â€œQuestion one: Whatâ€™s the longest river in Japan?â€
It was May 23, 2006, when I looked out on a bar mostly full of strangers and asked them all that question. And then I repeated it, because thatâ€™s what quizmasters do.
I was surprised, although I shouldnâ€™t have been. Yes, hosting was (ugh) performing in public, speaking in front of a bunch of people. I was awkward and introverted, with the Myers-Briggs score to back it up.
I started the evening as a fill-in host for a friend, and finished the evening desperately wanting to do it again â€” and with a list of ideas for how next time would be better. Because if you havenâ€™t noticed, or were too kind to think it, that first question was not very good. Too obscure, too dull. (But not just plain cruel, like question 8: â€œWhat road, completed in 1986, connects Pakistan with China, passing over the Khunjerab Pass at its highest point?â€ I canâ€™t remember the answer to that and I just looked at it.)
Being a quizmaster appeals to the part of me that loves being an insider. I like to know how things work, even more than I like figuring them out. I want to know how magic tricks work. I read spoilers.
Quizmastering was perfect. I had all the answers, because I wrote the questions. Playing trivia is fun, and I wouldnâ€™t give it up â€” in part because playing the quiz makes you a better host. But writing trivia questions is a blast. Learning to do it well is a pain in the ass, because it turns out that writing good trivia is not about showing off how much you know. (When you do it really well, you delight people by revealing to them how much they know. Tough to pull off, but the best.)
If I had to host quizzes so I could write them, it was worth it.