Batteries, Beatles, boxing and Ron Mael from Sparks – take the Thursday quiz

<span>Photograph: Valéry Hache/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Valéry Hache/AFP/Getty Images

Tomorrow is the birthday of Ron Mael from Sparks, so how could the Thursday quiz, where he has been a regular feature, be anything other than Ron-themed? You face 15 general knowledge and vaguely topical questions, all of them tenuously linked to the wonderful world of Sparks and some of the brilliant songs that Ron has written over the years. There is a playlist of all the songs mentioned to listen to as you do the quiz, and a very special bonus guest contribution too. To answer them you don’t have to be a Sparks fan – although of course you should be – and there are no prizes, it is just for fun. Let us know how you get on in the comments, and happy birthday, Ron!

The Thursday quiz, No 68 – Ron from Sparks special edition

  1. Some Judo
    Some Judo

    THIS TOWN AIN'T BIG ENOUGH FOR THE BOTH OF US: Sparks' 1974 hit is one of the greatest singles of all time. But which town – well, city – has been hosting the Commonwealth Games, which ended on Monday?

    1. Brisbane, Australia

    2. Bengaluru, India

    3. Birmingham, UK

    4. Belleville, Canada

  2. Clocks

    BEAT THE CLOCK: A 1979 hit in which Sparks boasted they 'PhD'd that afternoon'. But since 1967 the official International System of Units definition of the second is based around some overcomplicated measurement of an isotope of which element?

    1. Gold

    2. Caesium

    3. Hydrogen

    4. Plutonium

  3. Edith Piaf
    Edith Piaf

    ÉDITH PIAF (SAID IT BETTER THAN ME): A heartwarming song for the easily moved that Sparks released in 2017. Édith Piaf got her stage name from a nickname – La Môme Piaf – which was Parisian slang for what?

    1. The little nightingale

    2. The little sparrow

    3. The little goldfinch

    4. The 30-50 little feral hogs

  4. Earth

    NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON MOTHER EARTH: A beautiful Sparks ballad from 1974, but which rare type of animal, last seen in 2010, has been rediscovered in Colombia?

    1. The Santa Marta sabrewing, a large bat

    2. The Santa Marta sabrewing, a large moth

    3. The Santa Marta sabrewing, a large hummingbird

    4. The Santa Marta sabrewing, a large scary thing with actual sabres for wings

  5. A rabbit
    A rabbit

    PULLING RABBITS OUT OF A HAT: That is a Sparks song from 1984 where all they get is polite applause. But who used to voice the character of Bugs Bunny?

    1. Mel Rouge

    2. Mel Gris

    3. Mel Jaune

    4. Mel Blanc

  6. Ali

    AMATEUR HOUR: That is a Sparks song where when you turn pro, she'll let you know. But when did Cassius Clay, later and better known as Muhammad Ali, have his first professional fight?

    1. 1956

    2. 1958

    3. 1960

    4. 1962

  7. Horse lawnmower
    Horse lawnmower

    LAWNMOWER: A 2020 Sparks song where, to be honest, someone is a little bit too obsessed with their lawnmower. But who is generally credited with inventing the lawnmower (not pictured) and got a patent for it in England in 1830?

    1. Edwin Beard Budding

    2. Henry Fox Talbot

    3. Charles Algernon Parsons

    4. Peter Alan Tyler

  8. History

    MISS THE START, MISS THE END: A 1975 song about an annoying couple at a show with better things to do. But which dates do historians generally give to the period of dynastic struggle over the thrones of England and France known as the Hundred Years' War?

    1. 1127 to 1253

    2. 1227 to 1353

    3. 1337 to 1453

    4. 1447 to 1543

  9. Sex Pistols
    Sex Pistols

    WHEN DO I GET TO SING MY WAY: A 1994 single where Sparks enquire about when they will get to feel like Frank Sinatra. Now, Ol' Blue Eyes may have made the song My Way legendary, but which member of the Sex Pistols (not pictured) also famously sang it?

    1. Glen Matlock

    2. Sid Vicious

    3. Steve Jones

    4. Simon Ferocious

  10. Fyodor

    MY BABY'S TAKING ME HOME: One of the greatest songs in the Sparks catalogue, where the title is repeated over 100 times. But in literature, which city does Rodion Raskolnikov call home during the events of the 1866 novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (pictured)?

    1. Königsberg

    2. Moscow

    3. Yekaterinburg

    4. Saint Petersburg

  11. Ron

    BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED: A 1973 Sparks song about nothing happening when you turn it on. But if you've got a battery containing potassium hydroxide, what is that component called?

    1. Cathode

    2. Anode

    3. Separator

    4. Electrolyte

  12. ACADEMY AWARD PERFORMANCE: A 1979 song about 'a girl with a thousand faces to choose from'. The Academy Awards are better known these days as the Oscars. But which year was the first Academy Awards presentation held?

    1. 1919

    2. 1929

    3. 1939

    4. 1949

  13. The BBC
    The BBC

    COMPLAINTS: A 1974 Sparks song where the lyrics suggest 'grin and bear it silently or yell into my ear'. But in 2005 the BBC generated a previously unprecedented 16,000 complaints to broadcasting regulator Ofcom after it showed what on television?

    1. Jerry Springer: The Opera

    2. The Book of Mormon

    3. Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl

    4. An episode of EastEnders in which Phil Mitchell declared he was starting a European Super League™ but then quickly had to make a humiliating public U-turn

  14. £50

    I PREDICT: A 1982 Sparks song where it turns out that Lassie and Elvis had an affair. Probably. But how high did the Bank of England predict last week that inflation would be by the end of the year?

    1. 7%

    2. 13%

    3. 17%

    4. 23%

  15. The Bootleg Beatles
    The Bootleg Beatles

    WHAT ARE ALL THESE BANDS SO ANGRY ABOUT: A 2002 Sparks song that mentions Wagner, Coltrane, Beethoven and Howlin' Wolf. But which member of the Beatles (not pictured) famously did an impression of Ron from Sparks in the video to his 1980 hit single Coming Up?

    1. Paul McCartney

    2. John Lennon

    3. George Harrison

    4. Pete Best

  16. Russell and Ron
    Russell and Ron

    HYPER BOWL SPECIAL AMAZING BONUS QUESTION EVENT: Incredibly, the lovely Russell Mael has agreed to set a guest question in his brother's special birthday quiz. Thank you Russell! He asks: 'The setting of the pivotal song from Sparks-penned musical Annette is modelled after the Super Bowl. Ron played football at Uni high on the B team as tight end. (I was a quarterback on the varsity team of Palisades high, thank you for asking.) The Super Bowl is the second largest event for American food consumption, but what is first?'

    1. Independence Day (4th of July)

    2. Christmas

    3. National Siblings Day

    4. Thanksgiving


1:C - Birmingham was selected to host the games over Liverpool in 2017 after both cities offered to step in when the originally intended host, Durban in South Africa, had to pull out., 2:B - The second is, according to boffins, 'equal to the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the unperturbed ground state of the caesium-133 atom', which the Thursday quiz believes sounds like a right load of old [REDACTED BY THE GUARDIAN'S SCIENCE LAWYERS], 3:B - Louis Leplée, a cabaret owner who gave Piaf her first nightclub job, was responsible for the name, which she later adopted. She had been born Édith Giovanna Gassion., 4:C - Found in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, scientists feared the species might be extinct, but ornithologists are celebrating the rediscovery of Campylopterus phainopeplus after an experienced local birdwatcher captured one on camera. It is only the third time the species has been documented, suggesting they are rare, shy, or possibly can become invisible at will., 5:D - It was, of course, Mel Blanc, known as the man of a thousand voices, who appears to have voiced nearly the entire Warner Bros Looney Tunes ensemble including Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester and Tweety as well as Bugs himself., 6:C - Ali made his professional debut under the name of Clay on 29 October 1960, winning a six-round decision over Tunney Hunsaker., 7:A - He basically got bored of using a scythe and had a lot of time on his hands. That is the Thursday Quiz understanding of what happened there., 8:C - Although the roots essentially go back to 1066 and all that, the first phase of the war is generally considered to have begun in 1337 when King Edward III of England claimed the French throne in defiance of King Philip VI of France. It didn't last 100 years and for lots of it there wasn't any active war. So, well done historians, great name., 9:B - The Sid Vicious version was released as a single in the UK in 1978, and taken from the soundtrack album of The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle., 10:D - Raskolnikov plots to kill Alyona Ivanovna in Saint Petersburg. The novel was initially published in monthly instalments before being collected into one miserable volume, which isn't quite as claustrophobic and miserable as Wuthering Heights, but very nearly is., 11:D - The electrolyte is the component that allows two different metals in a battery to get excited and start producing power. Ron knows that this may not be the correct scientific terminology for how the potassium hydroxide carries the current, but you can tell by his face that he is sure somebody will explain at great length in the comments., 12:B - For the first presentation the winners had actually been pre-announced, taking away the element of surprise. And nobody slapped anybody. Incidentally, Sparks were absolutely ROBBED that So May We Start with Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard didn't end up nominated, not least because them doing it on the night would have been the perfect start to the Oscars ceremony itself., 13:A - The complaints were one of the first times that an internet-organised brouhaha became a story in itself. The BBC still showed the programme, which had more than 400 swear words and showed Jesus in a nappy. Bishop Michael Reid of the Pentecostal church in Brentwood, Essex, who led the protest by an alliance of Christian groups, described the musical as 'filth'. The right-wing 'free speech at all costs' and 'anti-cancel culture' brigade were surprisingly nowhere to be seen., 14:B - The Bank of England cheerfully warned of a recession lasting more than a year and inflation above 13% as it raised interest rates for a sixth successive time., 15:A - Coming Up was a smash hit for Macca in the UK and around the world, and the video featured Paul doing impressions of, among others, Hank Marvin, a Beatlemania-era version of himself and someone not 100 miles away from looking like Buddy Holly. You can tell by the look on his face in that video that he thinks you should have known that. A bonus point if you spotted that is the Bootleg Beatles in the photograph. A point off if you try to point out in the comments that it isn't a photo of the actual Beatles and you think it has been a mistake., 16:D - That's what Russell says, and we're not going to start factchecking a member of Sparks. Annette was directed by Leos Carax and released in 2021, and is absolutely brilliant. You should watch it. A huge thank you and happy birthday to Ron, a huge thank you to Russell for his question, and a huge thank you to Sparks' manager for making this all happen. Bon voyage!


  1. 0 and above.

    We hope you had fun – let us know how you got on in the comments!

  • If you do think there has been an egregious error in one of the questions or answers, please feel free to email, but remember, the quiz master’s word is always final, so only do it if you really think this town is big enough for the both of us.