Who was the first voice of Bugs Bunny? What’s a bathing suit comprising a shirt and pants called? And which museum in Paris used to be a train station? If you answered all three questions correctly, or at least benefited from finding out, you’ll love the biggest new trend in Israeli nightlife: pub quizzes. These competitive trivia contests are the fast-growing local version of a global trend.
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Eighteen months ago, Yael Bezalel and Michael Shapira started “MyQuiz – Israeli nightlife for smart people,” an Israeli trivia game they take around bars in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Be’er Sheva, and elsewhere. But Bezalel and Shapira actually began in competitive debating: “I was once the world champion in university debate, and when I judged in a competition in Cambridge [England], friends took me to a ‘pub quiz,’” recalls Shapira. “The first thing that passed through my mind was, ‘I can’t believe this doesn’t exist anywhere in Israel.’ I immediately called Yael and told her, ‘Let’s try to get this thing going.’”
Bezalel, also an award-winning European university debater, was immediately hooked. “Because Michael is from Haifa, we randomly approached the Syncopa Bar in Haifa, and after only one email they booked an event there. The place was pretty full, and within a short time we started doing more and more events in all sorts of cities. We’re very popular among academic institutions, too. Now we conduct between six and 10 events a month,” she says.
Avi Goldberger, owner of the Hataklit Bar in Jerusalem, also understood that the phenomenon was worth pursuing, and held trivia nights in his bar as far back as 2011 – usually on Mondays during the winter. It was an attempt to draw an international crowd of journalists and foreign organizations’ employees living in the Holy City. “In the first few years I ran the activities in Hebrew and English. But I quickly discovered that it caught on much more with the Israeli crowd,” says Goldberger.
No smartphones allowed
It’s Sunday evening in Jaffa’s Saloona Art Bar. People take their seats and order drinks. Unlike a routine night in a bar or restaurant, where the only connection between those present is the fact that they’re sitting under the same roof, something about the pub-quiz concept induces a much friendlier atmosphere, and participants feel at ease talking with the strangers sitting near them. After some chatting and friendly banter over who will be the winners, the competition begins.
The concept is pretty straightforward: During the evening, all different manner of questions are asked – musical, pictorial or simply verbal. The contest is divided into rounds, usually on specific topics. The team with the most correct answers wins.
Bezalel and Shapira claim their approach is different than the traditional British format, where the pub quiz has been popular for over 40 years. “We ask the ‘quizzers’ to put their telephones in the bucket in the center of the table at the beginning of the evening; the idea is to create a social experience,” they say. They point out that if people were only interested in answering questions, they could take the weekly quiz in Haaretz Magazine (“Many of our participants do that, anyway”).
“In addition,” they continue, “the questions on any given evening revolve around a specific topic – for example, “Alice in Wonderland” – but are diverse and not related directly to the topic. It’s important to us to preserve the variety, so that every participant feels that any second can be the one in which they save the team with the right answer. It’s really a team sport.”
Of course, the big winners from the quiz nights are the bars that host the competitions. They get a captive audience that orders food and drinks all night long. Saloona Art Bar owner Eran Goldfarb has hosted Bezalel and Shapira’s quiz for over a year, and seems pleased with the arrangement.
“It’s simply a fun, wonderful idea. They created an empire, and people wait in line to get in,” he says, adding, “The main charm of the quiz is that it breaks the monotony of sitting in a bar.”
Goldberger has taken the idea a step farther and brings in a sponsor for every trivia season – usually drinks companies – in order to keep the competitions free.
The organizers are intent on keeping things fresh, which creates more work. Bezalel and Shapira say they have a “rather serious production line. Every week we meet and write the questions, and because there are people who come to our events in more than one city, we can’t repeat any question twice.”
Goldberger helps with preparations, too. “I use trivia books and the internet, but from one time to the next it becomes harder to think of questions. It’s a real challenge,” he says.
Bezalel admits concern that the questions might be too esoteric and contestants won’t know the answers, and says they’ve previously been guilty of asking questions that are too difficult. As far as they’re concerned, a question that no one can answer means the organizers have failed. With one proviso: “The answer is so interesting or funny – and then it’s worth it. [Unless] it is something that people would not have heard about anywhere else,” she says.
Goldberger adds: “An effective way to filter is to ask yourself, ‘Have I ever run into the answer to this question?’ If the answer is no, I simply don’t ask the question. I test everything on myself.”
Is it not difficult to answer questions when you’re drunk?
Shapira: “It’s precisely for the drunks that we developed a feature that gives chasers to the team that gave an answer that managed to really make us laugh – and people surpass themselves every time! We asked not long ago, ‘What was the previous family name of Donald Trump?’ And we received the wonderful answer: ‘Trumpoline.’”
British institution makes aliyah
Similar to fish and chips and afternoon tea, the pub quiz began as a British institution. It began in pubs all over the country on quiet weekday nights in the 1970s, with the goal of attracting more customers; it has since become almost as common as pub pool tables. Estimates put the number of such nights around the world in the tens of thousands every week. And, naturally, organized leagues exist for the fanatics in Britain.
Way back in 1947, BBC Radio recognized the British love for random questions and began broadcasting its “Round Britain Quiz,” a trivia game in which teams from all over Britain compete – and which is still on air today. So it’s no surprise that the trivia trend began there, too.
Trivia nights are the most refreshing new trend in Israeli nightlife, having joined other successful ideas such as science lectures in bars. All are trying to offer an alternative to the standard evening of just sitting in a bar. “We are totally part of the phenomenon,” says Shapira. “The twist is the interactivity. People don’t come to hear an interesting lecture, but they really take part.”
Most people go to a bar to get away from thinking. Why should I make my brain work hard instead of just drinking and chatting?
Bezalel: “We all work long hours, and there are people who sometimes feel like they’re giving up on some personal development in favor of sitting with a friend in a pub – simply because they don’t have enough time to do both things. This is where the quiz comes in. You get an evening of entertainment and don’t feel that you’ve wasted your time, and instead you leave a bit sharper.”
Prof. Israel Katz, from the department of psychology at the Hebrew University, says the opportunity to compete without any obligation is what attracts people. “The game is simple and the questions are stimulating – and the response you receive for your knowledge is immediate. Because of the esotericism of the questions, no one can expect you to know everything. So the social price that usually accompanies games doesn’t exist here and there’s no fear of failure,” he says.
In addition, people have an innate love of quizzes, the professor notes. Many of the important questions in our lives – such as God, love, etc., – have no clear answers. The quiz gives us an opportunity to confront the riddles, but in a safe space and without fatal consequences waiting for us at the end, adds Katz.
Wine and glory
Amit Evron has rarely missed an event since MyQuiz launched in Jaffa last year. He says it’s actually the randomness of the questions that causes he and his friends to come back time after time.
“You have no way of preparing for such an evening, and what’s fun is the combination between the topics of the questions – whether it’s pop culture, history or chemistry,” he says.
“It’s quite simple,” adds Noa Volk, a member of the same team. “We’re here because it’s fun and because we’re nerds.”
Like the customer who orders “the usual” every night in their neighborhood bar, pub quiz nights have their own sets of teams that never miss an event. “The rivalry between the teams sometimes reaches the level of Maccabi and Hapoel [Tel Aviv]. It’s really important to people to win and prove they know the most,” says Goldberger.
“We don’t have a specific type of participant,” notes Shapira. “It sounds like a cliché, but who doesn’t want to gain some more knowledge and have a drink with friends along the way? There’s a reason why people solve riddles and do crossword puzzles: they always want to know more about the world. Not long ago, we held an evening in a bar in Be’er Sheva: A group of high-school students sat at one table, and their teacher sat at the other end of the bar. It was amazing! When we entered the field, we were certain we’d have a very specific type of person [attending], but we’re always surprised.”
And what about prizes for the winners? Mostly they come in the form of alcoholic beverages, but Bezalel says the eternal glory that comes with the victory should definitely be enough.