Saturday, 23 July 2016

University Challenge : Round One: Heat Two

Corpus Christi Oxford v. Jesus Cambridge

By popular request (singular) I'll have a bash at a UC review, then we'll see how it goes from there. So last week's second heat of the first round saw the series' first Oxford-Cambridge match up. Corpus Christi were represented by Tom Fleet, Emma Johnson, Adam Wright and skipper Nikhil Venkatesh. I have a fancy that Nikhil Venkatesh is the same Nikhil from Derby who did well in the 2006 series of Junior Mastermind. I met his dad Ashok – a very nice gentleman in my opinion – at the semis of Mastermind that year where I was a stand in, and he explained that he'd only entered because his son was in Junior Mastermind. Ashok did very well, wining his semi and getting to the Grand Final. Their opponents, Jesus Cambridge consisted of Sam Fairbrother, Rosa Price, Daniel Petrides and captain Theo Morris Clarke. They've all come up clean from a far from exhaustive search.  
Sam Fairbrother drew first blood for Jesus – that sounds awful, thinking about it – by recognising Aristotle's definition of Tragedy. That's the dramatic concept, and not the Bee Gees song. Drinking in Shakespeare gave them a full house of bonuses. Adam Wright knew that William Thompson became Lord Kelvin – and so did I. I'm very sorry, but I'm claiming that one as a Science starter answered correctly. Cue lap of honour around the Clark sofa.Properties owned by the landmark trust saw Corpus Christi also open their account with a full house. Tom Fleet took a flier on which asian country's national holidays include Respect for the Aged Day with Japan, and he was right to do so. The bonuses they earned were on life Sciences, specifically on plasms. I groaned at this point, since I'd answered all the questions correctly so far. Still, I managed to dredge up cytoplasm for the first, which set this series record at the first 10 answers given correctly. Corpus Christi were going great guns as well, with another full house. Well, I'm not being funny, but when I get 2 Science starters right in the same show, then there's something seriously strange going on. Yet I guessed that if Bert and Ernie were sub atomic particles from outer space, then they might well be neutrinos. I doubt Adam Wright was guessing when he gave the same answer , but we were both right. Bonuses on people named Rhodes followed – Cecil (or 'long and winding as his mates called him, I believe) Wilfred (or 'Country' as his mates called him) and Zandra ('No through'). Zandra Rhodes, the last of the three bonuses was the first question to be dropped in this show. On to the picture starter, which was some Maths thing about sets. Normal service from the Clark sofa was resumed, as I didn't have a Scooby. Jesus skipper Theo Morris Clarke had it, and Jesus went on to take one of the bonuses. So did I, although not the same one. TL;DR is an internet abbreviation that I fear might be applied to the average LAM entry – as Emma Johnson knew, It means Too Long Didn't read. The announcement of Chemical Elements as the subject of the bonuses was greeted with 'oh no, not more bloody Science' from the sofa, and Corpus Christi might well have been thinking the same after failing to trouble the scorer on the set. Surprisingly I had both Zinc and Lead – thanks Sporcle. So here we were, at slightly past the ten minute mark, and Corpus Christi had a lead of 80 to 40, for which I felt they were decent value as well. 

Now, you hear 'branch of Mathematics' and 'name' and 'Arabic' then you slam into the buzzer and answer Algebra. That's what Nikhil Venkatesh did, anyway. Business related books brought me nothing, but the two answers supplied by the skipper saw Corpus Christi into treble figures. I have to say that I was in earlier to answer Charlie for the next starter, knowing that Brandon Thomas wrote "Charlie's Aunt" (which incidentally is one of the answers in the immortal – Two Ronnie Mastermind sketch. Compete this quote about Margaret Thatcher – Her heart my be in the right place but her? (Answer) Charlie's Aunt. They don't write em like that any more.) In the first incorrect interruption of the show, Nikhil Venkatesh was misled by the mention of two books by Roald Dahl and offered Danny. Rosa Price had it right and this brought her team a set of bonuses on Arundhati Ry. I've read 'The God of Small Things' and while it isn't my favourite Booker winner it certainly has something. We both managed 2 bonuses. If you're asked about a book by Thomas Paine, then you buzz as quick as you can and answer "The Rights of Man" because you'll be right a hell of a lot more times than you won't. Theo Morris Clarke continued his team's fightback with the right answer, earning bonuses on Micronesia. I had my first full house, and Jesus took two. This put them only 15 point behind Corpus Christi. The ever popular music starter played us part of the film score of Up. Mrs. C. loves that film, so I did recognise it. More Disney Pixar scores followed, and we both missed out on Wall E. I got to see that one for free in preview somehow – the fact that I didn't remember it maybe being a demonstration that you don't value anything you don't have to pay for. Now the next starter set a little trap – asking for a grain of which pearl is a variety, and I'm afraid that Emma Johnson fell into it, buzzing early to give 'Barley'. Not a daft asnwer at all, but when the rest of the question revealed that it was a staple foodstuff in Africa I thought it would be millet and it was. No bonus for Jesus. Adam Wright stopped the rot for Corpus Christi, buzzing early to identify newts and salamanders as amphibians. Two rather good bonus on mid nineteenth century US history pushed them back into a narrow lead. The Oxford skipper buzzed a little too early on the next starter on Thomas Hardy. If he'd heard the character names, he'd probably have known it was Jude the Obscure, which lost him 5, and gave Jesus the starter. Science, in the shape of Physics, reared its ugly head again with the bonuses. They did neither of us any good. Dan Petrides took a flyer with a question about a test match between England and Pakistan in 2015, and was rewarded with a correct answer of Alastair Cook. I took a full house on Michelangelo sculptures while Jesus took two. So the score at the 20 minute mark made interesting reading. Impatient buzzes contributed to Corpus Christi only adding 25 to their score in the previous 10 minutes, while Jesus had added 90 to theirs to lead by 130 to 105. 

Last ten minutes, then, and squeaky bum time. A dilemma for Corpus Christi, since anticipating and buzzing early is a way of taking away the opposition's momentum if it works, but it's risky. An incorrect buzz, followed by the full question for the opposition can result in a 30 point hike to their score. None of us knew the term deliquessence, so we moved to the net starter. Something about computing and logic gates saw the Cambridge skipper buzz too early and lose 5 of the lead. Given a free run Adam Wright supplied the correct answer. Bonuses on Sir George Eden took Corpus Christi back into the lead in what even JP was moved to call a very close contest. Nobody could identify a silhouette portrait of Wagner for the second picture starter. That's the classical composer, not the former joke X Factor contender. The next question on an Italian composer saw both teams sensibly wait on their buzzers until the words 'barber of Seville' were uttered, and that buzzer race was won by Rosa Price. Tow out of three bonuses on the composers' silhouettes put Jesus back in the lead. All to play for.There was something about an Italian called Pareto, which the Corpus skipper was onto like a greyhound after an electric hare. Tow bonuses on US national holidays edged them ahead by 5. Seemingly back on song, Nikhil Venkatesh was first in to answer the next starter, about well known Charlton Heston impersonator, Cardinal Richelieu. Corpus Christi managed two of the three bonuses on Homer's Odyssey, but would they regret missing the gettable Polyphemus? Right, I make no bones about this. Not one, not two but three Science starters did I take in this show. I dredged Hubble's Constant up jut as Adam Wright was buzzing in with the same answer. With the clock running down and bonuses t come I had a feeling that this might just seal the deal for Corpus Christi.Two bonuses took the lead to 190, and relative safety, for I doubted there would be time to get in the two full houses Jesus would need to win. None of us new that the letter F denotes lanthanides and actinides on the periodic table. Fair play to Jesus, they were still fighting. Skipper Theo Morris Clarke buzzed early with the economist Stiglitz, and earned bonuses on inorganic Chemistry. What, again with the bloody Science? Yes, afraid so. They took two, as did I , but they still languished 25 points in arrears – they could theoretically take the game into extra time with one more successful visit to the table. Theo Morris Clarke looked like he was taking a punt suggesting that Towers of Silence are used by followers of Zoroastrianism, but it was right. They needed three more correct answers, but just didn't know frugivore or fructivore. In fact they didn't take any bonus, and crucially that meant that they were still 15 points behind. Even if there was time for another starter it wouldn't be enough. There was, and this one, though was taken by Tom Fleet, whose heart must have been racing, but he looked like a steely eyed assassin as he killed off Jesus' chances in this game, knowing the American William James. There was neither the need nor the time for bonuses, as the gong now sounded the end of the contest. Final score 200 – 175. Well played both teams. That was a good match, nay, a very good match. I'm pretty sure that Jesus will be back in round two with that score.  

Jeremy Paxman Watch 
JP was seen on best behaviour tonight. This may well be because he often is when it's an Oxbridge match. There was absolutely nothing of note, other than the way he hailed one of the last early buzzes with "Danerous buzz but effective. " Quite so. 

Interesting Fact That I Didn't Already Know Of The week 
Eden Park test cricket ground in Auckland NZ, and Eden Gardens test cricket ground in Kolkata, India, are both named after Sir George Eden, a British politician.

Friday, 22 July 2016

The 'great' Dumbing Down Debate

Here's a funny thing. In Thursday night's quiz we were asked the question - whose BBCTV show has been accused of dumbing down recently. Now, leaving aside the fact that I think there's more than one answer to the question, I hadn't heard the answer, but as I said to my teammates - chances are it's University Challenge, because that's always being accused of dumbing down. Indeed, UC was the answer.

I may not have written about them on the blog - well, there's no may not about it, I didn't - but I watched the first two shows myself, and I didn't notice any dumbing down in the questions, and my play along at home scores for both were just a shade over my first round target, which is 40 questions answered correctly, were pretty much spot on what I was getting in previous series.

The production team and Jeremy Paxman have refuted the claims, as they have rightly done every time this rather silly accusation rears its ugly head, which seems to happen quite regularly. Why make the accusation in the first place? I have a few ideas: -

* The claim might be artificial, and started by an unnamed source close to the programme in order to start a little bit of controversy, and maybe gain some more viewers in the process. Unlikely IMHO.

* UC is a popular show amongst a very particular audience - students, academics, educated middle class bradsheet readers - so a story about UC is something with appeal to this audience. Hence the decision to say something - anything about UC. I think back to the nothing story we had last year about a contender wearing a leather vest as an example of the lengths that the papers will go to in order to find something - anything - to write about the show.

* The British public as a whole have a rather unlovely trait of wanting to pull down any conspicuous displays of intelligence. As a society I sometimes think that we are deeply insecure about our own intelligence, and we seek to allay this insecurity by telling others we fear may be smarter than we are - look, see, you're not so smart as you think you are. This is just my opinion of course, and you must by all means feel free to disagree, but it seems to me that it's only in things which are connected with knowledge and/or intelligence that this happens. Let me give you an example: - a few years ago Usain Bolt ran the 100m in less than 9.58 seconds. I don't recall anybody hailing his achievement with - well, they must have made the track a bit shorter for him.

Personally I have had experience of the whole dumbing down thing. Way back in the 2007 SOBM of Mastermind, in my first round heat one of my fellow contenders, Stacey Mitchell, offered the Life and Career of Jennifeer Aniston as her specialist subject. The usual suspects in the media didn't like that one little bit. Ths one round was singled out for criticism - the other three being The Life and career of Henry Ford, German Wine, and The Life and Work of Frida Kahlo. Alright, Henry Ford lived a lot longer than Jennifer Aniston has lived so far, but I wouldn't mind betting that as a subject it still demanded the same amount of research and preparation. To read the comments of the journalists who wrote about it though, you'd have thought that Stacey was somehow trying to pull a fast one, and that the show was somehow allowing a subject which made it too easy for the contender. Journalists who I doubt had ever tried learning such a specialist subject themselves. (Yes, I do remember that journalist Richard Heller has twice been a Mastermind finalist, but then he is a special case. I've never seen him suggest that the show is dumbing down either,)

Advanced Warning

School broke up a couple of days ago, and early next week I'm off on me first European holiday for a couple of years. I'm going to Spain for a week or so, and then coming back, and then I'm straight off to Belgium.  So I don't know if I'm going to be able to keep up with Mastermind or not. I'll try, but don't panic too much if I don't, because I'll make sure that I catch up when I get back in a couple of weeks.

Mastermind: Round One: Heat 2

I don't know what it is, but even though the new series is at the moment going out on Wednesday evenings, I just can't seem ot get my head around posting about until Friday. Sorry if you've been waiting. Still, here it is. I'll be honest, I wanted to see whether the GK rounds were going to be as relatively benign as last week's were, but we'll come that question in due course. 

I'm away from the house at the moment so I can't check my database, although they all came up clean on LAM. SO possibly 4 Mastermind virgns in this heat. For me there really wasn't a great deal on offer in the specialist rounds. I have a passing familiarity with the work of MC Escher, and knew a very little bit about the Trevor Horn years with Yes, but really and truly I was always going to be scratching around for any answers in this round. Not so John Leeming. John was cursed with the support of the Clark sofa in this heat, since he is a fellow schoolteacher. He was answering on Yes, and managed 10. Hey, in most recent series 10 is a perfectly decent score, but you have to reckon on a first round heat that there is every good chance that somebody is going to achieve a 14 or 15, and even if you have a really good general knowledge, on the evidence of last week 4 or 5 points can be a hell of a lot to make up on GK. 

Gerda Mamott offered us Rutherford at the Cavendish Laboratory. Regula readers are fully aware of the fact that I was away on the day that they did Science when I was at school, so this promised little for me, which is exactly what it delivered. Gerda kept going well, but again, I honestly think she needed maybe 2 or 3 more correct answers to be in with a really good shout by the end of the round. Still, in latter day Mastermind anything in double figures is a pretty good performance on SS. 

Now, I have heard some unkind things already said about Thomas Nash and his specialist round on the films of Werner Herzog. Let's start by being objective. Thomas scored 4. It's not a very good score, but it isn't the lowest ever scored on SS. I've seen some speculation about what it was that caused such a modest round. In all honesty, there's little point in speculating. Nerves, or a failure to prepare, who knows? Whatever the case, Thomas has my full sympathy, for nerves can make that chair a very lonely place. As I've often said, if you've never tried it yourself, then you just don't know. If you have ever tried it yourself, then you know and so you wouldn't be hurtful about it anyway.  

From a round where little or nothing went the contender's way, to Ross May's round which was, in just one word, perfection. It didn't seem to matter in the least whatever aspect of the life and work John was asking him about, Ross had an answer for everything, and a correct answer to boot. Speaking as someone who never managed a perfect round in five Mastermind shows I have to run that round up the flagpole and salute it. Did it kill the contest by half time? No, not necessarily. That 2 and a half minute GK round can be quite a devious beast, and I've seen so many people brought to a grinding halt by just one question in the last few years that I know that anything can happen. The Clark 50p was on Ross at this stage, though. 

So Thomas returned, and John made that comment he sometimes makes, and I really wish he wouldn't – 'time to redeem yourself' - . Oh, come on John!  For heaven's sake, will you leave it out?
1) It is only a game at the end of the day. People make mistakes.  
2) Nobody deliberately makes a low score, and when they do, they are the only ones who are likely to be in any way hurt by it. 
3) Going into any round – SS or GK is nerve wracking enough WITHOUT being reminded that things did not go the way that you would have liked first time out.  
OK – rant over. Thomas steadied himself and his nerves, and whacked in 11 points. It's not the highest that we're going to see all series, but a double figure score is never to be sniffed at, and he did just fine. 

You get a feeling sometimes when you watch the show, a feeling about which contenders are good, regular quizzers, and which are not. It's a little difficult to quantify, but it's something to do with the speed of answers,  and also with the particular questions which are dispatched contemptuously to the boundary, and I got this feeling distinctly when I watched John with his GK round. Two rounds in and I did think that these rounds were much on a par with the level of rounds being asked in the previous heat, so this seemed fair. John, to be fair, needed to get into the mid teens to really put the pressure on Ross. Ideally you want the contenders coming after you to be needing to get a double figure score, since this is the point at which they have to enter the Corridor of Doubt. John gave it a good old lash, but dropped a couple which he might otherwise have had on another day, and finished 9 points ahead of Ross. 

Which is not to exclude Gerda from the calculations. However she was answering that little bit more slowly than John, and in all honesty did not look like matching or surpassing him after the first 30 seconds or so. Like Thomas earlier she managed a score of 11, and that took her to 21. I don't honestly think that you ever have anything to be ashamed of after a Mastermind round, whatever the score, but certainly a final score in the 20s is something you can hold your head up after achieving.  

So to Ross. The simple arithmetic said that anything in double figures would see him safely home. While I don't think that his round was quite as good, and quite as confident as John's it was still pretty good. What he did so well was to start with his mind fully focused on the job, and to keep picking off the questions to which he knew the answers. This meant that while he was never quite going at express pace, he never lost momentum either, which meant that he achieved the total with time to spare, and actually pushed his total up to 28.  

Well done sir.  

John Leeming 
Gerda Mamott 
Rutherford at the Cavendish Laboratory 
Thomas Nash 
The films of Werner Herzog 
Ross May 
The Life and work of MC Escher