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While they sort out Steve Hansen’s successor, I have accepted the job of scrummaging coach to The Intellectual Dwarfs, writes John Lapsley.
The IDs are two months from their main event, and these precocious pygmies will be cut down to size if I can’t improve their retention rates.
There may be several (thousand) Wit’s End readers who don't follow The Intellectual Dwarfs. The rest know the Dwarfs are a fabled southern quiz team whose World Cup event is the Millbrook, held each January.
The quiz scrummaging coach’s job is similar to that of the larger chap who teaches All Black forwards how to retain the ball. Retention is the name of the game. A quiz team goes nowhere if it can’t dominate the sport’s most vital commodity — retained useless information.
The heart of quizzing is turning the useless into the valuable. Top teams hoover up pointless facts, squat over them, and when the quizmaster barks "use it" they ruck and deliver with: "New Zealand won Miss Universe in 1983", and "Ringo Starr plays the drums left handed".
Until last year The Intellectual Dwarfs were kings who had never missed a podium finish. Then disaster struck.
It came via an eccentric quizmaster who put up triple bonus points (squared, I think) for reciting the full lyrics of the carol On the Twelfth Day of Christmas My True Love Gave To Me. The Dwarfs were trained for all three verses of Silent Night and would have monstered Good King Wenceslas.
But the Twelve Days? Can any reasonable person get the sequence right? From a singular partridge in a pear tree, to eight milkmaids milking, and eleven pipers piping? Line by line, numbers correct, AND THEN BACKWARDS!
The Dwarfs lost the plot somewhere between Three French Hens and Ten Lords Dancing. But in the room, playing for a minor team, sat an anal retentive who remembered all this twaddle and bingo, the Dwarfs’ cup dreams were turned to dust.
Coming from nowhere, the equivalent of Romania had snatched the cup with an intercept that would have sickened Steve.
So here I am appointed player-coach for the 2020 comeback.
I’ve thought closely about the challenges. First, there’s the team. It can’t be changed because they’re all selectors, and each would maintain that while their form is temporary, their class is permanent.
So the tight four remain the Petrol Pump Attendant (sports and political incorrectness), the Chook Farmer (applied common sense, laboratory eggs, team tactician), the Duchess (chemistry, plus is contrarianism an art or a science?) and myself (the soliloquies of Hamlet, and cinema between the years 1978 and 1982).
The team has several weak spots (line dancing calls and pre-war mayors of Oamaru come to mind). But this is balanced by a something our opponents find hard to match. The Intellectual Dwarfs have seen life. They have forgotten more than the other teams remember.
The first element of the Intellectual Dwarf 2020 training programme will be quiz basics — that is, practising answers to the more predictable quizmaster plays. These include: the wives of Henry VIII; the world’s longest rivers; and Olympic Games by year and city.
Months of the horoscope, prime ministers, capital cities, and is 2020 the year of the pig or the rat? All are likely answers.
Next comes skills development. This is best done by watching the amateurs playing the professionals in The Chase. The difference we see is a mental alertness that recognise clues that are often hidden in broad daylight.
Asked the question: "Which newly found land was claimed by the Cabot Brothers?" the amateur will roll the eyes and say "pass". But the pro, who may have believed Henry and Sebastian Cabot were a badminton team, will spot the Newfoundland answer hidden in the question. Another point scored from nowhere.
The third element of quiz team coaching? They must learn to keep their heads when surprised. I’m feeding them screwball questions to keep them alert.
Like dwarf knowledge. We’d look terribly stupid if we didn’t know the world’s shortest dwarf. He was Chandra Bahadur Dangi (21.5 inches) who recently died in Nepal aged 75. The highest office held by a dwarf is Treasurer of Texas — Charles Lockhart who was 3ft 9.
Somalia is the most cameled country (14 million).
The average cat weights 4kg, but the fattest — Meow, a moggie from Santa Fe — weighed 18kg.
The last millionaire to be eaten by cannibals was Michael Rockefeller in 1961. His boat foundered off Dutch New Guinea, and he was dined on by approximately fifty members of the Asmet tribe.
And who said: "When men choose not to believe in God, they then become capable of believing in anything?" Answer: G.K. Chesterton.
But wait. I slipped in a sane question. We may be disqualified.
- John Lapsley is an Arrowtown writer