The FWSE Round answered

It started with just one of those cool things you hear when on the Internet. The Vijay Iyer Trio’s cover version of M.I.A’s ‘Galang’. I hadn’t heard of the band before, and was impressed by Iyer’s piano-playing on the song, great their interpretation of the song. Obviously, this is not a question you can ask in a standard quiz – not many people would have heard ‘Galang’. One should not really ask which song is being covered when the cover is so radically different and the original is hardly that famous.

So I came up with the question ‘The song is a cover from the X’s first album, which is named after X’s father. X’s second album is named after X’s mother, and the third album is named after X. ID X and all three albums.” A nice way to play a song that I like and make a question out of the fact that M.I.A’s albums have this naming convention. And if I guess right, her next album will be named after her baby. To be very honest, I was not too happy about the question because it seemed too self-indulgent, in addition to being badly phrased. When I started thinking of the round where I could ask people to search, I was searching around for a ‘hook’ – some topic that could jump out into multiple strands of trivia. M.I.A seemed a nice way to start this off. And definitely not because I thought Maya was among the awesomest albums of 2010.

So, what did we know about M.I.A? The breakout track for her was ‘Paper Planes’, which featured in the trailer to Pineapple Express before it went stratospheric in Slumdog Millionaire. Not many people know that the backing guitar riff to ‘Paper Planes’ was a sample of The Clash’s ‘Straight To Hell’. (Yeah, even I didn’t, until I checked out the Wikipedia entry sometime early last year.) In quizzing circles, well, at least in those cycles where people occasionally name-drop Hipgnosis as answers to any question involving multiple album covers, the Clash’s London Calling is well-known for the way it copied the fonts of Elvis Presley’s first studio album.

Pineapple Express refers to a weather phenomenon, and the whole Judd Apatow/Seth Rogen/James Franco cartel connection was ripe for the picking for a convoluted connect. Franco obviously tied into Danny Boyle and Slumdog Millionaire, the other M.I.A tangent, because he stars in Boyle’s latest 127 Hours. Rogen and Green Hornet get a nod, as do Franco and Spiderman. And Freaks and Geeks, hell yeah.

Slumdog Millionaire leads us to Vikas Swarup and QnA, and the South African Boeke Prize (the list of awardees makes it clear that there is some kind of Indian bestseller list tie-up with the way the Boeke jury thinks). There was also the case of Danny Boyle thanking Anurag Kashyap in his movie, and Kashyap returning the favor in Dev D because Boyle suggested the use of a still camera for Dev’s drug-trip scenes. Dev D led to Sarat Chandra and Devdas and its multiple adaptations, and Sarat Chandra to Parineeta and its multiple adaptations as well, which also covered the obligatory Lit part of the MELA.

Hmm, yeah, ‘face to face with’ is ‘Roobaroo’, in Urdu. Naresh Iyer and Vijay Iyer have nothing in common except for their family name, but who am I to avoid a gratuitous Rahman reference if I can help it?


The FWSE Round

I recently conducted the Entertainment quiz at Nihilanth 2011, the somewhat-but-not-quite Annual Inter IIT-IIM quiz festival. This makes it the nth consecutive time I’ve conducted a quiz at Nihilanth since it began in 2003. (‘n’ referring to a number less than 10, can also be interpreted as a number I am too half-arsed to calculate precisely, at the moment. Readers? Anyone with deep research skills and the ability to wade through scores of Google results from Half-Life forums?) For those who came in late, MELA refers to Music (or Movies, I never really remember) Entertainment Literature (and) Arts, which essentially gives me carte blanche to do any quiz at all – after all, even sports is entertainment, isn’t it? So’s business, as I’ve heard. Yeah, I am just being evil, so ignore the last two lines.While there has been the occasional glitch in the Matrix –  I did the Lit and Arts quiz in IIM Calcutta in 2005,and slightly tongue-in-cheek, called it the ‘MELA without ME’ quiz, and the India quiz last year at IIM Ahmedabad – the MELA, has always beenmyquiz, even through my two-year sabbatical from quizzing.

Well, until this year. Nihilanth 2011 might probably be the last quiz I do in the foreseeable future, because of some life-altering stuff going on. Well, if there’s a fair amount of time coordination possible i.e if I get enough advance notice, I would definitely try to make it if I am invited again, but not holding my breath. So anyway, because this was the Last MELA (which, I noticed just now, disturbingly abbreviates to LaME, if you are the sort of person to find abbreviated patterns in Any Random Phrase That You Read, ARPTYR for short) – I figured I should make it a little more interesting than your average written-round-clockwise-round-special-round-anticlockwise-round-theme-the end! quiz.

And I did, I totally did. I came up with a Google round. Actually no, I came up with a FWSE round – for trivia buffs, yes, I am talking to you, the guy that’s still reading this and has not closed the window already – the name change is because of a question asked by Vijay Menon in his Biz/Tech quiz, the only one I could attend part of. Shamanth’s Lone Wolf Quiz was already done the previous evening, and the man was just packing his bags to leave for a relaxing tour of the countryside near some resort in Bengal, some place called Naxalbari (that serves excellent Naxalia berries, from which the place gets its name. Yes, I should probably stop now.) I had an early-morning flight from Guwahati because of which I fell asleep just when the India quiz was due to begin, and later on, people raved about it and I felt stupid for missing it. Left early Sunday, so could not attend Ramanand’s General quiz on Sunday either.

So, the FWSE Round. The rules are fairly simple – you have 15 minutes to crack the round. Feel free to use a FWSE of your choice. The only handicap I will add  is that you do not get to hear the audio that starts the theme and the fact that the last clue refers to a question asked previously in the quiz. No anagrams or word puzzles of any sort to muddle up the facts. And yes, if you read carefully, you will get most of them. I will probably give out the answers tomorrow, so you don’t really have to comment and say how many you got, no really, it’s all good. Ok? Ok.

(If you are on Google reader and you cannot see the slideshare embedded here, you should probably just come to the blog)


The making of a theme round

(Note: If you are reading this on a feed-reader and you don’t see the Slideshow embedded into the page, you should probably click on the actual post link and read it first. Trust me.)

Every time I am done with a quiz, in addition to the ‘thank you’s and the ‘great show’s that come my way (and the occasional “you call that a quiz?”), there are a few individuals who ask me – “How do you come up with the questions?” Unfortunately, the moment just after the quiz is also the precise instant the adrenaline rush is wearing off, and you realize that you’ve been on your feet for a few hours, and your throat hurts like mad from speaking a little too loud. So the typical answers come out – “I read, and I watch movies, and sometimes the questions just come to you.” Which is all true, but does not really cover the mechanics that go into making a quiz question “sing”, to use a metaphor badly.

While I will go into details of making a quiz question – my personal experience of it, that is – in a future post, I thought it would be nice to write about one round in particular, of a quiz I did this weekend. Why this quiz, and this round, you ask? Well, because I came up with the idea of the theme, and the questions, in about an hour or so, on Saturday morning, when my flight to the venue – IIM Ahmedabad – was just a few hours away. I normally do not cut things so close, but the joys of late-night intercontinental conference calls forced my hand, alas. But the positive part of it was that coming up with this round left me feeling very pleased with myself. It was an India quiz for Nihilanth, the inter-IIT-IIM quiz-fest. Until a few days ago, I had thought about including a theme involving Kamal Hassan movies – which turned out heavily South-India oriented and I dropped the idea. Not all quizzes need theme rounds, so I gave up the idea and focussed on a round made entirely of connect questions.

Somehow I got to reading about the Bharat Ratna – and the part about living recipients caught my eye. Voila, six people, and all of them quiz-worthy individuals. I had the answers to my theme questions, all I needed now were the questions themselves.

Now here’s a confession – every quiz I work on does its best to transform itself into an entertainment quiz – making it almost a matter of pride for me nowadays to keep the ent questions to a minimum. Considering that I was running short of time, and because the quiz was otherwise balanced enough  – and, heh, to add a little misdirection, I thought about making the questions ent-based. So the first question became the most obvious one – Lata Mangeshkar and her brief career as actor and music composer. Old chestnut, phrased in a gender-neutral way, with the answer directly connecting to the theme.

Now the second question in the theme is important, because as soon as the first one is answered, the participants are processing multiple possibilities to which the first answer can relate. An obvious answer, and you find your theme cracked in the second question, and one does not want that, really. So, instead of going with Amartya Sen directly, the question became about his daughter. The answer “Raja Ravi Varma” was completely unrelated to the theme ( as I would inform the participants as the quiz progressed), but hey, you could see Nandana Sen in the poster.

For the third question, I had multiple options – there was the one about Ravi Shankar having “remixed” Saara Jahaan Se Accha for the Doordarshan theme music, there were possible Beatles questions, maybe something about Anoushka Shankar ( the thought of which I ditched immediately, because two father-daughter connects would have been a bit too much ). Maybe something about the Grammies, because of the recent Indian nominations? But then a little serendipity came into play – just that morning, I had heard Nitin Sawhney’s soundtrack to The Namesake, and I remembered reading his comment Shankar’s soundtrack for Pather Panchali on the Guardian’s Top 50 OSTs list. Brief googling and yes, I had the precise context, and I remembered that I also had the PP soundtrack somewhere as part of another album. Couldn’t find it, and decided to play one of The Namesake tracks instead. Another question down.

Nelson Mandela’s question was straightforward – though there was the brief temptation to hunt for the comic that was made on his life and ask something on it. But Invictus was more relevant, it had just come out last December and was an Oscar contender. Since it was based on a book, and the book was not called Invictus, there you go. Straightforward, slightly long-winded, mostly-guessable question.

With Kalam, I was completely out of ideas. Time was running out, and I had absolutely no desire to go looking for his poetry or quotes from his books – there is a Rahman song written around his lyrics but again, too much work. So settled for reading his Wikipedia entry, and hell yeah, his Hoover medal, how did I forget that? Done, and sorry, I knew it wasn’t ent-oriented, but there’re compromises a man’s gotta make when he’s running out of time, and this was one of them.

Which left us with the last question, the one on Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, and I didn’t have to think twice. The first question of the preliminary round of the quiz was – “What was the first instrument seen on the video of Phir Mile Sur Mera Tumhara?” It was only fair to have the last question of the quiz to be about the original Mile Sur video, and yup, it made me happy to end the quiz on that note. One might argue that my quest for closure in my quiz made the last question too easy. But two points you have to understand – at this point of the quiz, there would be the people who had already cracked the theme, so chances that they knew the answer already was very high. And this being a college quiz, the percentage of the demographic who had seen the original video of Mile Sur was, in my opinion, very low.

Endgame: So, did it work out the way I had planned? Not really. For starters, mentioning that the theme was exhaustive kept everyone guessing. As expected, the second question proved misleading enough. But the unforeseen problem-child was the Pather Panchali question, which had everyone thinking Satyajit Ray instead of Ravi Shankar – a train of thought I had …uh…neglected to take into account. Obviously Ray was also a Bharat Ratna recipient, but one very much dead, defeating my theme squarely. It had participants guessing things like ‘people who received highest civilian awards from multiple countries’, or ‘Indians who have won the Legion d’Honneur”. Oh well, they did get it at the end, but in hindsight, I should probably have mentioned Ravi Shankar as the connect, would have made things much easier.

So there you go, an insight into how a theme was made. Not my favorite bunch of questions, and not the greatest theme of all time, but a quick and dirty way of doing it. Mind you, going in reverse is not the only way to go about creating a theme round. Maybe I will talk about the other way in another post, or maybe this post will get some proper quiz-masters to talk about the mechanics of creating a quiz on their blogs.


On The Quiz Trail vol 3

Three quizzes. Loads of Cadbury’s Gift Boxes as audience prizes. Good food. A press conference. Yes, I meant press conference, the kind with bright lights going off in your face and questions being asked. Not the one with the impatient washermen. And the famed Big Basu. Definitely a day to remember.

Arul Mani’s Science and Tech Quiz was the most engaging scientific trip ever! We spent some time talking, and man, is he god or what…

Somewhere down the line, I learnt that he was a major comics/crime-fiction/sci-fi buff. Heh heh heh.

Saw a little more of the IIM campus today. The quizzes were being held in the new campus, which is quite far from the city. Most of the construction is complete, and the first-year students have classes going on here. The second-year students are too addicted to the LAN in the old campus, and because the Intranet hasn’t been set up in the new hostels, they haven’t moved yet. The campus is atop a hill, kind of resembles REC Silchar minus the lakes.

The two quizzes in the morning were chill-out sessions for me. The audience prizes were HUGE boxes of chocolates and since I was in the first row and since the guy holding the boxes was sitting next to me, there was this constant stream of chocolate boxes our way. I never thought I would get tired of hogging Cadbury’s chocolates, apparently I thought wrong.

Anil and his team won three quizzes, by the way. Way to go, dude!

Gautam Ghosh’s quiz was ok, standard calcutta fare, not exactly my cup of tea. Enjoyed some bits of it, loathed some parts.

At about five, the Lone Wolf and Science/Tech quizzes are over. I am sitting there talking to Arul when BAM! Suki comes along with this bald guy and says “This is Satyajit Chetri” and I think it’s some sponsor or maybe the Principal and then realise that oh gosh this is him. He looked pretty different, you know. And the booming voice we hear on TV is obviously something he turns on along with the spotlight and the cameras. True showmanship. But the charm, the smile is always there. You can never catch him off his guard.

We are then hustled onto the podium for the “press conference”. Most of the time, it’s Le Basu answering questions (including an awful one comparing his accent with Derek O’Brien’s, the reporter sure deserved a Razzie for this one…)and fielding the rest to Gautam Ghosh. Arun and I mumble politely every time we’re asked something ( which is not too frequently) and then somebody asks something about comparing quizzers of bygone days with the quizzers of today, and I find the mike shoved towards me ( very politely, of course ) and I blabber something that sounds very asinine when I think about it now. I get a lot of polite applause, of course. Very Diplomatic, these IIM people.

Anyways, I also corrected Gautam Ghosh’s comment about Nihilanth being the first Quiz Festival in India. I did remember to credit RVCE’s Under The Peepul Tree and then went ahead and mentioned Trivium. However, I did say that Nihilanth was the best Quiz Fest I have been to so far. Which is, frankly, true.

The General Quiz at the end went off quite well, with slight technical hitches. it was conducted in the open-air theatre and was followed by a sumptous dinner. Good-byes ( and a lot of business cards) were exchanged. Note to myself: Next time, get more freakin’ cards along, dumbo.

I leave for Hyderabad tomorrow. I will miss Sayaji Grande. I wish I had a little space in my tummy to order and eat a Chicken Stroganoff now.

It seems Arul, me and Gautam Ghosh have the same flight to Mumbai. Arul says he knows a shop in Bandra that sells pretty good books. Aah.

And everyone was still praising my quiz. I actually had a guy come to me and ask about tips on becoming a Quizmaster. I actually engaged in lively banter with Siddharth Basu. Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.


On The Quiz Trail vol 2

So it’s over.

I believe mine was the quiz with the longest prelims – 42 questions in all, 22 dries, 11 visuals and 9 audio – which took a far longer time than it should have because of technical glitches that creep in at every quiz. Like, the projector didn’t start, and then the speakers didn’t work ( or rather, they did work in a druggie mode, with a very high-pitched sound that crept in along with the music being played ) Then another problem happened to be the scarcity of xeroxes of question-papers – which resulted in my reading out questions 16-22. And, boy oh boy, my longest questions were part of the prelims, only so that I wouldn’t have to read ’em out.

But it went well, all of it. Gautam Ghosh scared me, when he took a look at the question paper and said – “This is way too tough.” And then I told him some of the answers and he was pretty happy, because they weren’t as oddball as he had thought. And after the prelims, when I started reading out the answers, the response was …awesome. All the teams seemed to get quite a lot of answers.

In a nutshell, then, it was a good quiz. Sure, there were people who came and said that they had been to lots of quizzes before, but none as good as this one( to which I could just give a silly grin and go “purrrrr” in my head), and there were some who wanted me to conduct quizzes at their respective institutes ( I controlled myself from asking “how much are your paying?”, too much enthu is not good ), but there was also Dhaaji, who absolutely refused to call me to be the QM for any of the IIMB quizzes because I had given a team 10 points for indentifying a band singing Strawberry Fields as the Beatles. Which, I admit, was a mistake I made today, the only one, to be precise.

There were loads of unasked questions – dries, visuals and audio. The special round I had thought of, called “One Giant Leap” ( eight topics, three questions for each topic, +1, +3, +5 points for a hop, a skip, or a jump question ) was also put on hold – all because there was no time, and at some part of it, my back started aching real bad, and I started to get the feeling I was stretching things too much.

Later, somebody told me that I could have extended it by two hours and they would have sat through it.

Hmm, this is doing wonders for my confidence.