Tuesday, 30 November 2021

University Challenge 2022: Round 2: Reading v. Dundee

The Teams


Alex Scopic

Margaret Ounsley

Michael Hutchinson (capt)

Sylvain Jesudoss


Connor Philip

Olivia Russell

Barnaby Stonier (capt)

Jacob Spurrell

Well, good evening to you all, dearly beloved. Shall we take a quiet stroll through the form guide before we begin the review? Reading beat Strathclyde by 175 – 110 in the first round, while Dundee had an altogether narrower win over Royal Northern College of Music by 145 – 135. Not much in it, if all were said and done, but Reading looked to have the advantage.

Michael Hutchinson, whose fine and successful buzzing has already been remarked upon in this series, took the first starter, buzzing very early to link answers with the initials HH. Bonuses on early Celtic and Anglo Saxon manuscripts yielded a couple of bonuses. Another good buzz from Michael Hutchinson saw him correctly identify the Edict of Nantes as belonging to the 1590s. Words and phrases and their citations brought another couple of bonuses. Now, I’m very sorry to brag, but allotropy, the answer to the next starter, brought me a very early lap of honour around the Clark sofa. Nearly killed me – I’m past the covid, but not quite back to my old athletic self. Sadly Olivia Russell came in too early and lost 5, allowing Michael Hutchinson to take his third starter in a row. This time the bonuses asked the team to provide the surnames to various historical figures, and this time they took a full house. This brought us to the first picture starter, a map of south east England pointing to the location of Royal St. George’s golf course. The inevitable Michael Hutchinson buzz faced JP with the dilemma all of us who have had pretensions to quiz mastership have faced at one time or another – do you accept just Sandwich for Royal St. George’s? JP did. Three more courses that currently feature on the Open rota didn’t yield any more points for Reading, but that didn’t matter. At the moment the big question wasn’t – were Dundee going to get any starters, no. It was, would anyone other than Michael Hutchinson manage to get a starter? Well, he took the next, but again was just a little fortunate that JP didn’t penalise him for saying ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ rather than just Lincoln, which is what the question actually asked for. This gave them access to a pretty gentle set on medical tests, and they took a full house. This meant that by the ten minute mark Reading led by 100 to -5.

Well, Barnaby Stonier took on the burden of turning his team’s score from negative to positive, recognising clues that were leading to the word estuary. Two bonuses on declined peerages reduced the deficit a little more. The deficit was further reduced when Jacob Spurrell explained that myeloid tissue is otherwise known as bone marrow. Bonuses on the physicist Abdus Salam brought a couple of correct answers. Michael Hutchinson, who’d had a very quiet couple of minutes by his own standards, buzzed into identify Estonia as the location of the Singing Revolution. Bonuses on Kurdish and Kurdistan brought just the one bonus. Nobody recognised the work of the Damned, a popular beat combo of the 20th century for the music starter. The big clue for the next starter was a provincial capital associated with a victory for the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsular War, but Jacob Spurrell failed to pick up on it, which allowed, well, it allowed Michael Hutchinson in. Going back for the music bonuses, three more records from Stiff Records’ early years brought two correct answers. I have to say, I too felt that Nick Lowe’s song sounded more than a little like Thin Lizzy. Neither team knew micrometeorites for the next starter, although Conor Philips’ ‘Green Elves’ wins the most surreal answer of the night. I cannot say that I was the least bit surprised that when the old chestnut about the sport invented by James Naismith reared it’s head, that man Hutchinson was in first for it. Reading took two of the bonuses on David Crystal (who I’m unreliably informed is called Balls by his mates) and were a little unlucky not to be given the other one. They answered that Eats, Shoots and Leaves was about Grammar and Punctuation. The way JP turned the answer down, I think that if they’d said Punctuation and Grammar I think they would have been given the marks. Michael Hutchinson seemed unconvinced when he buzzed in for the next starter with the element Indium, but he was right. Bonuses on schools of thought took them to 175 at the 20 minute mark, while Dundee trailed with 35.

Thankfully JP kept his ‘plenty of time to get going’ salt well away from Dundee’s wounds this week. Michael Hutchinson knew that Susannah Clarke’s second novel is “Piranesi”. Astronomical catalogues – I used to like Littlewoods – brought two bonuses and put Reading just a smidgin short of the 200 barrier. Barnaby Stonier denied them this for the time being, taking the second picture starter, recognising a still from the film of “The Day of the Triffids”. Now, I’ll be honest, the only other film with killer plants in it that I could think of was actually the third bonus, “Little Shop of Horrors”, - I’d forgotten all about the pods in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, and both of us only took the one bonus. Now, I nearly took a second lap of honour for the next starter. Any Swiss mathematician question that comes up, I answer Euler, and this time I was right. So was Michael Hutchinson. Literature and royal succession brought two bonuses, but to be honest, it was all academic since Dundee were just too far behind now to come back in the few minutes remaining. A horrible science-maths thing for the next starter saw neither team answer correctly. As for the next one, I only knew Margaret Island is in Budapest because I’ve been there. Neither team knew that one. Now, up to this point I think that all of Reading’s starters had come from their skipper. This changed with the next, when Margaret Ounsley identified the Olduvai Gorge for the next. Liverpools around the world didn’t add a lot to the score, but hey, it was all gilding at this point. Michael Hutchinson took the next starter to identify early films of Ken Russell. Parliaments of different countries brought just the one bonus. Margaret Ounsley took her second starter, identifying Bernadotte as the family name of the ruling dynasty in Sweden. The contest was gonged before JP completed the first bonus on alternative history fiction.

I know that I’ve gone on a bit about Michael Hutchinson in this review, but he really was the story this week. He took 12 correct starters by my reckoning, which is superb quizzing, and I don’t recall one quizzer dominating a match in this way since Freddie Leo a couple of years ago. Fantastic performance. Hard lines Dundee, but you won the first round, so can hold your heads high.

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

I knew that Winston Churchill turned down the Queen’s offer of a dukedom. So I’m told, she only offered it to him on the understanding that he would turn it down. However, I didn’t know that she offered to make him Duke of London.


Monday, 29 November 2021

Mastermind 2022: Heat 13

Well, I do think that after last week’s pyrotechnics this week was always going to be a little bit of a case of – after the Lord Mayor’s Show. But let’s be fair, and give each of this week’s contenders their due.

The first of these was Kit Lane. Kit was answering on Charles II’s long time squeeze, Nell Gwyn. You know – Nell ‘she was only the orange seller, but she certainly had appeal (a peel)’ Gwyn. Well, Kit knew, anyway. She knew a lot. As the round continued it became obvious that she had prepared brilliantly and was going to rack up a very impressive score. Indeed she did – 12 is a noteworthy score in specialist, and certainly acted as a warning shot across the bows of the other three contenders tonight.

Next up was Lillian Crawford. Lillian had some good answers, but somehow the round never quite added up to the high score it looked like it might produce at the start. 7 is a respectable s ore – and not one you’re likely to get without preparation before the round. However, it left her 5 points behind, with 2 contenders still to come. I’m afraid that every time I hear the name Sylvia Plath, or Ted Hughes, for that matter, my mind goes back to sitting in seminars at Uni, and every time Ted Hughes’ name was mentioned a couple of my fellow students muttering ‘the wife murderer!’.

Kathryn Howells’ accent suggested she may well be from Wales. I liked her attitude, when she seemed very delighted to be on the show. She didn’t do badly, either, answering on the sitcom “Still Game”. Judging from one of the questions, there were several series of the show, yet somehow it still managed to pass me by, so I’m not in a position to comment on the fairness or difficulty of the questions. Whatever the case, Kathryn managed 9 – a decent score indeed, but still one that left her trailing by three.

Finally Mary Evans answered on the Island of Sicily. This is the sort of subject that should come with a government health warning. I say this, because it means that the question setters can ask you literally anything even vaguely connected with Sicily. As the round progressed it rather seemed to me that Mary’s understanding of the parameters of her subject was noticeably narrower than the question setters’. In the end she managed to fight her way to 6 points, but being 6 points behind meant it was going to take a comeback on a Lazarus scale for her to win.

It was all the more of a shame, then, that Mary did put on a good GK performance when she was the first to return to the chair. It was really a case of ‘what might have been’ had Mary only managed a better performance on Specialist. I’ll come back to that.

Lillian’s GK round was somewhat similar to her specialist round. I liked the way she was giving the answers quickly and not messing around with them. Her score of 9 was perfectly respectable again. However, it wasn’t enough to allow her to challenge Mary’s total, and she finished with 16. Lillian seemed to be using the tactic of passing anything she didn’t know, and I just can’t help wondering if she might have been a bit better if she’d given a few more guesses.

Kathryn seemed just a cheerful and enthusiastic as she had during her specialist round. However this round did turn out to be something of a struggle. Like Lillian she finished with a total of 16, but accrued even more passes, and again, I’m not sure that this was necessarily the best tactic to use. If you can guess quickly, then you can keep your momentum, not add another pass to your score, and there’s even a chance you might guess correctly.

So this left Kit. Already on 12, she needed 7 points for an outright win, or 6 and few passes. No, that’s not a huge target, but we’ve seen GK rounds fall apart enough times to know that nothing is guaranteed. In fact, although Kit’s round was not as good as Mary’s, it was certainly good enough, and she scored 9 to win with 21. Now, coming back to what I said earlier, time was when I used to rather glibly say that you could lose Mastermind on your specialist, whereas you could win it on GK. Well, there’s times when that’s true, but other times when it isn’t. For tonight I’d argue that Kit won on her specialist. Whatever the case, there’s no doubt that hers was the best all round performance tonight. Well done, and best of luck in the semi finals.


Kit Lane

Nell Gwyn







Lillian Crawford

Sylvia Plath







Kathryn Howells

Still Game







Mary Evans

The Island of Sicily








Sunday, 28 November 2021

Back in the hot seat

 Or should I say, the reasonably warm seat? On this Thursday just gone I did my first stint as question master for the best part of two years. I haven't been keeping track but I'm pretty sure that the last time was or the New Year Quiz, the first quiz in January 2020.Remember those pre lockdown times? Seems a very long time ago. Funnily enough I've already agreed to QM for the New Year quiz this coming January, which was a bit of bravado on my part. After all, what if I'd done the quiz on Thursday and found that I hated it?

Well, yes, okay, that was unlikely to happen, I admit. I first attended this quiz in the summer of 1995, and Brian, the organiser, asked if anyone could do the quiz for the next week. I volunteered, did the quiz, and loved being question master. I loved being question master every bit as much as I enjoyed playing in the quiz, and became a regular setter. And I'll be honest, it really helped me become a better quizzer. During that first year I also began playing for teams in the Neath Quiz League, and the Morriston Hospitals Quiz League, both sadly defunct now. Especially in the Morriston Hospitals team, we had some very good players, and I used to measure myself against them, and to me, this produced tangible evidence I was getting better within a year or so. 

I used to take hours to put together a quiz. First of all there was the gathering of the questions from a range of sources. I didn't have a PC or the internet for the first 5 years or so I was doing the quiz, so this took quite a bit of time as you can imagine. I'd write all of the questions down. Then I'd look carefully at them and decide which questions were going into which round. Easy ones in round one - what the late Robert Robinson used to call the mental equivalent of a quick jog around the block. Increasingly harder ones in the next three rounds, then an easy round five, then harder round six, round seven would be the hardest, and then any old questions would do for round 8, because in those days there was no guarantee we'd get a round 8 in - although we usually did. Ooh, do you know, I'm getting a little bit of a warm glow just thinking about those days. So doing it like this, I'd end up always writing each question out twice, and often three times if I typed the quiz up in work during lunch time. Then I'd test the questions at lunch time in the staff room at work. Doing all of this meant that anything unclear or ambiguous in the questions would be ironed out by the time I did in the club. It was one of the biggest gripes I used to have about some of the guest question masters we used to had - their question ideas were often very good, but their phrasing of the questions really wasn't.

You could usually tell how the quiz was going down. Nobody would give you a hard time, but occasionally you could tell that it just wasn't going down how you would have liked with the teams. On other times, though, when the teams 'got' it, when you could see them enjoy working it out, there was nothing quite like it. You see, when you set a pub quiz, I've always believed that your aim as question master is to give your teams an evening's entertainment. It isn't to try to catch the teams out, and ask them things they have no chance of answering correctly. Any fool with access to the internet can do that. 

So, did I manage to give the teams a decent evening's entertainment on Thursday? I'm not sure. I looked through the quiz a couple of hours before the quiz, and I was convinced that it was too hard. Looking at the scores throughout the quiz, I don't really think it was, but . . . I don't know. I used a gimmick that I was the first to introduce o this quiz in the year that I started. I played in an open quiz for the Neath Quiz League, and this was the first time that I encountered a connection round. "'Ello" thought I, " that's a good idea. I'll take that and pretend that I came up with it." And so I did. Basically, in a connections quiz, in any given round, the first three questions will be unconnected. So for example, the answers might be

Bob Marley


Crewe Alexandra.

The 4th question would ask what connects those three answers, which in this case would be Skeleton, as you can have a skeleton bob, a skeleton key and a skeleton crew(e). As a variation I used 9 part connections in round 1 and round 8. The good thing about a connection is that t makes it easier to find answers you didn't know - or if you have two possible answers to a question, then chances are only one of them will fit the connection. 

Of course, the connection quiz is not without its challenges. For one thing, you need to be pretty sure that there's only one connection between the answers. For another, I feel that on a three part connection, if you have all three answers correct, then the connection shouldn't be very obscure. It should be gettable if you have two answers right. Just my opinion, and as always, feel free to disagree. As for the three questions themselves, I feel you can have one obscure question, but at least two of them need to be gettable. 

In all honesty, then, I didn't get a huge, great buzz from being question master on Thursday, although I did really enjoy putting the quiz together. So I doubt very much I'll do it again before the New Year quiz in January, but I can see myself doing it again after that before another 2 years has passed. 

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

University Challenge: Round 2: St. Hilda's, Oxford v. Trinity, Cambridge

The Teams

St. Hilda’s , Oxford

Luca Chilvers

Akshay Pal

Catriona Dionisio (capt)

Christopher Bennett

Trinity, Cambridge

Hattie Innes

Navonil Neogi

Ludwig Brekke (capt)

Luke Kim

Hello, dearly beloved. How are you? Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Never mind. Let’s cheer ourselves up a little by studying the form guide to last night’s match for a moment. St. Hilda’s just got past UCL by 140-135 in their first round clash. Mind you, that in itself seemed to tell a story, for UCL made it to the repechage and were only narrowly beaten by a good St. John’s team. Trinity meanwhile had a more comfortable win over Durham by 190-90.

I was a little surprised to see both teams sitting on their buzzers for the first question, but eventually Luca Chilvers buzzed in with the answer anthology to open St. Hilda’s account. Bonuses on Cleopatra saw them pick up two correct answers. Christopher Bennett had a rush of blood to the head and buzzed in early on the next starter. Asked for a 6 letter word which was Bonnie Parker’s partner in crime, he offered the 5 letter first name, not the 6 letter surname. This lost 5 and let in Navonil Neogi. Economics bonuses garnered me my usual zero, but two correct answers gave Trinity the lead. Being as I’m still self isolating following last week’s positive test for Covid I waived my right to a lap of honour for getting the next astronomy based starter right, and Luke Kim also took his own first starter of the evening recognising a description of the moon Miranda. Three words ending in the suffix – some brought 10 more points. So to the picture round. What we saw was a description of a ballet position in French, and what was required was the correct term, in French. I was rather pleased with my schoolboy/schoolteacher French for giving me the answer en pointe before Navonil Neogi buzzed in with the same. More French ballet positions brought Trinity another 10 points. Luke Kim took his second starter, recognising that it was Nicholas II whose troops carried out the 1905 Bloody Sunday massacre. The US psychologist, Louis Leon Thurston – Louis Leon Who? in LAM Towers – provided just the one correct bonus, but the momentum was all with Trinity, who had established a comfortable 75 – 15 lead by just after the 10 minute mark.

For the next starter, Hattie Innes was the first to recognise a series of works with titles beginning with the words The Way – Of All Flesh, Of the World, We Live Now, if I’m correct. Towns and cities on the Danube brought two correct answers, and pushed Trinity’s collective nose hard against the 100 barrier. A barrier they soon burst through with Luke Kim’s third starter, as he recognised a description of William III, or William of Orange (or The New Black) as he was known to his mates). Bonuses based on the idea of ‘slouching towards Bethlehem’ from Yeats’ The Second Coming brought another ten points. At this stage of the game, St. Hilda’s desperately needed to sling some buzzer, to upset Trinity’s rhythm if for nothing else. And fair play to Luca Chilvers, that’s what he did. Sadly he chose to come in early on a Shakespeare question you really needed to wait a little with, but so what? I’m firmly of the opinion that you might just as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb on UC, and the best way to turn around a contest in your favour is to buzz, and buzz and buzz. Given a wee bit of thinking space this let skipper Ludwig Brekke in with Jacques (or Hattie, as his mates called him. Ask your grandparents.) Tarsila do Amaral (yes, Tarsila Quien? In LAM Towers) brought just the one bonus. This took us to the music starter, and Ludwig Brekke was in remarkably quickly to identify the work of David Bowie. Other musicians who also made use of alternate personas brought a full house. I didn’t really understand the next starter, but the answer “Myers-Briggs” was quickly supplied by Ludwig Brekke. Tombs of military leaders brought another full house. Neither team knew the term chantry or the next starter, although I don’t blame Christopher Bennett for buzzing in and having a pop. Sadly, what had appeared to be the end of the question was just a pause, and he lost 5. It never rains but it pours, so when the next question began - the birthplace of the Emperors Trajan and Hadrian – I would have done exactly what Catriona Dionisio did and buzzed in with the answer -Spain. Not what the question was looking for, though. It wanted the modern day city close to where they were born. The 5 point penalty emptied the St. Hilda’s account. Navonil Neogi supplied the correct answer of Seville. Questions on opera brought a further 10 points, and meant that Trinity led by 200 – 0.

It was at this point that JP decided to issue the dreaded ‘Plenty of time to get going’ encouragement to St. Hilda’s. I wish he wouldn’t do this. I know he’s trying to be encouraging, but the way I see it is that you know you’re doing badly when he feels he has to say this. Especially when you’re 200 points behind and there’s already 20 minutes on the clock. Plenty of time indeed! The next starter allowed Luke Kim to name check our old friend, the Higgs Boson. The novels of James Baldwin – played in Corrie by the late Johnny Briggs, surely – brought us both just the one bonus, but this was purely academic since the contest was already won. None of us recognised the work of Edvard Munch for the second picture starter. And still the agony continued for St. Hilda’s as Luke Kim won the buzzer race to identify Saladin for the next starter. All he got for his pains, though, was a difficult set of picture bonuses which brought none of us any joy. I was pleased with myself for getting the logic starter which followed right after, but I was even more pleased for Luca Chilvers. Nobody wants to ever see a team get zero. Sadly St. Hilda’s were no better with the biology bonuses that followed than I was. At least they had found their buzzer range, since Catriona Dionisio buzzed in to supply the correct answer – Sojourner Truth – for the next starter. Kings of England who were anklebiters when they ascended the throne saw them take two more correct answer. And skipper Catriona Dionisio took the next startera s well, although she benefitted from some leniency from JP who accepted just Offa for the Offa’s Dyke Path. Point of order, Sir Jeremy – would you have accepted that answer if St. Hilda’s were only 5 points behind? Whatever the case they earned a set on collaborations between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. They managed one of a very gettable set. That was enough of that – Luke Kim buzzed in to correctly answer a hypothetical question about light passing through a refractive substance. The contest was gonged before JP finished the first of a set of bonuses on world languages. This gave Trinity a very comprehensive win by 235 to 45.

St. Hilda’s are better than they showed here, but just couldn’t get their buzzer fingers going until the contest was as good as over. It happens. As for Trinity, this was a highly encouraging performance, and they’ll feel confident going into the quarter final stages. Well played.

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

Tsar Nicholas II was nominated for the 1901 Nobel Peace Prize

Monday, 22 November 2021

Mastermind 2022: Round One: Heat 12

Yes, a lot better, thanks for asking. Isolation ends in a day , all things being equal. So let’s get on with this review of a remarkable edition of Mastermind, shall we?

First up was Andrew Fanko. Yes, Andrew Fanko, who won Series 15 of Only Connect with the 007s. Frankie reached the final when she appeared on Mastermind recently, so it’s fair to say that I expected fireworks from Andrew as well. Well, dearly beloved, I certainly got them. Andrew was answering on Great Britain at the Winter Olympics, and this was always most likely to be my banker subject for the night. Our Winter Olympians’ exploits always tend to be overshadowed by those of their summer counterparts, but the fact is we have had some notable successes over the years. Me, I was delighted to get half a dozen of these right, but this paled into insignificance when compared with Andrew’s magnificent 13. Specialist scores in the teens in the current series with the length of the questions being the way that it is, are like jockey’s legs – few and far between. Well, that was it – game over after the first specialist round. Wasn’t it?

Well it looked that way after Emma Harris’ round on the radio and TV comedy series “Good ness Gracious Me”. I really enjoyed the show, but this didn’t translate into points for me, and, sadly, it didn’t really translate into points for Emma either. We can speculate what went wrong with her round – maybe nerves, maybe inadequate or inappropriate preparation, maybe just sheer bad luck, but whatever the case she scored 3.

Next then was Patrick Buckingham. That, like Andrew Fanko, seemed to me to be a quiz name to conjure with. A very quick google revealed that Patrick, like Andrew, is a regular Quiz League of London player, and has also played in Only Connect. It made me feel even more sympathy for Emma Harris. Not only does it work out that you have a bit of a ‘mare on your specialist, it also turns out that in your heat you have two of the most experienced and knowledgeable quizzers in the whole first round. Which Patrick went on to show by whacking in his own 13 on Francis I of France. With his and Andrew’s respective pedigree, it was shaping up to be a very interesting GK round.

However, there was still Dan Sheehy to go. Dan came up clear on my very rudimentary search, but that often means absolutely nothing. Poor Emma must have felt that Pelion was being piled on top of Ossa as Dan too racked up a massive 13 on the High School Musical Trilogy. Since coming back to the blog this Autumn I have mentioned the risk-reward ratio in Mastermind, and sadly this show amply demonstrates this for me. I do hope that no ignorant sods take it into their heads to make insulting assumptions about Emma based on this performance. As far as I know we’ve never met, but I have no doubt that she’s a perfectly intelligent person.

It can’t have been pleasant for her having to return to the chair under these circumstances, and bearing that in mind she actually made a pretty good start to the round. She picked off the first few questions and was moving steadily forward. Sadly, as the round continued the wheels came off a little bit. You couldn’t blame her if her confidence was a little shot after the first round, and when you’re confidence is at a low ebb, and you come up against a question you can’t guess, then your round can ground to a halt, and you find yourself having to fight for answers. In the end Emma managed 7 to take her total to 10.

After Andrew completed his specialist round, I wonder if he had any idea he’d end up going second in the GK round. Well, he was still joint leader, whichever way you looked at it, and I reckoned he was going to set a total which would demand a hell of a round from the remaining two contenders. He did too. Andrew’s round was a fine GK round – as we’ve said many and oft a time in the last year, anything in the teens is a bloody good score. He seemed a little rueful at missing the last question, which was one of those you could take a stab at if you didn’t know the answer – in Roman numerals, a horizonal line above a numeral indicates it should be multiplied by a factor of what? In my 30+ years of quizzing I only recall being asked that once before, and it was the other way around – what number does an M with a horizontal line above it indicate? Andrew zigged with 10, and so stayed on 26.

At least he didn’t have long to wait before he would find out if it was going to be enough. In fact, the way things worked out Patrick too threw in an excellent GK round of his own. I couldn’t call whether he was going to beat the target or not for almost the whole round, but he’d reached 26 before the line of death had completely worked its way around his score, and Clive was asking the last question. Whereas Andrew was given an unusual question which you could have a guess at, I’d say that Patrick was asked a rather more common question, which you were unlikely to guess if you didn’t know. Patrick knew it, and that gave him 14 for 27.

It wasn’t all over yet, of course, since we still had Dan to go. And he gave it a lash, no doubt about that. Still, by the halfway mark I had him a question or two off the pace. By the end of the round he’d scored 100 to finish with 23, which is a very good score in its own right.

I’ve little doubt that Andrew’s score will reignite the debate over allocating places in the semi final to highest scoring runners up, and it’s certainly right that this should be debated. I terms of mere statistics, Andrew’s score would have won all of the heats prior to this one in this series. It is harsh to be excluded from the semis in these circumstances. As far as I know they may well be using the same criteria for deciding who plays who in the first round as they did in my day, when it all boiled down to making interesting combinations of specialist subjects in each heat. This can have the effect of making for the odd ‘top-heavy’ heat like this one. It’s not much consolation, Andrew, if you ever read this, but at least if you apply to Mastermind again, the chances of this happening to you twice are minuscule.

Congratulations, though, to Patrick. Apart from being a brilliant all-round performance, it was even more impressive when you consider that the GK round came immediately after watching Andrew whack in his own round. It was a fine display of cool-headed quizzing. I have no wish to jinx your chances, but I’m moved to say that heat was as good as a semi-final, and it’s quite possible that you might not even face opposition as tough as Andrew in your upcoming semi. Whatever the case, I wish you well.

The Details

Andrew Fanko

Great Britain at the Winter Olympics







Emma Harris

Goodness Gracious Me







Patrick Buckingham

Francis I of France







Dan Sheehy

The High School Musical Trilogy







Sunday, 21 November 2021


I will admit the truth. Having reviewed “Moneybags” and “Sitting on a Fortune” and earlier in the week, “The Tournament”  I couldn’t help wondering if there are any other quiz games that have started over the last couple of weeks. This is why I came to watch “Moneyball” on the ITV Player a little while ago. So earlier on Saturday evening we had Gary Lineker presenting “Sitting on a Fortune”. Now we’re going to have a look at  “Moneyball” presented by Ian Wright. What's next – “Pets Win Prizes” presented by Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney’s “Supermarket Sweep”?

“Moneyball” faces a difficult task. If we take last night, it was up against the first hour of BBC’s powerhouse “Strictly Come Dancing”. Now, you might like Strictly Come Dancing, you might not like it. But it can pull in in audiences of some 10 million viewers, and there’s precious few shows that can do that in this day and age.  For what it’s worth I rather like Strictly, although that’s not really germane to he issue.

ITV have a problem. For the best part of 20 years ITV’s Autumn Saturday night schedule was built around music based reality/talent shows, from 2001’s Pop Stars, through Pop Idol, and then the different versions of the X Factor, which seem finally to have died the death a year or two ago. An ITV gameshow on an Autumn Saturday evening therefore always either served as an hors d’oeuvres, a lead in to the X Factor, or tried to hang onto as much of the X Factor audience as possible after the show.  At the moment, though, ITV seem to be between ideas. Something similar happened at the turn of the Milennium. Gladiators, the archetypal 1990s Autumn Saturday evening show came to its end, after several tweaks, and outstaying its welcome by at least a couple of years. It was another couple of years before Pop Stars came along.

So, presumably still looking for their next big thing, what does an ITV Autumn Saturday evening actually look like at the moment? Well, starting at 5pm yesterday’s schedule consisted of, “Sitting on a Fortune”, a quiz game show, then the ITV news, then“Moneyball”, a quiz game show, then a Catchphrase Celebrity Special , a game show. That’s 4 and a half consecutive hours of quiz/gameshows with just the news break after the first hour. And the problem with this is, I would argue, that all 3 of these shows are fine for the lead in to a big entertainment show, but none of them are strong enough to have a schedule built around them. This is certainly true of Moneyball in my opinion.

Let’s talk about the mechanics of the show, then. This is one of those shows in which a contestant comes on, and it’s not about beating other contestants, just about winning as much money as possible. In order to do this the contestants work their way through a series of questions. The questions themselves are the best thing about the show. So the contestant is given three things – for example – King Candy – Scar and Lord Farquaad – and then has to work out which one was in The Lion King, which one in Shrek and which one in Wreck-It-Ralph. Then the moneyball equipment is used to work out how much the correct answer is work. The moneyball of the title runs up and down a rather flattened and lengthened  U shaped piece of track. The contestant pushes a button – similar to the one used in Tipping Point – to determine how high up the track the ball will be released. The board above the bottom of the track is lit up in sections. Wherever the ball stops running determines the fate of the contestant. If you get the question wrong, then you have to play the ball to determine if you continue playing or if you leave with nowt. After a successful roll of the bal following a correct answer, then the contestant can either take another question, or play the moneyball to take the cash. If the ball lands in one of the right sections, you get to take the money and another contestant starts the game again.

Coming back to my original point, it is pretty ironic that two consecutive new ITV quiz games should both be presented by former England international star strikers, But as with Gary Lineker, Ian Wright has years of TV presenting under his belt, but unlike Gary Lineker he’s even presented Saturday evening Gameshows before – Friends Like These being one from a few years ago. So he’s a perfectly safe pair of hands. And “Moneyball” is a perfectly inoffensive little quiz game. Yes, I did say little. Because although the show at several times trumpets the potential jackpot of £100,000, the fact is that you’re unlikely to see any contender get close to £100,000. With the randomising factor of the ball, you’d have to be reckless in the extreme to pass up £20,000 to keep going, for example. Also, the nature of the show whereby there’s no building towards a Final, and there’s no endgame, means that it feels rather too long at an hour. If it was a 45 minute show leading into, well, into a Saturday evening spectacular like Strictly, I think it would work very well. But in a straight fist fight against Strictly, Moneyball has 2 chances - slim chance and no chance. And slim chance just left town.

"Sitting on a Fortune" and "Moneybags"

I caught two more new shows in the last few days. Let’s start with ITV’s “Sitting on A Fortune”. I saw this yesterday evening. Early Saturday evening? – I mused – Maybe ITV have hopes of this one catching on. So what have they got for their money? Well, it boils down to a big name presenter, Gary Lineker (don’t worry, I’ll get to him) some relatively easy questions, and some very big, neon lit chairs. Shall we have a look at the mechanics of the game?

We begin with 6 players. We continue playing until three of these players have been eliminated. There is a row of 6 chairs. The one at the back (red lit for danger) is the elimination chair. The one at the front (yellow lit for . . . custard?) is the question chair. The 6 players have drawn lots prior to the show to determine the order in which they choose which chair to sit in. Whoever is sitting in the question chair has to answer a question. If they get it right, they stay in the chair. If they get it wrong, then they move into the red chair and everyone else moves forward 1 chair. Whoever is in the question chair and gives the third correct answer – they go through to the final. Whoever is in the red chair when the third correct answer is given is eliminated. As for the final, well it works in a similar way. 1st person through gets to choose first which of the 3 chairs to sit in and so on. Whoever is at the back gets to choose between two categories for each question asked. There are 7 questions. The prize pot starts on £100,000. For each wrong answer, £10,000 is removed from the prize fund. Get a question wrong and you got to the back, and the other two move forward. So you can have a situation where the person who starts in the money seat can answer the first 6 correctly, then get the last wrong, allowing the next person to come in. Having removed one wrong answer from the board, the next player has a one in three chance of guessing correctly, does so, and walks away with £90,000. Which is exactly what happened last night.

There are some things I really rather like about this. Because there must be a fair bit of tactical thinking that goes not deciding where you want to sit along the line, especially when there are 6 chairs. Then in the final, there is the opportunity to ‘shaft’ the person in front. The person in the question seat can ask for help from those behind, who may well want to get the first couple of questions out of the way before they want to get into the question seat.

The questions themselves – well there was nothing asked last night that I think a decent pub quizzer wouldn’t have been able to have a good guess at. So I would guess that none of the players we saw last night are regular pub quizzers at all. Fair enough, that’s the production team’s choice and it kept the game of musical chairs going, but one of my failings is I do get frustrated sometimes seeing perfectly nice, normal people struggling and bluffing their way through some rather gentle questions.

I’ll be honest, I was a little surprised to see Gary Lineker hosting. I shouldn’t have been, he’s been a television presenter and host for far longer than he was an international footballer and spent a lot of time presenting some pretty big events on live television, so I’m guessing that this must have been a bit of a doddle for him. I suppose it’s just that I associate him with the BBC, and with sport. He does a perfectly professional job with this – he seems warm enough towards the contestants, and has a little gentle dig now and then, and certainly has an appropriately relaxed screen presence. If you’ve been with me for any length of time you’ll know that I have a misanthropic dislike of any amount of time being wasted chatting to contestants about their hobbies or jobs – I just don’t care, when you get right down to it, but this was all at least relatively painless.

So when you get right down to it, how good is “Sitting on a Fortune?” Well, I wouldn’t have been watching it yesterday evening, but for the fact that BBC were offering us “Mary Poppins” – normally at this time on a Saturday evening I settle down with several of my daughters and my son in law to watch the shouting at the TV fest that is “The Hit List”. And if The Hit List were to be on next Saturday, then I wouldn’t be watching “Sitting on a Fortune” again. It’s fine for what it is, but for me there’s better elsewhere.


If I was surprised to see Gary Lineker hosting “Sitting on a Fortune” – and I was – then I was even more surprised to see Craig Charles hosting “Moneybags” on Friday afternoon on Channel 4. Now, I like Craig Charles. I remember his early TV appearances in the mid-late 80s, popping up performing his humorous poems on such shows as “Pebble Mill”, and I loved the first half dozen or so series of “Red Dwarf”. You don’t get a career as long as Craig Charles, doing the variety of things that he’s done, without talent. In fact it’s worth arguing about whether he’s too versatile and too talented for something like “Moneybags”.

Which brings me to the game itself. If I understood the start of the show correctly, a sum of £1 million has been divided into various amounts and put into 100 bags. Twenty of these bags are in play during an individual show. Two contestants play a head to head to win through to the next stage. Craig announces a category – for example, cities that are north of London. A series of bags will pass in front of the two contestants. Each bag will have the name of a city on it. The player sitting in pole position gets first chance to grab. So if they grab a bag with a correct answer, they can reveal the amount they have won, and they may also get a bonus, like being able to steal a bag from their opponent. If they grab a bag with a wrong answer, then there will be a forfeit f some kind – eg becoming bankrupt. If the player in pole passes on the bag, then the second player can grab it if they wish. If they grab a correct bag, then they also move into pole position. Whoever has most at the end of the round moves through to the next round.

You get how it goes. I’m sorry to say that I had lost a bit of interest by the round of three, but the mechanics were pretty much the same. The winner, in the final, had to decide to take or leave again, and in my view sensibly stopped after grabbing one bag correctly, and took the money.

Look, despite what I said about losing interest, there is something at the heart of this show. For me, I like shows to have a bit of working out involved. It never did Pointless any harm, and I quite like Tenable as well. But, I don’t know, it somehow never felt quite as satisfying as either of those two shows. At the end of the day it was just people grabbing bags and ripping off bits of paper to reveal whether they were right or wrong and what the consequences were.

Coming back to Craig Charles, I‘m not sure that this is the best vehicle for him if he wants to conquer new territory in the field of quiz/game show presenting. Maybe I’m being unfair, but a lot of the host’s job on this show seemed limited to stating the bleeding obvious. I’m not saying that anyone could chat to a contestant about the boring and inconsequential details of their lives, and I’m not saying that anybody could remind contestants that if they make a wrong choice they could go bankrupt. But if the host’s job doesn’t involve a great deal more than this, well, you’re just wasting someone like Craig Charles by putting them in that role.

Like “Sitting on a Fortune”, “Moneybags” in my opinion is not a bad show. Both are professionally made, both have a clear concept and both are professionally presented. Yet neither, in my opinion, has that indefinable quality, that ‘x’ factor, to lift them above the common herd, and guarantee them a long run. But hey, what do I know? Yes, I liked both “The Chase” and “Pointless” the first time that I saw them, and thought that they would run and run. On the other hand, though, I disliked “Tipping Point” the first time that I saw it and thought sure it wouldn’t be back. I rather like it now and often watch it with my grandson, who loves it. So who knows? In the words of the great William Goldman, when it comes to working out the ingredients of what will make a movie successful, nobody knows, and the same holds good for quiz shows as well.