How the OECD Quiz changed my life

Rory Clarke, member of winning team, the Quizzicals, January 2002 and OECD quizmaster, Sep 2002-Dec 2019

To be right or not to be right, that is the question. Or at least it is the one that concerns anyone who has ever sat on a quiz team. But what if you are asking the questions?

As a kid, after lights out, my brother and I would trade questions in the dark. He was always better than me. Exotic questions, like: Who won the first World Cup? Which is the farthest planet? Spell Orangutan? Then there were the quizzes on telly, like University Challenge where odd-looking students answered odd questions from an odd chap called Bamber Gascoigne. What great names quiz masters had! Another was Magnus Magnusson, the Icelandic presenter of Mastermind, a cryptic BBC quiz show often won by cab drivers.

Quizzes are great levellers; lawyers lose, window-cleaners win. Winners require luck and clear minds. ‘Quizzicals’, led by Belinda Hopkinson, won the OECD quiz last January: we had a lawyer on our team, but thankfully we all probably do a spot of window-cleaning now and then as well. It was teamwork, yet each member had a heroic moment. Mine was to identify a photo of actress Jenny Agutter swimming in a pond in a 1970’s Australian movie called Walkabout! How did I remember that? I only saw the movie once on telly when I was about 8. And wait, how did the quiz masters come up with it?

My interest in that supreme role grew. So, the OECD’s own sharp interrogators – the Cutts – granted me a quiz-master stage. Suddenly the battle was to come up with ‘the question’, the one that would have them all gasping in amazement. We each had a go: Which country won the first Olympic gold for rugby? Where were Andy Warhol’s parents brought up? What is the little red thing called that dangles at the back of your throat? How many children did Austria’s Empress Marie-Teresa have?

Four rounds of 15 questions were asked to 122 participants. Several got the above right. Only one team recognised the Chinese national anthem and only one guessed that the OECD Observer would be 40 this year. One of Monique Legroux’s five photos was not identified by anyone and only one or two questions had everyone fooled. But none of these were one’s I thought of!

So, from the quiz masters’ viewpoint, what makes a quiz exciting? A good question or not a good question. That is the answer.

I was quizmaster of the OECD ALORA Quiz until the last one 2019. This article originally appeared in the OECD staff magazine Atmosphere in October 2002.

©Rory Story/Real Terms 2020

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