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MVP or LVP, depending on perspective

One of the favorite types of company outings in England is The Quiz. Guys from one of my partner technology teams has invited me to theirs. They must have thought that having a Russian-American on their team would give them some competitive advantage…

The quiz works very simply. There are many teams, normally of up to 6 people each. The questions are announced in rounds, each round having one overarching subject (except “general knowledge” ones which mix questions from every area of human enlightenment). Commonly, there are 6 rounds. There is no formal time given for the answer, but it usually works out to about 30 seconds. The teams are free to continue thinking about previous questions until it’s time to reveal answers. Each correct answer scores a point. The team with most points win.

The important thing, of course, is beer (plus some nice pub food), but the game is serious fun!

This quiz had rounds on general knowledge (sample question: “What city in England is the home to National Railway Museum?”), entertainment (listen to a theme from a TV show, name the show and answer an additional related question, as in “Who played the central character?”), history (“Which of his wives did Henry VIII divorce on the grounds that she was ugly?”), sports (“What physical handicap did snooker player Peter Ebdon have?”), music (listen to a song, name the artist and the year, with several headlines supplied to help with latter, as in “Argentina wins World Cup at home”), and general knowledge again.

Overall, there were 60 questions, but entertainment and music ones each had two parts. I was able to contribute on, maybe, half. Obviously, anything that has to do with British culture, or sports like cricket, rugby or snooker, was completely beyond me. I shined with the number of stripes on the American flag (13), second largest city in Australia (Melbourne), something abolished in Spain in 1931 and restored in 1975 (monarchy) and the country crossed by both the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn (Brazil). I got one or two of the recording years right based on the clues (but knew only one single song – by Engelbert Humperdinck). The only TV show that I recognized was Cheers, and I knew the answer to supplemental question (it is set in Boston), but everybody in the room got that. I also knew some of the answers to the questions that other people on the team knew (such as Abbey Road is the street on which EMI recording company is located).

I, somewhat embarrassingly, erred in recognizing which Star Trek series the theme came from, when it was from the only one that I regularly watched in the past, The Next Generation. But another team member picked that up correctly. In a few other instances, I supplied wrong answers under the pretense of knowing things for a fact (i.e., 1994 as the year O.J. Simpson’s trial started, when the right answer was 1996 – the Bronco chase was in ’94; or Robert Kennedy as the person assassinated in 1965, when the right answer was Malcolm X). But worst of all, I actually managed to talk my team out of a right answer a couple of times (“Which American has become the Screen Actors Guild president in 1947?” had an obvious answer in Ronald Reagan, but I knew that the bulk of his roles came in the 50’s, and that somehow made the obvious answer incorrect, which my team members agreed to).

The rest of the team was not much better, fumbling away several questions where we actually had the right answer but changed it to a wrong one. The distance between the darts player and the board (right) was omitted in favor of the length of a javelin (wrong), some show called X Factor (wrong) replaced English version of American Idol (right), and four original cast members of Monty Python included one that was not (even though the only one besides John Cleese whose name I know – Eric Idle – did not get put in).

We also had a couple of comical blunders. “Which everyday object measures exactly 210mm by 290mm?” was not an easy question, and one of the guys said: “A toast – a piece of bread”. I meekly posited that the size does not sound right, but nobody else objected; nor did anyone point out that a toast can hardly be said to always have exact same measurements. The right answer was, of course, an A4 sheet of paper. We spent quite some time afterwards needling each other about gigantic rectangular toasts (which we skewered on javelins)…

Anyway, when all was said and done, we came up in the very last place – out of 16 teams – by 2 points, with the next closest team another 6 points ahead. If not for our fumbles, we could have contested for the third from the bottom, but as it was, we each earned a wooden spoon for our efforts.

Oh, the shame of it! 🙂

But wait!!! The Least Valuable Player on the last-place team – yours truly – also managed to come away the winner of the Individual Challenge!

The individual portion of the quiz, interspersed between rounds, works somewhat like Price Is Right. Each team sends a player to each individual round. There is a question requiring a numerical answer. The answer does not have to be exact in order to win – just the closest to the right one, without going over. The team can assist the player in coming up with the answer, but winning the individual round does not count towards the team score. Instead, the winner is given an instant prize and at the very end participates in an individual final with other winners.

We had six players on the team, and there were six individual rounds. One round each, and I got the very last round. The questions mostly required pure guessing, such as “How many performances of the Phantom of the Opera has there been up to the last night in Her Majesty Theater in London?”. But when my turn came, the question turned out to be in the area of general knowledge: “How much money worldwide did the movie Titanic gross?” I certainly knew that it was over a billion, I just did not know how much over. My team could not contribute anything, so I semi-randomly answered 1.47 billion. And what do you know – I came closest to the correct sum of 1.8 billion.

The prize was a bottle of white wine and some small metallic case, which turned out to hold five mini-screwdrivers. Nothing to get overly excited about, but still nice. My team, which long had a inkling that we were not doing too well overall, had a reason to cheer.

When the final round came, the question was really silly: “We all work for Bank of America, so how many ATMs does the bank have across 50 United States?” The funny thing is, I actually recalled that I read some article about ATMs on corporate intranet, and it lodged somewhere in my brain that the number was less than 15,000. I did not remember how much lower, so again, I semi-randomly picked a number, 12,678. Four other players answered between 25 and 112 thousand, while the remaining guy said something around eleven and a half.

I was the closest to the right answer of fourteen-something thousand. Somewhat incredulously, I was presented with a brand new PSP! On a night where the top three teams got one prize per player (in the general noise of the award ceremony, I totally missed on what the winners got, but the second-place team who were sitting next to us all got vouchers for free bottles of wine), I went home with four awards, including the only really valuable one. (actually, an X-Box was separately raffled away, but that does not count as an award).

Becky only today received her Nintendo DS, which we bought her as a gift. Now, we have another gadget, and I have a feeling I know who will play with it the most…

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Since we are leaving for our trip to Cotswolds on Sunday, I feel compelled to mention a few of the other interesting things that happened in the last couple of days, so that they do not become forgotten.

Becky ran a charity “marathon” in school – three laps around the stadium, a kilometer plus. She started way too strong, had to stop to catch her breath somewhere half-way, but still ended finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack. Afterwards, parents were encouraged to participate in a run of their own, just one lap. Natasha was happy to oblige and also came somewhere in the middle.

Becky also had a quiz of her own in school, only more along the lines of Jeopardy! with buzzers. Each of the houses fielded a team. Her house came in third out of four. Better than her old man!

A truly uncommon thing happened to Natasha today as she was at the gas station. The pump that she was using ran out of gas! The attendant confirmed the mishap and suggested that she queue up at another pump, but she decided that ten liters was enough for the time being and drove away.

She also unfortunately received our first parking ticket in England. Lost track of time in a market, and by the time she returned to the car, once of many mettlesome parking officers was writing a ticket. There is no talking to these guys, they see time on a slip that is in the past, and nothing else matters. He produced a ticket on a portable printer, also taking digital pictures of the car and its parking slip, to better substantiate the charge of expiration. £50 fine, nominally commensurate with parking tickets in New York, but still extremely annoying.

No sooner have I written about my free of charge utilities, that a letter from British Gas arrived informing me that my new electricity account has been successfully set up. I am even more confused than before…