Pop quiz, hotshot: On-line quizzing is booming in India – artwork and tradition

What is best described in three words, has one right answer, and can engage thousands of people at a time? The quiz question!

Online quizzing, growing even before the pandemic, is now seeing a boom. Over the past few months, avid quizzers have turned quizmasters, trivia lovers have turned avid quizzers and new formats have evolved where it’s not about knowing the right answer but connecting clues to take an intelligent and entertaining guess.

You don’t need to know a little bit about a lot of things to make a splash either. You can opt for online quizzes on Rajinikant or The Game of Thrones, women in science, the history of furniture, or horror movies, geography, music or just one sport.

The quizzes take place all over the internet too — on WhatsApp, Instagram, through Google forms, on Discord and via Zoom. There are apps for quizzers, such as Kahoot, designed to host rounds of Q&A, with in-built systems to track answers and tally scores from large numbers of participants.

“Quizzing has managed to transform and reorient itself to the new online milieu rather seamlessly,” says Dr Navin Jayakumar, 58, a neuro-ophthalmologist and veteran quizmaster who conducts Chennai’s three major annual offline quizzes — Landmark, Murugappa Quotient and Rotary. All three were hosted on Kahoot this year, and the organisers — Landmark Bookstores, Murugappa Group and the Rotary Club — were happy to see that the numbers hold steady at the usual average of 1,000 per event.  

The number of quizzes went up too, for Dr Jayakumar. “I usually conduct about five a year. This year the number doubled, largely because I didn’t have to travel and neither did the participants,” he says. “And as a participant, I’ve taken part in more quizzes in the last six months than I have in the last six years.”

These conveniences have given rise to an assortment of accidental quizmasters too. Abhishek Bharatkumar, 40, an executive with an IT company, started by using Instagram’s quiz sticker to ask his friends to guess the names of songs or trivia about each other. He did this through April and May, dedicating Saturdays to Tamil music and Sundays to English pop songs from the ’70s and ’80s, keeping himself and his 400-odd followers entertained in the lockdown.

“At some point everyone was re-watching Friends on Netflix and I’m a huge fan,” he says. “When I did my first Friends quiz, my friends posted screenshots and tagged me. I accepted some 45 requests from strangers who wanted to take part.”

Bharatkumar (@abhishek58), a former Bournvita quiz contestant, has since opened up his Instagram profile to the public, gained over 5,600 followers, and has conducted quizzes on Shah Rukh Khan, Roger Federer, Tom & Jerry, Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni.

He now does two quizzes every weekend, with 15 questions per quiz – “10 super easy, three moderate and two professional-level hard”. Most are multiple-choice, with an average of 500 participants per quiz.

Bharatkumar offers no prizes, but does announce a list of Top 10 quizzers each weekend. “I look for the people who’ve answered the hardest questions and go from there,” he says.

Yooti Bhansali, 36, a creative writer and part-time quizzing host (she doesn’t like the authoritarian implications of the term quizmaster) at a pub in Mumbai before the lockdown, has taken a fresh approach. She is creating a repository of accessible and inclusive questions. “I wouldn’t even award points if I didn’t have to,” she says.

She took her offline event Witty Party online in the lockdown and has hosted three paid events over Zoom. The participants essentially pay towards her time and the charity to which she donates half the proceeds.

She’s had an average of 20 guests, forms random teams of two (“that way strangers have to collaborate instead of sticking to the people they came with”) and quizzes them on themes such as Liquid Things, Pillars and Pride, Sex and Stationery.

Her quizzes aren’t just about being right. Creative answers are awarded points too. Asked the full form of “Tanstaafl” (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch), for instance, participants that came up with a good random guess earned half a point, against one point for the right answer, which one of the teams eventually got. 

With the similar idea of creating a safe space for fun, ideas and knowledge, Delhi-based Ananya Upadhya, 18, founder of the women-centric online group A HERd of Quizzers, has been putting out 10 questions every other week since April, on the @aherdofquizzers_ Instagram account. Themes have included viral rumours, conspiracy theories and hoaxes.

One issue she and other digital quizzers do come up against is how to prevent unfair play. “Offline you can monitor this, but online it is extremely difficult,” Dr Jayakumar says. Which is why the big annual quizzes he hosted this year did away with their prizes. How else do you ensure a cheat doesn’t take home the winnings? Even the quizzers can’t answer that one.

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