Saturday, 30 May 2009

Just To Prove

That I'm not a totally quiz obssessed person, I wanted to prove to you that I do occasionally truant from quiz compiling. Today I was supposed to be compiling this Thursday night's quiz for the rugby club. However the weather was so beautiful outside that it needed very little coercion for me to pile Mary and a couple of the girls in the car, and head off down to Mumbles.

That's Mumbles Pier in the picture. Just out of interest, Mumbles Pier is one of only a very few Victorian piers left in Wales, and probably less well known than the others.

Of course, you never totally lave the quiz behind. I looked at the information at the entrance to the pier, and it gave the year that the pier was built, and the original purpose it was built for. No prizes for guessing that one of these pieces of information is going to be twisted into a question for Thursday night's quiz , then.

I have to put my hands up and admit that I know one of the other quiz master often tailors one or two question to fit whatever he has been doing suring the week or two leading up to his quiz. Last year, he asked
"IN which Spanish city . . . " and we didn't know the answer. However we did know that he'd recently come back from two weeks in Seville. So that's what we put down, and that was the correct answer. Its another example of playing the man and not the ball, to use footballing terminology.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Mastermind Semi Final 4/6

Wonders will never cease. The BBC has allowed Mastermind to be shown in two consecutive weeks - AND Life After Mastermind reader James Corcoran informs me that he has been given next Friday as a definite date for his semi final to be broadcast. Have the schedulers finally taken pity on poor fans of the show ? Or is it just that they can't be arsed to go looking for something else ?

Lets get down to the nitty gritty of tonight's show, then. Frank Minns started us off. He won heat 23 in April, offering Italian Politics. Tonight it was the Life and works of Mozart. I think that he was possibly expecting more on the works and less on the life, and didn't reach the heights of his first round performance, this time scoring 8.

By way of contrast, Jenny Dunn we haven't seen since the very first heat, back on 5th September 2008, when she scored 13 points on King Edward IV. Her round on The Ghost Stories of M.R.James didn't quite manage to get into the teens, but you had the feeling that this was the kind of contest where her 10 would give her a fighting chance.

Gary Grant, this time answering questions on the Solar System, had won heat 22 on the life and career of Sir Jackie Stewart, in March. Then he scored 14, tonight he did almost as well, scoring 13. His speed of answer was highly impressive, and by the halfway stage he looked the most likely winner of the 4 contenders.

Roger Canwell I tipped as a potential finalist as long ago as the end of September when he won heat 4. He looked extremely useful answering on The Late Stuart Age then. Now only slightly less effective, a very good start to the round being let down a little by a couple of passes. However 12 meant that he was only one point behind leader Gary Grant.

Poor Frank Minns. Obviously John Humphrys doesn't think much about Mozart, since he ignored the subject completely in the inter round chat, and instead gave Mr. Minns the 3rd degree about people paving over their front gardens. Mr. Minns is a landscape gardener, you see. Mr. Minns had the joint highest GK score in the first round heats, but this particular set of questions seemed tough to me, and didn't do him any favours at all. Bearing this in mind 9 was a good score.

Jenny Dunn explained that a good ghost story should be creepy without being too graphic. Can't say that I've read any M.R.James myself, so I'll move swiftly on to her GK round. Its all subjective, but given the choice I would have rather had a go at Jenny Dunn's questions than Frank Minns, but she put on a good performance of 9, which was only one less than she'd managed in her first round heat. So she pushed the bar up to 19.

Roger Canwell paid the expected tribute to Delia Smith - and why not ? - and explained a little about how tough it is for teams outside the premiership. Like the two previous contenders he pushed towards double figures, but ran out of time before quite managing to get there. Compared with the last few semi finals we've seen, 21 looked like a modest target. However, as I have said before on many occasions, anything can happen in the semi finals.

Gary Grant was hailed by John Humphrys as the 'man with the knowledge of the solar system '. Interestingly, he himself has gone on record as saying that he never expected to get to the semis, or he'd never have chosen that as a subject ! He started off like an express train, but, as he himself has said, he fell into a horrible pass spiral, and just couldn't pull himself out of it. Don't worry Gary. Everyone who saw your performance in the first round knows that you are much better than this - it was just a shame that you had a bad day at the office. He finished on 19.

So Roger Canwell marches on to the Grand Final. On this performance, and bearing in mind the strength of the other 3 qualifiers we've seen so far, you'd have to say he's something of an outsider, but semi final form is not always a good guide to what is going to happen in the final.

The Details
Frank Minns The Life and Works of Mozart 8 - 5 9 - 4 17 - 9
Jenny Dunn The Ghost Stories of M.R.James 10 - 3 9 - 7 19 - 10
Gary Grant The Solar System 13 - 2 6 - 7 19 - 9
Roger Canwell Norwich City Football Club 12 - 2 9 - 3 21 - 5

Personality Test ?

Ahead of tonight's show I thought that I'd post about a topic that has been sparking some very interesting comment on the IQAGB website today. This is the inter-round chat interval that has been so much a part of the John Humphrys era of Mastermind.

In the late Magnus Magnusson's day, there was nothing more personal in the way of chat than Your name and your profession. I can't help feeling that we were better off when it was like this. Now, don't misunderstand me. The production team put a hell of a lot of time and effort into getting angles that John Humphrys can talk to you about your subject, and I think they genuinely want you to look like more than someone who has just absorbed a book on your specialist topic. But it doesn't always make for very interesting telly. While its ok when you're the one participating in the chat, its excruciating if you're one of the other contenders, just waiting, and it goes on for quite a bit longer than the edited version you eventually get to see in the broadcast version.

Do we need it, anyway ? After all, you don't get it in competitive sport, do you ? Yes, after the match you might grab the participants for a brief, snatched interview, but not before or during. Think of it,
" So, Tiger Woods, you're about to start your opening round in this year's U.S. Masters tournament. So, tell us if you would, what's this green jacket nonsense all about then ? "

We all know that there are shows where they are far more interested in your personality than in your knowledge or ability. But please, Mastermind ? Give us a break. If personality was that important, then I'm sure I would have had little or no chance.

Watch this space for a review of tonight's show.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Too Much Information

Sometimes the clue really isn't in the question.

If you quiz regularly I'm surely you've experienced this sub-phenomenon before. You're asked a question - which seems at first to have an obvious answer - then the QM goes on to give you additional piece of information, which sends you off on a tangent, gets you to change your answer, and leads to you changing a right answer for a wrong one.

I mention this because it happened to me again last night. For reasons which I will be posting about later on in the year, I haven't been around to take part in a pub quiz for the best part of a fortnight, so it was a huge pleasure to get back to a proper quiz in the Duke of Wellington in Cowbridge last night. You'll remember I've mentioned this quiz before. A pound goes in for each player, and then another pound for the team that goes towards the jackpot. Sandwiches for everyone at half time. 7 questions for the jackpot at the end.

The last two times we've played we've lost the quiz on a tiebreak. Last night we won by two points - not a huge win, but certainly a comfortable one compared to the last few times we've played. I was particularly pleased with the guess the year question - in which year did Princess Margaret marry Anthony Armstrong Jones ? Against a little doubt from the team I plumped for 1960.

So, as I say, we won the quiz. Then the lucky 7. John and I independently dredged up that it was Dubrovnik that Byron once described as the Pearl of the Adriatic. From somewhere I recalled that it was the actor David Threlfall who starred in Shameless. The only question that gave us a problem was this : -
Which band have recently released their new album "No line on the Horizon".
Now the fact that we didn't know it straight away will tell you that we are far from pop music specialists. Still, working on the principal that you always go for the percentage answer when you haven't a clue - we were going to go for U2. Which would have resulted in us scooping the pot in its entirety, since nobody else was close to getting 7. However the QM went on to add that they've been in the news recently. This put us off the scent. You see the fact is that the Manic Street Preachers have recently released an album using material written by their long disappeared member Richie Edwards, and this has certainly made the news in Wales. So we changed U2 to the Manic Street Preachers.

Having said all of that I am quite sure that it wouldn't have gone down so well if we'd taken the jackpot as well as winning the quiz. But looking back on last night it does prove that where a quiz is concerned, sometimes there really is such a thing as too much information.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Have YOU ever been banned from a pub quiz too ?

The Ultimate in Sore-Losing ?

I had an interesting conversation with a brilliant and high profile quizzer yesterday, who surprised me when he said that he has never yet been banned from a pub quiz. He went on to say that he has been banned from pubs before, but not why, and I didn't feel I knew him well enough to press him for explanation. However, I digress. It leads me to beg the question - is it unusual for a quizzer to be banned from playing in a particular pub quiz ? The reason why I ask this is that it brings to mind the fact that I have been - sort of - banned from three pub quizzes in my time. Allow me to explain.

In each of the three cases I have been banned in a different way. These are : -

a) Direct banning by the will of the public.

It must be the best part of a decade that John and I have been playing in a variety of pubs throughout the Bridgend - Swansea section of the M4 corridor. In one pub in Morriston we formulated our creed in the face of some pretty hostile responses from one of the teams whose top dog status ended when we began our reign of terror. We sanctimoniously declared this to ourselves - If anyone who doesn't like us winning all the time has the guts to come up to us and say 'look boys, you're obviously good at this, its only meant to be a friendly quiz, you're not giving anyone else a chance , so would you mind giving us a rest ? ' then we'd go with good grace.

It never quite happened like that. However a few years ago a pub in Neath began advertising a weekly quiz with a £100 first prize. As you know this is a serious amount of money for a weekly pub quiz, so we smelled a large rodent, but all the same we decided to check it out. We posed as two old codgers just having a quiet drink, and made the landlady explain to us all about what was involved in a pub quiz. Then she told us that the first prize was a gallon of beer - you only got the £100 if you scored 50 out of 60 or more. Nobody had managed that yet. An hour later we were 54 points and £100 to the good.

We didn't overdo it, only going every three weeks or so. However, after another 2 wins I got greedy. I went back on my own when John couldn't make it, and the landlord banned me before the quiz started. His justification was that his locals didn't like it. Well, I'm not being funny, but none of them had got close to the money in 18 months, so I didn't see that as fair. Its not as if we were stopping anybody else from scooping the pot - none of them were ever likely to do that whether we were there or not. If I was a mean spirited sort I would suggest that it was the landlord himself who didn't like us taking the money. Still, the best you can do is give in with good grace in such a situation. I have no intention of naming the pub either. They will get no free advertising from me.

2) Banning by proxy

So to Bridgend, where John and I discovered a pub with a far from edifying Sunday night quiz, but a serious amount of cash on offer for a very winnable jackpot. In two attempts John and I took away £200. The landlady wasn't happy about this from the start, but kept her comments to a very polite,
"Do you take part in many quizzes , then ? You seem very good ? " to which we gave a civil answer, along the lines of , yes, its a fair cop guv, don't worry , we'll restrict our appearances in future. Just as we were leaving someone who knows John came in, and they chatted for a while.

The next day, a message was relayed to me via a chain of acquaintances that we wouldn't be welcome in the Sunday quiz again - John's acquaintance had told the landlady something of our quiz pedigree apparently. Name of the pub withheld for the same reasons as the last.

3) Banning by brute force and ignorance

OK - so I haven't actually been banned from the Culverhouse Hotel Sunday Night quiz in Cardiff. Regular readers will recall that I wrote about this a couple of months ago. Basically we beat a team who were cheating by using their mobiles. The quiz went to a tie break , and we KNEW the correct answer. Despite the fact that we had watched them cheating throughout the whole of the quiz using their mobiles, they had the cheek to accuse us of cheating in the tie break, because my daughter took out her mobile a couple of minutes AFTER we had given our answer in.. The question master, despicably in my opinion, took their word for it and gave us a lecture about how it is acceptable to use a mobile in the quiz - which it most certainly is not - but not acceptable in a tie break. As we left the hotel , one of the blokes from the other team stepped in front of me as I was going to the gents, and called me, and I use his words,a
"F * * * ing cheat. "
If you wish to think the worst of me for not sticking up for myself, and walking round him without saying anything, then you must feel free to think so, although I would advise you that
a) There were four of his mates behind him,
b) he was a little the worse for alcohol - although not so much that I would have fancied my chances if it had come to blows, and
c) what could I have achieved if I had responded anyway ? For all I know he was looking for an excuse to belt me.
Effectively, that has had the same effect as if the landlord had banned us from going to the quiz. If we went back we would be looking for trouble. However, I also wouldn't go back to any quiz where the question master is so much under the thumb of one loud and leery team that he will ignore them cheating during the quiz, and accuse a team that beats them of cheating because they can't take being beaten.

A Small Bouquet

Contrast this with another pub which went out of its way not to ban us. A small virtual bouquet, then, to the Dynevor Arms in Groesfaen. The problem with this quiz is that its only once a fortnight. Which meant that even with John and I only going once a fortnight, we still ended up playing in every quiz, and winning probably more than our fair share - although we never won every quiz as some other teams claimed.

The number of teams started to drop off, and when it came to head last year, we asked Ralph the question master, and he very quietly, very calmly and politely explained that the number of teams had dropped off because we kept winning. One team in particular, which often boasted 7 members stopped expressly because of us. So, Ralph explained, the response was not going to be to ban us, but to introduce a bingo-quiz. The rules as he explained them were long and tedious, but basically it meant that even if you had every question right it didn't mean that you would win. John and I made the instant decision that we would stop going, and I believe that they dropped the bingo idea, but impose a handicap on the winning team from the previous time.

What strikes me, as I look back, is that the whole thing was done without any unpleasantness. With hindsight, they didn't do the easiest thing, which would have been to ask John and me to give it a miss, but rather they said that we had every right to play, but they needed to introduce a format which allowed for a fairer share out of the money. I hope that the quiz is going strongly there now.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Mastermind Semi Final 3/6

Remember Mastermind ? I often think that the BBC look on the show as little more than an afterthought. Still, thank Heaven that when Mastermind is good, it is very, very good, and tonight's semi final ( amazingly shown on a Friday for once by BBC Wales ) was top notch.

Richard Heller, tonight's first contender, won heat 14 which was shown back in December, when he answered questions on W.C. Fields. Mr. Heller you might remember played in the 1996 Grand Final , so he was battling to become the third member of the two grand finals club, after my predecessor Geoff Thomas, and Roger Stein. he certainly gave himself every chance of doing just that with a magnificent perfect round of 16 questions and 16 correct answers on the Napoleon dynasty. Yes, apparently there were tons of them !

Paula Keaveney offered us Herbert Asquith. She won heat 19 at the end of February answering questions on the Seinfeld TV series. Its a difficult thing to do, getting more than one subject you can really excell on, and while Paula Keaveney's score of 10 and 1 pass was a good one, it really left her too far behind to make a successful bid for the win.

Thomas Armer had won heat 10 in November, with the Le Mans 24 hour race. In that heat he had achieved the rare feat of going through both Specialist and General Rounds without a single pass. Tonight he was answering on Slade - the band. I will cheerfully date myself here by admitting that Slade were the first ever band that I saw live - in their slightly later period , in the Hammersmith Odeon in 1980. Great stuff ! Alas, after a bright start Thomas Armer lost his way a bit, and found the round rather hard going, ending with 8 points and 2 passes.

John Beynon had won the 11th heat with the joint highest score of the first round, 29. His specialist subject had been Grigory Rasputin. Like Thomas Armer he too had not passed at all in his heat. Tonight he produced a sparkling round on the naturalist Gilbert White, which gave the specialist round a very pleasing symmetry since like Richard Heller he too posted a perfect round of 16 questions and 16 correct answers.

So, with two fine quizzers both already on 16, were we at last going to see this seasons first 30 point haul ? The omens were good. However as it was Thomas Armer and Paula Keaveney were to have their say first. Thomas Armer explained how Slade were something of a cut above other 'glam rock' bands since they wrote their own songs. Well said , sir. A haul of 11 points and 1 pass on GK in a semi is a very commendable achievement, and he finished with 19.

Paula Keaveney agreed with John Humphrys that Herbert Asquith should be better remembered by the great British public than he is . She too produced an impressive general knowledge performance, with 11and 5 passes. This is what a semi final is all about - good quizzing .

Richard Heller explained that Napoleon, far from being the megalomaniac dwarf portrayed by cartoonists such as James Gillray, Napoleon was a man of about average height, who inherited most of his enemies from his French Revolutionary predecessors - whose only mistake was to invade Russia. Well, if you're going to make a mistake . . . Right until the end of the round Richard Heller hardly made any mistakes in his. Halfway through the round you'd have put your shirt on him getting to thirty. A couple of wrong answers towards the end saw him stuck on 28, with just the last question pushing him up to 29 and 1 pass.

John Beynon scored 14 and no passes on General Knowledge in his first round heat. Elementary arithmetic revealed that if he could repeat his best performance, then he would do it by the narrowest of margins. Alas, there was a little hiccup, when John Humphrys asked him what HIP stood for in estate agent terminology. At first he seemed to accept John Beynon's answer
"Home Information PLAN ", but then corrected himself, and asked him to repeat. Then he explained it was a wrong answer, since it means
"Home Information PACK. " Quite right. The answer as given was wrong. what bad luck though to have to waste valuable time repeating an answer.

Very bad luck to John Beynon, but for what its worth I thought Richard Heller deserved his win, and I have to say , we have another strong contender through to the final. Three semis down - three to go. Please, BBC, let us watch the last 4 shows without any more interruptions . I am well aware that Wimbledon is rapidly approaching.

The Details

Richard Heller The Bonaparte Dynasty16 - 013 - 129 - 1
Paula KeaveneyHerbert Asquith10 -111 - 521 - 6
Thomas ArmerSlade8 - 211 - 119 - 3
John BeynonThe Naturalist Gilbert White16 - 012 - 128 - 1

Saturday, 16 May 2009

The DOND Syndrome - Patient update

ITV1 Not perhaps a Terminal Case After All

Back on the 29th March of this year I wrote about the 'Deal or No Deal Syndrome'. In case you missed this, I'll reprint what I wrote in part here : -

'"The Colour of Money" is worrying confirmation of what I call the "Deal or No Deal " syndrome. Put in simple terms, for me it is proof that the big prize quiz show bonanza which we have enjoyed since "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire " first burst onto our screens in 1998 seems to be over.

Why call it the "Deal or No Deal " syndrome ? Well, the afore mentioned show is the first show that Channel Four have managed to come up with that replicates the popularity of the much missed Fifteen To One. I feel ashamed to say it, but I quite enjoy DOND, but Fifteen to One it's not. Who cares ? Not Channel Four, and certainly not the daily audience. Look at the appeal to the makers. Everyone wins something eventually. Incredibly simple format. No questions to compile. The first time I ever saw DOND actually was in the Yorkshire TV studios in Leeds when I was a stand in for the Mastermind semis of 2006. They make Countdown there, and so I guess that they had been watching it in the green room, and couldn't be bothered to change channel. When I saw it I did think that this was a development that could spell trouble for genuine quiz shows.

So where does the Colour of Money fit into this ? Well, its different from DOND in as much as not everybody wins something on the show. However it is about making the correct, or should I say lucky , choices, and knowing where to stop, and that's pure DOND. But its prime time Saturday night. I don't know what the ratings are like on the show, but if its a success, then I'm thinking we can kiss goodnight to the chance of any more massive jackpots for a genuine quiz show. "

Well, I might not have known what the ratings were like for the show when I wrote that, but I do now. Apparently the ratings for the Colour of Money have been so much less than ITV expected or demanded that they are not even going to show the last one in the series. OK, now you all know I'm sure that I much prepare quiz shows to game shows without any form of quiz in them at all. However this post is not meant to be a gloat in any way. For one thing I have an awful lot of time for Chris Tarrant. I found him to be a damn good bloke when I appeared on Millionaire . The Colour of Money wasn't in my opinion a terrible show. However on reflection I think that it was rather overblown. Cut down the prize money. Cut it down to a half hour long, and make it move a bit quicker, and you've got a nice, early evening show that Channel 4 / Five/ or ITV2 would be proud of. However putting it out at an hour long and expecting it to hold a big audience on a Saturday night was asking too much.

Does it mean that we'll see another prime time big money quiz show coming along on ITV again ? Well, its a little early to say that yet. Time will tell.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Hero of the Week

Transworld Top Team

Well, its taken a bit of time, but my appeal made on the 18th February for the good young men and women who appeared on TV Top of the Form to come forward and receive the public acclaim that they deserve has finally started to bear fruit.

I was feeling a bit under the weather yesterday morning, but perked up considerably when I found that I had an email from Mr. John Ward of Ottawa, Canada. John described how he took part in Transworld Top Team, in 1968. You may remember that Transworld Top Team was the International version of TV Top of the Form. Teams from Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal represented Canada, and John was a member of the Ottawa team that played teams from London, Glasgow and Belfast. With his permission, I quote from his email,

"I can't, for the life of me, remember how we did during the competition. It was a friendly tourney and we kept track of the won-loss numbers informally, but I don't think there was a trophy or anything at stake.
It was quite an experience (I was 16 at the time). I remember touring London, the Abbey, St. Paul's. Once of the London kids took us to a pub called the Sherlock Holmes (he was quite the Sherlockian). We went to Warwick Castle, Holyrood House, Edinburgh Castle. We were in Belfast, but I guess it was shortly before the Troubles broke out. I still have fond memories of the city.
In Canada, we hit Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. I remember a game of touch football (American-style football) in Montreal that became an odd mix of soccer, rugby and our version.
I also remember one of the Brits (a Londoner) looking around Montreal and observing: ``You colonials have done quite well for yourself." We almost fell down laughing.
I seem to recall a set of desperate teen romances that broke out, as well (hormones again), but nothing really out of hand.
All in all, it was a wonderful time.
By the way, I seem to remember that the British producer was Bill Wright, a very nice fellow. I suppose he's gone now. I know the original Canadian producer Sandy Stewart died a decade or more ago.
The following year, the CBC ran another international tournament with kids from Canada and Hawaii and I was lucky enough to get on that, too.
It, too,  was very enjoyable (if much warmer)."

This was back in 1968 - can you imagine even today, as a teenager, getting to go to all these places just to take part in a TV quiz show ? Amazing.

John Ward

I salute you, and am proud to include your name on the roll of honour.

Points of View

Return with me in time to last Sunday, if you will. Tipped off by a quiz friend, I checked the BBC website for their listings for the coming week. If you're a regular reader you can just imagine some of the choice language that issued from my lips when I saw that those wonderful people, the BBC Two schedulers, have once again dropped Mastermind without so much as a by your leave. What unmissable television event could possibly result in such an unprecedented occurence, you might ask. I'll tell you. Mastermind has been dropped so that they can show a documentary on the Honey Bee !

OK - I'll drop the sarcasm and the mock indignation. Yet I am sure that you understand where I am coming from. The series should have been done and dusted by now, and whoever the worthy champion is should be enjoying public acclaim for his or her achievement.

So, thus moved by the injustice, and a burning desire for righteousness I took the most drastic action I could think of. I emailed Points of View. Desperate situations require desperate remedies.

I will admit that I was very surprised that I received an email in reply the very next day. More than that , there was a phone number, saying that the production team were actually interested in my comments and would like to speak to me about them. Rather surprised, I decided that I'd follow this one up, and see where it all led. So I had a long chat on Monday night with a very nice fellow called Michael. He rather had me at a bit of a disadvantage when he asked me
"Are you a regular viewer of Points of View ? "
The really truthful answer, which would have been
"Listen pal, I couldn't even tell you what day of the week its ever on ."
would have been somewhat rude, so I stammered something to the effect that I hadn't seen it much recently. To which he replied that I was probably a regular viewer in the Terry Wogan era. I didn't tell him that actually I haven't been a regular viewer since the Barry Took era ( - The test card ! Well done BBC ! Another winner ! - Not the 9 O'Clock News c. 1980 )

So Michael went on to tell me that they have updated Points of View, and what they really wanted were for people to film little 30 or 40 second pieces to camera on their own video cameras and send it in to them, and they wanted me to do one. Quite an appealing prospect. However . . . I haven't got a video camera. Nor do I have a mobile phone with video camera capability. Nor do I have a mobile phone at all, but that , as they say, is a story for another day. To use my wife's pertinent summing up,
"You looked enough of a pratt on those shows you've been on, and they were shot professionally. Have you any idea how much of an idiot you'll look if you go ahead with it ? " Sadly, she has a point.

Having said that the door is still open, I could do it, and send it in, but somehow I don't think so.

As regards Mastermind, he did say to me that he hasn't a clue why it gets shunted round so much. Even people who make the programmes can't understand the workings of the minds of BBC schedulers.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Me and My Big Mouth

Forgive me Trevor, for I have sinned.

Newport again On Monday, and with a full team as well. I have to say that with Gordon, George, Allan, Barry and myself in the team, Trevor might well have been fully justified in giving out another set of supergenerous head starts again. However, Herbie's team beat us by 9 last week - even after you take off the 5 point head start that's still a 4 point win. They started off scratch on Monday. The Harriers beat us by 7 last week, off a larger handicap. However they had 2 top 50 nationally ranked quizzers in Richie and Mark ( at least for the start of the quiz ) so they started off scratch. Misfits combined forces with another team from Caerphilly, so they had a smaller head start than last week - 4 or 5 I think. Martin's team were the only team we beat last week, so they had an even bigger head start of 20.

After the first round, much of Martin's headstart had already been eaten up, as had the Misfits/Caerphilly. Trevor made a comment about getting the handicaps wrong. So then I opened my big mouth, I can't remember the exact words, but it was something along the lines of
"That's the only time that you've ever got it right. "
Now, if you're a regular reader you'll know how much the handicap system has annoyed and frustrated me over the past 9 months or so. However, the venom with which it came out was, on reflection, out of order, and I know that Trevor was upset by it. Comments were made along the lines of it would be down to me to set the handicaps next week, and then I would see how easy it was, and how much I'd like it- ie the rest of the teams would crucify me. Which is doubtless true, although its missing the point, which is, if it really was down to me, then I would not give any headstarts at all. Doubtless they really would not just verbally, but also physically crucify me for that.

What made it worse, was that this was actually a hard quiz. A great, hard quiz. The kind of quiz where large handicaps would have been justifiable. Which means either Trevor took pity on us after our showing last week, and gave out small or non existent handicaps for that reason, or he genuinely thought that this was an easier quiz than last week. I can't see that he would have thought this, though. You can't be as good at putting sets of questions together as Trevor is, and not realise whether its an easier or a harder quiz.

I made a dick of myself a couple of years ago with a comment I made to Mark Labbett, which was totally out of order, and then I didn't actually get to see him again for about 4 months before I could apologise to him, an apology which, I might add, he accepted with huge grace . The worst thing is that at the end of the quiz Trevor announced that Martin would be doing the quiz next Monday. Now, Martin is a very nice fellow, and he loves his quiz, but his quiz is not up to the standard of Trevor's. Not to put too fine a point on it, in the past it hasn't really proven worth the effort of driving all the way to Newport and back. So it will be a fortnight at least before I see Trevor and can apologise to him face to face. I don't like the handicaps, and I have to accept that I'm never going to like them either, but that kind of nastiness was wrong, and that kind of comment was out of order.

In case you're wondering, yes we did win, by as comfortable a margin as we were beaten by last week. And no, it really didn't make me feel any better about myself.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Quiz Brains Race - Update

Well - I have to say that the Mayday in Melincryddan Quiz didn't turn out exactly as I thought it would back on Wednesday night.

If you read my blog last week, you'll know that this is a quiz that is very dear to my heart. Normally I play as captain of a team made up from my colleagues at the school, who are all non quizzers. Last year we were beaten on a tie break by a team containing my best quiz mate and mentor John. So this year I invited him to fill one of the vacancies on our team created by the head of Mathematics taking up a Deputy Headteacher post at another school.

John, being an all round good chap, agreed. Then disaster struck in the form of a chest infection. John couldn't make it on Wednesday. Ok - well, the way I looked on it was that at least he wouldn't be playing against us, even if he wasn't playing for us. Then my Head of Department said that he couldn't make it. The last member of the team was unavailable too. So by Wednesday morning the school team was down to just one member. Me.

I suppose that I asked for it inviting John to join the school team. Still, I couldn't persuade any of the other staff to give up valuable marking and preparation time on a Wednesday evening, and so I was joined by my oldest daughter Phillippa. Phillippa is currently a learning support assistant at the school, so does qualify for the team as of right.

The quiz wasn't well attended. The long serving member of the committee who got the quiz going again a couple of years ago has stepped down, and I'm afraid the people who took over didn't manage to publicise it as well as he had. More importantly, there was no obvious opposition. There were about 6 teams, ranging from our team of 2 to a team of 7 or 8, but there was no obvious quizzer amongst the opposition. Linsey, our QM had thought of this, and so in a break from tradition half of the points for the evening would be awarded for a picture round. Now, if you're a regular reader you'll appreciate that this prospect did not actually fill me with joy. However when he gave out the pictures, I suddenly realised that we were unlikely to lose. They were pictures of classic British sitcoms from the last 50 years.

So we scored 100% on the pictures, and dropped 5 points out of 50 on the actual quiz, enough to win by a comfortable margin.

Ah, the terrible price of victory ! I promised to set the questions and act as QM for next year's event.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Mastermind Semi Final 2/6

Perhaps the BBC couldn't find anything else to put on instead - at long last !

Excuse my bitterness, but I have anticipated the return of the semi finals for three weeks now, and so I tuned in this evening to find what ? Yes, you've got it - welsh rugby ! Now, there's nothing wrong with welsh rugby, but not when its supposed to be Mastermind. Still, at least I managed to switch to BBC2 England.

First up this week was Life After Mastermind reader Nancy Dickmann. You may remember that Nancy was extremely impressive in her first round heat answering on the Amelia Peabody novels of Elizabeth Peters, and some time ago I tipped her as the most likely woman to reach the Grand Final. Today she gave us the life and German films of Fritz Lang. I may be mistaken, but I am fairly sure that Nancy had a perfect round of 16 questions and 16 correct answers. So she passed the first hurdle of the semi final, that of doing a second specialist subject as well as your first, with flying colours.

Second was journalist Sally Jones, who won heat 2 way back in September. She won with a strong performance on the short stories of Saki, and a decent GK performance. She too showed versatility to produce another good specialist score of 14 and no passes, this time on Billie Jean King, in a round which went some way beyond just her feats on the tennis court.

Ara Varatharaj , who came third, won Heat 5 in October, answering on the Challenger Novels of Arthur Conan Doyle. He won the heat on the back of a terrific performance in the specialist round. Alas, his latest offering, the magazine Private Eye , proved considerably more difficult, and got the better of him. He scored 5 and 8 passes.

Last to go was Nicholas Flindall. He won Heat 9, and like Ara Varatharaj before him won with an excellent score on Specialist, and a more modest score on GK. The Harry Palmer novels of Len Deighton were a happy hunting ground in the heats, but the life of Robert Maxwell proved trickier this time round. Mr. Flindall scored 10 with 3 passes/

Ara Varatharaj returned to the chair with a smile on his face, and seemingly none too daunted by the task ahead of him. John Humphrys encouraged him by telling him that he was going to do well, and by gum, that's exactly what he did. A score of 12 on GK in a semi final is no mean feat, and it meant that he finished with a highly respectable 17. He's a young chap, and with a performance like this on GK, he can return if he wants to in the future, I'm sure.

Nicholas Flindall couldn't avoid explaining that Robert Maxwell will always be the man who stole the pension money as far as the British public are concerned. He fared rather less well, and failed to catch Mr. Varatharaj, scoring 6 to finish on 16.

Sally Jones paid tribute to Billie Jean King as the lady who broke the mould, and spoke out for equal prize money . She had scored 10 on GK in her heat, and managed to match this with a good round, where she kept both her cool and her concentration. 24 left Nancy Dickmann needing 8, but we saw front runners losing it all in the final round more than once last year, and so nothing was sure yet.

Nancy Dickmann, I'm sure, must have just wanted to get on with the questions at this stage, but she looked cool and calm as she explained how Fritz Lang was the kind of monster on the set of a film that would have made Alfred Hitchcock seem like Santa Claus. Nancy had 14 last time round on GK, but things do seem to get tougher in the semis. That doesn't matter. 28 and no passes is a great semi final score. To put it into perspective, I scored exactly the same in my semi last year, which was the second highest score in any of the semi finals !
Hard lines to the other three contenders, but well done for getting this far. Congratulations , Nancy ! I can't wait to see how you do (did ) in the Grand Final !

The Details
Nancy Dickmann The Life and films of Fritz Lang16 - 012 - 028 - 0
Sally JonesBillie Jean King14 - 0 10 - 324 - 3
Ara VaratharajPrivate Eye Magazine5 - 812 - 217 - 10
Nicholas FlindallRobert Maxwell10 - 36 - 416 - 7

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Return to Newport

y - o - y - o -y do I keep putting myself through this ?

I'll put my cards on the table here. This is another moan about headstarts and handicaps. Feel free to stop reading now if you think that I'm going to be like a stuck record here.

Right, now that they've gone, I'll get to the point. I enjoyed the CIU so much last week that I thought - d'you know what , I WILL go to Newport on Monday. Even if we get shafted by the handicaps again it will be a pleasure spending another evening in the company of Barry, Alan and George.

A triumph of hope over experience. George and Barry couldn't make it. So it was just Alan, Gordon and myself. Still, - I reasoned - all the more reason for Trevor to take a little pity on us and be at least fair with the headstarts and the handicaps.

No chance.

Every team there were given at least 5 points more than us. Now OK, on paper we're a good team. But to do what Trevor did last night is to virtually say that George - who is a former runner up in Brain of Britain - and Barry who is a fine quizzer too - make no contribution to the team when they are there. Which is of course nonsense. But this is the kind of area of speculation that you get into once you start messing about with handicaps.

It didn't help that it was again the kind of quiz where everyone was scoring at least 17 out of 20 on every round - which meant that to claw back the headstarts you virtually needed to get everything right, which was never going to happen. Still, we also had the unedifying experience of seeing teams who had already been given between a 10 and a 15 point head start actually outscoring us on the 50 point handout. Which begs the question - if they are that good, why the hell do they need to be given a head start in the first place ? If they're not that good - then how the hell did they all manage to score 47 out of 50 on the handout ?

Whichever way you say it, the numbers don't add up. So once again we had the bitter experience of coming 5th. It didn't make it better that we were beaten by 9 points by 2 teams, and 7 points by another 2 teams. One of the two teams who beat us by 9 had a five point head start, so would have beaten us anyway. Somehow this didn't make it any better. If we are supposed to be so good, and so much better than everyone else, how come we are getting hammered once you put the handicaps on. The handicaps are supposed to even things up, but all its doing is making me feel that we can't win before we even start - and Newport is a bloody long way to go for a quiz you can't win through no fault of your own.

Its not the money. Believe me, if the suggestion was made to scrap the prize money for 1st and 2nd, and instead keep all of the money back for the jackpot, I would be the first to put my hand up in agreement. Maybe then we could scrap the head starts - and get back to a level playing field. Because I'm sorry, but pretty much every time I've been to the quiz in the last 10 months or so the handicaps have rarely borne any real relationship to the relative strengths of the teams involved.

For what its worth -

Team A ( no names no pack drill ) had a 5 point start and beat us by 9
Team B had a 9 point start and beat us by 9
Team C had an 11 point start and beat us by 7
Team D had a 15 point start and beat us by 7
Team E had an 18 point start and lost to us by 5.
So by my reckoning, Team A should start with 5 points less than us next time - Team B the same points, Team C a 4 point head start - Team D an 8 point head start - Team E a 25 point head start. It will be interesting to see what he gives out - I bet it bears no relation to this at all. I'll let you know how things pan out next week.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Quiz Brains Race

I'll cut to the chase here. This coming Wednesday night there is the annual charity quiz for the Mayday in Melincryddan fund. That's Mayday as in celebration for the start of the 5th month of the year, and not as in - help ! Although now I come to mention it . . .

The Mayday quiz is very close to my heart. OK - its certainly not Mastermind, - its not even the CIU for that matter. But it was at the Mayday quiz in 1994 that I became a born again quizzer.

I began quizzing in 1988, the same academic year that I started teaching. A friend of mine took me out to a quiz to wet the baby's head just after my son was born. I becam a regular, was drafted onto the league team, and had a few very good years out of it. Then it kind of all died the death. The league in Port Talbot packed in, my mates stopped going, and I lost heart. It had probably been a good year or so between quizzes when my then boss asked me if I'd put together a team of kids , and play with them in the Mayday quiz in 1994. I did, and we won. I kept up appearences every couple of months at charity events locally. Next year, 1995, we lost by a point. I thought that I could either be miserable, and just go home, or I could go up and have a word and give my congratulations to the winners. Which I did.

They were a bit suspicious at first. Finally they asked me point blank words to the effect of
"You won it last year , didn't you ? " I nodded.
"Well don't take this the wrong way, but, just you with all of those kids - did you cheat ? "

They knew that Caroline, one of my team, was the granddaughter of the late Viv O'Shea, the compiler and question master. Of course, Caroline had no insider knowledge, which I was happy to point out to them. At which point they asked me to join their team in the Neath Quiz League. This led to four happy years until the League folded, during which time I think we won the winter and summer leagues every time.

Through the league team I became reacquainted with my old mate Alan Coombs, who was also putting together a team for the Morriston Hospitals League in Swansea, which I was duly drafted onto. So taking part in the Mayday quiz has led to very many happy experiences through quizzing.

OK - now apart from that first occasion in 1994, I've also won the quiz on another 2 occasions. The quiz stopped for some reason back right at the end of the 1990s, and we won it on the last ocassion that it was held. Then, two years ago in my annus mirabilis of 2007 I ot 3 of my colleagues to join me, and we on by a couple of points from my good friend Rob Merrill who was playing with non quizzing friends and family.

Fast forward to last year. We stuck with the same team of me and three non quizzing teachers from the school. Rob, though, put in a call to my best quiz mate John - regular readers of the blog will be familiar with John's work - and asked him to join them. Hmm. Well, on the night I was very pleased that we were actually joint winners - and keeping neck and neck with any team containing John and Rob when I was the only quizzer in the team was a hell of an achievement, let me tell you. However it was all decided on a tie break, and as I have told you more than once before, John is the king of the tie break - so that was us finished !

Now, John hasn't mentioned anything to me about the quiz, which makes me think that Robert hasn't asked him, or certainly hadn't asked him before Tuesday when last we played. So tonight I am very tempted to ask John if Rob has said anything to him about it. I don't even know if Rob is coming. As a friend it was left to me to try to contact him about bringing the trophy. I couldn't see him, but dropped him a line, and he rang to leave a message saying that the trophy will be there on Wednesday. But does that mean he will be there ?

Two of the team have left the school, so what I think I shall do is ask John if Rob has said anything. IfRob hasn't then I will probably ask John to play for us, as a kind of insurance policy. However if he has asked John, then I shall ask Alan and Barry tomorrow night ! Oh God - the more I think about it, the more it is becoming a quiz Arms Race ! Hence the title of this blog.

Friday, 1 May 2009

You can have kudos, or cash - but not necessarily both

Auditions, auditions.

If you care to glance back at one of the last entries I made back in December, you'll notice that one of my New Year Resolutions has been to appear on another TV or Radio quiz show. There's been little news about this in the blog since, and you may be worried that your Dave has just been sitting and scratching his backside, and doing little about it since the start of the year. Well in truth I have done a lot of sitting, and not a little scratching, but as the great Samuel Goldwyn once said, we've all passed a lot of water since then. While not exactly taking the kitchen sink approach to application, I have sent off several applications to selected shows in the interim. Most of which have come to absolutely nothing.

You see, it is a widely held belief that there are many quiz shows out there which do not encourage successful and serious quizzers to apply. As a rough rule of thumb, the amount of money on offer is in inverse proportion of the amount of knowledge or skill desired of a contestant. Hence shows without a cash prize such as Mastermind, Only Connect, University Challenge, Brain of Britain and in days gone by 15 to 1 seem to attract more knowledgable and serious quizzers than the shows that offer a large cash prize. I say 'seem to' since many of the same people attracted by these 'serious' shows do also apply to big money quizzes, but as a rule are far less successful in their applications.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Both Pat Gibson and David Edwards have won Mastermind and £1 million on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. I did rather less well on my own appearence on the show - to the tune of several zeros. The application process has been changed for Millionaire in the last couple of years. Whether this makes it easier or harder for a seriously good contestant to get on the show I couldn't say.

Granted , too, there are some shows which do offer a cash prize while actively seeking out quiz talent to appear. I think particularly of "Battle of the Brains ". Still, even in the second series of the show winning any cash at all was far from a foregone conclusion, and even for the top money-winning team I don't think that each member went away with much more than £1000. Now, don't misunderstand me, that's a nice little earner, but its not exactly life-changing. Then there's "A Question of Genius". There were some very good quizzers on the show, although I will admit that I didn't watch every episode. Top whack of £5000 was not to be sniffed at, but again, nowhere near the heights that have been available on some shows, which I would argue have been virtually impossible for the top quizzers to get onto.

So this is all a very long winded way of saying that when I fill in an application form - and lets be honest, they are all much of a muchness, regardless of which production company are making the show - I have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen once the producers read on the form that I have won Mastermind. Every TV application form I have ever filled in has always asked whether I have appeared on TV before, and if so what shows, and how did I do . So there's no hiding the Mastermind thing from them, even if I wanted to. ( I don't want to - as you have probably worked out I am far, far , far too vain about it for that. )

So I've sent out quite a number of application forms feeling deep down that I know pretty well that they're going to be rejected out of hand, but hoping that I will be proven wrong, with a kind of blind faith that is naive, but hopefully touching.

So lets cut to the chase. A TV show - and forgive me for being coy and not revealing which one, but in case I do get on I think its wise to be a little secretive for the time being - another show has called me back. I think they may be a bit keen. Anyway, the upshot was that they gave me a little test and an audition over the phone. Well and good. Then they invited me for a face to face audition. Which kind of left me wondering why we had the phone test. Unless it was an audition for an audition. So where does that end ? Think of it, I've already been through two stages of application - filling in the form, from which it was decided to give me a phone interview, then taking part in said phone interview from which it was decided to ask if I could come to a face to face audition. Could they possibly add another level of filtering ? DNA testing, perhaps ? A letter of permission from ones parents ? Well, no. Actually it was a written General Knowledge test of 25 questions before the audition actually started ! Quite fun actually.

BTW I'm not asking for sympathy here, for once. The fact is that I enjoy the whole application process, I enjoy talking to TV people on the phone, and I enjoy taking part in auditions. Mind you it does help that I'd like to get onto the show in question, but I wouldn't say that I have a burning ambition to do so, and if I don't hear anything back now it certainly won't be the end of the world.

The Quiz After the Quiz the Night Before

You may have noticed before that I quite do like to make little observations on the rules that seem to govern the corner of my life that is forever quizdom. I call to your attention Clark's Taxonomy of Questions, and various other observations from blogs gone by. Well, our performance in the CIU quiz, followed by Tuesday night's quiz at the Duke of Wellington in Cowbridge brings to mind one particular such axiom -
A good performance in a great quiz, is most likely to be followed by a relatively poor performance in an unenjoyable one -

I don't really know why this should be the case. After all I subscribe to the point of view expressed by a sportsman - some people say it was Gary Player, but I've also seen it ascribed to various cricketers - who, when told that he had been lucky answered,
" You're right. And d'you know something ? The more I practise, the luckier I get"
Translated into quiz terms it means that I believe that the more quizzes that I play in, and the more I go out of my way to learn specific things for quizzes - alright I don't do a great amount of this, I'm just too lazy, I admit - but the more I do this, the better I do , and the more that I should win. So what were our chances on Tuesday night in Cowbridge, then ? Well, in the normal run of things I would have said that they were very good. We must have played there about 8 or 9 times, and we have won every time bar one. However, the fact was that my eldest daughter Phillippa is unwell at the moment. She might not get many answers for us, but in such a tight quiz the one or two that she does get can make all of the difference.

More than that, though, was the weight of the fact that since Monday night was such a good night, the chances of Tuesday being a bad night increased exponentially . ( That's a great expression, isn't it ? I wish I knew what it really meant. )

As it transpired, it wasn't actually a bad quiz, and I would hate for you to think that I am complaining about that aspect of Tuesday night. No, and we didn't even perform that badly either. With just John and myself, we tied for first place with a team made up of 7 or 8 members. Still, we contrived to lose it on the tie break. You'll remember that my friend John is the King of the Tie Break ( Its official - we even held a coronation ceremony a couple of years ago ) However this was not a date tie break. Instead, we were asked -
How many Archbishops of Canterbury have there been since the first one ?

Now I'll admit that I didn't know. So , working from St. Augustine arriving in England in 597 we guessed that the average tenure of each one would work out to about 10 years, and so plumped for 140. I believe that the answer was 104, and the other team, who had underestimated a little bit closer than we had overestimated, won, to much general rejoicing it must be said.

So we were only beaten on the tie break, and it was a good quiz, so what's the point ? Well, the point is that although we were joint winners, the fact is that the result should never have even been put into question. We got all of the guess the year questions wrong by one year each time, and then to cap it all, we were asked which band released an album in 2008 called "The Circus ". I actually bought that for Mrs. Clark at Christmas ( not her ONLY present, before I get accused of being stingy ) . I bought the album for her, yet could I remember that it was by Take That ? Could I hell ! A point lost, and with it the win. Which is corroboration of the point I'm trying to make - good performances are often followed by bad.


OK then - I did suggest last week that I might find it easier to post a quiz of 40 questions once a month rather than a quiz of 10 questions once a week. As it happens I compiled the quiz for Thursday night in the Aberavon Rugby club, so here is precisely half of that quiz . Its a little easier than the weekend mini quizzes have been - apologies for that.
Target - the winning team had scored 33 after these first 40 questions.

1) What was the first song that Susan Boyle sang on Britain's Got Talent ?

2) The Imperial War Museum North can be found in which English city ?

3) Which mammal is responsible for more human deaths than any other mammal except for other humans ?

4) Who was the first commander of the British Expeditionary force in World War I ?

5) Which well known novel was set on the Canadian Province of Prince Edward Island ?

6) Which seafood dish is named after a month in the french Revolutionary Calendar ?

7) Which were the first five words recorded by Thomas Edison on his first phonograph ?

8) Which model of car is driven by Gene Hunt in Ashes to Ashes ?

9) Kenny Rogers had 2 solo number 1s in the UK - Lucille was one - which was the other ?

10) The badge of which cricket county has the emblem of a Tudor rose ?

11) News - how much do you have to earn per year in order to start paying the new 50p tax bracket announced in last week's budget ?

12) Which world - famous thoroughfare is known as the Great White Way ?

13) Which two diseases are caused by the varicella virus ?

14) Charlemagne was crowned as the very first what in 800 AD ?

15) Which German composer was Liszt's son in law ?

16) Which of the disciples of Jesus was his brother ?

17) Which number is represented by I00I in binary ?

18) You've got a friend in me is the theme to which animated film ?

19) Waterloo Road is set in which Lancashire town ?

20) Current manager of Chelsea Guus Hiddink has had success with several international sides. Which country did he take to the semi finals of the 2002 world cup ?

21) Which island combined with Tanganyika to form Tanzania ?

22) What is the name of the flap of cartilage that prevents food and drink from entering the windpipe when swallowing ?

23) Since Queen Anne, which monarch has had the most number of different Prime Ministers during his or her reign ?

24) In which beach in the North of England can you find Anthony Gormley's cast iron life size statues standing on the beach, and out into the sea ?

25) What is the new name of Norwich Union ?

26) Where would you find the volcano Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in the Solar System ?

27) The Specials have announced that they are reforming to go on tour. What were the titles of their 2 number 1 singles ?

28) Hannah Montana is played by an actress whose father had a top ten single in the UK - what was it called ?

29) Formula 1. Which other team has exactly the same markings as the red bull renault team ?

30) What is the name of the former Britain's top anti terrorist policeman who inadvertantly gave away details of suspects and then resigned ?

31) The Croatian Seaport of Riyeka is located on which sea that forms part of the Mediterranean?

32) What name is given to the two leg bones between the knee and the ankle ?

33) The Black Death first came to Britain during the reign of which King ?

34) What number was Schubert's Unfinished symphony ?

35) What is obtained from the plant camelia sinensis ?

36) What does the acronym VTOL stand for ?

37) Who or what links the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Tim Nice-But-Dim ?

38) The TV series Total Wipeout sends contestants to take part in an assault course in which country ?

39) Name the 2 scottish players selected for the Lions

40) Gordon Brown recently made an unauthorised appearence in which cartoon show, trying to borrow money from aliens ?