Monday, 31 August 2009

TV Watch 2 - Only Connect - The Grand Final

The Rugby Boys versus The Cambridge Quiz Society

Well, the Rugby Boys' success in reaching the final has made people sit up and take notice down our way. I haven't had a chance to see it, but apparently the lads featured in an article in the South Wales Echo during the last couple of days. The echo doesn't quite reach as far west as Port Talbot, however my friend who told me about the article said that Mark explained that in his opinion "only Connect" really is the toughest quiz on television, and do you know something ? On the evidence of the last few matches I have to say that he may well be right. None the worse for that either, I hasten to add.

As happened last week , the final presented us with a contest that pitted Youth against Experience. Youth was provided in the form of Paul Beecher, Joshua Karton and captain Sam Spiro, the Cambridge Quiz Society. Experience came from Richie Parnell, Mark Labbett and captain Gary Dermody , the Rugby Boys. Victoria Coren, at her wicked best, began the show, as she has on more than one occasion by having a dig at Wikipedia, or as she likes to call it "a random splurge of rumour and guesswork. " Which come to think of it is a pretty good description of some of the answers that have come from the Clark sofa during this series.

The Rugby Boys won the toss but opted to go second. which seemed a pretty inspired choice as the Cambridge team passed them over a bonus on time differences. With another bonus , this time on pieces of music based on parts of the Bible, which offset one failure, the men from Wales led 5 - 2 going into the second round. I thought there were some brilliant connections in this round - kudos to the question setters. The Rugby Boys impressed me with the ease with which they solved that gules - tenne - or - should be followed by vert. These are heraldic terms for colours, so in the spectrum red, orange, and yellow are followed by green - vert. I was far less impressed when they mistook a commodore computer for an Archimedes, and thus failed to see that Commander James Bond, Captain Jean-Luc Picard and a Commodore computer ( was it a 64 ? ) would be followed by a Rear Admiral, to show rising ranks in the Royal Navy. The Cambridge Quiz Society saw it though, and took a well deserved bonus. The gap had still widened by the end of the round, as the Rugby Boys led by 9 to 3.

The connections wall had proven to be the big difference between the Rugby Boys and their semi final opponents the Chessmen. Tonight, faced with a fiendish wall they managed to find just the one set, although they solved all 4 connections when revealed. The Cambridge Quiz Society, faced with an equally fiendish wall, spotted a connection at once - famous locomotives, but didn't follow through and find the correct 4. They found none of the 4 sets, and solved 2 connections. Alas they used the locomotive solution on the set containing Rocket, rather than the set containing Mallard and City of Truro. So going into the missing vowels round it looked as good as over, with the Rugby Boys holding a lead of 13 points to 5.

Considering that a tough set of Wordsworth poems brought both teams to a virtual standstill in the middle of the missing vowels round, both teams did well to put decent scores on the board. The Rugby Boys added 6 points to their total, while the Cambridge Quiz Society added a creditable 4, bringing the final score in the match to 19 - 9. Commiserations to the Cambridge Quiz Society, but congratulations too on a fine performance to reach the final, especially considering the impressive teams who have contested this series. Many many congratulations to the Rugby Boys, who have struck another blow to enhance the prestige of quizzers and quizzing in South Wales.

Victoria Coren ended the show with a reminder that next week The Rugby Boys will play last year's champions, whom she referred to as "The terrifying Crossworders. " That's a bit unfair. I don't know Mark Grant, but David Stainer and Ian Bayley are both charming ! Richie, Gary and Mark have been outstanding this series, but then David, Mark and Ian were every bit as outstanding last year. which means that we should be in for another treat next week. I have emailed the BBC expressing my enjoyment of this series, and my hope that there will be another series soon. May I suggest that all fans of the series do the same ? This is one of those rare things - a show that is well worth going out of your way to support.

TV Watch 1 - University Challenge

University Challenge - Round One Heat 8 - Newnham College Cambridge v. University of Sussex

Before we get onto the nitty gritty of tonight's programme let me throw this thought in your direction. Not for the first time this series it struck me that the members of both of tonight's teams were all very young. Is this just coincidence, or is it a consequence of rigidly enforcing the rule that all contestants must still be studying at the same institution by the time their last appearence is filmed, which if you remember caused such a stink in last year's final ? I don't have any figures, and for all I know the average age of last year's contestants may have been lower than this year, but that's not how it seems to me.

Tonight's teams represented Newnham College Cambridge, and the University of Sussex. Jeremy Paxman paid due tribute to Newnham's status as one of the remaining women-only colleges, before favouring Sussex with the backhanded encouragement that they have won the series before, although not for 40 years. Apparently the layout of Sussex is supposed to resemble the outline of a large cat as well. I shall of course be using wikimapia to check on the truth of this observation after the review.

I thought that both teams were a little slow out of the blocks tonight. The first starter went begging, then Newnham were the first team to score. It seemed that they were lacking a literature expert as they failed to score on a bonus set of old chestnuts about novels - eg - Which well known novel , based on Jane Eyre, features the early life of Bertha Mason, who became the first Mrs. Rochester ? The answer being "Wide Sargasso Sea" by Jean Rhys.

Perhaps this was me, but there seemed to be a lot of starters based on Science and related topics tonight. Whatever the case, for the first ten minutes it was all Newnham. In fact Sussex were sporting a score of minus 10 on the 10 minute mark , when they managed their first starter, which led Paxman to wickedly quip,
"You've stormed away to zero. "
On the subject of the great Mr. P. he seemed in strangely Jekyll and Hyde mood tonight, with Newnham seeing more of Jekyll, and Sussex more of Hyde. What smiles he gave out were mostly for Newnham, and indeed he allowed Newnham captain Ms. Cole to change an answer quickly because he had heard the correct answer being given by a team member. Whereas with Sussex, when they struggled with a set of Science bonuses he informed them,
"You either know this stuff or you don't. You don't. "
No edition of University Challenge now is complete without at least a pinch of Paxman indignation, so I was delighted that both teams' failure to identify " A latin phrase, in use in English, which literally translates as 'without which not ' as being sine qua non resulted in an exasperated "I'm astonished !"

Interesting Fact I Didn't Already Know Of The Week.
Apparently Barack Obama had, amongst others, tracks by Kanye West, Marvin Gaye, Bruce Springsteen and Aretha Franklin on his ipod on the day of his election to the presidency. Full marks to whoever came up with that set of questions. The game wound on, and Newnham became more and more at home and confident, and alas, Sussex didn't. In the first 15 minutes or so Newnham seemed a little profligate with their bonuses, converting one or two each time, but this improved significantly as they warmed up. Ms. Pett, Ms. Williams and Ms. Egginton all weighed in with a significant number of starters, with Ms. Pett coming out on top with 6. This was almost matched by Mr. Neasom of Sussex, who managed 5, which was more than half of their total.

The final result was a win for Newnham by 260 points to 120. Jeremy Paxman called this a 'terrific score' and he's of course right. While you wouldn't say that they matched some of the awesome teams we saw in the last series, once they really got into their stride they produced some very good answers, and their challenge should not be totally dismissed. Sussex miss out on a place in the repechage.


In case anyone is wondering, I haven't forgotten about Only Connect tonight. Since its the Grand Final I have decided that it deserves a whole review to itself. Watch this space.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Belated August Quiz

Yes, I haven't forgotten that I haven't given you a quiz during August. So here's a nice easy one to ease us gently back into the routine. Answers in a week or two - or email me if you want them before that.

1) Who did Maxwell Drummey marry a year ago ?

2) The Titanic had 2 sister ships. One was called the Britannic - what was the other called?

3) By what other name is the Feast of Stephen known ?

4) In the sport of baseball, by what name is the marked playing area known ?

5) What is the connection between your last three answers ?

6) Which country has the words There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet in arabic script on its flag ?

7) In which city did the Assassination of Martin Luther King take place ?

8) Which term in italian cookery literally means 'before the meal' ?

9) Which group, with a name taken from a novel by Hermann Hesse, had the 1969 hit Born to Be Wild ?

10) What was the name of Renee's wife in Allo Allo ?

11) Name the South African winner of the women's 800m at the World Athletic Championships whose gender was called into question ?

12) Which architect designed Coventry Cathedral ?

13) Which politician was the Labour Government's first home secretary in 1997 ?

14) Which father of a famous TV presenter daughter, himself used to present programmes on childrens' TV such as Play School and Think of a Number ?

15) Lou Grant, the newspaper editor who had his own spin off series actually first appeared as a character on whose show ?

16) What is the connection between your last three answers ?

17) An old fashioned clock which loses 5 minutes every hour is put right at 12 noon. When it points to 11pm, what was the actual time ?

18) Which tiny form of sea life provides the main food for some of the large species of whale like the blue whale ?

19) What is the common name for the disease tetanus ?

20) In which sport are colour coded balls used to denote how fast they go?

21) Who was the last Australian batsman to be out in the Ashes series ?

22) Which hill was the historic seat of the ancient kings of Ireland ?

23) What do the Scots Guards have in threes, the Irish Guards in fours, and the Welsh Guards have in fives ?

24) What was the name of Leonardo di Caprio's character in Titanic ?

25) The novel Tom Brown's Schooldays is set in which public school ?

26) Isambard Kingdon Brunel was the original chief engineer on which railway company ?

27) What is the connection between your last three answers ?

28) Jack and Meg White are the members of which band ?

29) If you had an elephant, a tiger or a carpet , what type of insect would you have ?

30) Name the scottish justice minister who took the decision to free the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, Mohammad al-Megrahi ?

The Return of Mastermind - First round Heat 1/24

In case you're wondering why I didn't post this on Friday, I was away at a family gathering over the weekend, and there was no slur intended to any of the 4 contenders.

This was the first heat of the new, revamped Mastermind we've been promised, a fact which was made obvious when all four contenders stood lined up ominously behind John Humphrys in the opening shots. John himself felt compelled to point out "You may notice a few changes". Well, yes, and the two most obvious changes are things which a body of public opinion has been asking for now for quite some time. Most significantly, although the series will still feature 96 contenders as per usual, the 6 highest scoring runners up of the first round will now also gain places in the semi finals. This is something of a return to the show's Magnusson heyday, and I have to say that I feel that this is a good thing. Several previous champions took this route to the final in the old days.

The other main change is that each contender films a short contribution to camera which is shown before the commencement of the specialist round. There is no chat interval between John Humphrys and the contenders before their GK rounds. Now, don't misunderstand me, I think that John is actually very good at this, but it seemed to me to slow the show down a bit.I certainly don't think that removing the chat takes anything away from the show, and speaking as a former contender I think that this can only help the contenders before they embark on the GK round. You see the filmed chats often went on for quite a bit longer than you got to see on the telly, and I always found sitting through all of the chats really irritating when I was a contender, and this had nothing to do with how interesting they were. I just wanted to get on with the serious business of the quiz.

Lets get onto the actual show, then. The honour of kicking off Mastermind 2009 went to Abigail Maher, who was answering on Louis Wain. 5 years or so ago I'm sure that I and many others would have looked blankly at the mention of his name. However thanks to the plethora of antique based programmes which make up part of the BBCs daytime output I know that Louis Wain was the victorian artist who painted cats, to make them look human. Oh well, you pays yer money, as they say. Abigail Maher knew considerably more than I did, which she proved with a very impressive 15 and 1 pass.

Tony Esau, like all of Friday's contenders a Mastermind virgin, offered a real traditional Mastermind subject of the kind that wouldn't have been out of place in any series going back to 1972 - the Greeks in Sicily 500 - 212 BC. He too knew his stuff, scoring just one less to get 14 and 1 pass.

There's something about Mastermind which attracts teachers and lecturers like moths to a flame. I believe Mr. Esau said that he was a retired teacher, and the next contender, Roy Watson-Davis, is also a teacher. Actually, if h's THE Roy Watson-Davis, then he's being rather modest just calling himself a teacher, since I believe that he's the same person who has written books on the role of the Form tutor etc. Whatever the case, in a nice twist on a traditional subject, Mr. Watson-Davis answered on Sherlock Holmes, but the Basil Rathbone films as opposed to the stories of Conan Doyle. Like the first contender he scored 15 and 1 pass. An impressive performance.

Our final contender is a not someone I know personally, but he's definitely someone I know of. William de'Ath may not be a name everybody is familiar with, but believe me he is a superb quizzer, and ranked among the very best in Britain. For which reason I expected a 4th very good specialist score, and to be fair , he didn't let me down. Answering questions on the Life and Works of Kurt Vonnegut he too equalled the leaders with 15 and 1 pass.

Now we noticed the changes to the show, as the GK round was considerably speeded up by the removal of the chat intervals. Tony Esau, remarkably , had found himself in last place at the halfway stage, although he was only one point behind. On a very fair set of GK questions he didn't particularly seem to be going all that fast, but he still managed an impressive 13 and 1 pass to set the bar at 27 and 2 passes. To put that into perspective, had the 6 highest runners up rule applied in any of the previous John Humphrys' series, then that would have been enough to claim a spot in the semis. So it seemed as if he virtually guaranteed himself a place with this.

Abigail Maher followed. I'm afraid that she never really got to grips with the GK questions, and scored 5 to end with 20 and 4 passes. To put this into perspective she can take heart from the fact that lower scores than this have won shows in the past.
Mr. Watson-Davis had a similarly testing time with his GK round to go ahead of Abigail Maher by one, scoring 6 for 21 and 3 passes overall. Worth noting in this round was that in the week that Teddy Kennedy died the contender was asked a question about which state he had represented as a senator. Pure coincidence since this was doubtless recorded quite some time ago, although it must have been since the final of Britain's Got Talent was shown, since Abigail Maher had been asked who came runner-up to Diversity.

So to William de'Ath. 12 points and no passes or better needed for an outright win. That's not as easy as it sounds. It doesn't matter how good a quizzer you are, the time element is such a crucial factor in this show that anyone can find a double figures target daunting. Mr. de'Ath started well, but hesitations seemed to be putting him in jeopardy, and with 15 seconds left it was obvious that he was behind on the clock. In the end he managed double figures , scoring 10 and 3 passes, to give him 25.

So Tony Esau is our first winner of the 2009 series. Congratulations to him.13 on GK is a figure to conjure with, and who is to say that he couldn't win a place in the finals ? As for Mr. de'Ath, as runner up he is certainly eligible for one of the 6 semi final places. 25 seems to me to be right on the cusp. In my first series in 2006 I was one of 3 highest scoring losers with a relatively modest 24. On the other hand , in the blessed 2007 series three contenders all scored 29 without winning their heats. Still, the next best after that was 25 too. So time alone will tell. At least he is in with a fighting chance.

This is all subjective, but personally I thought that the changes to the show worked pretty well. The second half of the show especially is more tight, more fast moving and more exciting than before. And it wasn't bad to begin with ! Joy of joys, John Humphrys made a call for contenders for Mastermind 2010 as well, so for the time being at least the show's future seems assured .

The Details
Abigail Maher The Life and Works of Louis Wain15 - 15 - 3 20 - 4
Tony Esau The Greeks in Sicily 500 - 212 BC14 - 113 - 127 - 2
Roy Watson-DavisThe Sherlock Holmes films of Basil Rathbone15 - 16 - 321 - 4
William de'AthLife and Works of Kurt Vonnegut15 - 110 - 325 - 4

Thursday, 27 August 2009

TV Watch - Pointless - BBC2 Weekdays 4:30

Beating the Man on the Clapham Omnibus

BBC2 do like their quiz shows with a twist, don't they ? Hot on the heels of Knowitalls we have Pointless. I fired up the iplayer to check out Monday's first episode, and here are my thoughts on what I saw.

You may recall that I said back in July that I thought that BBC1's Saturday night offering Guesstimation owed something to Family Fortunes. Not as much as Pointless does. Essentially, Pointless is Family Fortunes in reverse. Instead of getting the most popular answers, contestants have to get the least popular answers. For the idea is to score as few points as possible - hence the title.I'll be honest, this filled me with some foreboding, since you know that I positively hate it when Family Fortunes type questions are used in a pub quiz. However I am nothing if not dedicated, and so I steeled myself to watch the whole show.

Pointless is presented by 'Zander Armstrong. This is a definite point in its favour. I like his shows with Ben Miller, and he's proved himself a good hand in the presenter's chair with his stints on HIGNFY. Rumour has it that he was in line for Countdown too before Jeff Stelling. Whatever the case he makes a good job of a show which has the potential to be a bit of a mess in less confident hands, but actually provides a relatively light hearted yet rather absorbing contest..

5 pairs begin each show. The ultimate goal is to win through and take the cash jackpot. If the winning pair fail to do so, then the jackpot rolls over to the next show. In the first 3 rounds, the pairs are told a category, for example, European Capital cities. Then they are told that 100 people were surveyed and given a minute to name as many of the above as possible. Pairs are not allowed to confer. One member of each pair is asked to give an answer, then when all pairs have had their first turn, the other member of each pair has to give an answer to the same question. The goal is to give an answer which nobody in the survey came up with. So for example, the very first answer given was Podgorica - capital of newly independent Montenegro. This was a pointless answer, and pointless answers add £250 to the jackpot. Mohammed, playing with his mother Robina, rolled his eyes as she answered "Bulgaria". This was a wrong answer, and as such it automatically earned them 100 points. At the end of the round, the couple with the highest score are eliminated. Mohammed and Robina actually got through this round, but Abba songs in round two proved to be their Waterloo.

OK, with me so far ? The game changed slightly when only two pairs remained. This time the category "James Bond films " was given, and the remaining pairs were allowed to confer. They had to keep answering on this one category, until their score reached 100. First to do so were eliminated. Actually the high point of the whole show came at the end of this round. Zander is accompanied in the studio by a Stattoesque figure called Richard, who announces the top answers and the pointless answers for each category. He explained here that one of the three lowest scoring answers was "For You Eyes Only " and added that it was the only Bond film with no 'M' in it. Quick as a flash Armstrong replied " Good 'Orning, 'Ister Bond . " Well, even if it was rehearsed beforehand it made me laugh. Please yourselves.

Winners Jonathan and Hugo - who had supplied the Podgorica answer earlier, had played very well throughout the game to win a trophy, and the chance of the jackpot. To do this they chose "British Olympians" from a list of categories. They were told that a survey had asked 100 people to think of as many British athletics gold medal winners since 1980 as they could, and then given three chances to find one pointless answer. Now, I will confess that in my unsuccessful first tilt at Mastermind in 2006, The Summer Olympic Games was my specialist subject, and I particularly love Olympic Athletics, but even so I thought that this was a hard task. I decided that if it had been me, I would have gone for 3 out of the 4 winners of the men's 4x100 relay in 2004 - for the simple reason that I couldn't believe that any of the individual winners could possibly be completely forgotten. My hopes for Jonathan and Hugo weren't raised when they started bandying names like "Fatima Whitbread " and "Steve Cram" about between themselves. Great athletes , world champions and world record breakers both, but only silver medallists at the Olympics, I'm afraid. In the end they settled on Fatima, Allan Wells, and Sally Gunnell. Both scored, I'm afraid. My hunch that it was the relay boys proved to be right.

So what's the Clark verdict on the show then ? Well, I would watch this over Family Fortunes any day of the week, but that's just me. As I said, I like Alexander Armstrong. Some of the facts that emerged were very interesting - did you know that the Vatican City is not part of the United Nations, for example ? Or that Abba released 40 singles in the UK ? Trying to think of the most obscure answer to each question is a novel idea, and its absorbing in its own way. Its a good show for playing along at home. But only for a couple of minutes with each question. For me, this is where the show displays its flaws. I know that we've many of us said this about recent shows, but 45 minutes is stretching this show a little too far. There's only 5 category questions used during the whole show, so it doesn't deliver a huge amount for your money. It could move a lot more quickly, for example we were over 5 minutes into the show before anything more taxing than "How do you two know each other ? " was asked of the contestants. Yes, I admit it, I'm a straightforward question-and-answer man , so this show wasn't going to greatly appeal to me anyway.

Giving it a title such as "Pointless" is tantamount to asking for negative reviews, but this show has still got something. I give it a cautious endorsement, and you never know, it might, just might, catch on.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Who needs sleep - there's quizzes to go to .

Getting Back Into The Routine

I have a confession to make. I have already participated in my first quiz since I returned back from Spain in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The quiz was in the rather later hours of Tuesday evening. So I thought that it might be mildly diverting if I shared with you some of my thoughts on getting back into the routine after my longest break from quizzing since 1994. Yes, I know that I also attended the quiz in Catral on Tuesday last as well, but even so, that was an odd situation being as it was not with my usual quiz partners. Anyway, the three quizless weeks preceding it still qualify as my longest quizzing break for 15 years.

The venue was the Duke of Wellington in Cowbridge. I make no apologies for plugging this quiz again, because it packs a lot of bang for your bucks. A pound for each player, and another pound for the team buys you a pretty decent to good quiz of 40 questions, with a cash prize, a go at the Lucky 7 questions for another cash prize, and a selection of sandwiches during the interval. So even though my quiz partner John was unable to make it, I persuaded my daughter Phillippa to ignore the pain of her broken toe, and away we went.

I don't know whether this is just me trying to justify not winning the quiz. In all probability that's exactly what it is. Oh well, you make your own minds up . I'm going to say that there was nothing wrong with the quiz, but I did feel a little sluggish. There were two answers in particular that I feel I would have snapped up if I'd really been on the ball. For example, I knew that the city of Madras is now called Chenai, and even wrote it down, but then for some reason I can't accurately explain I crossed it out and wrote Calcutta. Likewise, I knew that you have an army of caterpillars, yet for some reason I wrote down line. Maybe I'm just getting old.

Not that I'm complaining about coming second mind you, especially when you consider about a couple of guesses that came in. The second was to answer about which rugby league team was coached by an Australian whose name escapes me. Having no idea I plumped for one of the big boys - St. Helens. Correct. However the first one was priceless. We were asked the question,
"In the acclaimed BBC drama The Passion, shown over Easter, which actor played Pontius Pilate ? " I didn't see it, had no idea in fact. So what I said to Phillippa was that in such situations, where its a british show, and I've no idea, I always put down James Nesbitt because he seems to be in everything. I can't tell you exactly how many times this has worked, but however many it is, last night was one of them !

I will admit that I thought that the Lucky 7 seemed rather easy. See what you think. They were : -
1) What did Britney Spears dress up as for the video of Baby One More Time ?
2) When Uruguay won the very first world cup in 1930, which country did they beat in the final ?
3) Winnipeg is the capital of which Canadian Province ?
4) In the film The Talented Mr. Ripley - who played Ripley ?
5) Which creatures live in a formicarium ?
6) Which was the only sea battle of world war 1 in which the British and German main fleets engaged each other ?
7) What was Lewis Carroll's real name ?

Normally you get at least one question in each set of 7 where you just have to guess. Not last night. So I was really surprised when it turned out that we were the only team to get them all. for the record, the answers are : -
1) A schoolgirl
2) Argentina
3) Manitoba
4) Matt Damon
5) Ants
6) The Battle of Jutland ( aka the Battle of the Skaggerak )
7) Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

Before I sign off, let me share two other good questions with you from last night.
1) Which Shakespeare play has a current European Capital city in its title ?
Now we did think about going with "Rome-o and Juliet " for a long time before I dredged up "Timon of Athens" !
Then the last question of the main quiz was this 4 pointer.
2) Only 4 countries of the EU currently drive on the left. A point for each .
UK and Republic of Ireland came quickly. However it took a couple of minutes of logical working out before we came up with Malta and Cyprus, through their British connections.

Good quiz - its nice to be back into the routine.

Only Connect - Semi Final 2

I am indebted to both Richard Bach and David Bodycombe for pointing out to me where I could find the second semi-final on the iplayer. Not only that, but David has once again shown what a gentleman and a scholar he is by promising to send me the two other shows I missed.

This gives me a chance to comment, then, on the second of the semi finals. For all the fact that I already knew the outcome, this proved to be a contest full of interest and excitement. If you read my review of Monday's third place play off you'll know that I was full of admiration for the Chessmen's breathtaking performance in that particular show. So I expected a titanic tussle with my friends The Rugby Men. In effect, it was a real show of two halves.

The Chessmen looked like they were going to carry all before them in round one, as they rushed off into a 6 - 2 lead. However the score in the second round was also 6 - 2, but this time with the Rugby Boys taking the honours, to even the scores at 8 each. I beg your indulgence while I make a rather self serving little digression here. The Rugby Boys scored very well on a sequence of the 4 oldest men on the Bible. I was delighted to see the second one - Noah 950. This is a little bit of a coincidence. I don't know if Mark remembers this, but a few years ago we were in rival teams competing against each other in the Welsh regional CIU finals. One of the features of these evenings is the offer of individual spot prizes during the evening. The second spot prize that evening was for answering the question "How old was Noah when he died ? " As I walked up to give in my answer Mark actually said something along the lines of
" Hard luck fellers, I've got it spot on . . . " or something of that sort. Imagine my surprise then when Chris Brewis announced that I was closest.

Having said that, Mark's team, Maesglas A, beat us by a point to win the competition that night !

As is so often the case the Connections Wall proved to be the real turning point. The Chessmen could see that one of the connections was that all 4 words could be prefixed by the word 'last' , and they tried every permutation of the 5 possible words apart from the right one. As a result they only found 1 connection , and solved three to move their score to 12. On the other hand the Rugby Boys when faced with a similar situation regarding presenters of Blue Peter tried diferent combinations very swiftly, allowing them just enough time to untangle the last two. They scored a maximum of ten , to take a 6 point lead into the missing vowels round.

Crowning off a brilliant performance the Rugby Boys added 7 more to their score in the final round, while the Chessmen managed 5, which allowing for a point deduction for taking too long after buzzing, meant that the two teams were actually pretty even for the round. No doubt about the winners overall though.

Terrific match, thoroughly enjoyable. Well done to both teams - some of the solutions provided were outstanding IMHO.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

TV Watch - University Challenge - Only Connect

University Challenge - First Round Heat 7 - University College London v. Cardiff

Well, here we are again. Yes thanks, I had a lovely, albeit almost quiz - free, holiday. Still, enough of such things. Its been a little under four weeks, and it seems like there's an awful lot to catch up on. I do apologise to those teams whose performances in UC and Only Connect I've not been able to review during my absence.

So lets get down to business. Where should we start ? Where else except the finest team quiz on television ? Last night saw a team from Kings College London against a team from Cardiff University. Kings, Jeremy Paxman informed us, was originally founded by George III and the Duke of Wellington as an antidote to that ungodly institution, University College London, before gleefully informing Cardiff that no team from Wales had ever won the series. As for me, well, there were divided loyalties here. If you're a regular reader you'll know that London University is my alma mater, and so colleges from the University tend to receive an undue amount of support from the Clark sofa. All of which, it must be said, does them about as much good as a serious bout of buzzer failure. However Cardiff is just 30 miles or so down the road from me too, and so I have to put my hands up to cheering them on as well. I like to try to spread the jinx around as evenly as I can.

Kings took the first starter, and then two out of three bonuses. Then Cardiff took the next, and managed one out of the three bonuses. In all truth it really was nip and tuck for most of the game. Several starters went begging, and both teams often managed two rather than three correct answers for each set of bonuses. Being fair, Cardiff had slightly the better of the first half, although they only led by 75 points to 70 as we moved into the second half. This is a little off the point, but I have to say that I didn't know that SE20 was the postcode for Penge, as was specified in one of the questions. Here's a little question for you. Which barrister always claimed that the Penge Bungalow Murders was probably his most celebrated case ? Answer at the end of the review. However, I digress.

In one of the cryptic questions without which no game of UC would ever be complete, Kings were given a set of clues to identify Booker Prize winners. For example, the first clue was the first name of the artist responsible for the painting "Whaam ! " and the composer of the song "Oh Pretty Woman. " Both of course were Roy - Liechtenstein and Orbison respectively. So the name wanted was Arundhati Roy - who won the Booker for The God of Small Things. They didn't get this, but I thought that they were very unlucky to come up with Martin rather than Kingsley Amis as the answer to the third bonus, but then that's the way the game is played. Another key feature of the way that the game is played is the way that Jeremy Paxman can be guaranteed to react with apoplectic shock to at least one less than perfect answer during the show. This time we were treated to "Swaziland ? In the EU ? Are you mad ?! " Brilliantly , classically Paxman.

There's something about music bonuses, that can make you feel very old when you get past a certain age. The second music bonus question tonight featured Gary Numan. Now I was never his biggest fan, and for all I know maybe you weren't either, but I think you have to admit that his vocal style was pretty unique. Not only did the callow youths of the Cardiff team, average age 19, not recognise his voice, they showed no sign whatsoever of even recognising the name when given the answer ! To paraphrase Lewis Carroll - You are Old, Father Clarky.

During the third quarter of the game Mr. Clark of Cardiff - no relation I believe - mightily impressed Jeremy Paxman by buzzing in extremely early on a question about a secret society , originating in Bavaria, with the answer 'Illuminati". Indeed Mr. Clark was the pick of the Cardiff team, contributing 5 starters out of the team's total of 8. Kings , though, had their own 'go-to' player who came into his own in the last quarter, as Mr. Willis added three crucial starters in quick succession to take his total to four for the match, and Cardiff, while never out of sight, couldn't manage to bridge the gap. Kings ran out winners by 155 to 140, just shading a tight and absorbing contest. Alas, it looks like Cardiff won't be back , falling just a little short of what might have been expected to bring them a place in the repechage. Very hard lines, but still well played.

As for the barrister - who other than Horace Rumpole ?

Only Connect - Third Place Play Off - The Mathematicians v. The Chessmen

At least we're still on the first round in University Challenge. In the time I've been away, great things have been happening in the world of Only Connect. The first round has been completed. Semi finals have been played. In fact, after last night, only the Grand Final remains. Which means that last night's show was the third place play off, after the manner of the World Cup Football finals. This is something new for the show, and I think its a very good idea, since it allows two teams who didn't make it to the final to shine for us once more.

So, who did we have ? Well , I remember Ruth Carling, Thomas Cochrane and James O'Driscoll , aka the Mathematicians, very well. They played a fine game in the first round to beat a very good team, the Wordsmiths. The Mathematicians are all embarrassingly young but during the series their efforts seem to have belied their apparent lack of years of experience. Their opposition, the Chessmen, possess this quality in abundance. Regular quiz viewers may well have recognised all of them. Henry Pertinez was one of the star players in last year's brilliant Manchester University team in University Challenge - don't worry, I'm not going to go raking all of that business about the Final up again. Then Stephen Pearson was one of the stars of the first series of Battle of the Brains, and Nick Mills, one of the stars of the same. So in a series that has been notable for the high quality of the teams involved, this was a most formidable line up.

I have to say that there were some extremely difficult connections in round one, yet the only dropped connection was the Mathematicians' failure to spot that all the musical contributions were sung by Marnie Nixon. Yes, that's an old quiz hand's connection, I'm afraid, and just the luck of the draw. Not that luck seemed to be coming into this game at all. The Chessmen were almost flawless through the first two rounds, running up an impressive total while getting all of their own connections, and many of the Mathematicians' as well. The only one that flummoxed them was one on House of Commons Mace Protesters. When handed this as a bonus they knew what the link was, but couldn't remember the name of the next one after Ron Brown. Well, neither could I. To be fair, one of the Mathematicians kindly informed us that when Ron Brown made his famous protest, he was only 2 years old at the time.That's Thomas Cochrane of the Mathematicians who was 2 years old, and not Ron Brown.

"If you like a nice easy wall, " Victoria kindly informed us, " then switch over to a different quiz. " No chance of that happening , I promise you. However these two walls were the sort of thing that would have given a Bletchley Park codebreaker sleepless nights, and when I tell you that of the 8 connections on offer to the two teams, only one was solved, this will give you some sort of idea. Both teams scored two points. However this put the Chessmen onto 17, while the Mathematicians languished with 8. Onto the missing vowels round, and honours were fairly even until the Mathematicians took too long to answer, and were fined a point.

So the final score was 11 to the Mathematicians and 22 to the Chessmen. I never saw the two semi finals, although the Chessmen did pay tribute to their semi final conquerors, South Wales' finest, The Rugby Boys. I'd love to see what happened in that one, because I have to say that the Chessmen were just completely awesome in the first two rounds of this match. It wasn't just that they were picking up all the connections, it was that they were doing it so early. Commiserations to the Mathematicians. They have nothing to be ashamed of in their performances.

So, the Grand Final is next week. Can't wait.


The scheduler giveth and the scheduler taketh away. Blessed be the name of the scheduler. Or to put it another way, last week the scheduler tooketh away the next series of Are You An Egghead ? by postponing it until October, but this week he gaveth back, by scheduling the return of Mastermind for this Friday.Unless of course you live in Wales, in which case God alone knows when they'll get round to showing it. I've said more than enough about Mastermind in the past for you to know how dear to my heart it is, so I'm not going to go on about it, but there's been a few changes made to the show, and I'll be very interested to see what the new season is like. Watch this space.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Are You An Egghead 2 ? - A local quiz in Catral

Buenos dias senores ! Or to put it another way, good day to one and all from sunny Spain. Yes, LAM will shortly be resuming normal service, but this is just a little taster to get you in the mood.

You may remember some months ago that I mentioned that Are You An Egghead would be returning for a second season of its quest to find another quizzer worthy of joining the select and august band that makes up the Eggheads. Well this series was filmed some time ago, and was originally scheduled to be shown starting towards the end of August - the 24th to be exact. However I am afraid that it has been put back to the beginning of October now.


I did make an appeal for anyone who knew of a local quiz in the Alicante area to drop me a line. I can't say I'm surprised that nobody did. However through some diligent detective work we found one last Tuesday in a town called Catral. Of course it was in a British bar - I'm afraid that my Spanish is certainly not at competition standard as yet.

The whole pub quiz scene is a little complicated here, if I have understood it correctly. When we came here in early 2007 we went to a couple of quizzes, and won , frankly, some quite nice cash prizes. Since those heady days, however, it appears that the Spanish authorities have decided that a quiz with a cash prize is a form of gambling. So the british bars locally doing pub quizzes seem most of them to have stopped.

Anyway lets talk about the quiz itself. 40 questions, 10 of which were to put names to faces in a picture round, five of which were to identify song and artist from intros, 20 of which were general kinowledge, and 5 of which were - AAARRRGGGHHH!!!!! Family Fortunes type questions. Thank God there were only 5 of those !

No, before you ask, we didn't win, coming second for our pains. The person who insisted when we heard the question
Name a famous Peter
that we put down Blue Peter rather than the top answer Peter Pan shall be nameless.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

In Case You're Missing the Reviews

I'm really sorry about this , but I'm currently on holiday in Spain. Actually, I'm not sorry about that, but I'm sorry that my in-laws with whom I'm staying can't get BBC2 or 4, and don't have a PC with which I can get the iplayer.So I haven't been able to watch any of the shows. As it is, only today I've managed to sneak off and find a cyber cafe to post this. So I do apologise to those expecting to see the regular reviews of UC, OC and the rest. I'll be another fortnight, and then normal service should be resumed. Sorry for the inconvenience.