Friday, 28 July 2017

Mastermind - New Series - BBC Two tonight 8pm

Pretty much what it says on the tin. Again, I didn't realise that the show was back, but I'm very glad that it is. Who will be the successor to Isabelle Heward? No idea - I couldn't even tell you who's taking part this time around. Looking forward to finding out, though.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Only Connect - New Series - Friday 28th July

If you haven't worked it out from the heading, Only Connect's new series begins tomorrow. Looking forward.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Making it easy

I’ve never deliberately tried to ‘scupper’ a team’s chances when I’ve compiled a quiz. For one thing, I would imagine that it’s a far harder thing to do effectively than you might think. For another, though, it goes against the principle which I think should guide you whenever you compile a quiz, You’re not in competition with the teams, no. Any fool can go on the internet and come up with 80 questions which most teams would struggle to answer. What’s the point in that? What you should be trying to do is to produce a quiz which will give as many people as possible an evening’s entertainment. If you stick to this aim, then you’ll have some better quizzes, and some worse quizzes, but by and large you won’t go far wrong. 

I mention this because it was my turn to compile the quiz for the rugby club on Thursday. As it turned out, Thursday was also a red letter day in another way, being the last day of this school year for the good people of my school. Now, I could have told you the result of the quiz before we played. When I’m playing, there are normally just two quizzes really contesting things, my team, and Lemurs, the best team in the quiz. When I play, sometimes we win, more often Lemurs win. When I’m not playing, if Lemurs are there, they win. 

Now, nothing was going to change that, and I’d be a fool if I even thought about manipulating the result. Now sure how I could do it even if I wanted to. But as I was compiling the quiz, I did want to try to make the gaps a little narrower – to give the other teams at least a chance of getting decent scores of their own. The obvious way to do that is to make it easier. Yet, although nobody ever complains that a quiz is too easy, I don’t really think that anyone wants a quiz full of everyday, easy questions. So the answer I came up with was this.

I often use connections in a quiz – three or four questions, where the questions are unconnected, but a link can be made between the answers. Well, this time in each round the first question was a news question, but after that questions 2 – 9 were all connected by their answers, with question 10 being the connection itself. 

So how well did it work? Generally the scores were a lot higher than they normally are when I compile the quiz. Hopefully the teams enjoyed it, but there’s no point me asking, since none of them would tell you to your face even if they hadn’t. They’re nice and polite like that. Lemurs always have a double figure lead over the second place team when I compile the quiz, and this was the first time that their lead over the second placed team stayed within single figures.

Friday, 14 July 2017

I'm not proud of this. . . but . . .

Thinking about this, I'm pretty sure that I would hate to have somebody who behaves like I do on one of the teams when it's my turn to do the quiz in the Rugby Club. I take it all far too seriously, and although I know, understand, and fully accept the rule that "The Question Master Is Always Right - Even When He's Wrong" - but there are times I just can't stop myself from disputing.

Now, if a question master gives a wrong answer to a bread and butter question, that's one thing. The sensible ones will see that every side has put the same answer which isn't his, and amend his answer accordingly. Alternatively he'll do what I've done on more than one occasion, put his hands up and say, look, sorry - you may well all be right, and if the answer I've got here is wrong I apologise, I just don't know enough on the subject, but I have to stick with what I've got. I can live with that.

However, there are other times when the QM will ask what seems to you a difficult question, which you feel most of the other teams won't answer. Take last night : -
"Who was the first Scot to be Prime Minister of England and Scotland, in 1762?"
The date was the giveaway. I wrote down the answer , "The Earl of Bute", feeling pretty pleased with myself. The QM gave the answer: -
"John Stuart". To which I replied,
"Yes, known as Prime Minister by his title , "The Earl of Bute". I wasn't making this up, it's true. If you look on many lists of British Prime Ministers, he's one of those Prime Ministers known by his title, in the same way that Henry John Temple is much more commonly known as Lord Palmerston.
"It's not what I've got here." he replied, not unreasonably adding, "So I can't give you the point."

In the cold light of day I am glad that I did not succumb to the urge to stand up, and metaphorically slap him across the face with my gauntlet and suggest that we settle this with pistols at dawn. I did, on the other hand, spend the rest of the evening moaning to my team about the way that we were being robbed of a good point, about question masters who can't be bothered to check whether there are alternative answers to their questions - look, I'm not going to go on about it, but I wasn't very pleasant at all. A couple of times I deliberately ridiculed his pronunciation of a couple of words - mind you, to be fair he did insist on pronouncing Poitiers as Potty-arse, so there was some mitigation. You're quite right if you think that this was all very childish and pointless - we wouldn't have won even if we had been given the point for the answer.

Which is a shame, because, it wasn't a bad quiz when all was said and done, and did have a great hand out - well, great for me, anyway. We were given a sheet of paper with the titles of about 30 quiz or game shows, and the year they first began, and asked to name the first presenter. You know that I love quiz shows, and so this sort of thing was right up my street. In fact, I was convinced I'd have all of them right, until the QM announced - "What's My Line - 1951 - Gilbert Harding." I had written Eamonn Andrews. Thankfully I resisted the temptation to make a comment, on the possibility that this might be right - and I googled it when I got home. Quite right, Harding presented the premiere, but threw a hissy fit when he was handed the cards about the contestants in the wrong order, or something of that ilk.

Is Food and Drink a problem?

Actually, the title reminds me of an old Morecambe and Wise joke during one of the plays wot Ernie wrote. Eric picks up a bottle and does his thing holding up his arm straight to conceal the fact that he is drinking straight from a bottle concealed behind it. The female guest star, shocked, remarks, words to the effect of - surely you're not a hard drinker, are you? - to which Eric replies - not at all, I find it very easy! -

Wrenching myself back onto the subject, in an email conversation with a quizzing friend this week, he asked me whether I felt it was fair to say that Food and Drink is a subject that is problematical even to good quizzers. Interesting question, and I thought I would share my thoughts with the world in general on this one. As always, this really is just my opinion, and feel free to disagree: -

The kind of person likely to be any good at quizzes will probably have picked up a grounding, a baseline of knowledge about a wide range of subjects through education, personal interest, general reading, television etc. This is less likely to have happened with Food and Drink. For example, there are a significant number of popular TV programmes about food and drink, but they’re often just about the preparation of food, and the creation of dishes. With the best will in the world, education, personal interest, general reading, television etc. are unlikely ever to have provided you with the knowledge that the apple is a member of the rose family, aloo in Indian cuisine refers to potato, and Yarg is a Cornish cheese wrapped in nettles whose name is not a Cornish word, but the name of its creators – Gray – backwards. So it really is a subject where the average quizzer would not begin with a decent baseline knowledge, unlike a subject like History, for the sake of argument. This means that it’s a subject where most of us have to do some learning, unlike History.  What complicates this as well is that it’s not the sort of subject that most of us would choose to learn about purely out of interest, and the fact is that there are plenty of even good quizzers out there who can’t be bothered to learn for quizzes, especially anything in which they are really not that interested for its own sake. 

I also think that it’s a subject where the question master’s own lack of knowledge and interest can cause problems. In the traditional quiz subjects, the question master will often know enough to be able to understand the difference in difficulty and obscurity between asking

“Who was the last Anglo Saxon King of England?” and 

“Who was the last Merovingian King of France?” and in practice a question like the latter would rarely if ever be asked in a pub quiz.  It doesn’t always work like this with Food and Drink. For example – you might get a QM ask an easy one like: -

“Which spirit is used in a Bloody Mary cocktail?” – That’s a perfectly reasonable general knowledge question which you wouldn’t have to have specialist knowledge to answer. However the same QM is just as likely to ask: -  

“Which spirit is used in a Red Witch cocktail?” – which just isn’t within the realm of general knowledge so much, and is far more specialist. The QM in many cases just wouldn’t know that it’s much harder than the other question. This sort of thing can bedevil quiz leagues as well.  

However, on the other side of the coin this doesn’t mean that it’s a subject which has to be a problem for the serious, dedicated quizzer, if you’re prepared to put some effort in and learn for it.  With a little thought, it's not that difficult to identify areas of Food and Drink knowledge which pay dividends in quizzes. So I guess I’m saying that where Food and Drink becomes a problematical subject it is because :- 

* The typical quizzer does not begin with the same baseline knowledge of the subject as he/she does with subjects like History/Geography/Sport etc. 

* Question masters as a rule do not have the feel for the subject that allows them to pitch questions consistently, and so it can happen that questions asked on F & D can end up being relatively harder than questions on other subjects.  

* Decent to good quizzers need to learn for the subject but they often don’t bother, because it seems like a bore, and quizzing, after all, is something they do for pleasure. The top quizzers negate the problems with Food and Drink because they analyse what question masters tend to ask, especially the recurring sub-topics , and they learn more than they need to.  

* Therefore my personal feeling – feel free to disagree – is that it’s not a problem subject if you’re just quizzing for fun and don’t mind that much if you win, lose or draw. It’s not a problem subject if you’re serious about winning quizzes and you’re prepared to put the time and effort into learning your stuff. It IS a problem subject if you’re serious enough about wanting to win quizzes, but not serious enough to put the time and effort in and are just relying on your natural ability.

Friday, 30 June 2017

The pitfalls of connections

It is possible to know too much, and this little vignette from last night illustrates this idea, and one of the pitfalls of using questions with connected answers, an idea which I actually introduced to the rugby club more than 20 years ago. The way it works is that the QM will ask 3, 4, 5 or more seemingly unconnected questions, and then ask you what connects all of the answers. It’s good fun, and it always makes compiling a quiz more enjoyable for me, since there’s the challenge of making the connections. OK. So, last night, we were asked this question. I can’t remember the exact phrasing, but this is a pretty good paraphrase : -

“The Western Wall, otherwise known as the Wailing Wall, in Jerusalem, is the last remaining part of a much larger structure. By whom was it built? “ or words to that effect. The question, though, distinctly asked who built, or who ordered the building, of the Western Wall? Now, I was certain that the Western Wall is a remnant of the expansion of the Second Temple, built by Herod the Great. Answer given – Solomon. No, sorry, incorrect. Solomon’s Temple was the first temple, and destroyed in 586 BC. And yes, I did google it when I got home to check. 

OK, mistakes can happen. I don’t know, but I can see how the QM might have come up with this. He needed the word Solomon for the connection. Maybe the thought process was something like this: -

- I need the answer Solomon. What can I ask about Solomon? King Solomon? Yes, what can we ask about him? Well, he built the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple in Jerusalem? Ah yes, the Western/Wailing Wall is the last bit still standing. Lovely jubbly, question sorted.-

Maybe. However, had he googled “Wailing wall built by” he’d have seen the mistake. Moral of the story, even when you think you know something, sometimes you don’t, and it doesn’t hurt to check.

As I say, mistakes happen. Once you’ve set enough quizzes you can pretty much guarantee you’ve done something similar sooner or later. The trouble was, this stumped us for the connection. I won’t bother you with the other questions, but the answers were Chatham – Long John Silver – Monserrat Caballe. I bet you’re already working out what the questions were, aren’t you? You can probably see the connection already – islands or island groups. However – if you substitute the right answer to the Wailing Wall question– Herod the Great – for the answer given – Solomon – then try to get the connection. Herod Island ? Great Island? Doesn’t work, does it? Please feel free to suggest in a comment what connection you think that we came up with for Chatham – Herod the Great – Long John Silver – Monserrat Caballe.


All of that having being said, we still won, and it was still great fun. I’m thinking in terms of work particularly, but generally after I started feeling better, for the first 4 weeks after my return to work I think I was just on a bit of a high from the sheer relief of being back in work, and not feeling a) truly awful – or b) zombified. Reality has bitten a bit this week – but in a good kind of way. I’ve had some great lessons this week, and I’ve also had some hard ones, and some frustrating ones. But, and this is important, no harder or more frustrating than I had for donkey’s years in the old school. It’s easier to keep yourself on an even keel when everything in the garden looks rosy, but being able to take things in your stride when it’s more difficult, that for me is a sign of progress. And where the quiz comes into it is that even though I’ve now come down a bit from my post-depression little ray of sunshine phase, I still thoroughly enjoyed last night’s quiz.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Me and Quizzing right now - Brain of Mensa

If you were with me with my previous post, then you’ll know what’s been going on with me for the last few months. Reading it back, I can see that it might give you the impression that I finished with quizzing completely during this time. That’s not true, at least, not quite true.

I said that I made up my mind during that time that I was going to step down from playing in the Bridgend Quiz League after the end of the 2016/17 season. That is actually true, and I still have no intention of playing next season. It’s a little bit complicated. I’ve already written in the blog about things which happened in the 2016 AGM, which led to my decision not to play in the league in the 2016/17 season, a decision I had to renege on due to the sad passing away of our mate Brian. I didn’t want to leave the team in the lurch mid season, so I played, but enough is enough now. Put simply, my heart isn’t in the league any more, and so I’d rather say that by and large it’s been a fun 7 years, and I’d rather me and the league part as friends.

I also said that I’d begun missing Thursday night quizzes in the Rugby Club. That’s true, and may well happen again. I suppose that one way I’ve changed a bit in the last couple of months is I’ve stopped doing things which I don’t have to do out of a sense of duty. I’ll try to explain that. Prior to 2017, if there was a quiz in the rugby club, and I wasn’t out of the country, or at some work business I couldn’t get out of, then I’d be there. For most of the 20+ years I’ve been going to the Thursday night quiz I really wanted to, anyway. There have been times in the last couple of years when I haven’t really wanted to go, but I’ve gone anyway out of a sense of obligation to the people who’ve taken time and trouble to compile a quiz. (Yes, I do appreciate you all, even though I may moan like hell while the quiz is actually on. Can’t help it.) Since my treatment started, though, I don’t go if I don’t feel like it. The nice thing is that most weeks, I do feel like it, and I do want to go. We still don’t win that many, but when we do, it brightens the whole week for me.

And so to Brain of Mensa. Ah yes, Mensa. That’s a word which tends to put some people’s backs up, and in a sense I can understand why. I’m sure that you already know, but basically Mensa is a society founded in 1947 as an organisation for people who can demonstrate that they have an IQ in the top 2% of the population. The whole idea of intelligence, and how accurately any IQ test can measure whatever intelligence is, well, that’s a whole can of worms which is not best opened here. It’s difficult to argue against the idea that Mensa is an elitist organisation, however much we might like to think differently. It’s also difficult to respond in any meaningful way to the assertion – ‘I don’t need any organisation to tell me that I’m intelligent’ - . So maybe Mensans are the insecure and pitiable figures that certain individuals and sections of public opinion think we are. Personally, when I’ve been involved in a Mensa event, I’ve found that the people involved are a pretty wide cross section of society, and the only characteristic that links all of them is that they are members of Mensa. I’ve yet to see two people swapping IQ scores for that matter.  OK, so I guess what I’m trying to say here is, yes, I know that Mensa as an organisation is something a lot of people take a very negative view of, and that’s fine. If that’s your view, nothing I say is likely to change your mind, and I can live with that.

So – Brain of Mensa. When I first heard about the competition in about 2008, I filed it away in my memory as something to come back to in the fulness of time. I took the test and joined in the summer of 2013, and entered the 2014 competition, where I reached the final and came third. I enjoyed the competition, and very much wanted to win it if I ever could. Back in 2014 I gave myself 10 years to win it. I didn’t enter in 2015, then last year I entered, got to the final, and the questions fell my way. Not being modest here, they did. The great thing about winning last year was that I don’t have to worry about winning now. Seriously, having won it once, everything now is just for fun, and if I never win it again – and let’s face it, that’s the most likely prognosis – that’s fine by me.

Still, I never enter a quiz without wanting to win it, and so I was pleased to get through my first round heat on Saturday just gone.

If you’re not a member, or you are and you’ve never played in the competition, you might be interested in the way that it works. There are three rounds – first round heat, semi final, and final. One winner from each heat goes through to the semi finals, and the winner and second placed in the semis contest the grand final. One of the features of the competition that I really like is that each heat and semi final is hosted by one of the competitors. In theory this doesn’t have to be at anyone’s home- it could be at another venue arranged by the nominated organiser. In practice though it’s usually the organiser’s home. On Saturday I played host for the first time.

I don’t know, but I imagine that the Geographical aspect of the competition can make organisation tricky. To give an example, I live in Port Talbot South Wales. The other two competitors in my heat were from Rhyader in mid Wales, and Wexford, in the Republic of Ireland. Geographically, we were the latter’s closest competitors. I imagine that there’s probably a lot less travel involved for participants living in the South East of England. I’m lucky. Living in Port Talbot I know that I’m probably going to have to travel, and I love it. I’ve been to heats and semis in Chard in Somerset, in Stevenage in Herts., in Marlborough in Wilts. , and in Derbyshire. That’s not counting the two finals, one in Birmingham and the other in London.

As for the quiz itself, well, I think that it’s the hardest individual quiz I ever play in. The breadth and depth of the questions are a real challenge, and that’s the way it should be. The way it works is probably best explained if we take a round involving 4 players, the final or semi. There are 120 general knowledge questions. The questions are set by the estimable Brian Daugherty, who is also question master for the grand final, and they are far above the level of your local pub quiz. They are asked in rounds of 20 questions. Each player would be assigned a letter, A,B,C or D, and a seating position – A 1st, B 2nd and so on. In round 1, A would be asked first question, then B and so on. Should A answer his or her question incorrectly, then B gets a chance for a bonus, if he answers incorrectly then C and so on. Then B would be asked his or her first question, and should he/she answer incorrectly, then it would be offered to C, then D, then A. You see how it works, I’m sure. Each correct answer is worth a point.

Now, after the first 20 questions, seating positions are changed. So while A might remain in seat 1, B,C and D would all swap. This is done in the interests of fairness. In any group of 4 quizzers, while they might all be strong quizzers in their own right, some are going to be even stronger than others. So there is a distinct advantage to coming immediately after one of the comparatively weaker players, in terms of the chances to answer bonuses which you may receive. So after each set of 20 questions the seating arrangements are changed, with the idea being that every player gets a fair crack of the whip with regards to bonuses.

It’s a terrific quiz, and over the years it has been won by some very well known quizzers, whose blushes I’ll spare. Suffice it to say, though, that in the last ten years, the competition has been won by either a Brain of Britain Champion, a Mastermind Champion, or an Egghead 7 times, while the player who won on the other three occasions is easily good enough to win BoB or MM.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Where Have I been? - Good Question. . .

The King of Hearts told Alice to begin at the beginning. That’s good advice, but it presupposes that you actually know where the beginning is. So for convenience’s sake, let’s take up the story from after my last post in LAM. 

I left off Lam abruptly right at the and of March after posting about the UC semi final. A few days prior to writing that I made a visit to my GP, during which he diagnosed me with depression.

Since being diagnosed, I’ve been hugely surprised by the number of people I’ve met who have also gone through it. If you’ve been through depression, then you’ll know that any description I try to make of it is likely to be inadequate. If you haven’t, well, I will try my best to describe it for you.

From January onwards I had become (more) moody and irritable, and started losing interest in, well, pretty much everything. I fought against it, because I’ve felt like this before a few times in the last few years. You may be aware yourself of my long periods of silence in the blog in the last two or three years. That was bad enough, but this was something different, or worse. 

By March I found that certain things, many concerned with work but not all of them, left me a quivering wreck of anxiety. For example, in certain situations I was finding that I just couldn’t make a decision. And I was scared, many days absolutely terrified of God only knows what. Many days I would drop one or other of my daughters into work, then drive to work myself gripping the steering wheel so tightly that my knuckles would go white, trying very hard to stop myself from crying. For no reason that I could put my finger on. I started missing the quiz in the rugby club on a Thursday night, and I announced that I would be retiring from the Bridgend Quiz League when the season came to an end. No matter how early I went to bed I was waking at 4 am every morning on the dot, heart thumping and a feeling of dread and terror wrapped around me like a cloak. 

I didn’t go to see the doctor, though. I tried to just carry on as if nothing was wrong. I don’t think I was making a brilliant job of it, mind you, since I had a growing number of colleagues telling me to please go and see the doctor. 

It finally came to a head over my diabetic check up. I knew full well that I had to take a party of children from the school to Swansea University on the day that I had my appointment, yet could I bring myself to tell the Deputy Head? No. What made it worse was that I didn’t go to my GP’s surgery to cancel the appointment until the day before. That was the last straw. Pretty much failing to hold back the tears as I apologised to the practise receptionist, and tried to explain the inexplicable convinced me that I had to make an appointment to see my GP – well, that and the wife beating me over the head with a frying pan until I agreed to go. Joke. That’s another thing too – I lost my sense of humour. Some would argue I haven’t got it back yet. 

I was in such a state going to see the doctor that my youngest daughter, Jessica had to accompany me. To cut a long story short, I was diagnosed with depression. I found myself admitting to my GP that while the thought of the effect that it would have on my family had stopped me going so far as making plans for suicide, I certainly went to bed every night hoping that I wouldn’t ever wake up again after falling asleep. In fact the real thing that stopped me was imagining my eldest daughter having to explain what had happened to my grandson. That chokes me up now even thinking about it. The moment the doctor suggested a month off work I could have kissed him. He also prescribed a course of fluoroxetine, which I’m informed is either a type of Prozac, or similar to it. He also told me not to expect improvement for a few weeks. 

What brought this on? To this day I have no idea. It would be easy if there was one traumatic event I could point to, but there really isn’t. I suppose that the most traumatic thing had been changing schools. We were first told of the plan to merge our school with two others in a brand new school way back in October 2010, and the school opened in September 2016. The school is 3 times as big in terms of numbers as my last school ever was, and frankly, some of the worst groups are awful. In many ways, it’s like being a brand newly qualified teacher all over again. The worst thing about this was that I was 23 last time, and I’m 53 now. So yes, probably moving schools brought it to a head. But I think it has been building up for several years. I just don’t know exactly why. Maybe I never will. 

There were only two weeks left in the term before the Easter holidays. The best thing I can say about those weeks is that there were only two of them. In addition to the huge anxiety and gloom I’d been feeling everyday, I now had a shedload of guilt over missing school to deal with. In 30 years the longest consecutive absence I’d had so far was 3 days. For those two weeks and a little bit more it was as if there was a little invisible demon sitting on my shoulder, whispering all the worst things I have ever felt about myself before, constantly, and what is more, in my own voice. 

I’d booked a short solo sketching trip to Prague for the second week of the Easter holiday, the 4th since my diagnosis, and my family were adamant that I should still go. When I was there, I found that the whispering demon had gone, but he’d actually left a huge void. It was like it wasn’t me – or indeed anyone. It was a little bit like somebody walking around in my body – I was doing all the things I had planned to do, but it was like somebody else was doing them and I was watching the video. The only people I spoke to for three days were the hotel staff, and hot dog vendors. I made some great sketches though. 

I had a telephone consultation with my GP, and I said, and he agreed, that I didn’t feel ready to return to work yet. In truth, I thought that I’d never feel ready to go back ever again. He gave me a paper for a further month. The first sign that I was improving came about a fortnight later, when I found myself actually hungry, and actually enjoying a meal. Don’t get me wrong, I’d been eating meals previously, but this was because it was something I thought I should do rather than something I actually wanted to. I started to take myself out on visits to places in Wales I’d always wanted to visit but had never got round to, places like Dylan Thomas’ boathouse in Laugharne. I sketched constantly. My sleeping became better than it had been for years. More than that, after the sixth week of being on medication, I could face phoning the school to discuss my return. When I had a meeting with the school’s business manager I surprised myself by saying that although she offered me to start after the half term holiday, I’d like to come back for the two days before. Where did that come from? Well, those days were the first two days after my second sick paper ended and. . . I felt ready. 

We agreed that we’d do the Thursday, and then talk about whether I could do the Friday. Both went well, and (whisper this quietly) for the first time in I can’t remember how long I actually enjoyed some of the lessons. I started back full time after the half term holiday, and the only day I’ve missed since was for my diabetic eye check up (had the results, all fine, no change thanks for asking).

I don’t kid myself for one minute that I’ve bid a final goodbye to the little demon on my shoulder. I wasn’t as bad two years ago, but looking back, I can see that I was on the way at the time. So I know that he could be back, and that’s something I have to live with, and something I find I can live with. At the moment, then, I’m taking it one day at a time. Well, as much as I can take one day at a time – at work there are times when you have to look forward to later in the week, term etc when you have events coming up which need to be prepared for, but ok. So far, I can handle it. 

So I’m back. For today, at least, I’m back. Whether I’ll have anything worth saying in the blog now, well, that’s something which will only become clear as time goes on. One post at a time.

Friday, 31 March 2017

University Challenge Semi Final - Emmanuel Cambridge v. Wolfson Cambridge

I think that it’s probably fair to say that this was the most highly anticipated match of the series so far. The excitement on social media about a match many people billed as Seagull v. Monkman was palpable in the days leading up to Monday’s semi. That billing is a little unfair – after all as well as LAM reader captain Bobby, Emmanuel could boast the talents of Tom Hill, Leah Ward and Bruno Barton-Singer. On the other side, as well as their iconic captain, Wolfson’s Justin Yang, Ben Chaudri and Paul Cosgrove should never be underestimated.

It looked good for Emma at the start as Bruno Barton-Singer was quick to recognise an example of deus ex machina for the first starter. Bonuses on the German born art historian Erwin Panofsky sounded tricky, but we both managed the second and third. Now, I’m sorry, but you can’t sit and wait when you hear the name Robert Catesby. Both teams let the name sink in for a second before Eric Monkman buzzed in with his first answer of the night – the gunpowder plot. It wouldn’t be his last. This brought up bonuses on property  of which they managed one. Ben Chaudri recognised that the two probes NASA sent off on their merry way in 1977 were called Voyager. Their bonuses were all terms beginning with ‘apo’, and they managed 2. Tom Hill buzzed in with the term Naturalistic fallacy for the next starter. No, me neither. Davis Cup tennis provided them with a timely full house, a fact which seemed to surprise Bobby a little – in a good way, of course. A starter about a French physicist caused Eric Monkman to buzz in with “De Broglie”. Gesundheit! – I shouted at the telly, but he was right. This brought Wolfson a set of bonuses on scientific units used to measure constants. How many of these do you think I got right? How dare you? You’re right, mind you, I didn’t get any of them, but Wolfson managed a full house. A nice picture starter showed us two cities marked off a map showing Africa and South America. The South American one was Bolivia, so presumably La Paz. Asked which name element they have in common, I went for peace – guessing that Dar Es Salaam was the other. Eric Monkman buzzed in with the same suggestion, and we were both right. The picture bonuses showed more of the same and after confusion with the first they failed to take any of the bonuses. So, at some way past the ten minute mark, Wolfson just looked to be establishing control of the contest with a lead of 70 – 45.

You had to wait and wait and wait with the next starter, and then as soon as you heard ‘designed for world fair in Brussels’ slap that buzzer through the desk. Justin Yang won that buzzer race with “The Atomium”. A set of bonuses on stained glass in North West England promised but little, but general history knowledge enabled both of us to take a full house. Leah Ward struck back, recognising three titles of novels by Georgette Heyer. Be honest, ‘Lady of Quality’, ‘Venetia’ and ‘Regency Buck’ could have been anything – fishing flies, roses – marital aids . . . apologies. Bonuses on silent comedy saw Emma drop two out of a gettable set, and for the first time I started to worry about their chances of pulling this one off. Mind you, Bruno Barton-Singer had a fantastic early buzz on the next starter to identify the super-continent Pangaea. Criticisms of Marxism were not easy – I only had Bakunin, and Emma failed to add to their score. Now, for the music starter, when I’m asked for a modern British composer I usually plump for Benjamin Britten. Nobody was buzzing in, so Bruno Barton-Singer used the same tactic, and with success. More Britten songs, setting poems to music followed, and Emma identified Donne and Blake, but missed out on Wilfred Owen, which they probably should have had. Harsh, but this was a very tight match, where only 5 points separated the teams at this stage. Every answer counted. The speed of Eric Monkman, recognising a definition of the DMZ – Demilitarised Zone – was apparent when he won the buzzer race for the next starter. Early Nobel Laureates provided a further 10 to stretch the lead to a full set. I know nowt about C. elegans but it brought another starter to Justin Yang. Mathematics brought me nothing, but took Wolfson to 130 against Emmanuel’s 90. Still all to play for, considering how we’d seen Emma powering to the line in previous matches.

Another great buzz from Eric Monkman saw him identify the word ‘zany’ from Love’s Labour’s Lost. Hill forts escaped them completely. For the second picture starter I had a feeling that we were looking at the work of Franz Hals, but neither team had it. Tom Hill won the buzzer race to spell the capitals of firstly Senegal and then Bangladesh. The picture bonuses showed more works which featured in Proust’s A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, of which Emmanuel identified 2, to narrow the gap to 30. I thought Hilbert was a cartoon character, but apparently he was a german mathematician. Eric Monkman knew him anyway. Contemporary figures who appeared in Byron’s Don Juan only provided a single bonus. Eric Monkman made a rare miscue for the next starter, and I thought that it was a bit of a harsh adjudication when JP would not allow Bruno Barton-Singer apposite for apposition – they’ve often accepted answers this close in the past. Nobody knew Derek Parfit for the next starter. Some maths thing escaped both teams but then Tom Hill recognised a series of caves and stuff in the Yorkshire Dales. Galilean Moons of Jupiter gave me a full house, and when I completed my lap of honour I saw that 2 correct answers had put Emmanuel just 15 points adrift. The Wolfson skipper immediately stretched that lead again, knowing the Rashomon effect. Impressive shout. Latin terms including verbs in the present subjunctive were a bit of a gift, and they duly accepted that windfall to take th lead up to 40 points. Again, Emmanuel, through Tom Hill, came back, knowing that Monet painted more than 30 views of Rouen Cathedral. Had he never heard of postcards? The second South African War – with answers commonly found in UK street names, was a great little UC set, but the gong sounded after the first. Wolfson had won by 170 - 140

It had promised to be a terrific match, and it was. Not quite the closest we’ve seen this series, for once Wolfson got ahead they always seemed to have that tiny bit more in the tank. These two teams know each other well, and the congratulations from the Emmanuel team were genuine, and I have no doubt they’ll be cheering on their fellow Cambridge team in the final. Indeed, both Bobby and Eric made it clear that they’re mates in their appearance on Tuesday’s One Show. Congratulations to Wolfson, and best of luck in the final.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Rather a forebearing JP again tonight. When asked for the picture bonuses, Eric Monkman got rather the wrong end of the stick, offering up “Vladivostock” rather than a name element. All JP said was, “That isn’t what I asked you for, “ and repeated the question. Mind you, that did enable him to refuse to accept the right answer when they gave it, since they’d already given a wrong un.

I think Jez, a Cambridge man, was a little bit emotional by the end of this all Cambridge semi, for I don’t recall him ever saying anything like his final oration to both teams in this show, “Well, I will say that all of you guys, of whatever gender, you’re very very clever.”

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

Belgrade translates into English as White City.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

University Challenge - Sudden Death Quarter Final - Corpus Christi v. Balliol

Corpus Christi, Oxford v. Balliol, Oxford

Yes, dearly beloved, we have reached the last of the quarter final matches, the last round of drinks in the last chance saloon if you like. Tom Fleet, Emma Johnson, Adam Wright and skipper Nikhil Venkatesh had impressed for Corpus Christi throughout all of their matches until their second QF, where they were outbuzzed by Emmanuel. Opponents Balliol, represented by Freddy Potts, Jacob Lloyd, Ben Pope and captain Joey Goldman were beaten by last week’s qualifiers Wolfson in their first QF, but slaughtered Birmingham in their sudden death match. Who would win this one? Well, it’s been an unpredictable series, with a good half a dozen strong teams in the quarters, and as we all know 6 into 4 doesn’t go. Something’s gotta give. We’d soon find out just who.

If you’re asked for a King of Bavaria, Ludwig is always going to be a decent shout. It worked out that way for both me and Joey Goldman on the first starter. Chatham House earned them one bonus – the only one I knew was that Pitt the Elder was given the title of the Earl of Chatham. Respect for Jacob Lloyd for ascribing the Shakespeare quote about imagining death by drowning to Richard III – wouldn’t have been my first – or second, or third – choice, that one. Bonuses on squandering saw Balliol take their first full house, and these were by no means all easy either. The term Eutrophic gave Balliol their third successive starter and Ben Pope his first. Pairs of Scientific terms differing by only one letter were a good old UC special set, and Balliol took two. According to Harold Macmllan no sensible man challenges The Brigade of Guards – and two other bodies. I guessed the Church – it turned out to be the Catholic church,  and the other was the National Union of Mineworkers. Neither team had that one. The next was a real UC special. Concatenate the regnal numbers of all the monarchs of the UK since Victoria and the resulting 5 digit number is closest to the area of which country of the UK? It was crying out for a contestant to hit the buzzer and hope, and Joey Goldman was rewarded for bravery when his guess of Scotland turned out to be correct. Questions on Mary of Guise brought 2 more correct answers to Balliol, and my first full house of the night. A flag picture starter! I love a flag picture starter, and knew straightaway that this was Greenland’s. So did Adam Wright, who put Corpus Christi’s score into the black, and earned bonuses on flags of indigenous peoples that have co official status. The only one I knew was the Aboriginal flag from Australia, but Corpus managed two of them. Nikhil Venkatesh won the buzzer race to answer Marie Stopes for the next starter, and they correctly answered two of a set on panopticons. Incidentally this set disgracefully ignored the fact that the Panopticon is probably the most important building on Gallifrey, the Doctor’s home planet. So this rally meant that the score just after the 10 minute mark was 80 – 35 to Balliol.

Right, the next question asked for shared values of something or other, and I did what I always do when asked for a value I haven’t got a clue about. I answered 0. Not for the first time, it was right. Ben Pope had that one as well. Mesons, leptons, muons and the like gave me nowt for the bonuses, but Balliol lapped them up like cream, gaining a full house. Emma Johnson buzzed early to supply the words mediate and meditate for the next starter. This gave Corpus a set on South Korean cinema. Respect to the whole team for not one of them saying “What the . . . “ Despite never having knowingly watched a South Korean movie, I took a full house, and Corpus took two bonuses of their own. Really and truly these were GK questions – and nowt wrong with that either. Freddy Potts knew the Gini index. Pun overload warning. A fantastic UC special set followed on sets of books in which the shorter title was also the beginning of the longer title, eg Cormac McCarthy and George Orwell giving us The Road – To Wigan Pier. Alright, it was easy to get a full house on these which Balliol duly did, but that wasn’t the point. These were fun, and kudos to the setter. Adam Wright recognised candidates for the southernmost of the Pillars of Hercules, and earned Corpus a set on South America. They took a couple, but at this stage they really needed full houses to start closing that gap on Balliol. Now, I have a tactic for answering who composed American operas for the music starter. If it sounds like music I say Copland. If it doesn’t, I say Glass. This time I went for Glass, as did Joey Goldman and we were both correct. Bonuses on other composers who had day jobs only provided any of us with one, the old chestnut Borodin who was a chemist, although presumably not as in Boots the. Emma Johnson buzzed in with the next starter with the answer of Blastocyst. Gesundheit, I thought, but it was right, anyway. Rapidly orbiting moons, being about my only area of any scientific knowledge – astronomy – promised my best chance of a lap of honour in this show. I actually had two, which meant the lap of honour followed by the Mexican Wave. It was the same two that Corpus managed. The first and greatest masterpiece of modern art could only be Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon, but it took a while before Joey Goldman buzzed in, earning bonuses on writer’s block. The two that Balliol managed meant that the score was 160 – 95 in their favour on the cusp of the 20 minute mark. Game over? No not yet, but it would need an almighty effort from Corpus Christi.

Emma Johnson knew Force Majeure, and obscurely named administrative districts of England gave one bonus which reduced the gap to 50. Now, for the second picture starter I immediately recognised the original costume design for L’Apres Midi d’Un Faun, since exactly the same picture is in the Chronicle of the 20th Century. Emma Johnson, a star player for Corpus at this stage of the game, knew it too. More original designs for ballets failed to add to their score. Joey Goldman stretched the lead back out, knowing the sign for a glottal stop. I gave myself a small round of applause for knowing that atropine comes from deadly nightshade for the first of a set of bonuses – alright, I only had one on this set, but it was one more than Balliol managed. I didn’t know that Clara Wieck married Schumann, but Jacob Lloyd did. Postwar works on the shortlist of academic books that changed the world offered me but little and indeed delivered me nothing, while Balliol had a full house. Don’t care – I knew atropine. I loved the next starter – three European capital cities gave their names to elements of the periodic table – name two. Paris – Lutetium, Stockholm – Holmium, Copenhagen – Hafnium – I answered. Some time later once again it was the Balliol skipper who had the guts to buzz in, and bravery was rewarded as he gave the 2 Scandinavian capitals. This took them through the 200 points barrier, and the Danish Colonial Empire brought them to 215 and a 95 point lead. With the clock running down, Balliol were now as good as through. I think that Ben Pope probably knew that the closest national capital to Vienna is Bratislava, and he supplied its first three letters for the next starter. Here’s one of those annoying things. If you go to a pub quiz, and the question master asks which two European capital cities lie closest together, if you answer – Rome and the Vatican – you will be told you are being silly. If you answer Bratislava and Vienna you will be told it’s Rome and the Vatican. Anyway, this brought bonuses on the name Angel. A lovely set, Balliol were never going to pass up a full house on these. Fair play to Nikhil Venkatesh, the Corpus skipper must have known that they were out, but he still buzzed in with the Paradox of Hedonism for the next starter. Again, this brought up a great UC special set. Given words which appeared alongside their dictionary definition, the team had to identify capital cities – for example – airlift and wall give Berlin. Great set, and Corpus took a full house. Adam Wright knew the newly discovered moon Nix of Pluto. Sadly there was only time for one correct bonus on English and Sanskrit. At the gong, Balliol had won by 160 – 240.

I’m sure that it’s scant consolation, Corpus Christi, but there’s absolutely no shame in reaching the quarters of such a competitive series of UC – in other years I fancy you would have been semi-finalists. Many congratulations to Balliol, an impressive performance against a very good team. Best of luck in your semi.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

On the Henry VIII question about Mary of Guise, JP observed “He was a real charmer, wasn’t he?” Dare I say it, takes one to know one?

Oh, Jez, you do like your little joke don’t you? Pronouncing glottal stop as glo’al stop – a little obvious, don’t you think, though?

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

Greenland’s flag is called “Erfalasorput” which translates as ‘Our Flag’ – love it, does exactly what it says on the tin.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

University Challenge - Sudden Death Quarter Final - Warwick v. Wolfson, Cambridge

By the time we get to this stage, the sudden death quarter final, the chances are that we’re going to lose a good team, with maybe one of the stars of the series so far. Which brings us to Warwick v. Wolfson, Cambridge. Both Sophie Rudd of Warwick, and Eric Monkman of Wolfson could claim to be amongst the best buzzers of the series so far, but the reality of the situation was that we were going to be losing one of them – but which one? Warwick were represented by Jamie Keschner -Lycett, the reserve player, in for Sophie Hobbs,and regulars Sophie Rudd, Thomas Van and skipper Giles Hutchings. As for Wolfson, they fielded an unchanged team in Justin Yang, Ben Chaudri, Paul Cosgrove and their irrepressible skipper Eric Monkman.

Given a quote from Queen Victoria about an author, Thomas Van came in too early, ad even as he offered the answer of Disraeli he was apologising, knowing it was wrong. Given the detail that he died in 1870, Eric Monkman took the points by suggesting Charles Dickens. If you’re asked about a Victorian author and you don’t know the answer, then Dickens is the equivalent of backing the favourite in a greyhound race. You won’t always get your money back, but you’ll do so far more often than if you back the outsider. This brought up a set of bonuses on railway architecture. Yum yum, thought I. Full house to me – 2 to Wolfson. We were then asked for the Italian title of a painting which was described by JP. First in was Justin Yang with Primavera. The words of William Hazlitt describing the Romantic poets brought us both a full house, and gave Wolfson an early lead of 50 points. Sophie Rudd might not have been feeling stress and strain, but she gave them as the correct answer to the next starter. Some physics thing I think. 2 bonuses on China served to reduce the gap somewhat. Eric Monkman knew that petition principia equates to the English phrase – begging the question. Good shout, that one. Physics and astronomy terms containing the word black brought neither of us any points. For the picture starter we saw a latin phrase – num custos fratris mei sum? – which even my latin O Level was enough tell me meant – am I my brother’s keeper? Eric Monkman took starter number 3 with that one. More quotations brought a full house for both of us. Sophie Rudd managed her second starter, and was in very quickly for a set of words whose only consonants were c and d – as in cad. Here’s a question - How often do we see UC teams undone by relatively easy sports questions? This is what happened to Warwick, as a relatively gentle set of tennis questions beat them in straight sets. At just past the 10 minute mark Wolfson led 85 – 25, and Eric Monkman was having the better of his buzzer arm wrestle with Sophie Rudd.

I was surprised that neither of such able teams knew that Sir John Vanburgh designed both Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace. I’ve never heard of the Narrow Road to the Deep North but Giles Hutchings had which brought him the next starter. Two timely bonuses on sea birds followed. Now, when you hear ‘dancer’ and ‘choreographer’ and any reference to America, you’ll not go far wrong by throwing caution to the wind and buzzing in with Isadora Duncan. That’s exactly what Justin Yang did to win the next starter. A difficult set on Celtic kingdoms brought just the one bonus, enough to bring up a triple figure score. Lord John Russell’s definition of a proverb brought Eric Monkman starter number 4. A full set on psychology meant that the gap between the teams had stretched to 80, and was looking ominous. Now, coming to the music starter, I do wonder if Wolfson had agreed before hand that if they got an opera, one of them would hit and hope with Carmen. Hat’s what Ben Chaudri did. Poor old Giles Hutchings knew it was Verdi, and knew it was a famous chorus, but zigged with Nabucco, while it was clearly the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore. The next starter was a gentle Geography question about the straits formerly known as the Hellespont. Eric Monkman won his 5th starter with that unconsidered trifle. This earned the music bonuses on operatic choruses. They made short work of these. For the next starter Sophie Rudd knew that pebbles fitted into the classification of grain sizes, and this gave Warwick 2 bonuses on Nobel Peace Prizes. Asked for an American poet usually known by his initials and his surname, Eric Monkman’s answer of T.S.Eliot sounds a decent shout. Not when JP finished the question, though, with the details that these are usually represented in lower case. Jamie Keschner -Lycett accepted that windfall. River gorges in France provided just the one correct answer, but at least Warwick were now within striking distance of triple figures. VICE magazine brought Eric Monkman starter number 6. Battles of the Wars of the Roses saw Wolfson only score the one correct answer, in a very gettable set. Nonetheless it restored an 80 point lead of 160 – 80 as we rounded upon the 20 minute mark.

Now, I knew that Delbert Mann directed Marty, so all of the films given by JP for the next starter were directed by men with that surname. Nobody knew that one. The Rhani of Jhansi was remarkably enough to give Eric Monkman his seventh starter with the Indian Mutiny. A full set on the Emperor Trajan brought a triple figure lead. Starter 8 for Eric Monkman followed swiftly as he identified a portrait of the young Napoleon Bonaparte for the second picture starter. For bonuses Wolfson were asked to identify the painters of three other portraits of Old Boney. They answered Jacques Louis David for the first two – which weren’t – and Delacroix for the third – which was David. C’est la vie. Eric Monkman wasn’t in particularly fast for the next starter, knowing that Jimmy Carter was president at the time of the three Mile Island accident, but he was still faster than any of the Warwick team and claimed starter number 8. They took the same bonus on currency crises that I took, with Zimbabwe. Didn’t matter that they only got the one – that lead was growing, and the clock was ticking down. Nobody knew a series of towers in Moscow. I got a bit frustrated when the words history of the French Revolution were given in the next starter, and nobody buzzed for ages. Almost reluctantly, it seemed, Thomas Van gave us Carlyle – eventually. Physical Chemistry provided one bonus, which was one more than I managed. Sophie Rudd now won a buzzer race, knowing that the South American River upon whose banks are two capital cities is the River Plate – Rio del Plata. Ages – mulitples of 13 – of political figures brought a timely full house, but by this time the game was over as a contest. Nonetheless Thomas Van took the next starter on Hemingway. Bonuses on taxonomic ranks in zoology brought 2 bonuses. Nobody knew the next starter about the atlas bone. It seemed that perhaps the Mighty Monkman had decided to take a breather at thus tail end of the match, because now it was Giles Hutchings who won the buzzer race to identify Richard Strauss. Bonuses on astronomy had the effect of reducing the gap to 50 – two full houses. Was there time? Well, there was time for Wolfson to lose 5 for an incorrect interruption, and time for Sophie Rudd to identify the Dukedom held by the eldest son of the reigning monarch as Cornwall. There was time enough for one bonus on Prime Ministers. That was it, though. Wolfson had won by 205 – 175. That sounds relatively close, but this was due to a splendid belated fightback, and was not really a reflection of the dominance of Wolfson, and Eric Monkman, for much of the contest. Hard lines Warwick, but well done for what you’ve achieved in this series.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Getting into the spirit of the thing, Eric Monkman offered a very dramatic reading of the quotation – He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword -. In years gone by JP might well have slapped him down verbally for such a performance, but in this show he merely chuckled and observed that Mr. M. would have made an excellent revivalist preacher. You’re becoming positively avuncular, Jez.

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

In China the festival called Tomb Sweeping Day is celebrated in April.

Friday, 10 March 2017

University Challenge - Elimination Match - Birmingham v. Balliol, Oxford

Birmingham v. Balliol, Oxford

Yes, dearly beloved, last Monday was a visit to the last chance saloon. Drinking for Birmingham were Elliot Jan-Smith, Fraser Sutherland, Chris Rouse and skipper George Greenlees, while the drinks for Balliol were on Freddie Potts, Jacob Lloyd, Ben Pope and captain Joey Goldman.

Now, if you hear “town” and “shares its name with an 18th century painter” then don’t hesitate – it’s Gainsborough. Joey Goldman won that buzzer race, and this brought Balliol a couple of bonuses on places with similar names to Westeros. I’ll be honest, I interrupted incorrectly with Herodotus for the Greek historian required for the next starter, as did Freddie Potts. The answer, supplied by Chris Rouse, being Thucydides. Bonuses on world History proved elusive, but Birmingham managed one of them. Joey Goldman was very quickly in with the term Anthropocene for the next starter. Mendelian genetics frankly did not seem very promising, and indeed I managed narry a one. Balliol took none of them either. SKY is an acronym named for the top universities in South Korea – as Joey Goldman knew for the next starter. Ida Lupino only provided a single bonus, and this brought us up to the first picture starter. Being a massive Beatles fan of course I recognised Komm, gib mir diene hand – and – Sie Liebt dich as I wanna Hold Your Hand and She Loves You. The Beatles did actually record these German versions of their own songs. Poor old Freddie Potts gave us I wanna Hold Your Hand, but then offered is – She Loves Me , adding a hopeful yeah-yeah – yeah. No, no no, to coin a phrase. This allowed Chris Rouse in to steal. The titles of three more tracks rerecorded by 60s artists for release in Europe. Brimingham only took the one, although they were only just outside the bullseye with both of the other two. This meant that the score at the ten minute mark stood at 40 – 25 to Balliol. On the surface there didn’t seem to be much in it. However both of Birmingham’s starters had come from incorrect Balliol interruptions. Early indications were that Balliol was winning the buzzer race hands down.

Perhaps self-employed taxi driver was the biggest clue to Noddy for the next starter, but neither team managed it. Fr the next starter Jacob Lloyd finished off a great quote from Ronald Hutton about the English Civil War. This earned Balliol a set of bonuses on Australian Deserts. I knew the Simpson, so I had one, but Balliol didn’t. For the next starter, it was one of those long winded things which suddenly becomes clear, and when it became obvious that the words ‘pathetic fallacy’ were what the question was driving at I saw at least four hands fly to the buzzers. It was Jacob Lloyd who got there first, though. My heart sank as JP announced physics as the subject – still, my policy of always answering neutrino to any question about a particle paid dividends with the first bonus. Yes of course I did a lap of honour . That was me done for this set, but it brought a full house to Balliol. A cantata from Prokofiev went begging for the music starter, and so the bonuses rolled over.  I don’t blame George Greenlees for flying into the next starter, but sadly Esperanto is not the only constructed language, and this starter wanted the lesser known Volapuk. Balliol couldn’t capitalise. Nothing daunted, George Greenlees knew that the word Gloria usually precedes In Excelsis Deo – while deo itself usually precedes daylight com and me wanna go home. Sorry. This earned music bonuses for Birmingham in the shape of three more excerpts from scores by composers known for their association with a particular film director. They took the one I knew as well, Ennio Morricone and Sergio Leone. The next starter was about the physicist Stokes, and the impressive Joey Goldman added to his starter tally with that one. Now, when you hear English poet and Catholic convert, it doesn’t necessarily mean Gerard Manley Hopkins – but you can bet your life that will be the answer. Bonuses on him brought a full house to Balliol. It seemed inevitable that it was skipper Goldman who won the buzzer race to answer the next question about Lady Hamilton. The solar system brought another couple of bonuses, and Birmingham were, frankly, looking down the barrel of a gun. Freddie Potts guessed that a series of periods in a specific country’s history belonged to Brazil. A lovely UC set on palindromic surnames gave Balliol a lead of 140 – 30 just after the 20 minute mark.  The game wasn’t necessarily over, but the engine was already on Birmingham’s minibus of despair.

I didn’t know Giorgio di Chiricho for the second picture starter, but the irrepressible Balliol skipper was in like a whippet for it. 3 more examples of architectural capricci brought another full house. George Greenlees managed to get a toe in the door by knowing that melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland. Psychology bonuses added a much needed 10 points. Freddie Potts knew the Germa poet Heinrich Heine for the next starter after an incorrect Birmingham interruption. A UC special set on pairs of words where a few letters have to be added to the first to make the second brought an easy full house to the Balliol juggernaut. Nobody knew a set of different types of hedgerow for the next starter. For the next starter Joey Goldman knew that Citizen’s Broom toppled the leader of Burkina Faso. French ministers of finance gave me nowt, but Balliol took 2 to take them through the 200 point barrier. Let’s be honest, if you’re asked about an architectural historian – it is going to be Pevsner, isn’t it? Certainly Joey Goldman thought so with a very early and correct interruption. Verb moods brought a full house in very short order. I was surprised how long the teams took to get feldspar from the next starter, but eventually it was George Greenlees who snapped up that unconsidered trifle. Geography bonuses pushed them a little further onwards, but triple figures still looked like something of a tall order. Unstoppable, Joey Goldman added to his set of impressively early buzzes knowing the story of an horu had something to do with Chopin. Pharmacology only brought the one bonus, but that was of no significance. Now, I don’t know how I knew that Gibraltar Point is in Lincolnshire, but I did. Joey Godlman looked as if he was guessing, but his answer was right. Pairs of people and the full decade in which they were both alive brought up the 200 point lead for Balliol, at which point the gong brought the contest to a conclusion. Balliol won by 265 to 65. Hard lines Birmingham – beaten by consistently superb buzzing, and there’s nothing you can do when that happens. This sets up a fascinating shoot out for Balliol.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Here’s a funny thing – Jez can’t pronounce ‘nomenclature’, Seriously – he says it about 6 and a half minutes into the show, and he tries to say the first couple of syllables missing out the vowels – nmnclature. Most bizarre.

When the Balliol team failed to answer any questions about Australian deserts an exasperated JP expostulated “What is the point of having an Australian if you can’t answer things like that?” Well – at least Ben Pope can probably pronounce nomenclature properly, Jez.

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

Quickset, Devon and Cornish are all different types of hedgerow

Saturday, 4 March 2017

University Challenge - Qualification Match - Edinburgh v. Wolfson Cambridge

Qualification Match – Edinburgh v. Wolfson, Cambridge

Yes, we’re getting through the quarter final stage at affair old rate of knots now. This was our second match with automatic qualification the prize for the winners. Edinburgh, represented by Luke Dale, Euan Smith, Emily Goddard and their captain, Joe Boyle saw off Birmingham in their first quarter final match, while Wolfson College Cambridge, represented by Justin Yang, Ben Chaudri, Paul Cosgrove and their skipper Eric Monkman, defeated Balliol, Oxford in their first quarter. An interesting match on paper, this one. In previous matches both teams had demonstrated buzzing throughout the team, and in Messrs Smith and Monkman, two of the most impressive performers on the buzzer of the whole series so far.

Eric Monkman showed an impressive turn of speed on the buzzer for the first starter, but didn’t quite get the right definition of HDI and lost 5. Small margins can make a difference. Euan Smith came in with Human Development Index to earn the first points and a set of bonuses on Thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment. I would have answered David Hume to all three until it was right, but it was right on the first and that was me done. Edinburgh took two. Nothing daunted by the first question, Eric Monkman came in to answer that Geoffrey of Monmouth had written that Stonehenge had been brought to Britain from Ireland by Merlin. Wonder what he was on when he wrote that? Bonuses on French territories were not easy and both of us only managed the one. I love Angela Carter’s definition of comedy as “tragedy that happens to other people”, and that one went to Mr. Monkman’s able buzz lieutenant, Ben Chaudri. Astronomy yielded just one correct answer, but you could see there were a couple where had they zigged rather than zagged they’d have had them. Now, had you asked me what P-value was I’m afraid my answer would have shown nothing other than my penchant for schoolboy humour. Joe Boyle knew it though, and earned bonuses on the architectural style known as Brick Gothic or Hanseatic. Didn’t sound that promising , but it yielded a full house. The picture starter showed a map of India , with a state highlighted, and basically shading to indicate the highest proportion of speakers of a given language. Phew. Nobody – apart from me – had it. A good shout from Paul Cosgrove saw him identify an alloy of platinum and iridium as making up the international standard kilogram. This brought up the picture bonuses – more Indian states and languages, and 2 correct answers meant that both teams were dead level on the cusp of the 10 minute mark, having scored 45. This was looking as good a contest as we had expected it to be.

The next starter was a cryptic refence to Washington Crossing the Delaware. Didn’t faze Euan Smith at all, and this earned a set on matrices. When I switched my mind back on again, Edinburgh hadn’t added to their score. I knew who founded the Boys Brigade, as did Emily Goddard. Florentine Churches seemed to be to Edinburgh’s liking, and they took a full set. A UC special on words followed – basically you had to quickly figure out which two consonants produce words which have specific different meanings if you stick each vowel in turn between them. Winner of that particular buzzer race was Emily Goddard with a superfast answer of S and T. The astronomer Lassell provided Edinburgh with a further 2 correct answers. Now, you had to wait and wait and wait with the next question, then as soon as JP uttered the words ‘Russia’s best loved writer’ go like Billy-o for the buzzer. That’s what Euan Smith did with Pushkin, and he was right to do so. Pushkin once wrote a poem about my great, great, great, great uncle. True story. Bonuses on Western Europe  as defined by the US  statistics office brought them another full house. Dearly beloved, we have noted in the past that in a University Challenge match both teams will have their periods of ascendancy, their purple patches, if you like. It’s imperative to make the most of it while it’s happening, and Edinburgh were certainly making hay while the sun was shining on them, having by now powered through the triple figure barrier and put on 80 unanswered points. The music starter saw a rare wrong buzz from Euan Smith, allowing Eric Monkman to identify the Danse Macabre of Saint-Saens. Three more dances of death all escaped them, but at least their score was climbing again now after the Edinburgh blitz. I’ll be honest, ignoring all of the stuff about the periodic table for the next starter, after I heard ‘Latin subjunctive form’ I went for fiat, being about the only one I can remember. When, goaded by JP, Ben Chaudri offered the same, it proved to be right too. Susan Sontag promised me but little, and delivered me but the one bonus, as it did for Wolfson. I think I watched a TV show at least part of which was dedicated to Dorothy Hodgkin, as she gave me my first – and only – Science starter for the week. As I set off on the lap of honour Eric Monkman too supplied the correct answer.  The human skeleton provided a couple of bonuses. That Wolfson fightback, led by the efforts of their inspirational skipper meant that Wolfson had reduced arrears somewhat, and coming up towards the 20 minute mark the score stood at 125 – 90 in Edinburgh’s favour.

Mind you, Edinburgh’s own skipper was leading from the front as well. Joe Boyle buzzed in early to identify panther onca as the jaguar. Film titles including the name of a food grain did nowt for me, but Edinburgh managed one. For the next starter about an African river, Ben Chaudri zigged with Congo, allowing Euan Smith to zag with Niger. South America brought them two more correct answers. I was impressed with the speed with which Eric Monkman identified Mendeleev for the second picture starter. 3 more scientists with chemical elements named after them brought a much needed and well deserved full house. I thought both teams sat on the buzzer a little bit after the words – awakenings – and  - neurologist – were spoken in the next question, but Ben Chaudri chanced his arm with Oliver Sacks and was right to do so. Oh great – thought I – chemistry bonuses now. When I came out of my chemistry induced catatonia, Wolfson had narrowed the gap to 30 points. 10 points of which were immediately knocked off by Eric Monkman, knowing that the Crito de Delores was the starting point for the Mexican Revolution. Books about language reduced it by a further 10 points. Less than 4 minutes to go, and all that separated the teams was a single starter. Nobody knew that Edward VIII abdicated in December 1936. Ben Chaudri was the first in with the term larvae for the stage in many insects which comes immediately after egg. We had a tied game. Words ending in the letters za provided 5 points, but all three were, I thought gettable. Would they regret dropping those couple? Maybe, but on the other hand maybe not. They had retaken the lead, and it was now down to Edinburgh to play catch up. This they did as Euan Smith knew that the novel The Betrothed was originally written in Italian. A gift of a set on English counties saw them gain a full set at top speed. Syrinx could possibly have given Eric Monkman the idea of a flute – unluckily he plumped for clarinet, allowing Euan Smith to claim a vital starter for Edinburgh. Medical conditions affecting the spine brought nowt, but crucially Edinburgh led by 30. One visit to the table would not be enough for Wolfson now. It was so unlucky for Eric Monkman that he knew the right answer to the next starter, but blurted out the wrong answer having brilliantly recognised the answer to a question which had only started to be asked. He said ‘sand’ knowing that the place name component wich refers to the production of salt. Well, that one couldn’t go across, but he lost five, such a shame considering he had played so well all match. It wouldn’t have made a difference. We were gonged straight afterwards, giving Edinburgh a 195 – 160 victory.

Huge congratulations to Edinburgh – best of luck in the semis. As for Wolfson, well, whoever faces them in the last chance saloon will have a hell of a job on their hands. Very well played as well.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

I think that the Paxman tongue was firmly in cheek when he remarked that both teams’ reluctance to engage with a latin subjunctive form was “getting embarrassing”. Still, that’s a step in the right direction Jez – give us as much of that as you like. Warmed up he went on to mock Susan Sontag’s description of watching TV as a creative pursuit. When Edinburgh identified Peru and Bolivia as the countries sharing Lake Titicaca they chuckled and immediately the great man took them to task – “Why is it so funny?” Oh, come on, Jez – it’s maybe a long time since you were a school boy, but Titicaca is just a funny word. End of. Then finally there was poor Eric Monkman blurting out ‘sand’ – and then correcting himself with the correct answer of salt. JP was not pleased because it denied Edinburgh a run at the question, and rather took him to task. Not quite the vintage Paxman of a few years ago, but definitely more entertaining than in most of this series. Well done sir.

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

The suffix – wich – in place names denotes the production of salt.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Mastermind Finalist Mohan Mudigonda on his Mastermind Experience

Mohan, one of the stars of the 2017 series, originally left this comment in response to the review of the Grand Final. I found it searingly honest, interesting and inspirational as I read it, and I'm sure other LAM readers will too, which is why I've taken the liberty of reposting it here: -

"I’ll not go through the feelings I experienced in the first round and semis; David summed things up beautifully in his posts and I suspect my feelings of getting through would mirror the hundreds of other contenders who came before and who will come after.

I’m not overtly religious but I do believe in a higher power and I did pray to whoever was Upstairs the night before the final. I didn’t pray to win. That is somewhat facile and besides, I’m not six and there were five other supremely talented contenders who wanted the same thing. I simply prayed that whatever the outcome, that I could be proud of my performance and feel good about how I acquitted myself.

I must confess that nearly four months on, that feeling of pride has not quite found its way to the forefront. The human mind is an incredible thing. It allows us to rationalise so many things, and yet at the same time, our emotions conflict with our rationale.

I had reached the last six of one of the most difficult and most coveted quizzes in existence. Though it meant so much, there would be no negative repercussions for not winning the trophy. I would not be jobless, nor would I lose my family or home as a result. However, as a wise man once said (I wonder who David…  ) “just because something isn’t important, doesn’t mean it does not matter”.
By the same token, just because I was disappointed with myself, does not remotely mean that I was not in absolute awe of my fellow contenders and in particular Isabelle.

Having seen the performances of all my fellow finalists throughout the series, I have been blown away. Steven’s 31 in his opening round, John’s superb SS rounds, Frances’ and Lynne’s calm and collected semi- final performances and of course, Isabelle’s outstanding performance in the final.
Afterwards, I congratulated Isabelle, who magnanimously said that she got lucky with her questions. Not a bit of it. She would have won no matter what questions came up. In addition, I felt truly inspired by the fact that she had appeared on the show three times previously. She clearly wanted this so much and it was written in the stars. Many congratulations Isabelle if you are reading this. I could not be happier for you.

In closing, I will always be grateful for this incredible experience. The final was bittersweet, I cannot deny, and I can’t help thinking that I did a bit of a Leicester City in getting to the final. I fully intend to reapply and keep doing so until I win, but somehow, I wonder whether this year is as good as it is going to get.

Whatever may happen, I’ll always remember the feeling of sitting in ‘that chair’; the total feeling of surprise when told that I’d be going to New York for my final insert and being in sheer awe of how hard working, talented and kind the production crew were during the whole process.
Truly, this has been an experience I will cherish always. Despite being put through the emotional wringer, I’ll be doing it again first chance I get.  "

We'll be watching out for you, Mohan, and will be wishing you all the best.

Mastermind 2017- The Grand Final

I wish that the Beeb would make a little bit more of a fuss about the Grand Final these days. I mean, nobody’s ever likely to become a household name through winning the show again, but they could at least show a little enthusiasm for it. Well, enough of negatives, for if this was not such a close-run affair as last year’s it was still a gripping and highly enjoyable contest.

First up was Lynn Edwards. Having already given us The Forsyte Novels and Mary of Teck, Lynn offered us another change of pace with the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Now, one of my small pleasures in watching the grand final is seeing who wins the lottery of the film inserts. Lynn didn’t get a huge awayday, being given a tube ticket to Covent Garden. As for her round, well, she did make the point in her film that Alfred Hitchcock made an awful lot of films – although not a lot of awful films – and it always looked as if her score of 9, while perfectly respectable for a final, was going to leave her some way behind at the turn.

Our first insert lottery winner, then, was Frances Slack, who had offered us Rogers and Hammerstein and William Goldman in previous rounds. Frances got to visit St. Petersburg. Hardly surprising since she was offering us The City of Leningrad 1924 – 1991. To be fair it looked a bit chilly in her film, but she was obviously thrilled to be there, and I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at the chance of a visit either. A score of 11 looked quite competitive, although you still had the feeling that there was enough meat left on that joint for one of the following contenders to open up a decent lead if they had a really great round.

LAM reader Isabelle Heward scored a jackpot with her film insert. While she had already offered us Rita Hayworth and the daughters of George III, Isabelle was answering on the films of Billy Wilder. One long haul flight later, Isabelle got to go straight to the USA. That’s 2 decent awaydays so far. Are we keeping count, dearly beloved? As had Frances, Isabelle beat the previous target, and raised the bar. 12 is a competitive score in a grand final, but I did still have a feeling that we’d see higher.

As soon as I heard that LAM reader Mohan Mudigonda was answering on the sitcom Seinfeld, I thought that there was no way that the Beeb could avoid shelling out on a trip to New York for his insert. I was right. That’s 3 great awaydays – is that a record, I ask myself? Well, whatever the case, for the third round in a row, the contender outscored the previous, and set a new target. Mohan, who had answered on Nirvana and Asterix in previous shows, managed a terrific 13, and this is the kind of score which it takes something rather special to beat. Now you may remember Mohan’s forehead slapping in the semi-final. He treated us to just one more of these at the end of his round having passed on one question. Never mind the one pass – it’s the 13 correct answers that matter.

Now, dont’ get me wrong, I like Greenwich. Hey, I used to walk over to Greenwich every Sunday when I was a student lodging on the edge of Blackheath Even so though, you can’t help feeling a little sorry for Steven Marc Rhodes that in his film he only got to visit the magnificent Queen’s House, designed by his specialist subject, Inigo Jones. Previously Steven answered on Nicholas Hawksmoor and Herbert Howells. Again, another very good round, levelling out at 12 points. If he got anywhere close to the GK round he’d produced in his heat, then Steven was definitely going to be in the shakeup by the end of the show.

Last, but definitely not least, was John Cockerill. John too stayed in Blighty, but he seemed absolutely delighted with his visit to Ulverston, the birthplace of Stan Laurel. Previously John had answered on British Race Courses and Captain James Cook, but tonight he gave us another change of tack with the short films of Laurel and Hardy. And why not? Even limiting himself to the shorts, he still had to deal with over 100 of them. Let’s be honest too, he could not have dealt with them any better either. His 15 was by far the pick of the specialist rounds, a pretty much flawless performance, and one which made him the man to beat – if possible – in the GK round.

Lynn Edwards returned for her GK round. Lynn had won her place in the Grand Final with a rattling good GK round of 13 in her semi final. In that show she’d impressed me with what I judged from her reactions to her answers to be intelligent guesswork. She answered every question tonight without passing as well, but her guesses weren’t quite as successful. 8 points put her onto 17, and with the best will in the world I think it was fair to say that the contest was now between the remaining 5. Frances Slack had produced an excellent 17 in her first round, and a solid 10 in the semi. This, though was the final, and steady and solid just wouldn’t be enough. As it was the questions just didn’t seem to run for Frances, and she too finished with a total of 17.

In my review of heat 22, I said that Steven Marc Rhodes’ GK round of 19 made me want to stand up and applaud the telly. Well, I’m not ashamed to say that I got so excited by Isabelle Heward’s magnificent round of 17 that I did stand up and applaud the telly tonight. Look, I may kid myself that I’m impartial, but no, I wanted Isabelle to win tonight. Three times a semi-finalist, but never before a finalist. And she’s a LAM reader, as is Mohan. Forgive me if I wax lyrical, but Isabelle ripped that round to shreds. That wasn’t just the kind of performance to put the remaining three contenders into the corridor of doubt – it was one which added a 100 yard extension on the end of the corridor as well.

While Steven produced a good round – which John nicely acknowledged, the fact is that it didn’t really approach Isabelle’s. Mind you, at the outset of the round he needed to score 17 just to draw. The banker would only pay 18 and over. 11 is a perfectly good score, and Steven, if you’re watching you can be proud of what you’ve achieved this year.

As can our penultimate contender, Mohan. I take my hat off to Mohan for being perfectly open about how much he wanted to win during his filmed insert. As he did in his heat and his semi-final, he certainly gave it a lash. However, you could tell by the look on his face as he fought for the answer to his last question that he knew he hadn’t done it. There’s no shame there.

Only John Cockerill remained, then. To put the target into perspective, John needed 14 and no passes to force a tie break, and the banker would pay 15 and over. His 2 GK rounds so far suggested that this was do-able. So did the way he answered his first minute or so of questions. Needing such a large total, though, means you can’t afford slips – and every wrong answer you give makes your task more difficult. With half a minute to go he looked off the pace, and a run of unhelpful questions put the task beyond him. In the end he scored 11 to finish a worthy and well deserved second.

Many, many, many congratulations Isabelle. While I can accept that you might have had as good a GK performance as that before, I doubt you’ve ever had a better, or more important one. Commiserations to all of our other contenders, but please take heart from the fact that it took an exceptional performance to beat you. My thanks to the production team for another highly enjoyable series. Friday evenings are not going to be the same for a while now.

The Details

Lynn Edwards
The Films of Alfred Hitchcock
Frances Slack
The City of Leningrad 1924 - 1991
Isabelle Heward
The Life and Films of Billy Wilder
Mohan Mudigonda
Steven Marc Rhodes
Inigo Jones
John Cockerill
The Short Films of Laurel and Hardy