The pub quiz: British trivia on steroids

A sample answer sheet for a typical English pub quiz includes 6-8 rounds, each with a different category. All answers are handwritten.
A sample answer sheet for a typical English pub quiz includes 6-8 rounds, each with a different category. All answers are handwritten.

There are many kinds of pubs in London, and I can honestly say I’ve only frequented a handful so far. However, one thing that I did catch on to quite quickly was the elusive, exciting and extremely difficult Pub Quiz.

Pub Quizzes have been popular in Britain for the past couple of decades. As Brian Viner points out in a relatively recent Telegraph article, the popularity of pub quizzes seem to have stemmed from the famous U.S. board game, Trivial Pursuit.

As Viner illustrates for the Telegraph, there are key points to a pub quiz that help define pub culture in Britain.


The team name is an essential, community and collective part of the pub quiz that hints at a larger community in pub culture. One is on a team with people they presumably know, at least a little bit, unless you really have no friends and join a random team.

Regardless of your team’s makeup, the name is a symbol of who you are: a group of friends at Uni (The Mates), rowdy Americans on holiday or study abroad (The Yanks/ Bros), witty British men (Lord’s Layabouts), Irishmen (Lucky Charms), or cheaters (Google It!). All of these are just some examples of team names I have witnessed, been a part of, or read about.

Half  the fun of completing a pub quiz is waiting for the announcer to read through your team name and entertain or puzzle your fellow quizzers. This week I was “fortunate” enough to be on a team named “That Guy” (until a feminist member of our table declared “That Guy” to be unfairly hegemonic and we were forced to change it to “That Person”). I still approve of my original team name at my first-ever Pub Quiz, “The Yanks”.

Developing a team name not only fosters community among those at your table, but also becomes a contest for the best team name, fostering community among your fellow quizzers, the announcer, and anyone else who may have a hand in question-making (barkeeps, waitresses, etc.)

If there’s one thing the pub quiz illustrates about pubs, it’s the community.


There are usually 6-8 rounds in a pub quiz, with each round asking a different category of questions. Typical and sometimes obligatory categories include sports, British facts, something dealing with politics or law, and a music round in which the announcer plays snippets of songs and the quizzers have to guess both the song name and artist correctly.

So far, pub quizzes I have attended have included categories such as: Famous British People, Pop Music of the 90s, The 2012 Olympics, British Legal Terms and Law, Sports, Famous British Sport Stars, American History and Modern European Policy.

The rounds are a sacred thing at the pub, so trying to cheat with one’s iPhone or tabletop iPad earns immediate disqualification.

One of my personal favorite rounds is the music rounds. Often the announcers only allow a couple seconds of each song, and it’s always a blast to argue with team members whether that was, in fact, Circles by Coldplay or Clocks.


Let’s be honest, most trivia nights wouldn’t be anything without a good pint. Most pubs wouldn’t be anything without a good pint, either.

Most establishments will run a drink special during their pub quizzes. In London it’s a favorite to host pub quizzes on Monday nights after everyone is done with work, and then run a half-off or two-for-one happy hour.

My last pub quiz also provided a platter of free food per table as a way to get international students to find out about the drink specials (it worked). My first pub quiz, run by the nightclub at my university (for another post), had free beer for every table. If you’re looking for it, pub quizzes can always be accompanied by something free.


Let’s be honest: trivia games are no fun if you aren’t competing for something. At most pub quizzes, however, quizzers don’t know what they’re competing for until the game is over. Various prizes I’ve encountered but never won include: ice skating tickets, a £50 bar tab, and a bottle of champagne, among others.

Although, after ordering drinks all night, a £50 bar tab is not likely to get very far at £3/pint. The prizes are great, but the game is more about competing, with friends, and enjoying your Monday nights.


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