Saturday, 20 July 2019

University Challenge 2020 - Round 1 - Heat 1 - Lancaster v. Glasgow


Lancaster v. Glasgow

My cup overflows. Not only did the school term finish yesterday, but on Monday, University Challenge returned. Given the honour of being the first team to introduce themselves on this series were Lancaster, represented by Steven Ford, Daniel Green, Matt Roscoe and captain Holly Lawton. Their opposition came from Glasgow university. Fair play to the researcher who found out that the Doctor, from “Doctor Who” once claimed to have studied there (for purists he made the claim during the 1966 story, “The Moonbase”.) The team were Ben Whitcombe, Cat McAllister, Ben Whitworth and skipper Finlay McRobert.

Both teams showed commendable patience with the first question, waiting until the answer became obvious, at which point Ben Whitcombe buzzed in to supply the link between all the clues, the name Seth. Glasgow took the first two bonuses on Prime ministers and monarchs, but missed out on the gettable third. An early UC special starter saw Finlay McRobert work out clues to punt and punnet, which could obviously be formed from some of the letters of Neptune. Only one bonus on poverty followed. Ben Whitworth and I both got the next starter following JPs revelation of some of the cast members of the film version of the 1928 novel Orlando. Sets of Science answers, beginning with the consecutive letters A B C saw me take an early lap of honour for getting Arcturus, Betelgeuse and Castor for the second. As it happened I also got Ampere, Becquerel and Coulomb for the third answer. However, I believe that the IOC has instituted a ban on taking more than one lap of honour during any single UC match, so I remained in my seat. Blooming bureaucrats. Three consecutive starters had fallen to Glasgow, and I really felt that Lancaster needed to start slinging some buzzer, if only to break up Glasgow’s momentum. The Glasgow skipper was the first in to try his arm with the next starter, and correctly adjudged that the question was working its way through a number of clues towards Frederick the Great of Prussia. Bonuses on Wilfred Owen were something of a set of gimmes, and to be fair to Glasgow they had a full house. So to the first picture round of this series, and a straightforward starter saw us asked to identify the state highlighted on a partial map of the USA. Steven Ford made Lancaster’s first buzz of the match, with a quite close but no cigar answer of Kentucky. This allowed Ben Whitcombe in with the correct answer of Tennessee. Other maps showing locations with chemical elements named after them brought two more correct answers. This meant Glasgow had achieved a rare double, shutting out Lancaster completely and reaching 100, a triple figure score, by the ten minute mark.

Seemingly roused by his previous buzz, Steven Ford buzzed in with the far from absurd answer of surd to take the next starter. Ideal gases – that’s a new one on me – provided nowt for any of us. Still, at least Lancaster were in the black now. I did think that one of the teams might have had Christy Mahon as the protagonist in “The Playboy of the Western World” rather more quickly, but after both teams had mulled it over, Ben Whitworth buzzed correctly. The deaths of philosophers in an article in the Oxford Companion to Philosophy – sounds a barrel of laughs, that – brought 2 more correct answers. Ben Whitworth also took the next starter, knowing that the words ‘palace’ and ‘Marco Polo’ are the cue for an assault on the buzzer, and the answer ‘Xanadu’ – Kublai Khan’s Palace named in homage of the Olivia Newton-John movie, I believe. Right then, the next starter opened by asking which museum had satellite museums in various places. Frankly, I would have done what Glasgow did and guessed Guggenheim, but actually it was the Louvre. This set of bonuses was the first from which Glasgow failed to take any points. Poor old Lancaster couldn’t take any heart from that mind, since JP at this point tried to encourage them, and we all know what that means. So to the music starter, and the kind of classical music starter that I like, ie one that is bleedin’ obvious. Steven Ford won the buzzer race to identify the Blue Danube Waltz. Three more classical works that evoke waterways brought just the one bonus. Steven Ford continued to do the heavy lifting for Lancaster, guessing that Foster’s observation about smaller mammals increasing in size referred specifically to islands. Geometry was far more to Lancaster’s liking, and brought their first full house of bonuses. Their mini revival though was halted as Cat McAllister took her first starter with magic numbers. Ideal gases – Magic numbers ? What were we going to get next? Sexy metals? Well, the bonus set on people whose 4 letter surnames used Y as a vowel brought a couple of bonuses. The next starter asked for the animal on the British road sign which indicates a zoo. Ben Whitcombe was first in for that particular piece of low hanging fruit. The river Garonne provided no bonuses. This meant that at the 20 minute mark, the score stood at 155 – 55 to Glasgow. However, at least that proved that Lancaster had taken as many points in the second ten minutes as Glasgow had.

A great early buzz from Steven Ford identified Kansas City as being the name of settlements in the Show Me State and the Sunflower state. Good shout that. Vulcanologist Matt Roscoe gladly took a full house on Volcanoes. So to the second picture round. We saw a black and white still showing Gregory Peck, in glasses and a courtroom. “To Kill A Mockingbird” said I. So did Ben Whitcombe. Other films on the BFI list of films to see before you’re 14 brought a full house. Steven Ford knew that the Saha equation relates to stars, and the set of bonuses on surnames gave them the opportunity to take their score to triple figures. I’ll be honest, I only got the one of these, while Lancaster managed two. For the next starter, asking who wrote “Leaves of Grass”, Whitworth beat Whitcombe to answer Whitman. Parasitic plants brought both of us two bonuses. When JP started talking about Russell-Saunders coupling I wondered if my prediction about sexy metals was about to come true, but it was some Science thing requiring the letters L S. Neither team had that one. A good old quiz chestnut saw us asked for the single word name of the maidenhair tree. Both teams rather sat on their buzzers, before Daniel Green launched a speculative punt with Monkey Puzzle, but Glasgow couldn’t dredge up gingko to capitalise. Steven Ford, so admirably battling on his team’s behalf, was a little out with his next buzz, offering Charles Parnell instead of Gabriel Wolfe Tone. Sadly this lost 5 of his hard earned points. Ben Whitworth knew that one. Major cities of Brazil provided a couple more bonuses. There was just time for Ben Whitworth to take the last starter with Leonard Bernstein before the gong brought proceedings to a close. Glasgow won by 230 to 95.

Hard lines to Lancaster. They had some decent answers, and a conversion rate of over 60%. Special commiserations to Steven Ford, whose 5 starters made Lancaster respectable. Congratulations to Glasgow, though. That was a useful showing, with all 4 members taking at least 1 starter, and Messrs Whitcombe and especially Whitworth particularly impressing on the buzzer.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Well, there were just a couple of encouraging signs that the mellow Paxman of recent years still has a little fire in his belly. When asked for the American writer of the 1879 Progress and Poverty, Glasgow knew they didn’t have a Scooby, and did what you should do, lofting a hopeful punt skywards with the suggestion of Paine. If they meant Thomas, then they were quite a long way away. JP clearly seemed to think so. His eyebrows shot skywards, and he repeated the answer “Paine?!” as if holding it in a pair of tongs.

There was just a hint of irritation in the JP voice when Glasgow failed to get Cardinal Richelieu, or as he rather exaggeratedly pronounced it “Reeshleeyur”, which he then followed with the kiss of death for poor Lancaster “There’s plenty of time left to get going, Lancaster.” I’m sure he is only ever trying to be encouraging when he says this, but I doubt that it’s helpful because a) there isn’t lot of time left, less than half the show, and b) chances are they won’t get going.

His prickliness towards Lancaster when Steven Ford answered the first music bonus with “Smetana – Die Moldau” was evident as he sniffed, “Yes, I only needed the composer.”

I suppose it was only to be expected that he’d pass a comment like “Well Lancaster, you never really got a chance to show us what you were made of.” But it was rather unfair, nonetheless. They did have a chance, and Steven Ford certainly did. They were undone not by a lack of knowledge, but by a lack of buzzing – being brutal, they didn’t create their own chances. That’s the way it goes.

Interesting Fact That I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week
Hassium was named after the state of Hesse

Friday, 14 June 2019

Mastermind 2019 - The Grand Final


Good morning to all. So, last night we reached the climax of the 2019 season. Firstly, though, it is only right to pay tribute to the late Hamish Cameron. I did not know that Hamish had passed away until a comment left on the blog a few days ago. I believe that Hamish passed away on the 6th of June. I cannot claim to have known him very well, but was fortunate to meet him when he was the stand in for my final. I believe that Hamish had participated as a contender in more episodes of Mastermind than anyone else, and the tribute paid to him at the end of the show, a true Mastermind, seemed to me to be very sincere and appropriate. Rest in Peace, Hamish.

Let’s have a look at the form shown by each finalist on their route to the final:-

Mark Grant
Keith Douglas
14
0
15
0
29
0
1951 Festival of Britain
13
0
13
0
26
0
Dave Cowan
Glamorgan CCC
12
0
15
0
27
0
The Life of Aneurin Bevan
10
0
11
2
21
2
Judith Lewis
The Life of C.S.Lewis
14
0
15
2
29
2
The Lord Peter Wimsey Novels of Dorothy L. Sayers
12
0
9
2
21
2
Hamish Cameron
John Knox
13
0
14
3
27
3
The Life and Times of Thomas Paine
8
1
13
1
21
2
Ian Orriss
Karl Gustav Mannerheim
13
0
15
1
28
1
Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II
10
0
11
0
21
0
Helen O’Connell
The History of Prague
12
2
18
2
30
2
The Plant Hunters
11
0
14
0
25
0

I’m not going to go back through my comments in my preview. But if you want to check them out after you’ve read this review, you’ll see that once again, Mystic Meg I am not.

Dave Cowan started us off. It’s become traditional to look at the filmed insert lottery, and Dave seemed to have done pretty well. You’ve always got a chance of getting a good trip for your insert if you take Hollywood film stars in the final, and Dave was answering questions on The Marx Brothers’ films. Dave had one of the lower aggregate scores for specialist from his two appearances so far, and he really needed to find his best form to give himself the chance of being up with the leaders at the business end of the competition. Well, his 10 points were good, but even this early in the contest you couldn’t help feeling that this was just not going to be enough.

Now, having lived and worked in Wales for over 3 decades, there is no way that I am going to say that Ian Orriss was anything other than a winner getting to travel to some extremely picturesque and historic parts of the Principality, before his round on Owain Glyndwr and his Revolt. Which come to think of it sounds just a little bit like the name of an indie band. Sorry. Ian’s round of 14 points was probably his best specialist round of the whole series so far, and you have to say that this was the right time to produce it. Suddenly my prediction was looking like utter nonsense. Ian was going to be in the shake up.

So, it turned out, was Judith Lewis. Before we got to see her round, though, we saw her enjoying a trip to Bucharest. Again, that’s a fine trip – I do love Central/Eastern Europe myself. Judith was answering on The Fortunes of War series by Olivia Manning. I’m sorry to say that I have neither read any of the books, nor seen any of the TV adaptations starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. But I didn’t need to know the works themselves to recognise what a towering specialist performance it is to manage a full house of 15 correct answers from 15 questions in a Mastermind Grand Final. Superb work.

Then to Mark Grant. Mark stayed a lot closer to home for his film, being as he was answering questions on the theatres of Frank Matcham. As for the insert lottery, well, Mark was in the West End of London, and I’m sorry, I might not have lived in London for a very long time, but I still think of myself as a Londoner, and so there is no way that I have any intention of saying that Mark in any way drew the short straw. As for his round, Mark always prepares thoroughly, but just once or twice seemed strangely hesitant. Actually, I say strangely, but I’ll make a point here. John Humphrys has the very annoying habit of sometimes qualifying a correct answer, thus wasting valuable time for the contender. He did it no less than FOUR times in the first minute of Mark’s round – and in one of them he did so just to include the word -the. Did it make any difference? Who can say, but it can’t make it any easier to build up a head of steam. Mark scored 12. At 3 points behind he wasn’t exactly out of it, but he was faced with a huge task if he was to win.

Another contender who I felt had a very good chance coming into the final was Helen O’Connell. Without question Helen was a winner in the insert lottery, since she got to visit the Sequoia National Park in California. This was highly appropriate, since her specialist subject was United States National Parks. That was a good subject to pick for a final, since it must have guaranteed her a trip across the pond. Helen produced her best specialist round to date, as she scored 14 to place her level with Ian and just one point behind Judith. It was shaping up to be an exciting GK round.

Finally Hamish, and for his insert film he got to travel to a rather grey and murky Paris. Still a very beautiful city, though, whatever the weather. Bearing in mind that I knew that this was his last Mastermind performance I was sentimentally rooting for Hamish, and hoped that he’d rip his round to shreds and join Judith with a perfect set. Well, he didn’t quite manage that. He did score 13 though, and although he was 2 points behind he was still very much in it. Indeed, as the choc ices and kia ora were being passed around, it seemed as if only Dave was so far off the lead that he was out of the running.

Which makes his GK round all the more impressive. Let’s call a spade a spade. You might be lucky getting to the semi final of Mastermind, but lightning rarely strikes in the same place twice. Mugs don’t get to Mastermind Grand Finals. This may well have been just me, but I felt that the general standard of the GK rounds in the final were a little harder than the semis, and I thought that any score in the teens on these sets was doing well. Dave added a good 13 to his total to take the target to 23. It wasn’t likely to be a winning total, but it was enough to open the corridor of doubt.

It's easy for me to say this now, but I reckoned that Mark needed 15 to give himself a realistic shout. He certainly came close. However a couple of hesitancies, and a couple of questions like the Widdicombe Fair one just didn’t go his way. He built up some real momentum in the last part of the round, but in the end had scored 14 to take the target to 26. 26 was certainly enough to make it interesting, and would mean that any of the remaining contenders would require good scores to take the lead. It didn’t quite look out of reach, though.

In his filmed insert Hamish seemed very happy and satisfied to have reached two Mastermind finals, and rightly so. By just over the one minute mark in his GK round it seemed unlikely that he would be going home with the trophy. His tactic seemed to be to pass quickly and keep banging in the ones he knew, and this brought him a double figure score. It was 11, though, and left him on 24.

So to Ian. Ian needed 13 to take the lead, and after the first minute he was definitely on target. In fact his first minute was extremely impressive, as he snapped out answer after answer, eating up the distance between himself and Mark. Mark’s finishing burst, though, meant that Ian had to keep fighting right up to the blue line of death. When it had finished drawing its noose around the score, Ian had taken the 13 points he needed. Whatever happened in Helen’s and Judith’s rounds, it was a round worthy of winning.

Helen O’Connell produced two brilliant GK rounds in the heat and again in the semi final. In fact if she could replicate her score from the semi final, where she scored 14, then she would take the lead. Sadly for Helen, she had one of those rounds where the question just refuse to fall for you, and you’re fighting it all the way to the finish line. Helen scored 9 points, to finish with 23. Very bad luck, it is just one of those things you have to take on the chin, I’m afraid.

In the semis, Judith had the only single figure GK round of any of the finalists, and it was this which had caused me to rule out her chances of winning the title and the bowl in my preview. Well, she could not have chosen a more pressured situation, or a better time, to prove me wrong. Without seeming to be going especially quickly she kept racking up the answers, and seemed a shoe-in as her total reached 26 with time to spare. Then she started to stumble a little, then found an answer to take her to 27. She had passed just the once. As it stood, on the last question she could answer it wrong and win on pass countback. What she could not do was pass. To put it beyond all doubt, she answered correctly. John, seemingly overwhelmed by what she’d done, told Judith straightaway that she’d won with 28 points, and forgot to say that she’d passed once, or to announce what the correct answer had been.

Many, many congratulations, Judith. I’m sorry to you, and also to Ian, for down playing your chances in my preview. It just goes to show how little I know when you get right down to it. Congratulations to all the contenders for making it such a close, even nail biting end to the series.

Congratulations also to Mark Helsby and the team for another highly enjoyable series, and indeed, thanks to you for what you have done with the show over the last few years. I know it’s all change for the next series, and I hope that it will continue to be made as well as you and your team have done during your time at the helm.

The Details

Dave Cowan
The Films of the Marx Brothers
10
3
13
1
23
1
Ian Orriss
Owain Glyndwr and his Revolt
14
0
13
2
27
2
Judith Lewis
The Fortunes of War series by Olivia Manning
15
0
13
1
28
1
Mark Grant
The Theatres of Frank Matcham
12
0
14
0
26
0
Helen O’Connell
United States National Parks
14
0
9
1
23
1
Hamish Cameron
Mary Cassatt
13
1
11
4
24
5

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Mastermind 2019 Grand Final Preview


Right, let’s have a look at the finalists shall we? For each finalist the top row shows their heat performance, and the bottom one in bold is their semi performance.

Mark Grant
Keith Douglas
14
0
15
0
29
0

1951 Festival of Britain
13
0
13
0
26
0
Dave Cowan
Glamorgan CCC
12
0
15
0
27
0

The Life of Aneurin Bevan
10
0
11
2
21
2
Judith Lewis
The Life of C.S.Lewis
14
0
15
2
29
2

The Lord Peter Wimsey Novels of Dorothy L. Sayers
12
0
9
2
21
2
Hamish Cameron
John Knox
13
0
14
3
27
3

The Life and Times of Thomas Paine
8
1
13
1
21
2
Ian Orriss
Karl Gustav Mannerheim
13
0
15
1
28
1

Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II
10
0
11
0
21
0
Helen O’Connell
The History of Prague
12
2
18
2
30
2

The Plant Hunters
11
0
14
0
25
0

Now, the tempting thing is to look at the semi final scores, take them as our most reliable guide, and then say that it shows that the final may well be a two horse race between Mark and Helen. Tempting, yes, but not necessarily the most sensible thing to do. In Magnus Magnusson’s superb “I’ve Started So I’ll Finish” he revealed that the method they used was to make the questions harder in the semis, and then slightly easier again in the final. I have no idea whatsoever if this is still the case. If it is, though, then some of the contenders who only scored 21 in the semis start to come back into play.

Let’s cast our eye down the list, then.

Mark Grant will be many people’s favourite for the winner’s bowl this year, and with good reason. Mark is one third of the mighty Crossworders from Only Connect. He has also won Brain of Britain and been a Counterpoint finalist. He had the highest SS semi final score of any of the finalists, and if he’s in the lead when the half time oranges are passed around he’s going to be extremely difficult to beat on GK. Not only that, he’s been in the grand final twice before. In 2005 he was beaten by Pat Gibson, and in 2010 by Jesse Honey and Kathryn Johnson. The other contenders in this year’s final are good, very good in some cases, but I don’t think they’re quite of that standard. I don’t want to jinx Mark’s chances by saying that he’s going to win, so I’m not going to make a prediction here.

Dave Cowan’s GK looked very good in his heat where he put on 15. His 11 in the semi wasn’t quite so good, but still good enough to win. Successive scores of 12 and 10 on specialist do suggest that he could well find himself a few points behind the leader at the half way stage in the final, and in this company it’s not a gap which he looks likely to breach. Sorry Dave, but I have you as one of the less likely finalists to win.

Judith Lewis is one of those finalists I mentioned earlier who performed really well in the GK round in the heat, and less well in the GK round in the semi. She will need to improve on her GK. It may well be though, that she’ll be up with the leaders at half time, having performed very well on her specialist rounds in both heat and semi. I have her as one of the less likely finalists, but hey, what do I know?

Hamish Cameron has also been a finalist, and participated in Clive’s 2014 final. I have no doubts over Hamish’s GK. He’s always pretty strong, and on his day he can rip a GK round to shreds. However he was playing with fire on his specialist round in the semi. A huge and uncharacteristic pause nearly saw him come a cropper, a situation he only rescued with his GK. Hamish is overdue a bit of rub of the green, and following the wins of recidivists Brian Chesney and Isabelle Heward in recent years, it would be highly appropriate if either Hamish or Mark did the same this year. Hamish has a shot, make no doubt about that.

Ian Orriss is another recidivist, and another who looked very good in the heat, but less impressive wining his semi final. Let’s make no bones about it, the only people who can win are the 6 contenders who contest the final. Ian is in the final, and you’ve always got a chance if you’re still in the race. Put my arm behind my back and I’d say I don’t really see Ian winning this year, but hey, I’ve been wrong many, many times in the past.

Finally, Helen O’Connell. Now, if you’d given me a list of names of all of the contenders in this year’s series of Mastermind, I’d probably have picked out Mark and Hamish as potential finalists. Helen, for me, has been the real surprise package of this series. In all honesty she looked brilliant in her heat, and she looked brilliant in her semi final. Now, okay, the final is a whole different challenge, but going on all the evidence we have Helen can prepare a specialist subject, and can answer a GK round well enough to really give her a crack at the title.

So, best of retrospective luck to all the finalists. However well you did I hope that you all enjoyed the experience, especially those making their first appearance. A final thought too, if I may, for Brian Davis and Sue Tully from the first semi, whose scores were the joint second highest of all of the semis along with Helen O’Connell’s. That’s the nature of knockout competition, I’m afraid, but sometimes it’s very cruel.