On Tuesday night, 18 crack teams of students convened at Birmingham's Ikon Gallery for the inaugural iQuiz. Each team had battled through regional heats in November, lured by an unforgettable prize: a two-week trek across America.
The quiz itself was compiled by The Independent and i's indisputable master of arcane trivia, Simon O'Hagan. Simon sets the quiz that appears in The Independent every Saturday, and is, as such, a preposterous fount of esoteric factlets. He had the decency on this occasion to set his questions at a level at least partially comprehensible to the ordinary human brain, though his general knowledge rounds might better have been called highly specific knowledge rounds.
Our intrepid contestants should probably have guessed that a quiz organised by a newspaper might be likely to contain an in-the-news round. Those wise enough to read that morning's i were duly rewarded. Those who hadn't presumably had a harder time of identifying Bamako as Mali's capital, or Eastleigh as the site of a forthcoming by-election.
The stand-out round was the 'hairdressers round'. For some reason – one not even the otherwise omniscient O'Hagan can explain – proprietors of British haircare emporia are unusually keen on punning names for their shops. The object of this round, therefore, was to work out hair-based puns from cryptic clues. For instance, which hairdresser is named after a character from medieval Arabian literature? And which gets its name from the famous Roman general murdered on the Ides of March? (Don't miss i next week for the quiz in full).
The second 'general' knowledge round was actually almost doable, meanwhile, provided one knew the position in John Betjeman's life occupied by Archibald Ormsby-Gore (his teddy bear of course). As it happened, not one team did, but that didn't stop the inscrutable O'Hagan from plotting a teddy bear round in some fiendish future quiz of his. The picture round was almost a respite, although while our teams could be forgiven for not recognising James Joyce or Bjorn Borg, one might have expected Penelope Pitstop and Tina Turner would be more familiar. Western Civilisation needn't quake just yet however; everyone managed Lindsey Lohan.
The quiz came down to the absolute wire. While the markers conducted frantic Florida-style recounts, i editor Stefano Hatfield stepped into the breach with an impromptu Q&A-cum-stand-up routine.
In the end, there were two teams and just one point in it. Commiserations to the God Works In Quizterious Ways, noble battlers from Warwick, who were pipped at the last moment 99 to 100 by Birmingham's surging '50% More Moustache'. The winners' knackered celebrations were testament to a gruelling evening of mental combat.
It couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch: four housemates Jonathan Jones, Richard Tasker, Harry Proud and Harry Thorpe. Their fifth housemate had previously said that if they won, he'd buy tickets for himself and their sixth housemate to fly out and join them. Surely he's got to make good on his promise?
Thanks must go to our sponsors Endsleigh and Trek America, without whose largesse none of this could have been possible, and to the backroom staff at i, whose hard work was similarly indispensable to a night of brilliant fun.
And to the disappointed: there's a second iQuiz in the pipeline. As ever, watch this space.
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