Intellectual games open to all

When the prelude to Richard Strauss’ Thus Spoke Zarathustra began playing at Minsk’s Palace of Children and Youth, all those present stood. It is the theme tune of the What? Where? When? game, the championship of which was recently hosted by the Belarusian capital

By Yevgeny Grudanov

Over thirty years ago, Moscow host Vladimir Voroshilov invented a TV show entitled What? Where? When? Since then, much has changed, except the rules: a team of six (known as experts) must answer a question in just sixty seconds. Over time, the programme became so popular that a sport variant was launched. Now, the event is open to anyone, with answers written down rather than given verbally. Belarus has so many people keen to train their intellect that several hundred teams exist; each city, even small district centres, has its own clubs.

Many intellectual tournaments are organised annually, both regional and international. However, a national championship is always exciting, gathering about 200 of Belarus’ top experts. Interestingly, the invention of a team’s name is an art in itself. The geographical principle (as in football) is disregarded, since a single city can have dozens of teams and there are thousands of them globally. Much thought is required to be original. For example, Minsk’s regional championship features the Animate Aero-Sleigh, the Angry Squirrels and Kefir Fungi.

Questions for What? Where? When? are devised as cryptic riddles, requiring the application of logic, as well as general knowledge; it’s not just what you know, but how quickly you can combine your various branches of knowledge. Naturally, questions are asked in quick succession, squeezing contestants’ brains like oranges! It’s easy to become overwhelmed with names and events, being bombarded with sixty questions. Afterwards, teams can relax and wait for the results. This year, Khunta, from Minsk, took first place, while Mogilev’s Jokers came second and Minsk’s Mid-2 was placed third.

In fact, every year, Dzerzhinsk (near Minsk) hosts an intellectual marathon lasting 24 hours; questions are asked without any significant break. Contestants answer thousands of riddles on paper and drink litres of coffee; the sixty questions of the TV show pale in comparison.

All games in the Republic are organised by the Belarusian League of Intellectual Teams: named ‘Club of the Year’ at the What? Where? When? World Championship a few years ago. The game is so popular in Belarus and in other post-Soviet states, yet is hardly known elsewhere. However, the situation is likely soon to change, since American ABC TV Channel recently bought the rights to make its own version of the game. We hope its path to wider recognition will be short.

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