Having taken no part in chess for several years, I resolved, against my better judgement, to assist the social organisers of the Scottish Congress in Edinburgh by organising a 'Quiz Night'. This duly took place on Thursday 22nd July, in 'Greyfriars Bobby's' Bar, a few spooky steps through Greyfriars churchyard from the historic congress venue at George Heriot's School.
At the risk of damaging this website's reputation(!?) as an intellectual and serious journal of record, I have penned a report on the proceedings.
For an ex 'Heri-rotter' such as myself, the venue and locale provided much inspiration for the questions. The participants were warned that 'Chess knowledge may prove a distinct disadvantage' and so it proved to be.
The 'anoraks' were out in force for the event (12 teams, of whom 10 lasted the pace) and the bar was crowded. Despite rigging up a 'mike' and speaker it was hard to make oneself heard among the jangle of glasses and the creaking of rusty elbows. But those willing to put up with this seemed to enjoy the occasion.
Teams expected to score well included the 'Dentists Quartet' (Ian Robertson, Colin McNab, John Macarthur, Brian Easton); the 'Pawn Stars' (John Shaw, David Eynon, Neil Berry, James Parkin); 'Four Queen Hell' (Geoff Chandler, Mark Condie, Eddie Perry, Dave Goddard) and the 'Also Rans' (Dougie Bryson, Ken Beaton, Nicol Bathie, Alan Minnican). After all, a Grand-, Fide-, or International master should be worth a point or two.
A late entry from the 'Gravediggers' (David Archibald, Jim Stevenson, and David Quinn) looked an outside bet, and the 'Disorganised Organisers' (Terry Purkins, Alex MacFarlane, David Stewart and Donald Grassie) had plenty of experience and the added advantage of knowing nothing about playing chess.
Expected to be battling it out for the 'wooden pawn' were the 'Lasswade Lions' (Jack Finlay, Hugh Flockhart, Charlie Nisbet, Ian Campbell); the 'Macmurrays' Stuart McKinney, Paul McQillan, Robin Murray, Findlay Murray); 'Half a Brain' (is that each or in total!?) - (Gavin Saxton, Stephen Willetts, Andrew Willetts, Duncan Grassie), and last and in many ways least the 'Fly-swatters', a youthful team (Graeme Kafka, Gordon Rigg, Elaine Rutherford, Desmond Tan) who realised too late that a team composed entirely of teenagers was unlikely to do well in a quiz set by a competitor in the 'Seniors'.
The first General Knowledge question, "Who can you go to if you get caught short of pawn cover?" set the tone for the evening, and was successfully answered (a 'Pawnbroker' of course!) by most teams.
However, "How many squares are there on a 'Hexagonal Chess' board got a variety of answers ranging from 36 (twice) through 48, 64 (three tries), 96 (three tries) and 126! The answer of course is none; there are 91 hexagons in the usual version, but none of them are squares! Only the 'diggers' and the 'organisers' got that one right.
Surprisingly everyone knew there would be 365 days in the year 2100, but the colour of a lobster in its natural state (blue-black; it only goes red when it is boiled - well wouldn't you!) netted a few with purple, pink, brown, grey-brown, and red all being tried.
In the Media/Entertainment round, only the Diggers and the 4-Queens remembered 'Noggin the Nog', a children's television series from the 60's based on the Lewis Chessmen. Shame!
The founder member of the Wandering Dragons who writes in 'Scotland on Sunday' is not Dougie Bryson or Paul Motwani as some thought but Ian Crorie who writes the Bridge column.
I thought everyone would get the Disney film set in Edinburgh ('Greyfriars Bobby') but '101 Dalmatians' showed that the 'Half a Brain' team weren't kidding.
The Dentists also had a point deducted for being the only anoraks sad enough to be able to name the Bay City Rollers (get a life!).
Round 3 (History) sorted out the 'men' from the 'boys' (and 1 girl). A bonus was offered for anyone who knew against whom Oliver Cromwell (not Oliver Penrose) was campaigning in Edinburgh in 1650.
A slight loss of tempo and a surprising disregard for their Kings and Queens was indicated by the answers 'James IV' (died at Flodden in 1513); 'James V' (Died 1542); 'Mary Queen of Scots' (beheaded 1587); 'James I' (not stated whether England or Scotland, but both long dead); 'Charles I' (executed 1649); 'The Old Pretender' and 'The Jacobites' (not so old yet - not born until 1688). Better attempts were 'the Marquis of Montrose' whose head was still perhaps rotting on a spike in the Grassmarket having been executed some 3 months previously, and 'James II' (17 years old and living it up in France). 'Half a Brain' knew it was the Covenanters, and the 'Lasswade Lions' knew it was General David Leslie. Well done!
Similar problems beset those asked who flung her stool at the preacher in St. Giles Cathedral. No it was not Mary Queen of Scots, or Margo McDonald, Flora McDonald, (or Jenny Leng). It was Jenny Geddes.
Some thought the Scot who successfully played in America and fought a war was William Fairhurst (a New Zealander!) and that he took part in W.W.1 (Pawn Stars) or the Korean War (Half a Brain). Perhaps he did both, for all I know. But Captain George Mackenzie defeated all comers in the U.S. and fought in their Civil War.
Equally stretching was the 'Art, Literature and Music' round. The operas 'Macbeth', (Verdi) 'Lucia of Lammermoor' (Donizetti), 'The Lady of the Lake' (Rosetti) 'The White Lady' (Boldieu) and 'The Fair Maid of Perth' (Bizet) were all romantically set in Scotland, but despite of lots of bonus points on offer the teams came up with very few of these. The Fly-swatters thought that the 'Barber of Seville' (by Bach?) and 'Carmen' were both set in Scotland. 'Brigadoon' (tried by three) is not exactly an opera, nor is 'Swan Lake' or 'Ivanhoe'. And the 'Heart of Midlothian' (Pawn Stars) is a football team, for goodness sake!
However the Dentists, the Organisers, and the 4-Queens all spotted the link between 'Watership Down' and 'Wimbledon Common' - Mike Batt, creator of the 'Wombles' wrote 'Bright Eyes'.
One question which 'foxed' all the rabbits was 'Who was a chef in London, wrote a poem including the line 'At times a pawn leads all to victory' before becoming a great leader inspiring his country to victory in a war (after WW2)?' Various tries included Menachem Begin, Moshe Dyan, Shimon Peres, Anwar Sadat, Pol Pot, and Mel G. (good try, Fly-swatters!). Gravediggers wrote down Ho Chi Minh, then scored it out because they thought the Vietnam War was agreed drawn (reading too much biased post-mortem analysis - should have left it in, lads!). However they got a bonus point for knowing that the chess verse quoted was from the Fitzgerald translation of the Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam. This helped them pile on the points in this round to take a lead over the field.
Some of the trailing teams perked up when they heard the next set was 'Sport & Leisure' - however they didn't fare any better. Everyone knew that Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark and David Coulthard had won Grand Prix, but no-one remembered Innes Ireland. Other drivers said to be 'associated' with places in Scotland were Johnny Dumfries, Eddie Irvine, Stirling Moss, Denny Hulme, and (astonishingly suggested by 7 teams!) Ayr-toon Senna! No prizes for the teams that suggested that 'U.S. Postal' (Cycling team) played Correspondence Chess, or Snooker; 'Ormiston Primrose' (Junior Football) played Womens' Rugby or Shinty, or that 'Edinburgh Monarchs' (Speedway) were a Basketball, Ice Hockey, or Baseball team. But more bonuses for the 'diggers for naming the book 'Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil' about Cowdenbeath F.C.'s disastrous 1992-3 football season, and the Pawn Stars for knowing that Mike Allingham played Rugby Union (Heriots F.P.) and Cricket (Heriots and Scotland).
The Science and Technology round was explosive; most teams who knew that 'K' stood for Potassium, number 19 in the table of elements; and were able to work out that a 'Lunar Orbiter' circling one mile above the Moon would have to travel 6.84 miles further to circumnavigate the Moon than a 'Lunar Explorer' on the surface; but they didn't know that a moon geographer is a Selenographer (not a lunatic, thank you, Dentists).
A correct (and excellently sung) first verse of 'Blue Moon' gained a bonus, and the atmosphere was electric as the teams attempted to define a 'Volt', an 'Amp', and a 'Watt' under 'current affairs'.
The Organisers and the Dentists are obviously well-heeled as they were the only ones to know that the new Rover Car is the '75'.
And so to the final round ('Bits and Pieces') and more chess-related Questions. Everyone was caught out by the 9-times winner of the British Championship (H.E. Atkins), and Gustavus Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg (Selenus), who did not play Morphy at the opera (that was one of his descendants) but wrote the first German Chess instructor. Everyone managed to get the requisite number of famous Belgians without having to resort to 'sprog' Motwani, but Jonathan Grant did not give his name to a malt Whisky (it was 'Glyn' Grant, as pointed out by the MacMurrays). Paul Motwani will be pleased to know that he's at least partially getting his message across. Chapter 4 of 'H.O.T. Chess', dedicated to John Glendinning, is entitled 'C.H.A.M.P.' which Fly-swatters interpreted as 'Cheating, Hell-raising, Annoying, Masterful Person' and Lasswade Lions got 'Castle High and Make Progress'. The 'Organiser' who suggested if it was dedicated to JG it should be 'Can Hardly Annotate My Positions' had best be nameless, but we know him as 'A.H.M.c.F' (Arbiter Has Mocked - Career Finished!). Half a Brain got this one (Calculation, Harmony, Alertness, Memory, Preparation).
The last task, with lots of bonuses on offer, set the quills flying: name as many birds as you can which have associations with Chess. No one got 'Heron' (Donald - Challengers) or 'Partridge' (former Seniors champion). Entries ruled as at least partially acceptable were Bird('s opening, etc), Rook, Vulture, Pelikan, Eagle (Angela?), and Swan. Dubious tries were Ousel/Weezle, Hawk, Wing Gambit, Penguin/Puffin (Chess Books), Ostrich, Duck, Crow(wood). And strictly 'for the birds' were 'Terradactyl' (sic-Flyswatters) aka 'Pterodektal' (sic - Also Rans) - anyway it's a reptile and it's spelt Pterodactyl!; 'Dodo' (it's dead, and it never played chess); 'Dawn French' (Also-Rans) - not the kind of bird we meant! Flyswatters sensibly put down every bird they could think of (including 'Halibut' - its a fish, you cretins!) and so got enough bonuses to get them out of last place which fell by default to a depleted but unbowed MacMurrays.
Come the drinking-up time-scramble the runaway winners were the 'Gravediggers' who showed a frightening grasp of trivial detail (why can't they play better chess?); the Disorganised Organisers were handicapped by the predictable decision of Donald Grassie to concentrate on the scoring rather than the play, but still managed second, with the Dentists (including the highest-placed titled player) third, followed by 4Queens and the Pawn Stars. The middle order was filled by the Also-Rans who fulfilled their titular aspirations, as did Half a Brain, and Lasswade Lions who ended up looking sheepish. Thanks are due to Donald for his sterling efforts in trying to make sense of the answers, and to Greyfriars Bobby's bar for the venue and free buffet. And myself - it is any wonder that I did a 'Van de Veldt' in the Seniors the next day, and blew it completely while in the lead.
I can't resist finishing with the final question: With what other game do you associate the mother of the promising young German chess-player, Klaus Junge (Who tied with Alekhine for first place in Prague 1942 only to be killed in the last weeks of the war)? Answer - 'Mah Jung' of course!