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Commentary: The weekly Zoom family quiz night - the best thing, yet also the worst idea

Our new weekly get-together leads to more questions than answers, says the Financial Times' Robert Shrimsley.

Commentary: The weekly Zoom family quiz night - the best thing, yet also the worst idea

A woman looks at her tablet during a Zoom video conference. (Photo: REUTERS/Janis Laizans)

LONDON: It’s quiz night. Again. At first this seemed like a welcome innovation, a way to maintain contact with friends and loved ones on calls that are becoming increasingly strained by the limits of lockdown.

“What have you been up to? Well, nothing, obviously. Oh yes, of course. Seen any good box sets?”

The Zoom quiz night was embraced with gusto by my wife, who apparently is not spending enough time on conference calls, and she began the task of dragooning the more reluctant members of her family into a Saturday night extravaganza.

This was problematic for those who did not wish to participate in what has now become the groundhog day of lockdown evenings in, since they had nowhere else to be and had to get creative in their excuses.

NO MORE EXCUSES

This, incidentally, is one of the great oppressions of lockdown, that people know you are in and expect you to answer the phone, reply to their messages or take part in their quiz nights. 

The only solution I can see is to designate periods of the day when you are officially out, even though you are actually in. 

This offers you the excuse, if challenged, that the person called when, spiritually, you were out. I am sure there is a phone message for such an occasion: “The lights may be on but there’s nobody home.”

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Happily, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has now offered another excuse, which is that you could not answer the phone because you are busy Staying Alert.

Obviously, this last defence works only in England at the moment. The Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish are under no such obligation and can carry on taking 40 winks or answering the phone. 

We here in England are watching over the nation. Staying alert. Please leave a message and we will get back to you when we have finished controlling the virus. Relax Britain, England is taking back control.

A NIGHTMARE

But I digress. The quiz night is a pleasing diversion but it holds its own terrors. For one thing, there is always one member of the call with a booming echo on their speaker that makes conversation resemble a Brian Blessed monologue delivered in a cave.

(Photo: Unsplash/Allie)

The consequence is that half the quiz is spent either telling someone to mute or reminding them to unmute.

The quiz itself is something of a diplomatic minefield. It’s fine if everyone is of similar age and background but family evenings span at least two or three generations. 

Nothing more brutally brings home your advanced age than being told that “no one watches Casablanca”. Also, don’t let your brother-in-law keep the scores (an immutable law for all brothers-in-law everywhere).

You also need consensus on the level of difficulty. One family member delights in questions on obscure parts of the country, such as the bits outside London.

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Some relatives reacted badly to my own round on British prime ministers, which was not only an absolute doddle but packed with fascinating facts and in no way connected to the fall-off in participation the following week.

HOW TO MAKE THEM WORK IF YOU REALLY WANT TO

I suspect the smart move is to make one household responsible for all questions each week rather than, as we do, asking each participant to come up with a round. 

This way you encourage more even choices than obscure wars, prime ministers, Staffordshire and the life and times of the Notts County striker Alan Smith.

The other snag is that there is always one person who takes the quiz too seriously and one person who gets irritated at others taking it too seriously. The only puzzle is how I managed to be both of them.

So far, we’ve kept our quiz to immediate family, though we may extend it to anyone serving out a 14-day quarantine in our shed if the government ever gets round to figuring out what its quarantine policy should be. We need the numbers.

After one week, the spawn both decided to get out of future events by arranging their own quiz nights at the same time. On the upside, the boy’s quiz night involved forfeits and he ended up having to eat an onion.

Maybe we can incorporate that into next week’s event. They do say these things end in tears.

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Source: Financial Times/sl

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