Thursday, 31 March 2011

Go Rach !

Yes, team Cherryade rides again . Its our own Rachael Neiman carrying the LAM banner into the fray in tomorrow night's Mastermind semi final. I know it must have been recorded ages ago, but Rach, best of retrospective - and hopefully retroactive - luck anyway !

I don't know if any of our other readers - Paul Steeples and Min Lacey come to mind - are in the same semi. If so, in the interests of fairness, I wish you all the very best of luck as well !

Don't miss it .

University Challenge - Semi Final 2

Peterhouse, Cambridge v. Magdalen, Oxford

Well, although its probably fair to say that Magdalen Oxford started favourites over Peterhouse Cambridge in this , our second semi final of one of the most closely contested series in recent years, but it might be worth remembering that Peterhouse had beaten York on the way to the semis – and York are already in the final. Not only that, but they didn’t lose in the quarters, which is more than can be said for Magdalen.The teams remained the same . Peterhouse were represented by Edward Tait, Ben Slingo, Christopher Stanton and captain Louise Howes while Magdalen fielded James McComish, Kyle Haddad- Fonda, Captain Matthew Chan, and Will Cudmore.

Right – off we went. We began with a very quick buzz for the literary career of Churchill from Ben Slingo. Bonuses on University dropouts brought Peterhouse two more correct answers. For the second starter James McComish got Déjà vu. For the second starter James McComish got Déjà vu. No ? Well, please yourselves. Answers requiring items of furniture followed to give Magdalen a slight lead. Ben Slingo buzzed too early on the next, letting in Kyle Haddad-Fonda on Magellan . A good 3 bonuses on poetry followed. Matthew Chan buzzed into early next, allowing Edward Tait in on Vitamin D for a set of bonuses on Physics. Ouch. Actually Peterhouse coped perfectly well with these, taking a full set of quarks. Both teams were twitchy on the buzzer, since Kyle Haddad-Fonda buzzed too early on Phoebe, which Peterhouse didn’t know either. However Christopher Stanton knew that York was the former name of Toronto to make amends. Descriptive extracts from Queen Victoria’s diary brought the team two bonuses. The picture starter gave a diagram illustrating the result of a UK general election. Ben Slingo leapt in confidently with 1983, Margaret Thatcher. More of the same followed, and you have to say that Peterhouse dealt with these effectively – even if the skipper did query whether Harold Wilson was in fact Howard Wilson. Good set. Will Cudmore opened his own account with John Singer Sargeant. This led to a set of bonuses on philosophers , and Magdalen managed 2 of them. This brought a conclusion to a breakneck first 10 minutes, and Peterhouse held a deserved lead of 85 to 55.

Will Cudmore took the next on Neptune. Bonuses on traitors followed. They missed the Tarpeian rock, but took the other two, thus cutting the lead to 5. Will Cudmore’s 3rd consecutive starter wiped it out completely, and you sensed that perhaps the mighty Magdalen machine was now on the march. Quotations about happiness followed. I knew that the first numeral in which the letter B appears is one billion. So did Kyle Haddad-Fonda. Cell biology proved tricky, since the team only managed one bonus . This then led to the music starter, with pieces of music accompanying poems. The teams were asked for the name of the poet whose work had been set to the music. Will Cudmore buzzed in so quickly with Wilfred Owen that he even impressed JP . “Well done !” he said with uncustomary sincerity “you recognised it instantly. “ Three more works by Benjamin Britten followed, and the names of the librettists were required. This proved much more difficult, and they only managed one of them. Ben Slingo proved that Peterhouse were still in it, by taking the next starter with the adjective Marian. Unfortunately this brought a tricky set of bonuses on national flowers. Under the circumstances they did well to take two of them. I knew Edelweiss and Protea – which to be honest was exactly what I thought Peterhouse said anyway . Oh well. Ben Slingo buzzed in too early with the poison on flypaper. Will Cudmore knew it was arsenic. The bonuses on Geoff Dyer were tricky, but they managed 2 of them. Edward Tait took the next starter, knowing that the famous proposition alluded to in Principia Mathematica is that 1 plus 1 equals 2. 3 bonuses followed on astronomical distances. Yes, it never happens when you’re desperately trying to catch up at this stage that you get a nice set of bonuses on capital cities, for example ! Peterhouse didn’t manage any of these. Will Cudmore, who was playing an absolute blinder in this show, knew that the dried leaves being described yielded coriander. This brought up descriptions from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and I have to say that JP’s Middle English accent was spot on. This brought us to the 20 minute mark, and Magdalen had a healthy lead of 160 to 105.

A second picture starter followed, and Kyle Haddad-Fonda identified the flag of Bermuda. Other british territories confounded them a little, and they didn’t get any. A question on capacitance escaped me completely, but Edward Tait knew it. A set of bonuses on time zones brought them another another correct answer. Ben Slingo buzzed in early – too early on the Jacobite victory of 1745. Will Cudmore knew it was Prestonpans. 2 bonuses followed. Kyle Haddad –Fonda, the scent of victory in his nostrils, knew a set of tectonic plates for the next starter. With their tails high, a set of bonuses on glucose molecules brought another two correct answers. Ben Slingo was still hitting and hoping, but nobody knew that Garret Breedlove et al were all played by Jack Nicholson. Kyle Haddad-Fonda knew the term Most Favoured Nation for the next starter. They dropped some bonuses on retail movements, but you had the feeling that it didn’t really matter. James McComish, who was having a quiet evening up to now, heard the name Wagner and leapt in with “leitmotif”. Good shout. Still the bonuses came, and amazingly then Will Cudmore got a starter wrong. Ben Slingo knew that it was Pushkin, not Lermontov in the duel. Kyle Haddad-Fonda, who was buzzing for fun by this stage correctly identified a set of states of brazil for the next , and as it proved, last starter. At the gong, the score stood at 260 to 130 for Magdalen.

Hard lines, Peterhouse. You played well throughout the series, and deserved your place in the semis. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Many congratulations to Magdalen. The final is an intriguing one, and I’ll be looking forward to it in a post to come over the next few days.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

After Magdalen mistook the first quotation on happiness as Jeremy Bentham, they correctly identified the third as Jeremy Bentham. “Yes, “confirmed our man , “ Jeremy Bentham. Then , under his breath “ . . . unmistakeably.” Classic Paxman. I noticed that he wasn’t anything like as nasty to Peterhouse at the end as he was to Sheffield last week. Yes, he’s right, Peterhouse are obviously one of the finest student quiz teams. But so are Sheffield, and he could have said something to that effect last week, but didn’t. Surely this has nothing to do with the fact that our JP was a Cambridge man himself.

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

Juvenal coined the phrase rara avis – and he gave the example of a black swan as an illustration.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

R.I.P. Winning Streak

Yes, the winning streak that I've been on about has finally shuffled off this mortal coil and joined the choir invisible. After ten weeks, and over 30 quizzes, last night we lost in the Duke of Wellington in Cowbridge. Albeit that there is the suspicion that the team who beat us didn't manage to do so by merely using conventional weapons, the fact remains that we lost, scoring 72/80 to their winning score of 74/80. I think its safe to say that we took it well , and limited ourselves to a relatively mild "If that score's kosher, then my *1"@k's a bloater."

Alright, so I'm sad its come to an end. But let's be honest, it was always going to, and the wonder is that its gone on for so long. I would far rather it happened last night, than next Monday, in the final of the Cup competition of the Bridgend league. Which is probably exactly what will happen now that I've jinxed myself by mentioning it. Superstitious ? Me ?


By the way, don't worry, I haven't forgotten about University Challenge. I shall be posting my review of semi final 2 as soon as I can. Watch this space.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Mastermind Semi Final 4

Well, we’ve seen a few surprises so far in this series of semis, haven’t we ? In fact , during the first three shows, not one player from the top 10 scorers in the first round has qualified for the final yet. A fact which seemed to work against the chances of both Stephen Porter and Brian Daugherty in last night’s show, who were the 10th and 7th highest scorers in the first round. Well, that and the fact that they were going to have to beat 2009 runner up Ian Bayley if they wanted to progress any further, whom you’ll remember I mentioned as one of two dangerous mid-table floaters. Incidentally the other one, Diane Hallagan, claimed her place in the final last week.

There was one highest scoring runner up in the show last night, Anne Skillen, and she kicked off the show last. Anne was runner up in show 2, way back in August, when she answered on the TV series “To the Manor Born “. Back then Anne managed 13 in her 2 and a half minute GK round, and so her best chance, so it seemed , was to put on a good score on her specialist round of The Novels of Jane Austen. I do know a bit about these myself, and so can confidently say that this was a tough set, requiring very detailed and thorough knowledge. Anne found it tough going, and she finished with 6.

Stephen Porter won show 18, when he answered on English first division football of the 1970s. He’d managed a pretty good 15 on his GK round back then, and so there was no doubt, he was a contender to watch tonight. Her certainly proved this to be the case with his round on Scottish Post Punk Bands 1978 - 1983. He answered a super speed, and only one question prevented him from getting a perfect round. Nonetheless, 14 correct answers in a 90 second round is great quizzing, and put him in with a good chance of being involved in the final shake up.

Brian Daugherty has had a long wait for the semi to come around, since he won the very first heat, all those months ago. Back then he answered on the Bernoullis, and like Stephen Porter, he managed 15 on his GK round. Last night he answered questions on The History of the Ruhr. I surprised myself on this round by actually knowing a couple of the answers on the geography of the region. Not as many as Brian did. He scored a good 12. Game on.

One of my favourite subjects in the first round – Ray Harryhausen – was offered by Leslie Hurn in show 22. Back then he scored 14 on GK, so wasn’t to be too lightly dismissed. Last night he was answering on pre historic marine reptiles. Now, maybe this is boastful, but I loved dinosaurs and the like as a kid, and I still know my icthyosaurs from my plesiosaurs. I actually got 6 of these, which admittedly was less than Leslie. He managed 9, a decent score for 90 seconds, certainly, but one which left him with something of a mountain to climb in the GK round.

Last but not least came Ian. In case you’re wondering why I mentioned Ian in my preview of the semis, well, if his previous record in the show isn’t enough, Ian scored 17 on GK in the first round. That kind of ability will always put you among the favourites in my book. In show 21 Ian answered on the Romanov Dynasty. Last night he offered us the Life and Work of Jean Sibelius. It wasn’t a perfect round, but it was a good one. He might have been 2 points behind the lead on 12, but his GK ability certainly meant this was a gap he could close.

Before that, though, Ann Skillen returned to the chair. I don’t know whether her first round was playing on her mind, or whether it was nerves, or whether it was just a set of questions she couldn’t answer, but she struggled. By the end of the round she had scored a total of 11. Leslie Hurn did better, although he didn’t quite manage to get into double figures for the round himself. He added another 9, to finish with 18.

Brian Daugherty had a go next. As in all the GK rounds so far in this show, there was no great fluency in the round, but to be fair he did grit it out, and kept the score moving throughout the round. So even though he added another 5 passes to his score, he did get into double figures, with 10 points taking his score up to 22.

Ian looked rather uncomfortable on his own return to the chair. He stumbled over a couple of questions, and missed a couple I’m sure he would have had under normal circumstances. But that was the kind of show it was, last night. There was an atmosphere of nervous tension , far more than you normally feel through the television, and it had affected all of our contenders last night. Ian added 11 to his score, for a total of 23.

I will admit, I was a little concerned for him. OK, it was by no means a bad score, but it was beatable. To put it into perspective, Stephen needed 10 to win. 9 wouldn’t be enough, because Ian had no passes. If he scored at the same rate as he did in his GK round in the heats, then he would do it. However the same tension that had affected all of the other contenders seemed to turn upon Stephen with an absolute vengeance. After 60 seconds he was well behind the clock, and in the middle of a pass spiral, and he levelled out at 6, for a total of 20.

Well done Ian ! You join Roger Stein, Geoff Thomas, Richard Heller and Mark Grant, our other double Mastermind finalists. I promised myself that I wouldn’t scupper your chances again by tipping you to win, and so I won’t. But the very best of luck, all the same.

The Details

Anne Skillen The Novels of Jane Austen6 - 35 - 611 - 9
Stephen PorterScottish Post Punk Bands 1978-8314 - 16 - 420 - 5
Brian DaughertyHistory of the Ruhr12 - 110 - 522 - 6
Leslie HurnPrehistoric Marine Reptiles9 - 09 - 518 - 5
Ian BayleyLife and work of Jean Sibelius12 - 011 - 023 - 0

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

University Challenge - Semi Final 1

Semi Final 1 – Sheffield v. York

Well , a match to savour this. All-conquering Sheffield , the team of all talents, v. battle hardened warriors York. No prizes for guessing that all the support from the Clark sofa was for Sheffield. This is not to say that I have no admiration for York at all, their performances in their second two matches in the quarters were inspirational. York, the come back kids, were represented by Chris Caudwell, Ben Keane, Simon Donnelly and captain Andrew Clemo. As for Sheffield, they maintained the usual team of Andy Bolton, our own Tristan Cole and Hugh Bennett, and captain Tom Thirkell

Well, away we went. Andrew Clemo started where he left off in the quarters when he knew that Bismarck and Raleigh were linked by being capitals of states with the word North in their names. A set of bonuses on quotes saw them take two. Chris Caudwell took York’s second starter on the Electra complex. Faced with a set of bonuses on british prime ministers, they stretched their lead to 45. Neither team quite knew Luther’s 95 theses. Tris Cole took Sheffield’s first starter on Roland Barthes. Bonuses on truth followed, and they took 2. Andrew Clemo knew the poem Invictus to reassert York’s ascendancy. A set of physics bonuses proved rather tricky , as they only managed one of them. This brought up the picture starter. Andrew Clemo recognised the Nobel Peace Prize medal, which brought up three more of the same. None of them proved gettable. Andy Bolton knew that the Triassic preceded the Jurassic. A series of bonuses on composers followed, and Sheffield managed 2 of them. Andrew Clemo buzzed too early on dutch cities for the next, but Sheffield couldn’t capitalise. Chris Caudwell knew the graphic novel Maus , and a couple of bonuses on French artists added to the score. So at the ten minute mark it certainly hadn’t all been one way traffic, but it was definitely advantage York, as they led by 90 – 40.

We’ve seen York get off the blocks quickly before, but sometimes , like last week, they have let the opposition find their way back into the contest. This wasn’t going to happen if Andrew Clemo had anything to do with it. He knew Donatello’s David, to bring up bonuses on comparative biology. One fell to them. Andy Bolton buzzed in too quickly on the next , and it was Ben Keane who correctly identified the word synod. A good UC set of bonuses followed on pairs of homonyms. Again, York didn’t really hammer home their advantage, but kept the score ticking away, and the gap widening. The first music starter followed, and our own Hugh had it within a couple of bars. More bonuses on string quintets followed, but they could only take one of them. Tris continued taking the fight to York by buzzing in early to identify The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Bonuses on US presidents followed, and they took one of them. Hugh then took the next , an old Mathematical chestnut. A set of tricky bonuses on stage works about birds followed. Hugh nipped in again for the next starter on the Zapatistas. No doubt about it, the boys were getting into their stride. A set of bonuses on elements followed. The gap narrowed to just 15 points, and at this stage, roughly halfway through the contest, it was anybody’s game. Chris Caudwell took a good one for York, knowing that you get chickpeas in falafel. The bonuses on the 1660s proved a bit of a godsend as they took all of them. Hugh knew that Picasso was born in Malaga. Bonuses on poets and astronomers followed, and they managed one of them. Simon Donnelly took the second picture starter, knowing if it’s a bloke with a bowler with an apple in front of his bonce, its a Magritte. ( You never get this sort of detail from Brian Sewell ! ) Picture bonuses stretched the lead to 40 points at the 20 minute mark , as they led by 160 to 120.

So it was still too close to call. If my boys could all keep buzzing in as they had done for the last ten minutes they could still do it. But a barnstorming 5 minutes from York could settle the match for good. Big hitting Chris Caudwell took a vital starter on Bill Hicks. A set of bonuses on capital cities proved extremely tricky , and York managed none of them. Inspirational leader Andrew Clemo knew that CCS means carbon capture and storage. Bonuses on US foreign policy all helped them increase their lead as they took all 3. A great early buzz from Tristan Cole identified original sin. Bonuses on latin grammar weren’t all that helpful to Sheffield at this stage. Tris went for a hit and hope on the next starter, on a dartboard. He was on the right lines, but needed the whole question. With the benefit of this, Andrew Clemo knew that 12 o’clock would be 20. A bonus on wine put York almost out of sight. Chris Caudwell took the next geographical starter, and York were home and dry. Andy Bolton managed the next start on the word appal , and this brought bonuses on African countries. However all this meant was that Andrew Clemo knew Germinal in the French revolutionary calendar for the next starter. Tris took the last starter, knowing that the Borough of Queens’ takes its name from Katherine of Braganza.

JP put my back up a little bit when he told my boys from Sheffield “Well, you didn’t play particularly well, you’ve played much better than that in the past. “ Come on Jezza. Play fair ! You play as well as you’re allowed to play. York have got better and better with each match, and Messrs Clemo and Caudwell in particular played a blinder. On the whole they were just that little bit too quick. When you’re meeting a good opponent who hits top form there is absolutely nothing you can do about it except applaud. Hugh, Tris, Andy and Tom, you have nothing to be ashamed of. You have been one of the teams of the tournament, and have put on some really memorable performances this year.

York – the momentum is with you ! Best of luck for the final.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Well, until that last comment to Sheffield, I was quite enjoying JP in this show. I liked the way that he replied chuckling to Hugh on the arithmetic – 5 robots question – “Don’t look so surprised just because it was easy !” Mind you I should have guessed the mood he was working up to with his correction of a perfectly good pronunciation of the river Vltava with
“Yes – the V - ltava I call it but I’m sure it’s the same place. “

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

Like Picasso , Antonio Banderas was born in Malaga.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Mastermind - Semi Final 3

The two contenders who have so far qualified for the grand final didn't feature at all in my predictions made after the final first round heat was aired. Was this state of affairs going to continue tonight ? The semis have certainly been full of surprises so far. In this particular show, none of the contenders had managed quite the massive scores which some of the contenders in the earlier semis had scored in the first round. Having said that, none of these high fliers have yet managed to reach the final.

Enough of such chaff. Tonight's first contender was Diane Hallagan. Diane reached the semis through being runner up in heat 24 back in February. Back then she answered on Peter Tinniswood. Tonight though she produced a near flawless round on the TV series Black Books. Despite being beaten in her first round show, Diane actually had the highest combined score, and comfortably the highest general knowledge score of tonight's contenders. With a massive 14, a superb score for a 90 second specialist round, Diane was going to be hard to beat.

Philip Evans too qualified through the repechage board. He had been runner up in show 17, when he had answered on the Welsh Settlement in Patagonia. Ironically he had the next best first round score of tonight's contenders after Diane. Tonight he answered on the Life and Times of Oskar Schindler. His fine 10 really showed just how good Diane's round had been - after all a 90 second 10 is the equivalent of a 13 or 14 in old money. Still, with 4 points to make up on Diane the task ahead of him looked a daunting one.

Kate Morris won show 16 , answering on Gilbert and Sullivan. Tonight's subject was the Plays of Richard Brindley Sheridan. She started very brightly, although maybe it was my imagination, but I thought you could hear the nerves in her voice. In mid round she hit a pass spiral, and it took a lot of courage to pull out by the end of the round, which she managed to do. Valuable time had gone though, and she bottomed out with 7 points, leaving her with no realistic chance of making the final.

Our fourth contender , Martin Short , had achieved the considerable feat in heat 20 of setting the lowest score of the heat on specialist , yet winning the show on GK. Back then he was answering on The Witches of Pendle. Tonight he gave the rock band Deep Purple a go. He too started well, but soon ground to a halt, and hit his own pass spiral. By the time he recovered the damage had been done, and he too finished with 7 points.

In a change of pace our final contender, Geoff Weller, offered us the Life and Times of Martin Luther. Way back last year, in heat 5, we saw him win answering on The Manic Street Preachers. To be in with any chance of winning he desperately needed a big score, but this was a tough round. Like the two previous contenders he got away from the line well, but the answers proved hard and harder to find as the round progressed. He fared slightly better than Kate and Martin, but still only managed 8 points.

Diane was in a certainly enviable position, and its surely not unfair to say that she is the best general knowledge quizzer of the 5 contenders. However nothing was done and dusted yet. Kate returned to the chair, and she scored a battling 9 points. This brought her the lead, but only by 2 points. Martin didn't manage this , falling again into a pass spiral , I'm afraid. He finished with 15. Spare a thought for Geoff Weller. He started to flounder, and although he avoided making more than one pass, he really struggled to find the answers. The final indignity was that he finished with 14 and 2 passes, which meant that Diane had already beaten him , before she'd even returned to the chair. A bad day at the office, and it could happen to any of us.

Philip Evans remained the only contender with any realistic chance of causing another upset victory. He tried, but it never really happened for him in the round. He studiously made sure that he supplied answers to every question, but not quickly enough, and I'm afraid not accurately enough to help set a realistic target. Yes, his overall total of 18 gave him the lead, but Diane had yet to go, and with only 4 points required it would need a disaster of almost biblical proportions to prevent her from taking the win.

Needless to say there was no such disaster. You could tell from Diane's face that she was annoyed about some of the questions she missed, but to be fair she was already comfortably over the event horizon when it happened. In the end She added 10 to the score, to win by a resounding 6 points. Well done Diane ! Best of luck for the Grand Final.

On a personal note, I can at least point to the fact that Diane was one of the contenders I highlighted in my preview of the semis as a 'dangerous floater' in the middle of the table, whose chances had to be taken seriously. Is the power of the curse weakening ? I hope so.

The Details

Diane Hallagan The TV Series Black Books14 - 110 -224 - 3
Philip EvansThe Life of Oskar Schindler10 - 08 - 018 - 0
Kate MorrisThe Plays of Richard Brinsley Sheridan7 - 49 - 616 - 10
Martin ShortDeep Purple7 - 38 - 415 - 7
Geoff WellerThe Life and Times of Martin Luther8 - 16 - 114 - 2

Thursday, 17 March 2011


I have only just today read a comment that was posted on the review of last week's UC match between Magdalen and Queens'. In it, one of the contributors made a comment which seemed to give away the final result of the series. I think it might be just as well if I posted the comment which I have just posted there, on the main blog -

I have only just today read Matthew's comment - where he seemed to give away the result of the series.

I have no idea whether what he said is true, or whether it was just wishful thinking on his part.

I have removed the comment. Matthew - I respectfully remind you that giving away spoilers - telling results in advance is ABSOLUTELY not what my blog is about. If you meant that what you said is just what you hope will happen - well, you needed to make that clear. If you know the final result, then you have a duty to the fans of the show to not RUIN it for them by telling them in advance.

Please bear this in mind in future.


I have no idea whether what Matthew said is true or not, and I don't WANT to know until I actually see things happen on the telly. I am sure that all LAM readers probably feel the same way. I do apologise if anyone's enjoyment of the series has been spoiled in any way by what was, may we say, an injudicious comment.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Great Subconscious Answer Machine

My friend and colleague Julie G. is not a quizzer. Its not a crime. Now, I could go on about the trials and tribulations of a teacher's daily life in work, but you'll be delighted to know that I won't. However it can be a stressful job, and we find that one of the small things which can help just to relieve the tension from time to time is a snatched 5 minutes during break or lunchtime to have a go at the Daily Telegraph cryptic crossword . The other day we had a quick go before registration - no joy. Break time was slightly better, but at lunchtime we flew through it in double quick time. It was then that Julie made her observation - which went something like this -

In the morning, before registration, relatively few people have already solved the puzzle throughout the country. By breaktime more people have, and by lunchtime even more. So the chances are that the answers are there to be drawn from the 'great collective subconscious ', which all of us apparently have the ability to tap into by lunchtime which makes it easier to complete the crossword at lunchtime than it is earlier in the morning.

Personally I think the fact that you're probably more awake by lunchtime than you are by registration has more to do with it, but lets put that to one side for a moment. What I do really like about the theory is that it would at least give some explanation for those answers which seem to pop into your mind fully formed out of nowhere. Case in point - last Thursday we were asked -
In which London Theatre did John Osbourne's "Look Back In Anger " have its original premier ? Immediately the answer popped out of my mouth "The Royal Court" bypassing my conscious mind completely , so it seemed. Now, OK , I guess that I must have either read it somewhere, or heard it somewhere, and just forgotten about the source of the information. But that's just too prosaic. I love the idea that all the answers are out there, floating around in the collective subconscious, just waiting to be magically tapped into.

Mind you, thinking about it, some people with no morals just use their internet phones to do the same thing anyway.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Congratulations, boys !

I have to ask your forgiveness for a rather self indulgent post , here. If you're a regular you may recall me explaining that I'd been invited to play for the Llangewydd Arms team in the Bridgend Quiz League this season. The season isn't quite over. there's one more league match to play, next week, and then in three week's time we have the cup final to play. However, last night the team clinched the league title. I apologise if this sounds unneccessarily triumphalist and self serving . However , the reason why I mention this is to salute my team mates. John, of course, I've played with for many years now, and my admiration for his talents is a matter of public record. But captain Andrew, and Neil, the other two members of the team, are two players I'd never played with before the start of the season. Boys, playing with you in the same team this year has been an absolute pleasure. Many congratulations on your Nottingham Forest-like feat of gaining promotion from the second division in one season, and winning the first division title in the next. Very well done.

Of course, I'm well aware that mentioning this now probably means that we'll go on now and lose the last league match, and then the cup final after . Life can be funny like that !

University Challenge - Quarter Final Play Off

Final Quarter final match – Oxford Brookes v. York

The tension was almost unbearable. You see, I didn’t really want either of these teams to lose. Yes, I tipped Oxford Brookes, and I did really want them to win. But you can’t watch a supposed underdog team like York scrapping it out, and getting good results like their last one, without feeling an admiration for them. For the record , OB, once again represented by Sara Johnson, Austin Sherlaw-Johnson, Richard Williams and captain Anthony McLarin beat Christ’s but lost to Sheffield earlier in the quarters.York, represented by Chris Caudwell, Ben Keane, Simon Donnelly and captain Andrew Clemo lost to Peterhouse then beat Bristol.

Andrew Clemo took an exceptionally first starter to get George Orwell just from the fact that he was born in Bengal. They took a full set of bonuses on quotations. Sara Johnson of Oxford Brookes took an equally good quick buzz on a definition of a vuvuzela. They too took the full set of their bonuses on the feat of swimming the Hellespont. This already had the makings of a fine match. Ben Keane of York took the next starter on the matrix. For once they only took two bonuses, this time on Tony Benn . Andrew Clemo took the fourth starter, identifying the island of Rhum. Mathematical problems proved to be just that – problems, as they only managed one of them. Thence to the first picture starter. Anthony McLarin couldn’t identify that the nations shown on a map were the biggest producers of gold in the world, wrongly opting for uranium. Andrew Clemo had it though. More of the same, with other commodities followed, and York were happy to take the first two. Was it my imagination, or were York beginning to build up a useful head of steam ? It looked like it when Andrew Clemo took the next starter recognising various uses of the word caustic. A good shout that one. The team built on the good work by taking 2 bonuses Nobel prize for economics. Austin Sherlaw – Johnson stopped the rot by taking the next one on the obituary of the late Alan Sillitoe. A set of bonuses on personality disorders helped narrow the gap as well, when they managed to answer the second. Still, York had certainly carved out a healthy lead by the end of the first ten minutes, leading by 100 to 40.

There was a terrific question on the next starter, asking about the largest countries in Africa, 4 of which are all contiguous with the largest – Sudan. Democratic republic of Congo was given, and OB correctly offered Libya, but incorrectly offered Egypt as well. Hard lines. Andrew Clemo knew that Algeria would do the trick. This earned a set on astronomy. Which didn’t do them a lot of good as they didn’t manage any of them. Neither did I. A question on geometry followed, which I’d lost the point of before JP even finished the question. Neither team managed it. Still , Ben Keane took the next for York, knowing that Klaipeda is to be found in Lithuania. Philosophers and philosophy condounded them – off the point I know , but I was pleased with myself for knowing that Zeno founded the Stoics – although where the name came from I didn’t know – more about that later. Now, you know me, when one team seems as much in control as York did at this point, but fails to convert the majority of the bonuses then I start to get a little anxious for them. They were winning the buzzer race, but not pulling away with any great haste yet. The music starter on national anthems followed – both belonged to the teams taking part in a FIFA world cup final. The first was obviously Italy. The second was France so it was obviously 2006, as Richard Williams buzzed in extremely swiftly to say. More of the same followed. They managed 2 more. Neither team could explain the acronym BOD. An early buzz from Chris Caudwell lost 5 points, while Sara Johnson took the starter knowing that the member of the heron family required was the egret. A set of bonuses on kings of France were taken in full. The fightback, so it seemed, was on. Austin Sherlaw- Johnson duly took the next starter, and no bonuses were taken on things to do with the word place. I thought Simon Donnelly’s identification of Rene Descartes on the next picture starter was excellent, and just the sort of thing you need to do when the opposition is coming back at you. As you might expect three more paintings of French mathematicians followed, of which they took all 3. Still, York could reflect on the opportunities they hadn’t quite taken in this round, as the gap had actually shrunk to 40 points by the 20 minute mark, as they led by 135 to 95.

I just scented the hint of maybe a grandstand finish coming. Sara Johnson took the next starter on the word mental – much to the noisy delight of the OB fans. 2 bonuses were taken on Sicily. A mathematical starter passed both teams by. OB’s Richard Williams knew that a misdemeanour is less than a felony. A set of bonuses on painters followed, and they took 2. Suddenly they were only 5 points behind. Neither team knew Perkin Warbeck. Sara Johnson knew a set of locations of Shakespeare plays. The prefix – dis – brought a full set of bonuses, and now OB were ahead. Simon Donnelly took the next bonus on the element tellurium. Good quick buzz that. More of the same followed as bonuses, of which they managed 2. Andrew Clemo buzzed in too early on the next , but neither team knew the dynasties of Byzantium. Austin Sherlaw-Johnson knew a series of people who played the clarinet. There was one particularly noisy OB fan who insisted on bellowing “Come on !” every time his team took a starter. You never used to get this sort of thing in Bamber’s day. 1 bonus was taken on the Cyrillic alphabet. Andrew Clemo took the next, identifying a description of an organ. A set of – ite words followed, and they took all of them, and the lead. They kept it in the next starter, as Andrew Clemo knew a question about Brazil when he heard it. 2 bonuses on hills followed, and a lead of 25 seperated the teams. A great starter linking personal qualities in titles of novels by Wolfe and Thackeray – vanity – was taken by Sara Johnson. Bonuses on names of dyes followed – they took one, but were still behind. Simon Donnelly gave away five by buzzing too early on the next - but a five point lead remained. . . and the gong sounded ! York won by 195 to 190.

I feel physically drained. I’m really sorry that I gave you the kiss of death by tipping you, Oxford Brookes. All I can say is that you have played very well all series, and would not have been out of place amongst the semi finalists. But very well done to York too. You’re a fine and gutsy team, and deserve your success.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

When the anthems of West Germany and England were played , and OB correctly identified this as the 1966 world cup final, JP chortled – “Difficult, wasn’t it ? “
When Andrew Clemo wrongly offered Walter Simnel instead of Perkin Warbeck , JP made a point of coming back after he’d offered it to OB, and reminding him that ‘He’s normally known as LAMBERT Simnel !”
Finally the purists will have enjoyed the way he delivered a great backhanded compliment to York – “Well done York – even if you were struck mute at the end there. “

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

Stoicisim takes its name from the greek word for the porch under which the philosophers in question used to meet .

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Mastermind Semi Final 2

I won’t lie to you, after last week’s surprising and exciting show I couldn’t help wondering what last night’s semi could possibly have in store for us. Well, I knew that regular LAM reader Brian Pendreigh was in it already. Brian was the second highest scorer in the first round, still, as Brian was second to go in the Specialist round last night, we’ll come to him in a minute. A quick scan of the list of last night’s contenders revealed that this particular semi was comprised entirely of heat winners – nothing wrong with that, either.

John Wharton won heat 4, way back in September, when he answered on Bertrand Russell. His score of 27 was good, but only the 27th best of all the qualifiers for the semis. Last night he offered a subject close to my heart – the world heavyweight boxing championship from 1960 to 1994. Doesn’t sound like a particularly long period, does it ? Well, maybe not, but when you think that since the late 70s the division has been beset by the proliferation of different boards giving different belts to different champions, you start to see that this time period was actually quite a courageous choice. Bearing this in mind you come to see that John’s 12 in 90 seconds wasn’t just a good score, it was a very good one indeed.

And so to Brian. Brian scored a massive 35 points when he won heat 8 in October. Then he scored a very fine 15 on the Beatles. Last night he switched to the life and career of Sean Connery. Now, if 12 was a very good score, then 13 proved to be an excellent score, and with no passes either it looked as if Brian had put himself well into contention going into the GK round.

We had a previous semi finalist in our midst last night in the shape of Gillian Taylor. Gillian had reached the semi finals in Nancy’s series two years ago, when she lost out to Richard Smyth. Each of Gillian’s three previous appearances on Mastermind had been characterised by excellent performances in the specialist rounds. Indeed in heat 12 of the first round this year Gillian had scored a superb 18 on the life and career of Josephine Baker. Her overall score of 30 had meant that she was actually the 8th highest scorer in the first round. Last night she was offering Butch Cassidy, and sad to say , her usual golden touch on the specialist rounds deserted her. 7 was by no means a score to be ashamed of, but it put her out of contention with the two contenders who had already visited the chair.

Student Edmund Dickinson is surely one of the youngest of this year’s semi finalists. He too scored 30 in the first round, although more passes than Gillian meant that he was only the 11th highest scorer according to the Clark classification system. In November Edmund won heat 14 at something of a canter, answering on formula one motor racing. In a real change of pace last night he offered us another subject close to my heart, the Travel Books of Bill Bryson. I think Bill Bryson is a great writer, and I’ve been known to use examples from his Notes from a Big Country to illustrate to students how to craft a perfectly constructed short article. However , I digress. Edmund gave a very assured performance as he ripped through a set which required real, in depth knowledge of the books, and he too scored an excellent 13 points.

Finally Dr. Tim Fenn. Tim won a very exciting heat, heat 17 , by one point back in January. His score of 29 put him in joint 14th place in our list of highest scoring qualifiers. Back then he answered on The Life and works of John Hunter. Last night he answered on the Life and Times of John Adams ( was it only his friends who called him ‘Grizzly’ , I wonder ? ) Tim too made short work of his questions, and he too piled on a very fine 13 points by the end of the round, although he did take one pass along the way.

Gillian’s GK round was by no means a formality, but in all honesty it wasn’t going to bring her a place in the final. That doesn’t matter. What followed was a good round, a better GK round than Gillian had last time she appeared in the semis. That’s a positive to draw from the show. Now all the other 4 contenders were separated by just one point. The obvious implication being that whoever won the GK round would win the show. John Wharton was first to try. John had scored 14 in 2 and a half minutes in the heat – a pretty decent return. Last night though I’m afraid the wheels came off the round, as he fell into a pass spiral. It can happen to anyone, I’m afraid. He scored 7, to set the bar at 19.

Brian came next. I felt that he had a tough set of questions. Brian had obviously decided upon the tactic of blasting through what he knew as quickly as possible, and passing on those for which the answer didn’t come straightaway. It’s a perfectly valid tactic which worked brilliantly for Peter Reilly last week. The score crept upwards, comfortably past John’s 19, but the finishing line was approaching rapidly. Brian managed to take the last one just on the buzzer, and his 9 gave him 22. Lets bear in mind that this was 22 after 3 and a half minutes of questions as opposed to 4, or more, but nonetheless it wasn’t an insurmountable target. The anxiety on the Clark sofa was rising.

Edmund Dickinson never looked completely relaxed and confident, but he did what you must do, and kept picking off the answers. A minute and a half had gone , and he hadn’t reached Brian’s score yet. He was close though, and before the buzzer he’d done it. 10 didn’t give him a big lead, but it was enough, and whatever happened now he couldn’t be worse than second in a Mastermind semi final.

However it could turn out to be even better than that, all depending on how well Tim Fenn could do. To put it into perspective, Tim had scored 12 on his 2 and a half minute round in the heats. If he produced a similar round now, then chances were he might fall a point or maybe two short. Yet this was better. The buzzer was still a couple of questions away as he reached the 11 he needed, which allowed him to add one more for good measure, taking him to 25, and a well earned place in the final. Many commiserations to the other players, especially my friend Brian, but well played all, and congratulations on your achievements in the series .

The Details

John Wharton The World Heavyweight Boxing championship 1960 - 199412 - 07 - 919-9
Brian PendreighThe Life and Films of Sean Connery13 - 09 - 522 - 5
Gillian TaylorButch Cassidy7 - 010 - 017 - 0
Edmund DickinsonThe Travel Books of Bill Bryson13 - 010 - 423 - 4
Tim FennThe Life and Times of John Adams13 - 112 - 225 - 2

Friday, 11 March 2011

Mastermind Special - Brian Pendreigh

LAM regular Brian Pendreigh sent me a copy of this article which he wrote for a regional newspaper about his first round appearence in this year's series. Brian is in tonight's semi final, and so I thought it would be good if I could share the article with everyone. With Brian's kind permission I reprint it here in full

Everyone always asks about the chair. What is it like to sit in the chair? The producers have contributed to the process of turning the Mastermind chair from a seat into an icon, lovingly caressing the black leather and shining metal with the camera as the theme tune Approaching Menace throbs away.

Bill Wright, the former RAF flight-sergeant who devised Mastermind, drew on his experience of being interrogated by the Gestapo for the format and for the chair, so it was always intended to be intimidating. But as far as I am concerned it was just a chair.

What worried me was the questions. I had watched Mastermind for years. I got some right, I got some wrong. What would happen if Fate strung together all those questions for which I did not have answers. I could, in theory, score nothing.

The question is not - What is it like to sit in the chair? The question is - Why did I apply to go on Mastermind in the first place? I am reminded of what George Mallory said when asked why he wanted to climb Everest. “Because it’s there.” But then he died on the mountain, not an experience I wanted to repeat on television.

Poor performances have been greeted with the headline “Disastermind” in the past. A few weeks before I auditioned a “contender” was lampooned in the press after setting a new record low score of five points – four on his specialist round and one on general knowledge.

He had a lot of passes and wrong answers, but nothing as ridiculous as the contestant on another quiz who thought Liverpool beat India in the European Cup final or the one who thought the Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo DiCaprio. Sometimes it is a slip of the tongue. Sometimes people just cannot recall an answer under pressure and crack, like the woman who got all 12 of her questions wrong last year on Postcode Challenge, Scottish Television’s Friday night quiz.

I always had a passion for facts and was always very competitive. I liked exams at school. I went to a selective school, which also had streaming, and there was a spirit of competition both in academic subjects and sport. This was a long way from Peter Mullan’s Neds.

Mastermind started in 1972, when I was at school. It is quizzing in its purest form, no gimmicks, just a test of what you know and what you can recall. The show and the chair quickly worked their way into the public consciousness, with sketches from Monty Python, The Goodies, The Two Ronnies (Ronnie C “answering the question before last”) and Morecambe and Wise (Eric wins when asked to complete the name of the Khyber What?).

My uncle, the late Jim Brunton, appeared on the TV version of Brain of Britain and sang the Grand Old Duke of York in answer to a question. In 1986 we both applied for Superscot, the BBC Scotland quiz hosted by Jane Franchi. We both reached the final, co-wrote two quiz books - one of which made the bestsellers list, and compiled newspaper quizzes together for years.

But for the past decade I had done nothing other than the fortnightly pub quiz at the Starbank in Edinburgh and occasional social quizzes. One of the younger guys kept suggesting we put in for Eggheads. Somehow I ended up applying for A Question of Genius, a short-lived BBC quiz hosted by Kirsty Wark. It recorded at Pacific Quay and I had to be up at 5.30 am. I got about 90 minutes sleep the previous night, but I was runner-up and wanted more.

There is a nationwide Grand Prix circuit of quizzes in England, where Masterminds, Brains of Britain and Eggheads regularly quiz against each other. It is a varied bunch of people, mainly but not exclusively male, aged from twenties upwards.

It was at one of my first Grand Prixs that I auditioned for Mastermind about a year ago. I feared there might be a blacklist for people who could not name the US Vice-President. Apparently not. I had two months to swot up on The Beatles, my first specialist subject, and on the entire history of the world, devising various mnemonics – the order of the outer planets spell SUN appropriately enough, the order of the state capitals of the two Dakotas are my initials.

There are 12 original Beatles UK albums, with international variations, 13 EPs, 22 singles, four feature films and over 1000 books on the group. There are smaller subjects, but I wanted something I felt passionate about. I listened to every track, watched every film, read numerous books, compiled copious notes.

My wife Jenny helped me with “past papers” of general knowledge. My scores ranged from 6 to 13. Kevin Ashman, a former Mastermind, Brain of Britain and world quiz champion, set the Mastermind record of 41 - 20 on his specialist round and 21 on general knowledge. General knowledge in the heats is now two and a half minutes, instead of two, but for various reasons that does not mean there are more questions. I reckoned I would be happy with 9 or 10.

The BBC put me up in a four-star hotel in Manchester. I stayed there till lunchtime and then wandered along to the Granada studios. Contestants have to take three or four shirts and half-jokingly I took a country-and-western shirt I had bought in the United States – black with bright silver stars all over it. The wardrobe guy loved it, although I feared I might be remembered as the man with the starry shirt and the less-than-starry performance.

I knew, in theory, I had a chance of winning, depending on the questions and the other “contenders”. But the main thing was to do ok. One of my rivals Paul Philpot recognised me from Grand Prixs. He was two ahead after the specialist round, but I knew I only needed two correct answers on general knowledge to secure second place. I felt the pressure was off. I was not nervous. I was not aware of the chair or the audience, just John Humphrys and the questions.

And then it happened – 2 wrong, 2 passes, 20 correct. I had done better than ok. It was one of the highest general knowledge scores in the history of Mastermind. I was lucky. The questions suited me. I had a total of 35 and won by 11 points.

There were almost four months between heat and semi-final. I cannot say anything about it, except that my specialism is Sean Connery and both rounds are 30 seconds shorter, so the scores are not comparable. The previous year someone did Jim Carrey and scored 1. Time to worry again.

In the meantime I went on Postcode Challenge with some of my regular quiz buddies. We set a record score and won some cash. We did finally go on Eggheads and played Kevin Ashman et al. It will be broadcast later this year. But that is another story.

*Mastermind, BBC 2, Friday 8 pm.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Streak latest

I'm getting a little embarrassed that I ever mentioned it in the first place. The problem with going on a long winning run is that you KNOW that it is going to come to an end sooner or later, but the problem is that you can't pick and choose where. Given the choice I would far rather it happened tonight, say, in the rugby club, rather than next Monday in our penultimate league match. Mind you, it very nearly ended on Monday night. The team we were playing were on great form, and we had a one point lead going into the very last pair of questions. We knew the answer to one of the questions, and didn't know the answer to the other. Pure luck of the draw the other team were asked the question we didn't know the answer to. They didn't either. We knew ours, so ran out 3 point winners. Too close for comfort by half, and a tribute to the quality of the teams in the Bridgend League.

So as always, I promise to let you know when the streak finally bites the dust. Ooh, the suspense is unbearable.

University Challenge - Quarter Final play off

Magdalen v. Queens'

Earlier in this set of quarter finals I called the elimination matches the last chance saloon. I’m not sure what I should call these last two matches then. So lets just content ourselves with saying that this was a true knockout match, with the victors going through to the semis, and the vanquished going home on the bus. Magdalen , with James McComish, Kyle Haddad- Fonda, Captain Matthew Chan, and Will Cudmore were one of the Clark tips for a semi final place, beaten in a titanic tussle with Sheffield, but winners over Christ’s Cambridge in their last match. Queens’ , with Mark Jackson, Simon Wallace, captain William Belfield and David Webster lost to Peterhouse having beaten Bristol. The form guide said a victory for Magdalen, but nothing in this world is certain apart from death and taxes.

Queens’ big hitting Mark Jackson miscued the first question. If its about Glencoe then its likely to be either Macdonalds or Campbells. Mark zigged with Macdonalds, Will Cudmore zagged with Campbells. Three bonuses on Thomas More followed, and the Magdalen express had left the station. Nobody fancied the next starter on Bertrand Russell, but William Belfield took the next on Planck’s constant. Queens’ too took a full set of bonuses, on lost villages. Game on. Will Cudmore took his second on the history of MI5, and the team took one more bonus on the sons of Priam – a tough set that , I thought. James McComish took the next starter – something to do with a Japanese hotel according to my notes. Again , a single bonus followed on insects and bugs. Amazingly neither team could take the picture starter to identify Helmut Kohl’s grinning phizzog. Will Cudmore took another starter on the Roundhouse, to earn the picture bonuses. The team identified two out of three heads of former eastern bloc states. The irrepressible Will Cudmore took the next starter as well , recognizing a definition of the word dividend, and all three bonuses were taken on opera houses. When you’re in the zone, even your speculative guesses come good, as Will Cudmore discovered with his next starter, when he seemed rather disbelieving that JP accepted his offer of ‘cyborgs’ in answer to another definition. Magdalen managed one bonus from a set of first lines of famous science fiction novels. At the ten minute mark it was all going according to the script as far as Magdalen were concerned, since they led by 115 to 20.

Mark Jackson found his range with the first starter after the break on hanukkah. One bonus was taken on words from German. Mark followed this up with a second successive starter on the island of Rockall. Only one bonus followed on people with the surname Levi. James McComish replied for Magdalen with the next two starters, which earned bonuses on physics, and on opera , following the music starter. Only one point came out of the six bonuses, but when you’re that far ahead you can afford a little laxity. Matthew Chan kept the Magdalen score ticking along with the next starter on Crohn’s Disease, and for good measure he answered all three questions which followed on the Aztec empire. Kyle Haddad-Fonda now weighed in with his first starter of the night, correctly identifying a caldera as a specific part of a volcano. 3 bonuses followed on large numbers. Matthew Chan took the next starter on Poyning’s Laws, which earned bonuses on Prussian blue, of which they took a brace. It turned out that Mark Jackson starters would bookend this part of the contest, as Mark took a starter to earn pairs of words which are spelled, but not pronounced the same – a good UC set that. At the 20 minute mark it looked all over bar the shouting, as Magdalen led by 210 to 75.

Yet if the first two phases of the contest had belonged to Magdalen, the last certainly belonged to Queens’. Skipper Belfield picked up the next starter on a set of anagrams – rectal, claret and cartel. 3 bonuses were taken on French Departments. Will Cudmore took the next picture starter on Isaac Newton, earning a lovely set of pictures of scientists after whom SI units are named. 1 of these was taken. James McComish knew that Chipping – as in Norton , Sodbury etc. means market. 2 bonuses were taken on the name Aubrey. From then on though, it was all Queens’. Mark Jackson had a brilliant buzz to identify the sum of the first 200 positive integers as 20100. YEESSSS! Interjected a very impressed JP. One bonus was taken on astronomy. Simon Wallace took the next starter on Mexican states. 2 bonuses were taken on African countries. He also took the next starter, knowing that Lassa, as in fever , is in Nigeria. Alas , no bonuses were taken on writing about food. Mark Jackson weighed in with the next, knowing that the alternative to Edward de Bono’s lateral thinking was vertical thinking. Wasn’t he once married to Cher ? Now there’s lateral thinking for you. Back to the show, and Queens’ took all three bonuses on geological time periods. Simon Wallace, the other half of the Queens’ double whammy took the next with endothermic reactions. 2 bonuses followed. Mark Jackson took the next on the Great Glen – they were only fifty points behind now, but Time is a cruel and unforgiving mistress, and the gong announced that , magnificent fightback that it was, it was all too late. Magdalen ran out winners by 245 to 195.

Many congratulations to Magdalen. No team will relish the prospect of playing you in the semis. Congratulations too to Queens’, who staged a terrific comeback in the latter stages of the contest, and can be very proud of their performances in this year’s series.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

There was little in this show to delight the dedicated Paxman watcher. I enjoyed his wry amusement that nobody in either team could recognize Helmut Kohl. Also I liked his rather grudging note of congratulations to Magdalen –
“Well, you won 2 quarter finals – that’s enough. “

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

John Constable made a study of clouds.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Mastermind - Semi Final 1/6

Right, cast your minds back to my review/preview of last week, if you would. I did mention that the nature of the way that the semis are put together does mean that you can sometimes get some quite 'top heavy' semi finals, with several of the top contenders all together. Well, in last night's first semi-final we had the highest scoring qualifier from the first round - Iwan Thomas, the 3rd highest scorer from the first round - Keith Nickless, and the 4th highest scorer in the shape of Nick Mills. Also playing were the 19th , Bill Cawley, and the joint 23rd, Peter Reilly. Tough match.

Iwan Thomas, the 2011 Brain of Britain, kicked us off with Glamorgan County Cricket Club, 1946 - 1990.Iwan won heat 9, answering on The Byrds. Iwan’s massive first round score of 37 was built on a superb score of 23 in GK, and a good 14 on specialist. Tonight, as with last year’s semis, the specialist rounds were cut to 90 seconds, and the GK to 2 minutes. So my initial impression was that it looked less likely in this format that one competitor could blow the competition out of the water on specialist. Iwan put together a good round to score 10, but a few mistakes did leave a little room for other contenders.

Nick Mills, by far the highest scoring of the first round runners up, came next. Nick came runner up in heat 13, answering on Rameses II. Nick had picked a hell of an interesting subject, but also a hell of a complicated one in Dark Age Britain, 400 to 600AD. I was pleased with myself for getting two, precisely twice as many as I managed on the cricket, but from what I know of the subject this was a tough set. In that respect Nick’s 9 was pretty good, but I couldn’t help thinking that this might just leave quite a bit to do in the GK.

So, with my two favourites for the final spot having done well, but left the door ajar so to speak, there was still everything to play for . Bill Cawley, who won heat 10 with American Presidents, now offered us the Life and Works of Thomas Paine. I was happy with my 3 on this subject. Bill did a lot better. Its hard to say exactly, but I reckon that a 10 in 90 seconds must be roughly equivalent to 13/14 in a full 2 minutes. That’s a good score. However it is not a score which blows all of the competition out of the water.

Keith Nickless had met Nick Mills before in this competition, since he had been the winner of heat 13, when he answered on Mott the Hoople. In the semis he had opted to answer on the Jack Reacher novels of Lee Child. For the only time tonight this brought a big fat zero to the score from the Clark sofa – never read any myself. Making a tight contest even tighter, Keith finished with 10 points, and not knowing the books I can’t really say whether this was just a good score, or a great one.

Peter Reilly had won heat 11 answering on The Grand National. A man who would know about odds, then, and going purely on the statistics of the first round he was very much the outsider of this heat. It didn’t seem to bother him at all. Answering on the highly rated drama series “Our Friends in the North”, he barely put a foot wrong, and raced through 14 correct answers. That’s a great, great score for a 90 second round, equivalent to about 18 I reckon. It put him 4 points ahead of his nearest contenders. That’s not insurmountable in a 2 minute round, especially for quizzers as good as Iwan and Nick, for example, but it ain’t easy. Game on.

Nick laid down the gauntlet. 15 in a 2 minute round in GK is very good quizzing, and set the target at 24. Iwan came next. His 11 was nothing to be ashamed of, but the round really didn’t suit him. Well, the Brain of Britain /Mastermind double is a very tough nut to crack, and I guess that the quiz gods were just not smiling on Iwan last night. Bill Cawley gave it his shot, but he rather struggled through his GK round, and only managed to add 9. Now, Keith Nickless had , for me, been one of the real surprise packages of the first round, where he had managed a good 16 in a two and a half minute round. However he would need to do proportionately even better than this to take the lead. Fair play, he displayed admirable sang froid in supplying some amusing answers to questions he didn’t have a clue about, one of which even put John Humphrys off his stride a little. In the end though he finished with 10 for 20.

The target for Peter Reilly was clear. He was already on 14 and no passes. That meant he needed ten and 2 passes or less to claim a surprise final spot, and a couple of impressive scalps. His tactic was fairly clear from the outset. Answer what you know. If you have an inkling, give an answer, but if you don’t then pass quickly. That’s a tactic which doesn’t always work , as I can vouch for personally , but it can be effective , and this is what it proved to be last night. Peter added 4 passes to his total, but 12 points, to take him clear of Nick, with a final score of 26.

Congratulations, Peter ! That was a fine performance, and you deserve your spot in the final. It all goes to show, even when you reduce the specialist round, you still can’t underestimate its importance. Great show – great way to kick off the semi finals.

The Details

Iwan Thomas Glamorgan County Cricket Club 1946 - 199010 -111 - 321 - 4
Nick MillsThe Dark Ages in Britain 400 – 600 AD9 - 215 - 124 - 3
Bill CawleyThe Life and Works of Thomas Paine10 - 09 – 0 19 – 0
Keith NicklessThe Jack Reacher Novels of Lee Child10 - 010 - 020 - 0
Peter ReillyThe TV series “Our Friends in the North” 14 - 012 - 426 - 4

University Challenge - Quarter Final Elimination Match

York v. Bristol

A second quarter final visit to the last chance saloon, then. Nothing for the winners except a chance at a place in the semis, but for the losers , their metaphorical bus ticket home. York lost out to Peterhouse in their first match of the round, while Bristol were beaten by Queens’ .

York were again represented by Chris Caudwell, Ben Keane, Simon Donnelly and captain Andrew Clemo. Their opponents were Ario Brunet, Lucinda Critchley, Georgia Malcolm and skipper James Williams of Bristol.

On with the show. Skipper Andrew Clemo of York, took the first starter. It wouldn’t be his last tonight. He knew that the various homophones being alluded to were queue/cue etc. 2 bonuses were taken on the London Underground. I asked the one about Temple in my own quiz in the Rugby club last week. Small world. Chris Caudwell took the second, knowing that the fruit being described was a pomegranate. One bonus followed on phases of the moon. We’ll get onto Mastermind in one of the next posts, but eagle eyed viewers may well have noticed that the gibbous question in this show was asked in last night’s Mastermind as well. As I said, small world. Lucinda Critchley, who has been consistently effective for Bristol throughout the series, took her first recognising a series of descriptions of clouds. One bonus on quotes was taken. Simon Donnelly took a good maths starter, and a great full set followed on letters used as scientific symbols – a real UC special set that one. Couldn’t answer any myself, but could appreciate a good question when I heard it. On the first picture started nobody recognised Oscar Niemeyer’s remarkable cathedral in Rio de Janeiro. So the set of bonuses on Pritzker Prize winning architects went to James Williams, who made a good early buzz when given a definition of Polemical. 2 were taken. The Bristol skipper followed this up with a starter on unfinished works, and with a full set of bonuses on Roman emperors, Bristol led by 60 to 44 at the ten minute mark. What a good contest so far.

Lucinda Critchley stretched Bristol’s lead slightly with the next starter on Siegfried Sassoon. 3 bonuses on art followed. Then Ben Keane stopped the flow of one way traffic by giving the correct answer of Dew Point. I knew that ! Alas, no bonuses could be taken on Victorian poetry – a little more about that one later on. Andrew Clemo took his second starter on Rome, and then the team took one of a set of bonuses on 3 sisters. A great quick buzz from Simon Donnelly brought them the music starter when he recognised the strains of Chopin from the first couple of notes. 2 bonuses were taken on Russian composers. Lucinda Critchley struck back for Bristol with the literary term negative capability. No bonuses could be taken on rocks. This maybe just rang a couple of alarm bells. Failure to convert bonuses had cost Bristol in the previous match – would History repeat itself here ? Andrew Clemo, warming to his task, took the next bonus on king Louis XIV. 2 bonuses were taken on scientific terms. So then Georgia Malcolm hit back with entropy, and 3 bonuses were taken on operatic couples. So then Andrew Clemo struck again, with a great answer on the ballet dancer Carlos Acosta. Nip and tuck, then ? Well, up to this point, yes, but it was York , in the form of Chris Caudwell who took the next starter as well, with a recognition of the anagrams veto and vote. Three bonuses were taken on a terrific set of words which differed only by the use of accents – pate and paté, for example. I was very pleased with myself for the next starter. When the screen showed a famous Punch cartoon I shouted “That’s Dropping the Pilot by John Tenniel !” True, but that wasn’t the question. Superskipper Andrew Clemo knew that it was about the dismissal of Bismarck by the young Wilhelm II. “ bonuses on Punch cartoons meant that by the 20 minute mark York were firmly in the driving seat with a lead of 170 to 135.

Not that the contest was not finely balanced, since a good burst would bring Bristol right back into it. Fair play to Lucinda Critchley, she had a go, taking a great starter by recognising a description of the Cyrillic spelling of the word sputnik – very much a UC special that one. Crucially no bonuses could be taken on astronomy. That man Clemo took the next starter on the only men to get away with being signatories to the death warrant of Charles I. 1 bonus followed on plants. Trying to haul his team back into contention skipper James Williams miscued with the next starter, allowing Andrew Clemo to take it knowing that the women referred to both had elements named after them. One bonus was taken on the Geography of the United States. I thought that Andrew Clemo’s next starter was a great one, knowing that a series of worthies were all born in Liege. Simon Donnelly knew that the letters FDU stand for Fear, Doubt and Uncertainty , which incidentally is the name of the firm of solicitors I used when I bought my first house, however , I digress. 1 bonus was taken on trout. James Williams missed the next starter, spelling Gandhi incorrectly. Who else but inspirational captain Clemo would get it right ? A close contest had turned into something of a rout, and this was exacerbated when Chris Caudwell took the next starter on the colour yellow. Ario Brunet took the last starter, on a Fibonacci sequences starting at 0, a fact which seemed to delight JP, but it was too little, too late, as York ran out comfortable winners by 280 points to 140.

Hard lines, Bristol. I can only apologise profusely for scuppering your chances by picking you as my dark horses to make it to the semis. Well done York ! Very impressive performance – good luck in your next match !

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Nothing much to report in this match. I was intrigue with the seeming disdain with which JP said “Kinnock “ – as if holding the name in a pair of tongs. Also he rather grunted “you should have said Tennyson” in response to a failure to given an answer to the second of the Victorian poetry bonuses. He was, however, surprisingly consoling to Bristol at the end – a nice touch that.

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

The fruit of the tamarind is a basic ingredient of Worcester sauce.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Contestant call for a pilot show -

Yes, its another case of me being contacted and asked if I can take part in a pilot of a new quiz show. I'm afraid that the dates are no good for me at all, but if you could do it, and you fancy it, then here are the details -


SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Comedy quiz pilot looking for contestants.

The Comedy Unit is looking for contestants to take part in a brand new studio quiz pilot being recorded for Channel 4.

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? is a fast paced show where five players compete by answering questions for fabulous prizes which could be theirs - but only if they can work out the right time to leave the game…

We need a heady mix of quiz aficionados, outgoing personalities and comedy fans. Do you know anyone who fits the bill? Or do you fancy a go yourself? If so we’d love to hear from you. The show will be warm, funny and light-hearted and is being hosted by a leading comedy personality.

It’s a ‘not for broadcast’ show so won’t make it to air – but – you have the chance to be a deciding factor in a brand new programme being commissioned, and could be one of the very first to take part in the next hit show on television!

If you think you have what it takes to be a contestant then get in touch in time for our auditions! But hurry – spaces are limited and the auditions are soon.

The deadline for applications is Friday 4th March; the auditions for the show are being held in a central London location on Tuesday 8th of March.

Please contact or give us a call on 0141 220 6431.

Streak News

No news is good news, actually. Just in case anyone's been following the saga of my current long running winning streak, it still hasn't been broken. Mind you there's always tonight. . .

I set the quiz in the rugby club last Thursday. I've already written about that , so lets move on. Sunday night was a social quiz in the Duffyrn Arms in Rhos - good fun, and a win by a couple of points. Then last night was the cup semi final in Bridgend. The team we were playing against are leading the second division , and they're good. We ran out winners in the end, but they're no mugs and work together as a good team.

If I'm looking for when I think the streak is most likely to be broken, I have to say that tonight's quiz in Cowbridge, and if not this one, then Thursday's quiz in the rugby club look like prime candidates. In Cowbridge its a social quiz, but there's one other very good team who play there. In the past we've tended to either beat them by a few points, or lose to them by a few points. Every time we've played there in 2011 we've won, and it could just be that this will be the time that they beat us to the tape. Other than that there's a question master at the rugby club on Thrusday whose record is. . . how should I put it ? erratic. So anything could happen . Its always possible that we could lose tonight, and then Thursday as well to begin a losing streak. Could it happen ? Watch this space for further updates.

I haven't watched last night's UC yet, so the review will follow either tomorrow or Thursday.