I have been quizzing for some time now. Wouldn’t call it ‘professional quizzing’ – yes, that exists now – but it’s in a way specialized, since one sees the same group of individuals pursuing it for a long time. This group has additions and more infrequent subtractions, but is generally very stable.
When I began (a dozen years ago when I mistook the Charminar for the Buland Darwaza, or vice-versa), the quizmasters used to read out the questions from cue-cards, while today PPTs are ubiquitous. But the one thing that hasn’t changed much, in fact, I believe the practice has been reinforced in all these years, is that they all like to begin by telling the audience that “The Quizmaster is always right.” Nowadays, most of the quizzes include this dictum on a ‘Rules’ slide, and a subset calls this ‘Rule #1’ (as will we) and places a loop at ‘Rule #2’ asking you to refer back to ‘Rule #1’ in cases of doubt.
One would have thought that with the inclusion of ‘googling’ into the OED and the immense wiki-ization of the knowledge industry, this edict would get rusty. As it has, and yet, the usage hasn’t been reduced but has rather been propagated. Is the quizmaster always right? No, s/he isn’t. Some would say that they agree with this point but would still support the prevalence of Rule #1 on the grounds that quizzing is a game/sport and the quizmaster is the referee/umpire whose authority must not be questioned while the quiz is in progress. This is a seemingly obvious argument, but if one digs deeper, one realizes the absurdity that this represents.
The trouble with Rule #1 is that it implicitly assumes that during the quiz the quizmaster MAY be wrong. There might be a factual mistake in the question, there might be equally correct alternative answers other than the one the QM will give points for, or the QM might make a practical error in the conducting of the quiz itself. For now, we ignore the last type of QM-error, since those are easily resolved most times (but at other times they are not!) Focusing on the Q/As, Rule #1 gives the QM a bit of a respite. It sort of tells him: ‘It’s okay to not research your question to the fullest, I’m there. No one will call out your mistake. Chill.’ It exhorts him to Ctrl+C ‘facts’ verbatim from the wiki-store and not consider checking the source.
A typical quiz consists of around 60-100 questions (including the preliminaries). Surely, the QM has enough time to check whether the facts he has put into the quiz are all correct. More so for the QMs who copy their questions straight from slideshare.net, but then again, expecting them to maintain any standards in this or any regard is futile.
A small error is fine, but if the incorrect factoid changes the meaning of the question or has a direct or indirect bearing on the answer, then the mistake isn’t forgivable. The QM brings this upon himself by talking up his omniscience at the beginning of the quiz through Rule #1. To put it succinctly, if you as the QM believe that there is no major error in your set, you don’t need to put in Rule #1. If, on the other hand, you have reason to believe that there might be some major errors in your set (since you didn’t check the facts or are incredibly unlucky), then it makes no sense being a bigot and putting in Rule #1 and making a fool of yourself later. In case, out of nowhere a blooper does appear, if you haven’t put in Rule #1, you can easily save face by acknowledging your mistake, but you wouldn’t be so lucky if you believe that the quizmaster is always right. You have been warned. Thanks.
P.s. this assumes that you are not Parnab, because then you are above rules.
(Written on August 10, 2013)