The Cryptic Pub Quiz is a really original book. How did it come into being?
I don’t remember there being a moment of inspiration when I realized that my quizzes would make a good fit for a book. It always seemed quite a natural progression. I have a literary agent (who I acquired when I was composing a still-unpublished graphic novel about a boy who, in a condensed milk-related accident, gets his headmaster fired and replaced by a vicious pirate) and I suggested it to him. The decision to illustrate it felt very natural as well. I thought that looking at illustrations might temporarily soothe the solvers’ addled brains.
You started drawing at an early age; when did you start quizzing?
My love of quizzing grew out of a childhood fascination with puzzles. I loved to draw intricate mazes and watch my mum blunderingly attempt to trace a path through them with her finger. She knew that if she had solved them easily and without discernible bewilderment I would have been intensely disappointed.
As I grew older I discovered logic puzzles in which facts had to be deduced from a series of statements by pathological liars and pathological truth-tellers. I wrote my own versions, which I inflicted on my increasingly weary mum.
“I think that writing quizzes, like drawing, requires a great deal of drive and determination”
I had been to occasional pub quizzes in my student days, but it was only in 2011, when I started going to quizzes regularly with my girlfriend, that I felt truly sucked into the world of the pub quiz. I began to appreciate how much a good quiz question does not simply demand that contestants rattle off a fact they already know, but that it may be outwardly baffling, yet contain some artfully concealed clue which enables them to piece it together.
As I continued to go to quizzes I felt thrilled by my general knowledge palpably swelling. I compiled my first quiz to raise funds for a charity my girlfriend was volunteering for; I got carried away by a tide of fiendish complexity and most people found it exasperatingly hard. In 2015 the quizmaster of a favourite pub quiz that my girlfriend and I frequented retired from quizzes, and I offered to take his place. I’ve been presenting the quiz at The Mill in Cambridge ever since.
Many of your drawings are a kind of puzzle, or at least could be read as such. Do you see a connection between art and the quizzing impulse?
Someone who regularly attends the quiz at The Mill guessed from my questions that I must either be a mathematician or an artist. I think that writing quizzes, like drawing, requires a great deal of drive and determination, and can be an intense and creative process. I enjoy trying to come up with new forms of puzzle and new and unusual themes for rounds. Narrative-based quizzes, which tell a story interspersed with quiz questions, have become a particular source of enjoyment, and last Halloween I created a story in which contestants had to imagine themselves trapped within a haunted house filled with puzzles, curses and surreal characters.
You’ve done some great Biro drawings. What do you like about the medium?
The fact that it makes such fine markings, allowing for drawings as subtle and intricate as etchings, really appeals to me. Unlike other pens, the darkness of the line you make depends on how hard you press. Biros are also much cheaper than most art materials.
Finally—what’s the hardest question you’ve ever set in a quiz?
The hardest questions—the ones that flummox everyone—are often those that I’m least proud of, as they involve me misjudging the contestants’ knowledge. There was one I set which related to what I thought was a relatively widespread news story about the name of the Russian minister Sergey Lavrov being rendered by Google Translate as “sad little horse”, which was greeted by blank looks from everyone. The questions I’m most proud of are ones that involve a great deal of brain-racking before triumphantly leading to the answer; one round involved a hidden connection in which pairs of answers combined to form spoonerisms of parts of the body, and one team were—to my immense satisfaction—unable to restrain their euphoria when they realized it.
We are offering a free annual subscription to the person who can solve two puzzles set by Frank Paul.
1. Spot the similarities. Each of the two pictures can be divided into 77 squares, each one indicated by a grid reference such as A1. Eight of the squares in Picture 1 are identical to squares in Picture 2, except that some have been rotated by 90º or 180º.
Fill in each blank space to form words which match the definitions. In each case, the word or name will match the definition whether or not you remove the letter or letters given in brackets. (For instance, if the clue were “Spherical: _ _ (T) _ _ _”, the answer would be “RO(T)UND”, since either “round” or “rotund” would be a valid answer.)
- Tinge of colour: _ _ _ (I) _ _
- Language: (K) _ _ _ _ _ (N)
- Someone who tells gags: _ (OK) _ _ _ _ _
- Seafarer in a classic novel by an American author named Herman: _ _ _ _ (QUE) _
- Relating to an area that was once a kingdom, or to its inhabitants: _ _ _ (G) _ _ _ _ _ _
- The Greek philosopher Democritus believed that this word could describe atoms: _ _ (DI) _ _ _ _ _ _ _
- Something with which the annual Palm Dog Award is associated: _ _ _ (I) _ _ _
- Situation of Vincent van Gogh, partially (beginning in 1888): (E) _ _ _ _ _ (S)
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your answers