Wednesday, 31 March 2010

TV Watch - Only Connect

Only Connect – Semi Final ½ - The Archers Admirers v. The Gamblers

On paper this week’s show was the ‘good enough to be a final’ semi final. We had one last year as well, you may recall. I’m not trying to be rude to both the Strategists and the Hitchhikers, who will contest next week’s show, but the fact is that the two teams in this week’s show have been the pick of the bunch in the two rounds so far. The Archer’s Admirers, Paul Peters, Andrew Bull and captain Min Lacey, have shown all round excellence, and set the highest scores in both the first and second rounds. The Gamblers meanwhile, Jenny Ryan, Alan Gibbs, and captain Dave Bill have set the second highest scores in both rounds, and are known for their all round quiz excellence. So who do you pick. Well, my ‘gun against the head and forced to make a choice’ prediction last week was the Archers. So how did it all pan out ?

Round One – What’s the connection ?

The Gamblers kicked off with alpha and landed the picture connection. Offered a coin, the crossed swords of the hands of Victory in Baghdad, a plaque on the side of Nelson’s column, and the Victoria cross, neither team could see the proper connection. The Victoria cross, I will be honest was the only one I knew was made from melted down guns, and so I wouldn’t have had that one either. Hey, it’s the semis – its meant to be hard. The Archers got the music connection which I had on 2 ! Kiki Dee – Bobby Vee and Danny Kaye gave them singers whose surnames are letters of the alphabet. Now that’s a nice connection. Purple dye, the Lascaux Cave Paintings, James Cracknell’s medals, and the Jules Rimet trophy gave the Gamblers a set that were all found/recovered by dogs. Very good shout there, I thought. The Archers took triangle, and then when their second clue – pi – radians came up I gave up at once.Andrew, though, confidently supplied the answer of 180 degrees – internal angles of a triangle etc. Very good work, and you have to say that the Archers were making the running at this stage. The Gamblers were given a cryptic – bottle = drink, silk = bail out, roof = get angry, and Jenny realised at the same time as me that the connection was –hit the. To be fair she was under pressure in the studio and I wasn’t. The Archers finished with Sister Rosetta Tharp, Zadie Smith, David Walliams and st. Paul. I was as nonplussed as the Archers were, but the Gamblers knew it. All of them had changed their name by one letter. Damn good shout – like all the best connections to get wrong, you can see it clearly once you know. A timely shout from the Gamblers meant that the Archers only finished the round 5 – 4 ahead.

Round Two – What comes 4th ?

The Gamblers began with 0 = black , 1 = brown, 2 = red, and I = confused. So were both teams. 3 actually equals orange, as it is a sequence of colour coding of resistors. You pays yer money . . . The Gamblers had 29/11/1192 – and I cheated by putting the pause button on the iplayer while I worked it out for 5 points here. It was obviously palindromic dates, but what came 4th ? With a second to go, Min and the boys worked out it would be 01/02/2010.The Gamblers were given the pictures, and began with the national flag of Afghanistan. Well, Afghanistan is alphabetically the first country, so working alphabetically, it would give you the flags of Albania, Algeria, and for the point – Andorra. The team worked hard for the point here. Well worked out. Woodrow Wilson 1944, Harry S. Truman 1975, Richard Nixon 1995 escaped both teams. Although I noticed Dave of the Gamblers just got it too late – the last being Riachrd Nixon 2008. The connection was when actors playing these roles were nominated for Oscars. Tricky, but once again, it’s a semi final. The Gamblers correctly predicted that 1947 India would follow 1944 Iceland, 1945 Korea, and 1946 Syria, these being the years in which they gained independence. Given Esteem, Love and Safety the Archers had to pass, and although the Gamblers could see it was the hierarchy of needs, they didn’t get it was physiological needs. Not surprised, either.
So a tough round of sequences, well played by both teams, took the score to 8 – 7 in favour of the Gamblers. So far so much to plan – I had the Gamblers as slightly better on the first two rounds in the previous matches. So what would the walls bring ?

Round Three – The Connecting Walls

The Archers took the first go. In a nasty wall they found a set of terriers, and then a set of names meaning red, then what looked a little like inspired hitting and hoping solved the whole thing with seconds to spare. The other two sets were surnames from Sex and the City, and words which follow the word blood – which they failed to identify. So 7 points altogether. The Gamblers followed, and they were given the alpha wall. Jenny took my breath away with the speed at which she identified that Cabbage Patch Kids, Superman, Moses and Kate Aide were all adopted. A set of baskets followed shortly after. So plenty of time was left in which to use the three chances for the last two lines. Again , it looked like Jenny who figured out that four of the words could be doubled with themselves to make song titles – eg sugar sugar – louie louie etc. The last lot were all Dickie’s, which Dave seemed to realise as they were giving answers to the others. So a full house, which gave them a 4 point lead of 18 to 14. Now, gentle readers, if you read my preview of the semi finals, I said that I thought that the Gamblers needed a 4 point lead going into the missing vowels round, which the Archers have been superb in. They had just such a lead. Grandstand finish to come ? You bet.

Round Four – The Missing Vowels

The first set was Subtitles of novels. 2 – 1 to the Gamblers. The next set was Greek Gods and their roman equivalents. At this point the Gamblers held a 6 point advantage. 4 points of which disappeared as Paul and Andrew shut them out completely. The next set was famous football derbies. The first two fell to the Archers. We were all square ! 6 unanswered points didn’t become seven though, as Alan buzzed in for the next, and Dave, the one after that. Two point lead duly restored. The next category was railways and rail services. Alan identified the Shinkansen, and that was it, game over.

So the Gamblers won a match which always promised to be as good as a final, by 21 to 24. Many commiserations to the Archers. You have been a very fine team, and you never know, had the draw for the semis worked out another way, you might well have made the final. That’s the luck of the draw. I do apologise with landing you with the curse of the Clark sofa. Gamblers – I take my hat off to you. You've made a bit of a nonsense of my pre-match prediction, but I don’t mind at all. To use a sporting analogy, your performance on the wall tonight was worth the price of the entry ticket by itself. I wish you the very best of luck in the final.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

TV Watch - University Challenge

University Challenge – Semi Final 2/2 Manchester v. Emmanuel , Cambridge

My friends in the Manchester team arrived in the semis after comprehensively beating St. Andrews, drawing with finalists St. John’s Oxford then losing on a tie break, and then beating Edinburgh in an exciting and closely fought contest. Emmanuel had a smoother passage through the quarters, comfortably beating Jesus College and Imperial. So did that make them the favourites for this evening ? Well, yes, perhaps, but even then there was the lingering suspicion of their vulnerability , due to their first round defeat by Regent’s Park College.

Jenny Harris showed that she had no intention of allowing this to be the Alex Guttenplan show as she took the first starter – which provided my interesting fact of the week – for Emmanuel. Bonuses requiring knowledge of Jane Austen and the Smiths fell to them, but they missed out on 3 Men in A Boat. Shame on you ! Jenny Harris also took the second, identifying the Forest of Arden from a set of definitions. Once again, two out of three bonuses fell their way. Miss Harris tried valiantly for her hat trick, identifying the painter of The Boating Party as Seurat, but it was in fact Renoir. No points to either side. If you remember Emmanuel’s match against Imperial you’ll recall that captain Alex Guttenplan took some time to get into his stride. Not tonight, as he confidently took the next starter, to earn a bonus on diplomatic crises in the late 19th and early 20th century. True to form, 2 bonuses were taken. The next starter, requiring an identification of a quote by WC Fields, fell to Mr. Guttenplan, making it 2 – all. That’s 2 – all between himself and Jenny Harris. Nobody else of either team had yet got a look in.

I loved the next starter – which made it 3 – 2 to Mr. G. – which meant identifying the English translation of Audere est Facere. Being a Spurs supporter I knew it meant to Dare is To Do. I loved the bonuses on latin mottos of other teams in the Premiership – I just knew Everton’s would be there, and it came up as the first bonus. Enough bragging.

With a lead of 90 to –5 Emmanuel had got off to the best possible start, but my guys from Manchester are a tough lot, and captain Jakob Whitfield stopped the rot, identifying the animal in an Albrecht Durer engraving as a rhinoceros. One bonus was taken to reduce the deficit to 80 points. Two thirds of the contest still remained – plenty of time, albeit that cool heads and quick buzzer fingers were called for. Josh Scott of Emmanuel claimed the next starter, rightly thinking that Milton rhymed with Hylton, Stilton etc. He obviously enjoyed the experience so much that he repeated it, taking the next . The set of bonuses on web comics again brought them 2 bonuses. Alex Guttenplan took the next starter, one of those cryptic things he excels at , basically identifying the word spelled out by names of four people – the last of who was John KAY . You get it now.

On 13 minutes Jakob took Manchester’s second starter by identifying Archbishop Thomas Cranmer as the man who presided over Henry VIII’s divorces. The bonuses took them up to 35 points, but Emmanuel had already scored 145 as we neared the halfway mark. Neither side recognised Delibes, but Nick Daunt recognised a nova when he heard one described, and brought Manchester their third starter. Alas, they took no bonuses on waltzes.Still, at least it was the start of a mini roll as Jakob took the next starter, correctly seeing the connection between Athena and the owl. Jenny Harris impressed, unravelling the last words of The Ancient Mariner read in reverse order. Good shout !This was followed by what I like to think of as an Ask the Family question. It began – if an airplane is travelling due west at an airspeed of etc. etc. Alex Guttenplan buzzed in even as the last word of the question was still expiring on JP’s lips, but for once got it wrong. Jakob made no mistake , though, and pulled his team ever closer to the 100 point mark. Two bonuses on decades in which dictionaries were first published brought them up to 85. Tom Whyman buzzed in first to give three states of the USA on the gulf of Mexico. 2 came at once, one didn’t, and so over to Alex G. for a bonus duly snapped up .

On the twenty minute mark Emmanuel were in cruise control mode. That Man Guttenplan snapped up a chemical element bonus simpler than it looked, where the symbols were arranged in alphabetical order, and ag – for silver – was missing. The set of bonuses took Emmanuel through the 200 point barrier. Alas, poor Manchester, the match was over by this point, but at least we were given the treat of watching Emmanuel try to become the first team this series to break through the 300 point barrier. With 5 minutes to go they reached 250. Jenny Harris buzzed and then hesitated, and this time JP was firm. Nick Daunt took his second starter now, correctly identifying a definition of the derivation of the word – undermining . Our own Rach Cherryade gave captain Jakob two correct answers for legal terms for bonuses. It looked like she gave another correct one too, but it was overruled. Never mind – captaincy is a dirty job, but someone has to do it. Manchester at least were now in triple points. So yes, they were going down, but they were going down fighting.

Two Guttenplan interruptions, and one from Jenny Harris brought Emmanuel three unanswered starters, which , together with bonuses, pushed them through the magic 300 point barrier, the first team to achieve it this series. Tom Whyman of Manchester took the next, identifying the word Port as being part of the names of the capitals of Mauritius, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea . No prizes for guessing who took the next starter, though. The gong followed soon after, with the final score of 315 to 120.

Our Jeremy crossed his arms, turned to Manchester and said “Well, I’m surprised that you didn’t do better. You got off to a terrible start. “ Nothing like a few ill chosen words to rub salt into the wounds. To be fair, he did say to Manchester that they were a great team, and this is only fair for they have been. Tom, Rach, Jakob and Nick, here’s thanks for the wonderful, exciting matches you’ve given us this year. Don’t feel bad about this – you played a great series, and there’s no shame at all in losing out to a team as good as this Emmanuel outfit.

As for Emmanuel – congratulations of course ! A superb performance against a Manchester team who are far too good to have been taken lightly. I await a cracking final.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

When Alex Guttenplan suggested that the motto Proud in Battle belonged to Hull City, JP replied “Hull ? HULL ? !” in exactly the same tone of voice that Peter Kay described his dad saying “Garlic Bread ??!!!”
When Manchester offered Strauss as the composer of their third waltz, JP tmoved on from Peter Kay to John McEnroe “You can’t be serious ! Its Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake “

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

The name George – my middle name – derives from the greek for farmer or earthworker.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Boot Sale Tales - 2

I’ve been at the boot sale again this morning. Well, you know how it is. Or maybe you don’t. It doesn’t really matter but whatever your own experience of boot saling, I took Mrs. Londinius and daughter number 4 to a boot sale, and we all picked up daughter number 1 from her flat while we were on the way. Yes, I know that this is going on a bit, but I like to think that these small vignettes add a little homely feel to a blog entry, don’t you ? Oh well, please yourself.

I picked up something which is not a quiz book as such, but is not without its own interest. If you’ve been quizzing for a while, you might just remember a series of quiz books , from the 90s, published by a company called Right Way. I remembered them mainly because of playing in a Sunday night quiz league in Cardiff and district at that time. One of our team recognised a set of a dozen or so consecutive questions one Sunday as all coming from Right Way’s Question Setters Quiz Book, Quirky Quizzes, or Question Masters Quiz Book - I forget exactly which one but it was one of that series. The rest of the team all hurriedly got hold of copies of the book, and for a couple of weeks it worked like a charm, until the setter switched sources. Whether someone had tipped him off that people knew where he was getting a sizeable proportion of his questions, or whether he changed sources as a matter of course I couldn’t say.

So when I saw a copy of Right Way’s How to Run a Quiz, I felt a little nostalgic. Now, I’ve been setting quizzes on a regular basis in the Aberavon Rugby Club for 15 years, so of course I think that I already know how to run a quiz. Still, the book was only 50p, and as in anything else, you should always be looking to learn if there are any ways that you can improve upon what you do, so I bought it anyway.

The usual boot sale drill is that I go round quickly, and then return to the car to enjoy the thrill of the first read of any purchases while Mrs. L. and the girls do their stuff. So when I got back to the car I began to look at the book a little more closely. It’s a little bit misleading calling it How To Run A Quiz. I mean, it does actually tell you how to run a quiz, but it only takes 42 of its 188 pages to do so. The rest of it is ‘sample questions’. Which is a little ironic, since one of the pieces of advice that the book gives you is
“it is inadvisable to use questions from published quiz books “.
Alright, I am taking that a little out of context. Basically the author, Dave Cornish, says that you should use quiz book questions as a starting point, to suggest better questions to you. I wouldn’t disagree with that, but I certainly wouldn’t say that you should never lift questions directly from quiz books. I just wouldn’t take a whole set. Cherry picking seems a reasonable way of doing it to me.

One thing I find interesting is the wide range of different types of quizzes that Dave Cornish gives you advice on running. I’ve no idea if he’s still doing it or not, but certainly at the time, he got around a bit, in quiz terms. The book was first published in 1992, which was actually right towards the end of my first incarnation as a quizzer. Due to break up of teams I was in, quiz friends being ill or becoming disillusioned, and general not-being-bothered-about-it-ness, I hardly went to any quizzes at all in 1992 - 4. I have made up for it a bit since. Still, things definitely were different in quizdom in the late 80s and early 90s. As late as 1995, when I became a born-again quizzer, I could play in three separate quiz leagues during the week. Now there’s only Bridgend still going strong locally. There seemed to be a lot more open charity quizzes then as well- this may be distance lending enchantment to the view, but it seemed like there was one in Port Talbot alone every month or so back then. There were annual local events too, for example in Port Talbot the Eddie Roberts, in Aberavon Quins Rugby Club, where I would dearly have loved to have been on the winning team once, but never was.

All this was brought back to me in the section where Mr. Cornish discusses quiz formats, and he gives you quite a few of these. Individual quizzes, for example. Head to head formats. Mastermind type formats. I’ll be honest, the only individual quiz I’ve ever taken part in away from TV, radio or Grand Prix was on the night of the finals of the 1988 Port Talbot Quiz League, where each team was invited to send one member to compete head to head for the individual trophy. Yes, I did, thanks for asking, although the trophy itself went the way of all flesh yonks back. He talks about how to set out the teams, and where to accommodate the audience . Audience ? Blimey, its difficult enough to get enough teams to run a quiz sometimes, let alone an audience. He even gives you a circuit diagram to make your own buzzers for a quickfire quiz – (I quote – “ for safety reasons , always run it off batteries and NOT the mains “ Quite. ) .

I was also interested, for reasons which I shall explain, in some of the things he brought up about what I shall call, for want of a better phrase, quiz etiquette . For one thing, this piece of advice had me diving for my biro : -

“ However attractive it may appear , never allow one team/person to mark the answers of another. “

As it happens, in the Thursday night quiz in Aberavon Rugby Club we do collect all of the rounds in, and either the question master, or sometimes a specialist marker, will mark them, but this method is very much the exception to the rule nowadays. Mr. Cornish cites his reasons for this piece of advice as – loss of tempo – disruption with teams trying to find out what others are prepared to accept as correct , which leads to – inconsistency .
Almost every quiz I go to now is a ‘swap your answers quiz’ and there’s a whole unspoken etiquette to avoid the above. For one thing, getting teams to hand in to a central marker is every bit as frustrating and time consuming as getting them to swap amongst themselves. As for the rest, I thought that it was fairly well understood in quizzes that you give the benefit of the doubt to the answerer, that is, if the answer has the gist, yet maybe not the exact wording, you give them the mark anyway. If you can’t make the call, then you ask the question master , who as we know IS ALWAYS RIGHT EVEN WHEN HE IS CLEARLY WRONG.

To be fair to Dave Cornish, as I’ve said the quiz landscape is quite a bit different from the way it was 20 years ago. Also, I do agree with a huge amount of what he says about setting a quiz. He is absolutely right to stress that it is crucial to get the phrasing of your question right – I’ve always said that this is a sadly neglected aspect of the question master’s craft in many , many of the quizzes I’ve played in. I also whole heartedly agree that its worth taking time and trouble to set the level of the quiz as appropriately as you can. I just don’t see why anyone would want to ask a question which not only does no one answer, but which they know that nobody will possibly be able to answer.

Moving away from the book, and returning to the question of quiz etiquette, the reason why I bring it up is that for years I have followed what I have always felt to be a generally accepted rule, which is, when a name is asked for in a question or a handout, unless a first name is specifically asked for, then a surname is quite sufficient. For which reason, unless absolutely certain it is usually better to just put down a Christian name. Now, last Monday night I accompanied my son to a quiz in Cardiff, which is a bit run of the mill, but has the distinct advantage of giving away a £100 first prize every week. I’m sure you can see the appeal. For the handout, which was photographs of famous sportspeople, we followed normal procedure of only putting surnames. The bloke who marked our paper wrote all over it, in green ink, which should have told me something -
– and refused to give marks until he was told to by the question master. I mean, when we put Best under a picture of George Best, I would have thought that it was fairly obvious that we didn’t mean Susan, Bert or even Baby David Best. Likewise Davydenko. At least the question master had the moral fibre to back us up on this one. Still, it did make me wonder what on earth would have possessed him to make such a fuss about it. Maybe the 12 points by which we beat him and his team to the money had something to do with it . So it is true, even in a social quiz, radix malorum est cupiditas. Either that or he was drunk. Or both.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Answers to those Family Fortunes questions

Look, I don't like to encourage this sort of question, but by popular demand here are the answers to those Family Fortunes questions I mentioned last week in my post Blame it on the Boot Sale.

Name a London Railway Station apart from Euston : -
Kings Cross - 29
Victoria - 25
Paddington - 20
Waterloo - 12
St. Pancras - 10

Name a dangerous instrument for a nude musician to play : -
Cymbals - 32
Accordion - 18
Double Bass - 18
Cello - 13
Harp - 12
Drums - 5

The handout, not to my surprise, but very much to my frustration, went down a treat. Just one of the sacrifices we sometimes have to make to stay true to our craft.

March Quiz

Ok - it was my turn to do the quiz for the rugby club this week. Following a couple of weeks of unusually difficult quizzes I deliberately set an easier one than what we've been having. So there's a real preponderance of old chestnuts here. As a rough guide, the team that went on to win the quiz scored 36 on these. Good luck.

Round One

1) This year is the 25th anniversary of on an internet address. But which word does com actually stand for ?

2) Where is your axilla ?

3) In which range of hills does the River Mersey have its source ?

4) Who created the detective Mike Hammer ?

5) Which island in New York was the disembarkation point for immigrants throughout the 19th and early 20th century ?

6) Which soft french cheese has a name which means Port of Safety ?

7) Chernobyl – site of the 1986 nuclear power station meltdown, was then in the Soviet Union. Which country is it in now ?

8) In which film did Robin Williams play DJ Adrian Cronauer ?

9) What was unusual about the doctor in Star Trek Voyager ?

10) In which sport might you perform a telemark landing ?

11) Following two deaths last week there have been calls for which legal stimulant drug to be banned ?

12) What type of fruit is a biffin ?

13) In Greek Mythology, who escaped from the labyrinth aided by a ball of wool ?

14) BD is the first part of the postcode of which UK city ?

15) In the Netherlands, which word is used for lands which have been reclaimed from the sea ?

16) In the food industry – what does TVP stand for ?

17) What is the main difference between refracting and reflecting telescopes ?

18) Reggae Reggae Sauce, available in all good supermarkets, is the most famous product which to come about through which TV show ?

19) Which 3 words complete the full title of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s Je T’aime ?

20) In which year was the football world cup final between Italy and Brazil decided on penalties ?

21) Whose face appeared on English banknotes before Elizabeth II ?

22) What type of fin is a fishes tail ?

23) Who composed the Liverpool Oratorio ?

24) Which Radnorshire town is known as the town on the dyke ?

25) Which two nations fought the Battle of Marathon ?

26) Which cartoon strip heroine was created for the Evening Standard newspaper in 1966 by Peter O’Donnell ?

27) When does a meteor become a meteorite ?

28) What started in Singapore in 1940, and ended in Hongkong in 1962 ?

29) The French song Comme d’Habitude was better known in the version with English lyrics by Paul Anka – how do we know it ?

30) In formula 1, what name is given to the area where the winning cars must be parked for a final inspection ?

31) He Pingping died last week. Why was this in the news ?

32) Which bird is also called a laverock ?

33) All that Glisters is not gold is a quotation from which of Shakespeare’s plays ?

34) Which is the largest country through which the Tropic of Capricorn passes ?

35) The hexagonal columns of the Giants Causeway in Antrim are formed from which rock ?

36) What is the difference between a hitch and a splice ?

37) What do the letters PH stand for, as in PH scale ?

38) In Pinocchio, which character sings “When you wish upon a star “ ?

39) Which Sci Fi Tv show began with the words “There is nothing wrong with your TV set – do not adjust the picture “

40) Who was the first person to captain a winning Britain and Europe team in the Ryder cup ?

Friday, 26 March 2010

Mastermind - First Round - Heat 23/24

You know me well enough by now. I do like a closely fought contest, but if I can’t have that, then I’ll gladly settle for a virtuoso performance from one of the contenders. I’ll leave it to you to decide which of these we got tonight.

Our first contender tonight was the first one who has previous form for quite some time. Kathryn Johnson has competed twice before. However its not just in Mastermind that she has previous form. Kathryn Johnson is currently ranked within the top 20 quizzers – of either gender – in the whole country. As such, I expected fireworks. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Kathryn offered us Victorian and Edwardian Poisoners , an interesting subject indeed, for her specialist round. I was interested to hear her say in her filmed insert that in the 19th century, if you poisoned someone you actually had a 70% chance of getting away with it. This was a fine round, with Kathryn confidently batting back some quite involved and complicated questions, setting the target at 15 and 1 pass.

Daniel Tudor was the first of three Mastermind newcomers to follow Kathryn to the chair. His specialist subject was the Life and Music of Lead Belly. Huddie William Leadbetter was an American folk and blues musician . According to Mr. Tudor , in his filmed insert he heavily influenced American folk and blues music from the 1950s onwards, and pointed out that the White Stripes use one of his songs in their stage performances. I’ve no doubt that Mr. Tudor know his subject, but a couple of early questions floored him, and this , allied to what seemed quite a bad attack of nerves, meant that he was never really able to build up a head of steam. He finished the round with 8.

Bishop John Robinson – no – he wasn’t the next contender, but the next specialist subject, and he was offered to us by Andy Lie. Mr. Lie explained that Robinson, at one time the bishop of Woolwich, and the Dean of Trinity College Cambridge, was an influential cleric who was open to inspiration from other traditions of faith encountered on his international travels. Mr. Lie made quite heavy weather of this round. He seemed rather overcome by the speed required, and did struggle his way to 7 points.

Youngest contender of the week was Gavin Fraser, a student whose specialist subject was The Football World Cup from 1930 – 58 , in what passed for the most obviously populist specialist round of this week. Mr. Fraser certainly knew his stuff. There were a few old stagers to begin with – Fontaine and Belo Horizonte for example, but plenty of far more obscure stuff too. For example, I didn’t know that it was Stan Mortensen who scored England’s first ever goal in the world cup finals. A good round saw Mr. Fraser take his score to 13.

Andy Lie was first to return for the General Knowledge round. I’m afraid that his general round made his specialist round look positively relaxed by comparison. He knew , obviously knew, more than the three questions he managed to answer, but he just couldn’t drag many of the answers past the tip of his tongue. He finished with 10 points. Daniel Tudor at least managed to match his first round score in his general round. Its all relative, I know, but I found his set of questions to be a bit more difficult than the other three sets of GK questions. Its just the luck of the draw. Still, at least his final score of 16 was enough to give him the lead, albeit only for a couple of minutes inevitably.

Gavin Fraser followed. While it never looked likely that he was going to post a target that would prevent any real problems to Kathryn, I he did have at least an outside chance of pushing his way onto the runner up board. He’d need 12 to do it , though, and after the first minute this looked unlikely. Younger contenders are often at a disadvantage in the GK rounds I feel, and viewed in this light his 9 was a decent battling performance. He finished with 22.

Right, time for a little bragging. Before tonight’s show, the last two people to score 30 in proper Mastermind were Nancy in last year’s final , and myself in the previous final. Yes, there were quite a few other scores of 30 or better in my series too, but certainly since then 30 point scores have become pretty rare. Kathryn’s round looked like a winner right from the start. I’ve seen people answer more quickly, but when you are getting so many of them right as Kathryn did, then you do build up an almost irresistible momentum. The target was easily reached, and then she pushed on, and hit 30 with a question to spare. 15 is a terrific score on GK, and this was the first 30 we’ve seen this series. I think John Humphrys called it a ‘stonking’ score, and he’s right. Congratulations, Kathryn. Who is to say we won’t have a second female champion in 2 years ?

The Details

Kathryn Johnson Victorian and Edwardian Poisoners 15 – 1 15 – 2 30 – 3
Daniel Tudor The Life and Music of Lead Belly 8 –3 8 – 6 16 – 9
Andy Lie Bishop John Robinson 7 – 2 3 – 3 10 – 5
Gavin Fraser The Football World Cup – 1930 – 58 13 – 2 9 – 6 22 – 8

Current Highest Scoring Runners Up

John Cooper29 – 3
Ian Scott Massie26 – 2
Les Morrell26 - 3
Colin Wilson25 - 0
Peter Cowans25 - 2
William de'Ath25 - 4

Only Connect - Semi Final Preview

On Monday we move into the semi-finals on Only Connect. I’ve been having a little look at the teams’ relative strengths based on their performances in the first round and the quarter finals.

The first semi matches the team who had the best scores in both the first round and the quarter finals , the Archers Admirers, with the team who had the second best score in both the first round and the quarter finals, the Gamblers. I guess it’s the luck of the draw that this ends up being a semi final match rather than a final.
Now both teams have LAM readers among them, so let there be no accusations of unfair bias in the analysis which follows.

The Archers have achieved an average total score of 34 in their first two matches, while the Gamblers have achieved an average of 30. Impressively high in both cases. Looking at their relative performances in the first round, there is virtually nothing to choose between both teams. The Gamblers have twice managed 5 points, while the Archers are a little less consistent with a 2 and a 4. Going on the two teams' last performances I think we can say that both teams will probably get all of their connections, but it’s a question of how many points they’ll do it for. Gambling to go for 3 points off two clues could be a risky strategy but one which might pay dividends. In round two, where they have to predict the 4th in a sequence there really doesn't seem to be so much to chose between the two teams. Still the form guide, when you take both first round and quarter final matches into consideration suggests a slight lead for the Gamblers going into round three. With the walls, the Archers have solved both of theirs, which seems to give them a clear advantage. Yet so much depends on the luck of the draw as to which wall you get, and I wouldn’t like to read anything into this. However the Archers have scored very heavily in the missing vowels round both times. The Gamblers have done well in this round too, but not quite as well. Could just be down to the opposition both teams faced.

All of this makes it a very close contest to call. IMHO the Gamblers need a gap of a good 3 or 4 points going into the last round . They may find it a tall order. Having said that, the Gamblers won’t give away anything to the Archers in terms of bonuses.

Moving to the second semi for a moment, we are in the position of having a clear underdog. The Strategists have an average total score for the two matches of 26.5, while the Hitchhikers have an average total of 18. The Strategists’ superiority doesn’t show in the teams’ scores for the first or second rounds, which are very similar. However when we look at the connecting walls the Strategists have twice completely solved their walls, while the Hitchhikers have not yet managed to do it. The Hitchhikers were very solid on the missing vowels round in their heat, but struggled in the quarter final match, and could have lost . The Strategists have scored very well in their heat, and solidly in their quarter final match.

Its possibly actually a closer match up than it looks on paper. As with the first semi, any huge difference between the relative performance of the teams comes down to the connecting walls. The difference here though is that the Hitchhikers just haven’t shown any form on the wall to date.

SO what are my predictions ? I find semi final 2 easier to call than semi final 1. I’m not saying that the Hitchhikers can’t win, but I am saying that – and this is only my opinion – the Strategists have been the more impressive team in two rounds, and so I feel they are the more likely winners of this semi. Feel free to disagree. As for the first semi, I know that both teams are capable of winning the whole series. I think that there won’t be much in it at all, and it will come down to one or two calls. Put a gun against my head and order me to pick a winner, and I would say that the Archers have the highest scores so far, they’d been slightly more consistent, so they’re what I’d go for. Once again, do feel free to disagree.

Relative performances

Semi final 1

Team/match Round1 round 2 round 3 round 4 total
Archers Admirers –Heat 2 6 10 17 35
Archers Admirers – Quarter 4 7 10 12 33
Gamblers – Heat 5 5 10 11 33
Gamblers – Quarter 5 10 4 8 27

Semi Final 2

Team/match Round1 round 2 round 3 round 4 total
Hitchhikers - Heat 53211 21
Hitchhikers – quarter337215
Strategists – Heat54101231
Strategists – quarter 1410722

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

TV Watch - Only Connect

Only Connect – Quarter Final 4/4 – Gamblers v. Bowlers

OC is a week behind UC. So while the latter gave us the first semi final last night, OC gives us the last of the quarters. An interesting lineup it is too, albeit that Victoria is less than complimentary about the teams, inviting us, as she does, to ‘gawp at the freaks. “ I bet Jeremy Paxman wishes he’d come up with that one himself.

The Gamblers, so impressive in their first round performance , are Jenny Ryan, Alan Gibbs, and LAM reader Dave Bill. You might remember that they beat the Insurers in the first round by a whopping 33 points to 14. As very good, very experienced quiz hands you’d expect to get a good run for your money from this team of thoroughbreds. Opposing them tonight were the Bowlers. Michelle O’Callaghan, David Bowers, and captain Stuart Lightfoot won a superbly close match against the Booksellers in the first round, whom they beat by 23 – 22. In my form guide at the end of the first round I put them just into the lower half of the draw at number 5, to the Gamblers’ ranking at number 2. Were they going to beat the odds ? Dave Bill, playing the wily punter, rated the chances as 50/50 straight down the middle.

Round One – what’s the connection ?

Gamblers began with the Music Connection. They identified , Why don’t you get a job, Hey Jude, and Daniel, but didn’t get the theme music from Exodus. So they failed to see they were books from the Bible. The Bowlers also missed what has to be seen as a gilt edged chance for a bonus. Bowlers picked epsilon, which gave them a set of pictures. A tin of Quality Street, a hat and a neon sign for the play the Mousetrap sent them down the wrong way , and they offered longest running things. Incorrect. The Gamblers went close, getting that plays were the connection, but they weren’t precise enough that they were all named after plays . They got their chance again, though, with Yulia Tymoshenko, and then Violetta Chamorro. It looked like Alan who solved this one, as they correctly explained that these were all the first – in some cases only – female leaders of their countries. 3 points well earned. Delta gave the Bowlers Helios – Artemis – then Khufu.At this point I did see the connection, but the Bowlers took the 4th, Mausollos to be sure. All of them were connected with the 7 wonders of the world . Damn fine connection, if I might say so. So the Gamblers took their third set with beta. I think in this case I might have gone for the full five – as allied d-day aircraft said only one thing to me – the black and white invasion stripes on their wings. I think dolichohippus and greyhound number 6 made it pretty clear, and the Gamblers were happy to take their 2 points. Another lovely connection. I struggled a bit with the next one – birdsong – breakout – shotgun, only just figuring out as the Bowlers did, that each word is made of two, and you can swap the order around to make a brand new word. So, after this the Gamblers led by 5 – 3.

Round Two – what comes fourth ?

Full credit to the Gamblers for unravelling this one on just two clues . EAT =+3, CAT=+2. They could see it referred to abbreviations for time zones, and how many hours ahead of GMT they are. Which of course gave them GMT =0. For good measure they could have identified the third one as well. Good play. Bowlers were given Triton, Titania, Titan. They knew it was moons, but offered Earth’s moon. As the Gamblers knew full well, Triton is Neptune’s largest, Titania , Uranus’ and Titan, Saturn’s. Which of course meant all they had to do was identify Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede, which they did. So with the Gamblers comfortably into their running, and finding the going beginning to suit, they were given gopiyantra, ehru, balalaika. Alan could see it was all about strings on instruments. They guessed violin, not knowing whether the number was right. It was, though, and as such they got the point. Bowlers needed points now, and they got one, for identifying a picture of an S- Bend, then a T – Junction, then a U-Boat, and correctly predicting a v-something would follow. The Gamblers’ last of the round gave them a terrific set of King Eric – then divisions of Switzerland. Jenny pounced on King Eric as being Cantona, they all knew about swiss cantons, and so if you followed the logic, then the 4th would be cant – as in children’s TV legend Brian Cant. Lovely sequence again . The poor old Bowlers had a sequence which foxed me too. 6 = line, 4=corner, 3 = street meant nothing to either of us. The Gamblers, living up to their name, correctly predicted2=split, which is a term in roulette. That’s the luck of the draw. So the Gamblers led by 15 to 5, and at this stage were winning at an easy canter.

Round Three – the connecting walls

Victoria reassured them that which ever wall they chose it would be horrible. This is the quarter final. The Bowlers messed around a bit trying to find the right set of British record labels. A while later they unravelled a set of words which could be followed by monkey. They then understood that whales, grease, Columbia etc. were all countries’ names that can be spelt differently to make different words. This also gave them a set of terms for cold conditions. Great performance, and one which kept them in the game.A full 10 points.
Both teams completed the whole wall in their first match, but it has to be said that the Gamblers struggled on their wall tonight. They quickly found a set of Montys, but just couldn’t get to grips with any of the other groups. Once the wall was resolved they could see that two of the others were sets of computer languages and types of coffee but missed a group of words that could be followed by the word – monitor. So this brought them 4 points, and narrowed the lead so that the score going into the last round was 19 to 15.

Round Four – missing vowels

With only 4 points in it either team could win. The Gamblers, and Jenny in particular had looked pretty strong in the first game in this round. The first group, literary lovers, went to the Gamblers 3 – 1. The next set was quotations from famous speeches. The Bowlers answered two to one by the Gamblers, but the Bowlers lost a point for an incorrect answer too. The third set was playing cards. 2 – all. Fourth set was red wine grapes, a tough set IMHO. 2 –1 to the Gamblers. Next category Legal Occupations bought one point for the Bowlers, but that was it. The Gamblers, proven stayers, won with 27 to 21.

My first thought was that the Gamblers weren’t quite as impressive as they had been in their first round match. Yet they still scored 27 ! That’s impressive.

Andrew B has told me that the Hitchhikers meet the Strategists in the second semi, so it must be that the Gamblers will meet the Archers Admirers in the first. What a match up that will be. Worthy of a final, to be honest with you, and I can’t wait to see it.

TV Watch - University Challenge

University Challenge – Semi Final ½ - St. John’s Oxford v. Imperial, London

Semi finals stage. Now its serious. Well, actually, its been fairly serious all the way along, but its nice to see another match played in a tremendous spirit by both teams. JP forbore from mentioning this, but because of the new quarter final system, St. John’s are the only undefeated team left in the competition, albeit that they only managed to beat Manchester on a tie break in the quarters. Imperial’s only defeat has been to Emmanuel in their second quarter final match, where they fell to a stunning last ten minute burst from Emmanuel’s outstanding captain Alex Guttenplan.

On with the game then. George Woudhuysen correctly took the first starter by saying that the word ‘evolution’ never appeared in the first edition of Darwin’s Origin of the Species. 2 out of three bonuses were taken on first lines of Shakespeare tragic heroes. The next starter asked teams to identify Arthur’s Seat from its original celtic name. Mr. Townsend of St. John’s duly obliged. I was a little disappointed to see that his mutton chop whiskers have gone, although he has at least left a Pancho Villa style Mexican moustache. So far this year only Manchester have managed to live with St. John’s opening sprint. Neither team knew Malory’s Morte d’Arthur was published in the 1470s. but Lauren Parry of St. John’s popped up to answer the next starter. You’ll remember that I said in St. John’s last match that Miss Parry has a habit of popping up with the right answer to starters just when it matters. Well, tonight she was absolutely on song, identifying a set of clues giving alternative meanings for some of the characters in The Wind in the Willows – as in – a sausage in batter = Toad. Her hat trick of consecutive starters followed when she identified the flag of the World Health Organisation.

Mr. Healy stopped the rot by identifying Venetia Burney as the person who named the planet Pluto. They only made a small dent into St. John’s’ lead, but it was a statement of intent. St. John’s took the next starter by identifying the city of Cologne. We had just passed the ten minute mark , and St. John’s had a commanding lead of 120 to 15, as the game moved into its second distinctive phase. Oliver Chen interrupted incorrectly on a definition of a dartboard, and eventually Imperial were in. 1 bonus was taken, and they were on the move. Mr. Healy took the next bonus, followed by a set of questions on Gray codes. Nope, me neither. I did know the Towers of Hanoi, though. Always too good to be shut out for long, Lauren Parry struck back with the next starter, a brilliant interruption to identify Young as an English physicist who gives his name to something to do with tensile stress – well that wasn’t the exact wording, but you know what I mean . I loved the bonuses from the Devil’s Dictionary. Mr. Healy, now with the bit between his teeth, now needed no more than a couple of bars to identify the theme of the film Slumdog Millionaire.

The lead was shrinking, but slowly so, in what was Imperial’s best period of the match. LAM reader Gilead Amit correctly identified Vamoose as coming from the spanish for let’s go. The lead was now down to 55, and it shrank further when that man Healy correctly offered the word “Riviera” as an answer to the next starter. Three bonuses were correctly taken, and at 18 minutes, the lead was down to a mere 30 points. Mr. Healy, so good in an earlier round on the football world cup, leapt in on what linked the nicknames of a set of football clubs, but miscued, offering specifically Robins, when birds was what was required. Captain George Woudhuysen had it, and the gap started to lengthen once more.

On the 20 minute mark the contest moved into its final phase. Captain Woudhuysen, determined not to let his team’s grip on the place in the final weaken correctly identified Valletta as a small European capital city, famed for its baroque architecture, amongst other things. He was honest enough to admit that none of his team had a clue about creators of fictional drinking establishments. “Thank you for being frank “ purred JP. They did know the Prancing Pony from Tolkien. Gilead and Imperial weren’t conceding anything yet, though. He gave the word ashram for a traditional secluded retreat in the Hindu religion, and a set of sporting bonuses were gladly accepted. However, while they held a lead which hovered either just above or just below the 50 point mark, St. John’s could afford to trade starters, while Imperial needed a virtual shutout. Once again George Woudhuysen led the way by identifying a print of Hogarth’s Gin Lane. Taking no chances, they picked up all three bonuses on landscape paintings of the 18th century.

Neither team could dredge up Baffin Island, Ellesmere Island or Victoria Island, so this starter went begging. So did the next, a mathematical one, but then asked in which EU state the Cathedral of Tournai could be found, George W. made no mistake, offering Belgium . In a matter of about 3 minutes the lead had stretched again to 90. Yet once again, Imperial came back, with Mr. Healy identifying Lyndon as the given name of President Johnson. So, just to put paid to any thoughts Imperial might have had of making a mad dash for the line Lauren Parry interrupted a definition of the word hair to take the next starter. Surprisingly neither team managed to get the old chestnut about the three cathedrals in the eponymous Choir festival. With an 85 point gap and only a couple of minutes to go, Imperial couldn’t do it, but full credit to them again for never giving up , as Healy again beat St. John’s to the buzzer. Yet again, it was only punctuating St. John’s own starters. The gong sounded soon after, to give St. John’s a win by 260, to 170.

Many congratulations to St. John’s. This was a very fine performance , and you deserve your place in the final. Commiserations to Imperial, but congratulations too for the way you played, and for your fine performances this series. And congratulations to both teams for the spirit in which you played the game tonight – the generous applause both teams gave to each other’s good answers did not go unnoticed by the Clark sofa. Most refreshing.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Best behaviour from JP tonight, which didn’t produce a great deal for us seasoned Paxman watchers tonight. After St. John’s brilliant start he seemed almost concerned for Imperial, and offered them hope with “Maybe you’ll get going after this one “ before introducing a starter. He was right too, and they did.
I did enjoy this exchange. When asking for the name of the german city which was the capital of the Roman empire north of the Rhine, Mr. Townsend correctly offered “Koln”. Although we didn’t see it, I guess this met with a blank stare from JP, as there was no response, and so Mr. Townsend offered “Cologne”- the English version. When he replied in the affirmative JP said “Yes, Cologne . .. or Koln in german “ – as if Mr. Townsend had never mentioned this in the first place. We’ve all tried that trick before, Jezza !
As consolation to Imperial he said "Its a great thing to go out in the semi final. " I'd like to think he didn't mean that as it sounded - it being a great thing to get as far as the semi final.

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

Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary defines the word anoint as meaning “To grease a king or other great functionary already sufficiently slippery “. Marvellous !

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Blame It On The Boot Sale

I blame Mrs. Londinius, actually. It was she who asked me to take her to a car boot sale yesterday, which is where it happened. As I think I may have explained before, while half of me wants to just sit in the car on these occasions, the other part of me says that you never know what’s going to be there if you don’t look. So I looked. What I found was a copy of the 1992 Family Fortunes quiz book.

If you’re not familiar with Family Fortunes, it was ( is ? does the All Star version count – I’ve never seen it ) a popular game show for many years. Basically the host invited two family teams to answer a series of questions based on a survey of 100 people. For example –
“We asked 100 people to name a hairy dog. “
One family would then be asked to supply a list of the highest scoring answers. If they gave 3 incorrect answers, then the opposing family only needed to get one right to steal the points. If you’re thinking that it sounds like an inverted Pointless, then you’re almost right, only it came first, so correctly speaking Pointless is like an inverted version of Family Fortunes.

If you’re a long term LAM regular you might possibly recall me mentioning how much I dislike it when a question master resorts to Family Fortunes questions. For example, a question master might ask something like this -
in a recent survey , what were the top 4 answers to the question - name a useful household object ? -
You answer - telephone - TV - oven and washing machine, and end up with zero points because the question master tells you that the 4 most popular answers were DVD player - tumble drier - microwave and PC. You catch my drift , I'm sure.

The problem I have with questions like these is that they are essentially guessing questions,where application of your own knowledge or intellect can't really help you, and frankly they turn a round, or a quiz, into a bit of a lottery. This is not true of Pointless, I hasten to add, where you do have to use knowledge and intellect to find the lowest correct answers. But as for Family Fortunes questions, well, for the reasons I've already given I just don’t like them. As I’ve said before I’m a straightforward question and answer man. So much so that one of my literary heroes is Thomas Gradgrind ( What we need are facts – nothing but facts- see Hard Times by Charles Dickens )So you might well be wanting to ask me the question – well if that’s how you feel, then why the hell did you buy the book ? Fair question. When I bought it yesterday, the justification I gave to myself was : -
a) it was very cheap ( 50p )
b) if I keep it in safe hands, then it can’t possibly find its way into the hands of a less experienced question master whom it can pervert from the path of true quizdom.

I made the mistake of reading it idly yesterday. I have to admit, it had a certain evil fascination. I mean, take this question : -
Name a London Railway Station ( apart from Euston )
I have to ask – why not Euston ? Or was it that the 100 people they asked were all in Euston Station at the time ? I want to know, how much of a cross section of society were the 100 people who were surveyed. In fact, for that matter, did they REALLY survey 100 people ? Lets be honest, you could easily fabricate the results if you wanted to. If they did carry out the survey, then did they survey the same 100 people for every question ? Who knows

The worst thing about it is this. It is my turn to produce the quiz for the rugby club this week. Against all my principles, against everything I believe in as a quizzer, I KNOW that a handout consisting of half a dozen questions from this book, along the lines of : -
Name an instrument which would be dangerous for a nude musician to play
will go down an absolute bomb with the teams who regularly turn up. You may ask, does that mean I will swallow my pride and everything I have every said about hating this kind of question in a quiz, and produce a Family Fortunes handout ? Yes, already have done, and it will be used this Thursday. Oh the shame of it. I’m ready for my Hypocritic Oath now, Mr. Demille.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

University Challenge - Semi Final Preview

A visit to Sean Blanchflower’s University Challenge site reveals that the two semi finals will be : -

St. John’s , Oxford v. Imperial , London
Emmanuel , Cambridge v. Manchester

Well, after all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which were fired willy nilly in the quarters, what can we reasonably say about the teams who are left ? They are all battle hardened. They can all grit it out when they have to, and they all have demons on the buzzer.

I’ve been looking at the cumulative performances of the four teams. St. John’s have played 4 matches, while all the other teams have played five. So I’ve worked out their average scores across all their matches. This gives us –

Emmanuel – 252
St. John’s – 230
Imperial – 211
Manchester – 190

There’s hardly anything in it at all on paper. Still, lets look at the prospects for the two matches. Its probably only fair that the two teams who won two quarters in a row and went straight through were kept apart from each other. Likewise, you wouldn't really want to match two teams who played each other in the quarters. SO this gives us an inevitable line up for the semis, and for the first match St. John’s v. Imperial. Now, you could look at it like this : - St. John’s tied with Manchester in their match in the quarters, and went through on a tie break. Manchester beat Edinburgh by a tiny margin to go through to the semis. Imperial beat Edinburgh by a huge margin in their first quarter final match. So based on relative performances, Imperial would actually seem favourites on this score. This offers Imperial some good hope. However, like so many things, it will come down to individual performances on the night. Whoever has the best buzzer work, and whoever is the most clinical with bonuses will get to the final. It’s a very close call. I want Gilead and the guys from Imperial to win – but St. John’s will be a very tough nut to crack.

As for the second semi final – oh gawd, I don’t want to say this, but the heart says Manchester while the head says Emmanuel. Yet again, it’s a fascinating prospect, though. Manchester were unlucky to tie with St. Johns and lose on the tie breaker in their 2nd quarter final match. Still, this seemed to knock their confidence a little in the next match against Edinburgh, which was a tough old scrap which needed plenty of grit. As a team, all four of Manchester provide their share of starters, with captain Jakob Whitfield leading the way. They’re a well balanced team, without huge gaps of knowledge in any particular discipline. As for Emmanuel, though, they possess a candidate for the title of best individual player of the series in their captain Alex Guttenplan. His buzzer speed is excellent, and his coverage of different fields of knowledge is extremely good. Now, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Emmanuel are a one man team, because they are not. Harris, Hastings and Scott of Emmanuel all contribute their share. For example, in their last match against Imperial, Alex Guttenplan didn’t really wake up until the second third of the contest – his team had kept them in it up to that point. However, it is a fact that Emmanuel did lose to Regent’s Park in their first round match , so they can be vulnerable. On quarter final form, though, you'd be a brave man to put money against Emmanuel.

Put a gun to my head and ask for a prediction, then I’ll go for a St. John’s v. Emmanuel final. But I’m still supporting Manchester and Imperial.

Mastermind Round One - Heat 22/24

Mastermind – First round – Heat 22/24

Well, we’re fairly zipping along towards the end of the first round now. Still, not to worry. BBC2 Wales announced at the end of the show that the next heat is being kept back to Thursday 1st April. Yes, just in case the audience are starting to get used to it again, lets hold it back, and shift it to a different day and keep them on their toes. Hopefully this might just be BBC2 Wales, who are very much a law unto themselves.

Still that was the end of the show, and not wanting to be accused of putting the cart before the horse, lets look at the show itself. This week’s 4 contenders, like the vast majority in this series, were all newcomers to Mastermind.
Iain Crawford kicked off the show with a very traditional type of Mastermind subject, the Life of Sir Robert Peel. Now, to people of a certain age, Robert Peel immediately makes you think of the founder of the Metropolitan Police, and the eventual repeal of the Corn Laws, but during the round it became obvious that there was an awful lot more to the man’s long political career than this. I thought that Mr. Crawford looked a little uncomfortable in the chair, but despite a mid-round wobble his knowledge was secure and bought him a distinctly useful 12 points.

Diana Muir brought her knowledge of Gertrude Jekyll to the chair , to be put to the test. One thing that wasn’t mentioned, unless I missed it, was the way that Robert Louis Stevenson borrowed her surname for a well known story, since he was a friend of her brother Walter. Still, had it been asked I’m sure that Diana Muir would have known the answer, since she produced a good round of 13. To be honest, what little I knew of Gertrude Jekyll I’d always thought of her as being essentially Victorian, yet she lived until 1932.

David Sutherland was this week’s third contender. In a week of notably traditional Mastermind subjects, his specialist stuck out a little from the crowd, being The Child Ballads. This is not, as I might have thought, a collection of children’s nursery rhymes, since the name Child refers to the man who collected them. They are in fact a collection of 305 English and Scottish ballads, and their American variants, collected together by Mr. Child. OK, got that everyone ? Well, David Sutherland certainly had, and much more besides. In a round which had every appearance of being a bit of a potential maze he negotiated it very well, ending with 14.

Jim Murdock finished up the first half, then, with the Life and Work of Charles Baudelaire. – Yum, yum – thought I , having studied Les Fleurs du Mal as part of my French A Level. However, this was to ignore the fact that I studied my A Levels a quarter of a century ago, and as regards French I was never much good anyway. Pretty much all I can remember is the teacher’s remark that he died ‘mad as a hatter and riddled with syphilis’. That's Baudelaire, not the teacher. You pays yer money . . . All I can say is that this seemed a pretty tough round to me, and there were times when Jim Murdock looked a little shell shocked. He pushed on through into double figures, though, scoring 10.

This necessitated a quick return to the chair. In his heart of hearts Jim Murdock must have known that he was pretty much out of contention, and he did take a bit of time to get going. Still, on the positive side his last 60 seconds were very good, and he pushed his score up so well he almost made the psychologically important barrier of 20, falling just short with 19. With a really good performance on GK, theoretically any of the remaining three contenders could have made the 25 they needed to get onto the runner up board, and certainly any of the three of them could win. First into the lists was Iain Crawford. Again, he was perched a little awkwardly on his chair, but he started confidently . He dropped a couple mid round, but nonetheless managed to get into double figures with 10 , giving him a final score of 22. Diana Muir seemed to be answering quite slowly, but most of the answers she was giving for the first minute or so were correct. She too managed 10, to give her a lead of 1 point. The prospect of a tie break looked a distinct possibility as David Sutherland returned to the chair. This flew out of the window as his pass total grew larger than Diana’s. Still, he was making progress towards the target, and as the buzzer went he became the third contender in a row to score ten. By virtue of his superior performance on specialist, this was enough to give him the win.

Well played all contenders, in an exciting and close contest. Congratulations to David Sutherland, and also to Colin Wilson, whose passage into the semis this guarantees.

The Details

Iain Crawford The Life of Sir Robert Peel 12 - 1 10 – 3 22 – 4
Diana Muir Gertrude Jekyll 13 – 2 10 – 1 23 – 3
David Sutherland The Child Ballads 14 – 2 10 – 4 24 – 6
Jim Murdock The Life and Work of Charles Baudelaire 10 – 3 9 – 4 19 – 7

Current Highest Scoring Runners Up

John Cooper29 – 3
Ian Scott Massie26 – 2
Les Morrell26 - 3
Colin Wilson25 - 0
Peter Cowans25 - 2
William de'Ath25 - 4

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

TV Watch - Only Connect

Only Connect – Quarter Final ¾ - Neuroscientists v. Strategists

Sorry for the delay, dear readers. Busy time at work, I'm afraid. Right then, on paper Monday night’s contest looked to have something of a David and Goliath flavour. The Neuroscientists booked their passage to the second round by beating the Rugby Fans by 17 points to 7. They’re a multi-national outfit consisting of Joseph Raimondo, Blake Richards, and captain Jonathan Webb. However they faced the formidable Strategists, who beat the Polymaths by 31 – 15 in the first round. Chris Cummins – Sarah Higgins and captain Michael Dnes were, for my money, one of the most impressive of the younger teams in the first round. I must say how nice it was to have Victoria reassuring me that I’m not an idiot, and the show is just really hard. Loins thus girded, lets begin.

Round One – What’s the Connection ?

The Neuros began with delta. Offered Bruckner’s Symphony in F Major, The Mean Machine , Fine ground Italian flower, and James Bond’s section, they went the wrong way thinking of M.I. – as in 6. The Strategists offered pretty much the same thing. I admit, I was stumped by the mean Machine thinking of the Burt Reynolds film – or the Vinny Jones remake, rather than Dick dastardly’s car in Whacky Races. OO was the answer.Strategists chose gamma, which gave them Mars Exploration Rover, Fab 1 and the Tyrrell P34. Confidently they buzzed in with Thunderbirds, but this was incorrect. The Strategists were given the last clue Thomas the Tank Engine. They missed it too, but thankfully it confirmed for me that I had it right with 6 wheeled vehicles. No points for anyone yet. The Neuros took zeta, and were offered Art Speigelman, Bell Hooks, K.D. Lang and E.E. Cummings. They suggested it had something to do with sexuality. Incorrect, however the Strategists – and me at home – knew that they all wrote their names with lower case initials. The last two gave it to me. So the Strategists took a narrow lead, and they then chose alpha. The picture clue, for such it was, revealed a picture of a shapely young lady in the clasp of Eros or Cupid. In my best answer of the night I shouted that this was Psyche, which must mean the set was John Keats’ Odes. This was confirmed as pictures of Autumn, a Nightingale, and a Grecian Urn followed. Alas, neither team could see it. Epsilon for the Neuros provided the music connection. I am ashamed to admit that I recognised the theme to Prisoner Cell Block H at once, and correctly guessed prisons – confirmed by The Green Green Grass of Home, and Tie a Yellow Ribbon etc. Again, it escaped both teams. So the Strategists ended with Hobson’s Choice, or beta, as they called it. Maypoles, horse racing, spoken theatre, and mince pies seemed an impenetrable quartet. Actually mince pies could have given it away, since they were all banned by Oliver Cromwell. Yes, you can see it now, I know. So a low scoring round ended with the Strategists leading by 1 - 0

Round Two – What comes fourth

Naughty Victoria had a quiet little dig to start – “Round Two is NOT easier than Round One . . . so fingers crossed . “ Gamma brought the Neuros Building – Antenna, at which they correctly identified the connection as base jumping, but they failed to get the 4th. The third clue was span, which didn’t help the Strategists, and the fourth was earth. Strategists picked delta, to get Losecote Field, and Barnet. After the third clue, Tewkesbury, they were on the right track with wars of the Roses, but they threw away Bosworth in favour of St. Albans. Having actually mentioned Bosworth, I expect that the Strategists may have been relieved to see the Neuro’s offer Hammersmith, thinking of railway stations. The Neuros picked zeta. NineteeN and Twenty EighT gave them sets of numbers which begin and end with the same letter. Once Thirty Eight had gone, that would leave Eighty onE. It’s a miracle announced Victoria, and for a moment I thought she was referring to the fact that I got it right. Amazingly, this was actually enough for the Neuros to take the lead. The Strategists were shown pictures of a bath, St. Patrick, and a thistle. They toyed with patron saints, but correctly predicted that garter – as in chivalric orders – would follow. So the Neuros lead was short lived. The Neuros were given iron age design – cogwheels and a silicon chip. Its to my shame that, like both teams , I didn’t know that all of these are on a £2 coin, and the missing symbol is the internet. So the Strategists finished off the round with soldier, capodecina, and underboss. They correctly identified the missing term as Don, meaning hierarchical ranks in the mafia. So at the end of the round the Neuros had managed to put points on the board, but the Strategists led by 5 – 2.

Round Three – The Connecting Walls

The Strategists struck first, and they struck well. Within half a minute they had sorted out a set of tings governed by laws. Straightaway they followed this with a set of US State capitals. The hattrick was completed with welsh female vocalists, and this left Beaus – Nash, Bridges, Peep and Geste. Its got to be said, they made this wall look easy. Yet as we all know, the walls are never easy.
So the poor Neuros were going to have to up their game just to keep the gap between them and the leaders from widening. They saw a set of balls in baseball – curve ball, spit ball etc. Had they had a Brit there they might have seen Mr. Benn, Mr. Bean to go with Mr. Rochester and Mr. Potato Head.Still, they did see the connection. Lemon and Dover correctly suggested sole, and apparently Sandwich, Four Colour, Hairy Ball and Binomial are all mathematical theorems. So the Strategists now led by 15 to 6

Round Four – The Missing Vowels

With only 9 points the gap a good round could still see the Neuros do it. But it never really looked like happening. The first set was administrative areas of Scotland. The Strategists put the result beyond doubt by taking three of them to none for the Neuros. North American Nobel Literature Laureates went 3 – 1 to the Strategists too, although they did lose a point for offering Tina rather than Toni Morrison. English words derived from Arabic . This suited the Neuros, who won 3 – 1. Alloys followed, but there was only time for stainless steel which went to the Strategists. Final score - 22 – 10 to the Strategists.

So well done Strategists. Not quite hitting the heights of the first round performance, but a win is a win is a win. Hard lines Neuros – it really wasn’t your night.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

TV Watch - University Challenge

University Challenge – Elimination/Qualification Match – Imperial v. Girton

A fascinating, enjoyable and at times nail-biting series of quarter final matches ended with this match. Imperial beat Edinburgh, but then lost to Emmanuel, while Girton lost to St. John’s, then beat St. Andrews. Nothing to choose between the teams then ? Well, perhaps, but then perhaps not. In their two quarter final matches Girton scored a total of 195 points. However Imperial amassed a total of 400 in theirs.

Healy of Imperial struck first, identifying a series of definitions of the word starter.3 bonuses were snapped up. Both teams knew that Paxman was talking about the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, but Imperial got to the buzzer first for the next starter. They didn’t take all the bonuses, but it didn’t seem to matter since they took the next starter for good measure. Both teams missed the next starter, although an early buzz saw Imperial giving away 5 of their hard earned points.

Gilead Amit of this parish knew that the successor to William the Lion of Scotland was Alexander II. Good answer ! I had a good answer too, knowing that 101 on the periodic table is Mendelevium. Starter went begging, to introduce the picture bonuses, but Mr. Spenser of Girton identified active and passive as being correctly termed voices of verbs. One bonus followed, and Girton now had 15 on the board, against Imperial’s 70.However with the next starter and bonuses going to Imperial, after an incorrect interruption from Girton, the score at the 10 minute mark stood at 95 – 10.

Regular LAM reader Chris Cameron, captain of Girton, tried manfully to pull his team back into contention, correctly saying that the Government department shortened to HMC would also have the word inland in its full name. At the half way stage , with Imperial leading by 125 to 20, JP offered Girton the lukewarm encouragement “ Come on , you can still do it. “ The tone in which he said it said something rather different. Maybe it did the trick, though, as they took the next starter. Both teams got a little stuck in the mud after this for a bit, missing vorticism, and Livonia.

LAM contributor Gilead Amit pulled out the next starter, though, pushing the team further towards the 200 barrier, while Girton, to be honest, were still struggling to make half that total. I loved the fact that when told his son’s mistress was Norah Barnacle, James Joyce’s dad said “She’ll stick to him “! The gap was remaining fairly substantial, and at the 20 minute mark it stood at 135 to 45. To be honest, you never really thought by this stage that Girton were going to be able to do it. Still, in this last third the honours were shared fairly evenly.

The final score was 200 - 100 and if Imperial never quite reached the heights of their performance against Edinburgh, they still had too much firepower for a game and likeable Girton team. Now, far be it from me to boast, but I think I should quote from my preview of the quarter finals . On the 22nd December I wrote
“If I had to stick my neck out, then I’d plump for St. John’s – Emmanuel, the two highest scoring teams, and then Manchester and Imperial, the two teams who have been most dominant in their matches - to make it to the semis”
An amazing clean sweep. Does this mean that the curse of the Clark sofa is a thing of the past? Well, I’m not making any predictions for the semis yet – watch this space.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

When Girton identified a poster showing Marshal Petain as being Degaulle he virtually spat out “ His nose is far too small !” I think that JP was a little struck by the two ladies of Girton tonight. When Becca Cawley offered “The Confessor” as the nickname of King Edward of 1015, he actually apologised – and sincerely at that – for the fact that it was wrong. He gave her rather an unsettling smile also when she gave an incorrect guess at a number, and paused as if teasing her before answering “Nnnnooo !”
I enjoyed the fact that JP pronounced St. Denis as in Norden, Thatcher or Compton, rather than the usual French pronunciation – as in Oh Denee – be – do, I’m in love with you - by the fabulous Blondie ( ah – Debbie Harry ! )

Interesting Fact I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week

The primrose takes its name from the fact that it is one of the very first flowers to bloom in spring, and has no relation to the rose family at all.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Krypton Factor Final

I must confess that reading this week's Weaver's Week reminds me that I have never managed to catch an episode of the Burnsless , slimmed down Krypton Factor before this week’s final, and I only watched that today through the magic of the ITV player. I felt that it was well overdue that I cast an eye over the series to see how it shapes up.

The final was contested between four gentlemen, two who had won their semi finals, and two who had come runner up in their semi final. They were : -

Ed Brims
Pete Thompson
James O’Driscoll
Malcolm Mackinnon

Ed Brims is a former University Challenge contestant and Mastermind semi finalist , from 2005 if I recall correctly, so he at least should have been in contention for the General Knowledge round. James O’Driscoll was a member of the Mathematicians, who placed 4th in series 2 of Only Connect. The others may well have their own previous form, but I’m afraid I’m not aware of it.

The first round – Flightboard - was one of those horrible mental agility things. Each contender was shown a series of airport departure boards, which disappeared to be replaced by another before they were given the accompanying question. Actually this looked every bit as tough as the challenges which met contestants in the first round in the good old days of Gordon Burns, and it certainly passed the –do I bother to play along at home ? – litmus test. Our host, the rather anodyne Ben Shepherd spent a bit of time chatting with the contestants after their round, which is actually not an easy thing to do considering that you have to gallop through the four rounds in about 20 minutes of actual air time, once you’ve taken the adverts out of the equation.

Second round was Observation – based on Geraldine McEwan’s Miss Marple in the 4:15 from Paddington. I’m afraid I’m rotten at this sort of game, even when I can stop the ITV player and make an effort to remember what’s just happened, and what’s been said. To be honest this round was pretty much about remembering what they said to each other – they were stuck in a railway carriage so there wasn’t a great deal visual happening.

The Assault course was the third round. I was interested to note that there was no advantage of a head start given to the older contender, as used to happen in the good old days of Gordon Burns. Maybe this is fairer in the long run, but it certainly counted against Malcolm Mackinnon, who was giving away a lot of years to all three of the other contenders. I wonder how it must affect your nerves going into the final, knowing that you already have top points for the Assault course in the bag ? Certainly Ed Brims looked like the cat that swallowed the cream as we moved into the last round, the quickfire General Knowledge round. He should have done too, he was only 1 point away from making the Mastermind final in 2005.

The quickfire round was shortened during Gordon Burns’ tenure to stop any contender from coming last in all the other rounds, but winning with a stunning show on General Knowledge. I’m glad to say that this disgraceful state of affairs has been ended. There were plenty of questions asked . I’m afraid that Ed Brims fell away a bit during this round. I don’t think it was due to any lack of knowledge, only that, for the most part, the other guys were so fast on the buzzer. If you needed to hear the whole question before you buzzed, then you just weren’t going to get a chance to answer. Pete Thompson just edged in front by the closing question. James O’Driscoll, one point behind, buzzed in , but there was no time left for an answer.

Congratulations to Pete Thompson.

As for the Krypton Factor, well, actually, not that bad at all. I’ll be honest, it was so short that by the time I’d started to get into it, it was gone. Cut out the chat, shorten coverage of the Assault course, and there’d be time to fit in one of those 3-D jigsaw puzzles . Just a suggestion, chaps.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Mastermind - Round One - Heat 21/24

What has Mastermind got that University Challenge hasn’t ? Or to put it another way, why was University Challenge postponed in order to make way for Lambing Live, when Mastermind wasn’t ? Normally poor old Mastermind is first in the firing line whenever something needs to make way. Not that I’m complaining that we had a show tonight at all. We’re now into the last few shows of the first round, and so the expectation level is rising.

All four of tonight’s contestants were newcomers again. Some of them shaped up like old hands at this game, though. Take tonight’s first contender, Kevin Quinn. His specialist subject was The Life and Career of Lester Piggott. I actually got a couple of these right tonight. It was just one of those things. During my sojourn in Spain last summer I finished the 3 or 4 books I took with me, and at a local tourist market I picked up a few more including Lester’s autobiography. Good read too, and considering that the man gave me my first ( and last ) ever winner in the Derby when I backed Teenoso, he can do little wrong in my eyes. This round was definitely a thoroughbred, since Mr. Quinn zipped through , getting 16 points and no passes. Lester himself would surely have been proud.

Mrs. Londinius doesn’t often watch Mastermind, but she did tonight. When Paul Robson sat perched right on the edge of the black chair she said that he looked absolutely petrified, and predicted he was going to struggle. She is obviously a far more accurate tipster than I am. His specialist subject was the Weimar Republic. The poor chap looked totally overwhelmed by the experience, and once he struggled on the first few questions he was doomed. In mid round he hit a pass spiral, which saw him pass on 4 in a row, I think, and alas he didn’t ever manage to compose himself and answer questions which I am sure that he knew. He scored 2.

Wendy Mayman-Guest’s specialist subject was a barrister whom John Humphrys had originally described as the man on whom Rumpole of the Bailey was based. Edward Marshall Hall , going by the wide range of questions that the contender answered, seems to have been a remarkable character. Apparently he turned down defending Dr. Crippen. From what came out during this round about some of the cases he won, you can’t help wondering that he might even have got Crippen off. So I can understand Wendy Mayman-Guest’s interest in the subject, and also her fine performance, scoring a fine 15 as she did.

So Sean O’Neill completed the first round, with the Life and Films of Preston Sturges.Preston Sturges is one of those Hollywood figures who I’ve heard of on a number of occasions, but would have been hard pressed to name any of his films. According to Sean O’Neill they’re well worth the trouble of obtaining on DVD. In recent weeks the scores on the Specialist rounds have been a little down on what we’ve seen earlier in the series, and so Mr. O’Neill’s 13 would have put him among the front runners. Tonight though it was only good enough for third place at the halfway stage.

So Paul Robson returned to the chair , where he received some words of sympathy and encouragement from John. Quite right too. I know that nobody is ever forced to submit to the ordeal of the chair and the lights, but until you’ve tried it for yourself you can never know what it’s really like – and I do honestly feel that the experience of it is probably different for all of us. Mr. Robson managed to build up a head of steam in this round that had eluded him in the first. John Humphrys was certainly impressed by the way that he pulled his score up to 11, double figures and respectability by the end of the round. He’d scored 9 by the end of the round, and next contender Sean O’Neill went one better, with a battling 10. It wasn’t enough to put him onto the highest scoring runners up board, and you felt that Wendy Mayman- Guest and Kevin Quinn’s lead over him should be enough.

It wasn’t enough for Wendy Mayman-Guest. I pay her full credit for answering rather than passing, but many of her answers fell quite wide of the mark. She scored 7, still her total of 22 for the show is a good one. Now, Kevin Quinn had looked quite masterful in his first round, but it seemed that he was hanging on by his fingertips long before we reached the one minute mark in his GK round. He could afford three passes, and still win by scoring 7 points. He soon ate into these three passes, and it looked as if he was only crawling towards his target. Crucially though he kept his head, and didn’t panic. An eighth correct answer saw him home, and another was thrown in for good measure. 9 points saw him comfortably on 25 for a win. Well done Mr. Quinn.

The Details

Kevin Quinn Life and Career of Lester Piggott 16-0 9 – 6 25 – 6
Paul Robson The Weimar Republic 2- 4 9 – 1 11 – 5
Wendy Mayman-Guest The Life and trials of Edward Marshall Hall 15 – 0 7 – 2 22 – 2
Sean O’Neill The Life and Films of Preston Sturges 13 – 2 10 – 2 23 – 4

Since there are only three shows left in the first round now, I think we must be able to say with some certainty that the top three on our runners up board are through. So congratulations to John Cooper, Ian Scott Massie, and a special congratulations to my friend Les Morrell, who now has the distinction of being a double semi finalist.

Current Highest Scoring Runners Up

John Cooper29 – 3
Ian Scott Massie26 – 2
Les Morrell26 - 3
Colin Wilson25 - 0
Peter Cowans25 - 2
William de'Ath25 - 4

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

TV Watch - Only Connect

Only Connect – Quarter Final Match 2/4 - The Brasenose Postgrads v/ The Hitchhikers

I’ll be honest, I needed another dose of Only Connect last night. I’d had the unedifying experience of turning over to BBC Two for University Challenge a couple of minutes late, and my immediate thought was that all the contestants were wearing a set of very fetching matching woolly jumpers. Then I remembered that UC had been postponed to accommodate Kate Humble commentating on sheep giving birth – a sort of Hatch of the Day Live, if you like. I didn’t, so I turned the thing off for 25 minutes.

So then, to tonight’s show. Brasenose Postgrads you might remember for their international line up of Amy Koenig, Chris Lustri and captain Chris Tudor.They beat the choirboys in round one by a single point, relying, if I remember correctly, on a fine performance in the last round to pull them through. As for the Hitchhikers, the trio of Chris White, Fiona Constantine and captain Tom Scott are all fans of Douglas Adams, and they defeated the Philosophers quite comfortably in Round One. So much seemed to suggest a most likely win for the Hitchhikers, but time would tell.

Round One – What’s The Connection ?

The Hitchhikers managed to find the music connection with their first pick.The second clue, an excerpt from the song Funiculi Funicula suggested railways or trains to captain Tom Scott. The next clue, Kraftwerk’s Trans Europe Express didn’t help, not did the Monkee’s Last Train to Clarksville. So with seconds remaining he went with instinct, and scooped the point, despite only recognising one of the pieces of music. Good play. The first clue was John Coltrane’s Blue Train. Behind Alpha the Postgrads found a set of pictures – the second , number 30 in bingo, and the third, DBC Pierre, and even the fourth, Clint Eastwood failed them. The Hitchhikers saw Dirty, as in Gertie from number 30, ‘Dirty but Clean ‘ Pierre, and Dirty Harry. The next set , of Midnight 1st January 1970, Brightness of Vega, Temperature of ice/salt mixture, and sea level at Newlyn saw both teams skate around the answer without quite getting that all of these were the starting point of various scales of measurement. For their second set the Postgrads chose beta, and were offered Die – Refer to Someone by Name – Accuse someone of lying and speak between the red lines. They knew it was a set of things you can’t do in a particular place, but didn’t get the place. The Hitchhikers did, though, knowing that it is the House of Commons. Apparently, if you expire in the House of Commons, you enter a strange Schrodinger’s Cat-like state, where you are not actually alive, but not actually dead until your body is taken to St. Thomas’ Hospital ! The Hitchhikers’ last set gave them a lovely set of connections, which I’m delighted to say I had after Westminster Abbey, and Turold the Messenger. ( Pedant alert - nobody can say with 100% certainty that Turold is actually a messenger. The strange trousers he wears, and the fact that he is portrayed as significantly shorter than the other adult figures in the Tapestry point to the fact that he may well have been a jongleur - see Andrew Bridgeford's most excellent book 1066- The Hidden History of the Bayeux Tapestry ) This was followed by Halley’s Comet and William the Conqueror. The Hitchhikers offered 1066, but this was close but no cigar. The Postgrads knew that all are depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry, which Victoria correctly described as an embroidery. The last set of all for the Postgrads gave them PJ Tracy, Nicci French, Ellery Queen and Grant Naylor. They didn’t get it , and neither did the Hitchhikers, who looked suitably ashamed at failing to recognise the last name as the writing partnership that produced Red Dwarf. All were pseudonyms of writing teams. So the Hitchhikers led by 3 to 1.

Round Two – What Comes Fourth ?

Hitchhikers kicked off. The first two clues were Phloem –and Cambium – which told them it was layers of a tree trunk , but they went outwards rather than inwards with stomata. The Postgrads were given sapwood, and correctly identified the inner layer as heartwood. Their set of pictures showed a condor, an albatross and an eagle. They tried but failed with vulture. I’ve never heard of a condor in golf, but the Hitchhikers had, and they correctly identified the missing one as birdie. So the honours were even for the round so far. April 1st, August 2nd , December 3rdwas a really nice connection, one of the variety that are actually easier than you might think. They were all the months in alphabetical order, which of course led to February 4th. So the Hitchhikers were on a roll again, as the Postgrads took rerebrace – couter and vambrace. They correctly figured out that the next piece of medieval arm armour would be gauntlet. So the Hitchhikers tried their last set – House in Threadneedle Street, Division of Labour in pin maufacture – at which Tom Scott had the correct link, that they appear in descending denominations of banknotes. He offered a cricket match, but the match between Dingly Dell and Old Mugglethorpe only used to appear on the £10 note before Charles Dickens was superceded by Charles Dawrin. Now its HMS Beagle, which was only the third of the set. The Postgrads could only offer a factory, while it should be of course Newgate Prison behind Elizabeth Fry. So they finished off with their own set , Florence Horsburgh, Barbara Castle, and Judith Hart. “Its not Bond Girls” offered Chris Lustri, and he was certainly right there. As a wild stab in the dark captain Chris Tudor offered Ulrika Jonsson. Incorrect. Poor Victoria had to put her hand in front of her face, but was still stifling the giggles when she turned to the Hitchhikers. They offered Carol Anne Duffy in the hope they might be female poets laureate. No, they were all female cabinet ministers, and the next ( and 6th altogether ) on the list was Margaret Thatcher. So the lead remained at 2 points, as the Hitchhikers now led by 6 to 4

Round Three – The Connecting Walls

The Postgrads began. I’m afraid that they didn’t cover themselves in glory, seeing some of the connections, but failing to unravel any of the sets.They identified a set of questions, and a set of terms for blank space in printing, but alas failed to see types of bond in bricklaying, and names for rests in snooker. So with only 2 points scored, the door was wide open for the Hitchhikers. A setoff typographical marks was picked out in impressively short order. A set of terms for parts of a chimney followed. Then on the first go out of three a set of terms for a young man about town were untangled. All three sets were correctly described as well, which left them on 7, and only comb, zip , gearwheel and saw to link. They couldn’t see it, but they all have teeth. Well, they’re all easy when you know the answer. Still, this gave them a useful lead of 13 points to 6 going into the final round.

Round Four – Missing Vowels

Last time out the Postgrads impressed in the final round, but they were going to have to go some to bridge the gap this time. We began with European National Newspapers. The first blood went to the Postgrads who took the category 2 – 1. Next came Nicknames for Military Leaders. Again, 2- 1 to the Postgrads. Slowly the gap was being clawed in, but 2 – 1 for each set wouldn’t be enough. Next set was High Grossing Films of the 1940s, and the Postgrads obliged with a 4- 0 shut out. The gap then was down to a point, and all the momentum was with the Postgrads. We moved on to attributed famous last words. However the Postgrads were beaten by an enemy even more implacable than the hitchhikers, none other than time itself, which ran out before they Victoria could announce the first of the set.

So, well done you Hitchhikers. On balance you were the better side throughout the competition. But well done to the Postgrads as well. An absolutely splendid death or glory cavalry charge at the end brought you to the very brink. Good show.

BTW - If you haven’t tried the connecting walls in the BBC4 website, I can heartily recommend them.

TV Watch - The Return of Pointless

2009 saw the BBC try out a number of different quiz formats, some which will definitely be back this year – A Question of Genius – for example, and some of which probably won’t. The surprise hit of them all , though, was Pointless, which you’ll remember I’m sure earned a very honourable mention in the 2009 LAMMY awards, despite losing the best new show category to The Chase. Fronted by the most likeable Alexander Armstrong, this show made a bit of a splash with quizzers and non quizzers alike, and so I am delighted to see that the BBC took the advice which I freely offered them, and very quickly commissioned and made a second series, which began last night.

If you didn’t manage to catch it, and you were a fan of the first series, I think that I should warn you that there have been tweaks to the show. Last season we had five pairs of contestants in the first round of each show. This season that’s been cut down to four. That’s probably a good thing too, although I’ll be interested to see if it tempts Alexander to try to bring out the personalities of the contestants a little more. On balance I hope not, as a little of this sort of thing goes a long way. The gameplay of the first round is the same as it was in the first series. Basically, a question category is announced. The first one yesterday was Beatles’UK number 1 singles. Then contestants are told that 100 people were surveyed and given a minute to name as many of the above as possible. One member of each pair is asked to give an answer, then when all pairs have had their first turn, the other member of each pair has to give an answer to the same question. The goal is to give an answer which nobody in the survey came up with. These answers are ‘pointless’ and add money to the prize total. Wrong answers earn the team 100 points. The team with the highest score at the end of the round leaves with nothing. Just out of interest, The Long and Winding Road was never released as a single in the UK apparently , Twist and Shout was part of an EP which didn’t count, and Strawberry Fields was not accepted as the correct title is Strawberry Fields forever.

As before, a losing pair can come back once more later in the week. So far , so good , much the same as last year. Tweak number 1 is that they seem to be showing all the pointless answers, and in fact most of the scores for other possible answers too. Well done Production team – this is what we wanted last year.

Gameplay for round two is rather different now. We still have one subject category. In this case its team ball games with an odd number of team members. Now , though, the teams don’t think up answers off the top of their heads. They are in fact given a set of answers to choose from. At least one of each set is guaranteed pointless, and at least one of each set is guaranteed to be wrong, and worth an instant 100 points. I have to be honest, I rather enjoyed this, although it is nice to be given the chance of thinking of answers from the top of your head.

Round three, the round of two pairs, is different again, now. A selection of categories is given , and each team plays a series of head to heads. Win a category and a light goes on. Get to three, and you win the round, and go to the final. I liked this more, since no help was given again, and players had to pick their own answer. I would have liked it even more if some of the categories were even wider. Take the 8 planets of the Solar System for example. Such a narrow category negates the possibility of either pair picking out a 100 point wrong'un, and hence detracts from some of the fun of the game.

The final, though, was the same as before. The winning pair are given a choice of categories. In this case it was The Winter Olympics – Poets – British Walks. They opted for poets, and it didn’t take a genius to guess that they were going to be asked to provide a pointless answer for a British Poet Laureate. As before , they were given three chances. Sadly for Annie and Stephanie they offered us William Wordsworth, John Keats and Andrew Motion. Keats never was, Wordsworth is too well known, and Andrew Motion was the previous, so I’m afraid that their best was Wordsworth with 10. As a point of interest, there were 9 pointless answers, and my choices Nahum Tate and Colley Cibber were among them.

So, what’s the verdict ? Well, you get more out of playing at home because they tell you more about the pointless answers, so that’s got to be a plus. It moves along at a fair old pace still, and seems in no danger of running out of categories. I’m no oracle, but there’s no reason I can see that it won’t be as popular as it was first time around.