Wednesday, 31 December 2008

My Quiz Resolutions

My Quizzing Resolutions

Yes, its New Years Eve. I don't often make New Year's Resolutions. Fact is, I think that if you're going to stick at something, you're better off just getting on with it, and starting symbolically on New Year's Day won't make that much difference. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I can't remember making a New Year's Resolution that I've ever managed to keep until my birthday, which is in the middle of June.

So my quizzing resolutions take the form of what I'd like to stick to in a perfect world, and no one, least of all me, should be too surprised if I fail to stick to them. So, having set myself up to fail, here we go.

* I resolve to try to be more patient with Little Dennis when he doesn't hear the answers I give him to the questions in the quiz in the Rugby Club. Its not his fault he's deaf. Its our fault for letting him be scribe.

* I resolve to try to not greet every announcement of the handicaps in the Newport Quiz with the words "For Christ's Sake !"

* I resolve to try to stop giving guest question masters a hard time in the rugby club. Even when they are totally incompetent.

* I resolve to try to stop telling two teams off for using their wap phones to find answers whenever I'm the question master in the rugby club. They never win anyway.

* I resolve to stop slagging off Redtooth Quizzes. Just so long as I don't have to play in them any more.

* I resolve to stop saying that other teams must have cheated when they beat us. Even when they obviously have.

* I resolve to try to stop whinging about the fact that my school's Governing Body and the Local Education Authority couldn't be bothered to even send me a letter of congratulation over winning Mastermind.

* I resolve to take responsibility for applying to get on another show, and not wait for one of my mates to try to put a team in.

I'll let you know how well I manage to maintain my resolutions. Happy New Year to you all.

Sleb Mastermind 3 - Tuesday 30th December

Now, back to the questions

Yes, after the Victoria Derbyshire crib sheet storm in a teacup we were finally able to get on with the series last night. I wrote about my feelings on the whole issue yesterday, and so we'll put that to one side, and with no further ado I'll get on with writing about last night's show.

'Whispering' Bob Harris kicked us off with the Life and Career of Alan Freed - some American Rock 'n' Roll DJ chappie from the 50s. Bob started off very confidently, but lost his way a little in the middle, before rallying towards the finish of the round to reach 12. ( Grreeeaaattt ! )

Next was dear old Johnny Sessions - sorry, I just went a little Stephen Fry there - answering questions on the Sherlock Holmes short stories. Scoring 15 points on this subject was one hell of an achievement - last time I counted there were 56 of them to choose from !

Louise Minchin, BBC news presenter, came next, answering on The Life and Career of Darcy Bussell. For those who know as little about ballet as I do, she's the ballerina who guest starred in "The Vicar of Dibley" once. Actually this was one of the actual questions that was asked, and correctly answered. There were 11 more of these as well, and 12 looked to be a good score to me on a noticeably highbrow subject.

Andrew "Brillo pad" Neil finished off the specialist round by answering on The Life of Adam Smith. He's the bloke with the wig on the latest version of the £20 note - that's Adam Smith, not Andrew Neil. 14 points on another quite highbrow subject seemed pretty good to me, and what with his journalist's background you might have fancied his chances at the halfway stage. Little did we know of the passfest that was to follow.

Whispering Bob seemed to spend most of his general round sitting in the chair waiting for answers to come to him. They never did. 4 was a modest total, and 5 passes seemed like quite a lot. This was positively conservative compared to what was to come. Louise Minchin managed to dredge up 6 correct answers, but she also collected 8 passes as she did so. Could Andrew Neil maintain the standard ? You bet he could. He also managed 6 correct answers and 8 passes. In fact I would have sworn that he passed on some of the questions even before John Humphrys had finished asking them. John Sessions then needed a modest 6 to win outright, and you have to say that he made fairly heavy going of it. He blurted out a lot of wrong answers very very quickly, but managed to score 7 - a total which was also matched by the number of passes he made. His 22 is the lowest winning score of the series so far, but he wins favour from me for paying tribute to Sir Anthony Hopkins, one of Port Talbot's favourite sons.

As a point of interest, there were no fewer than 34 passes in tonight's show. Is this a record for a 4 person show, I wonder ?

The Details

Bob Harris Life and career of Alan Freed12 -2/4 - 5/ 16 - 7
John SessionsThe Short Stories of Sherlock Homes15 - 0/7- 7/22 -7
Louise MinchinThe Life and Career of Darcy Bussell12 - 1/ 6 - 8/18 - 9
Andrew NeilThe Life of Adam Smith14 - 3/ 6 - 8/20 - 11

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

When is a crib sheet not a crib sheet ?

Can open - worms all over the floor - Get Over It !

When is a crib sheet not a crib sheet ? In case you haven't seen the news, Celebrity Mastermind has hit the headlines today. In her Radio 5 Live show, Victoria Derbyshire revealed that she had been invited to take part in the show back in November. When she said that she would like to do the Novels of Thomas Hardy as a specialist subject, the production team offered her some help. Now, the furore seems to centre around her choice of the words 'crib sheet' to describe the help she was offered. These words conjur up pictures of a sheet of paper containing possible answers to the questions she could be asked. Which was not what she meant at all. Nobody was offering her insider knowledge of the questions or answers. What she was offered was a list of possible useful sources for research. Despite this, she apparently turned down the offer to appear on the show because she wouldn't have enough time to learn her subject well enough to avoid embarrassment.

So what makes this a news item ? Well, apart from anything else it comes at the end of a period when television companies have been forced to own up to some very questionable practices, and it really has come to seem that nothing is sacred , even Blue Peter. So its hardly surprising that the media would leap at anything which has the slightest sniff of underhand practice about it. But please, is this really worth making a fuss about ?

Now, nobody offers to help you find research sources for your specialist subjects in regular Mastermind - that's true. But although Celebrity Mastermind may look like regular Mastermind its a different show. The celebrities who take part are all, or nearly all, presumably , people who would never have chosen to appear in the regular series of their own volition. Unless they win, and they get a trophy, they get nothing for their pains, since their fees go to charity. So not only are they giving up time, and putting themselves through the hassle of learning a specialist subject for no reward, for each of them there is the very real chance that they will make a fool of themselves in front of 5 or 6 million people. Case in point. Do you know how Victoria Derbyshire made her revelation in the first place ? It was because she and her guests were discussing the less than impressive General Knowledge performance of David Lammy on Sunday's show. So if the production team try to give the celebrities a little help by pointing them in the right direction of some research materials, then what on earth is there to object to about this ? They still have to do the research themselves. Look at the scores these people achieve, for heaven's sake. If they were being told the answers to their specialist rounds beforehand, then they would all score between 15 and 18, which they don't.

From my own experience the Mastermind production team are very decent, honest and talented people who work extremely hard to put together an entertaining show. Everything, and I repeat everything, was absolutely above board in all of the shows I participated in. They dedicate a huge amount of time and trouble to make sure that every contender is given a fair chance with their specialist subjects, without showing any partiality in the least to any of them. They don't deserve this nonsense.

So what we actually have here is a non-story, whipped up by a hungry media which is at a bit of a loose end, all because of Victoria Derbyshire's careless use of the phrase 'crib sheet', which she didn't really mean. Would this have been a story if she'd have said " The production team said they could suggest some good sources I could use to help me learn my subject " ? Would it hell !
I wasn't listening to the show, so I don't know if they were discussing Mr. Lammy's performance in a tone of sympathy or one of schadenfreude, but I hope it was the former. After all, the reason why Victoria Derbyshire turned down the invitation was because she didn't want the same thing to happen to her.

Brain of Britain - Sleb MM 2

Brain of Britain Semi Final 2

What a great contest this was. The outcome was in doubt right up until the final round. Mr. Kirby and Mr. Armand , probably the two lesser known of today's semi finalists played the well known quizzer Dag Griffiths, and my predecessor as Mastermind champion, Geoff Thomas. To be honest this line up was good enough to be a final . Mr. Armand raced off to a lead by getting his five first round questions all correct, to thus earn a bonus. The quizzing thereafter was fast and furious, and the standard of the contestants' answers was superb. Geoff Thomas was last to go int he very last round. Dag Griffiths had a 4 point lead, and so in reality Geoff had to answer all five of his questions correctly. He's made of the right stuff is our Geoff, and he pulled it out of the bag to win a well-earned place in the final. commiserations to the other three. You all played really well, and it was an absolute pleasure to listen to.

Celebrity Mastermind Episode 2

Ok, last night's crop was as varied and interesting as always. We had:-
Rav Wilding,from 'Crimewatch',
Mark 'Chappers' Chapman , who apparently presents sports reports on Scott Mills' Radio 1 show, Phillippa Gregory who wrote, amongst other novels, "The Other Boleyn Girl",
and the biggest sleb on this show : -
Jon Culshaw, best known for TV's "Dead Ringers".

Former Metropolitan Police Officer Rav Wilding kicked off with 'The Human Body', and scored a creditable 11. I think that Mr. Wilding had decided to avoid passing by saying the first thing that came into his head for the questions he had no idea on. I'm sure that one of his answers was 'cheese sandwich' , and he definitely said that the sac around the heart was called the television.

The last time I deliberately listened to Radio 1 Simon Bates was still presenting Our Tune on it, so I wasn't familiar with Mr. Chapman. In fact when I heard that Mark Chapman was on the show I did a double take, since the only other Mark Chapman I knew of was John Lennon's assassin. Still, this Mr. Chapman certainly knows his football. Premiership football is a wide subject, and scoring 13 on it is no mean feat.

Philippa Gregory's score of 16 on "Elizabeth Woodville " was highly impressive. Any good historical novelist knows about the importance of research, and Ms Gregory had obviously done her homework very well. Full marks for picking a highly interesting subject too. Elizabeth Woodville was wife of one king, mother of the next, sister-in-law of the next, mother-in- law of the next, and grandmother of the next.

Jon Culshaw picked my favourite of the specialist rounds - British Pop Music of the 1980s. Full marks to him for knowing the fire eating German was the lead singer of the Goombay Dance Band - I answered all the others that he did, but didn't know that one.

In the General knowledge round Rav Wilding struggled. He fell into a bit of a pass spiral, but still seemed to have kept his sense of humour by the end. Mark Chapman's 12 was a good round, and his final total of 25 would have been enough to have won the previous show. Not this one though. Philippa Gregory found some imperious form to score 14, which gave her a grand total of 30. Jon Culshaw indulged in a little light hearted banter with John Humphrys, doing a very good impression of Tom Baker, and a not so good impression of John Humphrys. "Do I sound like that ? " the great man asked. Well, actually, no you don't John. Jon Culshaw made less of an impression with his answers, but at least made it into the 20s with a final score of 23.

Just a small thing I'd like to saybefore we go onto the details. Rav Wilding was given a question to which the answer was Mauritius. His father is from Mauritius I believe. Also I think that Philippa Gregory was asked about Kenya's largest sea port. She was actually born in Kenya. I'm not trying to make any particular point here, just think its interesting.

The Details

Rav Wilding The Human Body11 - 14 - 515 - 6
Mark ChapmanPremiership Football 13 - 012 - 225 - 2
Phillippa GregoryElizabeth Woodville16 - 014 - 230 - 2
Jon CulshawBritish Pop Music of the 1980s16 - 37 - 623 - 9

Monday, 29 December 2008

Colonel Mustard loses his commission

Siarad Cymraeg ?

Or to put it another way, do you speak welsh ? I'm ashamed to say that I don't, even though I've lived in Port Talbot for slightly more than 2 decades now. Now don't get me wrong. I have nothing against the welsh language at all. In fact, at the risk of sounding like a patronising Englishman I'd go so fa as to say that I think its a beautiful language, which has real poetry in it, even when you hear people using it in everyday conversation. But the thing is that I live in an area which is predominantly anglophone, and so not really needing to speak welsh, I've never got round to joining a class to learn it.

So how was it that I came to take part in a quiz conducted entirely in Welsh last night ? Well, I was invited, and none of my regular Sunday quizzes was on. My Head of Department is a first language welsh speaker, and he rang me up on Boxing Day and invited me to a quiz in Alltwen Rugby Club near Pontardawe, with his brother and a former colleague of ours. Apparently this is an annual fixture, and they were runners-up last year. Well we weren't even close this year. We won the last round, on General Knowledge, but the events of 2008 and the sports round finished us off. A very different experience, though, playing in a quiz where I had to have each of the questions translated for me by my team mates. However even in a relatively fruitless evening, there were still a couple of interesting things which I learnt . For instance, you might have heard that a new version of Cluedo has been launched, where the characters have names rather than titles. I hadn't. Apparently the new characters are:-
Cassandra Scarlet - ( an aging star often featured in the tabloids )
Jack Mustard ( now a former sports star - so he's lost his commission )
Victor Plum - ( a computer wizard dot com millionaire )
Jacob Green ( afro american )
Eleanor Peacock
Diane White
That will surely come up again somewhere.

I must confess that I didn't know which was the most southerly capital city of South America. I narrowed it down to Montevideo, Santiago and Buenos Aires. Of the three I went for Santiago, which is actually further north than the other two. The correct answer is actually Montevideo.

Sleb Mastermind

Celebrity Mastermind 1 - Sunday 28th December
Attack of the Daves

Yes, its that time of year when the BBC interrupts proper Mastermind, and ejects it from the schedules so that Mastermind Lite, with added celebrities, can take its rightful place on the main channel. I shouldn't be so scathing. I enjoy the sleb version, as I enjoy all the different versions of Mastermind. So, lets get on to last night's show.

For the first programme of this series then it seemed that the main qualification was being called David. We had David Lammy ( who he ? ) , Dave Myers ( ditto ) , and David Harewood ( didn't know the name , but recognised him as some actor chappie ) Toyah Wilcox completed the lineup, and she at least we recognised. She's looking quite well is Toyah, although she looks as if she's rather less eager to turn Suburbia UPSIDE DOWN than she was in her heyday. And I'm sorry but I have no intention of explaining that last reference to the under 40s.

David Lammy was first up. Apparently he was the youngest MP in the House of Commons following the 2000 General Election. He was answering on Muhammed Ali. Now I must confess that Muhammed Ali was a subject I offered which was turned down the first time I applied to Mastermind, and I have to say that Mr. Lammy actually got wrong some questions about very significant moments in Ali's career. Well, he does have the country to run, I suppose, so can be forgiven for not doing his homework.

Dave Myers is actually one half of a quiz question that has done the rounds in the last couple of years. He and his colleague Si King are the Hairy Bikers / Hairy Bakers, who have had their own cookery show on the box. That exhausts my knowledge about the Hairy Bikers. Mr. Myers had an impressively highbrow specialist subject in The Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood, and he scored a creditable 12.

Toyah, bless'er, took us to the other end of the spectrum, answering questions on David Bowie. Now, the Thin White Duke has been around for longer than Mastermind has, and so Toyah limited her frame of reference to just the first ten years of his career. Toyah managed 10 on some quite obscure questions.

David Harewood is one of those actors whose name might mean nothing to you, but whose face you'd recognise straightaway. John Humphrys himself paid tribute to Mr. Harewood's appearence in the series Criminal Justice.Answering questions on Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, he raced away to a highly impressive 17.

So at the halfway stage its a one horse race, with David Harewood holding a five point lead over his closest challenger, Hairy Biker Dave Myers. David Lammy returned to the chair, and fared less well in his GK round than he had in his specialist. I think that the occasion had got to him. He scored 5 , but his face registered that he'd known many of the questions he passed on, but just couldn't get them out, through nerves or whatever. Toyah looked delighted when her round was over. To be fair she gave it a fair old crack of the whip, but I don't think General Knowledge quizzes are really her thing at all.

Dave Myers seemed to be enjoying himself immensely - and why not ? Apparently most of his career in television has been as a makeup artist , and now here he is with a TV series about two of his loves - bikes and cooking. He went at the GK questions with real gusto, dropped a few, but made an impressive 12 and 1 pass, which exactly matched his specialist score. That's good quizzing.

So David Harewood needed 8 to win outright, and the way he went at his specialist questions you'd have put money on him to do just that. However he got trapped in a bit of a pass spiral, and by the time the end of the round came he'd scored only 7, to give him 24, the same as Dave Myers. However the hairy one had only 2 passes, to Mr. Harewood's 6 passes. So well done, all of you, a very good and exciting show.

The Details

David Lammy Muhammed Ali8 - 1 5 - 513 - 6
Dave MyersThe Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood 12 -1 12 - 1 24 - 2
Toyah WilcoxDavid Bowie 1967 - 77 10 - 3 4 - 514- 8
David HarewoodHis Dark Materials Trilogy17 - 17- 524 - 6

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Awards for 2008

The Quiz Awards

Yes, its the time of the year when we reflect upon the last 12 months, so that we've got a halfway decent chance of being able to do well in the traditional end of year quiz at the Aberavon Rugby club. so in the spirit of the season of goodwill, I've decided to reflect a little on the year of quizzing, and give out a few awards.

1) The - Best New TV Quiz - Award : -

There's been several new TV quizzes, but relatively few worthy of the award. In 2008 we've seen, to name a few : -
Terry Wogan's Perfect Recall -
which had the novel idea of using the same answers in every round. In practice this became rather boring rather quickly. Not only that, but winning anything approaching a serious amount of money in the final was exceptionally difficult. Not quite as difficult, though, as winning even £2000 on the next show in this category.

Battle of the Brains -

a show which had a couple of things very much in its favour. For one thing it actually solicited the services of some extremely good quiz teams, for which the producers deserve nothing but praise. But, oh dear, they could have done better on the way that they organised the head to heads. At times the balance between questions was as bad as it can often be on Eggheads, and it was exceptionally difficult for any of the teams to win any money. Still, a second series is in production as I write, and it wouldn't be too hard to make this into a decent show.

Sports Mastermind -

extended the Mastermind franchise a little bit further. It was enjoyable enough, although poor old Des Lynam wasn't well during the filming, so I heard, and never seemed to show his legendary smoothness and charm until the Grand Final. Congratulations to winner Chris Bell, though.

Are You An Egghead ? -

was, in my opinion, rather more enjoyable than the long-running Eggheads show itself, but it still suffered from some of the flaws which mar the original show. Some of the questions were desperately unbalanced. Not only that, but the multiple choice format does blur the distinction between the merely good, and the great, and this maybe was shown up a little bit in the final. The rumour is that current world champion, brain of brains, top brain and brain of Britain, Mark Bytheway was auditioned for the show but rejected. If this is true, then it does the producers no credit whatsoever. once again congratulations to Barry Simmons - who looked a worthy Egghead throughout the whole series.

So - which new series took on and beat all comers ? Why - none other than : -

Only Connect

Regular readers are very aware of my high regard for this show, but its not just me. As far as I can see this is a show that has met with pretty much universal approval from regular viewers. Victoria Coren is a fine presenter, who shows just how well you can do a quiz show without having to jettison any trace of personality - Paddy O'Connell please take note. The games are absorbing and challenging. In fact, the only real complaint that anyone could make about the show is that it is stuck in the ghetto of BBC4. So one of my christmas wishes is that this show will make a comeback, and will graduate to BBC2 for another series.

2) The - Biggest Missed Opportunity on TV - Award

No contest on this one. The award goes to Battle of the Brains. The nation is crying out for an intelligent weekday quiz show in the evening slot - we haven't really had one since 15 to 1. Battle of the Brains could have been just that. Too many contestants per team, and head to heads that could be decided by just one question stopped it from being what it might have been. Still, another series is on the way, so you never know. It wouldn't take that much to turn this into a good show.

3) The - What Were They Thinking ? - Award

Another award goes to the BBC, this time for announcing Barry Simmons as the newest Egghead in the listings BEFORE the final of Are You An Egghead had even been broadcast.

And now I'll become even more self-indulgent - if such a thing is possible, and give out a few awards to recipients a little closer to home.

4) The - What Makes You Think You're Something Special ? - Award

The Gold Bog Roll is awarded jointly to the Governing Body of my school, and the Local Education Authority. Despite the issue being raised by the two teacher governors, the governing body decided that my Mastermind win didn't merit even so much as a letter of congratulations - a stunning display of ignorance which was also matched by the Local Education Authority. The school also refused me permission to travel to London during term time to present the trophy in this year's final. Bitter ? Me ? Gentlemen - I thank you all from the heart of my bottom.

5) The - We was stitched up, funniest moment of the year - Award.

For me , winning a poor RedTooth quiz on a Sunday evening in Rhiwbina, in the PantMawr Inn. The runners up were asked to choose between a bottle of red wine and a bottle of white wine. We, the winners, were asked to choose between taking the money and putting it in the charity box. No pressure there at all !

6) The Biggest Ego Trip of The Year Award

You'll appreciate that this year has given me more than its fair share of this. There have been many many great moments for me this year. eg -
The trophy for the annual Mayday in Melincrythan Charity Quiz has been named the Dave Clark Mastermind 2007 trophy - I kid you not !
I was interviewed in a broom cupboard for the BBC Wales news
Nancy Banks-Smith in The Guardian pay tribute to my 'big face'.
Becoming the first team to score 100% in the Aberavon Rugby Club Thursday night quiz.
But above all of these was this tribute paid to me by a 12 year old girl in school : -
" I saw you on the telly. You won, didn't you. Hmm - you quite clever for a teacher, in' you ? "

In case I don't get a chance to post again before January, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all readers a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy and Successful New Year.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Top pub quizzes in sitcoms

Last night saw the last quiz of 2008 in the Pill Harriers Rugby club in Newport, conducted by the doyen on South Wales Quiz masters, Mr. Trevor Parry. The cream of South Wales quizzing talent were all present and correct, and I hope that none would disagree with me that a good time was had by all.

I mention all of this by way of setting the scene, for what I really want to write about is the conversation which took part in the car on the way home. Heaven alone knows how the topic of conversation came up, but we began discussing depictions of pub quizzes that we've seen on TV, the realistic, the good, the bad, and the downright funny. It takes about 45 minutes to drive back from Newport, and by the time we turned off the M$ we'd come up with a list of our top 4.

We tended to discount pub quizzes from soap operas, because they're neither realistic nor particularly interesting or funny. So this left us with our top four : -

Fourth Position - Men Behaving Badly

None of us could remember which series it happened in, and I've been unable to find out on the net this morning. Still , 3 of us distinctly remember Gary, Tony, Debs and Dorothy taking part in a quiz which mainly consisted of the Landlord asking , " In which film did ( supply name here ) take her kit orf ? "

Third Position - Gavin and Stacey Series 1 Episode 2

Smithy takes full advantage of the rule that says the question master gets to drink for free all evening. A stunningly realistic portrayal , and the slump into unconsciousness evoked happy memories of an open quiz in Neath where the question master slumped gracefully to the floor at the end of the second - and as it turned out, last - round.

Runner-up position - Phoenix Nights Series 2 - Episode 4

The Phoenix club uses a money quiz to promote the launch of a new brand of japanese lager, and the questionable actitivies going on are highly authentic. Out of interest, Den Perry, owner of rival club The Coconut Grove, who features in this episode is played by Ted Robbins - one of whose sidelines is as warm up man for Mastermind !

First place and winner of the Award for the Best Portrayal of a Pub Quiz on Television - The Office - Series 1 - episode 3

An utter joy from start to finish. David Brent looks forward to contesting the annual Wernham Hogg pub quiz, which has been won for the last few years by The Dead Parrots, a team consisting of himself and his 'friend' - rep. Chris 'Finchy' Finch. His hopes take a knock when he realises that new boy Ricky once appeared on "Blockbusters". On the evening question master's duties are taken by Gareth Keenan. When it appears that all of his questions have a distinctively military flavour, he's asked,
" Gareth- are all the questions about the army ? " He replies
"No. They're not all about the army. There's one about tennis - there's one about the Suez Canal. Right then, next question. Which canal . . . "
When the Dead Parrots lose in a sudden death play off , Finchy turns on Brent, and forces him to tell them that his answer for
"Who was the leader of the Cuban Revolution ? " was actually
"Fray Bentos ".
Of course, if you've seen a pub quiz being acted out on television that I haven't mentioned, that you think is worthy of mention , then don't hesitate to drop me a line at the following address -

I had another email from David Bodycombe yesterday, with a couple of suggestions for "The Question Master is Always Right " , and these I'll hopefully post within the next day or so.

TV Watch - Only Connect Grand Final

Only Connect Final - Monday 22nd December - 8:30pm BBC4

This terrific little show reached its climax last night. Fancied runners The Crossworders took on plucky underdogs The Lapsed Psychologists. After last week's semi final I did make the observation that anything can happen in a two horse race, but you have to say that The Crossworders hit top speed straight from the blocks last night, and had a commanding 6 - 0 lead after the first round. Both teams impressed hugely with their connections walls. The Lapsed Psychologists went first, and their wall consisted entirely of blocks with three letters each on them. Amazingly they solved it in double quick time, and just for a moment it seemed that the fightback might be under way. However the Crossworders wall consisted just of numbers, and they solved it almost as quickly. Full marks to both teams there. The hardest missing vowels round of the series followed, but again the Crossworders seemed to have the edge, and in the end they ran out very worthy series winners. Commiserations to The Lapsed Psychologists. They never played badly at all, but here they ran into a superb team at the absolute top of their game.

So where now for the Crossworders ? Well, Mark Grant also featured in yesterday's first semi final of The Brain of Britain, and lost by a very narrow margin. Then also Ian Bayley is through to the Mastermind semi finals, and on this form you'd be a fool to bet against him doing very well indeed. Congratulations also to unflappable captain David Stainer. You'll always be the first victorious captain on Only Connect. I sincerely hope that you won't be the last.

University Challenge

A lower scoring contest this one, but absorbing still. This is only so far the second of the second round matches with no Oxbridge representatives. So far the qualifiers for the quarter finals have been, in order of scores -

St. John's Cambridge 345
Corpus Christi Oxford - 295
Lincoln Oxford 280
Manchester 280
London School of Economics 270
Queen's Cambridge 205

City University joined this select group, but beating Brighton 185 - 115. Once again Jeremy Paxman offered sincere commiserations to the losers, suggesting that the questions just hadn't gone their way, although he did show a little more spirit during the contests when one of the teams looked as if they were conferring during a starter for ten. City are a good team, but you've got to say that they'll have to improve if they're to have any serious ambitions of reaching the semis.

Monday, 22 December 2008

That Christmas Quiz

Well, once again I have been shown that I don't know what I'm talking about. Last week I pontificated that IMHO themed quizzes suck, to use the vernacular. Well, last night John and I contested the Christmas themed quiz in the Culverhouse Hotel in Cardiff, and I have to say. . . it was pretty good.

Why did it succeed ? Well, even though every question was connected with Christmas there was still a wide variety of different topics, and a good variation in difficulty between the questions. Let me give you an example. Here are five questions all taken from the first round.

1) Christmas 1993 The Sun newspaper got itself into trouble for publishing what ?

2) Who discovered The Christmas Islands ?

3) What is the literal meaning of Bethlehem - either the Arabic or the Hebraic meaning ?

4) Which song was Michael Jackson's only christmas number 1 ?

5) What did Ebeneezer Scrooge buy immediately after the visit of all of the ghosts ?

Answers at the bottom of this blog

Not bad, eh ? I will confess that I had done a little homework yesterday afternoon before I set off for the quiz. John, though, was outstanding. I reckon that by myself I would have dropped 8 points - which means that I would have won by 11 points. However we dropped just one point - a bonus point for explaining why Santa used to be dressed in green. Our answer was close - that it was symbolic of living and growing things - but the QM wanted the words 'symbolic of Spring' in the answer. Fair enough. The only point I brought to the table that John didn't know himself was the name of the little girl who caught the Grinch stealing the presents - Cindy Lou Who.

So, a good evening , but there's no quiz next week, unfortunately. As for the 5th January, we'll have to give that one a miss to allow people a chance to win one before we go back there.

Answers to the questions

1) Details of the Queen's Speech
2) Captain Cook
3) Arabic - House of Meat , Hebraic- House of Bread
4) Earth Song
5) A massive turkey

Saturday, 20 December 2008

On multiple contenders

As the traditional end of term malaise - and the far less traditional post - inspection malaise - set in, I found myself with a little unexpected time on my hands this week, hence the recent glut of posts in my blog. In the IQAGB discussion forum there's been an interesting discussion going on in the last couple of weeks regarding the BBC's policy as regards reappearences on Mastermind. For the record, the policy from 1972 until the start of the 1995 series was that once you have appeared on the show, then you were never allowed to have another go. This policy changed in time for the 1995 series, enabling Kevin Ashman, a former semi finalist, to win , and set the record score for the show. From then on the only people who weren't allowed to have another go were former champions.

Where the confusion arises is that its not entirely clear how long anyone has to wait between appearing, and reapplying. For those who get knocked out in the first round, you don't have to wait at all. I lost my first round match in 2006, but went on to win in the very next series. I did think that there was a policy of having to wait longer if you were a losing semi finalist, or even longer if your were a losing finalist - but that doesn't seem to be quite the case.

There is a body of opinion that allowing people to reapply weakens the purity of the show - and people who say this have every right to their opinion. Still, the policy is what it is, and I don't really want to carry on the debate here. So why am I writing this ? Well, when I started thinking abou tthe issue I found that what really interests me is the number of people who have made multiple appearences. I have been trawling through my records, and I must apologise that my figures and stats only include the various BBC Mastermind TV and Radio series. This is not to demean or belittle Discovery Mastermind in any way. Is simply because I haven't been able to get hold of any detailed records of who actually appeared in the Discovery series. I may be mistaken, but I do also think that the rounds format was a bit different from the conventional BBC heat - semi final - final arrangement too. So , going by the 1972 - 1997 Magnus Magnusson version - the Radio 4 Peter Snow version - and the John Humphrys BBCTV version, this is what I found. Apologies are extended to all concerned if these figures are inaccurate in any way - I have tried my best to be painstaking, but we are all only human.

I make it that 2 contenders - Hamish Cameron and Ann Kelly - have both appeared 5 times. Hamish also has an additional 3 semi final appearences, and you have to say that he was unlucky not to make the final in 2007. Hamish is one of a select band of contenders who have played in 3 semi finals - nobody so far has reached four semis.

Also in the select band of triple semi finalists are Isabelle Heward, Sheila Altree, Geoff Thomas, and Wendy Forrester. Isabelle and Sheila are quadruple contenders, and Geoff and Wendy triple contenders - although I am sure that Geoff was also a contender in Discovery Mastermind. I'll deal with Geoff in a moment, but Isabelle, Sheila and Wendy surely mark themselves out alongside Hamish as among the finest contenders never to reach a Mastermind final - so far. Sheila, of course, is one of my sparring partners from last year, when we met in the semi final. She has her own very special place in the history of Mastermind. She has three times earned her place in a semi final but only appeared in 2 semi finals. Her second appearence in the first round was before the lifting of the ban in 95, and so when she won her heat she was disqualified before the semi was filmed.

Geoff is the only multiple contender - for my purposes I define a multiple contender as one who has appeared in three or more series - to go on and win the title. His epic 2006 win saw him set a John Humphrys era record score of 36.

There is one other contender who twice reached a final. Roger Stein doesn't make our list of multiple contenders since he has only taken part in two series, but both times he did he made the final.

For the record , I make it that there are 2 quintuple contenders, 8 quadruple contenders, and no fewer than 23 triple contenders. Of these 33 multiple contenders, no fewer than 20 are women. Out of interest, 22 of our multiple contenders reached at least one semi final. Of these 22 - 12 are women. 8 of our multiple contenders have reached a final. Of these 8, 6 are men and 2 are women. I'm not trying to make some deep and meaningful point about the difference between the sexes.I just find it interesting that , bearing in mind that far fewer women take part in Mastermind than men, more women go on to become multiple contenders than men.

If we leave the gender issue aside, then we can say that proportionately more quadruple contenders make finals than quintuple or triple contenders.So, my rather tongue in cheek conclusions are that your best chance of appearing in a semi final, or a final, is to appear in four series. Then remembering what I've already said about specialist subjects in a previous blog, your best bet is to take something literary when you do appear, which will also increase your chances. However, unfortunately, the evidence such as it is suggests that once you go past your 4th series, your chances start to decline.

Actually, I never meant to get so bogged down with the stats when I started writing this. Really, it was just the fact that the discussion on the forum made me think about just how many people had made multiple appearences, and why you'd do it. I mean I say this, but if I hadn't won last year there's every good chance I would have gone on to become a multiple contender myself. Curiously enough, I think that if I had lost in the final, then that might have been enough, and I might have been satisfied enough to call it a day. If I had lost in the semis, then I'm sure I would have applied again.

As to why people make multiple appearences, I can only talk about what I actually know. Personally I have played against quadruple contender Sheila Altree, and triple contender Alastair Finch in the 2007 semi final, and quadruple contender Stewart Cross, and triple contender Derek Moody in the 2007 final. But I can't say that we really talked about why they all kept coming back for more. In Alastair's case, in his previous two appearences he'd lost in the first round, and been very unsatisfied with his own performance in General Knowledge in one of them, so I guess it was as much about proving a pint to himself as anything else. I did ask him after the show if he felt it was likely that he'd apply again or not, and he said that he probably wouldn't now. I had no idea about Sheila's chequered history with the show until months later when I read about her in Magnus Magnusson's "I've Started So I'll Finish " - the beautifully written history of the first 25 years of the show. When Alastair was telling us all about his previous appearences Sheila didn't share any of her own previous experiences. Stewart is interesting because he has appeared in all the different BBC versions of the show. He'd never made it as far as the semis in any of his previous appearences - perhaps there was an element of giving it one last shot there. As for Derek, in his previous appearence he'd been the highest scoring loser, and stand in for the final, so you can see that it really must have been a case of unfinished business for him.

Out of interest, there are currently 5 champions who appeared in at least one earlier series unsuccessfully. These are

Kevin Ashman - semi finalist 1987 - winner 1995
Robert Gibson - semi finalist 1993 - winner 1998
Christopher Carter - contender 1984 - winner 1999
Geoff Thomas - semi finalist 1994 - finalist 2003 - winner 2006
David Clark - contender 2006 - winner 2007

Friday, 19 December 2008

Scrooge or Fezziwig ?

The Annual Dilemma - to be Scrooge or Fezziwig ?

This is the first year since 1994 that I haven't actually written a quiz to be played over the Christmas period. My last was played on December 4th, and my next scheduled one will be on January 15th. This is not through choice or design - its just the way that things happen to have fallen out this year. For many of the 13 years that I have been one of the regular setters for the Aberavon Rugby club's Thursday night quiz just two of us have kept it going, but at the moment there are more regular setters than you can shake a stick at, and so my next turn falls after the holiday period. Such is life, and at least it saves me from the dilemma that faces all quiz compilers at this time of year - whether you should be Scrooge or Fezziwig.

In case this all sounds rather too cryptic, I'll explain what I'm driving at here. Nobody needs me to explain that 'Scrooge' refers to Ebeneezer Scrooge, of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". Probably most people also know of Mr. Fezziwig - Scrooge's master who knew better than most how to have a good old fashioned Christmas knees-up. So what I'm trying to say is that as a question master setting a quiz over the Christmas period, you have to decide whether you will be a 'Bah, Humbug, we'll have no Christmas questions in my quiz, Scrooge' of a question master , or a 'Mince pies all round, we'll have a whole quiz all just about Christmas, Fezziwig' of a question master. I'll be honest, I usually veer more towards Scrooge, with perhaps one question per round about Christmas thrown in as a sop. You see, basically, in my experience, being as honest, broad minded and fair as I can be, I have to say that, by and large, as a rule, speaking as I find, without beating about the bush . . . themed quizzes usually suck.

To be fair, any quiz which concentrates on one subject, or one topic to the detriment of all others is usually rather unenjoyable. I don't apply this criticism to specialist sports quizzes, or specialist entertainment quizzes. Within both of those genres there is such a diverse wealth of subjects and topics you can still use that you can still have a quiz full of variety and interest, especially if the QM works with care and craft. However, finding between fifty and eighty questions about Christmas, for example, is a tall order, and as a result such quizzes do tend to be very samey.

I mention all of this because I'm attending just such a quiz this coming Sunday. Normally my friend John and I try to never visit the same Sunday quiz more than once a fortnight. I apologise to readers if this sounds arrogant, but you can wear out your welcome very quickly if you keep winning every week, and so only playing in each of them once a fortnight does mean that another team can win every other week. Last Sunday was the turn of the Culverhouse hotel. At the end we had just agreed with each other that we'd go to the Haywain the next week, when the question master announced that this Sunday all the questions will be about Christmas. John, it appears, has been swotting up, and is absolutely determined that it doesn't go to waste. At the moment, John knows everything you could possibly expect to be asked in a Christmas Quiz. For example - did you know that Santa actually had 10 reindeer ? I didn't. I thought he had the traditional 8 - Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Comet, Cupid, Blitzen, Donner and Vixen - plus Rudolf to make nine. The other one is called Olive, apparently.
Hence we'll be going back to the Culverhouse this week.

For the record, the worst ever themed quizzes I've played in were : -

In Bronze Medal Position: -
Ten years ago I attended a quiz in Uplands Swansea - can't remember the name of the pub - which had a Guy Fawkes themed quiz. Tenuous is not the word.

In Silver Medal Position : -
The West House in Bridgend produced a Halloween themed quiz of stunning tedium a few years ago. There's only so many questions you should ever ask about bats in one evening.

In Gold Medal Position : -
For several years in the late 90s and early Noughties a non quizzer at Aberavon insisted on setting a Wales themed quiz in the rugby club every year for St. David's Day. Now, I totally accept that Wales is wonderful place, and you could easily compile a quiz where every question had a welsh dimension, and yet you still had a wide variety of sport, entertainment, history, geography, natural world etc. etc. Unfortunately the guy who used to do the quiz seemed blissfully unaware of this. Almost all of the 80 questions he would ask in the course of the evening would be about people who had lived in Merthyr Tydfil in the 19th century. Actually I'm being unfair. Some of them had lived in Aberystwyth. I think that the top score ever achieved in one of his quizzes was about 33 out of 80, but it never daunted him from trotting out almost exactly the same quiz for several years running, until attendance for the St. David's Day quiz tailed off so much that on the very last running of his quiz the entire population of the pub numbered a grand total of 12 -which consisted of himself and the scorer - one team of 4 - and half a dozen packets of pork scratchings. Rumour has it that the pork scratchings won, but this has been disputed since.

Just in case anyone has been on tenterhooks sinc my post last week concerning walkovers, we didn't after all take a beating last night in the rugby club, but won from Rob's team by a satisfyingly close 2 points.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

TV Extra

Only Connect Monday 15th December 8:30pm

Semi final number 2 saw the the Lapsed Psychologists take on the Bankers. The Bankers struggled in the first round, and picked up no points to trail 4 - 0, only to come roaring back in the second round - the what comes last in the sequence round - to lead 6-5. The connections wall did for them, though. The lapsed Psychologists took their time to get started, but a last minute flurry saw them complete the wall to earn maximum points. Unfortunately the Bankers failed to unravel any of their wall. Neither team exactly covered themselves with glory in the missing vowels round, but the Lapsed Psychologists emerged comfortable winners. so they go forward to meet the Crossworders next week. If I was a betting man then my money would be on the Crossworders, but you never know - anything can happen in a two horse race.

University Challenge

Lincoln College Oxford took on The University of St. Andrews in another enjoyable tussle. An otherwise fairly mellow Jeremy Paxman growled at the start that he wasn't going to go through the rules, since the teams shouldn't even be there if they didn't already know how to play. It was clear from pretty early on that Lincoln College had the measure of their opponents, and finished just a shade short of the magical 300 point mark. Paxman himself said at the end that he felt that the contest had seemed rather closer than the score suggested, and in a funny way I know exactly what he meant. You weren't so conscious of St. Andrews not answering, but I would guess that their bonus conversion rate was quite a bit down on Lincoln's.

Celebrity Eggheads

Well, we've had celebrity everything else in the last few years, so why not celebrity Eggheads. On Monday Nicky Campbell and assorted Radio 5 Live luminaries took on and inevitably lost to a team of the 5 original Eggies. Then on Tuesday Judith sat out and Barry came in against a team of BBC Breakfast News newsreaders. Judith lost on Music on Monday, C.J. lost on politics on Tuesday. That's about it, really. Between ourselves, I can't see that celebrities have any more chance of beating the Eggheads than any normal quiz team, and so there's not really any more entertainment value to the show than normal. There you have it.

Daftest Answers

The things I put myself through for the sake of this blog. I'm fully aware that I have not posted a daftest answer of the week for a couple of months now, and with this in mind I steeled myself to sit through The Weakest Link. As a reward for my pains these two answers seemed worthy of sharing: -

Q : What name is given to the joint between the forearm and the hand ?
A : Elbow ?

Q : Born in Hull in 1759, the MP who was a prime mover in the fight to abolish the slave trade was William who ?
A : Hague ?

Mastermind (1980 series ) Sky Arts 1 - Tuesday 7pm

You may have noticed by now a slight bias in my blog towards all things Mastermind. Let me assure you that this is purely intentional. So I was delighted to see that Sky Arts is now broadcasting the epoch making 1980 series of Mastermind. I say epoch making since this was the series won by Fred Housego, arguably the most famous Mastermind champion of all time, certainly the champion whose win made the biggest splash when it occured. I have to say that I really wanted to see a Magnus Magnusson show again, because I was certain that you could actually end up having more time to answer your questions in those days, than you do now. Now you get your 2 minutes, and this is very strictly observed, however long or short your questions are. Lo and behold though, when I timed the last general knowledge round tonight, this actually lasted for 2 minutes and 20 seconds. So if scores generally are not as high now as they were in the days of Magnus, I think that's a pretty good indication why this might be.

Ego Trip Of the Week

I'm currently in the grip of a chest infection, but my sufferings were temporarily relieved when a neighbour brought in a copy of the Christmas Radio Times, and showed me that I had a name check on p. 52, or 53 I think. There's a little section all about which quiz are you most suited to, and it mentions the last three Mastermind champions. Of coruse, it mentions questions which we all got wrong, but then that's only to be expected. As I'm sure you know, people only ever want to talk about the few questions you got wrong, rather than the many questions you got right. Such is life.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Question Master is Always Right

Section 8 - Natural World

I’m not sure what it is about this category, but it often sends question masters scurrying for the record books – biggest, heaviest , tallest , oldest – you name it. This presents a few problems . As new discoveries are made, records may change, but a question master’s tried and trusted answers often don’t.

What is the world's oldest species of tree ?

There's only one thing worse than getting a wrong'un in the middle of a quiz, and that's getting a wrong'un for the jackpot prize at the end of the quiz. This was one such. The answer we were all given , which, annoyingly, some of the teams actually gave as their answer was,
The Giant Redwood/Sequoia

Oh dear. This is such an elementary mistake. The Sequoia is generally recognised as the world's tallest species of tree, but its a relative youngster when compared to
a bristlecone pine nicknamed Methuselah

which has been carbon dated at over 4,000 years, and is given in the 2008 edition of the Guinness Book of Records. However, at time of writing scientists also believe that they have discovered a spruce tree in Sweden which is possibly twice as old
Advice: Records can be broken. The only safe record to ask is : who was the first to . . . , and even then mistakes still get made. If you're a question master, check your answer really carefully before you answer it. If you're a player - put down the right answer, and cross your fingers.

To which group of animals do Duck Billed Platypus and Echidna Belong ?

The moment you hear this question you just know that a wrong'un is hurtling towards you. Australian animal , right ? Not a conventional mammal , right ? So it must be

Well, hang on a minute. If they are marsupials, then show me the pouches ! The echidna ( spiny anteater ) and the duck billed platypus are actually the only living members of a type of mammal, which lay eggs , but also produce milk for their young. The official word to describe them is

Interestingly as well, the duck billed platypus is the only mammal ( of any type ) to produce venom.
Advice : - If the question master just gives echidna and duck billed platypus as examples, you'd better go with the right answer. But if he gives any additional example, then play the man and not the ball and say marsupials ( even though its wrong )

What is the world's largest species of Reptile ?

There's a fifty fifty chance that the question master who asks this will give you
the komodo Dragon

as the answer. This is a shame, because its wrong. Granted, the Komodo Dragon, which is a species of Monitor Lizard, is the world's largest species of lizard, but by no stretch of the imagination is it the largest reptile. A komodo Dragon may grow up to as much as ten feet long, from snout to tail. This makes it about half the size of a
Saltwater ( or estuarine ) Crocodile

I suppose question masters get it wrong because the croc just isn't as exotic as the komodo dragon. Either that, or they have lingering memories of a young David Attenborough trying to film one.
Advice : Largest lizard - dragon , largest reptile - croc. No need for any confusion.

Which three species of snake are native to Britain ?

This is slightly different from many of the wrong 'uns in our collection, since it requires three answers, and usually the question master will have two correct answers
and one wrong 'un. The two correct answers will be
adder and grass snake

However when we get to the third answer, the problems occur. A very, very wrong answer would be this : -
the viper

for the simple reason that the viper is another name for the adder, its not a seperate species. A slightly better answer would be
the slow worm

This is a different species, and its native to the UK. There's only one problem. It looks like a snake, and it moves by a snake, but its actually a lizard. Granted, it doesn't have any legs, but its still a lizard, not a snake. The correct answer is
The smooth snake

Unfortunately, this is one that roughly half the time the question master will get wrong.
Advice - Play the man and not the ball. Ask yourself - is my question master good and careful enough to know the correct answer ? If you're not sure, put smooth snake down anyway - and cross your fingers.

Which is the world's biggest species of snake ?

Its not so much the answer to the questions that are the problem with this one. Its the question itself. You see, 'biggest' just isn't clear enough. The answer your question master will probably give is
the anaconda

Well, in one sense, this is actually right. Anacondas are without doubt the heaviest snakes in the world. They can weigh over 500 pounds. However they grow to up to 27 feet in length. This is quite a bit shorter than
the reticulated python

which can actually grow up to 10 feet longer than an anaconda. So which is the biggest ? Depends what you mean, mass or length, and that's why it is so important to define your terms.
Advice : - While most of the teams will write anaconda as the answer, the knowledgable ones will know about the reticulated python. So unless you want to lose all respect as a question master - NEVER ask what is the biggest snake - ask the longest - or the heaviest.

Which is the largest species of crow ?

This is a wrong'un that has done the rounds over the years, but its unusual in that I have no idea where it came from, or how it came to be. Several times when this question has been asked , I've heard the question master give the answer
The rook

I have no idea what on earth would lead them to say this. Rooks, ravens and crows all belong to the corvid family of birds, commonly called the crow family. There's no confusion about it at all, the largest species is
The raven

Yet question masters get it wrong often enough to make you think twice before putting it as your answer.
Advice - don't even think about it. The answer is the raven. Write it down, and get on with the quiz.

Which is the largest diamond in the world ?

Its an odd question in as much as its probably easier to say what isn't rather than what it is. What we can say for definite is that it is not the
Koh-i-Noor ( the Mountain of Light )

This is actually a relative minnow, since it doesn't even quite feature in the top 10 of cut and faceted diamonds now. But then that term itself highlights a problem. Since an uncut diamond, and a cut diamond are clearly two very different things. The answer often given is
The Cullinan Diamond

Despite reports in 2007 that a rough diamond of twice the size of the Cullinan had been discovered in South Africa, this is still accepted as the largest rough diamond ever found. However, this does not exist any more. It was in fact cut up into 9 sperate stones. Until the late 80s, the largest of these was the largest cut stone in the world, and it was called
The Star of Africa ( Cullinan I )

However in the 1980s a slightly bigger diamond was cut, and this one is called
The Golden Jubilee Diamond

and this is accepted at the moment as the world's biggest cut diamond.
Advice : -Its not the Koh - i - Noor !Define the question carefully - do you want them to say the largest cut or uncut diamond ever ? If you don't know what you want them to tell you, how can they possibly know ?

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Question Master Is Aways Right - Part Four

Section 6 : Geography

I think it was Peter Tinniswood who once wrote “ men are buggers for geography”, and its certainly one of the most popular categories in pub quizzes. And as we have seen, the more times questions are asked on a particular topic, the greater the likelihood that there will be wrong’uns lurking within. Here are some choice selections.

Which 2 European capital cities are the closest together ?

This is a little oddity of a question. I have often heard the answer given as
Rome and the Vatican City

There’s no other two closer, certainly , being as the Vatican is clearly inside Rome. But does the Vatican City, which is an independent state in its own right, count as its own capital ? Especially when its only one small part of another city ? The mind boggles. If you discount this, then the two closest are
Vienna and Bratislava

Although admittedly this is nothing like as good a question .
Advice : - make it clear in the question what you want. If you want the Vatican as an answer , then go ahead, and don’t complain when the arguments start flying around your ears. If you want Vienna and Bratislava as the answer – then make it clear when you ask the question that you personally do not count The Vatican and Rome.

What was the former name of the island on which the Statue of Liberty stands ?

OK, its not the most common question to be asked, but I've heard it asked, and I've heard the wrong answer given too. So, lets begin. I hope that we all know that the
Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour stands on an island which is now called Liberty Island. Many people think that the former name of the island was
Ellis Island

But that's wrong. Its easy to see how the confusion arises. Ellis Island was where immigrants coming to make a new life in America were processed, and then sent out to make their way in the great new country. But it wasn't the same island. Liberty Island was once called,
Bedloe's Island

And that's it really.
Advice - there's no argument, and no room for doubt.

Section 7 : Language, Literature, Art and Music

In the original version of Cinderella, what were her slippers made of ?

I guarantee that you’ll amaze and impress your less knowledgable team members when you smile and supply the answer to this one :-
Fur / ermine

The reasoning goes like this. It’s a mistranslation . The most famous version of the Cinderella story was that written by Frenchman Charles Perrault. In french – verre – glass, sounds the same as – vair – ermine/fur.
However – we have a problem. In Charles Perrault’s original manuscript he uses – verre – glass ! In older versions of the story it wasn’t a slipper at all. It was a gold ring which had to fit the right( correct ) finger.
Advice – its such a terrific story it’s a shame to cast doubt, but it’s a very dodgy question. One to avoid, I’d say.

What are the three common words in English which end with the letters GRY ?

I’ve been asked this one many times, although never in a quiz, but just in case
Angry – hungry and . . . er. . .

The fact is that there is no other COMMON word, which isn’t a hyphenated compound ending in either angry or hungry. Once again, if you don’t believe me, then check in the OED.
Advice: - There’s a reason why you’ve never heard the third word when this one has been asked. That’s because there IS no 3rd word.

Why is sirloin called sirloin ?

Ah, the vagaries of the ruling classes ! If you get asked this one, then the question master will probably say : -
It was knighted by King James Ist ( and VIth of Scotland )in a particularly jocular mood one day

What a charming story ! What a load of old rubbish ! The fact is that different versions of this story exist with Henry VIII or other kings in place of James. However, the old spelling of sirloin is surloin, as in surname. So the far more prosaic and far more accurate answer is
Its from the French pronoun – sur – meaning over.

Not so funny or charming really, but that’s life, isn’t it.
Advice – a false for a true or false question.

How did the Lovers in the Opera Aida die ?

This is a very special type of wrong’un. Its still possible to go to quizzes, where you will be asked this question, and be told the answer is that they were
Burned alive

Its wrong, and its all due to a printing error. Like many question masters I’ve had my favourite sources for questions over the years, and one of them has been The Pears Quiz Companion. Its been superceded by bigger and better books over the years, but its served well over the years. However, it does state that the lovers were burned alive, rather than the correct answer
Buried alive

Its only one letter, but it makes all the difference. For some reason, as well, this error from the original 1987 edition was never picked up in the new editions of the mid nineties, and the year 2000. So two generations of quiz masters have asked it, and given the wrong answer in all good faith. Me included.
Advice – no one can blame you for taking the answer from the Quiz Companion, but now you know the truth, you’ve no excuse. Get it right.

Maybe I'm Going Soft

Yes, maybe I'm going soft, but I went to a terrific quiz last Thursday - great question master - good questions - convivial company - and for all that I didn't enjoy it. Why not ? Because it was a walkover.

I'd better explain myself. Now, please don't think that I say this for self-aggrandisement. Don't get me wrong, I'm as arrogant as the next person, and I love to blow my own trumpet, but just this once this isn't what I'm trying to do here. The point that I'm trying to make is this.

The quiz took place at the Aberavon Rugby Club. Regular readers will know that this is my 'home' quiz - and I take regular turns setting the questions. There are hardly ever lss than 6 teams. My team - the Boyks - win some, and my friend Rob's team, the Lemurs - win some too. The others between them win very occasionally. Now , on Thursday night, none of the Lemurs were there. That's OK - they have their own lives to lead - yutta - yutta. However, the fact is that wth the standard of questions that were being asked on Thursday night, they were the only team that could conceivably have challenged us. All of the other teams were always going to have a round when they fell 4 or 5 short of our score, and they were never going to make it up. We won by a dozen points, and I'll be honest, I could hardly have cared less.

So - winning by itself, its not as much to me as I thought it was. Its the competition. Winning against opposition who COULD beat you. On an ideal evening, the result should be in question right up until the end of the final round, with the winning score being a couple of points above the second place. That makes it interesting. That gets the competitive juices flowing. Even a tight loss can be more exciting than winning by that much.

Last Sunday John and I returned to the Haywain in Bridgend. The management's disastrous policy of moving the quiz forward to 6 o'clock has resulted in an empty pub on a Sunday evening, so at last sanity has prevailed. However, the problem is that a lot of the regular teams there saw my Mastermind win, and now virtually cede us the win as soon as we walk in. We won by 61 points to 49 last week. That's no good. I want the second place team to go back to their nefarious practice of phoning up for answers ( alright, I can't prove that's what they used to use their phones for - but their scores used to be a hell of a lot closer to ours ) . I want to have the frisson that comes from knowing an off week means that you could lose.

Thankfully, I had reason to celebrate on Tuesday. I had been inspected, and found up to the job in school, so I knew that there was no chance that I could be observed again on the Wednesday. So, on pretty much the spur of the moment, John, my eldest daughter Phillippa, and I bombed off to Cowbridge to compete in the Duke of Wellington Quiz. Good quiz - good questions - sandwiches at half time - the works. And we only won by 2 points, and also had to share the jackpot with another team too. That's more like it.

I do realise, that having ranted off like this there is every good chance that we will get stuffed out of sight on Thursday night. I'll let you know.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

TV Watch - 12th December

TV Watch – 12th December

Its Mastermind, Jim, but not as we know it.

Mastermind itself signed off for its winter break after the 14th show of the current series. The show’s website tells us that Celebrity Mastermind will be shown again before the end of this month. Well and good. However, for the last couple of years the run up to Christmas hasn’t just meant Celebrity Mastermind, but also Junior Mastermind. Yet there is no mention of whether Junior Mastermind is coming back this season.Well, actually, there is one version of Juior Mastermind that is already on our screens. On last Sunday Evening Mastermind Plant Cymru began.

Mastermind Cymru is, as the name implies, the welsh language series of Mastermind, presented not by John Humphrys, albeit that he is welsh, but by Betsan Powis, on S4C the welsh language terrestrial channel . There have been 2 champions, the inaugural champion from 2006, Emyr Rhys Jones, and the 2007 champion Sion Aled. This season the show has become Mastermind Plant Cymru which roughly translates into Wales Children’s Mastermind.

I will admit that I haven’t watched the show – I have lived in Wales for over 20 years, but somehow have never quite got round to mastering the undoubted beauty of the welsh language. However I will be watching out and keeping my ear to the ground, since a little bird tells me that the daughter of one of my colleagues at work is a contender in this series. Watch this space for more details.

Only Connect

The first semi final saw the Crossworders, Mark, David and Ian march their way into the final. Tricky connections became , so it seemed even a little trickier, although to my immense satisfaction I saw a couple of the connections which neither team managed. Alright, so I was sitting at home on a comfy sofa, not in a hot studio, but it still gave me a feeling of satisfaction. Can I please ask any readers who haven’t already done so, follow the link I gave you last week, and leave a positive comment about the show . It would be such a shame if this were to be the only series of what I think has become a little gem of a show.

Sorry that its only a short TV entry this week. At work we’ve had the Inspectors in, and so my viewing has had to be severely limited to allow time for preparation. It seems we might be moving into a bit of a fallow period on the TV – what with Mastermind leaving our screens until the New Year, and Only Connect with only two more episodes to go. At least there’s still University Challenge, and the Brain of Britain on the radio. Lets be thankful for small mercies.

Friday, 5 December 2008

TV Watch - 5th December

Mastermind - Friday 5th December - Heat 14/24

First contender up this week was Richard Heller. Richard Heller is a well known and respected writer, but in Mastermind terms he's best known for reaching the final of the 2006 series, where he lost to the Reverend Richard Sturch. He was answering questions on W.C.Fields, and did well to score 14 and 2 passes. Not as well as Beth Maclure, though. Beth, who has described herself in the past as a serial Mastermind contender, answered on Magritte in the last series. This year she took a completely different tack, answering brilliantly on the TV series Jonathan Creek, to score 16 and 1 pass. Two newcomers , Norman Macgregor-Edwards on Tacitus, and Adam O'Brien on Keith Moon, completed the round. Mr. Macgregor-Edwards struggled somewhat to score 9 , on what seemed to my layman's ears to be a very fair set of questions. Mr. O'Brien did rather better, scoring 14 and no passes.

I did feel Mr. Macgregor-Edwards had a tough set of general knowledge questions, to take him to 18, and Mr. O'Brien reached 21. Then Richard Heller put on quite a virtuoso display to score 14 to take him to 28. Beth Maclure kept her composure well, but ran out of time, and finished on 25. Hard lines on Beth to be drawn against a former finalist.

John Humphrys himself seemed very impressed with Mr. Heller's score, calling it a very high score at the end of the show. And who's to say that he won't reach a second final ? At the very least, we have the interesting situation of 2 previous finalists- Richard Heller and Mel Kinsey - already reaching this years semis. Both of them scored 28 in the heats this year as well. What are the odds of both of them getting to the final again ? Heart says yes - head says unlikely.

The Details

Richard HellerW.C.Fields14 - 214 - 028 - 2
Beth MaclureJonathan Creek16 - 19 - 125 - 2
Norman MacGregor-EdwardsTacitus9 - 19 - 318 - 4

Adam O'Brien
Keith Moon14 - 07 - 521 - 5
Only Connect

Great excitement this week when I received an email from David Bodycombe, Question Editor for Only Connect. Yes, he must read this blog ! So you see, gentle reader, you are in very good company indeed. And this is the reason why I am asking for you, the reader, to help. According to Mr. Bodycombe,
"There's no news on a second series yet, but if you want to "do your bit" then you can add your voice to BBC Four's Have Your Say page:
So please, if, like me, you're a regular viewer, please add your voice, and you never know, we may even persuade them to give it an airing on terrestrial TV.
This week Dave Roberts and Nigel Lewis of the Country Walkers - and also Double Trouble in the Dynevor Arms Quiz in Groesfaen - lost out on another close contest. It seemed to me that they were shading the contest, especially on the connections wall, but the missing vowels round did for them in the end. Hard lines guys - but well done for a damn good game.

Are You An Egghead ? Tuesday 2nd December

I haven't got a lot to add to my earlier post from this week, where I explained how a BBC2 continuity announcer managed to rob me of any pleasure in watching the final. It turns out that on internet and other listings the Tuesday edition of Eggheads had been advertised all day as featuring the newest Egghead, Barry Simmons. It was possible to read this before the final was even shown ! Well done BBC !
It struck me as a little odd changing the format for the final. They hadn't mentioned this would happen before we actually got to the final. Oh well. Once again, congratulations to Barry. I have to say, I pity the poor teams who have to play on the occasions when Barry , Chris , Daphne and Kevin are all on the same day.

University Challenge

Before we get on to the this week's show, a quick mention of the Archergate controversy. James Archer, who appeared last week on the losing King's College Cambridge team, has apparently been interviewed by the police for wearing an RAF style greatcoat with medal ribbons. Apparently viewers rang to complain that he was impersonating an RAF officer, which is an offence. I can't help thinking that maybe someone at the BBC might have thought to suggest to Mr. Archer that , just for the show, a different form of dress might be appropriate.

Well, back to this week's show. I'm afraid that for the second week running we saw a team on the absolute top of their game give a good old British style six of the best, trousers down, to the opposition. Corpus Christi Oxford almost reached the magic 300 points against Edinburgh, defeating them by 295 points to 85.Edinburgh, you may recall, won the very finest match in the first round when they defeated King's ( and Mr. Archer ) by 190 points to 180.One more point to finish. All four winning teams in the second round so far have scored more than 250. That's a hell of a good standard - and promises some great semi finals.

Thank you
A special thank you this week to Will Jones , who emailed me this week to inform me that he was going to plug this blog in "Team Times", the Newsletter of the very prestigious Quiz League of London. Mr. Jones has been as good as his word. So welcome to any new readers, and thank you very much !

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The Question Master Is Always Right - continued

Sports Department

Whose hand did Hitler refuse to shake on the Opening Day of the Berlin Olympic Games of 1936 ?

If its the 1936 Olympics, then the answer must be :-
Jesse Owens

After all, he won 4 gold medals, so there are 4 chances for you to be right. All the more pity then, that its not true. Its easy to see how the confusion has arisen. This is what really happened. Hitler personally congratulated the winners of the first few events on the first day, inviting them up to where he was sitting in the stands. Seeing that the High Jump event was obviously being fought out between two black american athletes, he left the stadium before it was won by
Cornelius Johnson

IOC president Henri de Baillet Latour, very unhappy about this behaviour, informed Hitler that if he was going to congratulate any of the winners on a particular day, he should congratulate all of them on that day. So from then on, Hitler did not personally congratulate any of the winners. He didn't snub Owens any more than he snubbed almost all of the other gold medal winners. The only person you can really say that he snubbed was Cornelius Johnson. But its a better story if you bring Owens into it.
Advice : - If you want to ask about Owens, ask how many golds he won, or what events he won them in. If you want to ask about Cornelius Johnson, then don't bother, because no one will get it right.

Who was the first person to knock down Muhammed Ali ( Cassius Clay ) in a professional fight ?

I don't think that the person who asked this got the answer from a quiz book, I think he just assumed that his answer was correct, which is a dangerous thing for any of us to do. Naturally he gave the answer -
Henry Cooper

as did every single team in the quiz. Me included. I was 'playing the man and not the ball' since I thought it was highly unlikely that the question master would have the correct answer, which is :-
Sonny Banks

who knocked Ali/Clay down in the first round of their 1962 fight.
Advice: - the coin is in the air in this one. If you know the question master , then make your mind up - would he be likely to know this ? If not, then play the percentages.

Section 5 : Science, Technology and Business

Who Invented What ?

Invention rarely happens in a vacuum. Unless its a hoover or a thermos flask . Sometimes, its more difficult than you think to trace the precise stage in its development that something became what we think it is today. This of course provides fertile ground for wrong'uns to proliferate.

Who invented the steam engine ?

Any schoolboy ( well, any schoolboy of the 50s, 60s or 70s ) can tell you that the inventor of the steam engine, inspired by watching steam lift the lid off a kettle, was
James Watt

This begs the question - how is it that
Thomas Savery

built a practical working steam engine to pump water out of a mine some 30 years before James Watt was even born ? The fact is that both Newcomen, and later Watt refined the design of the steam engine, in Watt's case making it hugely more efficient, and practical for use in factories and mills. But as for Savery, he is the first known to have built an engine powered by steam, but he can't claim to have invented the principle of using steam to produce power. That title goes to one
Hero of Alexandria

and he drew up plans for a working steam engine a little earlier than Savery's machine. Two thousand years earlier, in fact. Working models based on Hero's plans have been made.

Some people say steam engine when what they really mean is steam locomotive. So if you really mean : -

Who invented the first steam locomotive ?

then that would surely be
George Stephenson

wouldn't it ? After all, he was the one on the £5 note for a few years, wasn't he ? Well, he was on the fiver alright, but he never invented the steam locomotive at all. So why does he get credit ? Well, his locomotive, The Locomotion Number 1 , pulled the first train on the world's first steam powered passenger train line. While we're stripping away myths from poor old George, its probably unfair to say that he created Stephenson's Rocket. Although he was involved, the bulk of the credit should probably go to his son Robert.
So then the credit for the first steam locomotive goes to Cornishman
Richard Trevithick

To be fair it normally does. Trevithick's machine was the first steam powered vehicle to run under its own power along a railway, constructed at the Penydarren Iron works near Merthyr Tydfil.
However, its not quite as simple as that. Prior to building his railway engine, Trevithick had built a steam road vehicle, which amazed onlookers as it chugged its way up Cambourne hill, and then scared the living daylights out of them when it exploded while Trevithick was in the pub. But if this vehicle counts, then surely so does the steam powered car of French engineer
Nicolas Cugnot

He invented the world's first self propelled vehicle , a steam powered car for moving large artillery pieces. Its first, and last demonstration was in 1768. The thing was so hard to control that it crashed into a wall. However it did move itself.

Advice: - Approach with caution. If you mean engine, say engine, not locomotive. Define whether you want to people to tell you the one who invented the idea, or the first working engine. If you mean locomotive, say locomotive, and probably better still, say railway locomotive. Then the answer is Trevithick, and your conscience is clear.

What was the name of the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean ?

This is a question which can always raise a groan from a serious quizzer. Its something of an oddity, in that there are several plausible answers, yet the answer most often given by question masters , namely
Brunel’s SS Great Western

isn’t one of them. It works like this. The first steamship to cross the Atlantic is usually accepted to be the
SS Savannah

Which crossed from Savannah, Georgia to Liverpool in 1819, some 18 years before the Great Western. However its fairly certain that it did not use steam power for the whole journey, or anything like it. So The question is really which was the first steamship to cross the Atlantic using steam all the way ? But then even if you ask the question this way, the answer is the
SS Sirius

Setting sail four days before the Great Western, she crossed solely under steam power, and arrived in New York the day before the Great Western. The Great Western stole the headlines for making the faster crossing, but the Sirius got there first.

Advice : Make it crystal clear what you want in the way you ask the question. Actually say that you want the first steam ship to cross , however much or little it used steam, or the first steamship to cross totally under steam power. And however you ask it, the answer can’t be The Great Western.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Stop Press - Are You An Egghead ?

Congratulations to Barry Simmons, television's newest Egghead.You have to say he never looked like losing any of the matches he was involved in.Commiserations to Shaun Wallace, 2004 Mastermind Champion, who had played so well to reach the final.

A huge raspberry to the BBC. I got home at about 5:45 this evening. It was too early tobe able to get the final on the iplayer. So my wife and I watched the celebrity Bargain Hunt on BBC2. Immediately afterwards, the BBC2 continuity announcer told us that Eggheads was to follow featuring newest Egghead Barry Simmons ! Thus completely ruining the final for me, and I am sure plenty of others. Thanks a lot !