Friday, 21 September 2018

University Challenge 2019 Round One Heat 9 - Bristol v. Queen's, Belfast

Bristol v. Queen’s, Belfast

Heat 9 already, dearly beloved, can you believe it? Well, probably yes, come to think of it. So, last Monday’s heat pitted Bristol against Queen’s Belfast. Bristol’s team were George Sumner, Owen Iredale, Pushpam Basu and captain Anne Le Maistre. Queen’s team were Matthew Hooton, Ria McQuillan, James Breen and skipper Stephanie Merritt. So much for the formalities, and let battle commence.

James Breen took first blood, knowing that rum is in a Dark and Stormy cocktail. (It was a dark and stormy cocktail – hmm, works rather better, methinks.) Writers buried in Highgate Cemetery weren’t exactly gimmes, but I did think that Queen’s might have done better than just the one bonus. The only undisputed fact is that he died at Pontefract is a rather lovely way of describing Richard II, and this was recognised by Matthew Hooton. Nobel prizes for Chemistry offered me but little, but I’m sorry, you ask me for hollow carbon molecules named after a US architect and I’ll give you buckminsterfullerenes every day of the week. And I’ll take a lap of honour for it. I was halfway round when I answered carbon dating for the next one as well, but limited myself to the single lap. For the next starter exoplanets in the constellation of Pegasus did for my chances, but Matthew Hooton was perfectly happy to take his double. Textile artists bonuses saw James Breen ask his team, in my favourite bit of interplay of the whole contest , “Who’s your boy who sawed the cow in half?” – by which he was referring to my fellow Goldsmiths alumnus Damien Hirst.The answer wasn’t him, though. I have to say it, this Queen’s University team did like to chew over their answers at length – albeit rather entertainingly. Ten years ago JP would have already been at the OH COME OONNNNNNNN! stage with them by now. They didn’t add to their score. So to the picture set and a clever UC special. What we saw was a French phrase, describing a French compound noun that has been assimilated into English. My A Level French (not quite failed, but frankly pushing my luck) was good enough to tell me that the compound noun was faux pas. This allowed Owen Iredale to put Bristol’s team into credit. More of the same provided 2 bonuses. Pushpam Basu recognised a description of Ginsberg’s “Howl”, to earn bonuses on pairs of words differing by a single letter. Bristol themselves took their time chewing over the bones of each pair, but this at least helped them convert two of them into points. Thus, a little after the ten minute mark the score stood at 50 – 40 to Queen’s.

A UC special which involved using the symbols of a range of SI units yielded Matthew Hooton the word scam. Bonuses on New Atheism yielded them a brace of bonuses. A description of Hannah Arendt was recognised by Pushpam Basu, and Bristol earned bonuses on biological classification. A couple of correct answers reduced the gap to 10 again, and brought us to the music starter. This borrowed the ‘Name the Year’ question from Ken Bruce’s Pop Masters quiz on Radio 2. We were played several singles and asked to name the year, with the proviso that the teams were actually allowed to be 'one year out'. No promise of t shirts if they were, though.We heard a brief snatch of “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats from 1983 when Owen Iredale buzzed in with a good enough 1982. Three more sets of singles followed, with the clue being that all 3 years were actually prime numbers. Only one yielded a bonus, but it did mean that Bristol had taken a slender lead for the first time in the contest. A rush of blood to the head saw Pushpam Basu come in too early, and offer Shelley as the name of the poet to whose memory Keats dedicated ‘Endymion’, and the teams were all squared again. Queen’s though could not capitalise by dragging up the name of Thomas Chatterton – or – ‘the whelp’ as the notoriously peppery Samuel Johnson called him. Now, if you’re asked for a country whose independence was proclaimed by the heir to the Portuguese throne, Brazil is always going to be a good shout, and it was a shout made by Owen Iredale, whose efforts on the buzzer were really starting to bear fruit for his team. The American painter, John Singleton Copley (you remember him? He’s called John Singleton Who? in LAM Towers) brought a good 2 bonuses. It was Owen Iredale too who took the next starter. When asked which of Shakespeare’s plays was based on Robert Green’s “Pandosto”, both teams sat on the buzzer until he scored with a long range punt on A Winter’s Tale. (Not apparently based on the David Essex single, then.) Welsh History brought another couple of bonuses, so, at the 20 minute mark, Bristol had forged what was starting to look like a healthy lead, with 110 to Queen’s Belfast’s 70.

This was a lead which was immediately reduced by James Breen, who was first to buzz in for the second picture starter, a still from the Money Supermarket Advert with the Sindy Dolls – (Or Thelma and Louise as it was called in the cinema.)Three subsequent films for which women won the Oscar as sole credited screenwriter saw them take 2 bonuses, but miss out on a full house by missing out on “The Piano”. You had to feel for them. “What was the name of the one with the piano?” they asked each other, before plumping for The Pianist. Hard lines. Never mind. The fight back continued as Matthew Hooton identified some Physics gobbledygook as Newton’s Constant. Amazingly, I knew one of the questions on Fundamental theories, while Queen’s managed two. Asked for the two main families of monotremes, that was always going to be a buzzer race, and Owen Iredale was always going to win it, to offer Echidnas and Platypus. Bristol didn't have much of an appetite for the bonuses on apatite, and took just the one. Pushpam Basu showed a fast buzzer finger when he buzzed in with the title “The White Tiger” immediately after the name Aravind Adiga. Bristol failed to capitalise by not being able to answer any of a set on battles. Now, Which SI derived unit, equivalent to one ampere in one second is named after which French scientist, the teams were asked. The heat of battle can do funny things to you, which saw George Sumner buzz in early with ampere, even though it was in the question. Any embarrassment though must have been forgotten as James Breen buzzed in with Voltaire. Look, he must have been thinking about Volta, but JP was never going to let that one pass. Now, I didn’t know that the great Indian writer Kalidasa wrote in Sanskrit, but I guessed, and this was confirmed correct when Pushpam Basu buzzed in with the same answer. That for me confirmed Bristol’s win, as the sands of time had almost all reached the bottom of the hourglass. We only had time for one bonus on towers before the gong confirmed that Bristol had won, by 140 to 110.

Hold a gun to my head and demand my honest opinion, and I’ll tell you that this was not a contest of the highest quality, with only the buzzing of Owen Iredale catching the eye at all. But it was enjoyable and entertaining, and I thank both teams for that.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Jez was in rather a jolly mood all evening, so it seemed. I’ve already observed how patient he was with both teams’ dwelling on their answers. Then, with the music bonuses, when Bristol offered 1971 rather than 1973 he replied that this wasn’t a prime number, then veritably chuckled as he added ‘Imagine not knowing!’ What a tease! This jocularity was shown again when Matthew Hooton offered Tennyson for the Chatterton bonus. Normally JP hates it when teams are a bit out on English Literature. This time the tone in his voice, “Tennyson!” was clearly mock indignation, and he was grinning all over his phizzog. Even with the Voltaire answer he grinned as he incredulously repeated “Voltaire!” Positively avuncular, Jez.

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

Thelma and Louise was the first film for which a woman received the Oscar for solo credited screenwriter.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Mastermind 2019 - Update

My thanks to everyone who took the time and trouble to comment on my previous post. If you haven't had a chance to look at the comments, contenders who have actually taken part in the next series have confirmed that it is 'in the can', and believe from what they have been told that it will begin airing from before the end of this month. Well that's certainly good news. As you were.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Mastermind 2019 - The Winds of Change Are Blowing

Generally, gentle readers, Autumn has tended to have a pretty good press down the years. By way of an example, the first poem I ever really loved was John Keats’ “Ode To Autumn”. Without doubt, Autumn does have its delights, and one of them, for me, has been the return of Mastermind. Sad though this may sound to some, I’ve come to look on it as a reward for a week’s hard work at the chalkface.

Well, like me, you may well have noticed that the next series hasn’t started yet, which is a little surprising since in recent years, the new series has begun in August. I went to the BBC’s Mastermind website, and all it says is that there are no upcoming programmes. So I did a Google search for Mastermind 2019. The first things I found were articles from the beginning of August saying that the show is being put out to competitive tender. OK. Well, underneath that, I found the BBC’s own – what would you call it? – prospectus? Not sure. Anyway, it was the document giving information to prospective producers about the show, about what they were looking for, and about how to apply. I have no idea what this was doing on the net. Maybe the BBC are under a Freedom of Information obligation to put this sort of thing out there, being a publicly funded institution? It has only been out there since Monday. Presuming that it wouldn’t be out there on the net if it was not meant to be read, you can have a look at it yourself if you like – here’s the link -

It's quite a weighty document, but there were a couple of things which I noted. Firstly, for the new producer and team, their series won’t start transmission until August 2019. Now, I’m pretty certain that if there was going to be another series before this one, it would have started already, and it hasn’t. So it seems we have a long wait ahead of us for the next series.

The second interesting thing was this. In the document it states,“We wish to maintain the intellectual rigor of the programme, the precision of the questions and the format overall but we would be interested to creatively refresh the programme within these constraints. We wish to appeal to a broader audience potentially using social and digital.”

This is amplified a little further later on in the document,

“We wish to attract a wider and even more diverse audience and contestants for these series. We wish to explore how to cast a wider ranging contestant pool attracting younger and older contestants, and wider diversity in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexuality and disability. We’d like to have proposals for ways of making the show even more attractive to younger audiences for example through approaches to production and/or use of social media. We also want to capitalise on the BBC One celebrity version to drive new audiences to BBC Two and increase the overall appeal of the brand and we need to do all this without alienating the core audience. As far as possible we would also like to increase the Programme’s appeal on iPlayer and would be interested in proposals addressing this.  One of the strengths of the existing format is the “play-along-ability” of the questions particularly in the general knowledge round.”

Very interesting. And no, I don’t think there’s necessarily anything to alarm lovers of the show, such as myself, in there. I think it that it’s always been a desire of the show’s producers to attract a wider net of potential contenders, and it’s not an easy thing to do. I may be wrong, but I think by far the largest number of applications still come from white middle aged men, for example.

Attracting a younger audience though, that’s just as problematical. If you look at the show since 2003, there have been changes to the format and presentation, in order to ‘freshen it up’. When regular Mastermind returned in 2003, we had 2 rounds of 2 minutes, chats between the rounds between John Humphrys and the contender in the chair, and no repechage places in the semis. Since then we’ve seen the repechage slots come back – good move – necessitating the end of the inter-round chats – good move again. We’ve also seen the change of the amount of time in the round, tipping the balance in favour of GK. Then in 2016 we saw the advent of the blue line of death around the score for the last 10 seconds, together with a bit of tension music. But this all comes down to tinkering, and I don’t think that there’s much you can do with the format other than tinkering. Otherwise it wouldn’t be Mastermind.

As I said, I’m not worried. I’ll be honest, attracting a younger audience is something a lot of TV shows would like to do. How you do it, though? Well, that’s another matter. I’m not a TV producer, and I’m very much an older audience, so I don’t really have any idea. I’m pretty sure that we are unlikely to see any of the following: -

·       Viewers at home getting to vote in and ‘save’ contenders they like, and eject contenders they don’t

·       A panel critiquing each contender’s performance (Let me tell you, tonight, you OWNED that chair)

·       A sudden death quiz off between the two lowest/highest scoring contenders.

What we WILL see, now, that I don’t know. So all I really can do is, in case there are any prospective producers of the show reading, just give you an idea of what would be alienating to me as a member of the core audience:-

·       Too much ‘jazzing up’ of the show. Sorry, but I like Neil Richardson’s “Approaching Menace” as the theme, and I like the lack of showbiz razzmatazz in each programme.

·       Shoving the contenders’ personalities in our faces. I’ll be honest, I’ve never really enjoyed the ‘tell me what you do’ interludes on other quiz shows. As a contender I always found sitting through other contenders’ inter-round chats with John to be excruciating. Even though they were edited when broadcast I found these an alien and unnecessary element, and I hope that they, or any version of them, are never brought back. It’s fine to have the filmed inserts when you get to the final – that after all is a special occasion. But not on the rest of the series.

·       Let’s get to the double D’s – dumbing down. This always has been, and probably always will be a contentious issue on Mastermind. I’m glad to see the BBC document make a commitment to ‘maintain the intellectual rigor of the programme, the precision of the questions’ – and hope that this will be adhered to. In my opinion - feel free to disagree – a lot of the allegations about the show supposedly dumbing down in recent years have been ill informed, and just plain wrong. I really, really, really have no axe to grind about the range of specialist subjects contenders can offer, and since I started reviewing the show back in 2009 there have honestly only been a very few occasions when I’ve felt that the specialist round has been noticeably too easy compared with the other rounds on the same series. What I would feel alienated by would be an editorial decision to lose balance between the more traditional subjects, and those more likely to appeal to a younger audience – for the sake of argument, a series in which a typical show consisted rounds on a current band, a series of contemporary graphic novels, Hollyoaks and A.N.Other. But I don’t think that would happen. The show can only use the subjects that the contenders are willing to use.

·       Intrusive interactive elements. Let me give you an example of the sort of thing I mean. Let’s say the new producer decided to try to increase the playalongability of the show by having a caption with a multiple choice of 4 potential answers appear with each question. Now, if you want to do that sort of thing with the red button, then fine, go ahead, but I’d hate to see something like that forced on the viewers.

·       A young, trendy question master. To be fair the document makes it quite clear that John will be continuing in the chair whoever gets to produce the programme.

Whoever wins the tendering process, I wish you the very best of luck. If you or a member of your family have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this post, feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email.

University Challenge 2019, Round One - Ediburgh v. Sidney Sussex, Cambridge

Edinburgh v. Sidney Sussex, Cambridge

Well, hello, good morning, and welcome. In last Monday’s match Edinburgh, in the shape of Matt Booth, Marco Malusa, and Robbie Campbell Hewson and their captain Max Fitz-James, took on Sidney Sussex of Cambridge. They, in their turn, were represented by Radu Thomas, James Delaney, Isobel Ollard and their skipper Jay Vinayak Ojha. Good enough, so let’s get cracking.

Now, I didn’t know that it was the projecting head of a glacier, but I did know that Snout was the tinker in A Midsummer Night’s whatsername. The nose or muzzle of an animal was enough for Isobel Ollard to take the starter, and earn a set on mythical beasts, of which they managed one. The Wyvern is a bit of an old chestnut. Also appeared on the badge of Vauxhall cars for that matter. Matt Booth knew that oxidane is a name for water. Edinburgh also only managed to convert one of their first set of bonuses on rivers. The Edinburgh skipper showed a twitchy buzzer finger when he came in for the next starter before it became obvious that the answer was the French ship The Medusa, as in The Wreck of by Gericault. That allowed Isobel Ollard to take her second starter. Cross gender productions of Shakespeare again saw just the one bonus taken. So to the first picture round. We saw the name of several characters created by the same author, written in Cyrillic. Now, I know just enough Cyrillic to see that the second one had the first name Boris, so it was possibly Boris Godunov, which would be Pushkin. So it was. Off the point, but Pushkin wrote a poem about my great, great, great, great uncle once. True story. No marks for not knowing that the current England cricket captain, Joe Root, was also captain last year. AT last Robbie Campbell Hewson stopped the rot, knowing Freetown in Sierra Leone. This brought up the picture bonuses, more sets of characters in Cyrillic. 2 bonuses meant that by the 10 minute mark, Edinburgh led by 30 -25. A close match, although by no means a high scoring one so far.

The next question was about moments of inertia, and I had more than a moment of inertia while it was being asked. Neither team had it. Me? Don’t be silly. A lovely early buzz from Marco Malusa saw him identify Skopje as a city roughly halfway between Tirana and Sofia. My heart, gentle reader, did not exactly jump for joy when JP announced the next set was on particle physics. However, cryptic crossword type clues to electron – elect – ron, lepton (leapt on) and gluon (work it out for yourself) saw me take a full house, and the wheeze-athon that is m weekly lap of honour around the living room began. Some stuff about molecular biology followed, and it did no more good for either team than it did for me. Max Fitz-James was in early to identify Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as 2 territories incorporated into the Dominion of Canada in 1867. Good shout that. 2 bonuses on the ancient people, the Alans (make your own jokes about that one) followed, and it looked as if Edinburgh were shifting up through the gears. The Edinburgh skipper took his second consecutive starter with Wilfred Owen’s poem “Strange Meeting”. A surprisingly easy set on words beginning with -imp – gave me a second Science full house, but Edinburgh missed out on the second. So to the music starter, and possibly my favourite Genesis song (it’s the shortest! Joke, I don’t mean it! I loved Genesis, and went to see them at Wembley Arena in December 1983. Getting out of the car park afterwards took longer than the whole gig.) Follow You, Follow Me, from And then there were three. That gave Matt Fitz-James his hat trick. More bands or artists with single names that feature in the titles of books of the Old Testament gave Edinburgh just the one bonus. However, this meant that they had scored 75 unanswered points, and Sidney Sussex were on the ropes and starting to look a wee bit groggy. Edinburgh’s captain pushed it a little too far coming in too early for the next starter and losing 5. Sidney Sussex could not capitalise with the word cortex. Matt Booth knew that the San Francisco Giants have won the Baseball World Series several times recently. A nice set of old chestnuts about the names of countries in their own language – for example Suomi = Finland – saw Edinburgh take their first full house of the night, and a lead of 100 points. Now, when a question asks you what game links – then gives the name of films with knight and queen in their titles, then it doesn’t matter whether you know or not, you go for the buzzer and answer chess. Neither team did. They both waited for the information which made it even more obvious, and Matt Booth won the buzzer race. The 2009 book Twitterature, which sums up major novels in tweets of 140 characters or less, brought two more bonuses. Having been shut out for the best part of 10 minutes, Isobel Ollard revived Sidney Sussex, identifying Sleeping Beauty, the ballet, from the names of some of the characters. Two bonuses on spots in paintings brought the score to 145 – 45 to Edinburgh at the 20 minute mark.

Radu Thomas recognised the work of Egon Schiele for the second picture starter. Three more depictions of Autumn brought, well, nowt, I’m afraid. I guessed the lamb dish whose name comes from stewed in ghee would be Rogan Josh, as did Matt Booth. The polymath Thomas Young ( altogether now, also known as Thomas Who in LAM Towers) brought both of us just the one correct answer. Radu Thomas recognised the words of Samuel Beckett for the next starter. Two bonuses on the British Empire were useful, but Sidney Sussex needed a lot more. I didn’t really understand the next question, but the answer, given by Robbie Campbell Hewson was caesium. Fair enough. Zoology only brought one bonus, but Edinburgh only needed points for gilding now. Sidney Sussex could not claw back the gap by now. Especially after Edinburgh’s distinctly useful skipper provided the answer that Boreas and Zephyrus, amongst others, represented winds in Greek Mythology. Chapter titles from well known novels provided another Edinburgh bonus. Max Fitz-James added another to his burgeoning starter collection, knowing that the something something something in molecular biology is phosphate. Fair enough. A set on US state capitals sounded full of Eastern Promise, but sadly we were gonged when we were both on for a full house after the first two bonuses. That was it. Edinburgh won by 210 to 75.

Sidney Sussex have my commiserations, but the fact is that you have to go for your buzzer, and sometimes take risks with starters, which they never quite managed to do. As for Edinburgh, well, it’s difficult to realistically assess their chances. They have a good buzzer in their skipper, but how they will cope with a faster buzzer team than Sidney Sussex is a matter of conjecture. Best of luck in round two anyway.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

On the cross gender productions, JP seemed a little tetchy when Sidney Sussex offered the male Benedict Cumberbatch in the male role of Malvolio. “No, it’s a cross ge – oh, never mind.”

Our host struggled really to say something positive to Sidney Sussex at the end. One sensed he mentally pulled back from the brink after saying “Well Sidney Sussex, that was a . . . “. Now, I’d like to think what he had in mind would not have continued with the words – load of old – but I can’t be certain. He gave the fair assessment of their performance with “Well, you never really got going did you?”

Interesting Fact That I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week
There is a species of gibbon called the Skywalker gibbon. 

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Interview with Peter Meindertsma, Propietor of Triviaplaza, ActionQuiz and DominoQuiz

Dearly beloved, I had an email last week from Peter Meindertsma, the creator and proprietor of, Actionquiz,cm, and, to ask my opinion. Very kind of him in my opinion. Rather cheekily I asked Peter if he’d mind me writing a bit about him for the blog, and I set him a few questions. He was good enough to answer, and I take the liberty of reproducing these here for you now.

1.      How did you first become interested and involved in quizzing?
When I was a student I participated in a few general knowledge pubquizzes, but I did not become a 'regular' until several years later when I joined the team of my department at the university. Teams changed over time and I have been a weekly quizzer for over 9 years now. Besides all this, about 15 years ago I won the first pop music pubquiz I ever attended and that inspired me to create my own annual pop music pubquizzes, as well as my site

2.      What made you decide to create your first quiz website?

At university I created my first personal website and it kind of evolved from there. I tried several things and found that my quizzes attracted some visitors, so I started in 2001, in 2003, in 2005 and in 2015.

3.      Do you play on any other quiz websites other than your own, and if so, which?
Not that much, but I sometimes visit Sporcle. There is so much creativity there, although that site has become annoyingly slow at times.

4.      How serious are you about your quizzing (do you play in quizzes regularly? Have you ever taken part in championships – European/ World? Have you ever played in a television quiz?)

Although I have never taken part in televised quizzes or European/World championships (maybe, maybe one day) I do consider myself a fanatic quizzer as I nowadays participate in two or more pubquizzes per week and my team also participates (and have won several times) in two annual regional/national competitions (50-100 teams)
5.      Do you watch quizzes on television, and if so, which are your favourites? (British or otherwise.)
The UK has so many great and serious quiz shows and these are pretty much the only ones I watch. I've been following University Challenge, Only Connect and Mastermind on Youtube every week for a couple of years now. And I occasionally watch episodes of Eggheads, Pointless, The Chase (Australia), 15 to 1, Impossible etc. Nowadays I also really enjoy Richard Osman's House of Games because of its fun and creativity.

6.      How much time do you spend updating your quiz websites, would you say (weekly? Monthly?)
I work on my sites several days a week, e.g. writing questions, updating, stats, handling email etc.

7.      Do you get any financial return from your quiz websites? (from advertising eg. No need to give specific details of amounts)
Yes, I run ads on my sites, which (thankfully) allow me to spent more time on creating new questions etc. 

8.      In your opinion, what is the secret of a good quiz website?
I do not think there is a 'secret' to it, although I think it helps being a quiz fanatic, and liking to play the quizzes yourself (e.g. for testing and trying to remember facts). And I am very happy to see that many people seem to like the quizzes I make.


Thanks for that Peter, and best of luck with your sites.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

University Challenge 2019 - York v. St. Edmund's Hall, Oxford

I’ve been back to school this last week, dearly beloved, but I’m in one piece, and ready to go. So were our two teams. York’s team were Nils Boender, Danny Bate, Francesco Palazzo and skipper William Blackett. Their opposition, St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, were Agastya Pisharody, Marceline Bresson, Lizzy Fry and captain Freddy Leo. Let’s get on with it.

When I heard “What four letter component of place names . . . “ in the first starter, I guessed it would be -stan. After a little more Agastya Pisharody buzzed in with the same answer. BAFTA Television craft awards for best comedy writing provided blank looks from three of the team, but a full house for Lizzy Fry. Freddy Leo – who hails from one of my very favourite cities, Berlin, knew that a list of artists all hailed from Belgium, and crucially managed to do it just before JP supplied the key name of Rene Magritte. Agatha Christie, and specifically the works from which she took the titles of several of her books, provided but a single bonus. The Oxford skipper loomed large over his buzzer, waiting for the split second when the next starter, on Geometry (I think) became clear (to him, not to me). He slammed the buzzer and correctly answered Poincare. Hindu Festivals saw me correctly answer juggernaut for the first, but be out with the washing for the next two. Full hall for Teddy house, er, full house for Teddy Hall. So to the first picture round. We were shown two cities marked on maps, ne obviously in North West Spain, the other in Chile. First to buzz was Danny Bate, whose answer of Santiago got York off the mark. Three more pairs of places named after biblical figures provided a great UC bonus set, and brought York a timely full house. Freddy Leo recognised a list of heroes and subjects of Wagner operas for the next starter. Sport in Art brought them two bonuses. In terms of starters the Oxford team had certainly had the best of the exchanges by the ten minute mark and led by 85 – 25.

For once Freddy Leo was beaten by the buzzer for the next starter, but sadly Danny Bate had got the wrong end of the stick about the question’s requirement. He gave the answer Chisinau, but the question wanted the -au at the end of this name, and several others. So the Oxford skipper took that one. Science stuff gave them a single bonus and me nowt. Archbishop Whitgift escaped both team, neither knowing that he was one of Elizabeth I’s boys. Neither team could quite manage to spell the author of the Twilight series. She’s Stephenie Meyer – both teams thought she was Stephanie and so did I. In physics – began JP, and a short while later Agastya Pisharody correctly answered 90 degrees. Gawd knows what the stuff that came between the two meant. Opening lines from noted poems saw an interesting conflab between Marceline Bresson and Freddy Leo, as she persuaded him to go for Ezra Pound’s Cantos, and earn both a full house and a high five from the captain. Maybe it’s just me, but the music round seems to be coming somewhat earlier in the show this series.  So did Freddy Leo’s buzzer. OK, the overture from The Barber of Seville is well known, but it was still impressive work from the excellent Oxford skipper. 3 more Rossini overtures brought 2 bonuses. The York skipper, trying to buzz his team back into the contest, came in too early for the next starter, but St. Edmund’s Hall were unable to dredge up that hardy quiz perennial, mullion. Nothing daunted, William Blackett succeeded in an early buzz this time to identify Nancy Mitford as the biographer daughter of Lord Redesdale. Video game designers who’ve been awarded the BAFTA Fellowship gave them just one bonus. A really nice UC special asked for the country whose flag is made up of horizontal bands of the colours expressed in the words Melatonin, rubella and chrysanthemum. Ironically, Freddy Leo buzzed incorrectly. I say ironically, because the answer was Germany, as supplied by William Blackett. Medieval biographies brought two bonuses. Now, okay, I didn’t know that Federer means ‘trader in quill pens (Federer – featherer?) but I knew Nadal means Christmas, and you get Nadal, you’re going to pair him with Federer. Both teams dwelt on the buzzer a little until Danny Bate chanced his arm, correctly. They needed a full house really. I wonder if their hearts sank, as did mine, when JP announced a set on enzyme inhibition. Whatever the case they failed to add to their score. Agastya Pisharody was first in to give Aurangzeb as the name of one of the Mughal Emperors of the 17th century. I offered Shah Jahan, and we were both right. Plants of the parsley family brought a brace of bonuses.   You know, even now, 50 years later, every time I hear the word parsley I think of the song “I’m a very friendly lion called Parsley”. There will now be a short interval for younger readers to go and ask their grandparents to explain that popular culture reference. For that matter, waldorf salad always makes me think of Fawlty Towers (we’re out of Waldorfs). Enough nonsense. At the 20 minute mark the Oxford team led by 165 – 60, and York were some way short of a repechage score.

The second picture starter was obviously the work of Caravaggio, and Freddy Leo won the race to identify this. Three other old master paintings that failed to sell at auction saw Miss Bresson and her skipper disagreeing over all 3 paintings, but they still took two and could have had a third. Freddy Leo turned to Marceline Bresson with his hand raised for another high five, and saw that hers wasn’t so somewhat sheepishly withdrew it again.  Francesco Palazzo knew that force and lift re two forces acting on an airplane in level flight. Latin terminology meant they had finally won the bonus lottery, and took a full house. The highly impressive Oxford captain was in far too quick for York to identify Tennyson as the poet who took 17 years to complete a poem. Well, I’m a bit of a slow writer myself. Politics and Social Science -isms took St. Edmund’s Hall past the 200 barrier. Freddy Leo helped himself to another starter, knowing that Jean-Luc Godard directed Alphaville. Boroughs of New York City brought, well, yes, another 2 bonuses. Nobody knew that synechia affects the eye. The next starter contained the words ‘briefly Napoleon Bonaparte’ and ‘symphonies’ which meant that it was always going to be a buzzer race, and in this match there was only going to be one winner of it. Freddy Leo, with Beethoven. The human skeleton provided them with nowt. They didn’t really need it at this stage, mind you. I didn’t get the next starter, but Francesco Palazzo knew that the answer was Black Mirror and came in for a very swift starter. African countries that share borders with only two other countries brought York a good full house. Danny Bate threw caution to the wind and confused his Hebrides with his Shetlands for the next starter. This allowed Lizzy Fry in. That was it. The contest was gonged, with the score at 240 to 105. You know what I’m going to say. It looks like a bit of a walkover, but I genuinely feel that York were better value than their score suggests. They were beaten by a buzzer onslaught from Freddy Leo, and when you’re outbuzzed, there’s little you can do. Hard lines York, but well done for getting into triple figures. As for St. Edmund’s Hall, any congratulations on a very good performance. Special mention should be made of Freddy Leo’s 9 starters. What price a Golfinos v. Leo buzzer shootout at some stage of this year’s competition?

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Previously, when St. Edmund’s Hall have appeared, JP has told us of it’s nickname Teddy Hall, but he seems to have taken it for granted this time. Didn’t stop him calling them by this affectionate nickname as early as the second set of bonuses. You know what? When my Alma Mater Goldsmith’s College are on, I bet he never calls them Goldies. Favouritism!

It was a bit odd when the Oxford team answered ‘siblings’ to a bonus, and JP asked ‘specifically?’ The nonplussed skipper replied ‘brothers and sisters’. ‘Correct.’ Replied our hero. Well, what the hell else is siblings supposed to mean? Get a grip, Jez.being Rousseau’s nickname.

There was a little bit of showing off from JP in the sport in art bonuses. When St. Edmunds Hall correctly answered ‘Henri Rousseau’ to the first, he replied, “Yes, Douanier Rousseau” – douanier (customs officer) being Rousseau’s nickname.

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

A translation of the surname Federer, as in Roger, is 'trader in quill pens'

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Impossible! Worth watching, in my opinion

You’ve probably worked out for yourselves that I’m pretty much ‘semi retired’ as regards quizzes, judging by the dearth of posts in the last couple of years. It’s not that I’ve fallen out of love with quizzing so much, but the things which really irritated me about quizzes were irritating me more and more. So I only play in one fairly big quiz competition a year now – Brain of Mensa – and I only play in one pub quiz, and not every week either, for that matter. I still watch and enjoy every episode of University Challenge, and Mastermind, and still enjoy writing the reviews of them, and I still enjoy new episodes of Pointless, and there are a few other quizzes which I won’t switch off when they’re on. But I don’t seek out and try every new quiz on television.

So, over this summer, I’ve been rather surprised to find myself looking forward to each weekday evening’s edition of Impossible! I think we’re actually on something like the 4th series now, but I’d never seen it prior to this July. And of course, I’m usually a far more forgiving viewer during the long summer holiday from school. But I have to say that I’ve been rather enjoying it.

Impossible for me pulls off being entertaining enough for the man and woman on the Clapham Omnibus, and yet there is enough there to sustain my interest. If you haven’t seen it, basically a wall of three tiers of contestants are asked five questions. Each question has three answers to choose from. One is right, the other could be right, and the third, according to the terms of the question, is impossible, hence the title. So for example if the question was – which presenter of the BBC television show Mastermind was born in Wales – you might be given the choice between Magnus Magnusson – Peter Snow – John Humphrys. The correct answer would be John Humphrys, while Peter Snow would be impossible since he presented the Radio 4 editions of Mastermind. If a contestant selects the impossible answer, then they are sent home until the next show. All of the contenders change at the end of the week. The contender with the highest score in the quickest time gets to play for a place in the final. They get a board with 9 answers on and the first half of a question. For example – Which BBC Blue Peter Presenter – and five of the answers would be impossible. The contestant has to pick the five impossible answers, earning money for the prize pot with each. Then they get shown the rest of the question. So if the rest of the question asked – went on to co-present Saturday Superstore and Going Live – then the answer would be Sarah Greene. If the contestant picked a wrong but possible answer, then the next best contestant of the previous round would get to answer. If he/she answers correctly, then that earns a place in the final. If he/she gives a wrong answer, then our first contestant automatically gets a place in the final. If any impossible answers remain on the board, and they give it, then that’s them finished for the show. Basically this process is twice repeated until there are three finalists. The final is in two parts. The first is a buzzer quiz. Answer a possible question correctly, and it knocks a life off the two opponents. Identify an impossible question correctly, and you knock two lives off. When one contestant remains, he/she has another 9 square grid, and a question. Three answers are correct, three possible but wrong, and three impossible. The contestant must select three answers. If all three are right, they win £10,000. If all of the answers are at least possible, then they scoop the prize pot, normally about £1500. If any of their answers are impossible they leave, as Anne Robinson once said, with nothing. 

Its sounds very complicated but it really isn’t. Host Rick Edwards might well be no Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman – well, there’s no might about it, he isn’t. But he moves things along at a fair old clip and doesn’t really irritate. For me, the show has play along value. I get a kick out of spotting the Impossible answer asap, and explaining why it’s impossible. This probably explains why my mother in law didn’t want me to watch it while I was in Spain a couple of weeks ago. Alright, it’s not Pointless, which for me is the king of teatime shows which carry out the delicate balancing act of having enough entertainment value for most, while having a great enough level of challenge for . . . well, for me. But it’s not bad at all, and I’ve been really enjoying it. In fact I did go so far as applying, but didn’t hear back. Never mind, I don’t hold it against them. 

Of course, there are criticisms I could make. Now, it’s a given that a tea time quiz show which isn’t setting out to find Britain’s best quizzer is going to have a significant proportion of entertainment questions. But it does seem to me that a huge proportion of the questions which have been asked for the £10,000 have been on entertainment, and a large proportion of those on modern pop music. Variety being the spice of life, I would like to see a more random selection. 

One nice thing has been seeing that the production team doesn’t seem to have a bias against people who have appeared on a number of other quiz shows, who might be expected to do well. Our own Rachael Cherryade Neiman was a contestant only last week. Yes, of course she got to the final – twice as it happens, and the second time of asking she made it to the final question. She avoided the impossible, so took home a cheque, but sadly not the £10,000. Which underlines that this does have a good level of challenge to it. 

I don’t know if it will be back for another series when this one finishes, but I hope so.

University Challenge 2019 - Heat 6 - Strathclyde v. Durham

Well, here we are, dearly beloved, with the last review we need to take us up to ate with the competition. That wasn’t too painful. So, in last Monday’s heat we had Strathclyde, in the shape of Billy Hogg, Thomas Callan, Catherine Ember and captain Jack Pollock. Their opposition was provided by Durham, whose team comprised of Sian Round, Cameron Yule (any relation to legendary quizzer Donald Yule, I wonder) Ben Murray and skipper Matthew Toynbee.

Asked for a precise form of weather, Ben Murray needed no more than a mention of a 1971 track by The Doors to buzz in with the answer Storm. The novels of Daniel Defoe brought two bonuses. Ben Murray also took the next starter, knowing about the word gauge in particle physics. A full house on cricket commentators followed, although not, sadly, a reference to a great Two Ronnie sketch. Cameron Yule took his team’s third successful early buzz, knowing that the Blue Mosque is one of the sights of Istanbul. Atmosphere and space physics provided Durham with a further 10 points, and me with a lap of honour for guessing the term Heliopause based on what had come before. Nobody knew Martha Lane Fox who became a crossbench peer in 2013, but Jack Pollock lost 5 for chancing his arm before the end of the question. He made amends with the next starter, buzzing in with Russian rocket pioneer Tsiolkovsky. I had that as well, but had only just finished my previous lap of honour, so sat this one out. Now, I’ve never heard of Existential Comics, but it sounds like fun. Two bonuses on Captain Metaphysics brought a more healthy hue to Strathclyde’s score, and took us to the picture starter. This was a wonderful UC special, showing us the flags of the sequence of teams beaten in a specific year of the FIFA World Cup finals. Thomas Callan had that one, and a full house on three more of the same put Strathclyde within a full set of Durham’s score. The score stood at 65 – 40 right on the cusp of the ten minute mark. 

Sian Round recognised the Venice Bienniale for the next starter. Feminism in the 1970s brought two correct answers. I didn’t understand about stuff smelling of garlic, but  I did know that arsenic takes its name from a Persian word, as did captain Matthew Toynbee. Now, I’m very sorry. But when I took a full house on the bonuses on anti-coagulants, not only did I do another lap of honour, I also accompanied it with a pursed lips fanfare. Durham managed two. A UC special requiring the words either and differ saw Ben Murray being far too quick on his buzzer to allow Strathclyde a sniff of the points. Deaths in “The Lord of the Rings” proved to be meat and drink to Durham who took a full house. That man Murray was in again for the next starter, recognising the words of Schopenhauer. The domestic in 20th century art provided two correct answers. So to the music starter, and both teams dwelt on the buzzer a little before Matthew Toynbee buzzed in to tell us that the composer of what was obviously the Can Can was Offenbach. Three more examples of operatic satire or parody brought two more correct answer, and poor old Strathclyde just couldn’t seem to get into the contest at this stage. They didn’t get in for the next starter, when Matthew Toynbee recognised definitions of quartz and quasar before JP had finished the question. Named experiments in Physics brought another full house, and the game looked as good as over. Descriptions of other characters’ relationship to the title character of a well known novel were more than enough to give Cameron Yule “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”. Questions on medicine whose answers all began with G only provided a single bonus, but Durham had already gone beyond the 200 point barrier. Nobody knew the Han Dynasty of China for the next starter, but sadly Catherine Ember gave an incorrect early buzz and lost 5. That mean that not only had Durham shut Strathclyde out for a whole ten minutes, but Strathclyde had actually seen their score decrease. Durham led by 210 to 35. 

Volume of a sphere yutta yutta. Nobody had it. Cameron Yule knew that James II was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne. Margaret Thatcher gave Durham a full house, and a lead of 200 points. At least JP had not administered the coup de grace by telling Strathclyde that they had plenty of time to catch up, because they didn’t. The second picture starter looked like Cezanne, and by golly it was Cezanne. Cameron Yule knew that. Other works on show in the inaugural exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in New York brought another full house. Ben Murray buzzed in immediately after being asked the decade in which Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto. I actually knew that was 1930 too, but stuff it, no third lap of honour for that. Statues brought two bonuses. With 4 minutes to go Durham were now less than a full set away from the magical 300 point barrier. A good shout from Billy Hogg saw him identify that, as California is the most populous state of the USA, so New South Wales is the most populous state of Australia. Scientific terms beginning with flu- added a further ten points to their score. Both teams rather sat on their buzzers once we heard the word pipistrelle, with Matthew Toynbee eventually buzzing in to pluck that particular piece of low hanging fruit. Fish whose common names refer to other animals gave a full house which took Durham to 305. And there was still time for more. Cameron Yule was just too fast on the buzzer for Strathclyde when the teams were asked about the director in 16 of whose films Toshiro Mifune starred. A full house on fictional dogs followed. It was all too easy for Durham, whose Ben Murray buzzed in very early to identify the term mole from the definition. People with the surname Ford gave them the ten points they needed to reach 350. There was still no mercy shown towards Strathclyde, as Cameron Yule buzzed in to identify an 1867 Abraham Lincoln as a rare postage stamp. That was it, though, for the contest was gonged halfway through the first bonus. The final score was 360 – 55. 

For once, JP said the most appropriate thing he could to Strathclyde, that they were beaten by a very good team. Certainly were. As for Strathclyde, well, it’s difficult to comment on how strong or otherwise they were, although they managed 7 out of their 9 bonuses. They lacked firepower on the buzzer, and that gave them no chance against this Durham outfit. In my review of Heat 4 I criticised Downing for not achieving a score of 300 + when they were dominating the buzzer so much. Well, you certainly can’t make the same criticism of Durham. Their score – fantastic. Their bonus conversion rate I would imagine was very high. Ben Murray and Cameron Yule particularly caught the eye, but there was buzzing throughout the team. We’ve only got this one performance to go on, but this Durham outfit certainly seemed to have all of the attributes you’d expect from a team that can do extremely well in UC. I shall watch their second round match with interest. 

Jeremy Paxman Watch

JP couldn’t quite bring himself to say well done when Strathclyde took their full house on the first picture set. “You watch a lot of football” he sniffed. Hmm. You never say “You read a lot of Periodic Tables” when a team gets a full house on Chemistry, Jez.

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

Apologies. I certainly didn’t know everything in this show, but I was so engrossed in the match that I didn’t jot a standout gobbet of information in my notes.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

University Challenge - Heat 5 - Clare, Cambridge v. Hertford, Oxford

Clare, Cambridge v.Hertford, Oxford. 

Dearly beloved, in heat 5 we had an Oxbridge match up, which is usually enough to get the adrenaline flowing. Representing Clare of Cambridge we had Anish Naik, Matt Nixon, Elijah Granet and captain Andrew Gurr. Batting for Hertford of Oxford were Steffi Woodgate, Pat Taylor, Chris Page and skipper Richard Tudor.

Elijah Granet came in very early to answer the first starter, knowing that a TV series – we didn’t hear all the details but I’m guessing it was The Wire – was set in Baltimore. Bonuses on words with the suffix -ist brought 10 points. I thought that both teams rather sat on their buzzers for the next starter. Asked for three letters starting a series of words, the first definitions obviously belonged to carburettor and cartilage. Richard Tudor was the first to buzz in, and earned bonuses on Physics. Now, I guessed argon for the first, but hung on to hear the second, when I actually knew about James Chadwick and the neutron. Knowing that there was no point in pushing my luck and hanging on for a hattrick, I set off chugging around the living room on my lap of honour. As it turned out, the last of the set was an absolute gimme, which gave me a full house on Physics. Which may have happened before, but not often. Hertford managed just the last. I’ll be honest, though. I couldn’t dredge up the title of T.S.Eliot’s The Dry Salvages for the next starter. Neither could either team. Now, I didn’t actually know that Henry II was ever called Fitzempress – but it was an educated guess that the term referred to him, especially when given other clues that made it a certainty. Richard Tudor took that one, earning a set on hedonism. Again, they took one bonus. For the picture starter we were given three Old English kennings. I did study Old English as part of my degree, over 3 decades ago now. Basically a kenning is a metaphorical compound. So we were given hwæl-weg, swan-rad, and fisces bæÞ. The first is literally ‘whale – way’ (Gweat Western Whale Way? Bwitish Whale Ways?), the second, swan road and the last fishes’ bath. Which obviously suggests the Sea. Honestly, old English poetry has loads of these. Chris Page was in for that one, earning the coveted Paxman well done. Three more of the same followed, of which they managed two. Anish Naik took an incorrect interruption for the next starter, allowing both Pat Taylor and me to answer that Einstein’s first scientific paper was about capillarity. To be fair, the extra details in the question gave me a decent shy at that one. The 1990s gave Hertford no more points. Nonetheless they led by 60 – 10 at the ten minute mark. At this stage of the contest it seemed like pretty plain sailing for Hertford. However I did wonder at this stage whether they might rue all of those missed bonuses.

A great early buzz by Matt Nixon to identify “What Happened” by Hilary Clinton began the Clare fightback. We returned t Old English poetry with a set of bonuses on the Exeter Book. Typical. You wait ages for a question on the subject, and then two sets turn up one after another. With the first question about a specific poet – usually if the question asks about a hymn it’s Caedmon, and anything else, then it’s Cynewulf. It was Cynewulf. The last question asked about the Lament for the Rohirrim, and which volume of the Lord of the Rings it appears in. Skipper Andrew Gurr offered The Return of the King, while it was the Two Towers, and Elijah Granet extended his arms beseechingly in the universal gesture of ‘you idiot!’. A little mutiny in the ranks there. Now, ‘Bunthorne’s Bride’ is one of those hardy perennials which surfaces from time to time in the rugby club, which wasn’t enough to give the teams the word Patience. Other clues though were enough to allow Matt Nixon to take a double. Western Australia brought Clare another 5 points, but they, like Hertford, seemed rather profligate with their bonuses at this stage of the game. Elijah Granet took Clare’s third consecutive starter, knowing the term McDonaldisation. Agglutination bonuses followed. No, me neither. Again, Clare took just the one bonus. This brought us to the joys of the music round. Playing Elton John’s Rocket Man and asking for the title, we were always going to be in for a buzzer race. The two skippers looked to go for their shooting irons first, and the quicker on the draw was Andrew Gurr. Other tracks on Major Tim Peake’s playlist saw Clare take. . . well, yes, they took one bonus. Which was enough to give them the lead. Paul Erdos – who wins the accolade of being this week’s otherwise known as Paul Who in LAM Towers – gave Richard Tudor a chance to stop the rot, and earned Hertford a set on the deaths of Roman Emperors. Which brought them a full house – yippee! They weren’t all gimmes either. Chris Page stretched the restored Hertford lead, knowing about earthquakes in Tokyo. Indie rock bands were a nice UC set, which meant that even someone with little or no knowledge of the bands themselves could achieve a full set with a little lateral thinking. This gave Hertford their second consecutive full house. Elijah Granet took an exceptionally fast flier to supply the correct name of Elena Ferrante when hardly any of the next question had been asked. It was a fabulous buzz, although I’m not too sure that extending the arms and inviting the applause from the audience was called for at this stage. Meera Bai gave Clare 2 bonuses. A rush of blood to the head saw Anish Naik hear ‘Swedish anatomist’ and buzz in too early with Linnaeus. The answer actually involved the teeth, and Hertford couldn’t take it. This meant that as we neared the 20 minute mark, Hertford led by 110 to 80. Alright, up to this point it hadn’t exactly been a match of the highest quality, but it was at least an interesting contest.

For the next starter Matt Nixon hesitated before giving the correct answer of Nunavut. Names in the Solar system associated with heaven or paradise saw Clare only take one of a very gettable set. This brought us to the second picture starter. I didn’t recognise the work of Edouard Manet, but Chris Page did. This brought a set of bonuses on Manet paintings inspired by original Spanish works, which gave them a timely full house. With a lead of 40 and just over 5 minutes to go, Hertford looked most likely winners at this stage. Nobody knew that, among other clues, the M1 runs by Leicester and Leeds. Elijah Granet took the next starter, recognising poems from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Questions linked to giga- brought them, well, it brought them one bonus, but crucially put them withina full set of catching Hertford. Andrew Gurr made the classic mistake of giving the Greek god, Dionysus, when asked for the Roman god. Chris Page made no mistake with Bacchus. (Bacchus was the Roman God of Wine, while his brother, Tobacchus, was the Roman God of cigarettes. Boom boom . That one came from my A Level English teacher, decades ago. John Browning, take a bow.) Literary oxymorons were the bonuses. Last time this came up I expected darkness visible and it didn’t come. This time it kicked us off. Hertford couldn’t get it, but did take the second bonus on Alexander Pope. With the gap at 40 and the ref already looking at his watch, you could probably have named your own price on Clare. Andrew Gurr won the buzzer race to identify red and roe as species of deer. They needed a full house on events of 1918, but only took two. Still, this brought the gap down to 20. With a full house, they could just snatch victory. The next question, on trignonometry, was one of those inscrutable what is the value questions. Whenever I hear one I always say either 1 or 0, and I was delighted to see Richard Tudor answer 1, and Andrew Gurr answer 0. Sadly, it was a half. The next starter really became a buzzer race when it became obvious that the question was looking for Grand Canal, and it was a race won by the Cambridge skipper. Flight ofs gave them the two bonuses they needed to draw level with Hertford. Squeaky bum time, as there quite possibly would only be time for one more set. Various Robinsons gave Elijah Granet the next starter. Now, if I told you that I’ve never fist pumped after a speculative punt answer has come off you’d know I was lying, so I can’t criticise Elijah Granet for that show of emotion. It literally was the moment that separated the two teams, since we were gonged immediately. Which meant that Clare had won with 160 – 150.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know if 150 will give Hertford a realistic chance of a repechage slot. It was an oddly polarised performance. As their bonus conversion rate seemed to improve, their buzzer form seemed worsen. As for Clare, well they won on the buzzer. I don’t know what their bonus conversion rate was, but I would imagine it was some way south of 50%, and that has to improve to give them any realistic chance of winning their next match. Thanks to both teams for a match which was exciting to watch, if not out of the top drawer in terms of quality.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Matt Nixon hesitated almost too long before giving the answer Nunavut. Now, JP’s words might have said “I’ll accept that but only because I’m being kind’, but the tone of his voice and the pointing finger said ‘do it again and I’ll smash yer face in’.

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

Nunavut actually means ‘Our Land’.

Friday, 31 August 2018

University Challenge - First Round heat 4 - SOAS v. Darwin, Cambridge

Hello again. Summer is nearly over, and I’m back from all of my travels. It could well take a while to catch up on UC, but I’ll do my best, dearly beloved. 

So let’s start with heat 4 – SOAS v. Downing, Cambridge. Representing the School of Oriental and African Studies we had Mark Thomas, Chad Beaman, Tom Pollitt and captain Harriet Gemmill. Playing for Darwin Cambridge were  Stuart McPherson, Christopher Davis, Guy Mulley and skipper Jason Golfinos. 

The first question asked for a precious stone, and as soon as JP said ‘nephrite’ I knew it was jade. I’ve asked that one several times down the rugby club. First on the buzzer – and not for the last time in this show – was Darwin’s Jason Golfinos. The world in 1997 yielded just a single bonus. Right, now, when you’re asked about award winning women film directors, the answer is often Katherine Bigelow, but it didn’t work this time for Jason Golfinos. Now, if it’s not Katherine Bigelow, Sofia Coppola is usually a very good shout. SOAS couldn’t dredge that one up.  I’m old enough to have given the answer to the next starter after the words Crosby in 1981 – which I believe was Shirley Williams. Glasgow Hillhead was certainly Roy Jenkins. We had a little more of the question before Mark Thomas supplied the answer of the SDP. Miraculous births in mythology provided two correct answers. Jason Golfinos took his second starter of the evening, recognising various definitions of the word foil. The US astronomer Vera Rubin (any relation to Billy?) provided two bonuses, which took us up to the picture starter. This was a rather straightforward Latin phrase, where the teams were asked for the sense of the phrase. Salus populi suprema lex esto, as Jason Golfinos knew, means the health of the people is the supreme law. Yeah, I’ve heard snappier slogans too. Three more Latin legal maxims earned two more bonuses. The next question asked for a specific astrological phenomenon. Chad Beaman came in too early with the orbit of Mars, allowing Jason Golfinos to take his 4th starter with supernova. Not ten minutes into the contest yet, either. The economist Robert Solow – yes, yes, known as Robert Who in LAM Towers – provided a further two bonuses. So right on the cusp of the ten minute mark, Darwin led by 75 – 15.

The Aphrodite of Knidos is one of the only existing examples of the work of Praxiteles. Gesundheit. Jason Golfinos took his 5th starter with that one. Award winning video games saw them take their first full house of the contest. Poor Chad Beaman fell right into the trap with the next starter. As he should do with his team trailing, he went for the buzzer as soon as it seemed to become obvious. It asked for a given name linked with several people, one of which being Hotspur. Naturally enough he went for Harry – but it was his surname, Percy, which the question required. Chalk up starter six to Jason Golfinos. The Ghaznavids provided another full house. With the score at 125 to 10 the vultures were beginning to circle above the SOAS team. Their predicament was thrown into sharp relief by the way that Jason Golfinos so speedily took his seventh starter, knowing “Have you no decency, Sir?” was likely to require the answer Joseph McCarthy. Two more bonuses took Darwin further away from SOAS, and brought up the music starter. Asked for the name of the band leader whose orchestra we were listening to, I’d say it took the superb Mr. Golfinos less than a second to buzz in with Benny Goodman. That’s 8 before the 20 minute mark. 2 more band leaders were identified for bonuses. Then as if things couldn’t get any worse for SOAS, they did, as JP administered the kiss of death by telling them that there was still plenty of time for them to get going. Smile when you say that, Jeremy. I’ll be honest, I was not conversant with the word hacktivist, and neither were the teams. Starter 9 for Jason Golfinos involved identifying the French composer Lully. The US film director Julie Taymor – who is neither Kaerine Bigelow nor Sofia Coppola – yielded just the one bonus. I guessed Titus Andronicus – which play gratifyingly proves that as well as being a genius, Shakespeare did actually write some crap in his early days. Jason Golfinos was first to buzz for the next starter, but it didn’t put him into double figures. After hearing The Sea of Tranquility he buzzed in with the Moon, but you could see in his body language and hear in his voice it suddenly dawned on him - hang on, that’s too flippin’ easy for UC. Quite right too. Given the full question, Chad Beaman knew that this and the other location were where Apollos 11 and 12 landed. They took two bonuses on achievements in mathematics. Inevitably Jason Golfinos ended that brief show of resistance, knowing that if the question wants the name of a palace, and it’s to do with the doings of the roman Catholic Church, Lateran will always put you in with a shout. Chris Morris provided – well, yes, two correct answers. Chad Beamon, very ill favoured by the starter gods on this show, heard the words ‘La Perouse Strait’ and correctly placed it between Sakhalin Island and Hokkaido. Unfortunately the question wanted much less specific information than that. After he was deducted 5 points he had the chastening experience of seeing Stuart McPherson answer that it separated Russia from Japan. Sometimes it just really isn’t your night. It was a seemingly inevitable consequence that Darwn would go on to take a full house on lesser known languages of Europe. At the 20 minute mark the score was 220 – 25, and only two questions remained. How close could SOAS possibly come to triple figures, and just how high a score were Darwin going to finish with?

For the second picture starter both teams sat on their buzzers and stared at a still from a Disney film. Eventually Harriet Gemmill dredged up The Princess and the Frog. Three more recent hand drawn films from other studios brought them ten points. Right – you hear the words ‘biblical figure’ and ‘John Milton’ and you go for your buzzer and answer Samson, as in Agonistes. Both teams waited, and then it was Harriet Gemmill who was fastest on the draw. Ancient seaports provided a quick full house, and SOAS’ score had tripled in a mere couple of minutes. They could have had the next starter, bearing in mind that the gland that secretes substances which control the level of glucose in the bloodstream is clearly the pancreas, but though Tom Pollitt won the buzzer race, he gave the wrong answer. Cue starter 11 for Jason Golfinos. British birds with names of three or four letters gave them the usual – ten points. After a relatively quiet few minutes the irrepressible Darwin skipper took a flier with the next starter, very quickly identifying the abbreviation S to N as standing for Signal to Noise. Sisters in Dickens novels provided nowt – highlighting literature as a possible area of weakness – for future reference. Wolframite is one of those ores which gets asked in quizzes from time to time, but by the time I had shouted out Tungsten and set off on my lap of honour, so had Chad Beaman. Well, he hadn’t set off on a lap of honour, but you know what I mean. One bonus on astronomy put SOAS back tantalisingly close to the 100 point barrier. Chad Beaman, asked for the port mentioned by Churchill in his Iron Curtain speech, came in too early and zigged with Gdansk. Just one of those things. This allowed Jason Golfinos to take his twelfth starter with Stettin. Perpetual trophies in test Cricket were gettable, but they managed just the one. For the next starter Stuart McPerson lost five with an early buzz. The answer had to be ultraviolet – yes, a second lap of honour there, and it allowed Chad Beaman to take his team to 85. Full house and they’d be on triple figures. They took the first, but then tempus fugot and the contest was gonged, stranding them on 90. The final score was 260 to 90.

Right then, a few observations. For me, Jason Golfinos’ 13 starters is a Hall of Fame performance. But how good actually were Darwin? It’s difficult to say. Although the scoreline suggests another mismatch like last year’s first round, it didn’t quite feel like that. SOAS clearly knew stuff when they earned some bonuses. Darwin’s very marked superiority was on the buzzer, and that was almost entirely due to their skipper. In fact I think that only one other correct starter came from the whole of the rest of the Darwin team. There’s no doubt that Darwin are contenders after that showing – however given their superiority on the buzzer, you might have expected them to end up closer to 300. Well, first round form is unreliable, but I think it’s fair to say that Darwin will certainly be a team to watch. 

Jeremy Paxman Watch

He started early in this show. Alluding to Mel C’s observation that, if Oasis were bigger than God “what does that make us? Bigger than Buddha?” he added ‘Stupid thing to say.’ In a way I do know where he was coming from, but come on Jez, we don’t use the S word. 
Then, for the picture bonuses, Jason Golfinos offered up a sensible enough translation of the 2nd phrase, to which JP replied sniffily “You’re just thinking aloud.” Jez, that’s NOT an insult! If you don’t know the answer, you’re supposed to use your brains to try to work it out. To be fair he did say well done when they got the last one – even though it was probably the easiest of the three. Guilt, methinks.
When Darwin achieved their full house on video games, he reacted somewhat indignantly with “What do you spend your time doing?!” Oh Jez, welcome back! I’ve missed you.
When Harriet Quimby did take what was only SOAS’ third starter on the Disney still, he jovially observed ‘Points are points wherever they come from.’ Nice application of salt to fresh wounds there.
Time was when JP would have told a team who’d scored less than 100 that they hadn’t done very well. Now, he contented himself by damning SOAS with faint praise – “You’re a nice team”. Nice try Jez. 

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

A person who specifically to further social or political ends tries to gain unauthorised access to computer files or networks can be called a hacktivist.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

University Challenge 2019 - Round One Heat Three - Pembroke College, Oxford v. Downing College, Cambridge

Pembroke College, Oxford v. Downing College, Cambridge

Ding dang dong, dingee dingee dang dong, dingee dang DINgee dong. Great lyrics to the theme, don’t you think? Yes, already we’ve reached the third heat of the first round, and the first Oxford v. Cambridge match up. Representing Pembroke College we had Connor McGurk, Tom Lambert, Louis Morris and their captain Catherine Perry. In the light blue corner, representing Downing College, were Fergus O’Dowd, Jane O’Connor, Felix Prutton and their own skipper, Yanbo Yin.

So far we’d had two great matches, in which both teams looked good for another outing in the series. Were we about to see this continue? Well, it was Jane O’Connor who struck first, knowing that a musical performer born in Minneapolis, a political treatise of 1513, and a Canadian maritime province were all good matches for the word Prince. Cities which have hosted the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in recent years provided a full house, and it was fairly clear that Downing meant business. ‘Transverse and longitudinal’ is the prelude to one of those UC chestnuts which pops up to say hello every couple of years, but Felix Prutton lost five for an early buzz with waves, allowing in Connor McGurk, who gave the correct answer of dunes after the helpful word barchans was mentioned. A tricky set on agriculture followed, of which Pembroke managed the one. Nonetheless, two starters and both teams were off the mark. That’s how I like to see it. On a disease of the oral cavities Tom Prutton came in too early for the second question running. On the one hand this may have been frustrating to his team, but on the other, at least he wasn’t going to allow one early buzz to put him off slinging buzzer for the rest of the competition, and this is an attitude I can appreciate. The Oxford skipper, Catherine Perry, had a shy at it with plaque, but it was caries, or tooth decay. Nathan Zuckerman is the narrator of several novels by Philip Roth, and I was a little surprised at the way both teams sat on the buzzer before Louis Morris offered the correct answer in tones which seemed to suggest that he thought that he couldn’t possibly be right. He was, though. Architectural styles and movements again saw Pembroke pick up one point. We moved to the picture starter, which showed us just a European country’s road major road network, without the outline of the country. I’ll be honest, looking at it, it shouted Portugal to me, and obviously to Fergus O’Dowd as well, for he buzzed in very quickly. More of the same followed, and Downing took their second full house of the evening. I did nothing like as well, only seeing the Netherlands for the last one. None of us knew that treacle is derived from Greek words meaning antidote to venom. This meant that just about on the 10 minute mark the game was nicely poised, with Downing leading by 40 – 30.

Now, as soon as you hear “The Father of the Symphony” you should slam the buzzer through the desk and answer Haydn. To be fair to Yanbo Yin he did the slamming, but did wait for the epithet ‘Father of the string quartet’ before doing so. The album “The Number of the Beast” by Iron Maiden, who I believe were a popular musical combo of years gone by, provided Downing with nothing. This was a little surprising considering that two were gettable without any knowledge of the band or album itself. I’ll be honest, I know nowt about Captcha – but Connor McGurk was in early for it. The set of bonuses on biology gave us both two correct answers, and knowing enough to get while the going is good, I set off puffing my way around the living room for the traditional lap of honour. Both the teams were tied at this stage, and it looked as if it was developing into another good contest. I understand why Tom Lambert came in early with the philosopher Epicurus for the next starter, but he lost five and allowed Yanbo Yin in with the correct answer of Democritus. The (main) River Avon provided a timely full house. I felt sorry for Louis Morris on the next starter. When you hear dates in the 19th century, then the words ‘a notable nurse’ and you’re 30 points behind, of course you’re going to sling buzzer and answer Florence Nightingale. She died considerably later than 1881, though. This allowed Downing to hear the rest of the question, with the Downing skipper nodding as ‘the battlefields of the Crimea’ were mentioned. Realistically this narrowed down the possible answers to one, Mary Seacole, which was the answer he gave.Unpaired words, those which are negative in form but whose positive forms are non existent or rare, for example unkempt, provided a full house. In the space of a couple of minutes Downing had taken a 60 point lead, and Pembroke really needed a starter to keep themselves within touching distance. The music starter saw both teams reluctant to chance their arm, even though it was a relatively well known bit of Ludwig Van. The impressive Downing skipper finally took that piece of low lying fruit. They failed to get any of the bonuses. Yanbo Yin was again in very quickly to tell us that the Self Strengthening Movement in China occurred during the Qing dynasty. Now, Robert Grosseteste ( yes, Robert Who?) promised very little, but amazingly delivered me a lapworthy full house. It would have given Downing the same, had they not given Francis rather than Roger Bacon as Doctor Mirabilis. Didn’t matter – they now had a 90 point lead, and the invisible elastic joining the two teams must have been at breaking point. I would imagine that however determined you are, once the opposition have carved out a significant lead like this it must be very hard to find the mental toughness to tell yourself that you can still beat them on the buzzer for the next starter, and the next, and the next . . . Especially when Yanbo Yin was knocking them in from all angles. He recognised a description of bilharzia for the next starter. Rock types provided us both with a single bonus. At the 20 minute mark Downing looked to be in cruise control with 145, while Pembroke really needed to start slinging some serious buzzer if they were to have any chance of reaching a repechage score. 

Neither team could recognise the city of Kiev from a description for the next starter. Tom Lambert struggled to get out the fact that Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican party president of the USA, but get it out he did, and Pembroke were moving again. When JP announced a set of bonuses on literary oxymorons, I felt sure that Milton/Golding’s ‘Darkness Visible’ would be one. It wasn’t, but that didn’t stop Pembroke from taking a full set. So to the second picture starter. Holman Hunt’s The Scapegoat did nothing for either of the teams. A UC special question which was, in my opinion, too bloody hard, and involved symbols for amino acids and major currencies, hardly surprisingly proved a bit of a waste of time for everyone. Right – if you hear ‘given name’ and ‘hominid’ then you have to buzz. The answer almost invariably will be Lucy. Jane O’Connor took that one. Finally we got a shy at the picture bonuses, which were more of the works of the Pre Raphaelites. One bonus ensued. Yanbo Yin, piling Pelion upon Ossa, knew the chemistry starter which followed. Oh good – more flipping Science bonuses – I thought as JP announced them – and them promptly took back the criticism as I took a full house on Huygens. So did Downing for that matter. With only just over 3 minutes to go everything looked fairly cut and dried. The irrepressible Downing skipper recognised a series of words ending with zzle. Two bonuses on latin – modus – phrases took them through the 200 point barrier. The excellent Yanbo Yin took yet another starter, recognising stages of the Thirty Years War. Downing helped themselves to another full house on glaciers. I’ll be interested to see what their bonus conversion rate was for this show – Jack? – but it looked like a pretty good evening’s work to me. Surprisingly, the Downing skipper got a starter wrong for once, allowing his Oxford counterpart in with the femur. Right, slightly controversial moment. JP announced a set of bonuses on films whose titles all contained the same short adjective. Now, when asked for a 1970 Francois Truffault film, skipper Catherine Perry offered ‘The Savage Child’. Now when released in the UK it was given the title “The Wild Child”, and wild was the connecting adjective. However, the original French title was “L’Enfant Sauvage”, so you can maybe see why I thought that they were a little hard done by. It didn’t affect the result, or Pembroke’s chances of progression. That was it, anyway. We were gonged before the end of the set, which meant that Downing had won by 230 – 75.

Yes, if you look at the scores it looks as if this game was a mismatch of the kind that we had last year. Yet it really never quite felt like that. Pembroke were giving as good as they got for the first half of the contest, and the real difference after that was the magnificent buzzing of Yanbo Yin, Downing’s brilliant skipper. Very hard lines, but when you come up against that there’s little that you can do other than take it on the chin. As for Downing, this was impressive. It’s early days yet, but it may well be worth keeping an eye on their progress throughout the series. 

Jeremy Paxman Watch

When Downing were unable to dredge up Iron Maiden, JP scoffed “Ever heard of them?” Had the words of their answer ‘We don’t know’ not already given you a clue on that one, Jez?

To be fair, our man was thoroughly enjoying this contest. On a couple of occasions he laughed with the teams, whereas ten years ago he’d have growled or uttered a put down. He’s mellowed, you know. There’s no doubt about it, but he’s mellowed.

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

The word treacle ultimately derives from the Greek for Antidote to Venom.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

University Challenge 2019 - Round One Heat 2 - Emmanuel, Cambridge v. Glasgow University

Emmanuel, Cambridge v. Glasgow

Hello again, Dearly Beloved, and how was your week? Mine? Well, to be honest, pretty good, thanks for asking. Start of the school summer holidays is always a time for celebration. So, who would be celebrating after this second heat? First off we had Connor Macdonald, Vedanth Nair, Ben Harris and skipper Daniella Cugini, representing Emmanuel, Cambridge. Their opponents were Glasgow University, in the shape of Lewis Barn, Freya Whiteford, Cameron Herbert, and captain James Hampson. If these two teams could provide as good a match as we’d been served up in the first heat, then I wouldn’t be complaining.

5  letter word – symphonic poem by Mussorgsky. That was enough to give me night for the first starter, and a poem by Auden and painting by Rembrandt saw James Hampson win the buzzer race. This earned Glasgow a set of bonuses on Heligoland, of which we both took a brace. Ben Harris opened Emma’s account, recognising a definition of the word metabolism. Renaissance court painters provided a relatively tricky set of which they took 1. Both Lewis Barn and I took a flier on the next, offering Alfred Hitchcock for a film maker born in London in 1899. Nobel laureates in Chemistry saw me set off around the living room for being able to dredge up the name of Dorothy Hodgkin. A couple of correct answers saw Glasgow extend their lead. So to the picture round. We saw the island of New Guinea, and the first to identify it was Connor Macdonald. More international islands whose territory is divided between two or more nations saw Emma take an impressive full house. I felt that identifying St. Martin’s – which I couldn’t – was particularly good. Connor Macdonald took a second consecutive starter, coming in early to identify the playwright and actor Sam Shepard. The Hindu goddess Durga didn’t necessarily promise a great deal, but gave me a full house to Emma’s one. Now, when the words – in a mathematical magic square – passed JP’s lips for the next starter, I thought that there was no chance of me getting it. In desperation, after JP had read out 8 numbers, I said 5 which was the only one he hadn’t mentioned. Lewis Barn buzzed in with the same number. It was right. Flabbergasted enough to break my ‘too old for more than one lap of honour per show’ rule, when I sat back down Glasgow had taken 1 bonus on animal names which comprise of two other animal names, for example raccoon dog. This had the effect of levelling the scores at 55 apiece on the ten minute mark.

Daniella Cugini recognised that Myron was the sculptor of the Discobolus, and buzzed in early to earn bonuses on photographic self portraits. We both ook two bonuses, missing out on Cindy Sherman (altogether now – also known as Cindy Who in Lam Towers). Lewis Barn buzzed in early to supply us with the term bionic, in a question which alluded to the 10 year old me’s favourite TV show, the Six Million Dollar Man. 6 million dollars. Today that’d maybe get you half a bionic fingertip. The solar system bonuses saw captain James Hampson at one point say one of my favourite quiz observations – ‘I don’t even understand the question’. They still took a bonus. A really lovely UC special question alluded to the word byte in the middle of Presbyterian. Freya Whiteford zigged with bit, allowing Vedanth Nair to zag with byte. A set on German political parties gave Emmanuel a full house, putting them into triple figures as we headed to the music starter. The unique tones of Debbie Harry singing about a chap called Dennis allowed James Hampson to buzz in with Blondie. Three more songs by anglophone acts including refrains or interludes from other languages saw Glasgow take a timely full house, and thus earn the much prized Paxman well done. The next starter, about the insect order dermaptera, was one of those which suddenly becomes obvious, and this time it was Connor Macdonald who won the buzzer race to identify earwigs. An impressive full house on optimism followed. Asked for the political office held by John Aislabie who was found guilty of corruption in promoting the South Sea company- Chancellor of the Exchequer was always going to be worth a punt, and the first to take the opportunity was Cameron Herbert. Bonuses on physics gave Glasgow a full house – and I answered Joule for a Lancashire born physicist, but declined the third lap of honour this offered me. Vedanth Nair came in too early for the Appalachians – the American Mountain range including various named series of hills, losing five, but James Hampson couldn’t capitalise, zigging with the Rockies. The big clue was the mention of the Shenandoah. Neither team could quite dredge up the Royal Academy of Arts for the next starter. Now – how about this. The next starter asked “A letter of the Swedish alphabet is the official symbol used to measure wavelengths – and at this point I came up with Angstrom, literally as Freya Whiteford was buzzing in to offer the same answer. Yes, dearly beloved – for me an unprecedented fourth lap of honour worthy answer in the same show. National trails in England and Wales failed to provide them with any further points. This mean that right on the cusp of the 20 minute mark Glasgow held a slender lead of 130 – 120. What a good match.

The second starter showed us a still of the character Alan Partridge. The time it took for either team to buzz suggested that we at home got to see the photo several seconds before they did. James Hampson won that buzzer race. Stills from three more TV series created or co created by the great Armando Ianucci saw Glasgow take a full house – I should think so too. The Glasgow skipper took another flier for the next starter, knowing that the piers and Brighton and Aberystwyth are particularly known for their populations of starlings. English words of Arabic origin saw Glasgow take two. Even if they didn’t get another answer all night, their score of 175 would surely see them into the repechage round at the very least. Both teams thought for a moment before Vedanth Nair gave us Egypt and Saudi Arabia as the two countries either side of the Red Sea through which the Tropic of Cancer passes. Good shout, that. Bonuses on British royalty brought 2 bonuses, and for the second week running it looked as if both teams on show would have a good chance of playing a second match. Freya Whiteford took a flier with plankton for the next starter and lost five. She was unlucky since within a second or two it became obvious that the creatures being described were jellyfish. Ben Harris took that one. Hans Sloane (was he a bit of a square? I’m here all week, ladies and gents.) gave Emmanuel two bonuses and reduced the gap between the teams to just ten points. Cameron Herbert identified David Hockney as the subject of a 2017 retrospective exhibition for the next starter. Winter and poets only yielded five points, which meant that the teams would be all square if Emma could take a full house on the next set. Instead Ben Harris lost five, but can’t be blamed for slinging buzzer at this stage of the game. James Hampson couldn’t capitalise, neither team giving the sought after term of glycine. The musical term alla tedesca means after the style of the people of Germany. How did I manage to guess that? Well, in my youth I was known to read the odd war comic, and distinctly remember times when the German soldiers were called ‘Tedeschi’. Sad. Neither team guessed that one. Now, the fact that Hardy’s novel “Far From the Madding Crowd” takes its title from a line in Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard” is a bit of an old chestnut, meant I was a little surprised that both teams rather sat on their buzzers before Daniela Cugini buzzed in with the right answer. Wars fought by the Brits in Asia saw them take two very quick bonuses, though it was interesting to see Ben Harris seemingly advising his excitable skipper to exercise a little caution at this stage. With a ten point gap and at most a couple of minutes to go, it really was squeaky bum time. The unflappable Glasgow skipper was first to buzz in with the term distal for the next starter. Bonuses on Michael Vaughan pushed them to 200. Emmanuel could still tie the scores with a full house, but was there enough time? No. We were gonged halfway through a Jane Austen starter. 

Well played both teams, that was a great match. Emmanuel must have an excellent chance of a repechage play off with 175 points. As for Glasgow, congratulations on a fine performance. Best of luck in the second round. 

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Right then Jez, since you insist on correcting perfectly good answers, here’s a correction for you. You asked for a 6 LETTER TERM. Lewis Barn correctly answered Bionic. “BIONICS, yes” you replied. Jez, for heaven’s sake, count the number of letters in bionics. That’s just embarrassing. 

When weighing up options for one of the optimism bonuses Emmanuel decided that Schopenhauer was ‘a bit miserable’ and when offered this as an answer, JP replied , “Correct – a very miserable man indeed.” Altogether now – takes one to know one, Jezza. 

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

Brit Frederick Sanger is the only person so far to have won two Nobel Prizes in Chemistry.