Tuesday, 29 September 2009

A Watercooler hit, A Loose End, and a Query

In work I plough a bit of a lonely furrow as a quizzer. I'm sure that many readers have experienced the same in their places of work too. Oh, I'm not saying that my colleagues lack knowledge. No, they're all very intelligent, and neither am I saying that they don't actually enjoy a quiz, especially when I road test a set of questions in the staff room. However the fact is that they're not quizzers, and apart from the odd occasion now and again, going out to a quiz would not be their first choice for an evening's entertainment. Its not a crime.

However it does mean that we tend to approach quizzes from different angles. This is why, if a colleague ever talks to me about what he or she is currently enjoying watching on television, if they do by chance mention a quiz, they'll want to talk about "The Weakest Link" or "Eggheads" or "Millionaire", while I'd much rather discuss the latest edition of "Mastermind", "University Challenge " or "Only Connect".

Don't worry. I do have a point, and we are proceeding in its general direction . In the last fortnight, I have noticed that another quiz show has begun to creep into the general conversation on more than one occasion. And that show, my friends, is "Pointless". A number of friends and colleagues at work have discussed this show with me. And they like it a lot.

Now, OK, I know that a few members of the teaching staff of a South Wales Comprehensive School are probably not a big enough cross-section of the population from which to draw any audience research conclusions. However, just maybe this is an indication of the way that the wind may be blowing for this likeable show. For one thing its the only quiz show that I can tune into daily, and not only will Mary not complain, she will actively watch - if that's not an oxymoron - and play along as well, enjoying it as much as I do. Of course it helps when you see familiar faces walking away with some cash, like David and then Barry last week. But if it was a bad show then I wouldn't sit through three quarters of an hour of it just for that.

When I reviewed "Pointless" on the 27th August I gave it a cautious endorsement, and suggested that it just might catch on. If the BBC are smart, I have to say that I think that they have a winner on their hands. So, if I may be allowed to break the old adage, I would like to suggest a couple of fixes to something which isn't broken.

* IMHO this show is catching on. So get the next series together NOW, and shove it back on as soon as you can. If the BBC are smart, they could have another "Weakest Link" or "Eggheads" on their hands here. Its possible that this one could run and run, once its established.

* We KNOW the rules now, Alexander. Cut down the explanations, and allow Statto, er, Richard, to tell us ALL the pointless answers to each question. We're playing along at home like crazy here, and if we have got one of the pointless answers, then we want to know it !


Ah yes, about that loose end. If you read my review of last Friday's Mastermind - and if you didn't I am compelled to ask why not ? - you will have seen my speculation as to whether Mike Hely who was the joint runner up on the show was the same M. Hely who took part in the inaugural series of Mastermind in 1972. A little minor detective work has shown me that the 1972 contender was Sqd. Ldr. M.H.N. Hely. Now Mike Hely on Friday night mentioned that he had spent 20 years in the RAF before becoming a barrister. So for me that provides sufficient evidence that its the same guy, although Mike Hely himself could probably tell us whether or not it would stand up in a court of law. I'll be honest, I think that's wonderful. He has established a record for the longest gap between appearences in Mastermind - no less than 37 years. I can't help wondering what the longest ever gap between appearences on the same TV show actually is. Answers on a postcard to the usual address, please.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Answers to September Quiz

1) Who is Michael Shields, who was in the news last week ?
The Liverpool football fan pardoned for a murder whose original conviction seems a clear miscarriage of justice

2) Which murderous regime began their reign of terror with what they called year Zero in 1975 ?
The Khmer Rouge

3) The New York Borough of Queens contains two Airports. Name them.
JFK and La Guardia

4) What was the christian name of the artist sister of Augustus John ?

5) Joy Adamson's first book about Elsa the lion was called "Born Free " and the second "Living Free. " What was her third one called ?
Forever Free

6) The bark of which tree is used to obtain quinine ?

7) Where in your body would you find the malleus and the incus ?
In the ear - along with the stapes

8) Which Ira Gershwin song starts with these lyrics - The Way you wear your hat - the way you sip your tea. The memory of all that - "
They Can't Take That Away From Me (altogether now ! )

9) Which actress played Sabrina Duncan in the original line up of Charlie's Angels ?
Kate Jackson

10) Which sporting first was achieved by Susan Brown in 1981 ?
First lady cox in the University Boat Race - and she won

11) Name the South African 800m world champion whose gender is apparently still a matter of debate
Caster Semanya

12) Did Queen Victoria have more sons, more daughters, or the same number of each ?
Daughters - 5 and 4 sons

13) Name the straits seperating Corsica and Sardinia ?
The Straits of Bonifaccio

14) How many strings are there on a balalaika ?

15) What type of food is dunlop ?
Scottish variety of cheese

16) The use of which substance in hat - making in the 18th and 19th centuries is believed to have led to the phrase - as mad as a hatter "

17) What common name is given to the excresence caused by the grubs of the gall wasp, which lays its eggs in oak trees ?
Oak Apples

18) Senator Edward Kennedy died a few weeks ago. Edward Kennedy were the first two names of which celebrated american musician and band leader ?
Duke Ellington

19) Which veteran british film and stage actor, star of two early Carry On films, actually played the role of a hat in the first two Harry Potter films ?
Leslie Phillips

20) Since 1980, the oldest man to win a golf major was Jack Nicklaus, who was 46 years old when he won the 1986 US Masters. If Tom Watson had won the play off in this year's Open, he would have become the oldest by how many years ?
13 years

21) A Malaysian restaurant finally lost its legal dispute with McDonalds last week. What was it called - McDonalds - McSatay - McRonalds - McCurry ?

22) What was Rasputin's christian name ?

23) Hissarlik in Turkey is believed to be the site of which ancient city ?

24) In literature, what links Pantagruel - Despair - Comorant - Paul Bunyan and the BFG
They are Giants

25) The Bible - which surprisingly british name belonged to King herod's first wife -
Doris - Gladys - Cissy - Ada - Ruby

26) In the northern hemisphere, apart from the Sun, which is the brightest star in the sky - please note this does not include Venus which is a planet not a star .

27) What is the symbol of the National Trust ?
Oak leaves and acorn

28) Stadler and Waldorf were the two old hecklers in the Muppet Show. But which of the other muppets did they spend most of their time heckling ?
Fozzie Bear

29) After Take That reformed in 2006, which song provided their first number 1 single ?

30) Name the player who knocked Andy Murray out of this year's US Open ?
Marin Cilic

31) Last week, Derren brown successfully predicted the midweek lottery numbers. What were - a) the lowest number of the six, and b) the highest number of the 6.
2 and 39

32) The United Nations. In a list of nationalities of Secretary Generals - which two nationalities are missing - Norwegian - Swedish - Burmese - Austrian - Ghanaian - South Korean
Peruvian and Egyptian

33) Which isolated island in the pacific is also known as Rapa Nui ?
Easter Island

34) Gustav Holst's Egdon Heath was inspired by the work of which 19th century novelist ?
Thomas Hardy

35) In English law, if all 12 jurors are present, what is the minimum number that must agree to reach a majority verdict ?
10 people

36) Which 2 word phrase is used to describe the shape of the DNA molecule ?
Double Helix

37) What sort of creature is a fer - de - lance ?

38) Who had her first big TV break playing Violet Elizabeth Bott in the 1970s version of Just William ?
Bonnie Langford

39) In the film "Finding Nemo" what species of fish is Nemo ?
Clown Fish

40) Who was the first ever spin bowler in cricket to take 300 test wickets ?
Lance Gibbs

TV Watch - University Challenge

University Challenge - First Round Heat 12 - York v. St. George's London

The University of York, Jeremy Paxman informed us at the start of the show, has about 13,000 students, and alumini including Yung Chang of Wild Swans fame. He pointed out that team captain Laura Horton would be taking part in a cheerleading contest immediately after the show, and seemingly by way of explanation offered us the fact that the average age of the team is 19. By way of comparison, St. George's London, founded in 1763, fielded a team whose average age was 30. Which I'm sure led viewers prone to such speculations as myself to wonder which would prove to be decisive, the youth of York, coupled with the wider student population to draw the team from, or the experience of St. George's ?

In all honesty it was never likely to be another nailbiter like last week. However to be fair, York were off to a sprightly start, beating St. George's to the buzzer comfortably for the first question. I'm afraid that it all rather went downhill from there for them. To be fair this St. George's team were a distinctly useful outfit. They began to hoover up the starters, and although they failed to get a few midway through the show , York were unable to take advantage of them lifting their collective foot off the accelerator.

Twenty minutes into the show St. George's led by 130 points to 25. Moved by an unlikely compassionate impulse, our Jeremy geed York on with the encouraging, "York, still plenty of time for you to come back. " Well, that was stretching the truth somewhat, but it seemed to do the trick a little as Tom Emmett took the next starter for them, correctly recognising a pair of hands as belonging to Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. In truth though it was only ever going to be a rearguard action. In the end St. George's managed to reach 200 points, to York's 55. Particularly impressive tonight was Charlie Tinsley of St. George's. I made it that he answered 7 starters correctly, and that's a more impressive individual performance than we've see for some weeks. In particular I commend St. George's for overcoming the immense handicap of receiving support from the Clark sofa, a curse which has seen quite a few colleges of the University of London fall by the wayside this series.

A surprisingly restrained Jeremy Paxman sounded genuine with his observation to the team from York that its the luck of the draw as to how strong a team you get drawn against. However , he couldn't resist a parting dig at St. George's for failing on a medical question, considering that they are medical students after all. All of which brings me to : -

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Yes, he might have been in a softer, gentler mood tonight, but he's still very far from being anything remotely approaching the adjective 'fluffy'. At the start he issued his traditional refusal to go through the rules, dismissing it as "All that guff about ten points. " An apt description. He was in a rather waggish mood tonight, which probably explains why he referred to the wives of the G20 summit leaders as WAGs, and berated St. George's for failing to recognise any of the individual leaders pictured. "These people are all famous in their own country, you know ."
Later, in a rejoinder worthy of the most cynical old quizzer, when the team failed to identify the American politician who invented the Magic Circle of numbers as Benjamin Franklin, he virtually clucked
"The answer is ALWAYS Benjamin Franklin !" On the whole, though, there was relatively little exasperation to report, although he was rather riled that a team of medical students could mistake their vitreous humour for their aqueous humour. A failure of humour in all senses of the word.

Interesting Fact of the Week that I didn't Already Know

Much as I enjoyed the questions about TV show theme tunes which were based on pieces by classical composers, the prize this week goes to the question that revealed that blue eyes resulted from a gene mutation in neolithic times. I'm keeping that one in my back pocket so I can trot it out in my next visit to Specsavers.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Questions of the week

Every now and then you'll go to a quiz and hear a question that will set you off on a train of thought, part of which will inevitably be "What the hell is he asking this for ? ". In this week's quiz in the Aberavon Rugby Club there was a set of no less than 8 of them.

The question master for the evening, Brian, is one of the founders of the quiz, and the acknowledged organiser, arbiter, and all round good egg. In each one of the eight rounds one of the questions was,
" A leading motor insurance company ( he probably said which one, but I can't remember which it was ) has announced a list of the three most popular christian names among people who buy particular models of car. So, the Renault Megane is most popular with women named ( these are just examples, I can't remember which the ones he gave were ) Hayley, Sophie and which other name beginning with J ? "
That's just an example off the top of my head, and the model and names are probably wrong.

As I said, there was one of these in each round, making up a total of 8. For the record we got two of them through pure blind luck - and I'm sure all of the other teams were about the same. Therefore it probably had no huge bearing on the outcome of the quiz. It did set me thinking, though. Firstly, who would ever think to do this kind of research to collate all the data to come up with this ? Secondly, why ? Thirdly, when you've produced this useless piece of information, why send it helpless into an uncaring world ? ! I just find it interesting that the people working for the insurers had a) the time, and b) the inclination to even think of coming up with this information in the first place.

That set of questions aside, it was always a quiz where bread and butter was going to win against brilliance - that is you were more likely to lose by failing to get answers you should know, than by coming up with answers to really obscure questions from nowhere. I must admit that one question did lead to a bout of post mortem googling when I got home. It went something like this,
"The plant thrift featured on the tails side of which pre-decimal british coin from 1937 until production of the coin ceased in 1967 ? "
The percentage answer to a pre decimal coinage question is
The threepenny bit
and in this case that was the answer given. The only problem was that I distinctly remember being given my very first pocket money as a nipper in the shape of two threepenny bits. Both of these had a portcullis design on the tails side, the precursor of the design on the current one penny piece. So I argued, we changed the answer, and duly lost the point. Googling proved that yes, thrift did feature on the coin, but it was replaced with the portcullis in 1953.

Finally, this multiple question from the Duke of Wellington quiz last Tuesday.
Between the end of 1986, and the end of 2002, 86 successful space shuttle missions were carried out by 4 space shuttle vehicles. Name them for a point each.
Good question. 1986 saw the Challenger disaster, in which the space shuttle Challenger blew up shortly after take off. The other three original working space shuttle vehicles were Columbia, Atlantis and Discovery. I had an inkling in my head that Challenger had been replaced by one built pretty much from spare parts called Endeavour. Which proved to be the correct answer.
Why I mention the question is that the team we were marking had
down as one of the answers. Which, if you don't know Endeavour, is actually a pretty decent shout. Enterprise did and does exist. It was actually the first shuttle ever to be built. Originally it was going to be called Constitution, but a huge campaign ensured that it was named after the USS Enterprise from Star Trek. Ironically though, being the first it would never go into space. It was only ever built for flight tests in Earth atmosphere - readers old enough may remember it being launched off the back of a jumbo jet - and never had engines or a heat shield. After the Challenger disaster NASA considered refitting it for space, but the cost would have been considerably more than building Endeavour out of spare parts. Now it is on display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum

Friday, 25 September 2009

Mastermind - First round heat 5/24

The iplayer decided not to allow me to watch tonight's show until well past bedtime. Mastermind was, apparently, still coming soon from 8:30 until well after midnight. Still, as if to make up for this, it was a very enjoyable show. For once I find myself a little uncertain as to how many of tonight's contenders are new to Mastermind. Penny Billyeald and Adam Lister are certainly new to the chair, and I'm also fairly certain that Tom Hutchings took part in the 2005 series, when he answered on T.E.Lawrence and came runner up in his heat. However Mike Hely presented me with an interesting question. In "I've Started So I'll Finish", Magnus Magnusson's beautifully written history of the first incarnation of the series, he lists all the competitors from 1972 right up until 1997. Lo and behold, in 1972 one M. Hely took part in the inaugural series. Could this be our man ? Due to the uncommon spelling of his surname, and the fact that our Mr. Hely tonight is a mature gentleman, I rather think he could. If he is, then how wonderful to have someone taking part with a gap of 37 years between appearences.

Adam Lister kicked off the specialist rounds with The Life and Films of Groucho Marx. Interestingly he explained in his filmed insert that "A Hard Day's Night " was essentially a Groucho Marx film, only with the Beatles instead of Groucho. He never explained whether Groucho ever made a recording of "I am the Walrus" in return. Oh well. A good round of 13 and 3 passes put him into contention at the halfway stage.

Penny Billyeald took to the chair with another of the ever popular Obscure Authors rounds, answering on the novels of Dorothy Whipple. Alright, just because I haven't heard of her doesn't make her obscure, I accept. Apparently she has been called a kind of Jane Austen of the 20th century. Whatever lights your candle. Penny Billyeald suffered two early passes in the round which seemed to upset her rhythm a little, but she battled bravely on, and her determination was rewarded when she managed to make it into double figures, with a score of 10.

The enigmatic Mike Hely explained that he'd picked The Battle of Britain since before becoming a barrister he had spent 20 years in the RAF. Unfortunately for me he didn't explain whether he'd ever appeared in the first series of Mastermind while he was there. Mr. Hely was unfortunate to fall foul of giving too much information, when he replied "John Nicholson" to a question when the correct answer was "James Nicholson". Had he only given the surname I'm sure that he would have been given the point.

Finally Tom Hutchings, a schoolteacher. There's something about the show that does attract members of my profession. However we don't all take specialist subjects connected with it. Mr. Hutchings did though, offering us The Life and Works of Thomas Arnold. Thomas Arnold was the famous headteacher of Rugby School interestingly enough at the same time that "Tom Brown's Schooldays" was set there, although this was never mentioned during the show, nor was his son, the poet Matthew Arnold. It wouldn't have made a lot of difference anyway, since Tom Hutchings knew his stuff inside out, and scored a fine 15 and 1 pass to lead into the GK round.

Penny Billyeald showed the same determination and grit in her GK round as she'd shown in the specialist, and put together a good performance to add 11 points and 4 more passes to take her score to 21 and 9. This is very respectable quizzing. Mike Hely followed suit. Although scoring 11 correct answers he added 5 passes to his score, but took the lead, having scored a total of 21 and 5 . As Adam Lister took to the chair there was an expectant atmosphere I could feel even through my PC screen. Surely he wouldn't end up with 21 as well ? He only needed 9, after all. Well, 9 he may have needed, but 8 was what he got, and this, together with the 2 extra passes he added to his score meant that he was now tying for the lead with 21 and 5.

It all looked nicely set for Tom Hutchings to sweep majestically past the rest of the field with a competent showing on GK. However the luck of the draw served him up with what seemed from the Clark sofa to be the hardest GK set of the night. You always felt that he would do it, but he was only really edging towards the tape. In the end, though he managed to win with a couple of points to square. Well done , sir. You can only praise someone who comes back for a second bite of the cherry, and improves upon their previous performance.

As for the runner-up, well, this begs an interesting question. John Humphrys announced the other three contenders as all coming in joint second place. However I can't help wondering where this leaves us with regard to the six semi final slots. Alright, tonight's runner up is 5th out of 5 in the race for the 6 slots, and highly likely to slip out of contention before very many other heats have been broadcast. But lets suppose he didn't. How would they decide between Mike Hely and Adam Lister for the slot ? Well, as I said, its probably academic, since it only needs another two runners up to score more than 21, which is likely to happen sooner rather than later. For the record, here's the details : -

The Details
Adam Lister The life and films of Groucho Marx13- 38 - 221 - 5
Penny BillyealdThe Novels of Dorothy Whipple10 - 511 - 421- 9
Mike HelyThe Battle of Britain10 - 011 - 521- 5
Tom HutchingsLife and works of Thomas Arnold15 - 18- 423 5

Current Highest Scoring Runners Up

Les Morrell26 - 3
Colin Wilson25 - 0
William de'Ath25 - 4
Vishal Dalal23 - 4
Adam Lister/Mike Hely 21 - 5

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Its New Rope at the very Least

If you read my review of last Friday's Mastermind you'll perhaps recall that I mentioned that John Humphrys had been reported in the London Evening Standard last week as having said that presenting Mastermind was "Money for old rope." I was therefore highly interested to read Bryony Gordon's interview with him in today's Telegraph.

Apparently the interview took place before the after-dinner speech where the remark was reported to have been made.
"Several days after we meet , he makes an after -dinner speech . . . where he describes presenting the quiz programme as 'money for old rope'.
It was, he told me yesterday, a joke taken out of context - he was merely retelling what he laughingly told the BBC's head of light entertainment when they called him to offer him the job. "Bloody journalists!" he says, tongue firmly in cheek."Never trust them. "

It doesn't make a lot of difference to the price of tea, I know, but I'm rather glad that this was something that he said in jest, rather than in earnest, and I'm glad that it was a comment made before he had got his teeth into the show. I don't know how much John Humphrys was paid for the 2007 series, and its none of my business, but I can tell you that what he delivered on the day of the Grand Final certainly wasn't old rope at all. He did a terrific job.

Monday, 21 September 2009

TV Watch - University Challenge

First Round Heat 11 - Magdalene College Cambridge v. St. Hugh's College Oxford

A fortnight ago I explained that one of my three favourite kinds of University Challenge matches is the kind of contest that goes right to the wire. My suspicions that we were in for such a contest tonight were first raised by the continuity announcer's use of the word 'nailbiter' in the introduction to the show. Well, thanks very much, but given the choice I could have done without the warning, and would rather have discovered that for myself.

Tonight was the first Cambridge v. Oxford match up that we've seen for some time. Venerable Magdalene College, whose distinguished alumni include Samuel Pepys, took on St. Hugh's of Oxford, who were, so it appears, founded by the great niece of William Wordsworth. Conspiracy theorists may point to the fact that Mr. Daffodils himself featured tangentially in one of the bonus questions. However let us ignore that, and instead, Gradgrind-like, concern ourselves only with facts.

If I hadn't been as good as told that this one was going right to the wire I would have thought that this was going to be a comfortable win for Magdalene after the first ten minutes. They were comfortably beating St. Hugh's to the buzzer for the starters. The tension at one point clearly seemed to be getting to Eleanor Brown of St. Hugh's. When Jeremy Paxman asked the question, "Which name was the real but unused Christian name of people including David Niven, Stewart Grainger, Paul McCartney and Harold Wilson ? " - alright there were others in the list, but you catch the drift - Miss Brown almost slammed the buzzer right through the desk, and had shouted the answer "James !" even before Roger Tilling managed to say "St. Hugh's - Brown. " She thus achieved the remarkable feat of putting the fear of God into Jeremy Paxman, who spluttered,
"Alright, I give in !"

This seemed to act as a clarion call to arms for the whole St. Hugh's team. They started finding their range with their buzzers, and began to get on terms. Magdalene kept buzzing, but the gap narrowed until at 20 minutes in all was square. Captain Nick Economides put St. Hugh's ahead with Pascal's Wager. Only one bonus was converted. Bang ! Magdalene hit back, but only converted one of their own bonuses. All square again. It was nip and tuck, and with no more than a minute or so to go St. Hugh's were ahead by one starter. The final starter was,
"Name two rivers in Britain which are homophones of two consecutive letters of the alphabet. " For a moment there was silence, and if the gong sounded, then the game was St. Hugh's. With the UC equivalent of a last minute equaliser Nick Hobbs of Magdalene buzzed in with a brilliant correct answer of "Exe and Wye". Cue the gong.

Of course the excitement wasn't over yet. As our host explained, you can't have a dead heat in University Challenge. If you've never seen this happen before, the protocol for deciding a tied show is that one more starter is asked. If a team buzz in and answer it correctly, then they win the show. However if they buzz in and answer incorrectly they automatically lose the show, without the other team having to answer. In the shootout that followed St. Hugh's captain Alex Economides buzzed in, barely managing to say the word "Kyoto ". He did though, and it was enough. So St. Hugh's won the most exciting match of the series with 145 points to 135, after extra time. A fabulous match, which neither team really deserved to lose. Commiserations especially to Magdalene, whose score won't be enough to get them into the repechage.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

While there was nothing to match the "Swaziland" outburst of a few weeks ago, there was much to enjoy this week for the Paxman connoisseur. In his introduction he referred to the contest as a game of 'intellectual tiddlywinks'. When David Ward of Magdalene buzzed and then hesitated on a starter question about films based on Stephen King novels, he bared his teeth and growled,
"Ok - but I'm not accepting you hanging around again. "
My personal favourite this evening was a very rare blunder, when he greeted an incorrect buzz with,
"I'm sorry , you lose five pints. "
Finally, just before the frenetic climax, he greeted a correct answer from St. Hugh's with,
"Yes of course ! What have you got a classicist on your team for if you don't know THAT !"

Interesting fact of the Week That I Didn't Already Know

Quite a lot to choose from this week. I like the way that if you combine the postcodes of Chester and Ipswich you get CHIP, while Taunton and Colchester give you TACO, and the London Borough of Croydon, and the city of Aberdeen give you CRAB. You don't get this sort of question on any other quiz show. However the fact of the week for me is that there is actually such a thing as a Clarke Orbit, which is a geo-stationary orbit such as that used by a communications satellite, so called because Arthur C. Clarke is credited with first coming up with the idea of using artificial satellites for communication.

September Quiz

1) Who is Michael Shields, who was in the news last week ?

2) Which murderous regime began their reign of terror with what they called year Zero in 1975 ?

3) The New York Borough of Queens contains two Airports. Name them.

4) What was the christian name of the artist sister of Augustus John ?

5) Joy Adamson's first book about Elsa the lion was called "Born Free " and the second "Living Free. " What was her third one called ?

6) The bark of which tree is used to obtain quinine ?

7) Where in your body would you find the malleus and the incus ?

8) Which Ira Gershwin song starts with these lyrics - The Way you wear your hat - the way you sip your tea. The memory of all that - "

9) Which actress played Sabrina Duncan in the original line up of Charlie's Angels ?

10) Which sporting first was achieved by Susan Brown in 1981 ?

11) Name the South African 800m world champion whose gender is apparently still a matter of debate

12) Did Queen Victoria have more sons, more daughters, or the same number of each ?

13) Name the straits seperating Corsica and Sardinia ?

14) How many strings are there on a balalaika ?

15) What type of food is dunlop ?

16) The use of which substance in hat - making in the 18th and 19th centuries is believed to have led to the phrase - as mad as a hatter "

17) What common name is given to the excresence caused by the grubs of the gall wasp, which lays its eggs in oak trees ?

18) Senator Edward Kennedy died a few weeks ago. Edward Kennedy were the first two names of which celebrated american musician and band leader ?

19) Which veteran british film and stage actor, star of two early Carry On films, actually played the role of a hat in the first two Harry Potter films ?

20) Since 1980, the oldest man to win a golf major was Jack Nicklaus, who was 46 years old when he won the 1986 US Masters. If Tom Watson had won the play off in this year's Open, he would have become the oldest by how many years ?

21) A Malaysian restaurant finally lost its legal dispute with McDonalds last week. What was it called - McDonalds - McSatay - McRonalds - McCurry ?

22) What was Rasputin's christian name ?

23) Hissarlik in Turkey is believed to be the site of which ancient city ?

24) In literature, what links Pantagruel - Despair - Comorant - Paul Bunyan and the BFG

25) The Bible - which surprisingly british name belonged to King herod's first wife -
Doris - Gladys - Cissy - Ada - Ruby

26) In the northern hemisphere, apart from the Sun, which is the brightest star in the sky - please note this does not include Venus which is a planet not a star .

27) What is the symbol of the National Trust ?

28) Stadler and Waldorf were the two old hecklers in the Muppet Show. But which of the other muppets did they spend most of their time heckling ?

29) After Take That reformed in 2006, which song provided their first number 1 single ?

30) Name the player who knocked Andy Murray out of this year's US Open ?

31) Last week, Derren brown successfully predicted the midweek lottery numbers. What were - a) the lowest number of the six, and b) the highest number of the 6.

32) The United Nations. In a list of nationalities of Secretary Generals - which two nationalities are missing - Norwegian - Swedish - Burmese - Austrian - Ghanaian - South Korean

33) Which isolated island in the pacific is also known as Rapa Nui ?

34) Gustav Holst's Egdon Heath was inspired by the work of which 19th century novelist ?

35) In English law, if all 12 jurors are present, what is the minimum number that must agree to reach a majority verdict ?

36) Which 2 word phrase is used to describe the shape of the DNA molecule ?

37) What sort of creature is a fer - de - lance ?

38) Who had her first big TV break playing Violet Elizabeth Bott in the 1970s version of Just William ?

39) In the film "Finding Nemo" what species of fish is Nemo ?

40) Who was the first ever spin bowler in cricket to take 300 test wickets ?

Friday, 18 September 2009

Mastermind - First Round - Heat 4/24

After last week's feast of familiar faces it was business as usual for this series, with 4 more newcomers to what John Humphrys called "The notorious black chair - it may look comfortable, but it certainly won't feel it. " Well, yes and no. It actually is rather comfortable as I recall, although you'd never call facing a round of questions in it relaxing. Exciting, yes, challenging, certainly, but not relaxing. Actually our Mr. Humphrys has caused a little stir this week, by being quoted in the London Evening Standard as saying that his job on Mastermind is really "money for old rope". I can't make up my mind here whether John is being facetious, disparaging, or actually rather self-effacing. Alright he may get paid a nice salary for doing it, but the show is something that brings a lot of pleasure to people, and I don't care what you say, its not a job that any old Tom Dick or Harry could do.

Sorry. I shall dismount from my high horse, and continue with the review. Our first contender was Maud Robinson who chanced her arm with Oscar Wilde tonight. In her filmed insert she explained that her appearence was meant as a tribute to a favourite aunt, who had been a fan of both Oscar Wilde and quiz shows. A woman of taste IMHO. I don't know if it was nerves, but once she'd made her way to 8 points Maud Robinson was caught in the gravitational pull of a pass spiral, which she was unable to extricate herself from before the end of the round.

Journalist Gavin McEwan was next in the chair. He was offering the Germanic languages. Quite appealingly he described the way most people had been giving him blank looks whenever he told them what his specialist subject was going to be. Despite the fact that he almost always gave the impression that he was surprised when one of his answers was correct, a great many of them were, and he scored 14 on a notably difficult subject, with many awkward words and phrases to trip him up on pronunciation. Good round.

Mike Wilkin won the prize for the most strikingly dressed contender on tonight's show. He sported a magnificent large bow tie. His subject was the History of Jazz Music from 1917 to 1930. My initial reaction was 23 years really isn't that much, however my second thought was with such a relatively narrow subject he could expect to be bowled more than his fair share of bouncers, to use a cricketing analogy. He picked his shots, and padded up well to finish the round in good shape, with 13 points and no passes.

However the pick of the specialist rounds tonight was that of banker Vishal Dalal. Mr. Dalal answered on the Life and Films of Akiro Kurosawa, a director whom he said had been hugely influential on film directors throughout the world, including Stephen Spielberg and Sergio Leone, to name but two. Well there's no way I'd argue with him after a round like the one he produced. He fairly whizzed through the questions - not quite a perfect round, but very close, with 16 and 0 passes.

Poor Maud Robinson spent the first half minute or more of her GK round trying to extricate herself from the pass spiral into which she fell in her previous round. However she did manage to emerge, bloodied but unbowed, adding 6 to take her score to 14 and 10 passes.

Mike Wilkin earned a good deal of sympathy when he was completely stymied by the question which asked which insect pest takes its English name from the Spanish word 'cucaracha'. He knew it, and he knew that he knew it, but it just wouldn't come. In the end he passed, making a rueful gun to the temple gesture with thumb and forefinger. It was all going to be an uphill struggle after that, but at least he reached 20.

Gavin McEwan rather impressed with his GK round. When you look at the questions he answered correctly he really covered rather a lot of ground. 12 isn't the highest GK score we've seen so far this series, but it isn't bad going at all, and it pushed his score to 26, which would put him handily placed for a runner's up semi final spot if Vishal Dalal could come up with the goods.

Mr. Dalal and still answered very quickly in his GK round. However as the clock ticked down it looked fairly certain that the target was going to remain a little beyond his reach. 7 and 4 passes gave him a total of 23 and 4 passes. I may well be wrong, but I have to say that I'd be surprised if that gives him one of the semi final spots. Sorry, and Mr. Dalal, if I'm wrong I will be delighted for you.

So congratulations Gavin McEwan. Here's a thought. As far as I know, we've never had a scottish Mastermind champion - although I stand willing to be corrected on this one. Indeed, my Clark grandfather from Dundee possibly makes me as scottish as any champion. Could Gavin McEwan be the first ? He's certainly taken the first step.

The Details
Maud Robinson The Life and Work of Oscar Wilde8 - 66 - 414 - 10
Gavin McEwanThe Germanic Languages14 - 012 - 426 - 4
Mike WilkinThe History of Jazz Music 1917 - 193013 - 07 - 320 - 3
Vishal DalalLife and Films of Akiro Kurosawa16 - 07 - 423 - 4

Current Highest Scoring Runners Up

Les Morrell26 - 3
Colin Wilson25 - 0
William de'Ath25 - 4
Vishal Dalal23 - 4

Answers to belated August Quiz

1) Who did Maxwell Drummey marry a year ago ?
Peaches Geldof

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 ?
Boxing Day

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

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 ?
Saudi Arabia

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

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 ?
Madame Edith

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

12) Which architect designed Coventry Cathedral ?
Sir Basil Spence

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

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 ?
Johnny Ball

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

16) What is the connection between your last three answers ?
Leaders of the Peasants' Revolt

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 ?
Buttons on their sleeves

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

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 ?
Great Western Railway

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

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

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

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

Old Quizzers' Tales

As far as I know none of my colleagues at work are quizzers. However this doesn’t mean that none of them ever play in pub quizzes on the odd occasion, and from time to time they’ll tell me about playing in a quiz, and how they got on. Such an occasion happened this week, when a colleague and friend of mine told me how she and a couple of friends had played in a quiz in their local this week just for the hell of it. This was a quiz where the evening’s entertainment consists of a main quiz, and then a seperate short set of questions for a seperate jackpot. My friend told me that they had all of the jackpot questions right until they were faced with this last one for the prize,
“Rattus Norvegicus was the title of which group’s first album in 1977 ? “
They had written down the correct answer, which was “The Stranglers”, then in a crisis of confidence had scrubbed it out and written “The Damned” instead. To which I replied with the sage observation that you should never change your first answer. She favoured me with an old fashioned look , and said ,
“Are you trying to tell me that you actually have tactics for playing in a quiz ? !”

This set me thinking, and this is what I really want to discuss today. On serious reflection I’m not sure that you can make out a watertight case that tactical thinking plays any serious part in playing in a quiz. However there is a whole arcane lore about quizzing which I think that we all learn by a form of osmosis in our first couple of years of campaigning, which I suppose might amount to tactical thinking. Lets have a look at what I mean.

1) Always stick with your first answer.

This is an almost universal truth which most quizzers hold to be self evident. Except that there is actually no proof that first answers are more often correct in cases of doubt. I think that it works like this. If you’re asked a question you don’t know the answer to, and you haven’t got a clue, well that’s just the way it is. You can accept that and move on. If you come up with half a dozen options, and don’t write the correct one down, well, that’s just bad luck, and again you can get over it quickly enough. But if you have actually written the correct answer down, and then rubbed it out and changed it, then the mental anguish of knowing you should have just left well enough alone is killing.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account the number of times that you will change an incorrect answer for a correct one. When that happens you just tend to take it in your stride . Personally I would imagine that the half the time you change an answer it will be for the better, and half for the worst.

2) Play the man and not the ball

If you’ve been with me since last year you’ll maybe remember a set of posts I wrote called “The Question Master is Always Right. “ In the preamble to this I stated that there is a sizeable body of questions out there where the answer a question master will ususally give is actually incorrect. This is because the question has a very difficult correct answer, and a more widely held answer which is actually wrong. After a while you come to recognise these questions, and when they come up , to weigh up whether the question master is the sort of person to actually know the correct answer. If in any doubt whatsoever, then put the popular answer down. Nine times out of ten this will bring you the points ( and the pints. )

3) The Question Master is always right

I throw this one in since I mentioned it in the previous question. Its not exactly anything to do with tactical thinking, but it is a time honoured piece of quizzing lore ( and law for that matter ) . Most of the time there is absolutely no point in arguing with a question master, since he is not going to change the answer he has written down in front of him just because you say so. Which really begs the question why so many of us, and I include myself in this, bother to do so.

4) If in any doubt, play the percentages

Even if you reach an exalted station in the firmament of quizdom, sooner or later you are going to be asked questions you don’t know the answers to. In some case, you won’t have a Scooby Doo, and will just have to guess off the top of your head. However in others there will be a stock answer which will be right more often than its wrong, and so you put it down, even though you have no idea whether its right or wrong. You write it down, because you’ll look stupid if it is the correct answer, and you haven’t put it. This is called playing the percentages. For example : -
If its a question about a TV chef/cook, and a book – then Delia Smith is a decent shout. She’ll be right far more often than she’s wrong – and unless you KNOW its not her, then you should put the answer down.
If its a question about which actor played a particular part in a British drama TV series, then put down James Nesbitt. He seems to be in everything these days. This may sound flippant, but its a tactic I use a lot myself, and to be fair to Mr. Yellow Pages, he hardly ever lets me down. –
And so on.

5) Its first names for show, but surnames for dough

Yes, its all very well knowing that Faraday’s name was Michael when you’re asked to name the British inventor of the electric motor – but is it necessary ? Its a general rule in quizzing that unless the question master specifically asks you for first and surnames, then the surname alone is sufficient. Putting down the first name as well may even lead to you getting marked wrong if you’re mistaken about the first name, even if you have the surname right.

6) If its a multiple choice question, and you don’t know the answer, then its B –

Unless you’re given 4 choices in which case its C. Alright, this won’t always be true, but it does actually hold water as a theory. For more causal, and less experienced quiz setters its very common to fight shy of giving the correct option as the first or last option. If you only have 3 options, then this helpfully narrows it down to the second option for you.

7) The first time in a quiz the question master asks if something is true or false – unless you KNOW differently, its true.

This is similar to the last point, and is a matter of psychology. As such it does apply more to casual or novice question masters. There’s always the question - where would the question master have found this snippet of information, and why would he be asking about it if it wasn’t true ?

8) If you’re playing in a quiz league with a matched pairs format – always take the B questions.

Well, that’s what the teams I played with used to say. However I have heard other teams who consistently opt for the A questions. The thinking behind taking the Bs is that gettin ggood evenly matched pairs of questions is not easy. More often than not the second question will either be easier than the first, or at the very least the answer to the A question will eliminate one of the possiblilities for the B question. That’s the theory. However since normally the questions swap around at half time, I can’t see that it holds much water.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

"Teachers make good quizzers - Discuss . "

After the always hectic build up to, and start of the new school year, I’ve found myself with enough breathing space to read back my most recent posts since returning from Spain. One of the things which strikes me is that almost all of the posts are reviews of TV quizzes. Now, providing this valuable public service is something that we take very seriously at LAM , so I make no apologies about this. However I would hate for you to think that my love for the Great British Pub Quiz has in any way diminished following my Spanish drought. Far from becoming a quiz hermit, I have actually played in 8 quizzes in the three weeks since returning from Alicante. That’s not including the CIU National final, which you can read all about in last week’s post.

For the record, 2 of those have been in Pill Harriers in Newport, 3 in Aberavon Rugby club, 2 in The Duke of Wellington in Cowbridge, and 1 in the Dyffryn Arms in Bryncoch. I have written about all of the first three quizzes in the past. However the Dyffryn Arms is a new one for me. Well, newish. I knew that the pub did its own Sunday evening quiz, and so, on the last Sunday before going on holiday I took my son down there to check it out. We enjoyed it so much that I persuaded John to head west last Sunday, and join me there.

Viewed by any standards I’d say that this was a good quiz. However when you think that its a Sunday evening quiz, and its for the general public, if you have to view it in this light, then its a great quiz. If you’ve been a regular reader for any great length of time you’ll know some of my pets hates in a pub quiz . If you haven’t, then here’s a few of them : -

Rounds of ‘Family Fortunes’ type questions
More than 10% of the whole quiz being made up of pop music questions
More than 20% of the whole quiz being made up of entertainment questions
More than 20% of the whole quiz being made up of questions on any one subject
Rounds where a huge amount of marks are available where in depth knowledge of only one subject is required.
Quizzes where the question master has got more than 2 or 3 answers wrong.

and so on. I'm sure that you get the drift.

Please accept that this is not directed at any one particular question master, quiz compiler or quiz, and its merely my opinion, based on over 2 decades of pub quizzing. I’ve no doubt that there are plenty of people out there who could say that everything on my list is something that they themselves like about a pub quiz. Fair enough, and that’s a valid opinion too. Doubtless there are people out there who would say to me that I have benefitted often in the past from quizzes with a bias towards entertainment questions, or rounds which require in depth knowledge of one subject, and I’m not arguing with that. The only point I’m trying to make is that I just don’t enjoy these things so much. Variety is the spice of life, I think, but you must by all means please feel free to disagree. Quizzing is a broad church. Still, as far as I am concerned, if a quiz doesn’t feature any of these pet hates of mine, then chances are I’m going to think its a good quiz, and I’m going to enoy it. Which is where the Dyffryn Arms comes in.

To give you a little flavour of it, here’s a multiple question from the last round : -
Name the two destinations each of these famous trains link : -
a)The Orient Express – original version
b)The Flying Scotsman
c)The Chattanooga Choo Choo
Now you may very well be sitting in your chair rattling off the answers – well done if you are. But you’ve got to give credit, that’s a more absorbing question than a lot of Sunday night pub quiz fare. For the record , the answers are : -
a)Paris to Istanbul
b)London to Edinburgh
c)Cincinatti to New Orleans ( alright, this one is a little bit dodgy, IMHO . In the SONG the train went from New York to Chattanooga )
As it happens the only prize for the quiz, which featured about 10 teams on Sunday, being extremely well attended, was a bottle of wine. The prize doesn’t come into it though. Consistently the best quiz I go to regularly is possibly the Aberavon Rugby Club . . . which never has a prize.

One final point. The Dyffryn's quiz is one of two halves - 30 questions in the first, and another 20 in the second. Papers are marked twice, in between the first and second halves, and then again at the end of the quiz. After I picked up our paper from the team who marked it, one of them faced me with an accusing eye, and said,
"That's a very high score. I know your secret !"
Oh gawd - I thought. He's either going to accuse us of cheating, or even worse, of taking it all too seriously. I said nothing. He went on -
" You must all be teachers !"
All I could think was that he has obviously never been in my staff room when I'm road testing a set of questions for the rugby club, if he thinks that all teachers are automatically brilliant quizzers.

TV Watch - University Challenge

University Challenge - First Round Heat 10 - St. John's College Oxford v. Durham University

One of the endearing idiosyncrasies of University Challenge is that not all collegiate universities compete as individual colleges. Durham take part as one team from the university, and while you can applaud this in many ways, you can't help wondering if perhaps they are putting all their eggs in one basket. Well, time would tell.

I'm pleased to report that this week all the competitors favoured us with both their first name and their surname. So off we went. St. John's claimed first blood, snatching up the first starter and bonuses. And the next. And the next. I was particularly tickled by the set of bonuses on 19th century novels with a political flavour. Alas, St. John's failed to correctly answer the question about who wrote the Palisser novels, thus proving they don't know a good Trollope when they see one. 6 minutes into the show and I rather think that our Jeremy was beginning to fear that a rout was starting to take shape, so when James Link buzzed in with a correct answer to the next starter he responded with "At last !" Which was a little premature if I might say so.

However, even allowing for this, Durham were finding it extremely difficult to get a look in. Poor James Link kept on buzzing more in hope then expectation with the starters, until captain Nolan managed to answer one, which was followed by a period of greater success for Durham. It didn't phase St. John's though, who continued to pile on the agony. During this period I particularly enjoyed the set of bonuses based on Monty Python's Philosopher's Song ( Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar etc ).

Last week you may recall that I outlined the three most enjoyable types of UC contest, and this, while always watchable wasn't one of those. As a contest it was over before half way really, and while St. John's were very good, they didn't for me quite match the heights of some of the teams we saw last year. I'm a fussy devil I know. Full marks to St. John's though to have the confidence to answer "We just don't know " twice to bonuses on sculpture, an admission which drew an approving "That's commendably frank of you . " from our Jeremy.

In the end St. John's ran out very comfortable winners by 270 points to 90. Jeremy Paxman hailed them as "fearsome opposition" in the same breath as he pointed out to Durham that their own performance was "not terribly good. " Well, no, it wasn't really. Still, at the halfway stage it looked as if they might have difficulty struggling past 50, and so they deserve credit for clawing their was back towards 100 in the second half.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

He opened his account this week with a sharp admonition to James Link, who hesitated too long over a starter ," You buzz, you answer ! " However the finest Paxman moment of the week came when Mr. Chen answered a starter concerning a Virginia Woolf novel with the word "Middlemarch". His eyebrows nearly shot off his face as he delivered the most withering of old fashioned looks I've seen in quite a while, before he delivered the coup de grace by muttering that he bet Mr. Chen wished that he could take it back.

I can't say that I really noticed anything extremely interesting in any of the many facts I didn't already know on tonight's show, so I'll hold this back for next week.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Mastermind- First Round - Heat 3/24

You wait three weeks for a contender you know to appear - then . . .

In the first two heats of this year's series we saw 8 contenders making their first ever visit to the black chair. Tonight, for the first time this series we saw the return of two familiar faces. Well, familiar to me, anyway. For that matter, remarkably, I actually know three of tonight's contenders.

The first of these was Lisa Hermann. Lisa is new to Mastermind, but not new to quizzing. We played on the same buzzer quiz team in the Cardiff Grand Prix earlier this year in the Rhwbina Club. I later found out that Lisa was coming on the show, and one of the things which I did tell her was to try to make sure that whatever happened she enjoyed the experience, since it honestly does go by so quickly once the recording of your first show begins. Lisa was answering on The History of the George Cross for her specialist round, and by crikey she did it well ! We've seen a very high standard of scoring on Specialist in all of the heats so far shown in this series, with nobody yet failing to get into double figures, if I recall correctly. Lisa maintained the standard of excellence with 14 and 1 pass.

Our second contender was David Porch. David and I have played against each other in a number of locations across Bridgend and Cowbridge over the last few years, although curiously I don't believe that I've seen him anywhere since his last appearence on the show. David tonight joined a select band of contenders who have appeared in two consecutive series of Mastermind. Don't expect me to say anything bad about that either, since I'm one of them myself. We last saw David on the 13th March this year, in the 21st heat of the 2008 series, where he was most unfortunate to lose by a single pass to Paul Moorhouse. Then he scored 14 and 1 pass on the films of Sidney Poitier. Tonight he exchanged the silver screen for the small screen, answering on the TV series, The Ascent of Man. And man ! the questions were wide ranging considering that they related to just one, admittedly epoch making, TV series. David scored 10 points. Mindful of last year's experience, he made sure that he didn't pass.

Ian Orriss, who was the third of tonight's contenders, is not someone I know personally. In a notably highbrow group of specialist subjects tonight, his was "The first latin kingdom of Jerusalem". You have to say he really knew his stuff too, with a magnificent score of 16 and 1 pass. I have to say it, with the length of questions that are being asked in this series, to get through more than a maximum of possibly 18 questions looks like something of a really tall order.

Completing the Specialist round was Les Morrell. Les was a semi-finalist in his previous appearence in, yes, you've guessed it, the 2007 SoBM ( Series of Blessed Memory) . Although we never played in the same show, we did actually meet at the studios, on the day we both recorded our first round matches. Les arrived very early for his show, which was to be recorded after mine, and we spent a little time having a chat. Les told me about his experiences on University Challenge. While we were talking I had the same feeling that I'd had when I talked to Kath Drury, who beat me in the previous series in 2006, ie - that here was someone to take very seriously, and so I was delighted when I saw that he wasn't in my heat ! Well, in 2007 Les ended up in the same semi as Stewart Cross, who had the highest score of the semis with 32. Could Les emulate his feats of 2007, I asked myself. Well he certainly did all he possibly could have done with his specialist round, on Clement Attlee. He literally rattled the answers off, limiting himself to just surnames to save precious fractions of seconds, and it was only one slight hesitation which probably cost him another question. Never mind, 16 and 0 passes was a performance to be reckoned with.

David Porch returned to the chair, 6 points behind the leaders and probably knowing in his heart of hearts that this was going to be a tall order. Still he retained his good humour throughout, taking great delight in answering with Bobby Jones' full name when asked for the golfer who retired at the age of 28 etc. He finished with 16 points. Lisa, handily placed on 14, overtook him for the lead, pushing on to 20 points. This has been enough to win a heat on a few occasions during the Humphrys era, but it never looked like it was going to be enough tonight. However I have it on first hand authority that Lisa greatly enjoyed the experience, and her splendid performance in the specialist round alone shows that she thoroughly deserved her place.

So, who out of the 2 remaining contenders would win ? Les, I knew, had the experience, bottle and knowledge to produce a good round on GK. Ian, on the other hand, was an unknown quantity. However the unknown quantity only needed two minutes to prove his quality, adding 11 to take his score to 27 and 4 passes. I was impressed with the way he kept plugging on through the round - dropping a couple, passing a couple, but always keeping the score ticking over. As Mr. Punch once said - well more than once, actually - that's the way to do it.

11 and 3 passes would be enough to put Les through as the winner of the heat. This is a score he managed to better on both of his previous GK rounds in 2007. However, that was then, and this was now. A few questions didn't quite fall his way, and although he was answering quickly he never quite built up the head of steam he would need to push on through the target. He came mightily close though, but even answering the last question correctly only brought him 10 points for 26.

John Humphrys was quick to point out that 26 gives Les a very good chance of taking one of the 6 runners up spots in the semis, and he's quite right too. Having said that, we're only three shows into the series and already we've seen runners up score two 25s and a 26, so who knows ? What we do know is that Ian Orris produced a fine performance to earn his place in the semis by winning the show. Even more , he can take it from me that the three contenders in his heat were no mugs, either. So very well done , sir !

The Details

Lisa Hermann The History of the George Cross 14 - 1 6 - 220 - 3
David PorchThe TV series "The Ascent of Man"10 - 06 - 116 - 1
Ian OrrissThe first latin kingdom of Jerusalem16 - 111 - 327 - 4
Les MorrellClement Attlee16 - 010 - 326 - 3

Current Highest Scoring Runners Up

Les Morrell26 - 3
Colin Wilson25 - 0
William de'Ath25 - 4

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

TV Watch - University Challenge

University Challenge - First Round Heat 9 - Imperial College , London v. University of Southampton

Shall I tell you something I really like in an edition of University Challenge ? Oh, don't misunderstand me, I enjoy every edition of University Challenge, but there's three types of contest that I enjoy above all others. Firstly , I love a close tussle which is in doubt up until the last minute and then is only settled by the last starter and bonuses. At the other end of the scale I also enjoy one team amassing a huge total through a virtuoso performance on the buzzer. The third, and to my mind rarest of the three, is the type of contest in which one team spends much of the contest comfortably beating the other to the buzzer, only for the other team to come roaring back in the latter stages, turning what looked like a mismatch into a nailbiter. If you haven't seen last night's show, I'll bet you're wondering into which category it fitted. Allow me to elucidate.

Another London University College took their place in the first round last night, in the shape of Imperial College. Unless I was mistaken, the last of the Imperial team introduced himself just by his christian name alone - "Hello, I'm Ben. " While I found this rather amusing, I can't help admitting that I'm worried that this informality may be the thin end of the wedge. Whatever next ?
"Hi, I'm Charlie, but you can call me Nutjob . " Oh well, lets leave that to one side for the time being.
Is it me, or has my dear old University been particularly well represented in the first round this year ? Their opponents were Southampton University, whose distinguished alumni include , amongst others, John Inverdale. I'm afraid that I have no affiliation to Southampton or its university, so had no choice but to lumber poor old Imperial with the kiss of death that usually comes with being supported from the Clark sofa.

Not that this seemed much of a burden to Imperial last night. They took an early lead, and for the first two thirds of the contest they steadily increased their lead. There were a few particular points of interest within the contest. Once again, a music bonus came in the form of a Gary Numan track, in a round of bonuses about 1980s synth music. When the intro of "I just can't get enough" was played my daughter yelled out "The Saturdays", which allowed me to put the young whippersnapper in her place by telling her that Depeche Mode got there first.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Not a lot to report this week. The maestro was in mellow mood, and even this barb directed at Southampton - "You really DON'T know anything about ships, do you ?!" was said with a smile.

Interesting fact I Didn't Already Know of The Week

I liked the fact that if A = 1, B=2 etc. , then 2 - 21 - 26 - 26 means BUZZ, even though I would eventually have worked it out for myself given ten minutes and access to my lap top. However the Most interesting fact for me actually came out of the introduction. Apparently Sir Tim Berners Lee, pioneer of the World Wide Web currently works in Southampton University.

So, until getting on for the 20 minute mark it was a pretty predictable match. Then Stuart Wynn, captain of Southampton , embarked upon a fine run which saw him answer 6 starters correctly. This was all the better considering he had incorrectly answered a few earlier in the show. Imperial remained stuck on 175 as he edged his team towards the 100 barrier, then through it, and what had seemed quite a predictable match became quite exciting. Time was against Southampton, but they were making great headway. Time, though, is a most difficult adversary to get the better of, and as the gong sounded Southampton still trailed by 135 points to 175. Its a shame we won't be seeing them again.

We will be seeing Imperial again, though. Up until the last ten minutes it looked as if they were going to break impressively and comfortably through the 200 points barrier. I can only think that it was the support they received from the Clark sofa which reduced them to crawling pace for the last few minutes.

The CIU Nationals

The CIU National Final - Alvaston, Derby - Sunday 6th September

If you've been with me for a while now you may remember that a few months ago I posted about the CIU Wales and West of England regional quiz final. That event was a source of much satisfaction at the time, since our team, representing the Trefelin Club of Port Talbot, scraped home to win by a point from the nationally respected Maesglas 'A' team of Newport. I predicted at the time that Maesglas would still, in all probability beat us in the National final. Well, I am now in a position to reveal to you whether Mystic Dave's prognostications have been any more accurate than usual, since the National Final took place on Sunday.

There's something special about the CIU Final, something that really gets the juices flowing. For one thing we didn't quite manage to qualify for it last year, which made us even more determined to do well than usual. For the uninitiated, CIU stands for Club and Institute Union. Every year hundreds of workingmen's clubs and institutes throughout England and Wales, affiliated to the CIU, are invited to join in the competition. Not all clubs affiliated to the CIU ever take part in the regional finals, but a large number do. For example, I've played in at least the last 5 Wales and West regionals and each one has been very well attended. On Sunday 18 regional heat winners and runners up gathered in Derby to contest the final.

If you're like me, the moment you walk into the hall where the quiz is going to take place, you can't help scanning the room to check out the strength of the opposition. And let me tell you, the opposition is always strong, and that's one of the things which gives you the buzz when you take part in the event. Well, on this Sunday it seemed to me that the opposition was stronger than ever. Without singling out individual players, one glance around the room revealed that Ashford Road from Swindon, who have been champions on more than one occasion, were there.If I remember correctly,they were the defending champions, and had two teams, and both of them were full of stars. My God ! Its full of stars ! Sorry - I had a little attack of the 2001's there. Our nemesis, Maesglas A, double champions in the past, were all present in good order. The clubs from the North East came with justly deserved reputations. Also present were Radford Road, in Coventry, a team who had not contested the final before, I think, but they were a team with some well known players of their own.

The CIU final is a funny old quiz. The majority of the rounds have some kind of twist. Full marks on the first, general knowledge round, led us into a false sense of security. Then came the list round. Basically, a CIU list round asks for a list of ten things. You can write down as many or as few things as you like, up to a maximum of 10. For example, in the regional final we were asked the 10 largest islands , by area, in the Mediterranean Sea. For every correct answer on the list, you gain half a point. However, for every incorrect answer you lose half a point. So while its possible to gain a maximum of 5 points on the round, it is also possible to lose five points. The list we were asked for was the top 10 most common pub names in Britain. Yes, everyone knows the Red Lion and the White Hart, and many now know that the Crown has overtaken both of these to become most popular. But who would have guessed that The Swan would make it to the top 10 ? We didn't. in fact we ended the round in deficit, with 3 on the list, and 5 not, to lose a point. Granted, nobody scored more than 2 points on the round, I think, but even so, from that round on it was always going to be an uphill struggle to make a bid for a podium position.

Good rounds on Film and TV, and Sport helped drag us back up through the peloton, although we never really made any impression on Radford Road, and the Ashford Road B Team. By the last round we needed a miracle to do any better than third. The last round always requires you to identify a mystery personality. There are a list of clues given. If you get it on the first set of clues, you get 5 points, on the second set 4 points, and so on. However if you hand in your answer, and its wrong, then thats it, you get nothing. We were a point ahead of Maesglas A in third place, with Radford Road and Ashford Road B duking it out for the top prize ahead of us. Maesglas got the answer on the second set for 4 points, and we took it on the 3rd set for 3.

Radford Road ran out winners, and I hope that Ashford Road will forgive me for saying this was an extremely popular victory in the hall. No disrespect is intended to Ashford Road, who performed brilliantly all afternoon, but their club's teams have a huge reputation in the competition, and have won the title on more than one occasion. Whereas I think Radford Road are new to the competition, and according to one of their members only just managed to qualify for the final. I did say that I wasn't going to single out individuals, but I have to once again offer my congratulations to Gareth Kingston, Craig Element, Nic Paul and Dave Masters. In a way , it was a little ironic that one of the teams finishing below them was Maesglas A, half of which was made up of Richie Parnell and Mark Labbett of the Rugby Boys, who had actually beaten Gareth and Craig in the recent series of Only Connect. If you're going to get your friendly revenge, then do it in style, I say.

Tying up the loose ends, apparently third place was settled by a tie break. Since there was no specific tie break for the quiz proper - and if I'm honest I think that this must have been due to an oversight - I can only think that the tie break for the sports round was used to seperate us. Our guess was way out, but by a combination of circumstances, Maesglas didn't enter a guess in the sports tie break. Thankfully, although we finished 3rd officially, they didn't go home empty handed either, winning the sports round special prize. On the subject of special prizes too I have to say that I personally benefitted from a little bit of luck. On these occasions they tend to offer 4 individual spot prizes during the afternoon. Now, the first spot prize question was,
"How many bridges of all kinds cross the River Seine in Paris ? "
In 2007,when I was learning my specialist subject "The History of London Bridge" for my Mastermind final, one of the facts that I turned up as a by product of the process was that London has a couple less bridges than Paris, which has 38. Thank you very much, and I was a bottle of scotch to the good. Alright, I don't drink the stuff myself, but thankfully other members of the team were good enough to offer to take it off my hands. There's friendship for you.

Good quiz ? Certainly, and a great quiz occasion too. Very nice to be back on the podium at the Nationals. Its been a long time since that happened. In all truthfulness we never felt we were in it after the list round. That's just the way it works some times. So my great unfulfilled ambition, to win the CIU, remains just that at the moment. Unfulfilled. Oh well, there's always next year.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Mastermind - First Round Heat 2 / 24

This was our second chance to assess the effect of the slight format changes we saw for the first time last week. Once again I thought that the replacement of the inter-round chats with a short filmed insert at the start of the specialist rounds made for a tighter, faster, and more exciting show. Full marks to the team for having had the courage to make the change.

For the second week in a row 4 Mastermind virgins took to the chair. I did notice that , robbed of the chance to take contestants to task over their choice of subject, John this week was a little more caustic at the start of the show. In the introduction he announced Brian Allerdyce's subject as "The Beatles' Biggest Business Folly ", rather than giving its the official title of "The History of Apple Records". This , tonight's popular culture subject, was a nice little twist on the various permutations of possible Beatles related subjects. Some interesting answers, too. I must admit I have never heard Hot Chocolate's reggae rendition of "Give Peace a Chance", but Mr. Allerdyce certainly knew all about it. 12 seemed a good score, and he was by no means out of it by half time.

Will Salt offered us this week's traditional Mastermind subject, the Life and Times of Maximillian Robespierre. Mr.Salt's film gave him the chance to point out that although Robespierre may be a hero to some, he considers him the villain of the piece. He looked a little nervous in the chair, but he conjured up a very fine round, scoring 15 and 1 pass, and that, mark you, with some notably long questions.

Katie McCorkindale's trip to the chair brought us the first appearence of this series of the ever - popular 'obscure author' round . Alright, for all I know Paul Auster is not at all obscure, and extremely successful and respected. I just haven't heard of him before. According to wikipedia Mr. Auster is an american novelist whose works blend absurdism and crime fiction. Good trick if you can do it, as I guess he can. Katie McCorkindale went through the round confidently, allowing a little smile to cross her lips when she knew the answer before the question was finished, and to be fair, this happened quite a lot, as she finished with 11 and 1 pass. I think she was a little unlucky that John Humphrys had to qualify her answer "boats" with "Yes - ships in bottles". It just might have given her time for an extra question had he not.

Colin Wilson gave us the first sport round of the series, offering "World Heavyweight Boxing Champions 1882 - 1929. This is actually a subject that I think that I know a little bit about. Not as much as Colin Wilson does though. I know enough to be able to say that the scope of the questions was as wide as it could possibly be. He scored a magnificent 16, only dropping one question on the weight of boxing gloves for a particular fight, and led at the halfway stage. So for the second week running all 4 contenders produced good scores in their specialist rounds.

The effect of removing the chats has been to turn the GK rounds into even more of a furious and exciting devil's gallop than they were before. I have to say that I thought Katie McCorkindale's round was a little better than the score suggested, finishing as she did with 18. I wouldn't have been able to name the X-Ray fish either, though its not something I'll forget in a hurry now. Brian Allerdyce put on a very good performance to score thirteen, taking his score to 25 and 7 passes. Anything above 12 in GK is a really good performance. Once again, Will Salt looked terribly nervous as he began his round, but nerves certainly didn't seem to affect his performance as he too scored 13 , to set the target at 28. That's a great score, although at one stage he seemed to be going so well that he might have scored even higher. John Humphrys warned Colin Wilson as he sat down that he had a high score to beat, and indeed he fell a little short, scoring 9 . However at the moment this does leave him in pole position for one of the 6 extra semi final places, since these points were bought at the cost of no passes, and you never know, this might just make all the difference. So congratulations to Will Salt on a very strong all round performance, and special commiserations to Brian Allerdyce, whose 25 and 4 passes is a very fine score to come third with, even though being third means he cannot be in contention for a semi final place.

The Details
Brian Allerdyce The History of Apple Records12 - 313 - 425 - 7
Will SaltThe Life and Times of Maximillian Robespierre15 - 213 - 228 - 4
Katie McCorkindaleThe Fictional works of Paul Auster11 -17 - 318 - 4
Colin WilsonWorld Heavyweight Boxing Champions 1882 - 192916 - 09 - 025 - 0

Current Highest Scoring Runners-Up
Colin Wilson25 - 0
William de'Ath25 - 4