When David Cameron returned to London from this year’s Conservative Party Conference, what platform did his train depart from? Why did the engineers of the longest continuous-span suspension bridge in the world change the blueprints after construction started? Those were the easy questions. Now, try these for size. Agtaq gufnx mbvrp eselx vurnm xsmqc aqzxa gakro altam yrvtn tpqzy vgnbx nofqw gonov? And who on earth is the person named in the hieroglyph on the left?
I’m sitting with my wife and two increasingly bemused friends experiencing the future of quizzing—or at least the future of quizzing in countries with high rates of iPhone ownership and comprehensive 3G networks. We’re in the Coach and Horses, Soho, and pretty much the only rule is that anything goes. Short of assaulting our two quiz-masters with a blunt weapon, there is nothing we can’t do, or won’t need to have done by the end of the evening if we want any chance of victory. We can call friends. We can use the internet. We can crowd-source our queries out to our thousands—well, tens—of Twitter followers. We can even, I have discovered, simultaneously phone National Rail Enquiries and send an inordinately expensive text message to the mobile phone service Any Question Answered, although neither of those options does much good.
Welcome to the Hive Mind Challenge—the first ever quiz where both cheating and Tweeting are de rigeur. Founded by tech gurus Adrian Hon and Philip Trippenbach, the event—which took place on Tuesday this week—was the trial run (“the alpha; not even the beta!”) and was both a wonderful and mildly terrifying experience. For a start, there were the massed ranks of Macbooks-cum-dongles that confronted my motley band as we entered. We were wielding, between the four of us, one iPhone, one Blackberry, some kind of Palm device that none of us knew how to use, and one ordinary mobile phone that didn’t like sending text messages. When the batteries ran out on the iPhone half way through, we nearly walked out in despair, so comprehensively were we out-gunned by the massed ranks of geekery surrounding us. But I’m glad we didn’t.
For a start, we came fourth—about half way down the table—thanks in part to my willingness to run across central London in response to by far the most…