More stats and theories can be found in The Venns’ report (ok it’s a fanzine), but here’s an example.

The Alienation v. Alien Nation Effect:    

As a new quizmaster, I noticed that, every now and again, there’d be a few grumbles that my questions were too hard, and a few grumbles that it was too easy. After staring at my whiteboard and drinking slightly-too-strong coffee for a little while, I realised what was going wrong.

There seems to be a very subtle boundary between far too easy and off-puttingly hard, and it’s different for each team. I had kinda young, hip rock and roll nerd types rolling their eyes at my vague stabs at obscure questions, and then, sat at tables beside them were  lovely older couples who had no idea what I were talking about.

And somehow, no demographic other than a guy propping up the bar and a table of regulars in the corner knew anything remotely like enough about John Hughes films to make the picture round enjoyable.

Then a quiz sheet came back with a load of sweary sarcastic comments whenever the gentleman in question didn’t know an answer. He was very cross.

It had been a less than satisfactory result, hence the whiteboard and the coffee and the puzzled expression.

It all comes down to this:  The Alienation v. Alien Nation Effect (or, for Brecht fans out there, the VerfremQuizeffekt).  If you write a simple question in a quite general category, there’s no challenge. If you write a difficult question in an obscure category, you lose most of the crowd.

That’s why nobody enjoyed getting R2D2 right on the robot picture round I did once – everyone knows R2D2. It’s also why no one got the name of the Tick’s sidekick right. He’s a parody superhero created by a comic book shop employee, and the sidekick is called Arthur. Arthur wears a moth costume, but is not called Mothman. So now you know. (And props if you, like my friend Tim, already knew.)

See what I mean? There’s no pleasure in knowing that. It’s not something kinda cool that stirs up the memory of where you learnt it, or an impressive feat of mental strength to wow your mates with. It’s just a guy in a moth suit. And R2D2, while awesome, ought to be on the radar of any Sheffielder age 3 and up.

So my questions now generally fit in somewhere just shy of what I like to call the Geek Barrier. An ill-defined, invisible and unpredictable line in the mental sand of the quizzee’s psyche. Too far back, and the quiz is child’s play. Too far beyond it, and you’re no longer quite as cool for knowing the answer.

The Venns will test this new theory further and report any findings. Until then, may the force be with you.