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05th March 2013

Exonian enters European Quiz Championships

In 2012 Jeremy Holt (1974, Jurisprudence) entered the European Quiz Championships. Here he recounts the experience of competing against Europe’s finest quiz brains, including some well-known TV faces. 


Last year I took part in the European Quiz Championships in Estonia.  This may sound impressive but it is not; anyone can enter.

A friend (who has appeared in every quiz competition you can think of) said he was going and he invited me to accompany him.  Through my involvement in quizzes with him I had become intrigued by the quiz world and those who take part in it.

The Quiz itself took place over a weekend in Tartu, Estonia.  Tartu has the most prestigious university in Estonia so I suppose it is the Oxford of Estonia.  (It certainly is not the Cambridge!) There was a variety of quizzes – team, individual, knock-out, and specialist subjects.  You could start at 10am and go on quizzing until 2am the following day if you wanted to (and some people certainly did).  The participants were interesting as a group: the competitive quiz world is largely populated by intense people (overwhelmingly male); a psychiatrist would have had a field day with the amount of OCD present (verging on autism in some cases).

The questions were read out in English twice and projected in English on a big screen.  Answers could be given in any major European language.  At the end of each quiz answer papers were swapped with other contestants for marking.  There is an art to asking a good quiz question.  It has to be capable of only one answer.  Hell has no fury to compare with a contestant whose answer is wrongly marked.

The question that I was asked most when I returned was: what were the questions like?  They were fiendishly difficulty – if you thought that a question was easy there was fair chance you had the wrong answer.  I think that my heart sank lowest when a question started:

“Which famous third-century Egyptian alchemist…”

One of the other British contestants told me that he had once taken part in a quiz in the UK that had the question “Which well-known contemporary Bolivian sculptor…”

I’m pleased to say that the British won the national title (beating Finland in the final) and Kevin Ashman and Pat Gibson (both of “Egghead” fame) won the doubles.  I was impressed by the fact that there were no prizes, financial or physical.  The winning is enough.

I travelled back with a number of other British contestants.  I could not help but notice one who spent the entire journey reading the Penguin Encyclopaedia looking for possible questions whilst another analysed quiz answers from a quiz he had been in the previous month.  One can never be too well prepared for the next quiz….

By Jeremy Holt

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