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The Alex City Quiz 2014

The Alex City Quiz, now in its sixth triumphant year, returned to the London Stock Exchange on Wednesday, March 5th 2014.

Alex tendered his by now customary excuses for his absence, claiming he was busy working on the Poundland IPO (though readers of The Daily Telegraph will know that he was in fact at his wife Penny’s company’s strategy retreat, where he was being dragged around shopping malls and health spas by a party of corporate wives.)

Luckily Robert Bathurst was on hand to step into Alex’s shoes and take on the role of quizmaster for the evening. The questions were set by Russell Taylor, Alex writer, and Marcus Berkmann, author of last year’s popular book about mid-life crisis A Shed of My Own. They were ably assisted on scoreboard duties by writer and party impresario Suzette Field.

Despite the escalating conflagration in Ukraine every table was full. Even the prospect of imminent global conflict can’t spook quizzers. It can't even spook the stock market these days it seems. Bad news? No problem. We’ll just ignore it until it goes away. It's called the "New Normal". Well, it worked with the debt crisis..

The teams came from all walks of corporate life - brokers, bankers, financial PRs, fund managers, lawyers and journalists - and had names that ranged from the suggestive “Fact Hunt” to the provocative “Google”. There was even a team of compliance officers. Robert pointed out that having them in attendance is probably a regulatory requirement these days. And his advice to anyone who spotted them cheating: just get over it.

The competitors were instructed to switch off their Blackberrys, iPhones, iPads, tablets, and androids: the only permitted status symbols for the evening were to be Mont Blanc pens. Robert reminded them that the Alex City Quiz is a test of what you know and not a test of what you can frantically Google under the table. That, he went on, is what your jobs are about..

Russell and Marcus had decided to shorten this year’s format from eight rounds to seven, on the grounds that after 9 pm people tend to be far too drunk to concentrate on the questions or write their answers legibly. The resulting quiz covered a broad range of knowledge, ranging from science (“which is the only internal organ which, if damaged, can grow back almost completely?”) to the arts (“which dying gay composer’s last opera was Death in Venice - the story of a dying gay composer?”) via history (“who was second in command of the English fleet which defeated the Spanish Armada?”) to popular pastimes (“which is the longest, and which the shortest, street on the Monopoly board?”). The quizzers’ financial expertise was tested in somewhat unorthodox ways (“How much money did Mean Mister Mustard keep up his nose?”) and with a whole round of songs on a monetary theme (featuring ditties on dosh by artists from Liza Minnelli to Lady Gaga).

Teams embarrassed themselves with their ignorance .. and sometimes with their knowledge. Ex-Reuters man Herbie Skeete and his cohorts were the only people to correctly identify that the name for an erect penis that curves downwards is a “chordee”. They were afterwards unable to deliver a satisfactory explanation for just how they came to be so familiar with this fact.

Returning former champions “iKew” blew their chances of reclaiming the trophy on the final question of the evening (“How many pigs are there in Afghanistan? Is it none, one or lots?”) with a single misplaced letter. They changed their answer from “one” to “none”. In fact there is a single, solitary pig in Afghanistan: he’s called Khanzir and he lives at Kabul Zoo.

In the end the Masterley trophy was retained by last year’s winners, bearing the unwieldy name “I’m not the Quizmaster I’m a Very Naughty Boy”, who repeated their 2013 victory by a single point. They posed for selfies with the Alex statuette, but were once again denied the right to take it home as it has yet to be fixed from last year’s manhandling. However they have been promised (like the World Cup) that if they win next year they will be allowed to keep the trophy outright.

“E for Idiot” came prophetically last and were awarded the ‘must try harder’ prize - a copy of The Prince of Wales Highgate Quiz Book (edited by Marcus Berkmann).

It only remained to make the draw for the snowball round. Over the course of the evening the largely male quizzers had been importuned by the comely Jenni and Laura from the Stock Exchange to place their business cards (attached to a £20 note) into a bowl. One of the cards was drawn out and Robert phoned the mobile number on it. It belonged to Declan McEvoy of Standard Chartered, who was duly called up on stage to answer a question on Alex. Sadly the combined effects of nerves and house red caused him to have a memory lapse. A second card was drawn, which turned out to be that of Robert Hands, executive managing editor of the Times. He protested (perhaps slightly too much) that he knew absolutely nothing about Alex (well he would say that wouldn't he?), but then proceeded to correctly answer a question about Penny's new job and won that day's signed framed original cartoon, which he took away with slight chagrin. Perhaps there is more industrial espionage going on in Wapping than they care to let on..

As the guests staggered over to the Corney and Barrow on Paternoster Square to discuss the coups and grievances of their evening Marcus and Russell decided maybe next year’s quiz should be restricted to six rounds. In all the evening raised £4,300 for the London Stock Exchange Group Foundation Charitable Trust.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, those answers were:

The liver. Benjamin Britten. Sir Francis Drake. Old Kent Road & Vine Street. Ten bob note (10 shillings).

If you want to test your quizzing mettle with a view to participating next year, here is the first round of Wednesday’s quiz.

1. The slowest skier at the Sochi Winter Olympics was also almost certainly the richest and the most famous. She refused to stay in the Olympic village because her Chihuahua, Max, wasn’t allowed in. Who is she and which country did she represent?

2. Elephants and rabbits have 28, cats have 30, dogs have 42 and dolphins have at least 80 and sometimes as many as 250. How many do humans have?

3. What is the world’s highest free-standing mountain - that’s to say, the highest mountain that isn’t part of a mountain range?

4. In 1976, doctors in Los Angeles went on strike to protest against the rising cost of malpractice insurance. All non-emergency surgery and medical attention were cancelled. For the duration of the strike, did the number of deaths in Los Angeles rise, did they stay the same, or did they fall?

5. It’s the 100th anniversary of World War One, so here’s a two-parter about Great War gastronomy. (a) During World War One which traditional British dish gained the nickname “Zeppelins in a Cloud” and (b) which German delicacy was strategically renamed “Liberty Cabbage”?

6. India has the highest population of Hindus in the world. China has the highest population of Buddhists. Which country has the highest population of Muslims?

7. Britain’s first Smelliest Cheese Championship was held at The Royal Bath And West Show in Somerset in May 2009. Which cheese, previously used to revive an unconscious Wallace in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, was the winner?

8. What is the musical connection between Woody Allen, Robbie Coltrane and David Tennant?

9. Which Central American country did Christopher Columbus name under the misapprehension that the land was filled with precious metals?

10. Sergei Prokofiev, arguably the greatest Russian composer of the 20th Century, died in Moscow on this day, March 5th, in 1953, but his death wasn't announced in the Russian papers, nor was his body buried or even removed from his house for several days. Why not?


1. Vanessa Mae. Thailand.

2. 32. (Teeth as adults.)

3. Mount Kilimanjaro

4. They fell.

5. (a) Bangers and Mash, (b) Sauerkraut.

6. Indonesia.

7. Stinking Bishop.

8. They all took their professional names from their favourite musicians (Allan Konigsberg named himself Woody Allen after clarinetist Woody Herman; Robbie McMillan became Robbie Coltrane in honour of tenor sax player John Coltrane; and David McDonald was inspired to rename himself David Tennant after Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys).

9. Costa Rica. (it means “rich coast” in Spanish. Its main exports today are in fact bananas, pineapples and coffee)

10. A: Stalin died the same day. The newspapers were full of tributes to him and all the streets in Moscow were closed for his grandiose state funeral.