Running a Pub Quiz

Posted in Quiz Advice

Pub Quiz Introduction

What is a pub quiz?A pub quiz is a quiz held in a public house. It is a largely British phenomenon, which reached its peak in the early 1990s. These spread to other Commonwealth of Nations countries such as Australia and New Zealand, and also to the United States. Pub quizzes are still extremely popular and may attract people to a pub who are not found there on other days.

The pub quiz is a modern example of a pub game. Though different pub quizzes can cover a range of formats and topics, they have many features in common.

The pub quiz format

Pub quizzes (also known as trivia, or table quizzes) are often weekly events and will have an advertised start time, most often in the evening.

While specific formats vary, most pub quizzes depend on answers being written in response to questions which may themselves be written or announced by a quizmaster.

Generally someone (either one of the bar staff or the person running the quiz) will come around with pens and quiz papers, which may contain questions or may just be blank sheets for writing the answers on. A mixture of both is common, in which case often only the blank sheet is to be handed in.

Often the pub expects that paper should be split in two - one half to hand in and one half to be kept as a record of the answers.  

Each question should score the number of points stated beside it on the question sheet, apart from when a team decides to play its joker, when double points are awarded.

The quizmaster should decide whether to accept any ambiguous answers, or whether or not to award half points.

GOLDEN RULE: The quizmaster?s word is final! 

Pub Quiz Teams

Quiz TeamsIt is up to the quizzers to form teams, which are generally based on tables, though if one table has a large group around it they may decide to split up.

Some pubs insist on a maximum team size (usually between six and ten).

The team members decide on a team name, which must be written on all papers handed in.

Pub Quiz Entry Fee

People often have to pay to participate - ranging from around 50p to ?5 per person. This is often used as prize money (see below).

Many pub quizzes require no payment at all, as the pub quiz is simply a way to get you into the bar (typically on less busy nights like week nights) to spend money  

Pub Quiz Rounds

There may be between one and more than half a dozen rounds of questions, totalling anything from 10 to upwards of 80 questions. Rounds may include the following kinds (most common first):

  • Factual rounds - these are usually spoken, either over a public address system or just called out. Common topics include:
    • General knowledge - covering the topics listed below (if they're not a separate round) and also topics such as history, geography and science and nature. There may well be more than one of these rounds.
    • Sport - comprising the statistics and minutiae of popular, well-known sports and general facts about others.
    • Entertainment - movies, TV shows and music (see also below).
  • Picture QuizPicture round - these use photocopied or computer-printed hand-outs and consist of pictures to be identified, such as photos of famous people (possibly snapped out of context, or else partially obscured) or logos of companies (without tell-tale lettering), famous places or objects pictured from a strange angle.
  • Who Am I? - A series of clues to the identity of a famous person (or thing). Clues are given in order of desceding difficulty. The earlier a team can identify the correct answer, the more points they are awarded.
  • Music round - these consist of excerpts (often only the intro or other non-vocal segment) of songs played over the PA system. Usually the teams must identify the song and also the singer or band (sometimes the year the song was released is also required). Variations include the inclusion of film soundtracks and TV theme tunes (requiring the title), and/or classical music (also requiring the composer).
  • Puzzle rounds - generally on a hand-out sheet. These may consist of crossword puzzles, anagrams, Ditloids, Dingbats and basic math problems.
  • True or False - questions to which the answer is True or False.
  • Novelty rounds - themed round a specific word or name (e.g. all the questions relate to a famous Norman); 'connections', where the last answer in the round provides a link to all the previous answers; true or false; and various others to break up the general stream of questions.

Pub Quiz Joker Rounds and Bonus Questions


In some quizzes teams are able to select one or two rounds in which their points will be doubled (or trebled etc). The reason why two is used is that a pack of cards has two jokers in it. Selection of the appropriate round(s) is usually made before the start of the quiz and made be available on all rounds or certain round(s) may be specifically excluded (usually the first).

Teams who consider themselves to be particularly strong on certain subjects can thus improve their chances with a good joker round. Conversely, if their joker round is more difficult than expected their chances of doing well may nosedive.

The idea of using a joker in a game may come from the programme It's a Knockout.


A single answer is required with one or more clues given each round making the answer progressively easier to solve.

Either the first team to hand in the correct answer wins either a spot prize or additional points to their total score OR the questions continue until all teams have the correct answer with each team been given progressively fewer additional points the longer it takes them to submit the correct answer.  

Pub Quiz Jackpots

A separate round of questions (usually 3) at the end of the quiz each week. If no team gets all answers correct more money is added for the following week. The maximum amount of the jackpot may be limited by local gaming regulations.

Cash Jackpots may also be a variety of methods including one-off questions and dance-offs.

Pub Quiz Question setting

The questions may be set by the bar staff or landlord, taken from a quiz book, bought from a specialist trivia company, or be set by volunteers from amongst the contestants. In the latter case, the quiz setter may be remunerated with drinks or a small amount of money.

Often questions may be drawn from the realm of 'everybody knows' trivia, therefore leading to controversies when the answers are false or unverifiable. In addition, as the quizzes are not formal affairs, slight errors in wording may lead to confusion and have led to a recent court case in the UK.

Pub Quiz Tie-breaker

In the event of a tie, the quizmaster must be prepared with some tie-breaking question. The tied teams could compete in another round of ten questions, or perhaps each team could send a representative to the front for a head-to-head knockout. The first to raise their hand and answer the question correctly wins the competition. Or perhaps all teams could submit an answer on a beermat or small piece of paper, the closest to the real answer, be it a number or whatever, is the winner.

Pub Quiz Marking

In some cases, the papers are marked (graded) by the bar staff. Alternatively, teams may have to mark their own answers and the handed-in papers are consulted only to check that prize claimants haven't cheated by altering their answers. Another method is to have teams swap papers before marking, though this can be divisive.

1 or 2 points are scored for each correct answer; some quizzes allow half marks for 'nearly right' answers (such as a celebrity's surname when their full name was required). In some quizzes, certain questions score higher marks, particularly if they are unusually difficult.

Cheating in Pub Quizzes

With the mass use of mobile (cell) phones and mobile internet access, cheating has become a problem for some pub quizzes, with covert calls and texts made in the toilets, recent newspapers and magazines brought along especially for the event, 'ringers' and so on.

Though a maximum number of members set for teams may help to prevent huge numbers of people collaborating, groups posing as several distinct teams are quite common.

Some quizzes now ban the use of mobiles and nullify the score of any team found to be cheating. Though more prevalent where large sums of money are at stake (see below), cheating can be observed even for relatively low stakes.

One case exists where a landlord banned the use of mobile (cell) phones completely from the establishment during the quiz evening and in order to guarantee that no contestant used such a device, an FM radio tuner was connected to the public address system. Should any team member use a mobile phone during the duration of the quiz, loud pulsing sounds would be heard while other teams tried to locate the culprit.

Some quizzes also now ban re-entry to the pub after the quiz has started, in order to prevent team members from going to use public internet stations, public telephones and mobile devices out of sight of the quizmaster.

Generally, a pub runs its quiz alongside its normal operation, making such a measure impractical.  

Pub Quiz Prizes

Prizes are awarded to the highest scoring team, and possibly runners-up as well. Prizes are usually one of the following:

  • alcoholic drinks: a case of beer or some money on a bar tab to spend at that pub are common.
  • cash: if money was charged for entry into the quiz, this is often pooled to form prize money. This may all go to the winning team. Alternatively, there may be a separate short set of questions or even a single 'jackpot' question to win the cash; if no team gets the right answer, the money is typically rolled over, making a larger prize the next week.
  • vouchers: such as cinema discount-coupons, food discounts, or even drinks vouchers for use at the bar holding the quiz.
  • drink-related promotional items sent by a brewery, such as t-shirts and beer glasses advertising their products.
  • miscellaneous or novelty prizes, such as chocolate or cheap toys. The winning team may get first choice to pick a prize from a range on offer.

Another format for quizzing is called "infinite bounce". This format is generally used when the number of teams in the quiz is large - usually around 8-10.

Every question is addressed to the team succeeding the team that answered the previous question. If no team answers the question, the next question is addressed to the team succeeding the team to whom the previous question was addressed.  

Pub Quiz leagues

A quiz league is an organisation that runs quizzes, normally in pubs, though such competitions are distinct from the standard pub quiz as they will normally involve two teams and often include a number of individual questions.

No prizes are normally awarded at such a league match, but prizes and kudos may go to the quiz team winning a league or a knockout competition. The National Trivia Association runs a nation-wide contest involving various pub trivia games played around the US.

Pub Quiz regional and national competitions

Teams from throughout a region, county, state or country meet annually for more prestigious competitions, with greater prizes. Representative teams may either be the best team(s) from each pub or a team selected from the best individuals may be chosen.

New Zealand's largest pub quiz provider has held an annual Champion of Champions quiz in Auckland since 1999. Initially open to teams from pubs within the greater Auckland region it is now open to teams from throughout New Zealand. In practicality travel costs prevent most teams from the lower North Island and the South Island participating although Christchurch, Nelson and Wellington have all provided teams.

World record

The Eden Project claims that a Guinness World Record was set in Cornwall on 6 December 2007 and claims a total of 220 pubs took part.

However, this record is unsubstantiated as no evidence on the Guinness World Record site exists and Guinness itself denies existence of the record.

The largest quiz, according to Guinness, occurred on December 3, 2007, with a total of 1,566 concurrent players.

Pub Bingo quiz

A variation in which players are provided with a pre-printed answer sheet for each round containing lines tagged by a random number (for example 20 lines with numbers between 1 and 25).

For each question the quizmaster picks a random number in that range, and the answer is written on that numbered line (if present).

When a player has completed a sheet with a certain number of adjacent answers (typically 6) he can call out and submit the sheet for marking. If all the adjacent answers are correct he wins, if not any incorrect lines cannot be re-used, and the game continues.

Ties can be resolved by sharing the prize, or by a tie-breaker question; typically an obscure date so that the player who guesses closest wins.

Whilst a knowledgeable player will still have an advantage, particularly if the questions are 'difficult', the random element in a Bingo quiz means that even the less knowledgeable can win, and the quiz format is generally felt to be more stimulating than a conventional one.

The printed sheets required for it are commercially available.  


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