The Big Quiz

Wednesday 1 June 2016

If you have ever worked with a polymath – and assuming you are not one yourself – you’ll know how very intimidating it can be. I recall sharing an office with one man. He knew his English literature, his philosophy, and even, somewhat suspiciously, mathematics. He played several instruments well and was an able all-round sportsman. He did all the plumbing and electrical work at home. On one Monday morning, he recounted his weekend spent ‘stripping’ his car gearbox. Where is the gearbox in a car, what does it look like, and what is involved in ‘stripping’? This man even had the temerity to be witty and compassionate.

In other words, working with Mr. Knowledge was far from easy.

On another, more recent occasion, I participated in a charity quiz night. I was initially delighted to be placed in the same team as the school’s ‘know it all’. Whilst ‘we’ wiped the floor with the opposition, it was a Pyrrhic victory, forced as I was to confront my own inadequacies when paired with accomplished erudition.

So, right, with this in mind I have written a quiz. It’s for you, the teachers. If your students can do the quiz you should probably retire. It’s intended to be ‘appropriately challenging’. You may not get all the questions right, but you are likely to know a few answers. That’s fine. Just don’t compare your answers with colleagues, and certainly not with the department’s sage. 

Because of budgetary cutbacks, we are unable to award prizes to winners. However, answers will appear in two weeks time. I can trust that you won’t cheat, can’t I?

Are you ready?

1. Leicester City won the English Premier League in football (soccer if you must) this year. Leicester also has a number of famous contemporary writers who come from the city. Which of the following writers was NOT born in Leicester?

A. Sue Townsend

B. David Lodge

C. Bali Rai

D. Julian Barnes

2. Sticking with a spot of exercise, the 2016 Olympic Games will be held in Rio de Janeiro. If you would rather read some fiction from Brazil this August than watch people running and jumping and throwing stuff, perhaps you can choose a writer from the following list. Before you do, can you identify which of these Brazilian writers penned The Apple in the Dark?

A. Hilda Hilst

B. Rubem Fonseca

C. Clarice Lispector

D. Paulo Cohelo

3. Staying in South America for now, which of the following writers has NOT won the Nobel Prize in Literature?

A. Pablo Neruda

B. Octavio Paz

C. Mario Vargas Llosa

D. Isabel Allende

4. The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded in Sweden every year; it’s a fancy affair. At the time of writing, Scandinavian crime fiction – Nordic Noir – seems to be all the rage. Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was particularly successful both in Larsson’s native Sweden and, after translation, in airports worldwide. What is the name of the protagonist in the novel?

A. Kurt Wallander

B. Martin Beck

C. Olof Palme

D. Mikael Blomkvist

5. Of course, Scandinavian tongues were influencing English long before Stieg Larsson came along to spoil the image of Sweden as Utopia Incarnate. Much of this early Norse influence came about of course because of the Viking raids on Britain. Roughly speaking, when did these begin?

A. AD 787

B. BC 787

C. AD 1066

D. AD 1204

6. Over time, the English language has borrowed and borrowed (and mainly failed to return), from all corners of the globe. Which of the following words is NOT a borrowing from Africa?

A. assassin

B. zero

C. taro

D. trek

7. Whilst we are in Africa, you are probably very familiar with Chinua Achebe and his first novel Things Fall Apart – it’s widely taught to IB Language and Literature students, I hear. What was Mr. Achebe’s first name?

A. Chinualumogu

B. James

C. Okonkwo

D. Albert

8. Mr. Achebe sadly died in 2013. Which writer won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in that year?

A. Sharon Olds

B. Billy Collins

C. Lawrence Ferlinghetti

D. Susan Rich

9. Since we are talking Pulitzer Prizes, in which of the following years was the Pulitzer Prize for fiction NOT awarded? If you can say why you don’t get bonus points. But your smartness does draw suspicion.

A. 2012

B. 2001

C. 1969

D. 1979

10. Okay, one last question on the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I promise. Marshall McLuhan had a theory of how to choose a book. To wit: Turn to page 69 and read it. If you like page 69, there is a good chance you will like the rest of the book. With this entirely logical idea in mind, the following text comes from page 69 of which Pulitzer Prize-winning novel? It seems good enough; parts seem very good indeed. She has lavish hopes, of course – she wants this to be her best book, the one that finally matches her expectations. But can a single day in the life of an ordinary woman be made into enough for a novel?

A. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

B. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

C.  American Pastoral by Philip Roth

D. The Hours by Michael Cunningham

11. The previous question – number 10 – mentions the Canadian professor of English, Marshall McLuhan. Which of the following books did McLuhan write?

A. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects

B. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Gutenberg Galaxy

C. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

D. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

12. In the 1930s, Marshall McLuhan studied at Cambridge University in England. Which of the following pairs of writers also studied at Cambridge University?

A. A.S. Byatt and Graeme Greene

B. Nick Hornby and Will Self

C. Vladimir Nabakov and Wole Soyinka

D. Patrick White and Jeanette Winterson

13. In the previous question – number 12 – Patrick White is mentioned. Mr. White is normally regarded as an Australian writer. However, he wasn’t born in Australia. Where was he born?

A. Dresden

B. London

C. Auckland

D. Albuquerque

14. Which of the following writers found himself in Dresden during the bombing of that city during WWII?

A. Kurt Vonnegut

B. Iain Banks

C. J.G. Ballard

D. John Fowles

15. In Iain Banks’ novel The Crow Road, the opening line famously begins…

A. A screaming comes across the sky.

B. This is the saddest story I have ever heard.

C. Mother died today.

D. It was the day my grandmother exploded.

16. J.G. Ballard’s (mentioned in question 14) 1984 novel, The Empire of the Sun was made into a film by Steven Spielberg in 1987. Which of the following actors did NOT appear in the film?

A. Ben Stiller

B. John Malkovich

C. Christian Bale

D. Matthew Rhys

17. The Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About when I Talk About Running is a play on words based on a short story collection by which writer?

A. Angela Carter

B. John Cheever

C. Raymond Carver

D. Roald Dahl

18. Which of the following characters did not appear in a book by Roald Dahl?

A. Mr. Hoppy

B. Mrs. Twit

C. Mr. Fox

D. Mr. Whiskers

19. Which of the following writers do/did NOT form part of a Mr. and Mrs. couple?

A. Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss

B. Zadie Smith and Nick Laird

C. Neil Gaiman and Laurie Halse Anderson

D. Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne

20. So much for the easy questions. Let’s have one more, and let’s take our responsibility seriously and make a link to TOK. George Lakoff is a well-known cognitive linguist (he is; trust me). One of his books is famously titled…

A. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things

B. Does God Ever Speak through Cats

C. Bodybuilders in Tutus

D. Living with Crazy Buttocks



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