Thursday, 18 September 2014

How to make the perfect guess in a pub quiz



Having spent the last few months researching and studying the science or prediction and also being quite fond of pub quizzes here is my guide to how to make a perfect guess in a pub quiz using some of what we have learnt.


Step 1: Ideation


Ask people to think of the first answer that comes into their heads.

If they think of an answer they should not shout out the answer,  this could corrupt the purity of other participants thinking. They should put up their hand to indicate they have thought of and answer and write it down. The should also write down how confident they are on a scale of 1 to 3.  Each player can think of more than one answer but they must score their confidence of each one.

Confidence range:
1 = a hunch
2 =  quite confident
3 = certain

Answer time:
Under 5 seconds = certain
5+ seconds = assign certainty based on personal confidence measure...

Step 2: Initial idea evaluation


After the point at which everyone gives up, you then share your answers from the team and the level of confidence.

Rules for deciding if the answer is correct:
  • If more than one person has come up with the same answer in under 5 seconds then its almost certain that this answer is correct.
  • If anyone is certain about their answer, there is a high chance this answer is correct.
  • If more than one person comes up with the same answer and the combined confidence score is higher than 3 then there is quite a high chance that answer is correct and suggest you opt for that.
If there is a conflict or no answer scoring more than 2 point then go to step 3....

If nobody has come up with an answer the team is satisfied with go to step 4....

Step 3: Answer market trading


Each person must rate each answer by buying or selling shares in each answer choice with some "virtual money" .  They can buy or sell up to 2 shares in each answer.

Tip: If a person has 2 ideas that both are "hunches" then the first idea research has shown this is around 30% more likely to be correct.  Take this into consideration when making your buy / sell decisions.

e.g. if I think an answer is definitely correct I buy 2 shares. If I think its correct but I am unsure I buy 1 share,  If I think its definitely not correct I sell 2 shares, If I am feeling a little uncomfortable that it is wrong I sell 1 share.   Everyone has to commit to buy or sell - no body is allowed to sit on the fence.

Add up the total money traded in each idea and choose the winner.

If you want to be super nerdy about how you do this then don't simply add up the amount bet.  Answer should be weighted somewhat as there is not a linear relationship between betting confidence and prediction accuracy. Having studied a data from a large number of predictions we have found that prediction accuracy of somone who claims to be very confident is not twice as good as someone who has a hunch its only about 20% better (see chart below).  And people having a hunch are only 10% better than people making a total guess.  Interestingly there is little difference between someone who has a hunch and someone who says they are fairly sure.


Further more when you look at people betting against things and comparing to betting for things the prediction accuracy of the amount bet varies in an odd way. Smaller negative bets are slightly more predictive we found than large negative bets.  Strong positive bets on the other hand were more predictive than small positive bets but those that bet more than 2 were actually slightly less predictive than those that bet 2.  Hence our 2 point betting scale.


A more accurate betting aggregation process should score the amount bet like this:

-2 =  -20% 
-1 =  -20%
+1 = +10% 
+2 = +20% 

If on either of these aggregation processes no idea has a positive trading value then go to step 4....

Step 4: Idea stimulation


If you are not satisfied with any answer,  then all the team members should voice any "clues" they may be thinking about e.g. "I think his name begins with B" or "I think its something to do with football". Your thoughts could help another person think up the answer.

The scientific terms for this is called "Dialectical Boostrapping" - which basically means the sharing and discussion of ideas, which has been shown to help improve crowd wisdom generation processes. Find out more about this here Herzog and Hertwig (2009)

The more small clue you share they greater the chance of one of them triggering a thought in a team member. Note these can also be negative clues e.g. its definitely not...

If this process stimulates any ideas then go back to step 3 to evaluate them...

Step 5:  Picking the best of a bad bunch of guesses



If you are left with more than one answer that nobody is particularly satisfied with,  then pick the first answer the first person thought of.  This one has the highest chance of being correct.  It wont necessarily be right but it will have a slightly higher chance.

Advanced techniques:


Performance weighting your teams predictions

If you keep track of each individual's answer trading record over the period of several quizzes (.i.e if they bought 2 shares in an answer that eventually proved to be correct their personal balance would be +2). You can then start to weight your teams market predictions. You can do this by giving each person in the team a different total pot of money to bet based on their past performance record in correctly predicting the right answer based on how much money they would have won.

Note it would take several weeks studying at least 100 predictions to get a good idea of the prediction ability of each player so it would be a mistake to calibrate this after only one or two quizzes - luck has far more important role to play thank skill in the short term.

You might also want to assess how individuals confidence levels change when they have drunk 1 unit, 2 units 3 units of alcohol and start removing budget (or indeed giving extra budget!) as the night progresses!

Encouraging the team to think like foxes not hedgehogs

What buggers up the predictions of many pubs quiz teams can be the bullish viewpoint one or two individuals.   Having a strong opinion about things generally I am afraid does not correlate very well with actually being good at making predictions.  If you want to read up some evidence on this I recommend  you order this book all will be explained.



The team should foster an atmosphere where its OK to change your mind,  its not a battled between right and wrong , and should not be scared of failure.

Avoiding decision making biases

If the question is multi-choice make sure that your answer is no biased by the order effect or anchoring in the way the question is asked.  For example yes/no questions more people pick yes than no for irrational reasons.  When presented with multi choice options slightly more people pick the first choice for irrational reasons.   By being aware of this you can be conscious that your decisions are being made objectively.

Important Note/disclaimer:

The advice is a fantasy methodology for making a perfect prediction.  I don't advocate you using it in a real pub quiz. Firstly for practical reasons,  In reality the speed at which most pub quizzes progress you probably would not have the time be able to implement this approach.  Secondly it may also not be in the spirit of a fair pub quiz to use this technique in real life - it might be considered cheating!



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