If you read Malcolm Sumner’s account of his win in Heat 13 last week, you’ll have seen that he prepares to watch each show by spending 15 minutes on Wikipedia to prepare to see how many specialist questions he can predict, which has made the specialist rounds a lot more interesting for him. My original thought was – great idea, and I’ll definitely give it a try .
Then I had another idea. What if – I thought – I used this as an opportunity to test how well you could prepare yourself by just looking at the Wikipedia article on a specialist subject, on the same day that you’re actually on the show. I love this sort of speculation, so I immediately set about coming up with a set of rules for this challenge : -
• In order to be able to avoid the possibility that a successful round might be a one-off, or a terrible round might be a one off, I would select 4 categories from the 8 on offer last night- leaving the other 4 as a ‘control group’ against which to judge the results.
• As far as possible a cross section of subjects should be chosen- ones which looked wider, ones which looked narrower, ones which I might already know a bit about and ones about which I knew nothing.
• Mastermind began at 8pm last night. I began work at 4pm. Which gave me a maximum of an hour for each subject.
• For each subject I would read the article, and select 30 potential questions.
• I was allowed to go to other linked wikipages, but not other sites.
• I had to try to learn the answers before the start of the show. My written questions and answers were not allowed to be used during the show.
• Answers had to be given either before, or at the same time as the contender answered on the show. Answers given afterwards would not be counted, to avoid the temptation to cheat.
• My daughter Jennifer would act as independent referee.
All of which begs the question – how well did I do, and what do the results suggest ? The 4 categories I selected were : -
The Life and Music of Kate Bush. I felt this one would be probably the best for me. Potentially I reckoned in the normal run of things this would give me 2 or 3. Actually, I would have been able to answer just one of them without my wikiprep. Now, bear in mind that I have heard a lot of the singles, and I used to own The Hounds of Love, but that’s it. I haven’t deliberately listened to her music for years. Playing in real time, using no notes, I managed 10 points on the round.
The Franco Prussian War. I guessed that this would be a wider subject than Kate Bush. It’s one of the more traditional subjects , and through a general interest in History I reckoned that I might have had 3 or 4 anyway. Actually, when the questions came up I realized I would have had precisely two of them. Despite the width of the subject I was surprised that my wikiprep meant that I also scored 10 points on this round.
Passenger Liners 1939 – 1979. Yes, I couldn’t duck out of taking at least one really wide subject, and believe me, it wasn’t until I started that I realized just how wide the subject was. I only allowed myself to look at Wikipedia for the challenge, so this meant starting with the general ocean liners page , and looking at the pages about some of the most famous liners. I would have had none of the answers without wikiprep. As it was I only managed 4 anyway.
The Life and Films of Frederico Fellini. Another life and work subject this one, but one about which I had next to no knowledge to begin with. As far as I can recall I have never watched a Fellini film – which doubtless is more my loss than his. Bearing in mind that the rules of the challenge meant that I could only revise from the wiki page, I was very pleased with my 7.
I wanted to see whether it was possible to spend just a couple of hours before the show using Wikipedia to prepare for a specialist subject, and do well enough to get a competitive score. I take the two tens as competitive scores. I was also pleased with the Fellini score, considering that I was starting from a position of next to no knowledge at all. Having said that it would still not have made me very competitive in the show , a good GK score notwithstanding.
• It is certainly possible to use Wikipedia to help you gain a decent score with an hour or so of revision.
• It works a lot better for certain types of subject than for others. Life and work subjects seem to work better than others.
• The more finite and clearly defined a subject, the easier it seems to prepare for from Wikipedia. Hence the good score on the Franco Prussian war, which was a fairly clearly defined historical event which took place over the space of about 6 months.
• It didn’t work very well on a wide and slightly more nebulous subject like ocean liners. Having said that , though, it still provided me with 4 answers that I wouldn’t have had anyway.
• Most of my correct answers came from questions I’d prepared myself, but a small number did come from other remembered facts from the Wikipedia articles that I hadn’t turned into questions.
If anyone else ever fancies repeating the challenge, I’d love to hear how you get on with it.