What’s the average speed of a cheetah? If you’re a bit of a nerd like me, you might be starting to work this out by estimating how much time cheetahs spend sleeping compared to running after antelopes, as this will clearly affect the average. But stop. You’re thinking far too hard. Quiz buffs will be pleased/incensed to hear that the ‘answer’ is supposed to be 72 miles an hour.
This was suggested as a good pub quiz question on a radio phone-in I heard this morning, and it reminded me just how annoying a ‘science’ quiz round can be. How can the average speed of a cheetah possibly be 72 miles an hour? Why not just change the question to ‘top speed’?? And yes, I know I’m a pedant, but when I get to the science round I expect to get interesting questions, not stupid ones.
The worst question I ever got in a real pub quiz was this brainteaser: how many spines does a hedgehog have? No clarification, no ‘within the nearest 100/1000’, no ‘average hedgehog’. Perhaps it was specially designed to irritate me – it succeeded. How is this ‘science’? What kind of hedgehog? Surely they don’t all have the same number of spines?? And worst of all, why didn’t I know the answer???
I consoled myself by deciding that it was a ridiculous question – not science, not even general knowledge. Perhaps the round should have been called ‘woodland animal trivia’ instead. But it still rankled – everyone likes to get a few more points for their specialist subject, and too many quizzes demand a special kind of nerdery that has nothing to do with science at all.
Take this pub quiz round suggestion as an example. It’s called ‘scientific phobia names’, but someone who studied classics would do a lot better on this round than your average scientist. ‘Scientific’ isn’t the same as ‘derived from ancient Greek or Latin’.
The problem with many science questions you get in quizzes is that they seem to come from the ‘urban legends’ or ‘internet bullsh*t’ categories. ‘Facts’ like ‘a cup of coffee contains over 1000 chemicals’ are likely to send any science-savvy quiz contestant into a spiral of rage and pedantry that just spoils the game for everyone.
What’s scary about these not-so-fun facts is that they seem to cause a strange suspension of disbelief in most people. Like that myth about how daddy long legs are lethally venomous but fortunately too weak to bite humans. If you believe something like this you shouldn’t be taking part in a quiz, let alone organising one. Actually you deserve to be attacked by a venomous daddy long legs.
Luckily science nerds can breathe a sigh of relief – there’s a quiz game called The Art of Science that is dedicated to science and technology. How’s this for a sample question: what is the separation method that separates macromolecules on the basis of their rate of movement through a gel under the influence of an electric field?
See? Much more fun than trying to figure out how many spines a hedgehog has (in case you’re wondering, it’s between 5,000 and 7,000. I read it on the internet so it must be true).
Unfortunately I have a horrible feeling a science quiz taken by scientists would be likely to descend into ‘lively debate’ over whether the answers were actually correct/spelled right/corresponded with information on Wikipedia. But I don’t care. I’ll take a nerd storm over a sport round any day.