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Exercising your Brain

Running a Quiz

Four years ago I started running monthly quiz nights for Madeley & District U3A. They have proved very popular.

The first one I did was in traditional “Pub Quiz” style where the presenter shouts out the questions, usually having to repeat them several times, and/or gives out sheets of paper with questions on.

I nearly lost my voice and decided it would be better to display the questions on a screen via Powerpoint. This makes a huge difference! Music clips, images, animation etc. can be incorporated, the hard of hearing don’t struggle and it results in a much slicker and interesting show. Once you have mastered the fairly basic technology it is not hard to do.

Highlights of our quiz nights:
1. We have teams of 4 or 5 persons compete for the glory of winning and the prize of a box of chocolates.
2. The format is 5 rounds of 10 questions and after each round the answers are marked and the running scores are shown on an Excel spreadsheet.
3. We use independent markers to ensure consistency. Swapping answers for another team to mark just causes arguments!
4. The presenter goes through the answers on the screen, by which time the marking should be complete and the scores can be entered on the scorecard.
5. We’ve abandoned the use of “joker” rounds (whereby a team selects one round for which the points are doubled), as it meant that a team with a specialist knowledge of the topic often got all the points and others none at all, which proved unpopular.
6. For the more difficult/specialist questions you can offer multiple choice answers, so even those with no knowledge of the subject have a 1 in 4 or 5 chance of getting a point.
7. After 3 rounds we have a meal provided by the caterers at our village centre, during which there is a separate round on paper rather than on screen to keep the punters occupied, with a separate prize.
8. Mobile phones are banned to stop checking up of answers. The presenter’s answer rules, OK!

Assessing the level of difficulty is always a problem because the question setter knows the answers and thinks they are easy. The aim should be that the winning team can get at least 80% correct and the losers over 50%. A good idea is to try out the questions on guinea pigs: I use my wife and kids.

Some members were reluctant to come, alleging they were “no good at quizzes”, but being part of a team avoids any possible embarrassment. Others worried about coming on their own, but anyone who comes alone is quickly sorted into a team and gets to know other members. It is a very sociable and fun occasion, great for meeting people, having a meal, a drink or two and exercising your brain.

Murder Mysteries

Another popular event has been Murder Mysteries. Our latest was based on the shenanigans of an imaginary U3A Garden Produce & Cookery Group. At their annual Bake Off the rivalries were intense. Rumours circulated of jealousies, cheating, theft and clandestine affairs. Then a mysterious death or three. Suspicion fell on the maker of a Bakewell tart found to contain slug pellets, but the bungling police were getting nowhere with their investigation. Fortunately the Reverend Hercules Parrot, vicar and super sleuth, was on hand to help the audience work out who dunnit.

Around 20 U3A members were recruited to act out the roles. Some of them had never acted before, or not since schooldays. They revealed amazing enthusiasm and talent. We only managed 3 rehearsals but it was “All right on the night” with some hilarious improvisations. There were not many lines to learn and just in case we forgot them (as if!) the script was displayed as an autocue on a screen at the back of the hall, which also served as subtitles for the hard of hearing.
We had a lot of fun developing the script, sorting out costumes and props, and put on a light-hearted evening’s entertainment for an audience of other members and local people. Everyone was invited to enter a genuine bake off competition, with trophies for the winners, and the cakes were sold during the evening as a fund-raiser.

Quizzes and scripts available for U3As

I have a folder of numerous quizzes in Powerpoint and Word formats available free of charge for other U3As. Also scripts, directions, programmes, advertising posters etc. for 4 murder mysteries which can be modified to allow for a flexible number of actors and to suit their skills at accents and role playing. The scripts would also be suitable for play reading groups for the fun of reading and working out whodunit.

What ways does your U3A group exercise its brain? Let us know – submit a story with the button above

For more information on running a quiz or murder mystery night please contact chrisandsuewright@gmail.com