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We asked a trivia expert how you can smash your next pub quiz

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Last month we introduced you to FleetWit, the impressively fast-growing trivia app that allows you to challenge friends in themed quizzes.

Brett Lazer, a very clever man // Image courtesy of Fleetwit

Since then, we had a chance to sit down with Brett Lazer, Fleetwit's Head of Trivia, for some general trivia tips as well as insight into how his team develops 5,000 unique questions a month.

For starters, what’s your background and how did you turn being a trivia wiz into a profession?

My background is actually in academia. I got a Ph.D. in Art History, but as I was finishing my dissertation I began to realise that the academic life wasn’t quite for me. 

The other piece of this, of course, is the trivia side. I had also always wanted to host my own pub quiz. When I was in graduate school a bar opened down the block from me, and so I suggested that I host a weekly trivia night for them. It was a nice side gig, but I was mostly in it for the free beer and the opportunity to torture unsuspecting patrons with oddball mystery categories...

When David, the CEO of FleetWit, found my resume on a job site and saw that I had hosted a pub quiz, he called me in for an interview and that was that.

I’d heard that you were previously a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? How difficult or thorough was the application for that kind of show? Did you find it more challenging to perform on a big stage than say, through an app like FleetWit?

The audition for Millionaire was actually pretty low-key. There was a 30-question multiple choice quiz, and most of the questions were fairly easy. There was a short screen test, and that was it. Five days after my audition, I got the call, and five days after that I was on a soundstage trying to answer a question for $100,000! Being on Millionaire and playing on FleetWit are each challenging in their own way.

FleetWit races are timed, so there is always a sense of urgency. Millionaire gives you as much time as you need to answer the question so you can be more deliberate and work through the question (this can be a double-edged sword, though, because you can easily talk yourself out of a right answer).

Question difficulty is another story. At FleetWit we like to make our questions very straightforward. If you’ve got a good head on your shoulders and a decent knowledge base, you can come up with the right answer.

One of the aspects of FleetWit that I find most interesting is the Genius Questions. I can see how someone in your position comes up with general trivia, but how in the world do you formulate riddles and puzzles like those? Also, how often are they solved?

Genius Questions are by far my favourite to write, because you really have to let your mind take an extended journey. You can google anything, so a bunch of pictures of people with names that are also Shakespeare characters would get solved in no time. The connections and ideas have to be a little subtler.

One of my favourites was a collection of images where each image referenced something whose initials were also a state abbreviation (e.g. a picture of the Chilean author Isabel Allende, initials “IA”, which is the postal abbreviation for Iowa). The five states referenced were the five that have never elected a woman to the US House of Representatives. So answers are oftentimes several layers removed.

Honestly, with the lengths I go to, I’m not sure how people solve them. But they do get solved! 

You and your team write 5,000 questions a month, which is nothing short of amazing. For me, maybe the first hundred or so wouldn't be too much of a strain, but how do you keep the questions and pertinent information fresh and diverse over such a large amount?

We have a team of about ten trivia writers, so the load on each individual writer is fairly manageable. Still, our writers are incredible - we have folks who do 1,000 questions a month, which would certainly be a challenge for me! Our writing team already have diverse interests - accumulating a diverse group was a core goal when assembling the team - so we can lean into that a little. 

I get frequent emails that new topics have been added to FleetWit. Is there any unique content that you’re particularly excited for coming down the pipeline anytime soon?  

We’re always adding new categories, usually two-four per week, so there is plenty to keep people coming back. But as it turns out the next big thing from FleetWit is less about content and more about structure. One of the things the update will allow us to do is run a much greater number of live races. So right now we do a live trivia race every night at 7:30 pm GMT. With the new update, we will be able to have live trivia races every hour on a wide variety of topics.

What's the best way to prep for trivia in general? Are there any tips that you'd give for users of FleetWit in particular?

It really depends on the type of trivia. If you’re doing a pub quiz, my number one most important tip - and I can’t stress this enough - is that trivia is a team sport. I cannot tell you how many times I have been on a pub quiz team where I have made a really stupid suggestion, and that reminds someone else on the team of the correct answer.

When the host reads the question, people always say, “Oh, I wonder if it’s . . .” and then trail off before saying, “Oh no that’s wrong”, and I’m constantly asking “No, tell me what you were going to say, it might help me think of it." Also for pub quiz, staying up on current events is key. Most have some kind of current events round. If I’ve been buried in work for a week and am going to a pub quiz, I’ll always have a quick glance at the New York Times and scan the headlines. In the US, quizzers love to ask about US Presidents or city or state populations.

For FleetWit, I would say staying focused is really crucial. Time is a key factor in determining your score, so parsing questions quickly is very beneficial. However, we’ve set our scoring algorithm in such a way that you won’t win by going for broke on speed. So after parsing the question, if you don’t know it right away, take a few seconds to think it over and then make your guess. 

Happy Quizzing!




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