Darren Sketon
Country England

cross the British Isles on a midweek night, groups of family, friends or co-workers amble down to their local pub for the pub quiz. Customers in small villages and city centers answer a few questions as they enjoy their favorite brews.

My friends and I are seriously addicted to this weekly custom.


Traditionally, pubs were quiet during midweek in England, with the traditional busy nights being Friday and Saturday. At the weekend, people went out to meet friends, to catch up, to share anecdotes and to trade jokes. They did not require any form of entertainment as they themselves were the entertainment. Of course the weekend being the weekend, they could drink merrily knowing they did not have to work the next day.

During the week, though, there was no reason and no opportunity for people to head down to the pub for a pint. Folks just stayed at home and watched TV.

Although the precise beginning of pub quizzes is murky, at some point in the late 1970s or early 1980s, landlords tried new events and themes to get the punters in the pub to spend money. Hosting a pub quiz on a quiet midweek evening seemed the ideal set-up to achieve this.

I was aged 17 when my college friends and I first became regular attendees at the Wednesday evening pub quiz night in the adjacent village pub, ‘The Carpenters Arms’. Unfortunately, due to our young age, we did not win very often as there were teams that were much older – and more knowledgeable – than we were.

It is now estimated there are some 20,000 pub quizzes a week in England (compared with 2,000 in America).


The format of the quiz varies from pub to pub, yet essentially the quizmaster will ask between 40 and 60 questions across a whole range of topics.

From my experience, it is played as a game of two halves, and during the halftime break, the answers are given for the first group of questions. It is also at this time that the contestants can buy a new round of drinks at the bar.

In my village pub, the landlord provides snacks such as sandwiches, soup and bread, or occasionally spare ribs with chips in the halftime break, – a very welcome treat and common in pubs across the country.

After the break, the second half of questions are asked and then marked, tallied by the quizmaster and a winning team is declared.


Teams usually have four to six people. Usually they are friends, work colleagues or fellow students who already know each other and attend each week. It is rare for individuals to simply turn up and join a team.

The quizmaster for each pub will set the maximum number permitted on each team to create a relatively balanced game.

For most pub quiz nights, the quizmaster will insist on a nominal fee from each team to enter the quiz (possibly one English pound per team member). This fee is collected, and usually the bulk of that will be the prize money for the winning team, with a small portion allocated to pay for the snacks for the night or to benefit a local charity.


There are many pub quiz books for reference for those who like to host their own quiz night. There are also numerous websites dedicated to providing quiz questions.

Pub landlords or pub staff may run the quiz, local volunteers may do it, or as is getting more common, professional quizmasters will provide their services (for a nominal payment). I like to volunteer to run quiz nights occasionally in the bar where we play, as others volunteer in turn.

Questions may be in the form of stating the correct factual answer, i.e., what is the capital city of Nigeria? (Answer: Abuja), or it may be a true or false question, i.e., is it true or false that Shanghai is the capital of China? (Answer: False). Another option is an answer where the nearest answer wins the points, i.e., how long in kilometers is the Yangtze river? (Answer: 6,300km). Some questions are multiple choice, where four answers are given and only one is correct.

Another possible question format could be in the form of an anagram, i.e., which actor’s name is anagrammed as ‘Old West Action’? (Answer: Clint Eastwood).


It is relatively common for the quiz to be broken down in to themed rounds, ranging from the general knowledge round, the entertainment round, the sports round, along the science round, the history round, and so forth.

An example of a 40-question pub quiz could be as follows:

Round 1 – General knowledge (10 questions)

Round 2 – Famous People (10 questions)

Round 3 – Movies (10 questions)

Round 4 – Science (10 questions).

Other common themes could be along the lines of geography, politics, technology, astrology, cartoons, flags and countries, food and drink. Some quizzes may have quite odd or quite specific rounds such as movies in 1976 or TV actors in the 1990s.

A good quizmaster will always have a couple of questions that can act as tie-breakers in case the game ends in a draw.

An example of a good tie-breaker question could be: What was the title of the first Beatles movie? (Answer: A Hard Day’s Night, 1964).

Bonus Round

Another common theme is the bonus round, which consists of a team choosing one of the rounds as their bonus round, and it is in this round that all correct answers they get, will count as double points. Teams need to choose carefully here to maximize their areas of expertise or interest.

Depending on where you go, the quizmaster may provide a halftime picture round quiz. An example of this could be a sheet of country outlines and your team has to identify the country, or possibly a selection of flags and you need to name the country. It is during the halftime break, whilst people are snacking and buying a new round of drinks that the team will work through this picture sheet.


Some pub quiz nights offer jackpot questions, whereby some of the entrance fee money is saved up every week, and there is one final question at the end of the quiz (usually very difficult), and if a team or a person can get the correct answer, they will win this bonus fund of money. The fund keeps rolling over every week until someone wins the pot of money.


There is a unique way of marking involved for this, and it is common in every pub quiz I have taken part in. At halftime and the end of the quiz, the teams pass their answer sheets around in a clockwise direction for the next team to mark. The quizmaster reads out the answers, and you mark the other teams’ answer paper and then return it.

If there are any disputes, incorrect marking or queries over the validity of the answer, the quizmaster has the final say. The quizmaster’s answer is always the accepted answer.


If there is money involved, people will cheat; if there is pride involved people will cheat; and if there is pride and money at stake, they will definitely cheat.

Henceforth, mobile phone usage and tablet Internet devices such as the iPad are not permitted. It is just supposed to be a game and a bit of fun.


Most pubs will offer a prize. This could be a proportion of the entrance fee paid to the winning team, or it could be a free round of drinks or a number of beer tokens (coupons redeemable at the bar for drinks). Some pubs have no redeemable prize, but they do take a picture of the winning team and add it to the wall of winners.

Do you know the answers to these questions?

1. What is the capital city of Nigeria?

2. What are the cannibalistic beasts called in H.G. Wells’ book ‘The Time Machine’? A. Warlocks
B. Yahoos
C. Morlocks
D. Rolocks

3. James Bond’s preferred cigarette was ____.
A. Woodbine
B. Benson and Hedges
C. Players
D. Chesterfield
E. Rothmans


Pub Quiz .

In many small towns and villages in Britain, people regularly gather at their local pub (bar) to play pub quizzes. Pubs were usually full on the weekends but were often empty during the week, as people would just stay home and watch TV. In the late 1970s or early 1980s, pub owners tried different things to try to attract customers to their pubs during the middle of the week. The pub quiz seemed to be a very good way to bring customers to their pubs, and the pub would make money selling snacks and beer.

A pub quiz is a game of questions and answers that is played in teams. The game varies from pub to pub, but is usually played in two parts with an intermission. The person who leads the quiz is called a quizmaster. The quizmaster ask.s between 40 to 60 questions on many different topics. The answers are usually true or false, multiple choice, or direct response.

You usually have to pay a small fee to participate in the quiz and at the end of the night the winning team gets the majority of the money collected. Sometimes a part of the money collected goes to a local charity.

It is estimated that there are around 20,000 pub quizzes a week in England. Pub quizzes are also becoming common in the US.



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