Page last updated at 07:39 GMT, Thursday, 4 March 2010

Should phones be banned from pub quizzes?

By Greg McKevitt
BBC News

'No googling' sign outside Pavilion Bar
The Pavilion Bar in south Belfast has banned mobile phones from its quiz

The integrity of pub quizzes used to be beyond question, but the advent of text messaging in the late 1990s has heralded an era of cheating.

Otherwise honest people, corrupted by a combination of alcohol and the desire to win promotional t-shirts, were reduced to seeking outside help from friends.

With the burgeoning popularity of internet-equipped devices such as iPhones making things even worse, one Belfast bar has taken the drastic step of putting up a sign outside saying mobile phones are banned during their pub quiz.

Stephen Duffy has been running a quiz night on Thursdays at the Pavilion bar on the Ormeau Road for the past four months. He says frustration with persistent cheaters led to the sign being put up last week.

"It's a pain for us quiz-setters - you just have to appeal to their better nature," he says.

He also runs a quiz in the Eglantine Inn near Queen's University on Tuesdays, and he says cheating is more common among the younger crowd.

It could be the death of the pub quiz as we know it
Stephen Duffy
Quiz master

"The crowd in the Pavilion is a bit older and can remember a time before mobile phones, and their phones wouldn't be as advanced as ones owned by younger people," he says.

"If we catch you cheating there's a 10-point penalty and if we catch you again, you're booted out. Luckily we've only had to do that once."

Mr Duffy says he tries to come up with questions which can't be found quickly on the internet but it's getting harder all the time.

"Somebody was telling me they're bringing out face-recognition software so you'll even be able to cheat in the picture round - it could be the death of the pub quiz as we know it," he says.

A few metres down the Ormeau Road, the Errigle Inn has taken some measures to deter surreptitious browsing at its Monday night pub quiz, but manager Phil McGurran says it's "more about having fun than testing people's knowledge".

If you take it too seriously it becomes less enjoyable
Phil McGurran
Errigle Inn

"We throw a few rounds in where people can't search for the answers - what we have been doing is putting one answer on the pub website so people visit that before coming along," he says.

"We might ask multiple-choice questions where there's no way someone's going to get the answer off their phone.

"You can bring in all sorts of rules where you get docked points if you're caught, but it goes against the spirit of the quiz - if you take it too seriously it becomes less enjoyable."

Although many people see it as a bit of harmless fun, mobile phone use remains a hot topic for many aggrieved quizzers.

Regular quiz-goer Emmet Norris says it's frustrating to know an answer but then see rivals search for it on their mobiles.

"When you're losing a quiz after only getting three questions wrong all night, it takes a bit of the fun out of it," he says.

It's not really a quiz, it's a test of computer knowledge and phone skills
Emmet Norris

"Pub quizzes are trying to eradicate this by coming up with obscure and vague questions - a good question master will come up with ways of separating the wheat from the chaff.

"They've also changed their music rounds because there's an iPhone app called Shazam which recognises what song is playing.

"I'm a bit of a sad freak when it comes to music, and that round would have given our team a bit of an edge - it's not really a quiz, it's a test of computer knowledge and phone skills."

According to a survey published at the weekend, knowledge of soap storylines and minor celebrities is more important than having a high IQ.

It suggests the answer may be to include more females in your team, rather than relying on your mobile phone.

Hive mind

The survey of more than 2,000 adults found women knew less about facts and figures but more about famous people.

Given the inevitability of punters bringing their mobile devices, the organisers of the Hive Mind Challenge in London may have hit upon the future of pub quizzing.

Billed as "the quiz where you're meant to cheat", it encourages participants to use search engines and Twitter to find answers to obscure questions, such as the height of the Eiffel Tower (324 metres).

In the first such event last November in Soho's Coach and Horses, participants were asked the ungoogleable question, "agtaq gufnx mbvrp eselx vurnm xsmqc aqzxa gakro altam yrvtn tpqzy vgnbx nofqw gonov?" (the answer is Station X )

Although this sounds like an intriguing idea, it seems more like hard work than a fun night out for most people.

While devices which jam mobile phone signals remain illegal, it looks like the golden era of pub quiz cheating is here to stay.



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