Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Interesting Format - Killer Questions

Here’s an interesting quiz format that my friend, Mastermind Finalist Les Morrell, has just informed me about. His local pub, the Cellar House in Eaton Norwich has kept up to 14 teams interested and involved in their weekly quiz with a format that ensures that up to 12 of these teams have a realistic chance of winning.

It works like this – and here I quote Les’ own words –

“The key to this was one optional "Killer" question of medium difficulty at the end of each round. The quiz master toured the venue at the end of each round to enquire as to whether each time wished to take on this extra question and stamped their answer sheet if the response was affirmative. If a team got the question correct their round score doubled and if incorrect halved. If declined the team retained their points as scored for that round. It added a great deal of interest and all of my friends who are not serious quizzers cant wait for the next event on 26th Sept.
To show what can happen we took the challenge every time but got one Winnie the Pooh Killer incorrect costing the team 13.5 points (9x2 vs 9x 0.5). We lost the quiz by 10 and finished 5th from a previous leading position on the strength or more accurately weakness of this one answer.
This system would not stop a Pat or a Kevin but in most cases it was a great leveller and there seemed no rancour whatsover from the more proficient quizzers in the bar.”

It’s a really interesting one this. Part of me can’t help saying – wow, 14 teams ? They are obviously giving the public what they want. Part of me wants to get all statistical, and find out how many teams gamble, and on how many rounds, and how successfully, since this seems to be an important tactical consideration. Well, anyway, it intrigued and interested me when Les told me about it, and he was very happy for me to share his email with you. Personally I have a couple of reservations – I’m such a grumpy devil I’d hate to be beaten by a team that had answered fewer questions correctly than my team had, but on the other hand I’d love to play once in a quiz with this format to check it out. I think it has value, but then that’s just my opinion, and as always . . .

Monday, 30 August 2010

TV Watch - University Challenge

University Challenge – First round match 9 – Newcastle University v. Sheffield University

Here’s a curious fact about tonight’s match. Once upon a time I was interviewed and offered conditional places at both of these excellent institutions. The fault for me ending up attending neither of them is entirely my own. Lets draw a kindly veil over that and instead begin with Newcastle. Distinguished alumni include Ron Atkinson – sorry, Rowan Atkinson - and Bryan Ferry and also the late Mo Mowlam once taught there. Tonight’s team were David Craig, Patrick Foan, Oliver Sutherland, and captain Laura Bailey. Now, judging from the way I began this post you may well be expecting me to be totally impartial tonight. You would be very wrong to do so. Sheffield, whose former alumni include David Blunkett, Amy Johnson and Eddie Izzard, were carrying the full weight of support from the Clark sofa into tonight’s show. Why ? Why else – they are all LAM readers- indeed two of them, Tristram Cole and Hugh Bennett have already been kind enough to leave comments after reviews of earlier shows in this series. The Sheffield team was completed by Andy Bolton and Captain Tom Thirkell. Well, as LAM readers they are obviously people of wit and intelligence . But would this be enough to beat the curse ?

Early indications were that it would. Tristram – our very own viking o’neil – took the first of a very impressive haul of starters tonight when he quickly figured out that the Queen’s bedroom and Lincoln’s bedroom would be far more likely to belong in the White House rather than elsewhere. Still, Newcastle struck back early with David Craig recognising a quotation by Casanova before anyone else could. Game on. With a rush of blood to the buzzer finger Patrick Foan took a gamble on a definition belonging to the word frontier. It didn’t, and given the benefit of the full question Andy Bolton was easily able to supply terminus. This was followed by a very nice set of bonuses on South American football teams who take their name from English ones. Did you know that Liverpool play in Uruguay, and Everton in Chile ? I didn’t, although I did know that Corinthians play in Brazil. Onto the picture starter. Again, Patrick Foan got to the buzzer first, and correctly supplied the name of Charlie Chaplin. However JP had also asked for the name of the film from which the still shown was taken, and Mr. Foan hesitated just too long. With the question passed across Sheffield were quite happy to accept another windfall, knowing that the famous boot – eating scene shown comes from The Gold Rush. Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd were identified as bonuses in fairly short order, although unaccountably they passed on Edna Purviance. Ah, how soon they forget !

The two miscues seemed to knock a lot of the fight out of Newcastle, even at this early stage, and for over 10 minutes – which is a lifetime in a University Challenge match – it was all one way traffic from Sheffield. Hugh Bennett – our own Hugh Tube – buzzed in for the next starter to correctly identify a blogging doctor of whom I have to admit I have never heard. With the score standing at 90 – 10 to Sheffield on the 10 minute mark it was going to be a long time before it got any better for Newcastle. A mark of the quality of the Sheffield performance so far was that it was after the ten minute mark that the first starter that neither team could answer came up. Neither side identified Clovis as the leader of the Franks. Another mark of a quality performance is that every member of the team answers a starter correctly, and at this point skipper Tom Thirkell took the next two as he answered one which required picking out table tennis from a description of the size of the playing surface, and one which gave several definitions, all referring to the acronym ILP.

Buzzing for fun by this stage, Sheffield then took a good music round , firstly identifying the Dr. Who TV theme, and then identifying which actors had played the doctor during three different versions of the theme. JP looked half horrified and half impressed with the ease with which the team took a full house on this set. You know a team are struggling when our Jeremy tries to encourage them, and even this was rather half hearted – “You can still do it Newcastle – you’ll have to get a move on , though. “ It didn’t work. Tristram took the next starter, identifying Matilda as the name of King Henry I’s only legitimate daughter.

At last, on about the 17 minute mark Patrick Foan threw caution to the winds, and buzzed in to correctly identify tofu. This led to that old UC staple, a set of bonuses on Shakespeare, in this case opening lines. 1 bonus was taken. It didn’t do a lot to take the wind out of Sheffield’s sails, though. To be honest whatever JP had said the match was already won by now, and it looked extremely unlikely that Newcastle would have any chance of getting close to a repechage score. Tristram buzzed in for a couple more good starters as we moved towards the 20 minute mark, which gave Sheffield a lead of 225 to 25.

With all due respect to Newcastle the most exciting thing about the last few minutes was seeing whether Sheffield could burst through the 300 point barrier. However there was one question which particularly struck me. On one set of bonuses about kings of England and their emblems, Sheffield were asked something along the lines of – which king – also a SON of Edward IV – etc. etc. Now, the answer given was Richard III ! Who was Edward IV’s BROTHER. The only son of Edward IV who became king was Edward V. I’ve watched this question 3 or 4 times to see if I’ve misheard – which is still a possibility – but I am pretty sure that this is that rarest of rara aves – a wrong’un on University Challenge.

Back to the show. Sheffield continued to impress not just with the volume of starters that they were answering correctly, but with the range as well. Very few starters were unanswered by either team, and it was Sheffield who were getting most of them. Every member of the team answered at least 2 starters correctly, with Andy Bolton and especially Tristram Cole impressing very much. A good example of this was the speed with which he buzzed in on his last starter to correctly answer that the antonyms in the titles of a TV series by Jacob Bronowski, and a work of Charles Darwin would be Ascent and Descent. I myself was only 9 years old when that TV series was on ! I shudder to think how many years after that Tristram was actually born. Super shout, and one which , when combined with bonuses, took Sheffield through the 300 point barrier.

Captain Laura Bailey of Newcastle did manage to take the last starter , knowing that if it’s a French king, and its Bald , Fat or Stupid, then its Charles. But that was it, no time was even allowed them for bonuses. The final score was 315 to 70. Hard lines to Newcastle. Its very difficult when you’ve had a couple of incorrect buzzes early on, and when you’re against a team as buzzer confident and starter accurate as Sheffield, then its going to be an uphill struggle all the way. Well done indeed to Sheffield, on the most convincing performance in a first round match we’ve seen for quite a long time. Last year nobody managed to beat 300 until the final. Considering they were at the same time battling against the curse of the Clark sofa, its even more impressive. Alright, so the second round is often a whole different ball game to the first, but on this form Sheffield have it within them to go a very, very long way this year. Superb performance – a pleasure to watch.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

JP made it quite clear what he thought about having to ask Dr. Who questions in his show, saying
“See, nothing is ever wasted . “ after Sheffield took a full house on that set. Just before Sheffield passed over the event horizon he did, to be fair, try to encourage Newcastle, but he had clearly lost patience with them by the time that Laura Bailey recognised the second picture starter as an example of pointillism. Like, I suspect, most of us, the Newcastle team were only really familiar with the name of one pointillist painter, Seurat. When she offered “We know its wrong, but we’re going to answer Seurat to each of them “ – a sensible tactic since it was sure to be the answer to one of them, JP retorted ,” Its not very clever when you know its wrong. “ Maybe it was meant as a joke, but under the circumstances this just came across as needlessly kicking a team when they were down .

Interesting Fact That I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week

The White Dot Organisation organises events where people are encouraged to turn off their TV and talk to their neighbours instead. If they do it while Big Brother is on I’ll certainly sign on the dotted line.

I must also make a nod to the quote of the week Oscar Wilde said ,
“Every great man has his disciples, and its usually Judas who writes his biography. “ Its worth tuning into UC just to hear stuff like this.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Desert Island Quiz Books

I was once told that men are far more likely to have a thing than women are. Oooh, matron. No, listen. Several years ago now we invited a psychologist into the school during an INSET ( In Service Training ) day, to talk to us about stress, and ways of coping with it, and this was one of the things he told us. By ‘thing’ he meant a consuming interest. I don’t think he was trying to say that women can’t or don’t have such interests, but he did suggest that the following of these to the point of obsession is more commonly found in men, especially those of us in the over 40 bracket.

Well, I can only answer for myself, but its certainly true that I am rather obsessional about quizzing, and thankfully I have a wonderful wife who seems to understand and accept this, as was pointed out to me by a good friend last week. Still, that’s the kind of remark that gets you thinking. Lets suppose, for the sake of argument, we were in a space crisis at home, and I had no other option but to get rid of almost all of my large collection of quiz books, and quiz related books. Ooh, the thought alone is almost enough to bring me out in a cold sweat. But lets suppose it happened. Which books would be so essential to me for quizzing that I would have to keep them. So what follows is , I suppose the LAM equivalent of Desert Island Discs – Desert Island Quiz books if you like. Here’s the rules.

You are to be shipwrecked on a desert island. You have no idea how long it will be before you and your fellow survivors will be rescued. There are seven of you. Water and food is plentiful on the island. You have plenty of medical supplies.The island is teeming with life , but none of it is venomous or even dangerous. The only danger you and the fellow survivors face is boredom. Each of you must provide one evening’s entertainment per week. You volunteer to produce a weekly quiz. Luckily a massive supply of paper and pencils was washed up on shore when you were wrecked. All you have to do is produce the quiz once a week. In the same way that castaways on the radio show get the Complete Works of Shakespeare, to make it a little easier you get the latest edition of Trevor Montague’s A to Z of Almost Everything. Five other quiz books of your choice from your collection are washed up on the shore with you. Which ones would you choose, to give you the best chance of producing quizzes good enough so that your fellow castaways don’t end up killing you in frustration ?

Someone has to kick things off, and so while I would welcome readers’ contributions on this one, I’ll kick things off. Here’s my choice, in no particular order : -


A sentimental pick this one. Its the Pears Quiz Companion. Do you remember your first bike ? Your first car ? Your first love, even ? Of course you do. Well this was my first ever quiz bible. In 1995 when I first started setting quizzes for the rugby club a friend at work who’d done a bit of setting in his time lent me his copy. When I found one I got a copy of my own. This was the original version from about 1989. It was updated slightly in 1991, and then again in 2000, when it was published by penguin. This was for a few years my security blanket book, which I could always turn to as a source of questions when all else fails. It made no pretences to being anything other than it was, just a great collection of bare bones facts which could be easily slotted into quiz questions. Information is categorised under 11 general headings : -
Art , Craft and Architecture
Geography and Places
Health and the Body
Language and Literature
The Living world
Science and Technology
Society and politics
Sport and Leisure
The Universe and Space Exploration

As I said, this is a sentimental pick, for its not without its flaws. Due to constraints of space, there’s little or no explanation of the facts given. That’s ok when they are accurate. However some famous ones in the book were not. For example it said that the lovers in Aida were burned alive rather than buried alive. The introduction asked people to write in if they found any inaccuracies, yet this error and other well known ones were never corrected in subsequent updates. Oh well, if I had to produce a quiz week in week out for the same people with limited resources, this is one of the books I’d still want by my side.


I already have the A to Z of Almost Everything, so I have a reference work for checking accuracy of answers. I’ll come onto the quality stuff in my last three picks. So what I’m going to need is a book which has a large bulk of bread and butter questions. I’m not a great devotee of this sort of book, as the majority of questions in them are desperately ordinary, and the sort of thing you’ve read or heard a thousand times before. However it is a fact that if you’re making quizzes for people who aren’t regular or serious quizzers, then this sort of everyday stuff is going to make up a large amount of your quiz. The three 15 to 1 quizbooks – 2000 for 2000 etc. deliver this stuff par excellence, and if there was a collected bumper edition then this would be a shoe in. However there isn’t, and bearing in mind I have no idea how long we’ll be shipwrecked, and how many questions I’ll need, then I need something with a little more bulk. Both the Weakest Link Bumper edition and Quiz Master by Nick Holt have a good 5000 questions in them. However, I think that I’ll plump for David Pickering’s Perfect Pub Quiz book. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think that it’s a great quiz book. One of my pet hates is quiz books which call themselves something like “ The Best . . . The Ultimate . . . The Biggest . . . Perfect – “ often with the word EVER and an exclamation mark as well. However it does have a huge amount of bread and butter questions, and where it scores over the other two is that it does have special occasion quizzes – presuming that we would on our island be keeping track of the days, and actually know when Halloween, New Year etc. actually fall.


Now for the quality. By careful use of The A to Z of Almost everything, and my first two picks I should be able to produce enough questions to keep us going long enough to have a decent chance of rescue. So with my last three picks I can indulge myself with some of the good stuff. So my first pick is one of the most recent additions to my collection – Irene Thomas’ Almost Impossible Quiz Book. Irene Thomas was or years the doyenne of BBC Radio 4s Round Britain Quiz, and this 1982 book has questions very much in the same vein as the show. There are only 300 questions in the book, but they are all cryptic, and require more than just knowledge. You’d never want to use more than one or two of these per quiz, but they’d really give it flavour. Every question has a lengthy explanation in the back of the book, and these are every bit as interesting as the questions.


I have to pick one from four super books associated with famous names. Magnus Magnusson produced two great books, the Quiz Book and the Family Quiz Book. Bamber Gascoigne’s Universally Challenging Quiz Book is a terrific volume, as is Jeremy Beadle’s Miscellany. How do you pick only one of them ? Well, on a personal level, although I like it very much I don’t quite like Bamber’s book as much as the other three. Beadle’s Miscellany has a quirky and at times cryptic quality about it which I love, but I’ve already picked Irene Thomas’ book, and so I don’t in all honesty think I can pick another. Which leaves the two Magnus Magnusson books. They are both excellent, consisting of equal numbers of themed rounds and general knowledge rounds. Each round starts with easy questions, and builds the level of difficulty as the round goes on. Personally I prefer the Family Quiz book, and since its my list, then that’s the one I pick.


So finally, I complete my list with The Prince of Wales Quiz Book. Compiled by Marcus Berkmann, writer of the brilliant Brain Men, this has the brilliant gimmick, if you can call it that, of using real quizzes, compiled by real people, for a real quiz. There’s a significant number of questions here too, but it’s a fact that they are all set out in quizzes. The last section before the answers gives you a set of snowball rounds , and this is a nice idea too. When I read or I use this quiz book I find myself saying – I wish I’d come up with that question – more often than I tend to do with any other quiz book. That’s a good enough reason for picking it as any other.

So that’s it – I’ve already got The A to Z of Almost Everything and my five picks are : -
The Pears Quiz Companion
David Pickering’s Perfect Pub Quiz
Irene Thomas’ Almost Impossible Quiz Book
Magnus Magnusson’s Family Quiz Book
The Prince of Wales Quiz Book

I have no doubt whatsoever that readers will ask – how on earth could you leave out ( insert title ) ? – I’ll be honest I found this much harder to do than I thought it would be and so I invite readers to do the same and share their own lists with us too.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Mastermind - Round 1 - Heat 2/24

Another week, and another 4 contenders. As John began his introduction I found myself wondering whether I would know of any of tonight’s contenders, and blow me, yes I did. Fourth in the introduction was Paul Steeples. As far as I know I’ve never met Mr. Steeples, but I know for a fact that he was second to the great Geoff Thomas in the 2009 final of Brain of Britain, and so very much a force to be reckoned with.AFIK this is Paul's second tilt at Mastermind, havng lost out in the first round of Pat's series in 2005 to Amanda Hill, former finalist, and twice a semi finalist.

Not that this is intended to take anything away from tonight’s other three contenders, the first of whom, Ann Skillen, was answering questions on the TV series To The Manor Born. Isn’t it funny how some sitcoms retain their popularity through the years, and even decades in some cases, while others seem to fade gently from the public’s collective memory. To the Manor Born was hugely popular when it was shown in the early 80s and earned massive audiences, but somehow it doesn’t seem to have held its place in the public’s affection in the same way as, say, The Good Life. Personally I thought that it had its moments, but frankly the show took the Margot Leadbetter character from The Good Life, and made her posher, bitchier and less funny, but then that’s just my opinion and as always . . . Whatever the merits of the show, there’s no doubting the merits of Ann Skillen’s performance, with a perfect round of 17 from 17. Superb quizzing.

It can be very daunting having to follow a round like that , but that’s exactly what Rob Cruise had to do. Rob was answering on a subject very much to my liking, the Life and Career of Lance Armstrong. For Champ of champs, my original choice for final subject would have been the Tour de France, but Laura put me off it since someone was doing something similar in the regular series, and I guess that Rob was the one. He didn’t manage a perfect round, but to be fair he was 10 questions in before he dropped any answers. By the end of the round he’d scored 14, and what do we always say ? Anything in the mid teens is a good score on specialist.

Paul Norwood looked confident and purposeful as he began his round on Napoleon’s Marshals. As well he might. Its not a subject that I can say that I’m particularly familiar with, but Paul’s confidence seemed to carry him through the round very well. He was so enthusiastic that at one point he tried to answer the question before John had finished asking it. Its always a temptation, but not to be advised. Still a great round brought him 16 points and no passes, and left him very much in the hunt going into the GK round.

Paul Steeples followed, answering on the Life and Works of Charles Ives. For some reason this made me think of a minor character from Porridge, but this was not ‘orrible Ives, but rather Charles Ives the American composer. Now, going on his exploits in Brain of Britain it seemed a fair bet that Paul would be the strongest performer on GK, but he couldn’t afford to give anyone more than a couple of points head start to be on the safe side. Paul’s posture on the chair betrayed some nerves, but there was nothing nervous about the cool and confident way that he dealt with the questions, notching up a very good 15. He did pass on the last question which was asked after the buzzer. Time would tell whether this would work against him or not.

Before that, however, Rob Cruise returned to the chair. This was a GK round which started extremely well, with Mr. Cruise shaping up very much like a quiz regular, bearing in mind the breadth and range of questions that he was answering. It tended to level out a little bit towards the second half of the round – its only an extra 30 seconds, but it does take that much extra mental stamina to maintain the rhythm throughout the round, or so it seems to me. An extra 14 points took him to 28.

My pre-match favourite, Paul Steeples, returned to the chair next. He was rather hard on himself on the few occasions he got answers wrong, grimacing and even so it seemed telling himself off under his breath. He really needn’t have done this, since this was a very good performance, a measured and steady performance which saw him score consistently throughout the whole round. His 17 , for a total of 32, set a new record for a 4 and a half minute regular series performance, albeit not as good as the performances in the final of champion of champions. Time would tell whether either of tonight’s remaining contenders could improve upon it.

It became apparent fairly early in Paul Norwood’s round that he was going to fall short of the total. Unlike the previous two contenders Paul Norwood’s quiz knowledge wasn’t enough to enable him to build his score consistently through the round. Of all the sets of GK tonight, I found that his were possibly the hardest, although I wouldn’t have said that there was a great deal in it. By the end of the round he had taken his score to 26.

So it was down to Ann Skillen. Could she become our first lady winner of this series. She could, but it would need a round of 15 and no more than 2 passes to do it. That’s equivalent to about 11 in old money, and its no picnic, either. Ann showed that she has a good general knowledge, but she was answering slowly, and not building up the head of steam she needed. A run of passes in the last 30 seconds, when she had seemingly run out of momentum put her behind the clock, and in the end she levelled out at 13 points for a total of 30. Nonetheless a good performance, which gives her a chance of the semis.

So well done, Mr. Steeples. A strong contender who I suspect will be someone to watch by the time the semis come round.

The Details

Ann Skillen To The Manor Born 17 – 0 13 – 7 30 – 7
Rob Cruise Life and Career of Lance Armstrong 14 – 1 14 – 2 28 – 3
Paul Norwood Napoleon’s Marshals 16 – 0 10 – 3 26 – 3
Paul Steeples The Life and Work of Charles Ives 15 – 1 17 – 2 32 – 3

Highest Scoring Runners Up

Ann Skillen – 30 – 7
James Collenette – 29 - 2

Bolton Quiz Leagues

This just in from Andrew Teale : -

"It's definitely worth mentioning that Bolton has not one but two good quiz leagues which play all year round - one on Mondays, one on Tuesdays.

The Monday night league's website is Bolton Premier Quiz League"

Many thanks, Andrew

Only Connect - New series starting soon.

Good news. I have it on the very best authority that Series 4 of Only Connect will begin on BBC Four on Monday 6th September. Yess ! Only 10 days to wait. My sources have been unable to confirm that it will be keeping its usual time slot of 8:30pm, but surely the Beeb will be sensible enough to realise the power of putting it on straight after UC finishes over on BBC Two, and leave well enough alone.


Since I wrote the above post, David Bodycombe has been kind enough to confirm the above - which I will repost here in case people might miss it -

"It will be at 8.30pm, post-UC. The Radio Times listing says:

Epicureans v Courtiers
1/15, series 4
New series. Three old university friends with a shared love of exotic foods and fine dining pit their wits against a trio from the Northern Ireland Court Service to make connections between things that initially do not appear to be linked. Victoria Coren presents. "

Thanks David

Derbyshire Quiz League

In response to yesterday's post regarding the quiz league of London, Teflon has kindly left this comment. In case you might have missed it, I take the liberty of reproducing it here : -

"We also have a good friendly quiz league up here in the sticks.

Even if you can't get a team together, do get in touch; we can always find you a team to play for.

Derbyshire Pub Quiz League"

Many thanks for that.

If you know or play in a good quiz league and you'd like to give it a plug, feel free to drop me a line about it, or leave me a comment.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Quiz League of London

In case you read my earlier post about the Quiz League of London - or even if you didn't - you might be wondering how you can get involved with the league yourself. In his comment on the post, William says that the league is always on the lookout for new teams and players. I can vouch personally for the welcome you will receive. To find out more, please check out the league's website by clicking on this link : -

Quiz League of London Website

Postcode Challenge

I’m indebted to my friend and LAM regular Brian Pendreigh. Brian recently appeared on STV’s Postcode Challenge. When he wrote to me about it, and I said that this was not a show I was at all familiar with he emailed me the URL to find it on STV’s netplayer. You can check it out yourselves by following this link : -

Postcode Challenge

Postcode Challenge apparently goes out on STV on Friday evenings at 8pm, and offers the prospect of a not-to-be-sniffed-at top prize of £25,000.The idea behind the show is that it’s a team quiz contested between 2 teams, made up from people all from the same postcode area – geddit ?! I didn’t see Brian’s show, so the one I watched had teams from Paisley and Ayr. This is certainly one way of getting around the problem of a team of ordinary MOPs ( members of the public ) getting trounced by a serious quiz team, although you can’t help wondering how closely the production team check that each team really does come from the same postcode. However I digress.

Once you take the adverts out of it the show isn’t much more than 20 minutes long, but I have to say that I rather enjoyed it. This is something of a throwback to a bygone era of TV team quizzes, and I mean that as a compliment rather than an insult. Introductions were thankfully as short as possible, and then it was on with the game. All the questions in the show were multiple choice, with three possible answers. In the first round a question would be asked of both teams, based on a survey of people in a particular postcode area. Granted that these questions had a little of the whiff of Family Fortunes about them. All players answer the question individually, selecting the correct answer. Whichever team has the greatest number of players selecting the correct answer then gets three straight bonus questions for points. The bonus questions are general knowledge. In the event of a tie, the one who pressed most quickly gets the bonuses. It doesn’t sound complicated when I write it down. Its even simpler when you watch it. Again , its not a criticism.

In round two each individual is asked a question in turn. They keep answering until they get one right, when the next person takes their turn. The round lasts 2 minutes, and each correct answer brings a point. In essence, it seems that you can do terribly in round 1, but as long as each member of your team is halfway decent you can actually overhaul quite a big lead during this round. It certainly happened on the show that I watched. The team with the least points was eliminated at the end of this round.

In the last round, then, the remaining team got to play for the money. Once again, multiple choice questions were asked, and each member had to answer individually. For the first question, only one team member needed to answer correctly. For the second, for a greater amount of money, two did. You get my drift. Teams could bail out at any stage, but a failure to complete a round meant ‘you leave with nothing’. On the show that I watched the team answered the first two correctly, but got greedy, and lost the lot on the third.

Well, maybe I’m going a little soft in my old age, but I have to say that I actually liked the show. Smarter people than me have observed that some times doing the right thing is simply a matter of avoiding doing the wrong thing, and I think that the show avoids some of the things I dislike about some other quiz shows. It doesn’t waste time droning on about the contestants. The show is obviously not meant to be a showcase for presenter Angus Purden’s personality – in fact going by the show I watched he doesn’t seem to have one, and again, that is not a criticsm. Well, not much of one. I wasn’t over-enamoured of the postcode questions, but there were very few of them. The other questions, well over the whole show there were probably about 40 give or take a couple, which isn’t a massive number, but its certainly respectable for a 25 minute show. Granted that they were pretty easy for the most part, but then this is a show for MOPs – it isn’t 15 to 1.Also nobody was expected to be nasty to anyone else - it really was just about answering questions correctly - and at the end of the day that's what a quiz show should be about. So thanks, Brian, I enjoyed the show, and will watch others while they are still on the STV player.

More of Irene Thomas' Almost Impossible Questions

OK – bowing to public pressure, by popular demand here’s just a few more questions from Irene Thomas’ Almost Impossible Quiz Book – as always answers will be poted after a suitable interlude.

1) What have Bananaland and the land of the White Ant to do with a flying kangaroo ?

2) How did Neptune act like a dynamo in reverse, how was a husky followed by an avalanche, how were here two kinds of knight’s move, one airy and one watery ?

3) What according to popular legend changed from red to black when one of the founders died, and what has Sir Charles Sykes got to do with what ‘flies’ just above it ?

4) If Mary Powell, Catherine Woodcock and Elizabeth Minshull met in the afterlife, what would have been there most likely topic of conversation ?

5) What connects a notorious 18th century pleasure gardens, the longest reigning Monarch in English history, an angry sovereign and a 14 year old Christian martyr ?

6) Who in 1966 hugged a high flying seagull, saying he embraced her as a daughter ?

7) What have Katchaturian and Charlotte Rhodes to do with a Thracian shepherd who died in 71 BC ?

8) When Ilex and Hedera reach maturity which one deserves the coronet ?

9) What was ironic about Mr. Robinson telling his son that the wireless of the ship they were aboard was a wonderful invention ?

10) Which diamond brought fame and wealth to the Sultan of Swat ?

Good stuff, eh ? Answers in a few days.

Quiz League of London Summer League

A few weeks ago I received an email from LAM regular reader William Barrett. William is a fine quizzer who has made a number of appearances on TV. He invited me to play in a Quiz League of London Summer League game if I was in London at all over the summer. What a nice chap ! As it happened I was due in London for a family do on Saturday 21st, so it was a no-brainer to stay on and play on Tuesday 24th. By virtue of my mum and stepdad living in Tottenham I don’t think we were stretching a point too much by shoehorning me into the North London team for the evening.

This was quite a momentous occasion for me. For one thing I have never played a quiz in my home town before, with the exception of appearances on a few TV quizzes made in TV Centre in White City, and a Mastermind competition when I was in school in Hanwell, Ealing. The venue for the quiz was the Old Star Inn just opposite St. James’ Park tube station, so we were comfortably within Central London. For another thing, this was a league quiz. If you’ve been a LAM regular for any great length of time you might recall me lamenting the demise of quiz leagues locally. As a digression I’d like to add that if any team from the Bridgend quiz league happen to be reading this, and are short of a player, I would most definitely be available, and would love to play.

Back to Tuesday evening. The quiz took the form of three matches, with three teams all playing each other during the evening. The format for each quiz was of 8 rounds of questions. In each round, each player in each team would be asked one question individually, with 2 points for a correct answer. If the player couldn’t answer, then it could go across to a team member, who could answer for one point. Incorrect answers would result in the question being passed over to the opposition for a bonus. Questions alternated between the teams. I apologise if I’ve got anything wrong in this.

I love league quizzing anyway, and although this was a format I’ve never played under before I found it really enjoyable. For one thing you need to be certain you know the answer before you volunteer to take one for the team. I loved the hand signals which were in common use as well – a closed fist meaning I’m certain – 4 fingers, pretty sure – 3 fingers, less sure and , well, I’m sure you get the drift. The three games were set by three different question masters, and it was interesting to see how different they were, even though each followed the same format. Another thing that struck me was the high quality of all the quizzers who played on the evening. A special thanks to William , Barry and Fred of the North London team, who made me feel really welcome, and didn’t make me feel less so when I cocked up my first question.

The results ? Well, that wasn't necessarily the most important thing about the evening, but I think I should record that East London carried all before them, beating us and South London, and that we managed to beat South London in our other match.

A massive thumbs up for a great evening. And yes please, I would love to play again next time I’m in London on the appropriate evening.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

TV Watch - University Challenge

University Challenge – 1st Round Match 8 – Downing Cambridge v. St. Edmund Hall, Oxford

Little stirs the blood and fires up the imagination like a first round Cambridge v. Oxford match, and this is exactly what we were served up tonight. Downing Cambridge was founded by George Downing, the same George Downing of Downing Street fame. Amongst the obligatory list of famous alumni were John Cleese and from the sublime to . . . Michael Winner. Representing Downing were Will WInzor, Gareth Haslam, Owen Carter, and captain Stefan Liberadzki.

St. Edmund Hall were addressed throughout the show as Teddy Hall by JP. “Teddy Teddy Teddy. “ – “Hall Hall Hall”. You’ll have to watch the show for an explanation of that one, although personally I doubt that it will ever replace “Oggy oggy oggy “. Famous alumni include Sir Robin Day, and Al “The Pub Landlord “ Murray. Tonight’s team were Rhian Price, Roland McFall, Daniel Wilson, and captain Gavin O’Leary.

For the first starter JP gave us a long list of quotations and observations all referring to the same person. The last one, the observation that he has all the best tunes, led Gareth Haslam to kick off the scoring for Downing, proving that it is definitely better the devil you know. A nice set of bonuses followed on royal Margarets, and Downing managed two of the three.

In the next starter, Owen Carter was unlucky to mix up investments with investiture. Teddy Hall were unable to capitalise, so our first missed starter of the day was an early one. The next question called for an American novelist who settled in Britain and became a british citizen the year before his death in 1916. Again, neither team could come up with the correct answer, Henry James. I was more impressed with Mr. Winzor of Downing who correctly answered the next starter, which referred to several constants, beginning with the Archimedes Constant. No, I don’t have a clue myself. This brought Downing 3 bonuses on Shakespeare’s sonnets. Oh well, its just the luck of the draw I suppose. If you knew sonnet 116 you were fine, but unfortunately Downing didn’t.

Following another missed starter we moved to The Controversial Incident Of The Evening. Asked something along the lines of which adjective refers to a vision of society such as “1984” or “Brave New World”, Gareth Haslam buzzed in with “Dystopia”, which was not allowed. This windfall was gladly accepted by Roland McFall, who offered “DystopiaN”. Jezza correctly pointed out that he asked for the adjective, dystopia being the noun. Still, maybe my memory is deceiving me on this one, but I’m sure there have been occasions when I’ve seen him accept answers like this. Strict letter of the question, though, JP was in the right. Mr. McFall continued the good work by identifying the full name of the KGB in Russian. This was proving to be a spirited fightback by Teddy Hall, although neither side had really got into their stride during the first ten minutes. At the end of this first period St. Edmund’s Hall led by 30 to 20.

First blood of the second period was taken by Will Winzor who identified kimono as a Japanese term meaning ‘the thing worn’. Gareth Haslam impressed with good work to earn 2 out of 3 difficult bonuses on microscopes. This put Downing back ahead. He capped this by buzzing early to take the next starter, answering a question referring to The Pirate Bay. I loved that this led to a question about The Black Arrow, written by RL Stevenson, who of course wrote Treasure Island. You see what the question setters did there ? ! Unfortunately Downing didn’t, and didn’t get any of the series of questions on arrows. Neither team managed to fluke an answer to a starter on liver flukes, but then Carter of Downing recognised that a question about a Norwegian dramatist was most likely to be about Henrik Ibsen.

This led us to the most brilliant set of bonuses of the night. Each question gave two terms of reference, lets say Stalin’s head of the KGB, and the west African country which has a capital city called Monrovia. Now to get from one – Beria , to the other – Liberia – you have to add letters. What is their value in roman numerals. That’s a brilliant question. It took Downing three goes to get the hang of it. They got that to turn Brie into Bridle you need to add 550 !
Teddy Hall’s captain Gavin O’Leary impressed me for more than just a rather eye catching Amish-style beard when he began the fightback buzzing in early to identify a term used by John Locke as tabula rasa. Good shout that. They had no joy on plant stems, but it didn’t daunt the skipper as he took the music starter, recognising the theme of the Pink Panther by Henry Mancini. A set of bonuses required the team to identify film themes, and give composer, and the director they are often associated with. Missing out on Elfman and Burton, Teddy Hall took 2.
Will Winzor took the next starter, which was enough to push Downing into a narrow lead of 70 to 60 at the 20 minute mark. With only a frenetic last period to go, neither team was close to a score which would give a fighting chance of a place in the repechage round, so it really was a case of for one team it would be winner takes all, and for the other, you leave with nothing.

Gavin O’Leary took the next starter, recognising John Cage from a list of his works. One bonus pushed them into a 5 point lead. On music, though, this Downing team were able to hit back immediately on a set of british album covers which had featured on postage stamps. They took the starter with Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head, and took the other three as well. Captain Liberadzki took the next starter for Downing, correctly identifying a definition as referring to the german term angst. A set of bonuses on Erasmus saw them add five points to their total. Neither team could identify a mnemonic as belonging to the set of cranial nerves. They missed the starter which referred to Whitworth, and the standardised thread for screws. I didn’t know that either, although my mum did. I loved the speculative answers for the African violet , but this was three unanswered starters in a row. Finally Owen Carter stopped the rot by correctly identifying the Andromeda Galaxy. One bonus on events of 1910 , and Downing were pulling into a winning lead. Roland McFall did his best to try to hall Teddy Hall back into contention, correctly answering that a tondo would be a circular piece of art, and the team managed to take 2 out of 3 bonuses on logarithms. The team were still 25 points behind though, and fell further back as Owen Carter identified Cassandra as the prophetess that Apollo cursed with always telling the truth and never being believed. Neither team recognised a definition of the word synagogue, but Owen Carter, who had really shown his mettle in the last few minutes, recognised a question referring to the term The Great American Novel. Only enough time remained for one bonus, and at the gong Downing had won by 160 to 95.

This was actually another absorbing contest between two teams who were, for most of the show, pretty well matched. JP told Downing that they will need to be quicker in the next round, and there’s some justice in that. However, the main thing is to qualify, and this is what they have managed to do. Hard lines, St. Edmund.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

JP began in splendid form , hailing the contestants as “two teams of infant phenomena “. Was it just me who was disappointed when he revealed he was actually paraphrasing Charles Dickens rather than just being sarky ? It was only the second starter which saw the teams offer TS Eliot and Mark Twain for Henry James. IT wasn’t so much what JP said “No, it was Henry JAMES !” or even the way he said it, although you didn’t have to read between the lines even to see what he thought about those answers. It was the look on his face. JP hates it when they get English Lit questions wrong.

On the set of bonuses where Teddy Hall were given the names of East European Secret Services in their own language, when given the full name of the Romanian Securitate, they offered East Germany. That earned a classic Paxman retort, “Does that LOOK German to you ? “ Well, obviously it did, or they wouldn’t have said it !

Interesting Fact Of The Week That I Didn’t Already Know

The Pirate Bay is the 91st most popular website in the world, and was at the centre of a legal case concerning illegal downloads.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Ring Rust

I suppose that you could say that this particular posting comes under the heading of displacement activity, that is, finding something, anything to do to avoid doing what you really should be doing at the time. Not that I would ever want you to think that posting on LAM is a chore. Come to think of it, what I should be doing – starting to compile the quiz for the rugby club for next Thursday night – isn’t a chore either. However I am currently in London, away from LAM mission control and my hundreds of quiz books and resources – honestly, its true, I really do have hundreds of quiz books and related resources – and so I’m umming and ahhing between making a start on researching the topical questions, or leaving it all for when I return in the middle of the week.

The rugby club quiz last Thursday was actually the first quiz I’d played in since before going to Spain. That made it a full fortnight between quizzes. Alright, I have gone for longer than that on occasions, but its not something I do if I can avoid it.

The question master for the evening was Clive. Clive is what I would call a good, safe pair of hands. When Clive does the quiz you can relax because you know that you’re not going to be asked too much beyond the sort of thing you’d normally expect in any pub quiz, but you’re going to get a couple of good’uns and headscratchers every other round. In short, a pretty good quiz to ease myself back in with. Clive very, very rarely ever uses any wrong’uns. However on Thursday night there was one question in the first round which made me rue forgetting the maxim – play the man and not the ball. The question went like this : -
“Who was the first person, to preside as Prime Minister, from the House of Lords ? “
Wow – thought I – difficult question that ! None of the team had a clue, but I knew for a fact that once upon a time I had actually asked a question in a quiz along the lines of if Robert Walpole was the first British PM, who was the second, and then given the teams a list of options to choose from. It came to me that the correct answer had been The Earl of Wilmington. Yes ! – I announced, the glint of victory in my eye – I know it ! , and we shoved the answer down on the paper.
Now, we had actually put down the correct answer to the question as asked. What we hadn’t done, though, was have the simple common sense to ask ourselves what Clive was doing asking such a difficult question. It just wasn’t the type of question that Clive would ask. Its not what I would call common quiz knowledge, and its not the sort of thing where you can pick the answer out of thin air through inspired guesswork. It never occurred to us to say that a far more likely question to ask would be – Who was the LAST person to preside as PM from the House of Lords ? All of which we realise when Clive gave his answer as Lord Salisbury ! I was too busy trying to be clever to put my question master’s hat on, and really think about what he was trying to ask us. OK, I’m not having a go at Clive. He takes more care over his quiz than many, and its more easy than you might think to write down – who was the first - when you mean – who was the last - or vice versa. I only make the point because it struck me at the time as maybe the equivalent of ring-rust on my part.

I’d like to share one last thing observation on the quiz if I may. There were two handouts, one of which was a set of 20 cryptic clues to the names of pop groups or artists. This one particularly tickled me –
Spanish heavyweight toilet - answer – Elton John.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Mastermind - Round 1 - Heat 1/24

I won’t lie to you. Watching the recent final of Champion of Champions had really whetted my appetite for this series. I’ve been very interested to see what effect , if any, the extra half minute of GK questions is going to have on the outcome of each show. Well, its early days to make hard and fast rulings on that, but one thing that has come about as a by product of this decision is that the filmed inserts, which replaced the inter round chats last year, have now gone. The result is a leaner, meaner , and even more compelling show.

The honour of kicking off the series fell to Lee Barnett. What a great subject he picked too. Lee was answering tonight on The Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister TV series. Widely acclaimed as one of the finest and cleverest sitcoms ever produced on British TV, the series provided a wonderful showcase for the talents of Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne, ably supported by Derek Fowlds. I loved the series, and so I was rather annoyed with myself that I didn’t manage to answer more questions correctly. I did know that Ronnie Haslehurst wrote the theme music, or rather I guessed, which first question was, I think, the only answer to evade Lee Barnett. By the end of the round though he had managed an extremely impressive 16 and 1 pass.

By way of contrast I knew absolutely nothing about Brian Daugherty’s specialist subject. He was answering on the Bernoullis. They were a Swiss family of mathematicians of originally Dutch extraction. When Mr. Daugherty answered each question there seemed to be a slight hesitation, and also doubt in his voice. This was all the more remarkable when you consider that he managed to serve up the first perfect round of this series, a magnificent 16 questions asked, and 16 questions answered correctly. Fantastic performance.

Andrew Teale then had to follow two very fine performances. Andrew is a well known quizzer, and a very fine one too, and so, given a good specialist round , he looked sure to be in the chase in the GK round. He was answering questions on The Lancashire Fusiliers, a regiment with a remarkable history. Andrew started brilliantly, his answers were sharp, clear, and above all else quick. With about 20 seconds left he was well in command. However a couple of nasty questions put the brakes on a little bit, and he levelled out at 13. Still a good score, and with 150 seconds on GK he was still well in contention.

This had been a high quality heat so far, but if James Collenette was daunted by the high scores posted by the other contenders he didn’t show it. James was answering on The History of Argentina since 1800, a subject which , on the surface at least, appeared to be prohibitively wide. He didn’t make quite so impressive a start as the previous contenders, but what he did well was to keep going, and keep picking off the answers steadily. IF you’ve done your homework a cool head can take you a long way in Mastermind, and it took him to a score of 13.

So it fell to Andrew to face the first 2 and a half minute GK round in regular Mastermind. Andrew maintained his composure and concentration, and picked off 14 answers by the end of the round, for a total of 27. In previous series this was often a winning score, but by the look on his face it became clear that Andrew didn’t feel that it would be enough in this series. James Collenette was the first to try to beat the score, and I have to say that he produced the most impressive GK round of the night. Using the same calm, measured approach he had used in the first round he picked off 16 correct answers to leapfrog Andrew and go into the lead.

Lee Barnett followed. He’d answered sharply and accurately in the first round, and I fancied he might do well. Instead he went some way towards answering the question – what will it be like in a two and a half minute round if a contender gets stuck in a pass spiral, or is really struggling ? The answer is that its agonising – you feel so sorry for the contender, you can see how much he or she is suffering, but at the same time you can’t drag your eyes away. Lee, who seemed to be struck dreadfully by nerves , fell into a pass spiral, and took his score up to 21.

Brian Daugherty then needed 13 and less than 2 passes to win outright. This, I reckon , would be equivalent to between 8 and 10 in a 2 minute round – achievable enough, but by no means a foregone conclusion. AT times he seemed to be inching towards the total, but he made it, and added a couple more to be on the safe side. So well done Mr. Daugherty. A good performance, and quite a scalp taken.
As for the show – well its early days yet, but this was a tense and exciting show, which made compelling viewing.

The Details
Lee Barnett Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister 16 – 1 5 – 6 21 – 7
Brian Daugherty The Bernoullis 16 – 0 15 – 2 31 – 2
Andrew Teale The Lancashire Fusiliers 13 – 1 14 – 3 27 – 4
James Collenette History of Argentina since 1800 13 – 1 16 – 1 29 – 2

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Answers to those Questions from The Almost Impossible Quiz Book

OK , as you can see, back from Spain – yes, a lovely time , thanks for asking – and so without further ado here are the answers to those ten questions from Irene Thomas’ The Almost Impossible Quiz Book : -

1) Who went off to France in a fury on 12th December 1936 ?
In 1936, the Duke of Windsor, previously King Edward VIII, departed the UK for France . He was on board HMS Fury.

2) When was Gruoch’s husband apparently menaced by trees ?
Gruoch was the real name of the wife of Macbeth. In Shakespeare’s play he is told that he will never be defeated until Great Birnham Wood comes up to his castle at Dunsinane. It is reported to him by a servant that this is indeed happening. Actually its only Malcolm’s army using camouflage.

3) How was a combination of a colour, a loaf, and an almanac connected with a niece of George IV ?
Tricky one. The neice of George IV was the daughter of his brother Edward Duke of Kent, Alexandrina Victoria – later Queen Victoria. Saxe is a light blue colour with a tinge of grey. Coburg is a type of loaf. The almanac de Gotha is the one which contained details of all eligible princesses in protestant northern Europe during the mid 19th century – a bit like a horse breeder’s catalogue really. When Victoria married Albert, she married into the family of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. ( She was already a member of the family through her mother, though. )

4) Where might you find an English soup of very little worth ?
In an Italian restaurant, zuppa inglesi – literally English soup – is the term used for trifle.

5) How are Peter, Owen, Billy and Albert related to a chimney sweep ?
Peter Grimes, Owen Wingrave, Billy Budd and Albert Herring were all composed by Benjamin Britten, as was The Little Sweep

6) How did Aristides Psairotis’ grove of olive trees become eternally English in 1915 ?
Mr. Psairotis owned the olive grove on Scyros where Rupert Brooke was buried. Brooke had written
“If I should die, think only this of me
There is some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. “

7) A pelican was admitted in 1812, a badger in 1848, and a beaver in 1859. To what ?
The pelican is the emblem of the US State ofLouisiana, admitted to the Union in 1812, the badger of Wisconsin, admitted in 1848, and the beaver Oregon – 1859.

8) Which men of straw gave their name to an Italian opera ?
I Pagliacci is correctly translated as The Clowns, but it can also mean mattresses stuffed with straw.

9) Whose arms have three legs ?
Obvious really. It’s the Isle of Man. However give yourself a bonus mark if you also said Sicily , since amazingly the emblem of Sicily also has 3 legs !

10) The one in Messina is a storm in a teacup, while the one in Vienna promises like for like. What are they ?
Yes, its Shakespeare. Much Ado About Nothing is set in Messina while Measure for Measure is set in Vienna.

Alright, you maybe wouldn’t want to be asked something like these in a quickfire round, but just look at the satisfaction you get out of unravelling a question like these.

TV Watch - University Challenge

University Challenge - First Round Match 7 - Christ's Cambridge v. Liverpool University

Let me begin with an apology to the teams from Newnham Cambridge and Southampton, who contested last week’s show. I was unable to review it since I was in Spain. Anyone who would like to read a review of the show can find a very good one in Weaver’s Week – just click on the link.

Weaver's Week

So to business. Last night’s show pitted Christ’s Cambridge against Liverpool. Christ’s, originally set up in the 15th century for the training of Grammar school teachers according to JP, were represented by Charles Darwin, Earl Mountbatten, Sacha Baron Cohen and John Milton– oh no, sorry, these were some of the famous alumni. The current Christ’s team were Jack Belloli, Joe Walmswell, and Alexander Greaves, all from Greater London, and captain Natasha Simonova, most definitely not a Londoner, originally from Moscow. As for Liverpool University, it originated with just 45 students, although now numbers more than 20,000. Representing Liverpool tonight were Carol Anne Duffy, Stella Rimmington, Patricia Routledge – sorry, I’ve done it again. The real Liverpool team are Andrew Dobrzanski, Daniel Jamieson, Dave Macleod and captain Chris Murphy.

On with the show. Captain Simonova of Christ’s showed that she meant business with an early buzz for the first starter. As soon as JP mentioned “Stendahl” she confidently answered “The Red and The Black “. Lovely to see a question follow in the first set of bonuses about William Shockley – I was asked something similar in my first GK round in the 2007 Mastermind SOBM. Neither team fancied lutra lutra – it’s the latin term for the otter. The next starter was one of those North American sports teams questions. The Toronto Maple leafs and the Edmonton Oilers will have given it to quite a few of those watching at home, but both teams showed admirable nerve in waiting for JP to say “ in which WINTER sport ? “ Quickest on the buzzer was Mr. Greaves of Christ’s. Only on UC could you get a bonus round on fictional pigs – very pleased with myself for remembering that the pig in Dr. Doolittle was Gub Gub, and that the Empress of Blandings was a Berkshire. Oh well, little things please little minds , they do say.

A good interruption from Chris Murphy, identifying the word dolly from several definitions brought Liverpool their first points. A set of bonuses on Savonarola, and Liverpool themselves were on a roll-a , picking up 2 bonuses. Natasha Simonova picked up her second starter by identifying an invented writing system from The Lord of The Rings.Christ’s took a full set of bonuses on these. I recognised Klingon, and guessed the first set was from StarWars, but missed the quasi-heiroglyphs from Stargate. Christ’s didn’t, though, getting their first full set of the contest. Liverpool were straight back in with the next starter. JP described a route taken by an academic between certain European cities, and Andrew Dobrzanski buzzed in impressively quickly having worked out the route was equivalent to a letter N. I would have got there in the end, but nowhere near as quickly as that. A set of bonuses followed on biological pigments, and again, Liverpool got 2 out of 3 of them.

So at the 10 minute mark Christ’s led by 60 to 40. On paper there was hardly anything in it. There were signs, though, that Christ’s might have an advantage in terms of buzzer reaction speed. Joe Walmswell was very quickly in with the name of the body that makes up over 90% of the mass of our solar system – the Sun. A good set of bonuses on the Kochel system – by which the works of Mozart are catalogued – followed, and Christ’s impressively answered each of them with barely a hesitation. Signs perhaps that they were smoothly moving through the gears. Captain Simonova took the next starter, and three bonuses on the events leading up to the start of the English Civil War were all gratefully taken. Christ’s now were through the 100 points barrier, and hurtling towards 200, as Miss Simonova interrupted correctly , identifying a Walter Pater quote as referring to the Mona Lisa. This impressed JP , who suddenly didn’t seem quite so inclined to pick holes in her pronunciation. He was even more impressed when in one of their bonuses the team actually gave more than he wanted about the current name of a nuclear accelerator facility in Tennessee – “That is absolutely correct – “ Well, don’t sound so surprised ! Joe Walmswell followed his captain’s lead by taking the next starter, identifying the word terminator from a series of definitions. Two correct bonuses from a set of three meant that Christ’s had now scored 90 unanswered points.

Neither team managed to identify song and singer in the music starter. Chris Murphy knew it was Bob Dylan, and did exactly the right thing in having a punt on The Times They Are A Changing. Not right , unfortunately. Mind you, Christ’s didn’t recognise “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall “. Neither team identified the peyote as being of the cactus family, but Dave Macleod of Liverpool made no mistake answering that Hilary Mantell was the author of , amongst others, Wolf Hall. Liverpool were given three cover versions of the Dylan song to identify. Sadly they didn’t manage any of the bonuses. Then we were back to business as usual as Natasha Simonova continued her fine buzzer form correctly identifying a European aristocrat as the current leading member of the Royal Stuart family. Just as impressive as Christ’s buzzing was their conversion rate of bonuses into points. It didn’t seem to matter a great deal whatever subjects were asked, they always seemed to answer at least 2, and often all three of each.

Neither team identified Owen as the poet behind a quotation, although Liverpool came close with Sassoon. Christ’s took the next , with Mr. Walmswell identifying the Bay of Bengal. A set of acronyms on astronomical acronyms followed. JP seemed to become more impressed with Natasha Simonova as the game went on. She correctly buzzed in on a picture starter, identifying the year in which three photographs were taken as 1960. It IS 1960 ! our Jeremy bellowed. For once they dropped 2 bonuses, only correctly identifying the last one that showed the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing .

We were well past the 20 minute mark by now, and poor Liverpool, who had been subdued not by any great failing of their own, but by Christ’s heavy artillery on the buzzer, were only 5 points more to the good. The match was essentially over, and it would take an exceptional last few minutes to put them in reach of the repechage. Christ’s , though, having passed though 200 seemed to have their eye on the 300 barrier, as they answered the next starter by identifying the subtitle of Darwin’s “On The Origin of Species “. Well, since Darwin was the captain of Christ’s 1828 University Challenge semi finalists I should jolly well think so ! Actually at this point the foot seemed to be coming off the gas pedal a little with regards to the bonuses, since they didn’t get one of them. Alexander Greaves made up for it by taking the next starter, and earning a set of bonuses on castles and palaces in Germany. Normal service was resumed with Christ’s taking 3 out of 3.

At this late stage Natasha Simonova for once did actually get a starter wrong. In a very nice literary starter, the teams were asked “Claudius in Shakeseare’s Hamlet, and Edward Murdstone in Dickens’ David Copperfield, stood in which relation to the title character ? “ Christ’s skipper buzzed in with “Uncle “. Ah, there’s the rub. Claudius was Hamlet’s uncle, but nasty old Murdstone wasn’t David’s. They were both stepfathers. It didn’t put her off her step one little bit. She correctly took the next starter identifying that wikipedia has the word ‘search’ in 6 different languages on its homepage. The game was almost over, but I was pleased to see Daniel Jamieson of Liverpool correctly buzz in to identify a Churchill quote as referring to appeasers. Its too my shame that in their set of bonuses I didn’t know that Bruce Robinson made the film “Withnail and I “. One bonus took their score to 60.

A great UC starter followed. “Which form of precipitation occurs through the concatenation of the symbols for tin oxygen and tungsten ? “ Yeah, given enough time we could see that it would be snow – sn – tin – o – oxygen and w – tungsten. But we wouldn’t , most of us, have got it as quickly as Joe Walmswell. I did actually know the three bonuses on lanthanoids – thanks sporcle ! Christ’s were at 280 when Alexander Greaves buzzed in to correctly spell Connecticut. How much time remained ? Not enough to get them quite to 300. Not enough for any bonuses at all. The final result was a win for Christ’s by 290 to 60. No harsh words for Liverpool from JP , who merely said that the questions didn’t fall well for them. I’d say it possibly had more to do with the fact that Christ’s were so good on the buzzer. Very hard luck that. Its early days in the competition, but you have to say that this Christ’s team look very impressive. Joe Walmswell and especially captain Natasha Simonova have set themselves quite a standard to live up to in the next round. A team to watch, I think.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Not a lot to report this week. Indeed, I'm really sorry that I missed last week when Newnham were on. Last year JP seemed particularly smitten with the Newnham team as I recall. Still, I digress.
When asked to name two of the 5 members whose arrest Charles Ist sought, captain Simonova tried to offer Pym and Hampden. “Who ? !” sniffed our Jeremy, seizing the opportunity to highlight a slight mispronunciation . “ Pym and Hamp – TON ? Well, I think I’ll accept it , I think it was just a misunderstanding between the two of you. “

On the Bob Dylan covers, JP seemed rather upset that Liverpool didn’t recognise the Bryan Ferry version, saying “Amazing – how quickly these people fade !” JP a secret Roxy Music fan ? Who would have ever thought it ?

Interesting Fact That I Did Not Already Know Of The Week

Liverpool University is actually the one where the term ‘red brick university ‘ comes from.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Mastermind New Series

Yes, even in the sun drenched province of Valencia, vigilant Dave is ever alert to news of our favourite quizzes. This is very good news. The new series of Mastermind begins, unless I'm much mistaken, next week, on Friday for most regions, although as per usual God alone knows when BBC Wales will get around to showing it.

You know what I'm going to say, I'm sure. Every series of Mastermind has special interest for me. However this one even more than most, if such a thing were possible. For one thing I know just a few of the excellent quizzers who are taking part in this series, and that always adds a little something extra for me. Still, even if that were not the case we have the intriguing possibilities offered by the change in format for this season. Basically its what we saw in the Grand Final of Champion of Champions a couple of weeks ago - the normal two minutes of specialist questions, followed by a bumper two and a half minutes of general knowledge questions.

I won't lie to you, I have no special insight into why the changes have been made to the format. As you can understand Jon the Producer was exceptionally busy - well all the team were - when I saw him during the champ of champs series, so I didn't really get to discuss it with anyone. Perhaps the thinking behind it is that for many viewers the big thing is to answer along at home with the GK questions to see how many you can answer - I know that it always was with me. More GK questions, therefore, would mean more enjoyment for the viewer. Well, time will tell. It certainly produced a wonderful final of champ of champs. Its something I feel I'll be better able to comment on once we've seen it action a few more times.

Looking forward to it immensely.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Life without Quizzes

Sorry if you've been missing the reviews, and the usual vague ramblings about quiz life in general. I've been in Spain since Sunday, but only 8 days this time as opposed to the 4 weeks I spent last year, so normal service will be resumed on, or soon after Tuesday.

Last year it took me about three weeks, but I did eventually find a local quiz. I hated it. Actually let me qualify this comment. Obviously I'm exaggerating for effect, since almost any quiz is better than no quiz at all, but I didn't really enjoy it very much, mainly due to the fact that over half of it was made up of Family Fortunes type guessing questions. So I was dithering over whether I really wanted to go back to it this year. Well, that dilemma was soon settled. The bar where it took place is a victim of the credit crunch, so it seems, and has closed its doors in the 12 months that have passed since I was last here.

Now my mother in law and Mary's step dad do have British telly - but its really temperamental and there's only so much that you can get on it. Add to that the fact that the cardinal rule in pretty much every house I've ever lived in, and every home I've ever lodged is that she or he who controls the remote control decides on the evening's viewing, then I haven't seen any quizzes on TV either. They can't get BBC2 ! Can you imagine it ? A week without University Challenge ! Its not even as if the iplayer is available outside the UK either.

So, a week without quizzing, then. Even at Christmas, when there's no quizzes on in the pubs and clubs locally you can usually find some on the telly, even if its only celebrity versions of various shows. I'm well over the worst of it now. Only another three days, and I'll be back at my own laptop, and able to take my pick of the local quizzes should I so choose. You probably know me well enough to know that I will definitely so choose. But they do say that we should be able to draw something positive from even the most negative of experiences. So what have I learned from my week's enforced lay off ? Actually, not a lot. I already knew that I CAN live without quizzing - but I don't want to.

Come to think of it, there's not a lot more to add to that, really. Before I get accused of being an ungrateful so and so, I should probably stress that I've had a lovely week in all other respects. But come on - a week without quizzes ! See you on Tuesday.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Another terrific old Quiz Book

Last week I got into a conversation about quiz books with a quizzing friend of mine. He’s a much younger guy than I am, although a brilliant quizzer in his own right, but he loves quiz books, and old quiz books as much as I do, and we were swapping notes about our favourites, best buys from boot sales , charity shops and the likes, and so on.

Fast forward to Thursday. I’ve mentioned my friend John before. A great quizzer, and great company, and we’ve been haunting some of the best pub quizzes between Swansea and Bridgend together for many years now. John is in the throes of redecorating, and he has made a serious, dare I say it, almost life changing decision. He is cutting down on his collection of quiz books.
“Surely it hasn’t come to this, John ? “ I asked, trying, Samaritan-like, to talk him out of this tragic resolution. Yet nothing would move him. If he hadn’t looked at a quiz book for five years, he decided, then it had to go. Which is where I really come into the story. John offered me the pick of any of them I wanted. Now, my conscience was fairly clear, since I had at least tried to talk him out of it.

After dropping my middle daughter Zara off at work in Cardiff I made my way round to John’s, and I will admit that I was rather excited about it. John has been collecting quiz books for much longer than I have, well over 30 years. Still, what I saw when he led me into the room where he had placed all the books that had to go it exceeded all my expectations. There were literally hundreds. I mean, I currently have between 2 and 3 hundred quiz books, but the ones he was chucking out dwarfed my whole collection. Even after I discounted those he was offering which I already own, the array was still highly impressive, and it took me the best part of a couple of hours to go through them. Part of the problem was that we kept stopping, and discussing the relative merits of various books and formats. Together we came up with a couple of rules of thumb regarding quizbooks – namely : -
Anything that calls itself The Best – The Biggest – The Ultimate – isn’t.
Anything that has a pint of beer on the front cover will have contents that are as unoriginal and lacking in imagination as the cover.
More expensive does not always mean better.
Cheaper often means worse.
Still, enjoyable as the discussion was, it wasn’t helping us sort through the books, and so we cracked on, and I took about 40 all told.

There were a couple of books that John was extremely keen for me to take with me. One of them is what I really wanted to tell you about today. I had never come across
“The Almost Impossible Quiz Book” by Irene Thomas before. If you’re too young to remember Irene Thomas , she was the first lady winner of Brain Of Britain, and a regular for many years on the Round Britain Quiz. You could say that she was a famous quizzer before there were any famous quizzers. So her quiz credentials are impeccable. Published by penguin in 1982, this book follows pretty much the same tack as Round Britain Quiz. If you’re not an aficionado of the series, basically regional teams of the great and the good are asked to unravel seemingly cryptic questions. Here’s a selection from the first few pages of the book : -

1) Who went off to France in a fury on 12th December 1936 ?
2) When was Gruoch’s husband apparently menaced by trees ?
3) How was a combination of a colour, a loaf, and an almanac connected with a niece of George IV ?
4) Where might you find an English soup of very little worth ?
5) How are Peter, Owen, Billy and Albert related to a chimney sweep ?
6) How did Aristides Psairotis’ grove of olive trees become eternally English in 1915 ?
7) A pelican was admitted in 1812, a badger in 1848, and a beaver in 1859. To what ?
8) Which men of straw gave their name to an Italian opera ?
9) Whose arms have three legs ?
10) The one in Messina is a storm in a teacup, while the one in Vienna promises like for like. What are they ?

Great questions, of the – Ah , I get it - variety when you know the answer. Like many of my favourite quiz books, something I could only use VERY sparingly for a pub quiz, but blimey, doesn’t it just beat asking people the more common name of Gravelly Hill Interchange into a cocked hat ! I’ll give you a few days to work on the answers – and if I can’t get to a PC while I’m in Spain, then I promise I’ll post the answers when I come back. Adios amigos.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Mastermind Champion of Champions Grand Final

The first part of this post is taken from my journal of my involvement with Champion of Champions : -

I was pleasantly surprised that the school allowed me to leave at 12:30 today. Call time wasn’t until 6:15, so I wasn’t too worried about making it on time, so long as we didn’t get caught up in a huge tailback where the M5 joins the M6. This had happened in 2007 when I was driving up for my semi. Then, thankfully, I was staying overnight in Manchester before the show, so that didn’t matter. Navigator for the day was my daughter Jenniffer. I’ll be honest, since I’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, and understand what its all about I have actually found that I’m better on long journeys, and don’t experience the drowsiness I sometimes used to get. But at the moment I just don’t feel confident with it, and so I like to have someone accompany me on a long drive. We arrived in Manchester in plenty of time to go to Asda and stock up on supplies and cheap petrol for the return journey before reporting to the studios.

All 4 contestants, Pat, Jesse, Gavin and David were there already. It was lovely to catch up with all of them, but we didn’t have a great amount of time to talk, as the team wanted to brief them all for the show. With the best will in the world, the best thing you can do as stand – in is to keep out of the way and enjoy the show. Which I am glad to say I did.

The Magnificent 4 – plus 1. Left to right – Me, Pat Gibson, David Edwards, Jesse Honey, Gavin Fuller

We were a little late going into the studio. The Champion of Champions show was being recorded at the end of a day of recordings of regular Mastermind. As it happened a friend was in the last heat of the day to be recorded before the final. She explained that during the recording there had been such a colossal downpour that the studio had flooded ! I kid you not ! Still, once we actually got into the studio and the recording started it went as smoothly as I can ever remember any of the shows I’ve been in. There were a couple of retakes of John Humphrys presenting the trophy, but that honestly was it.

Speaking of the trophy, I was delighted to see that this too was a Caithness glass bowl, although I was peeved to hear John Humphrys describe it as a ‘modest’ bowl. You only say that because you haven’t got one, John !

First into the chair was Gavin Fuller. Gavin, looking extremely elegant in tuxedo and bow tie, was answering on HMS Warrior. For those who don’t know, HMS Warrior was the world’s first iron clad warship, and a ship in many ways ahead of its time. Gavin proved to be right on time with his answers, setting a massive 17 as the standard to beat. Only one question prevented it from being the perfect round.

Pat followed, this time offering us Great Mathematicians, which was certainly a huge contrast to his first round topic of the Disney/Pixar films. Maybe Pat was not as sartorially refined tonight as Gavin, but there was a reason. Pat confided to me that he’d somewhat overheated in our show, and was running no risk of that happening tonight. Pat’s lovely wife confided to me before the start of the show that the Great Mathematicians had turned out to be a truly massive subject. Well, massive or not, Pat never has a bad round in any quiz, and he didn’t have a bad one in this show. His 16 and no passes put him just one point behind, with General Knowledge still to come.

So our first Magnus and Humphrys champions had laid down the gauntlet, and the second Magnus champion picked it up. In a way its ironic that David Edwards followed Pat into the chair. The last time we saw these two sharing a studio they were duking it out in the final of last year’s Are You An Egghead. David too looked very smart in a grey suit, as he announced that his specialist subject was Count Rumford. You could have easily forgiven him if he’d been daunted having to follow two rounds of the caliber of Gavin’s and Pat’s, but David is made of the right stuff, and he too made a complex subject look easy, whacking in another tremendous score of 16.

Finally we had Jesse Honey. There were many beautifully symmetrical things about this final, and to these you could add the fact that two contenders had opted for more formal attire, and two went a little more casual. Jesse this time opted for open necked shirt but no tie. That completes the comments from our fashion department. Following Jesse’s breath taking record breaking specialist round in the heats, to say there was an air of expectancy as he made his way to the chair would be a bit of an understatement. In the heat Jesse had answered on international flags. Now Jesse was answering on Westminster Cathedral. That’s the Roman Catholic Cathedral, and not the more famous Westminster Abbey. In the 2010 regular series Grand Final Jesse scored 18 on Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. He came close to equaling that, but leveled out at 17 and 1 pass. We’ll come back to that.

During the interval John Humphrys paid tribute to a first round the like of which we’ve certainly not seen during his own tenure, and possibly never before either. The aggregate score of 66 would take some beating. Just as importantly, only one point separated the 4 champions. It literally was anybody’s game, and that’s the way it should be.

Pat returned to the chair first. Now, unlike the heats, in the final we were playing by the new rules, which give contenders 2 and a half minutes on General Knowledge. With great concentration, Pat went on to demolish his set of GK questions, scoring a massively impressive 20, to set the bar at 36 and no passes. It was a stunning round, with questions coming from all angles, and Pat just sending them straight back where they came from. Stunning to watch. Beat that. Well , with three of the contenders on no passes going into the round, a tie break was certainly not out of the question.

Well, they all tried. David returned to the chair, and I’m not sure that there was a huge amount of sympathy in John Humphhrys’ comment – yes, you may very well wince ! David didn’t make his own job any easier by missing the first question, but he got into a hell of a good run after that. He got slightly bogged down in the mid 20s, but then picked up speed again with a tremendous run towards the end of the round. By the time the buzzer went he had added a symmetrical 16 to take his score to 32.

Gavin next returned to the chair. If he could equal Pat’s 20, then he would go into outright lead. If he scored 19, then he and Pat would be tied, with only Jesse to go. Even in a 2 and a half minute round 19 is a fearsome target to have to contemplate.Gavin was going great guns until the score reached 25, then a couple of passes pulled him up slightly in his tracks. He rallied on what I felt was the set of GK questions I would least like to have been given myself, to add 15 to his score.

So it all rested with Jesse. I know that many people have seen this final as a shootout between Pat and Jesse. This is very unfair to both David and Gavin, either of whom might have won the series and become a worthy champion of champions. Still, only Jesse stood between Pat and the title now. Jesse too needed 20 points for an outright win. Lets come back to that pass. Jesse was in exactly the same position I had been in in the heat. I had outscored Pat by one point on specialist. However I had accrued a pass in doing so. That meant I had to equal Pat’s GK score. So it was for Jesse. He had to equal Pat’s GK score - 19 would mean a pass countback – and we already knew that Pat had none. 150 seconds later we knew. Jesse produced yet another amazing, stupendous, barnstorming GK round, almost, but not quite as good as Pat’s. He scored 19, and as he already had a pass going into the last round, that meant that there was only one winner, the great Pat Gibson.

On a personal note, I would have loved to have played in the final as well, but it was a privilege to be able to watch it live with the audience. I spoke to Jon Kelly, the producer, after the show, and he said how proud he is of this show, being the most remarkable Mastermind show he has ever been associated with. You won’t catch me disagreeing with that, Jon. Loved playing in the series, loved watching the series.

The Details

Gavin Fuller HMS Warrior 17 – 015 – 2 32 – 2
Pat GibsonGreat Mathematicians 16 – 0 20 – 0 36 - 0
David Edwards Count Rumford16 – 0 16 – 0 32 - 0
Jesse Honey Westminster Cathedral 17 – 1 19 – 1 36 – 2

Mastermind Champion of Champions Grand Final Preview

Mastermind Champion of Champions – Grand Final Preview

Well this feels rather odd, writing a preview to an event for which I was actually in the audience. So I will not make any predictions, merely run an eye over performances in the heat, and say a little bit about the final subjects all four of our surviving champs have chosen.

First into the chair tonight will be 1993 champion Gavin Fuller. Gavin won heat 2, knocking out Elizabeth Horrocks, Shaun Wallace, and Chris Hughes, when he answered questions on Mike Oldfield. Gavin had the second highest specialist round of all the heats, when he scored a perfect 19. Certainly on the day, and speaking to people since, its generally reckoned that the GK rounds in heat 2 were tougher than the GK rounds in any of the other heats. Tonight Gavin will be answering on HMS Warrior.

Second to go will be 2005 champion Pat Gibson. Pat won heat 4, knocking out Patricia Owen, Leslie Grout, and me, when he answered questions on Pixar Animated films. Pat’s combined total of 30 and no passes was the second highest of the first round heats ( which incidentally made my score of 30 and 4 passes the third highest – look, come on, you don’t know me very well if you thought I wasn’t going to mention that one ! ) Pat carries a heavy burden of expectation into the final, having been one of the pre tournament favourites to win the title. Tonight Pat will be answering on Great Mathematicians – a frighteningly wide subject.

Going third will be 1990 champion David Edwards. David won heat 3, knocking out Richard Sturch, Andy Page and Nancy Dickmann. In the heat David answered questions on possibly my favourite specialist subject of the whole series, not including my own, in the shape of The Mystery of Rennes le Chateau. Tonight he will answer on Count Rumford. No, I didn’t know either. Count Rumford was an 18th / 19th century Anglo American physicist.

Last but not least, Jesse Honey. Jesse carried all before him in heat 1, setting a new all time record for a single 2 minute round with 23 on National Flags. As if that wasn’t enough he went on to beat his own record for a Humphrys era 4 minute total with 38, knocking out Jeremy Bradbrooke, Geoff Thomas and Stephen Allan in the process. When you add this to Jesse’s superlative performances in the semi and final earlier this year , you can see quite rightly that he goes into the final with a huge burden of expectation on his shoulders. Tonight Jesse answers questions on Westminster Cathedral – that’s the Roman Catholic Cathedral and not the Abbey.

Who will win ? I’m not going to tell you ! But I will tell you this, it is an absolutely wonderful show, which you really do not want to miss.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Mastermind Champion of Champions - Heat 4

Well, you’ve seen the show for yourselves now. What follows is taken from the journal of my involvement in the series. It was all written pretty much as soon as I returned home from Manchester, although I did use the broadcast of the show tonight to check on the exact scores, and did check on the net to find out what Pat, Leslie and Patricia’s subjects were in their championship years. So here it is : -

What a day ! Experience from 2007 told me that I’m actually much happier driving to Manchester and back in the day, so that’s what we did. No hold ups on the road, and we were comfortably there by our allotted arrival time of 1:30. Not that there would have been any huge problem if we’d been later, since we weren’t due to film before 5:30, and we weren’t due to move from the green room for at least 2 hours.

The Granada studios car park, with me trying but failing to point at the Beetham Tower, the tallest building in the UK outside of London.

My daughter Zara was my guest for the day. Unfortunately my son Michael had to work on the day, so I was really glad to have Zara with me. However she wasn’t quite so pleased when she realized that she would have to fulfill two roles on the day – testing me on my specialist subject in the car, and then being my official photographer when we got to the green room.

When we arrived at reception, who should arrive behind me but Pat Gibson and his lovely wife. No problem with that, since Pat is the nicest quizzer you could ever hope to meet, and damn good company to boot. However, the rumour I’d heard was that neither Pat nor Kevin Ashman was taking part in the series. When Pat confirmed that he was in the last heat of the day it was like being told - You’re going to be executed, but I’ll give you the choice of whether you want to be shot or hanged - Oh well, I reminded myself that my absolute priority wasn’t to win, only to have a lot of fun.

We were escorted up to the Green Room, and the first person I saw as we walked in was Jesse Honey. Jesse Honey won the current series of Mastermind – only the fact was that the Grand Final wasn’t due to be shown on telly until the next day ! Mind you, a friend of mine who knows these things dropped a VERY heavy hint to me 6 months ago that Jesse was the latest champion, so it didn’t take a genius to figure it out. Jesse, and indeed all of the other 15 champions taking part in the shows were all lovely, and all of them agreed to pose with me for a photograph. The only ones I didn’t get were my friends David Edwards and Andy Page, and that’s only because the only time that I saw them during the whole day was in passing in a corridor.

So, on and off I spent parts of the next hour or so working the room, and getting photographs taken. For me meeting other champions was a big thrill. If there is such a thing as a Mastermind groupie, then I won’t lie to you, I’m it. Before the show I’d already met a few of the champs –
Kevin Ashman
Chris Hughes
David Edwards
Geoff Thomas
and although I hadn’t met them in person I’d also become acquainted with some others through the internet : -
Andy Page
Nancy Dickmann
Jesse Honey
So in one day , I got to take my total of other champs I’ve met up from 4 to 16. Of course there were some disappointments. Not in any of the champs I met. Some of them I didn’t exchange more than a few words with, but they all seemed like thoroughly delightful, modest , warm and friendly people. However it would have been lovely to have met some of the other champs who weren’t there. I’ve never met Fred Housego, for instance, and I’d love to do that, if only to tell him how much his 1980 triumph meant in the Clark household. Its not just Fred, though. I’d love to meet all of them. I know that I can’t, for instance I’m fairly certain that Nancy Wilkinson and Sir David Hunt have both passed away. Still, lets not be greedy.

Within an hour or so I had learned who was going to provide the opposition in the last show. Pat I already knew would be favourite for my show. With the two of us, though, would be Patricia Owen, the 1973 champion, and Leslie Grout, the 1981 champion. What lovely people. One of my party pieces I used as an opening conversational gambit a lot when first introducing myself to other champs during the day was to say the year they were champion, and if possible what their specialist subjects were. I think they must all have felt me a bit odd for doing so. Patricia was the most senior champion, having won the second series in 1973. It might be 38 years since she won her series, but all day I found her to be as sharp as a tack. She endeared herself to me when we played a little game. The research assistant left her run down of which contender in which heat was taking which subject lying around, and so I circulated it, and asked the others to pick one subject to answer, other than their own, which they would have to answer cold, with no study. Patricia announced she’d pick mine , the Bayeux Tapestry. When Patricia won in 1973 her subjects were Byzantine Art for the first round and final, and Grand Opera for the semi final. Yes, didn’t they have wide subjects in those early days ! For the show she opted to take a brand new subject in the shape of Benjamin Britten.

Leslie, like me, was a teacher when he became champion in 1981. He is from Windsor , which isn’t so very far away from my hometown of Ealing, and I was interested to see him reverting to one of his old subjects, The Burial Grounds of London. Leslie took this as his semi final subject, and St. George’s Chapel Windsor in the first round and the final. Leslie has a lively wit, and it was very interesting talking to both him and Patricia on the differences between the Magnus era, and our own.

Eventually we were called to wardrobe, made up, and asked to change into Outfit Number One for the filmed insert. While Pat and I were waiting alone to be filmed I had a very interesting chat with him about Eggheads, filming, and the differences between TV and radio. When Pat won the series in 2005, his specialist subjects were the films of Quentin Tarantino, the Culture Novels of Iain M. Banks, and Father Ted. For the show Pat was taking the Pixar animated films.

With regards to my specialist subject I really felt that I should take something new. In 2006 I took the Modern Summer Olympic Games , and then in 2007 I took Henry Ford, the Prince Regent, and the History of London Bridge in the final. It’s a matter of some pride to me that I always performed pretty well in this diverse set of subjects, and to be honest I thought I’d get more out of myself if I had to learn a brand new subject, rather then going back over ground I’d already trodden before. I first saw the Bayeux Tapestry when accompanying a party of children from the school on a trip to Normandy back in the mid 90s, and I was absolutely bowled over by it. Then a couple of years ago I read both Andrew Bridgeford’s and Carola Hicks’ superb books on the subjects, and I always thought that if the opportunity to take another specialist subject ever presented itself, that would be the one.

I went first to film my insert, and I don’t really remember what I said. What did strike me was that it was actually surprisingly difficult to obey two simple instructions. Lizzie Foster, who was conducting the interview, asked me to remember to pause before answering, and then to try to work the question into the answer, so that it looked more like stream of consciousness narrative than a response to a question. Well, that was over, and it looked as if the time for the show was drawing ever closer.

We were taken into the studio at last. Patricia was unable to walk very much, and so the studios kindly provided her with a wheelchair. Granted, the tyres were flat, but it was the thought that counts, I suppose. At last we were wired up, then asked to do a short piece to camera for the website just before we went on. The order for the show was me, then Patricia, then Leslie, then Pat. This was shades of 2007, where I was first to go in my first round show. Was that an omen ?

Lets pause for a minute. Suppose I could have had a wish list for the show, what would have been on it ? Well, firstly that I would win. That was dependent on how well my fellow contenders did, so there was nothing I could do about that. Number two would have been for me to break my highest total score of 30. Number three on the list would have been to set a really good specialist score. You see, I’d never yet produced an outstanding score on specialist. Oh, in 4 previous rounds I’d scored 14, 14, 15 and 15, so I’d always managed a good score. But these are just good. Deep down, I wanted great. So, called to the chair, and away we go. Technically my round wasn’t as good as my 2007 semi final round, where I had no passes, and only 1 wrong to score 15. But I got in the zone early. If anything, I was going too fast, for when I came up against one question I knew the answer to, when it didn’t pop into my head at once I passed needlessly. Still, it was a real Devil’s Gallop of a round, and I was so much in the zone I was flabbergasted when John said that I’d scored 17. The only problem was that I’d broken my cardinal rule about never passing . It happened like this. I was asked an innocuous question – in the border underneath the Lady Aelfgyfa what is depicted ? What happened next was like driving fast , and seeing a problem develop immediately ahead of you. You put your foot down to get you out of trouble, and nothing happens, there is no gas there at all. I was answering faster than I’d ever managed before, and suddenly the answer, which I should have known – which I DID know – did not pop into my head on order. I panicked and passed straightaway. Still, even allowing for the pass, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t return to my seat with a huge sense of pleasure and relief.

You see, even though none of us have anything to prove, the fact is that you do not want to be shown up. Going in for this tournament has been a sheer joy, but it does mean that there are the odd occasional moments when the Doubt Demon pops up on your shoulder and starts whispering,
“ You’re going to get found out. People are going to see that your win was just a fluke. You’re going to be exposed.”
Alright, I admit that I didn’t have many of these moments, but I had a couple. Now, with 17 points safely in the bank, even my worst ever GK score of 10 would bring me a total of 27, which would be perfectly respectable. Whatever happened now, I had scored my highest ever on Specialist. Mind you, with the work I’d done on the subject I damn well should have done, but it doesn’t necessarily work that way.

Leslie helped Patricia into the chair, and she began her round on Benjamin Britten. 11 is a perfectly respectable score, and I honestly don’t think she minded whatever happened. I think she was strictly in it for the fun of it, and quite right too. She never seemed he slightest bit nervous, and never lost her good humour throughout the whole day. So whatever else happened I wouldn’t be the first to go in the GK round.

Leslie was taking the Burial Grounds of London as his specialist. This had been his second subject in 1981, before he returned to St. George’s Chapel Windsor for his final. He still knew his subject very well, scoring 15. Before today I’d never scored better than that myself. Still, it meant that I would be one of the last two to go in the GK round. However, one of the most formidable champions in the whole series was yet to come. Pat was answering on the Pixar animated films. I had a chat about this with Pat, and believe me this is not some subject he just plucked out of thin air. Pat loves these films, and is deeply, deeply knowledgeable about them. To the extent of watching parts of them frame by frame to verify facts. Pat produced a fine round, but even so I was surprised that he scored 16, and left me in the lead at the halfway stage. Being a great competitor, even when he didn’t necessarily get totally into the groove with the round he still scored brilliantly, and made sure that he avoided passing.

This necessitated a little bit of a reappraisal of my chances at half time, and didn’t leave me a lot of time to do it. For some reason the half time break was a hell of a lot shorter than it had been in any of my previous shows. There wasn’t even time for lovely old Ted Robbins to do a little spiel with the audience. As we had walked in to take our seats at the start of the show, my thinking had been like this. Both Patricia and Leslie were rather unknown quantities, but I doubted that either of them were as serious about their quizzing as even I am, and I doubted that they had taken part in any kind of high pressure quiz for many years. As such I felt that they might well do well, and even manage a lead on specialist, but would not be able to match me on GK. Arrogant of me to think so ? Probably, but I do feel that you should always be realistic about your chances, good or bad. Pat, on the other hand, has won it all over the last few years, is the reigning World Champion, and is correctly seen as one of the world’s very finest quizzers. So before the start of the show I confidently expected him to take a lead after specialist, and go on to carry all before him in GK. Alright, I only had a one point lead going into GK, but that was a hell of a lot more than I expected. Whatever happened now I would be last to go in the show. My top score ever in GK was 15. So theoretically anything up to 32 was possible for me. Alright, it was quite possible that Pat would set the target well beyond me at 33 or more, but if not, well, all things were possible.

Patricia added another 8 to her score. She knew a number of the questions she didn’t answer , but just couldn’t get the answers out. Leslie came next. I think that he managed to get into double figures, and ended with 25. Pat , I fully expected to see fireworks from. It didn’t quite happen as I expected. There were a number of uncharacteristic pauses in his round. Even so, he added 14 with no passes to take his total to 30. To put that into perspective, Pat’s total , 30 and no passes, was equal to my best ever performance, in the 2007 final. To win, I needed 14 on GK. Actually that was possible. I achieved 14 on GK in the first round of 2007, and 15 in the final. Having said that though this always felt like it was going to be a bit of a tall order. I don’t know really how I can explain it, other than to say that in both of those rounds everything had flowed, and I was ‘seeing’ the answers before the question had finished being asked. This felt more like the semi final GK round, where I had stumbled my way through a ropey old round to get 13. That was enough then.

My tactic, if you can call it that, for the round was this. I already had one careless pass from the Specialist round. So it made no difference whatsoever how many other passes I took. Pat had none at all, so even if I didn’t pass in GK, then I was still behind on passes. So I just made up my mind to bomb through them, and if the answer didn’t come quickly, then I’d pass. So I picked up 3 passes. I had no idea whether I’d done it or not as the round ended. John looked up, and from the way he began to speak I had a feeling that I hadn’t. 13 brought me 30 points, and my passes meant that Pat went through.

No regrets ? Not a one. Pat is a far better player than I am. He did not produce his best form, whereas I produced very close to my best, and it still wasn’t enough. The better man won fair and square. Yes, I was gutted I hadn’t made it to the final, but I was very proud of the fact that I had managed to score in the 30s for a second time, and scored my highest ever specialist score. However the day wasn’t just about that. You know me by now, and how much I love the show. So for much of the day I was a bit like a kid in a sweetshop – a bit of an ironic analogy, come to think of it- since being diagnosed with diabetes a visit to the sweetshop is very unlikely to happen any time soon for me – but you know what I mean. I got to meet 15 other champions, some of whom I already knew, many of whom I knew from the internet but had never met in person, and some of whom I had only read about. In particular it was a delight to meet the other contenders in our show, the lovely Patricia Owen and the equally lovely Leslie Grout.

Champions All – Leslie Grout, Patricia Owen, Me, Pat Gibson

We’re Going Home, we’re going home ! Satisfied with my performance, and happy with a great day ! Here I am , demonstrating my new found ability to grow flagpoles out of my head.

The Details

David Clark The Bayeux Tapestry 17 – 1 13 – 3 30 – 4
Patricia Owen Benjamin Britten 11- 3 8 - 5 19 -6
Leslie Grout The Burial Grounds of London 15 - 0 8 - 0 23 - 0
Pat Gibson Pixar Animated Films 16 – 0 14 – 0 30 – 0

Postscript :
- A week or two after the recording of the heats, I received an email from lovely Laura of the Mastermind Production team, informing me that I was the highest scoring runner-up of the series, and asking if I would be prepared to act as stand-in , in the extremely unlikely event that one of the finalists was unable to make it. Of course I jumped at the chance, fully aware that there was next to no chance of this actually happening. Still, it meant that I would get to come to the Final, and see behind the scenes, and support 4 friends.