How to Guess the Answers in Trivia Questions

Feel at a loss during trivia and general knowledge games? Fear not - even if you don't know the answers there are various methods you can use to guess them. It's even sometimes possible to guess a correct answer before the question has even been asked. Think that's impossible? Not at all! Read on, and we'll tell you how!


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    Realize that the quiz-setters won't ask questions that are completely impossible. That knowledge enables you to vastly reduce the range of potential answers.
    • For instance, this question from Trivial Pursuit: Which English king built Whitehall Palace? You may think this question is impossible unless you already know the answer, but actually the answer can be guessed fairly easily. You can reason that the answer is probably going to be a king who is at least moderately well-known - after all, they are not going to ask the question if the answer is Offa of Mercia, as that would be too hard. So, how many English kings can you name? If you're like most people, you're probably limited to Henry 8th, Richard the Lionheart, King John, and Alfred the Great. You probably know from the Robin Hood films that Richard the Lionheart and King John didn't build "palaces" - in those days it was more about castles than palaces. Alfred the Great was even earlier, so he is an even less likely contender. Anyway, "Whitehall Palace" sounds fairly recent, not an ancient Anglo-Saxon name. That leaves you with just one possible answer - Henry 8th. Which is correct.
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    Look for the clues within the question itself. Questions often contain lots of clues. Here's an example, from the quiz show Fifteen to One: For what do Australians fondly remember Andrew Barton Paterson? Again, you probably know the answer without realizing it. Look carefully at the question and see what it tells you.
    • Firstly, there are two clues that the answer is something that exists only in the past, namely the word "remember" and the fact that nowadays most people do not go by three-word names.
    • Secondly, the word "fondly" tells us that the answer probably has some sort of sentimental content.
    • Thirdly, the use of the word "Australians" means that the answer is something that is of relevance to all Australians, not just some of them, and therefore is probably something to do with national symbolism. It must also be something that a person can create, not something natural such as a national animal or flower.
    • Moreover, as per the previous hint we can be fairly sure the answer must be something we have actually heard of.
    • We have now narrowed the range of possibilities right down to the point where there is really only one possible answer, namely that Andrew Barton Paterson wrote Waltzing Matilda. Which is correct.
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    Use your general knowledge. If the quiz you're doing is a more difficult one, you can often still work out the answers but you'll need a wider range of general knowledge in order to help you. Here's an example from University Challenge, a difficult British TV quiz for the brightest university students: Which is the fifth largest city in Ireland, located by the confluence of three rivers?
    • Since you know the quiz is a very difficult one, the answer is definitely not going to be something obvious like Dublin or Cork, but again it cannot be something completely impossible. However, there is a deliberate clue in the question, namely the rivers, which are a gentle nudge that the answer is Waterford. Obviously if you have never heard of Waterford you cannot guess this answer, so some general knowledge is required, but the important thing is to look for and notice clues in the questions.
    • Here's another example, from the same quiz show: Which French city's bridge was originally built in 1185 and destroyed in 1668? You may think the question absolutely impossible - surely France is full of bridges, and how can you be expected to know the dates they were all built?! In fact though it's possible to guess the correct answer just from the first four words, "Which French city's bridge...". Here's the reasoning: think about French cities and bridges. How many French bridges would even a well-educated non-Frenchman have heard of? Very few indeed - probably only one: the bridge in Avignon, which you may know from the children's song Sur Le Pont d'Avignon - On the Bridge at Avignon.
      • One of the contestants on University Challenge did indeed give the correct answer, apparently by guesswork. In fact, he used all the reasoning in this article to correctly guess this question and many others. Viewers were amazed by his apparently encyclopedic knowledge, but in fact all he was doing was reasoning his way to the correct answers.
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    Guess the answer from the topic. Using this technique, you can sometimes work out the answer to a question after only one or two words, or even before the questioner has begun to ask it. It sounds impossible, and people seeing you do it may be completely amazed, but it's simpler than it sounds. In order for it to work, you have to know the topic of the question before it's asked, which in some quizzes is pre-announced. The logic of this technique is this: for most topics there is usually a very limited number of questions that can be asked. Therefore, as soon as you know the subject of the question you can probably guess the answer. Here's an example, from the trivia show The Weakest Link, and although the full question was given on the show, I will give only the first two words: "The Lorelei...".
    • It is in fact extremely to guess the answer: the river Rhine. As soon as you hear that the topic of the question is the Lorelei, you can guess that the question will be "The Lorelei lured sailors to their deaths on which river?" Of course it's possible to think of other questions, but they are all much less likely. The easier the show, the smaller the potential number of questions. Try this yourself: think of some topics and then think how few questions can realistically be asked about them. With many topics, there is only one fact about them that is generally known, so there is only one question that can be asked. For example, if the topic is the Eiffel Tower, the answer is probably Paris. If the topic is Joseph Heller, the answer is probably Catch 22. And so on.
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    Note the styles of questions that appear on different quiz shows. Question-setters have favorite styles which you can recognize and learn. They also have favorite topics, which you can swot up on.
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    If you're serious about quizzes, learn the lists of data that are likely to recur in shows: names of planets and their moons, US presidents and their dates in office, states and their capitals, etc.
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    Challenge yourself! As you watch more quiz shows and learn the techniques, you should be able after a few words to guess the full question, and work out the correct answer, AND predict the most likely wrong answer that the contestant on the show will give!

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Categories: Puzzles and Memory Games