Cheating at Trivia (or how to completely miss the point of trivia and make a room full of people hate you)

Sometimes at iQ Trivia we get asked if the existence of smart phones is killing trivia given that the answers to so many questions are just one Google search away.

It is true that smart phones have changed the trivia landscape and have the potential to undermine the inquisitive spirit that makes trivia fun, but it hasn’t killed trivia and it’s not going to.

And here’s why.

The vast majority of our players understand that the name of the game is trivia, not “who can look things up on their phone really quickly” and as a result don’t need us to tell them to stay off Google until the questions are done. Some players, if they need to take a call or send a text, have actually flagged our hosts down so we can witness the fact that they aren’t trying to gain an unfair advantage.

But of course, not everyone is so honest, which is why we generally announce before the first question that it’s time to put your phones away.

Some trivia outfits have instituted total bans on phones during the quiz, and if a phone come out at any time penalties are assessed. Some even have policies that ban players who have gone off to the toilet from returning to their team until after the round is over.

We don’t do that, and we’re not going to do that. Being the phone police or regulating toilet use is beneath our dignity as trivia hosts. (Though if you go to the toilet five times in 30 minutes, we might advise you to consult a urologist.)

Of course, in the jackpot round we will be very strict on phones, and even having one in plain view will result in a disqualification, something we have done and will continue to do.

We do tend to circulate around during the quiz, and if phones are out we will look over your shoulder to find out what you’re doing. In almost all cases, it’s something entirely innocent. (Though we have spotted players watching porn during the quiz. COME ON MAN! You’ve got to focus!)

On rare occasions, however, people are using their phones to find the answer to a question we’ve asked, and that’s when we invoke our cheating policy.

Stated simply, if you use your phone to look up the answer to a question, we will be UNBELIEVBLY strict with marking.

As an example, after asking a question on what country a certain beer was from, ten seconds later we spotted someone googling that beer. Naturally we announced to the room, while standing next to the offender (who still have his phone out in plain view) that it’s more fun to figure things out than to look things up, and went on with the quiz.

But when we were marking their quiz, we spotted that their answer was Holland.

And that is technically wrong. It’s not Holland. Holland is not a country. It’s The Netherlands.

Now normally, if you say Holland when the answer is The Netherlands, we will give you the point. We’re not out to be total hard asses when marking. But if you were cheating, YOU HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE NOT TO GET EVERY QUESTION PERFECT.

So we didn’t give them a point for that. We also denied a point on a question on Tony Abbott, because their answer was Tony Abbot.

In the end we found enough excuses to dock points to ensure that the team of cheaters won absolutely nothing. Not first, not second, not seventh, and not even last, so they didn’t get to choose a subject for the following week.

We also find it tremendously satisfying when cheaters can’t even cheat right.

We asked about the world record for the bench press for men over the age of 80 to the nearest kilogram, and gave four options. One team answered 187. Now if you google “bench press over 80” the first result is about Sy Perlis who holds the record of 187 pounds.

But we didn’t ask for pounds. We asked for kilograms, and we gave you four options, none of which were 187. Also, 187 is a very specific number to get. Sure you might have memorised the world record for the bench press for various age groups, or Sy Perlis may be your grandfather, but it’s far more likely that you cheated. But even when cheating you have to answer the question we actually asked, not what comes up when you google the answer. Naturally, we took great delight in giving them zero points and announcing the oddly specific way they were wrong to the rest of the non-cheating patrons.

Another incident of cheating at a quiz in the UK went viral around the world. When asked who played the role of Skylar White on Breaking Bad, one team answered Nee Lambert.

Go ahead and look up the Wikipedia page on Skylar White. We’ll wait.

Yes the entry is about Skylar White (née Lambert). It seems that the kind of people who cheat on a Breaking Bad question don’t know that née was being used to indicate Skylar’s maiden name.

So often cheaters don’t even get the right answer, or the EXACT right answer even when they cheat, and we give them none of our usual leniency.

Get a single letter wrong? No points. Put an answer in the wrong box? No points. Stray even slightly outside of the box? No points. Give us anything that is not 100% perfect, and we will give you no points. We will find any excuse to deny you points in the pettiest ways we can think of, and we (and the other teams who play honestly) will enjoy it.

But aside from trolling cheaters, there’s something to be said for asking questions that are difficult to cheat on in the first place. Instead of asking questions where the answer can be found with one web search, we might ask how many times you could fit New Zealand into Australia. Cheating on that would require you to find Australia’s area, then New Zealand’s area, then do some calculations. Doing all of that while trying to look inconspicuous, and putting in all that effort might make any cheater conclude that it could actually be easier to actually contemplate the question with pure brainpower.

Not to mention our dilemma questions aren’t something you can look up the answer to at all.

But luckily, it’s only on very rare occasions that cheating is ever an issue at our quizzes. After hundreds upon hundreds of quizzes, incidents of cheating can be counted on your hands.

Nearly everyone who comes to iQ Trivia enjoys the challenge of being asked to work out a real headscratcher of a question. If you just go and look everything up, you’re robbing yourself of the feeling of elation that comes from cracking a particularly dicey question, and dicey questions are our speciality. We like to ask questions that you won’t know right away, but that you can enjoy arguing about. As it happens, those questions tend to be tougher to cheat on, and tend to attract players who aren’t going to cheat in the first place.

iQ Trivia isn’t about being right. It’s about engaging with your friends to try to solve problems we throw your way. If you are really determined to cheat, you can, and you will quite possibly get away with it.

But you are risking making a whole room full of people hate you, and being exposed as a horrible person who should be ashamed of themselves, not to mention losing the chance to debate potential answers with your teammates, all to win a bar tab.

So if you’re going to cheat, go somewhere else. You clearly don’t understand the concept of iQ Trivia.

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