Friday, 30 August 2019

Mastermind 2020 First round - heat 4


Nice to see you. Well, even though we were UC-less this week, thankfully we still had Mastermind to take up the slack.

Now, one of the things I can’t help doing, even though it’s pointless really to do so, is trying to work out what has gone wrong with a contender’s specialist round when they only achieve a low score. Without wishing to be horrible, that’s what this heat kicked off with. Wendy Morrison, answering on the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, scored 4. Now, to me it seemed that the questions almost exclusively focused on his military career, and ignored other aspects of his life – his two marriages, for example, and his political career, and I’d guess that Wendy hadn’t prepared this aspect of his life thoroughly enough. However, at the end of the round we also saw her almost, yet not quite, answer what may well have been the easiest question of the round, which may well have been through stress caused by what had happened in the rest of the round. I scored a decent 6 in a show in which all 4 specialists seemed to offer something.

Now, over 40 years ago I read and loved the Chronicles of Narnia, which was the subject offered to us by Eve Devlin. That, though, was a very long time ago.  So again, I was pleased to dredge up a few answers to push my total onwards. Eve, though, far outshone this. In fact I did think that her round was slightly better than the 10 points she scored – I was surprised when the transparent line of death had almost completed its circuit just as John began the question which would bring her 10th point. A good round.

Not as good, though, as Vik Bansal’s round on the Life and Career of Andre Agassi. This was a calm and assured performance, and Vik obviously really knew his stuff. In fact his performance had all the hallmarks of a perfect round, until the very last question, and this was enough to give him the lead with an excellent 10 points. It also took me to 15, meaning that I needed just 2 correct answers on the final round to set a new highest specialist aggregate for this series.

I fancied my chances as well, bearing in mind that Kris Jones, our final contender, was offering us National Flags. That’s a very special subject indeed. Not quite a decade ago, the great Jesse Honey set an all time Mastermind record round score on Flags with 23 points. Well, the nature of the questions now mean that there is just no way that you could possibly get through 23 questions, so there was no chance of Kris Jones doing that. Kris’ suffered, I though, from having good knowledge of what’s actually on the flag, without having very good knowledge about the things on the flag themselves, or how they got there, or who put them there. As a result he scored 6, but was too far behind the leader to have a realistic chance in the GK. As for me, 8 brought me a new record aggregate total for this series of 23.

So to the GK, which was, to all intents and purposes, a two horse race. Prior to that though, Wendy Morrison had a chance to show us her mettle. John jocularly reminded her that there was plenty of time to race through into the lead, but as I’ve said before, I wish he wouldn’t make these comments, because all it does is to remind the contender in the chair that he or she had a bad first round. Wendy had a very good GK round as it happened. Which in one way is very nice, but in another way it must have left her thinking about what might have been. It wasn’t quite the case with Kris Jones’ round. Kris himself managed double figures, but he scored 10, which crucially left him a point behind Wendy.

With all due respect, though, this was just the sideshow, or the precursor to the main event. For Eve Devlin it was crucial to set the bar as high as possible. Once again, her round wasn’t bad. She scored 9, which was decent, but it left Vik needing only 8 answers for an outright win, and that’s not quite enough to put a good contender into the corridor of doubt, I would argue.

Finally Vik, then. Now, this was another of those rounds which looked better than the score would suggest. Vik never looked in danger of not getting enough points, especially in the first minute of the round during which I felt he was headed for a score in the teens. The last minute wasn’t quite so good, as Vik picked up a couple of wrong answers and a couple of passes, and seemed a little slower and more hesitant with his answers. Nonetheless he’d already achieved the target, and pushed on to score 11 points which gave him a final total of 23. Well played, sir, and best of luck in the semis.

The Details

Wendy Morrison
The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte
4
3
13
2
17
5
Eve Devlin
C.S.Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia
10
1
9
4
19
4
Vik Bansal
The Life and Career of Andre Agassi
12
0
11
2
23
2
Kris Jones
National Flags
6
3
10
0
16
0

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Mastermind 2020 - Heat 3


Already at heat three, Dearly Beloved. Doesn’t time fly. Okay, then, without further ado, first into the chair last night was Phil Welch. Phil was answering on the Members and Music of Genesis. Now, back in the day I was quite partial to a bit of Genesis. I even saw them in Wembley Arena in Christmas of either 1982 or 1983 – old age robs of me of the almost perfect recall of yesteryear, sadly. Last week I set this year’s first aggregate specialist target of 16. This subject, I thought, might give me the springboard to beat that. Well, it did and it didn’t. It brought me 5 points, which is certainly a decent enough start, but I was hoping for a couple more, and it meant I’d need some big hitters in those subjects still to come. Phil, on the other hand, equalled the top specialist mark for the series so far with 12, in what seemed to be a pretty nerveless performance.

Right, now or some years I’ve taken pleasure from being the last schoolteacher to win a series of Mastermind. I worked it out that even if a schoolteacher should win this series, then I would still have held the distinction of being the last schoolteacher to win for 12 years, which beats the previous record of 11 years held by my friend, David Edwards. So it is high time for another of my brethren and sistren to win. I mention all of this, as our next contender, Emma Welsh, is also a teacher. Emma was answering on the Elizabethan Tragedies of Shakespeare. – Yum yum – thought I, that being part of the day job, as it were. I managed a decent 6, but Emma did noticeably better with 9.

Up to this point we in the series we hadn’t had a really low scoring specialist round. Sadly, James Leahy had a bit of a ‘mare in his round on the Thirty Years’ War. I thought James looked quite nervous, so who knows the effect that failing to answer his second question correctly might have had? It did look though as if James was a little underprepared- apologies if this was not the case, but I can only go by what I see on the screen. James scored 4. I had three to take me to 14.

Unfortunately that was as good as it got for me last night. I’m afraid that I have never watched either “Firefly” or “Serenity”, so failed to trouble the scorer on this visit to the table. Maureen on the other hand managed a confident 10. What do we say, good people. Anything in double figures in as specialist round in this particular series is a good score.

When James returned to the table, John tried to console him a little by pointing out that Thirty Years is a very long time. Well, yes. But you see, I have a problem with this sort of comment because, for all that it is undoubtedly well meant, the fact that you pass comment about it at all only really serves to point out how low the score was. Best not to mention it, and to let the contender concentrate on the job in hand. Which James did pretty well, it has to be said. It wasn’t the finest GK round we’ve seen this series, but it was a good battling performance, and although James never looked comfortable for the rest of the show, it does show him that should he wish to come back, if he can get his problems with specialist sorted, then he could be a contender. Well done.

Emma Welsh, on the other hand, while never losing her composure, couldn’t produce the sort of performance in GK which would give her the chance of setting a challenging target. In fact she just fell short of matching James’ total as well. After the 2008 season of blessed memory a number of people in the know asked me how I managed to find the time to prepare with all the work I do as part of my career, and it’s a fair question. I wouldn’t say that I was using every spare moment for revision – but it wasn’t far off. I’m not suggesting this is only true for teachers – but it is maybe a reason why we haven’t seen another schoolteacher win since that series.

Maureen Smyth too never lost her composure, and did seem to be enjoying her round. However she didn’t find it much easier than Emma did, and just about breached the tape before the, um, transparent line of death had completed a circuit. She did raise the target, but only by one point to 17. I’ll be honest, if you’d wanted to bet on her winning the show at this stage you could probably have named your own odds, since Phil Welch was starting his round needing just 6 points for an outright win.

Of course he got them. In fact his was a competent, decent all round performance, and it felt just about right that he should win with a mid 20s score of 23. Best of luck to you in the semi finals, sir.

Speaking of which, I have to say that the piece to camera done by the winners of each show is growing on me somewhat. I do often think about what would motivate people to want to appear on the show, and it was nice to hear Phil say that he’d always wanted to appear, which is how I felt when I made my first (losing) appearance in 2006.

The Details

Phil Welch
The Members and Music of Genesis
12
0
11
2
23
2
Emma Welsh
Shakespeare’s Elizabethan Tragedies
9
2
6
4
15
4
James Leahy
The Thirty Years’ War
4
2
12
0
16
2
Maureen Smyth
“Firefly” and “Serenity”
10
0
7
5
17
5

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

University Challenge Round One - Heat Six - Edinburgh v. Birkbeck, London


Edinburgh returned as reigning champs on Monday night, this year represented by Richard Moon, Adam McLaughlan, Isaac Stephens and captain Emma Williams. The first obstacle in their way to retaining their title came in the shape of Birkbeck, London, comprising of Rob Anderson, Rosemary Barnett, Ian Kernohan and captain Nooruddean Janmohamed. Nice to see an older team like this from time to time.

Both teams rather sat on their buzzers a little bit. I should imagine a number of people at home heard “Begun in 1173 as part of a cathedral complex” and shouted Leaning Tower of Pisa as I did. The whole question was complete as Richard Moon buzzed in with the correct answer. A set of bonuses on the term tragedy followed, although I was saddened to see that the work of the Bee Gees and Steps failed to feature. Edinburgh took the first two. Various clues led Rob Anderson to the word dip. American Presidents brought two bonuses to level the scores. For the next starter the old quiz chestnut heartburn came early in the question, but both teams again sat back for a while before Adam McLaughlan came in with the correct answer. Menmonic devices were none of the ones I knew, but Edinburgh knew the first, on operations in Mathematics. The next was one of those which suddenly becomes blindingly obvious at the end. Once Holman Hunt and Tennyson had been mentioned Adam McLaughan buzzed in with The Lady of Shalot. Ida Rubinstein – yes, Ida Who? – brought Edinburgh just the one correct answer. This meant that as we approached the 10 minute mark, Edinburgh led 50 – 20.

For the picture starter we had a stave with a single note. I was out with the washing on this, but Adam McLaughlan took his triple with that one. More of the same brought Edinburgh two bonuses, and my shouting random letters at the telly brought nowt. I knew that the birthplace of Elvis starts with TUP – but neither of the teams could work it out through that or the other clues. Asked for the two word name of the largest land animal in Britain, I reckon Richard Moon probably knew the correct answer, but he buzzed in and answered ‘stag’, which was never going to get him the points. This allowed skipper Nooruddean Janmohamed to drag Birkbeck back into the contest with the correct answer of red deer. Chemical elements discovered in Sweden had me running through the Ytterby quartet and holmium, but they didn’t surface, and both of us only got Lithium. Muddy Hill and pigsty Hill are apparently possible original meanings of the name Solihull, as Isaac Stephens knew. Anglo Saxon kingdoms announced JP. Yum yum, said I. Full house for me, and also for Edinburgh on a pretty gentle set. A gentle starter about quarter days was snapped up impressively quickly by Nooruddean Janmohamed, and philosophers born in Ireland took Birkbeck to a rather healthier 50 points, albeit rather controversially. More of that later. For the music starter Adam McLaughlan quickly recognised Simon and Garfunkel. Other artists reviewed in The New Yorker by Ellen Willis only brought one bonus, but Edinburgh were progressing towards a win, so it seemed. After Edinburgh failed to identify a wading bird, Nooruddean Janmohamed chanced his arm with curlew, and was right to do so. Gardening terminology seemed to be to Birkbeck’s collective liking, and they scored a timely full house to put the scores at 105 – 75, approaching the 20 minute mark, and to keep themselves in the contest.

Once again I wasn’t impressed by either team’s buzzing for the next starter. A variety of clues pointed towards willow, and it was only a second or two after Kenneth Grahame was mentioned that Richard Moon went correctly for his buzzer. The 1956 Olympic Games bonuses were easy if you know about the Olympics, but not questions you could pull an answer from thin air for if you don’t, and Edinburgh did not trouble the scorer on this set. I decided to take my lap of honour for knowing various types of diode, as did Adam McLauchlan – know it, that is. He stayed in his seat. Poets on railways brought just the one on a gettable set. Richard Moon was first in for the second picture starter to recgonise the work of Gauguin. Other paintings representing the three stages of life brought two bonuses, and as good as sealed the deal for Edinburgh, whose score was twice that of Birkbeck’s. After again being beaten to the buzzer, a wrong answer gave Birkbeck the chance to answer Simon Sebag Montefiore for the next starter. Bonuses on 18th century Europe gave them two of an easy set, but a quizzer would probably have guessed thaler for the last one. Poor Ian Kernohan finally threw caution to the wind for the next starter, but came in too early and suffered the mortifying experience of hearing the answer he was going to give come out as part of the question. The answer to this rather convoluted thing was French horn. Nobody knew that carnations and pinks belong to the Dianthus family. Now, I guessed judging by the time of the composer’s death that the answer to the next starter would be Vaughan Williams, and Richard Moon did the same. Words added in 2018 to the US scrabble dictionary gave just time for one correct answer before the contest was gonged. Edinburgh won comfortably by 165 – 90.

“Birkbeck, you never really got a chance to get going and show us what you were made of.” Once again JP trotted this out, but he was wrong to do so. Birkbeck had more than a chance, but by the time they finally decided to start slinging some buzzer it was far too late. It’s a shame, because they answered about 2/3rds of the bonuses they were asked correctly, which is superior to Edinburgh who managed just over half. Edinburgh weren’t particularly fast on the buzzer either, but they were better than Birkbeck on it, and that’s what won them the game.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

On the elements bonuses, when there was no discussion from Birkbeck, JP kindly offered – You may confer if you’d like to, then paused for comic effect before adding – if any of you has a clue, in a tone which said, you don’t know and quit wasting my time.

This week’s controversy centred on a question to which the answer was Francis Hutcheson. Birkbeck answered Francis Hutchinson. JP made a point of correcting them, but still accepted the answer anyway. Look, I don’t want to be horrible, but if an answer is wrong, even if it’s close, then it’s wrong. Once you start accepting near misses, where do you draw the line?

For example – on one of the poetry bonuses, Edinburgh guessed that the poet was McGonagall rather than Robert Louis Stevenson. Funnily enough, he didn’t accept that one on the grounds that they were both Scottish.

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

Harry S. Truman never took off his glasses when swimming in the White House pool.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

University Challenge - Round One - HEat Five - Wolfson, Cambridge v. St. John's , Oxford


Yes, Dearly Beloved, this brings us up to date with another Oxford v. Cambridge rumble. Wolfson, Cambridge won the series a few years ago, led by the estimable Eric Monkman. Hoping to emulate his team’s achievement were Tom Greig, Erin Spike, Tommy Lee and skipper Ryan-Rhys Griffiths. I noticed that JP did not try to imitate any former captain of St. John’s Oxford when he introduced them. They were Sam Burns, Isabella Morris, Arun Soor and their captain Asher Leeks. The head to head score so far in the series stood at 1 – 0 to Oxford, who also saw Magdalen progress a couple of weeks ago. All to play for for Wolfson, then.

The first starter was one of those which suddenly becomes blindingly obvious, and it was Sam Burns who was first in to recognise that “Becoming” was the best selling memoir of Michelle Obama. Song in the electronic age provided just the one bonus. Asher Leeks came in before the next starter became obvious, which allowed Wolfson to answer that the word being defined was spur. Tapestries proved too difficult for Wolfson, which left the scores level. I didn’t understand the next question, but Asher Leeks did and buzzed in with the correct answer of sulphuric acid. A hard set on SI base units provided just the one bonus, but took us up to the picture set. For the starter we saw a map of Africa with one country highlighted in red. Neither team recognised Liberia. Erin Spike knew that a crime of 1911 referred to in the next question was the theft of the Mona Lisa. This earned the picture bonuses, in the shape of other countries, like Liberia, which are the flag states of convenience for large amounts of the world’s shipping. This was not an easy set, and they failed to add to their score. All of which meant that the teams were tied on a modest 25 apiece after the first ten minutes.

Neither team knew the Aegir, the tidal bore on the Trent, but Tom Greig lost five for an incorrect interruption. This was compounded when skipper Ryan-Rhys Griffiths did the same for the next starter. St. John’s didn’t know the term rectification, and neither did I. Thankfully Arun Soor knew the next starter, that the 1979 revolution occurred in Iran. German rococo architecture didn’t sound at all promising, yet we both took a full house. Sa Burns knew the 2016 novel The Power, and the gap was widening between the two teams. Bonuses on pairs of words that differ only by the letters V and I at the start were a nice UC special set, which provided St. John’s with a further 10 points as we approached the music round. Now, I’m not a great devotee of classical music, but I was surprised when absolutely nobody on either team recognised Schubert’s Ave Maria. Not as surprised as Jeremy Paxman mind you. More on that later. Neither team knew that UNESCO had added reggae music to its list of types of music which added to our world heritage – can’t disagree with that. Sam Burns buzzed in early to identify the word fetish for the next starter. The music bonuses, then, were three more from Classic FM’s list of the most popular classical pieces for weddings. Unsurprisingly no points were scored from this set. Now when you hear the words ‘British leader’ and ‘Roman Invasion’ it’s only natural that the name Boudicca would spring to mind, as it did for Sam Burns. Who lost five for his pains. Well, if it ain’t her then it’s going to be Caractacus – whose harem have a habit of just passing by apparently. Finally, having been shut out for about 9 minutes, Tommy Lee took a starter for Wolfson with mockingbird, thus saving them from reaching the 20 minute mark with fewer points than they had scored by the 10 minute mark. At least one correct bonus on American cities meant that they had doubled their total with this visit to the table. They trailed by 70 – 30 at the 20 minute mark.

Okay, now if the question mentions a NASA lander, then it’s going to be Mars if it asks for the planet. Sam Burns took that to halt Wolfson’s mini revival. One bonus on Physics meant we were still some way from either team breaking into triple figures. A lovely UC special starter next saw both teams really fail to understand the question, which required the answers of Charles the Bold and Charles the Bald. It had been a long time coming, but I finally took my lap of honour for knowing that 100 million years before present would put us back into the Cretaceous. Sam Burns was closest with Jurassic. It was looking all too easy for St. John’s, who had time to dwell on the buzzer a moment before Asher Leeks identified that both golf clubs and tennis racquets have sweet spots. So do jammie dodgers, although you can’t hit balls very far with them. One bonus on Simones at last put St. John’s into trile figures. The second picture starter showed us Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’Herbe, which Erin Spike was first to recognise. Other pictures refused by the salon but exhibited in the 1863 salon des refuses failed to add more points to Wolfson’s total. Nobody knew that the last adjective in Paradise Lost is solitary. Not surprised. A really lovely UC special starter asked in terms of accession years, which element was equivalent to Edward VII. Neither team knew 1901 which would have given them Hydrogen. Arun Soor knew that if the question name checks William Morris, then the answer is probably Arts and Crafts. This brought up a set of bonuses on domesticated animals, of which St. John’s answered one correctly. That brought us to the gong, with St. John’s winning by 115 to 40.

What can I say? I don’t want to be mean or hurtful. In a way it’s a pity that this match up should follow some very good contests. But it did, and being objective, I have to echo JP’s words that St. John’s performance wasn’t much better than reasonable. Their bonus conversion rate was less than 50%. As for Wolfson, well, if they got more than 2 bonuses, I didn’t see them. I may be wrong, but that’s certainly the lowest scoring match I can remember since the BBC revival. Hopefully, it’s just a one off. If I were a member of the Bristol, Corpus Christi or York teams, I’d be cursing our bad luck that we didn’t get drawn against either of those teams in our first round match. That’s the way it goes.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

I’ll be honest, I didn’t think much of JPs Eric Monkman impression when introducing Wolfson.

On the crooners bonuses, the last question asked which former prime minister of his country had been described as a cruise ship crooner, not having a scooby St. John’s tried Kevin Rudd. “Kevin Rudd!” exclaimed JP in what sounded like the highest of dudgeons, “ I don’t even know if he can hold a note!” No, and neither did St. John’s which is possibly why they gave that reasonable answer, Jez.

I can more understand his reaction to neither team knowing Ave Maria, which he described as ‘lamentable’. A bit extreme, but at least I know where he’s coming from with that. Unsatisfied with leaving it at that, when St. John’s last wild stab in the dark at the third music bonuses was wrong, he spluttered, “No, it’s Bach! Jesu joy of Man’s Desiring – You  barbarians!” Alright, Jez, we got the point. Don’t milk it.

When Tom Greig suggested Robert the Bruce for King Caractacus JP favoured him with the most old fashioned of looks, and repeated the name with incredulity.

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

There is one ship registered for every 18 people in the Marshall islands.

University Challenge 2020 - Round One - Heat 4 - Birmingham v. Bristol


Yes folks, it was the battle of the Bs in heat 4, Birmingham and Bristol. Bristol did ask if I could meet up with them, have a chat and give them the dubious benefit of my experience, but sadly it was on just too short notice, and I couldn’t make it. Still, it did mean that I was hoping the team would do well. Aiming to prevent this from happening were Birmingham in the shape of Alex Milone, Izzy Lewis, Ben Sculfor and captain Zoe Bleything. For Bristol we had Ben Allen, Dan Hawkins, Ben Joynson and skipper Laura Denton.

Ben Allen struck first for Bristol knowing that The Testaments is the 2018 sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. Two word phrases containing a colour brought one bonus. Ben Sculfor recognised various definitions of the word backstop before we got to the most notorious one. This brought Birmingham 3 bonuses on chocolate, upon which they gorged themselves with a full house. A great quick buzz from Laura Denton saw her identify the person in question as one of the founders of the Science of Epidemiology. Pairs of words that differ only by the substitution of an e for a u or vice versa saw them take 2 out of a gettable set. A fine early buzz from Dan Hawkins saw him identify a set of capital cities on or near Lake Victoria. Ida Noddack – yes, Ida Who? – promised little, yet delivered me a lap of honour for knowing Rhenium. I didn’t have a scooby about the next one, but Bristol took a full house. So to the picture starter, and an unhelpful (to me) electron dot diagram. Ben Joynson knew that one, and three more of the same sort of thing provided a further ten points. All of which meant that slightly after the 10 minute mark Bristol led by 80 – 25.

Ben Allen buzzed too early for the next starter. When I heard introduced in 2018 and Football League I too thought VAR, but the words code of conduct showed that this was not the right answer. It was the Rooney rule, requiring clubs to interview at least one minority candidate for each coaching position. Birmingham couldn’t capitalise. Alex Milone knew that the other main variety of coffee apart from robusta is arabica, and the last three letters of it are ica. Fictional Hotels gave them one bonus. Ben Sculfor continued the Birmingham revival knowing that a given set of works were set in Nagasaki. A couple of bonuses on Australia meant that Birmingham could take the lead with the next set. Neither team knew the term thermolabile for the next starter. Me neither. A good interruption saw Dan Hawkins identify a couple of capitals of the Bulgarian Empire. Sporting achievements brought just the one bonus, but took us up to the music starter. Now look, if I’m asked for the composer of a symphony on UC, and I don’t have a scooby, I always answer Beethoven. Ben Allen zigged with Haydn, Izzy Lewis zagged with Beethoven, and she was right. Other classical works featuring prominently in Wes Anderson films didn’t help them at all, and they failed to identify any of them. Ben Sculfor knew the term substrate for the next starter, and two bonuses on events on various 10ths of December brought them to 85 points, just 5 behind Bristol. Once again, we had a contest where the outcome was unclear by the 20 minute mark.

Both teams were level after Dan Hawkins came in too early for the next starter, allowing Alex Milone in with Tom Wolfe – the Bonfire of the Vanities and the Right Stuff being the clinchers. One bonus on a tough set on Geology took them into triple figures. Given a reprieve through a wrong answer by Birmingham for the next starter, Laura Denton eventually dredged up Cape Wrath. It seemed a long time since Bristol had a correct answer, but two bonuses on rock bands gave them back a slender lead. For the second picture starter Dan Hawkins won the buzzer race to identify Sir Quentin Blake. 3 more children’s laureates provided a timely full set. Fair play to Ben Sculfor, though, he wasn’t giving anything up for Birmingham, and buzzed early to answer Hyperbolic Geometry. ( That’s the one about fantastic triangles and unbeatable angles, I presume). A terrific set on the chemical formulae of various – oses – brought a full house and a highly prized Paxman well done. Ben Allen squared the teams’ scores by coming in too early on the next starter, wanting the word seabed, but Birmingham couldn’t take advantage. Neither team could recall characters from The Old Curiosity Chop either for the next starter. Ben Allen came in early for the next starter, but was one year out, a death or glory charge which looked like it could end in death. Nobody knew that ergocalcipherol (who was one of the decepticons, I thought) was vitamin D2. Right, then. We were asked the last starter, and Ben Sculfor buzzed in just as the gong went. Which meant that his answer wouldn’t count anyway. So This gave Birmingham a win by 5.

Again, another contest that went down to the wire, which is what I’d prefer to see if I’m honest. Very bad luck to Bristol, but I just can’t see them coming back. Well done to Birmingham. Both teams had similar bonus conversion rates, with Bristol slightly the better, however at the end of the day it was the interruption penalties which did for them.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

I thought it was a bit mean insisting that Bristol gave the Christian name of the coach of the England Women’s netball team who won Commonwealth gold in 2018. But I would imagine that was a message in JP’s ear which insisted on that.

I think he had a bit of a downer on Bristol. When they realised that they didn’t know the band Metric and passed, he sneered sarcastically , “Thank you. Took a long time getting there, didn’t you.”

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

The Testaments is the 2018 sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.

University Challenge 2020 - Round one heat three - Magdalen, Oxford v. York


In the previous heat we saw the first of this year’s Oxford colleges – Corpus Christi – take their place in the second round. Aiming to join them were Magdalen, in the shape of Dominic Brind, Josie Dallas, Harry Stratton and Captain Alex Hardwick. Aiming to prevent them from doing so were York, who were represented by Mickey Conn, Sophie Williams, David Eastham and skipper Sam McEwan.

Sophie Williams opened York’s account, recognising various definitions of the word graft. Books that had a profound effect on the creature in Shelley’s Frankenstein brought two good bonuses. Captain Alex Hardwick may well have known the answer to the next starter anyway, but any question which starts with the world championship of which game is always going to give you a decent chance if you answer chess. He still earned a well done from JP for it, which as we know is the UC equivalent of the Hollywood handshake. This brought 3 bonuses on Einstein. Now I’m sorry, but chances are I would have taken a lap of honour around the living room for knowing any of the answers. For knowing all three, though, I had to accompany it with a rousing rendition of that popular classic, Earwig O, as I did so. Thankfully Magdalen refrained from doing so when they also took a full house. Encouraged by his success, Alex Hardwick came in far too early for the next starter, allowing York a couple of moments to work out that the bone being referred to had to be called the axis. The year 1994 in video games proved very much to York’s collective liking, as they took their own full house. The only one I got was Donkey Kong, which I remember playing in a pub as early as 1983 – yes, dearly beloved, I was actually old enough to go into pubs in 1983. Given a list of leaders, Mickey Conn correctly took his second consecutive starter by recognising that two of the four countries alluded to were Gabon and Cameroon. Piano makers gave none of us anything in the first two questions, but we both despatched a very gentle underarm ball to the boundary knowing that a 97 key imperial grand has 9 more keys than a standard piano. For the picture starter we saw an erasure, or blackout poem. Basically you take the first page of a well known novel, and erase words to leave you with a poem of your own making. Told that this was from a 19th century novel, Sophie Williams zigged with “Wuthering Heights” The word truth on the top line suggested “Pride and Pred” and indeed Harry Stratton gave the same answer. JP leapt up from his seat and slapped him across the head calling him a “Cocky Australian oik.” No he didn’t. Jusrt testing if you were paying attention. This earned bonuses with more of the same taken from 20th century novels, and I thought that Magdalen did really well to get the first two – I only managed the first. So slightly past the 10 minute mark the scores stood at 60 – 40 in York’s favour.

Neither team could name an English monarch whose reign coincided with that of Suleiman the Magnificent, and Dominic Brind came in just a millisecond too early. Alex Hardwick was the first to recall that the creature slain at Delphi was the python, and this earned a set of bonuses on pairs of words – one of which was made by adding the letter J to the other, for example ape and jape. I usually think that you have to aim for a full house with this kind of set, and that’s exactly what Magdalen earned. Alex Hardwick certainly seemed to have the fastest buzzer finger at the moment as he took a second consecutive early buzz to correctly identify the definition of martial law. Incidentally, when I typed it in I accidentally put marital law. Freudian slip? Behave yourself. Prominent rulings of the US Supreme Court brought another full house, and Magdalen were now in the lead. The big clue about the short name of raphus cucullatus was that it was first sighted in the 16th century by Portuguese sailors. David Eastham chanced his arm with dodo, and he was right to dodo so. The story of Little Red Riding Hood brought York their own full house, and meant that both teams were one set away from a triple figure score. Good match. For the music starter we were played a composition written for piano but played on a synthesizer. Alex Hardwick was the first to notice that this was Debussy. Three more pieces played on a synthesizer provided two correct answers. Josie Dallas was very quickly in to identify Serial as being Apple’s biggest selling podcast in 2014. No, me neither. Dwarf planets provided just the one bonus to any of us. Asking for an 18th century furniture designer, Dominic Brind buzzed early and zigged correctly with Chippendale. Two bonuses on Fosse Way took their score to 140, which followed a five minute blitz during which Magdalen had completely shut out York, who languished on 85.

David Eastham got York moving again, knowing that if you throw two standard dice, excluding movements dictated by cards, the probability of landing on a railway station from Go in Monopoly is one in 9. Universities often known as UC provided a tricky set, with only The University of Canberra coming good for any of us. For the second picture starter Sophie Williams identified a still from The Twilight Zone – itself a specialist subject on the most recent heat of Mastermind. 3 more recent anthology TV series brought me nothing, but a full house to York. Consideirng the quality of both teams I was surprised that neither managed archetype from the definition that they were given for the next starter. David Eastham knew that the Wollaston medal is presented for achievements in Geology, and brought his team to within 5 points of Magdalen. Women bornin 1819, the same year as Queen Victoria (Gawd Bless ‘Er!)provided the one bonus to put the scores back on level pegging. Altogether now – squeaky bum time for both teams. Alex Hardwick played another captain’s innings, coming in early to identify a set of words all ending in – ling. Reptiles of the UK brought just a single bonus. However this meant that the next starter was crucial. If Magdalen could get it, then the chances were that there wasn’t enough time for York to come back. I took a flier on the next starter, thinking that the answer would be neutral, which is ph7. Harry Stratton confirmed I was right when he buzzed in to seal the deal for Magdalen. Classical music and German literature provided just one more bonus, but that was enough to ensure that York would need at least 2 visits to the table, and there was never going to be enough time for that. David Eastham had a go, though. He correctly identified the philosopher Zeno for the next starter, at which point the contest was gonged. Magdalen won by 170 to 150.

Well played Magdalen. Well played York – you deserve a place in the repechage round. Both teams had a bonus conversion rate of slightly more than 66%, which shows just how evenly matched they were. 3 games in, and no duffer teams yet. Let’s hope that this continues.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Blimey, but the great man started early tonight. Harry Stratton, from Sydney, introduced himself with G’day, which caused JP to sneer – “Subtlety, such a great characteristic of Australia!” Jez, it’s not as if he stood on the desk doing a kangaroo impression and singing Waltzing Matilda, for heaven’s sake! Something must have rattled his cage earlier, because when Cam McEwan correctly answered the sorrows of young Werther, JP deliberately corrected his pronunciation from Werva to Vurta. Mind you, when the team selected The Faerie Queen as one of those books you put down and never pick up again he heartily agreed that it could have been, even though the correct answer was Paradise Lost.

Interesting Fact that I didn’t Already Know Of The Week

The Wollaston Medal is presented for achievements in Geology

University Challenge 2020 - Round One Heat 2 - Corpus Christi, Cambridge v. Merton, Oxford


Say what you like, dearly beloved, but I do find that a Cambridge v. Oxford match does tend to get the juices flowing. Corpus Christi were represented by Alexander Russell, Will Stewart, Alex Gunasakera and skipper Ian Wang. In their turn, Merton were represented by James Kempton, Rowan Wilson, Jacob Robertson and their captain Nick Ridpath.

A good early buzz from Jacob Robertson got the Oxford team off the mark. He knew that the first US manned space program was called Mercury. A set of bonuses on the US Department of the Interior saw them take one. Neither team could deduce the Wooden Horse of Troy from the lines quoted for the next starter, and Ian Wang came in too early, thus losing 5. So to the first question I missed. I may well have heard of hysteresis before, but I could have waited until doomsday and I still wouldn’t have been able to drag it up. Unlike Alex Gunasakera, whose swift buzz put Corpus into the black. There followed a set of bonuses on the film director Eva DuVernay, or Eva Who? As she is known in LAM Towers. Actually I say that, but I saw and enjoyed Selma – just didn’t know who directed it. 2 bonuses put them level with Merton. The next starter was one of those where you had to wait, and wait, and then buzz like hell once it became obvious. Ian Wang won the buzzer race to identify the Republic of China as Taiwan. Sea turtles didn’t promise a great deal, and yet managed to provide a full set for both of us. A lovely UC special starter in the picture set showed us a disc with ic wille beclyppan รพin hand as it’s title. Now, okay, it may well have been 33 years since I last studied Anglo Saxon, but I still recognised this as the Beatles’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand. Three more of the same followed, and Corpus only missed out on the most difficult which represented Strawberry Fields forever. Skipper Nick Ridpath stopped the rot for Merton, knowing that Anya Shrubsole was the first female to appear on the cover of Wisden. Good shout, that. A set of bonuses on Physics promised me nothing, but while it delivered a good full house to Merton, it also gave me a chance to follow the rule – if it’s about Electricity, say Faraday, and earn myself a lap of honour around the living room for doing so. So after a brisk and bright opening from both teams, by the 10 minute mark Corpus led by 60 – 35.

Sadly for Will Stewart he fell right into the trap with the next starter. Asked for the first 3 letters of an Anglo Saxon kingdom between the Tees and the Forth he went for the later kingdom of Northumbria – the first three letters of which were Nor. Before Northumbria there was Bernicia, which later combined with the southern Deira. Nick Ridpath took the rest of the question and then answered Ber correctly. Events of the 1460s brought a good full set, and the lead. Now, with regards to Science, the only topics where I usually have any hope of getting any points are firstly, the periodic table, and secondly Astronomy. So I was in pretty quickly with pulsars for the next starter, and eventually Jacob Robertson supplied the same correct answer. Video games surprisingly landed me a correct answer for Ocarina of Time, but no more, while Merton took two bonuses. Ian Wang was first in to recognise a description of sacked FBI chief James Comey for the next starter, thus getting his team moving again. Bays in the UK proved rather elusive for Corpus as they managed just the one from a distinctly gettable set. This brought us to the music starter. This gave us I got Rhythm, performed by its composer George Gerschwin. Alex Gunasakera recognised that one, and 3 more Gerschwin jazz standards followed, allowing Corpus to identify 2 of the singers, taking back the lead. Alex Gunasakera took his second consecutive starter, knowing that the smallest species of lynx is commonly called the bobcat. Essential amino acids promised me exactly what they delivered, as in nowt, but it allowed Corpus to stretch the lead a little. Now, I’ve always tried to resist taking a second lap of honour in the same show. But I’m very sorry, when JP gave us two mnemonics for a process in cell biology I shouted the only one I know – mitosis – and I was right! A little while later, when I got my breath back, James Kempton had correctly answered, and Merton had scored two bonuses on yr Beibl, and Welsh folk heroine Mary Jones. Jacob Robertson won the buzzer race to identify John Betjeman who was appointed Poet Laureate in 1972. Doubt in Shakespeare provided a timely full set which meant that just after the 20 minute mark Merton now had the lead with 125 to 105. Anyone’s game.

Stills from films of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Treasure Island, and Kidnapped pointed towards Robert Louis Stevenson, but James Kempton had a speculative punt upfield with Dickens. Ian Wang chanced his arm with Bram stoker, and so the bonuses rolled over. Will Stewart knew the Poles, Margaret and Reginald to earn the picture bonuses. 3 more examples of screen adaptations where the author has more than 250 writing credits on IMD followed, and I thought Corpus did well to take a full set having missed out on Stevenson earlier. Another film starter saw both teams miss out on Grace Kelly, or Princess Grace of Meccano as I think she was once known. Ian Wang correctly named poetry and music as two of D’Alembert’s five fine arts to take the next starter at what was a crucial stage of the competition. Ian Wang certainly seemed to be feeling the tension as he rattled off three correct answers on the Mercury music prize without JP even having the time to read out the full question. Ian Ridpath took a flier with the next starter, asking in which country two teams play a derby. Judging the names as South American he gambled with Colombia. Sadly the full question wanted the capital city they played in, not the country, and on such small margins are tight competitions like this won and lost. Corpus couldn’t capitalise, but they were in the lead anyway, and the clock was running down. I didn’t understand the next question, but Jacob Robertson gave the correct answer of acceleration. A full house of three very quick bonuses on Geology put Merton just 10 points behind. Rowan Wilson lost five points by answering Hebrew as the second most widely spoken semitic language after Arabic. To be fair I would probably have done the same, and don’t blame her for going for it at all. Will Stewart got close with Ethiopian, but actually the answer was Amharic, which is spoken in Ethiopia. He was right on the money with Blenheim, as in battle and palace, for the next starter though. Novels since 1890 with the word Yellow in them only yielded one correct answer, but crucially this put Corpus 30 points ahead. This meant that a full set would not be enough for Merton, they were going to need at least 2 visits to the table. Alex Gnasekera made sure that this wasn’t going to happen by supplying the word Clade for the answer to the next starter. C’mon Feel The Noyze was my favourite one of theirs. One bonus on tin was neither here nor there, as there just wasn’t enough time for Merton now. Will Stewart continued Corpus’ finishing buzzer blitz, knowing the battle of Austerlitz for the next starter. That, as the Two Ronnies used to say, was all we had time for, as the competition was gonged with the scores at 195 to 140.

That doesn’t look close, does it? Yet until the last 3 or 4 minutes it really was either team’s game. Good show – well played Corpus. It was won on the buzzer, especially in the last couple of minutes. I hope we’ll see Merton again in the repechage round, because their bonus conversion was slightly better than Corpus’ – although to be fair both teams were around about two thirds. That’s pretty good quizzing.  

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Surely, I thought, surely JP wasn’t going to let a set of bonuses on video games pass without comment. Well, he didn’t let me down totally, but I have to say his comment “I didn’t think you’d have time for that sort of thing.” Was a but lacklustre. C+, could do better for that one, Jez.

Interesting Fact That I Didn’t Already Know of the Week

In 2018 Anya Shrubsole became the first female to appear on the cover of Wisden.

Mastermind 2020 - First round - Heat 2


Well, as you may have read, I have given a cautious thumbs up to the 2019 makeover of Mastermind. Last week’s first heat certainly benefitted from having 4 contenders capable of giving a good account of themselves in the GK round, who had thoroughly prepared their specialist rounds. How would the new look show fair with a slightly less strong line up of contenders, though?

First to throw her metaphorical hat into the metaphorical ring was Adrienne Holt. She was answering on Charles Dickens’ female characters. That’s quite an undertaking. Even if you only include the novels, there’s still a hell of a lot of them. In recent years there have been times when , in a wide ranging subject such as this, the vast majority of questions asked have been the kind where a decent knowledge of the subject has been enough to answer most of them, thus giving the contender and easier ride than others. In this round, though, I would say that the 7 that I managed was the most you would have got this way without thorough preparation, eg – what was Little Dorrit’s Christian name - and that’s the way it should be. Adrienne managed 8, although it would have been 9 I think if the buzzer hadn’t robbed her of concentration on the last question.

Hasit Raja offered us the Mughal Empire. Now, I don’t honestly know enough abou the subject to say that these were a mix of easier and harder questions like the previous round, although I did manage 3 of my own. Still, bearing in mind the length of the questions that are asked nowadays anything in double figures is a good performance, and Hasit’s 10 certainly looked like this. I was pleased to have dragged up the name Fatepur Sikri from somewhere in the recesses of memory.

Emily Lawrence offered us a near perfect round on Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, another subject where I struggled to add more than a couple of points to my aggregate total. She scored 12 and no passes, which puts her joint highest on specialist for this series. More about that in a moment.

Our final contender, Lewis Barn, has not been this way before, but is no stranger to our screens, having been a member of the Glasgow University team that reached the quarter finals of the last series of University Challenge. The path from UC to Mastermind seems to be a path becoming increasingly well-trodden, and that’s all to the good to my way of thinking. Lewis was answering on the original Twilight Zone series, and this gave me my second highest round of the evening. Not as high as Lewis’ though – he only failed to get a perfect round on the last question, thus joining the ranks of 12 and no passes. No fewer than 6 out of the 8 general knowledge rounds in this series so far have ended on this score. As for me, well, I don’t wish to talk about my aggregate SS score for the last show, but this set the bar at 16 for this season so far.

Last week, each contender raised the target with their rounds on GK, and a similar thing happened on last night’s show. Both Adrienne Holt and Hasit Raja scored respectable 8s on their own rounds, despite using very different tactics. Adrienne was trying to answer everything, which resulted in a couple of long pauses, and even then she still passed a couple of times. Hasit, by contrast, wasted no time hesitating, but it did mean he was perhaps a little trigger happy with the passes, incurring 5 by the end of the round.

At this point my money was on Lewis, Emily being very much an unknown quantity in terms of GK. She did manage to hit double figures, scoring 10 and 1 pass, which I reckoned should be enough to put Lewis into the corridor of doubt. Indeed, it was a pretty close run thing. Lewis only scored his 11th point on the very last question which gave him an outright win. However, he would have won anyway even if he’d answered it incorrectly, since he didn’t incur any passes. Well done, and best of luck to you in the semi finals.

So a second week, and while we didn’t see any of the same pyrotechnics which we saw in Emma Laslett’s round, I still enjoyed this. Keep up the good work.

The Details 

Adrienne Holt
Charles Dickens’ Female Characters
8
1
8
2
16
3
Hasit Raja
The Mughal Empire
10
1
8
5
18
6
Emily Lawrence
The Life and Legacy of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
12
0
10
1
22
1
Lewis Barn
Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone”
12
0
11
0
23
0

Mastermind 2020 - First Round - Heat 1


Right, then, let’s begin with the first heat of this year’s Mastermind. For the first time this season, Mastermind has been produced by an independent production company – I noticed the names Hindsight and the more well known Hat Trick at the end of the show. So the big question, especially considering the document the BBC put out this time last year inviting tenders, was what was the new-look Mastermind going to turn out like?

Well, I will admit that I was worried, but actually reassured by the end of the show. Yes, there were some design changes. The font being used is bolder, and somewhat harsher and more serious. At the start of the show John’s podium and the chair podium are highlighted in white circles, and roundels with a large white M glow on the walls. However if anything this reflected what appears to be a more back to basics approach. The innovations of last year have been shown the door. Contenders once again sit in a row by the side of the chair, and the portal of portent is no more. Frankly, I can’t see it being missed. It also means there’s none of this nonsense about not telling the contenders what each one has scored. All to the good. A smaller cosmetic change is that the blue line of death is no more. Instead it’s more like the white filling of the border is sucked out of it as the last fanfare plays.

It’s far too early to tell if the change I most wanted to see is going to happen in this series, though. Put in most basic terms, and I apologise if this upsets anyone, last year’s series saw too many low scoring contenders in the first round. There is nothing in the least bit entertaining seeing a contender being way, way out of their depth, and struggling their way through a round, and I felt that a number of last year’s contenders should have been saved from themselves.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case for any of the contenders in this first heat. Kicking off the series was David Gerrard, answering on the History and Geography of the Lake District. This was one of three specialist subjects on this particular heat where my knowledge was extremely limited, and only general knowledge brought me a couple of points. David, on the other hand, took a fine 12 points and no passes, and I’ll be honest, judging by this first show, the question lengths seem to have slightly extended again – so much so that 12 looks like a mighty good score, and I would imagine 15 to be impossible.

The only subject that I really knew anything about in this show was The Novels of Sue Townsend, offered to us by Ned Pendleton, from Only Connect’s Road Trippers, and then I only know most of the Adrian Mole books. Still, that was enough to bring me 5 and save me from total specialist embarrassment in this heat. Ned, again, was a well prepared contender who knew his stuff, and also scored a very fine 12 and no passes.

Doctor Lucy Reynolds gave us the life and career of Dorothy Hodgkin. Now, I know enough about her that whenever a UC question contains the words “X Ray crystallography” and “Nobel Prize” I answer with her name. That’s about it, though. For the third time in a row, though, we had a very well prepared contender, who also scored 12 and no passes. What a good show so far.

Last to go in the specialist round was Emma Laslett. Emma last passed this way in the 2014 series, where she won her first round heat with a very high score, and lost out to 2018 champion Brian Chesney in the semi final. Emma  is by now an experienced TV quiz hand, and experience counts for a lot in this game. She couldn’t take an outright lead at this stage, but she too scored 12 and no passes on Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower “ series.

I don’t ask a lot. Give me 4 contenders who have all prepared thoroughly on their specialists, thus showing the chair the respect it deserves, and I’m happy. I’m even happier if they can all manage to put up a decent show on GK, but that remained to be seen.

David Gerrard certainly did that. Okay, 9 might sound a wee bit modest, not being in double figures, but I felt he gave his round a good old lash. If you end with a score in the 20s you have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Would it be a winning score, though? I somehow doubted it.

With about 30 seconds to go, maybe even a little more, Ned Pendleton was on 21 and cruising, and a score of around 25 looked highly likely. However the last5 or 6 questions just were not to his liking, and he only managed to add one more point to the total. Two rounds in double figures, that’s good quizzing, but again, I didn’t quite see it being a winning score.

Lucy Reynolds put on another good performance, but a number of the questions she missed were the sort of questions the real challengers for the title would be able to answer correctly. For a while it looked as if she would maybe just equal Ned’s total, but a let spurt saw her just edge over the line with 11 to take the target to 23. That’s a good performance, and I say this because if you can’t blast the opposition away, the next best thing that you can do is score enough points to put them into the corridor of doubt.

If there was any doubt in Emma Laslett’s mind, though, she didn’t show it. In her previous first round in 2014 Emma scored 29, and I would say that the 15 she scored to earn 27 overall was a performance of similar stature, bearing in mind the miserly amount of questions the contenders are being given in their specialist rounds. It was by far the best round of the day, and is the benchmark against which contenders in forthcoming heats will have to be measured.

So John wrapped up proceedings, and then we got the real innovation for this series, a piece to camera by the winner, in this case Emma. Well, I’ve nothing against that per se, and coming at the end you can watch or not watch as the fancy takes you. Overall then, well, I have to say I found this show reassuring. That BBC document last year invited visions of viewers being invited to play along interactively at home, and other horrors, which thankfully we were spared. A cautious thumbs up to the latest revamp of the show.

The Details

David Gerrard
History and Geography of the Lake District
12
0
9
0
21
0
Ned Pendleton
The Novels of Sue Townsend
12
0
10
0
22
0
Lucy Reynolds
The life and career of Dorothy Hodgkin
12
0
11
0
23
0
Emma Laslett
Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series
12
0
15
0
27
0