Thursday, 31 July 2008

TV Quiz Watch

TV Quiz Watch
Last night presented and hour and half of quizzes between 6 and 8pm on BBC2, with a half hour's break between 7 and half past.
First up was Battle of The Brains. This show continues to live up to its promising start. Reigning champions Di's Diamonds continued their winning streak, but they were taken to the wire by a team of very knowledgeable students, all in their early 20s. Knowing Di's Diamonds as very serious and accomplished quizzers I couldn't see the students making much of an impression, yet it was very close in the end. This show has lived up to its promising start. I like Paddy O'Connell, as he tends to get on with the job, but I do wish he would cut the hyperbole - I'm sorry, but winning an episode of this show does not make you the brainiest quiz team in the country. Also I don't like the guess the number round, but that's just a personal preference.
I think the BBC were wise to schedule it just before Eggheads, which really suffers by comparison. I make no bones about it - Kevin Ashman, Daphne Fowler and Chris Hughes are amongst the very finest quizzers in the country. The woefully inadequate teams that are served up to them on a plate every day have no realistic hope of beating them, even though the Eggheads have Judith Keppel and CJ de Mooi on their side. So why on Earth do 12 yard productions seem so unable to dig up a good team of quizzers to at least give them a game ? Do they weed them out through the audition process ? I can only hope that when they see Battle of The Brains they will start to understand what a decent balance between questions actually means. I don't know how they do it, but it always seems to work out that whether they choose A or B the challengers get the dreadfully unbalanced impossible question to deal with. Its not as if the Eggheads even need this advantage.
CJ got knocked out again last night. I do actually know CJ personally, although not well enough to say whether he doesn't know how annoying he is on screen, or whether he does it deliberately. Bearing in mind the number of easy questions he gets wrong, he has no real right to act so smugly over the questions he does know the answer to. On the whole , I think he probably does do it deliberately.
Finally, Sports Mastermind continued. On tonight's show a quiz acquaintance of mine, David Brayley answered questions on The FA Cup Final since 1970. David plays for the Reverend James in Gorseinon, the finest quiz team in Swansea, and we've played against each other on a number of occasions. He scored a brilliant 17 on the FA cup, but his general sport round only took him to 26. He came third in this heat, although that score would have won several of the earlier heats. He did ask me for advice on handling the experience, and I tried to give him some general tips. I think his nerves did for him in the general round - he is better than his score suggests.
Off the point, what is wrong with Des Lynham ? He's so stiff and uncomfortable its almost as if rigor mortis has set in. I don't know if he's been ill or something, but it makes me feel deeply uncomfortable to watch him. I am enjoying the series , though, and I hope there will be another season next year.

The End of The Marathon

I'll let you into a secret. I've had an ambition for some time now to go to a quiz every night of the week. OK, I admit as ambitions go its not that earth shattering - its not climbing Everest, or reaching the South Pole, but its probably a bit more realistic. Its not as easy as it sounds either. For one thing there's the time elemtn. Its just not something I could do in a school week. There's finding the quizzes, too. Here we're quite well served for Sunday to Thursday, but finding quizzes on Friday or Saturday is something of a challenge.

I'm off to London tomorrow for a family do on Saturday, so that't why I've limited my ambitions to quizzing just from Sunday to Thursday. Tuesday's quiz was a step into the unknown. John, Phillippa ( my daughter ) and I went to the Duke of Wellington in Cowbridge. . . and were very pleasantly surprised. The quiz was really well attended, and the questions and prizes were good. We won £20 for first place, while runners up got £15 and third place £10. The only real quibble I had with it was the fatc that there were only 2 rounds of 20 questions each . Another 5 questions in each round woul have been a little better. Still, a good quiz, and I'd give it 3 question marks in my good quiz guide - if such a thing ever existed.

A quiz which would earn no question marks in the same guide was the one I went to last night. I've been to the Wednesday quiz in the Red Dragon in Litchard before, and to be honest this is a little bit of a hit and miss affair. Question masters take it in turns, and the one last night was very poor. Questions were almost all taken from events of this last month, or number guessing questions - good general knowledge was of absolutely no use at all. No, I didn't win, before you ask.

So, here we are, Thursday, and the end of the Marathon. Tonight is my home quiz, the Aberavon Rugby Club. I was question master last week , so tonight its Brian, and we soudl have a good chance. A win would give me 2 wins, 1 draw and two defeats this week , however its by no means guaranteed, depending on how many members of Lemurs , the most serious opposition turn up. Watch this space.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

To handicap or not to handicap ?

To Handicap Or Not To Handicap ?

Let me pose you a hypothetical question.
Here’s the hypothetical situation. You run a quiz on a Monday Night. The main purpose of your quiz is to get people through the doors of the club on what would otherwise be a slack night for the club. Also, you love your quiz. Over a period of time word gets out that you do a quality quiz, with a weekly cash prize and the chance of a jackpot. Some very good teams start attending, and on occasions you have probably 5 or 6 of the best quizzers in South Wales playing in 3 or 4 different teams in your quiz.

Ok. With me so far ? Now, here’s the problem. At least half of the teams you get every Monday have no realistic chance of ever winning. They staunchly support the quiz, turning up week in week out, each member chipping in their £2. You’re worried that they will lose interest and maybe stop coming if this continues.

So this is the question. What can you do to give the also-rans a realistic chance of winning one in a while ?

You introduce handicaps – so that the weak and average teams get a head start every week !

That’s the answer that the quiz I frequent in Newport on a Monday night came up with some time back. I did consider not going any more. On the negative side, it’s a 90 minute round trip to Newport and back, and that’s a chunk of time it can be difficult to justify on a school night. Also its very discouraging when you hear that you’re 15 points behind before the first question is asked, and end up losing to a team who you could probably beat on your own in a fair fight.

On the positive side, its usually a great quiz, and the quality of opposition is better than you get in any of the other weekly quizzes I go to.

Last night we were undone in Newport by a 16 point handicap. We pulled back 14 of the points, but couldn’t manage the other 2. Part of what gripes me so much is that the handicap system is so arbitrary. No two quizzes are the same, and so a good handicap one week, will not be a fair handicap the next week when the quiz is easier, and so on. Also it doesn’t help when you handicap changes because a member of your team is away – for how on earth can a handicapper say how many points that individual is likely to be worth to his team ?

It all comes down to money and prizes, I suppose. The only quiz I go to where nobody minds that the same two teams win all the time is the Thursday night quiz in the Aberavon Rugby Club, and that’s the only one which never gives a prize.

Deep down a secret devil within me longs to say to all the teams who receive a head start– If winning is so important to you , why don’t you do some work to get better at it, rather than whinge for the good teams to be penalised ?

Battle of The Brains

I caught the first edition of BBC’s new team quiz "Battle of the Brains" last night (weekdays BBC2 6pm ) Since May the Beeb has been making quite a big thing of this show in serious quiz circles, and has tried to get as many top quizzers involved as possible. My Monday night team mate Barry did try to put a team together, which I would have been part of, but we were only given three days warning before the audition, and couldn’t make it. The Beeb did give us an open invitation to attend any other audition, but then there were travel problems. Trying to get 7 people all together for an audition is a logistical problem. So we ended up not entering. Shame.

The consensus among those people I know who actually did take part was that while the show itself is fun, the organisation behind the scenes was poor. A lot of teams spending hours waiting around, not to end up getting on the show at all. Not being part of it myself I can’t comment.

As for the show itself, I rather enjoyed it. It avoided a lot of the things that I hate about a TV quiz. For one thing the presenter, Paddy O’Connell obviously realised that the show isn’t meant to be about him, and so he professionally just got on with it, which is just what you want from a question master. As little time as possible was wasted on talking to the contestants about themselves, which was a huge bonus. Once you got going there was a decent amount of questions asked, and these were a good mixture of the downright easy, the fair, and the very tough.

The teams were good too. Winners, Di’s Diamonds had some well known faces from the quiz circuit, in particular Diane Hallagan, who’s won more than a few bob on telly in her time. The other team were no slouches either.

Complaints ? Well, on reflection I can’t help thinking that 7 in a team including the captain is probably a little too much. As a quiz show, though, its streets ahead of the programme that followed it last night – Eggheads . Will it catch on ? Time will tell.

Monday, 28 July 2008

What do you do when the QMs answer is wrong ?

Here's a quiz question for you : -
Which song gave Elton John his first ever solo number 1 single in the UK ?
If you answered "Sacrifice" , then go to the top of the class. If you answered " Don't Go Breaking my Heart you can have half a point, since it was his first number 1, but it was a duet with Kiki Dee. If you answered "Your Song " take a quarter of a point, since it was hi first big hit, but wasn't a number 1.

The answer the question master in the Bryncoch Inn gave to that question last night was "Crocodile Rock ". Where the hell did he get that from ? I'm tempted to suggest that he made up the question himself, and just assumed that the answer he thought was right actually was right.

It led to me thinking about the different ways you can react when a question master serves up a wrong'un. I've only ever been to this quiz once before,so arguing the toss with the question master was probably a non starter. I thought about approaching him after the quiz and asking him exactly where he foun the question, but again hat can be a risky tactic when you don't actually know who you're dealing with. So in the end I cravenly kept my gob shut. As it is we were joint winners of the quiz, although we lost on the tie break.

Moving on , last Saturday night I noticed that BBC4 repeated the 1980 Fred Housego Mastermind Final. I rather enjoyed this trip down memory lane. It seemed to me that the General Knowledge rounds were rather easier than they are now, but that may just be my wishful thinking. Obviously my memory isn't what it was, since I thought that Ingram Wilcox, who won £1million on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire came second, but actually he came 4th. Old Fred made a huge impression when he won it. He had his own TV series as I recall, and appeared a lot on other shows. Yet last I heard he was back in his taxi now. Just oes to show. Not sure what it goes to show, but it does go to show something.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Find Me A Quiz

Yes, honestly, I did win the BBCs Mastermind competition, broadcast on 24th March 2008.

Winning Mastermind earlier this year has turned out to be something of a mixed blessing. At the start I had some lovely invitations after the show was broadcast - over 9 months after it was actually recorded. However since then it has also had some drawbacks.

I currently ration myself to three quizzes a week during term time, and sometimes as many as 5 during the school holidays. For the last few years my friend and mentor John and I have been living off the fat of the land, alternating on Sundays between picking up bottles of wine at the quiz in Bridgend, and a cash prize at the quiz in Groesfaen. If you're a good enough quizzer, you'll find that social pub quizzes are usually easy pickings. I often tell people that its not about the prizes, but then its easy to say that when you're the person who normally wins the prizes. This does create some bad feeling though.

My friend and sometime teammate Robert put it best when he said,
“ You can beat a man 10 – nil in a football match, during the course of which you have also insulted him and his family and inflicted physical pain upon his person, and he’ll often shake hands with you afterwards, and share a beer with you in the bar. However, if you make a man feel stupid in his own local. . . watch out ! “ This is an occupational hazard for the serious quizzer.

Theoretically any team can win a pub quiz, if the questions fall right for them on the night. However, in reality, in my experience there are usually only ever two or three teams in any pub quiz who have a chance of winning more regularly than once in the bluest of moons.

Quantity alone will not often beat quality in a quiz. It doesn’t matter if your team has eight or nine players; if that team of two sitting in the corner is made up of two pros - serious , regular quizzers, and you haven’t got any in your team, then they are probably going to beat you, as simple as that.

There is a wide , in fact massive, gulf between the average social quizzer, and a serious, dedicated all round quizzer. So much so that a serious quizzer playing in an average pub quiz is a bit like a Premier League footballer taking part in a Sunday League kickabout. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent set up to the Premier League for the serious quizzer to take part in, which is why we do take part in our local pub quizzes.

There is relatively little money to be had from pub quizzing. If you make enough money back to pay for your drinks, petrol etc., then you’re doing better than most.

Actually, this highlights my point about making people feel stupid in their own local. If you are in a team of four, and you beat all the regular teams in a pub quiz by a good margin, you’ve actually got a decent chance of getting a good round of applause, a smidgen of respect, and maybe a friendly chat at the bar. Now, lets suppose that there are only two of you in your team. You still beat all the regular teams by the same margin. Wouldn’t this more significant achievement, perhaps , entitle you to even more admiration and respect, and an even larger round of applause ? Not at all. The pair of you would as likely as not be cold – shouldered, and viewed darkly through suspicious eyes. On such an occasion there is a code of behaviour to be observed.

1) Don’t smile.
2) Don’t be tempted to engage in conversation, or even worse, banter, with the question master. Never tell him about the mistakes he has made with his questions.
3) A lap of honour is totally out of the question.
4) Try not to meet any body else’s gaze, and at no time initiate a conversation yourself.
5) If someone else traps you into conversation, remember your excuse – “ we had a lot of lucky guesses tonight “
6) The optimum time for leaving the pub is 13 minutes after the end of the quiz. Any shorter looks like panic. Any longer risks you being dragged into an awkward conversation with disgruntled losers.

Still, while other , beaten teams may mutter darkly about "quiz professionals " and "taking it all too seriously “" you can bet that every single one of them secretly longs to be picking up the bottle of wine or the fiver instead of you.

Winning "Mastermind" does seem to give some people a focus for their disappointment or discontent . It makes a difference. People who have managed to keep their frustration at our continued success on a Sunday evening under wraps are now openly saying that I shouldn't be allowed to take part in their quiz.

It came to a head after the quiz in Groesfaen a fortnight ago. Basically, the question master had promised several weeks before that the jackpot would actually be given away, and then it hadn't been, for three times running. So I asked him why, and although he never really answered the question, what he did tell us was that teams had stopped coming to the quiz because we kept winning. In particular one team had complained to the landlord that we kept winning and had stopped coming. They normally have 5 members, we only have 2. You do the maths. Rather than banning us outright, the question master and the landlord have come up with the idea of a bingo quiz. Basically this means that its not enough to have all the answers right, you have to have the right answers right in the right order. It means that you get a random winner every week.

They told us that they have made a conscious decision not to ask us to stop coming, but for all that it seemed to me to be the simplest solution. John agreed too. I just hope that they have the sense to tell all the other teams that we won't be coming back - and that this will bring a few back to them on a Sunday night. When all is said and done, I just want to take part in quizes, and hopefully win them. I don't want to kill them.

This has led to a problem , though. Where else to go tonight. Theoretically we could go to the Pheasant in Bridgend. However that would make it two weeks in a row. We deliberately try to avoid going to the same quiz 2 weeks in a row, just to avoid the situation which has happened at Groesfaen. If you only go to half the quizzes, then the most that anyone can say is that you win half the quizzes. This stands to reason - and Maths isn't even my specialist subject !

You'd think that with the information technology we have at our command it would be a simple thing to track down a list of quizzes on a Sunday evening. You might think that, but you'd be wrong. Between Swansea and Cardiff I have only been able to track down a dozen Sunday night quizzes on the internet. Of these some have only the sketchiest details, and don't even give the starting time. One of them, in Bridgend, has already unofficially banned us for winning two £100 jackpots in the same month last year.

So I guess that we'll go to the Brynoch Inn tonight. This has its down side Its quite a step for John to travel, and more importantly, its not a very good quiz. We went there once last year for a change, and the fact that we've never been back tells its own story. I was put off by the fact that they ask 2 Family Fortunes type questions.

Family Fortunes questions are the pits of the earth when it comes to a pub quiz. By Family Fortunes questions I mean the type of question that asks -
"In a recent survey, 100 people were asked to name a hairy dog. What were the top 5 answers ? "
How the hell are you suppose to know that ? The answer is, you're not. Its a randomising factor, and randomising factors mean that the wins get shared around the teams. This keeps everyone happy, except for the people who have actually been to other places, and know what a good quiz is really like.

I'll discuss the options with John tonight, and we'll make our mind up about where we're goin to try in the future. Watch this space.