My interest in general knowledge derives from days, weeks, mon-ths – even years, come to think of it – with my nose in encyclopedias. I used to spend a day reading around the questions before each trip to Manchester to record two programmes of University Challenge. In 25 years, there were about 500 recording days. If I am allowed a five-day week and four weeks' holiday a year, that works out at two years and one month of pottering around among random scraps of information.
The experience of asking so many questions, to intelligent and highly competitive students, convinced me there is a broadly definable territory that almost deserves capitals and can be called General Knowledge. It consists of all the information that for many will ring at least a faint bell, however far away in the back of the mind.
If I asked the students a difficult question that nevertheless fell within this territory, there would always be one or two who would look distraught, clasp their hands to their foreheads, sit up very straight, sway back and forth – all symptoms expressing, "Surely, surely, surely I know that." And then, when I gave the answer, there would be an exhalation, a gentle collapse, a smile and the hint of a nod, as if to say, "Yes, of course!"
If a question was way outside the territory, the reaction would be very different – a look of startled bewilderment to be followed, when the unheard-of answer came, by the nearest one can get to expressing outrage in silence.
So what lies within the boundaries of General Knowledge? Most often, the subject is composed of genuinely important things (significant moments or famous people in politics, war, literature, art, entertainment), or because a character is horrible (Scrooge) or endearing (Mr Pooter) or both (Toad), or because a quotation has tickled the public's fancy.
I hope that a fair number of the questions will ring a bell with you. They are often not as hard as they may seem. Like the bonus questions in University Challenge, each round is linked by a common theme which can serve also as a clue. The skilful quiz-player wins not necessarily by knowing the answers but by having sufficient knowledge to make informed guesses. And the skilful quiz-question offers hints as to the range within which those guesses should be made.
Round 1: Inventions
1. What familiar element was first added to a clock one Christmas Day by a Dutch physicist, Christiaan Huygens?
2. For what did Antonio Meucci, an Italian-US immigrant, file an early patent, though Alexander Graham Bell was the first to achieve a functioning version?
3. What part of a ship, of huge seafaring importance, was developed by the Chinese in the 12th or 13th century?
4. Spectacles of what kind, now familiar, were first commissioned from a lens-grinder by Benjamin Franklin?
5. What did French physician René Laënnec invent to avoid the embarrassment of pressing his ear against the bodies of his female patients?
6. Which inventor created, at New Jersey's Menlo Park, what he called his "invention factory"?
7. What device was added to PCs for the first time in a new version of the Apple, launched in 1983?
8. What new writing material is supposed to have been invented by a Chinese eunuch, Ts'ai Lun?
9. Who, in Philadelphia in 1838, demonstrated his improved version of the electric telegraph?
10. The world's earliest known striking clock is still working today – in which building?
Round 2: Theatre
1. What was the simple name of London's first theatre, built by James Burbage?
2. What kind of theatre was launched by Eugène Ionesco's play The Bald Prima Donna?
3. In what kind of theatre did Joseph Lister make a life-saving innovation?
4. Which Russian prime minister was assassinated on a visit to a theatre in Kiev?
5. What great theatrical tradition began when Kanami and Zeami Motokiyo pleased a shogun in the 14th century?
6. Which is the earliest and best surviving example of the classical Greek stage and auditorium?
7. Which designer, the son of Ellen Terry (right), published a manifesto under the title The Art of the Theatre?
8. Which famous movie-theatre organ was first put on the market in 1911?
9. Who assassinated President Lincoln in his box at the theatre?
10. Which six-year-old gave his first professional performance in a pier theatre in New Jersey, with his sister Adele?
Round 3: Painting
1. Which artist, with a studio in Wittenberg, had a profitable line in naked female figures from mythology?
2. Which iconic figure is less well known as Lisa Gherardini?
3. For what type of painting is the Dutch artist Aelbert Cuyp best known?
4. What name is used for the rooms in the Vatican that have frescos by Raphael?
5. Painters of what kind of object developed the blackfigure style in the sixth century BC?
6. What name is given to the style of painting in dots that was developed in particular by Seurat?
7. Which group of people are portrayed in the realistic wax portraits found in coffins at Fayyum?
8. What name is given to the late medieval style of European painting noted for its slender and elegant figures?
9. For what type of painting in particular did the New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (right) become famous?
10. Which French artist caused a sensation with his painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2?
Round 4: Literature
1. In terms of time span, what does Virginia Woolf 's Mrs Dalloway have in common with James Joyce's Ulysses?
2. Which James Fenimore Cooper hero takes the side of a Mohican chief in a novel of the 1820s?
3. In which English school did Tom Brown spend his schooldays?
4. What was the name of the hunchback of Notre Dame?
5. In what vehicle does James have bizarre adventures in a 1961 novel for children by Roald Dahl?
6. What name did Jack Kerouac give to his autobiographical novel about travelling through the US and Mexico?
7. Of which fictional family are Franny and Zooey members?
8. Who was the Scarlet Pimpernel?
9. Whose autobiography was ghost-written by Robert Graves, nearly 19 centuries after his death?
10. What was the name of the irrepressibly optimistic orphan created in the early 20th century by Eleanor Porter?
Round 5: Britain
1. In which British city did the event take place that became known as the Peterloo Massacre?
2. Which two British political parties merged to form the Liberal Democrats?
3. Which artist immortalised some of those who were using London's Underground stations as air-raid shelters?
4. What made Lindow Moss, in Cheshire, famous in 1984?
5. Who wrote the trilogy of plays beginning with Chicken Soup with Barley?
6. What name was given to the dense and rapidly rotating form of star first identified by a Cambridge research student and her supervisor?
7. Which 13-part television series by David Attenborough (left) told the story of evolution in vivid detail ?
8. Whose body was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in 1661?
9. Which was the first stone bridge built anywhere in a tidal waterway?
10. Which march, written by a Royal Marine bandleader in 1914, was made even more famous by a David Lean film?
Round 6: Disasters
1. On which Greek island was the Minoan city of Akrotiri entombed and preserved by a volcanic eruption?
2. Who took hostage an entire theatre audience, resulting in more than 150 deaths?
3. What worldwide disaster, just after the First World War, killed more people than had been killed in the war?
4. Which city was reached and plundered by Celtic tribes in 390BC?
5. From what company's plant did toxic gas escape in Bhopal, with devastating results?
6. Which book by Voltaire was inspired by an earthquake in Lisbon?
7. At which US college were 32 students and teachers killed by a gunman in the worst ever campus massacre?
8. Which Australian city was devastated by Cyclone Tracy one Christmas Day (above)?
9. What made its first appearance in China in 1346 and reached Europe two years later?
10. On which Indonesian island did a volcano erupt in 1883 and cause a massive tsunami?
Round 7: Dictators
1. Saddam Hussein was found hiding in a subterranean hole near which Iraqi town?
2. Where was Cola di Rienzo appointed tribune of the people, enjoying a few months of dictatorial power before the citizens tired of him?
3. Who succeeded Kim Il Sung as dictator in North Korea?
4. Who seized power in Athens in the mid-sixth century BC and ruled for some 30 years as a benevolent dictator?
5. Which dictator of Panama was captured by US troops in the 1990s and taken to Miami on drug trafficking charges?
6. In which Caribbean republic did Rafael Trujillo establish a dictatorship that lasted for 30 years?
7. In which country did Juvénal Habyarimana win power in a military coup in 1973 and rule until his death in a plane crash 21 years later?
8. Who assumed dictatorial powers in Indonesia in the 1950s, operating a policy officially known as "guided democracy"?
9. Which film was the first in which Charlie Chaplin (below) spoke coherent dialogue?
10. Who arrived in Lima in the early 1820s and was granted dictatorial powers in the republic of Peru?
Round 8: Film
1. In what sense was Don Juan, starring John Barrymore, a first in 1926?
2. To which poet does Il Postino deliver mail?
3. Which film by Sergei Eisenstein was set during the Russian Revolution of 1905?
4. Which film of the early 1990s had Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins as co-stars?
5. Which director had a great success with his first film, Pather Panchali?
6. Which nostalgic late-1990s film triggered a cult for Cuban music?
7. In which film, directed by Zhang Yimou, does Gong Li play one of the concubines of a Chinese warlord?
8. In which film did Woody Allen make his screen debut?
9. Which of Laurence Olivier's films, released during the Second World War, had stirring music by William Walton?
10. Which musical film starred the 17-year-old Judy Garland in 1939?
Round 9: Parties
1. Which party emerged in the first years of Islam and caused a major schism?
2. What name did Engels persuade a group of radical Germans to adopt at a congress in London in the 1840s?
3. What shortened name was adopted in 1923 by the South African National Native Congress?
4. Which party, with a pan-Arab political agenda, was founded by Michel Aflaq and others in Syria in the 1940s?
5. What political party was formed in China in the early 20th century, with Sun Yat-sen as one of its leaders?
6. What new name was adopted soon after the First World War by the small German Workers' Party?
7. Who founded the National Party in South Africa early in the 20th century?
8. What name became attached to the rival Republican party formed by Theodore Roosevelt in opposition to William Howard Taft?
9. Which group of Italian revolutionaries emerged in early 19th-century Naples in opposition to French rule?
10. What names were used by the first two political parties in the US, the rival followers of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson?
1. The pendulum (in 1656, in The Hague).
2. The telephone (Meucci's patent was filed in 1871; the first coherent spoken message was conveyed by Bell's machine in 1876).
3. The sternpost rudder (a rudder which is an integral part of the ship, introduced in about 1200).
4. Bifocals (in 1784, when Franklin was irritated by needing two pairs of glasses).
5. The stethoscope (in 1816).
6. Thomas Edison (it opened in 1876).
7. The mouse.
8. Paper (in AD105).
9. Samuel Morse (his version was capable of transmitting messages over much longer distances than previously).
10. Salisbury Cathedral (the clock was installed in 1386 and tells the time only by striking the hours).
1. The Theatre (built in 1576).
2. The Theatre of the Absurd (in 1950).
3. The operating theatre (he introduced carbolic acid and antiseptic surgery in 1865).
4. Pyotr Stolypin (in 1911).
5. Japanese Noh theatre (in 1374; the shogun was Yoshimitsu).
6. Epidaurus (built around 340BC).
7. Edward Gordon Craig (the manifesto was published in 1905).
8. The Wurlitzer (produced by Rudolph Wurlitzer's company).
9. John Wilkes Booth (in 1865).
10. Fred Astaire (in 1906).
1. Lucas Cranach the Elder (from about 1525).
2. The Mona Lisa (Gherardini is the most probable candidate for Leonardo's sitter in this portrait, in about 1505).
3. Landscapes (often with cows), in the mid-17th century.
4. The Stanze (meaning simply "rooms" in Italian; Raphael began work on them in 1509).
5. Greek vases (c. 550BC).
6. Pointillism (though Seurat himself preferred the term Divisionism; from about 1885).
7. Romans living in Egypt (the portraits date from about AD100).
8. International Gothic (c. 1400).
9. Graffiti (he died of an overdose in 1988).
10. Marcel Duchamp (in 1912).
1. The events described in both take place within a single day (Ulysses was published in 1922 and Mrs Dalloway in 1925).
2. Natty Bumppo, the hero of all Cooper's "Leatherstocking Tales" (The Last of the Mohicans was published in 1826).
3. Rugby (Thomas Hughes's novel Tom Brown's Schooldays was published in 1857).
4. Quasimodo (in Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, published in 1831).
5. A giant peach (in James and the Giant Peach).
6. On the Road (1957).
7. The Glass family, created by J D Salinger (Franny and Zooey, published in 1961, was his second volume of stories about the family).
8. Sir Percy Blakeney (who rescued French aristocrats from the guillotine in Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel, published in 1905).
9. The Roman emperor Claudius (Claudius died in AD54; I, Claudius was published in 1934).
10. Pollyanna, or Pollyanna Whittier (Pollyanna was published in 1913 and was followed by numerous spin-offs throughout the century).
1. Manchester (in 1819, magistrates ordered troops to fire on a crowd of demonstrators, killing 11 and wounding 500).
2. The Liberals and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), in 1988.
3. Henry Moore (in 1940, when he was working as an official war artist, in hisseries of drawings in the Underground).
4. The discovery in peat of the well-preserved body now known as Lindow Man (he died in about 50BC, possibly a sacrificial victim of the Druids, and is now in the British Museum).
5. Arnold Wesker (Chicken Soup with Barley was first performed in 1958, followed by Roots in 1959 and I'm Talking about Jerusalem in 1960).
6. Pulsar (identified in 1967 by Jocelyn Bell and Anthony Hewish).
7. Life on Earth (first broadcast in 1979).
8. Oliver Cromwell (even though he had died in 1658; his body was exhumed for the occasion in 1661, after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660).
9. London Bridge (construction began in 1176).
10. "Colonel Bogey" (written by Kenneth Alford in 1914; it was used as a musical theme in The Bridge on the River Kwai in 1957).
1. Thera, or Santorini (c. 1525BC).
2. Chechen terrorists (in Moscow in 2002).
3. A pandemic of influenza (which caused about 30 million deaths in 1918–19).
4. Rome, after the tribes had pushed south through the Alps.
5. Union Carbide (more than 20,000 deaths resulted from the 1984 accident).
6. Candide (his satire on optimism, which was prompted by the earthquake of 1755 and published in 1759).
7. Virginia Tech (in 2007).
8. Darwin (in 1974).
9. The Black Death.
1. Tikrit, the town of his birth (the farm where he was found, in 2003, is part of a small agricultural town, Ad-Dawr).
2. In Rome (in 1347).
3. His son Kim Jong-Il (in 1994).
4. Peisistratus (in 560BC).
5. Manuel Noriega (in 1990).
6. The Dominican Republic (in 1930).
8. Achmed Sukarno (in 1959).
9. The Great Dictator (1940).
10. Simón Bolívar (in 1823).
1. It was the first film with a soundtrack (in this case, a synchronised musical score; the first "talkies" followed a year later, in 1927).
2. Pablo Neruda (in the Oscar-winning film of 1994).
3. The Battleship Potemkin (1925).
4. The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
5. Satyajit Ray (in 1955).
6. Buena Vista Social Club (a documentary by Wim Wenders, released in 1999).
7. Raise the Red Lantern (1991).
8. What's New Pussycat? (1965).
9. Henry V (1944 – Walton also wrote the score for Olivier's Richard III in 1955).
10. The Wizard of Oz (directed by Victor Fleming).
1. The Shi'a Party (the schism was over the issue of succession after the death in AD661 of Muhammad's son-in-law, the fourth caliph, Ali).
2. The Communist League, or Communists (in 1847).
3. The African National Congress (ANC).
4. The Ba'ath Party (founded in about 1943, subsequently establishing dictatorships in both Syria and Iraq).
5. The Guomindang, or Nationalist Party (in 1910).
6. The National Socialist German Workers' Party, shortened to the Nazi Party (in 1920; Adolf Hitler was already a leading member).
7. J M Hertzog, to represent Afrikaner interests (in 1914).
8. The Bull Moose Party (so called after a reporter asked Roosevelt about his health during the campaign and he replied that he felt like a bull moose, in 1912).
9. The Carbonari (first appeared in 1806).
10. The Federalists' following Hamilton and the Republicans' supporting Jefferson (from 1792).
Extracted from 'Bamber Gascoigne's Challenging Quiz Book', published by Penguin on 1 November at £7.99. Copyright © Bamber Gascoigne 2007. To order a copy of the book, with free postage and packaging, call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798897Reuse content