The Secret of My (Quiz Show) Success
What’s my formula for consistently winning on radio quiz shows? Here it is (whispers):
Never go on the air.
That’s it! That’s the secret!!
My victory streak extends way back to my teens, when I did very well listening to the BBC show, My Word! Hosted by the hilarious Frank Muir and Denis Norden, this was a rapid-fire panel program about word origins and definitions. Each episode concluded with one of them telling a feghoot. You know, a feghoot?
Oh, all right.
A feghoot is a funny story that ends with a groaner pun that directly relates to the story. I won’t write one out because they’re all pretty lengthy and convoluted, but I’ll give you one of the pun-chlines and let you guess about the story: “Where there’s a whale there’s a Y” (hint: something about Moby Dick).
Since then, I’ve become a superfan of many quizzes, and often can beat the actual on-air competitor to the correct answer (this also holds true with Jeopardy on TV, btw). My current favorites include the NPR weekly news quiz Whaddayaknow? and the Piano Puzzler feature on Performance Today. For the former, you really just have to be an avid consumer of current news (which I am!), although they do have tricky variations—such as presenting three “news” stories, only one of which is true.
In the latter case, composer Bruce Adolphe comes up with a tune based on a real song, but in the style of a certain classical composer--for instance, a disguised version of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” as if Mozart wrote it. It’s a two parter—you have to guess the song AND the composer being imitated. Piano Puzzler is a very forgiving feature. They REALLY want the caller to win, and drop massive hints: “Yes, it IS a baroque composer, Kathy, very good!!! But it’s not Handel. Think back about other composers. No, not Scarlatti. Think BACK. B...ACH! Johann Sebastian…” “Bach?” "Excellent work, Kathy! You guessed it!!”
If you are unlucky enough to be a passenger in my car when one of these gems is on, our conversation will be interrupted by my shrieking; “It’s INDIA! The G-20 was in INDIA!! What’s wrong with you??”” or maybe “It’s ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ and Chopin, you numbskull!” I always use a scornful tone, to convey my very superior intellect.
So why not actually call in sometime?
Nah. With that kind of pressure (and an audience), I’m positive my brain would instantly fail me. Can’t imagine anything more mortifying than freezing up in earshot of thousands of people. No, I’d rather continue my unbroken streak as a champion without risking anything.
Let others humiliate themselves as they blow their chance at the grand prize (on Jeopardy it’s actually good money; the radio shows offer more modest rewards—like announcer Bill Curtis recording your voice mail message).
I know a LOT. I’m just not telling the world, OK?
Remember: you can’t lose if you don’t play.