Saturday, August 26, 2006

Mull-har Quizzing

Earlier, it was a long post about my two days at Malhar '06. Now for the heart-wrenching tale that shall wring blood out of rocks i.e. the quizzing events.

As recounted before, in each quizzing event, the team I was part of made it to the final, which made a trip back to 'har unavoidable. Thankfully, administrivially, the place was much more welcoming on finals day than on elims day. I had read tales that made me shiver and was hoping to experience more of the same (on the Tolstoy-ski principle that every good quiz is like another, but every bad quiz is unique - and memorable - in its own way)

The Entertainment Quiz
The first bit of surprise was the news that Harsha Bhogle was going to host the quiz. This considerably dampened my spirits because here was Harsha reducing the probability that this would turn out to be a bad quiz :-) However, since people have told me that Harsha's quizmastering is probably the best by a celebrity host, I was keen to experience this first-hand.

This perception turned out to be true. He is easily the best celeb host I have experienced. Courteous to all the quizzers (and here's where you pay attention Derek) but very audience-friendly too without needing to pander to the LCD. We had 4 IIT teams in the final with Ruparel being a slightly surprised 5th team. The questions and format were Xaviers' own.

The format was disappointing. All questions on direct, except during the specialities. With such a format, you really don't need all teams on stage during the finals! Just call us when you want to ask our directs and we'll show up, thank you. When I raised this later, Harsha defended the organisers saying passing would have taken up a lot more time, but that excuse isn't good enough I'm afraid. It's like letting each football team play against an open goal without the other team for a half and vice versa. I could easily know all the answers to the others' questions except my own and do badly. Sadness reigns. During the specialities, there was this silly option of "throwing" questions to other teams - a gimmick I detest because it's just that: a gimmick, and doesn't add much to the enjoyment of audiences or participants either.

The questions, however, turned out to be decent. At least the 1st half did. The good ones were in the rounds of movies, music and a connect round where the audio accompanying the video was different and the two had to be connected to each other. The a/v connects were pretty good, but a grouse was the fact that the answers to most questions were the names of the directors of the movie in the video (a fact we exploited in one question where we simply guessed the name of the director w/o knowing the audio part properly). Since we led from start (to finish), our specialities ended up being classical (the 2nd last team picked up jazz) in which we ended up with a net gain of zero. Their intentions in including things like classical were noble, but the questions did not stand up - people get put off by such genres precisely because we don't often ask the interesting questions.

The second half was quite obscure: questions on games, comics, football world cup (incredibly vague!). In the last specialities, we ended up with Arts which we did reasonably well (2nd last team picked up Theatre, which we actually would have got about 4 out of 5). We ended up winning fairly comfortably in a quiz not too tainted by obscure stuff and obviously hosted very well. This was not the 'har quizzing show I had been promised!

The "Major" Quiz
There is a certain inevitability in life. If you've done something long enough (I believe they call it "experience", and it euphemistically veils the scars), you can sometimes sense how things are going to turn out. That feeling was finally bought to fruition at the "Military/Political" quiz.

Now I have very little knowledge about the genre of Military trivia, but listening to a few questions over the last few years, I became somewhat cognisant of many interesting themes in that area. Shivaji and Kunal S. of the BC have been the local experts, and when Kunal did an introductory Mil quiz at the BC for the rest of us, I found it quite interesting. In complete contrast, the Malhar elims had hardly any questions on the military side. The political side was riddled with old questions and vague ones drafted in by express post from trivia websites. But would the elims feign a "camp" flavour and disappoint, a la the morning?

As soon as the quiz started (about 45 mins late), I knew we were in for quite an evening. A tale potentially to be single-toothedly told to avid grandchildren (or perhaps grand-nephews/nieces, depending on how the life-plot pans out) beside the fireplace was guaranteed to unfold. The reason for this was the fact that our lady-host launched into a "welcome one and all" (never a good sign) that re-introduced Einstein's famous quote about the 4th World War to be fought with sticks. The long opening speech involved mentions of millenial conflict (there was something wrong factually somewhere which I regret I have forgotten) and harangues on imperial hegemony and such-like (I may be wrong with the passage of time, but that's what it sounded like). We were then introduced to the rounds. It seemed like the 1st three rounds were normal (normal == mutated in the circumstances) leading to the elimination of one team, followed by a military strategy round, after which there would be more extremely prejudicial dismissals followed by ellipsis. ("ellipsis" because what was to unfold over the next couple of hours would wipe everyone's memory clean). At that time, I thought I hadn't heard the "military strategy" bit properly. Wait, wait, said my guardian devil before vanishing temporarily in a puff of hell-fire.

Mercifully, they had "passing" this time (with d&p of course). The 1st round had 4 questions (direct) for each team, in batches of two. They passed along if teams didn't answer. The 1st two sets, to Govt. Law College and St. Xaviers, were answered directly. Predictably, we (who were in the middle of the pack) did not answer any of our directs in the first phase. Symbiosis Law (Suvojit and co.) did well while I don't know what the other IIT team did. The second phase moved on the same lines. The main points of interest here were the tendency of the guy operating the presentation to occasionally show the answer before the teams could, and of the QM to forget to pass the question and give the answer herself.

Round two was crazy in its novelty. Each team picked 5 out of 7 topics (such as "assassinations", "world wars", "spies" et al) - everyone was offered the same 7 topics - and answered two questions on each. The scoring was something that Calvinball could pick up. It went something like this: you answer your directs correctly, and you get 10. If you get it wrong, another team could answer it costing you -5. If they got it wrong, they got -2 and you wouldn't lose any points. Or something of that sort. Soon, all teams realised that if you answered another teams qn on them passing, you couldn't make any points of your own. You could merely hurt them by doing so - "for the sadistic pleasure of doing so":: quote by QM (paraphrased). So this meant that for 5 teams x 5 topics x 2 questions each = 50 qns, passing had no relevance. There was no incentive for anyone to guess answers apart from the ones receiving the directs. As a result, for over 75% of the passed qns, people didn't attempt. This had the happy side-effect of speeding up the quiz, though. In the middle, there was a collective memory lapse and no one (including an increasingly befuddled-looking scorer) seemed to be sure of the points system. At the end of this round, we ended up leading the quiz by a bit, and frankly, we had no idea how. There were a bunch of out-of-a-Bela-Lugosi-film vague questions and factual errors such as referring to Tony Blair as a "Head of State" (He is "Head of Govt") and an incorrect question asking "In her film debut, Aishwarya Rai played roles based on two CMs of Tamil Nadu - name them" (Rai played just the Jayalalitha character; the other based on Janaki was played by Gowthami - I didn't complain, for a. it wasn't our direct and b. I had reached a don't-care state). There were a couple of Aussie PMs like in the elims - so had some hits the previous night.

Round three was a simple 5-qn rapid-fire made weird by the choice of scoring. "you get 2 for the 1st question, 4 for the next and so on". Aye jumalakaDi gili-gili! Did it mean that the 1st question is worth 2, the 2nd 4 and so on till the last question was worth 32? Which meant you could score a max of 2+4+...+32 = 64? No, of course not. It merely meant you could score 2^n where n==no. of correct answers (of course n>0 :-)) Again, an unnecessary gimmick. (The only point of interest was that each set had a caricature of a personality made by a Malhar volunteer - commendable)

At the end of this, poor Symbi Law found themselves last. They had topped the elims, had given answers to some tough questions and still were out. I remember remarking to Suvojit that it might actually turn out to be a fortunate thing for them. I don't think I was wrong.

(Before the quiz began, we were informed that "three eminent people" would judge the strategy round, and that they would be introduced at that point, but rest assured they were "eminent people". The introductions never happened until at the end when the 2 of the judges took it upon themselves to do so, revealing that we had had a former army Colonel, a PR lady - predictably she talked a lot - while the last gent wisely stayed incognito.)

So now we had to attempt a military strategy round (since this was WW4 - we had no real major weapons, apart from quiz questions so far, I guess). There were two maps, one a grid based one with bits of topography in each square and the other a general AOE-type region with different terrains. You have to achieve an objective using a bunch of resources. You buy resources with the points you already have. You then devise a strategy to achieve the obj. Then you present your strategy and defend questions. Now, the problems were:

a. What the hell was this subjective round doing in a quiz?
b. Why were there two maps if there was such a shortage of time?
c. Was this my imagination or was it soon to turn into a business case/debate type event?
d. Why were the three slides on rules-points-map not printed and given to participants - instead we had to copy them, forget half the rules leading to some teams realising this on stage?
e. Was this designed by Dali in an over-surrealistic mood?
f. Why could we not even raise a point before the hon. judge not allowing us to speak before she could find out from the QM whether we were allowed to do so (who in turn told the judge only the judges could)?
g. Why not let teams pick resources as a part of their strategy and not announce them before, at which point hardly anyone could understand the rules?

By this time, I realised I was having an epochal, life-altering experience (the exact words in the message I sent Kunal when I had to express this to the outside world). My fuse had completely gone phut. However, my teammates Rahul and Tushar had their wits about themselves and concocted some chop suey. Teams presented, giant balloons of hot air could have been filled for free, found no one could remember the rules properly, points were raised and so on. I was having an uninterrupted series of Jaspal Sandhu-in-"Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro" moments.

After all this rigmarole for over an hour, my head was splitting. We were then informed that the quiz, having gobbled up all the time allotted to it, would have to be abruptly ended then. The results would not be available until the next day (shades of JBDY's "hum draupadi bhaabhi ko baad me.n bhej de.nge"). Until then, it seemed I'd need smelling salts to stay alive. I have never come any more closer to considering a switch to dope of any kind before. But we couldn't go just yet. The judges decided it was time someone introduced them, and spoke. The Army man was nice, euphemistically praising the horrendous efforts. The lady said she'd observed if teams presented as a "team" (we came in for praise for letting only one guy speak - little did she know the others were too flabbergasted to do anything else). I also had my first ever experience of what is apparently the South Bombay lingo. Both the lady and the QM liberally dispersed "you'll"s and "dears" and "sweethearts" and "darlings". Wow!

So for the first time ever in my life, I had been to a quiz where we wouldn't leave knowing who had won the quiz. Incredible. The next day we found that we had come second, the other IIT team was third and the quiz was won by Xaviers (who, if memory serves us right, were last at the beginning of the strategy round). The round had been worth 100 points. We had had a lead of about 40 at the beginning of the round and about 15 after the resource allocn. We lost by about 20 points in the end. I don't want to suggest any foul-play, but one thing is clear - we won the quizzing part of the day comfortably. The rest is mere conjecture. I felt worst for the poor scorer and bell-keeper who seemed so clued out and happy to escape the strategy round.

The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Quizzing And Quizzers
Such is the quizzing life. Based on these experiences and many before, I propose setting up the SPCQQ. It is sorely needed. Only the day when officers of the SPCQQ shall raid a quiz in progress for having violated fundamental statutes and endangering the mental capacities of poor, unsuspecting quizzers shall we really have our rights safeguarded in this country.

While leaving, I heard requests for "genuine feedback". Since I am not in the habit of providing fake feedback (I can't guarantee certification though), here are some points for the Jhavierites:

* Each year, everyone seems to think your quizzes are bad. Even if you do not agree, you have to respect such sentiment. Personally, I think you guys do not have the experience to hold a quiz. Get someone from outside to do it. Or announce a moratorium until you amass the experience. Do yourselves a favour. I am, by all accounts, a reasonably fair critic. This is a fair criticism.

* Attend a lot of quizzes before you formally set some of your own. There are quite a few decent ones happening in Bombay, and if you're willing to travel, in Pune, Bangalore, Chennai and others.

* Read these posts: 1, 2 and 3. I won't claim these are gospel, but take whatever you feel like from them.

* Listen to your audience and participants. Their body and verbal language are trying to tell you a lot of things. Yes, you are a big fest and you may feel you are entitled to some maaz. But with great maaz comes great criticism when things hit the fan above (sorry, Uncle Ben)

* A quiz should be enjoyable by all involved. It's not a gladiatorial contest between the organisers and participants.

* Keep a quiz simple. Let your elims reflect your finals. If you want to make it into a mixed style event, make it amply clear in the beginning.

* There were requests at the end for applause for the "hard work put in designing the strategy round". Well, hard work and good intentions are no excuse for mucking up things. It helps, but not everytime. Do a half-decent quiz and I'll give you an ovation myself.

I'm really glad I won't be going back to Malhar next year. I really am. It's not that I like being caustic about such events. But you'll have left me with no option, sweethearts.


Blogger marcus said...


tu gud...
problem with quizzing becoming "popular" is u get such nincompoomps organizing quizzes..dunno if u remember the quiz conducted in Symbi Law in our salad days, QM was a fauji major (especially summoned from Goa)..and whose "most difficult" q was.."which indian actress is nicknamed ASH". there were too many howlers to list down now.. another abiding memory is Bhatta treating us to his jackhopping routine...

4:51 PM  
Blogger Kunal said...

Wow, this truly sounds epochal and life altering! My Malhar experience was nowhere as bad as this! In fact, now I feel I was carping about very insignificant things in my Malhar posts.

But amazing post. Its hard to report this level of stupidity without making snide allusions to the quizmaster's physiology and lineage. I have no idea how you do it ;-)

Also really liked the feedback. I hope they actually act on it, but perhaps that is too much to expect. You can look forward to getting aggro from the Jhavierite junta at Mood-I, though ;-)

Oh, and two thumbs up to the SPCQQ!

10:48 PM  
Blogger Salil said...

My sympathies.

4:10 AM  
Anonymous KT said...

Quite an experience indeed.

As kunal said, two thumbs up to SPCQQ!

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mein gott, how horrifying! A tale, truly, to make thy knitted and combined locks to part. I've been to some truly disastrous quizzes before, but on the Porno Scale of Quizzing Disasters[TM] this rates an 8 out of 10.

-Rishi Iyenngar

11:31 AM  
Blogger Samrat said...

Great description JR.
hope such ludicrous quizzes keep on happening once a while and not die out. it will make us appreciate the quizzes we have, plus give us our dose of amusement

4:07 PM  
Blogger E said...

This Karthikeyan,one of the members of the team that was declared winner in the 2006 Malhar Major Quiz.
Ramanand,as you have mentioned in the article you should have been the winner and we don't deserve it at all at any cost.we were also surprised and the reasons the organizers had said to us were that in the Strategy round we used 18 points in both the Maps where as your team had used nearly 50 points for the same,if i am not wrong.The Guests had said that the idea behind the strategy is to use minimum resources and reach the destination.(In fact he himself quoted at the end of the round).And we were the ones who used least and (Apparently since we were least we didn't have any choice eithe)r.Also the points for that round seems to be much higher than the previous rounds.And they also supposed to have some rounds after that but because of time constraints they couldn't.As you have rightly said they should have at least had one map and gone to the next round(they didn't probably because they couldn't say to those guest that we have only one round and not two)..Sorry for the entire mess on behalf our organizers.Do come to our Malhar every year and its your active participation that makes it worth..Kudos and Best Wishes...I was there on all the four days of Mood Indigo and at all the finals of all quizzes over there and wat a fest yah..and wat a performance you did ..i was also there on the same room for the Lower Parel Quiz.(which none of us couldn't make up..U were even answering the Gary Powers question right)...From Karthikeyan (

12:49 AM  
Blogger Ramanand said...

Karthikeyan: thanks for not being upset at the more than slightly deprecatory post :-) Hopefully, this feedback will help you and your fellow quizzers to put up even better quizzes next year. I'm scheduled to (post)graduate this year, so won't be at Malhar, but best wishes to you too!

9:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@J Ramanand
I will definitely veto the 'SPCQQ' act of yours!:)
Thumbs Up :)

11:00 PM  

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