The story of our Friday Quiz

The Friday Quiz has its origins in a wrong turn made by a coach driver.

About fifteen years ago, the Friends of the National Galleries of Scotland went on a coach trip to a couple of sites in the Scottish Borders, and I went along as their tour guide. On the way back, the driver got lost. To cheer things up, I did an impromptu quiz over the coach's PA system. It went down well, so I was invited to do a Quiz for the Friends that Christmas. I don’t actually like quizzes, but I do like the people who run our Friends organisation, so of course I agreed.

For the first few years of the annual Friends Christmas Quiz, we gathered in the café at Modern One, then at the Portrait Gallery café. For each of these quizzes I write 100 questions, and it can be quite tough. The Friends get into teams of four or five. It’s always close - often there's just a point in it. It’s all helped along with wine and snacks. The Friends always brings Maltesers.  

One year one of the participants got quite exercised about the location of Michelangelo’s marble statue of the Pietà. In which town or city would you find it? My answer was Rome, but he objected, saying, quite rightly, that the correct answer is the Vatican City! I think I gave him a bonus point. Anyway, the lesson is that you have to be spot on with a question, and there can be no ambiguity about the answer.

One of the early Friends Christmas quizzes at Cafe Modern One
A more recent Friends Christmas Quiz at Cafe Portrait

Word of the quiz reached other colleagues of mine, and, a few years later, I was invited to do a Christmas Quiz for the staff too. Forty or fifty people attended, bringing drink, cheese and snacks (though not Maltesers) for a fun evening. Such a quiz gets the different departments together in a relaxed setting.

The idea of transferring the quiz to our website or social media channels was always in the back of our minds, but we never had the time to do it until the first Covid lockdown in March 2020. Our Press and Marketing department came up with the formula: ten questions and two potential answers to each, so you’ve got a 50-50 chance of getting it right. An important thing was to have an answer that told you something interesting. And it would come out weekly, on our Facebook and Twitter platforms, at 9am every Friday.

The first one came out in April 2020. It was a nice surprise when about six months later someone told me that it had ‘gone viral’ (his words, not mine) and that about 3000 people were doing it every week. I had no idea. Towards the end of 2021 we were all back to work and very busy, so the quiz became monthly instead. It gets posted at 9am on the last Friday of the month.

How do we go about it? Well, we want a range of dates and a variety of artforms, so some sculpture as well as paintings, prints, drawings and photography. There’s always a mix of male and female artists and a mix of works from the National, Portrait and Modern galleries.

It takes about three hours to write. The questions (and answers) are taken mainly from the National Galleries of Scotland’s brilliant online collection (Art and Artists | National Galleries of Scotland). Most of the paintings and sculptures and quite a lot of the drawings and prints have got great texts, done by our curators over the years. I surf about until something suggests itself.

You can turn any fact into a question. However, 'When was Rembrandt born?' is not very interesting, so you have to give it a twist which makes you think harder - ‘Was Rembrandt born before El Greco?’. Answer: No, he wasn’t!

Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) Self Portrait with Curly Hair and White Collar: Bust (Bartsch no. 1 II/2) About 1630
El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) Christ Blessing ('The Saviour of the World') About 1600

We’ve done details of pictures. And Jill Brown from our Communications department discovered some buttons that made the picture foggy or pixelated. And we found that you could flip a famous picture back to front and it was devilishly difficult to tell if it was the right way around or not. 

Once the quiz is written, I send it over to Jill for setting in the ‘Typeform’ format. It gets copied to Irene Porras in our Digital Department, to check. One of the press officers, Rachel Ashenden, formats the quiz if Jill is away. Jill sends it back to Irene and me, to double check, and Tricia Allerston at the Scottish National Gallery gives it a final inspection. And that’s it. 

We don’t want it to be easy, but nor should it be too difficult. I’d hope that someone who’s been doing it right from the start (we’ve posted over 100 now) has got some nines or tens along the way and felt a real sense of achievement in doing so. And I’d be heartbroken if someone who liked art but didn’t know much about art history, found it too hard or boring and gave up. There’s a lot of questions that you can figure out by looking hard, and don’t need specialist knowledge.

It’s fun to do and I’ve learned a lot. But by far the best bit is to see the scores and comments you post on Facebook and Twitter. Our Communications team give brilliant and encouraging responses. To see someone get excited by a nine or ten score, or work out the date of an obscure Baroque painting, really makes my day.

You can see most of the old quizzes here - ‪#‎FridayArtQuiz – Explore | Facebook I recently did one from last year and scored nine.

By Patrick Elliott, 24 December 2022