The Corona Arms, which boasts more than 8,000 followers, or “regulars,” on Instagram, uses multiple platforms to host its weekly quiz nights. The one I attended attracted 52 participants on Zoom and an additional 200 players following along on Instagram Live, with some tuning in from as far afield as Austria, Spain, and Canada. Though I could see everyone playing alongside me on my laptop screen, I couldn’t hear any of them, and they couldn’t hear me. The quizmasters muted all the participants to make sure everyone could hear the questions, though that didn’t stop a few stragglers (myself included) from taking to the chat window to ask for some of the questions to be repeated. (The answers to the questions I didn’t know, by the way, were Canada, the Wombles, and Fred Flintstone.)
Unlike a normal pub quiz, where teams assemble at different tables, this socially distant version had members of some teams competing from multiple locations, forcing them to confer with each other through platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Also unlike a normal pub quiz, the Corona Arms used its virtual setting to get creative with some of the questions. In one round, the quizmasters acted out famous movie posters and tasked players with naming the film. In another, they lip-synced to famous songs—while on mute to everyone watching—before asking players to name the song and, for a bonus point, the artist.
All of that wasn’t a perfect replacement for the pub quiz, of course. For one, since the quiz depends on participants having access to a phone or laptop, there is no way to police against cheating—something that could be easily called out in a pub-like setting. Both the Covid Arms and the Corona Arms ask their teams to keep track of their own scores, which they are then invited to submit after the game ends for tallying. Virtual quizzes also tend to lack the competitive and jocular atmosphere of a traditional one. Though some platforms allow you to see the other players on your screen, you are rarely allowed to hear them. The lack of jeering and cheering makes it hard to figure out which team is the one to beat. “You can’t replicate the rivalry in the room and the semi-joking resentment toward the smart-ass team in the corner,” Connor said.
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For many participants in virtual pub quizzes, however, the point isn’t to replicate what has been lost; it’s about savoring what, even in these most unprecedented of times, can be retained. For the best of quizzes, this means making the questions challenging, but not impossible (no dull questions, Berkmann said, such as “What’s the capital of Peru?”); keeping the competition vibrant, but low stakes (most online pub quizzes don’t have prizes or entry costs, though the Corona Arms does encourage participants to contribute to their weekly fundraiser for select charities); and ensuring that the quiz is fun enough for people to want to come back the following week (even if they probably don’t have much going on at the moment anyway).
But perhaps most importantly for this moment, a good pub quiz must provide a source of levity. As the Corona Arms quiz wound down, with many of the participants choosing to stick around after the quiz had ended to chat with friends and compare scores, it was clear that it had.
“Don’t forget to be kind; stay indoors,” Harry, one of the hosts, said. “And wash your bloody hands!”