ST. ANDREWS -- What stands on two legs, walks into an audience with a wireless microphone like Phil Donahue, and asks a lot of brain-teaser questions?
Answer: The Quizmaster.
Actually, there are two Quizmasters, Robin and Maria Allan of Stonewall. They are the brains behind an increasingly popular evening out called Quiz Night.
Quiz Nights are socials without the loud music. Put another way, they're socials for grown-ups. You can actually visit and talk. Some serve alcoholic beverages, some don't.
Players sit in teams of six to eight people and participate in a quiz game (a bit like Trivial Pursuit) run by the Quizmaster. Top score is the winner.
That may not sound like such fun until you try one, as I did in St. Andrews last week.
Robin and Maria got their first taste of Quiz Night a decade ago while on a teacher's exchange in Australia. A colleague invited them to a Quiz Night. "We said, 'What's a Quiz Night?'" recalled Robin. "We went and had a blast."
Canada, they found, is one of the few Commonwealth countries where Quiz Nights aren't part of the social fabric.
"If you watch Coronation Street, you see it there," said Robin. "It started in England and spread. It's very big in Australia, and very big in New Zealand. And it's monstrous in India."
When they returned from Australia, they thought it would be fun to kick-start Quiz Nights in Manitoba. Getting their first gig was tough. The first community to take a chance was the Rural Municipality of St. Andrews--where they returned last weekend for their 10th anniversary of hosting Quiz Nights. This Quiz Night was to raise funds for a new swing set for St. Andrews School.
Now, Quiz Nights serve as fundraisers for everything from schools to churches to community clubs. Habitat for Humanity has hosted a Quiz Night. So have Adoption Options, the Steinbach Credit Union, and the Thunder Bay Children's Aid Society. Robin and Maria have run Quiz Nights from Thunder Bay to Brandon.
The crowd at the Little Britain Hall in St. Andrews was a unique blend: primarily parents of kids in the K-6 school and some of the teachers.
"Parents see each other at school and at school events but their kids are always there," said local organizer Jennifer Sinclair. "This gets them together as adults, having fun and raising money for the school."
St. Andrews is also recovering from flooding. The crowd included Lyle and Lynda Thompson, who had to sandbag their River Road home three times -- every time the flood forecast was revised. They set down 4,000 sandbags.
Well, not alone. They had a lot of help from friends. So on Quiz Night, they were buying the rounds. "This is a chance to pay people back," said Lynda.
Teams have funny names, like the Zero IQs (teachers), Married With Children, and The Quizmaster (i.e. Robin) Is Not Funny. There were also some decidedly racy names.
Quiz categories include the news, trivia, movies, word games, famous faces, TV-show jingles and others. What is the de facto national sport of Japan? Who is the commander of the Millennium Falcon?
"You don't have to be a scholar," said local organizer Sinclair. "If you follow the news, even Entertainment Tonight news, you can play."
Several quizzes are designed to get people out of their seats, like the Chocolate Bar Quiz. Ten well-known chocolate bars are placed in different parts of the hall, without their wrappers. People have to name them. But a chocolate bar can look very clinical, even foul, without its wrapper and against a white background.
Theresa Campbell didn't think a Quiz Night would appeal to her. Then she tried it. By the end of the night in St. Andrews, she was booking the Quizmasters for the South Transcona Community Centre next fall. Quizmaster rates start at about $350.
"When I first heard about this, I thought, 'Quiz Night? I'm not really that smart,'" said Campbell. But everyone at a table at one time or other will find themselves in possession of a particular, and often peculiar, expertise valuable to the team.
Campbell's team, by the way, was called Jason Always Gets His Way. Jason is her husband. I sat with Team Brain Dead (coincidentally, some might say).
What breed of dog did U.S. President Barack Obama choose for his daughters?
What is the letter symbol for iron? Brain Dead team members trusted the self-assured response from the journalist: Pb. The answer was Fe. Pb is lead. Well, similar in colour.
Research for quiz questions is ongoing, said the Allans, and quizzes are always being updated. They have many repeat customers. The Village of MacGregor has had them back eight times.
Robin and Maria never expected their venture to turn into this. "I said to Maria when we started, 'It will die in three or four years,'" recalled Robin. "This is now our 10th year and it's been our busiest year yet (18 Quiz Nights)." They run from late September to late May.
More information is available at www.quizmasters.ca