Saturday, 26 February 2011

Mastermind - Round One Review - Round Two Preview

Well, we now have the qualifiers for the semi finals of this year’s Mastermind, and one of these 30 people will be the successor to Jesse Honey. Here’s the list, arranged in order of totals. In brackets I’ve also put their scores on the GK round, for reasons which I will explain after. Highest scoring runners up are in italics.

Iwan Thomas – 37 – 1 (23)
Brian Pendreigh – 35 – 2 (20)
Keith Nickless – 34 – 1(16)
Nick Mills – 34 – 4 (16)
Thomas Perry – 33 – 3(16)
Paul Steeples – 32 -3 (17)
Brian Daugherty – 31 – 2 (15)
Gillian Taylor – 30 -1 (12)
Hamish Cameron – 30 – 2 (17)
Stephen Porter – 30 – 3(15)
Edmund Dickinson – 30 – 4 (15)
Lee Holmes – 30 – 4 (14)
Anne Skillen - 30 -7(13)
James Collenette - 29 – 2(16)
Tim Fenn – 29 – 2 (12)
Diane Hallagan – 29 – 4(17)
Ian Bayley – 28 – 0 (17)
Min Lacey – 28 – 0 (16)
Bill Cawley – 28 – 1 (14)
Philip Evans – 28 – 1(14)
Rachael Neiman – 28 – 1 (10)
Peter Watkins – 28 – 5 (15)
Julia Hobbs – 27 – 4 (14)
Peter Reilly – 27 – 4 (12)
Geoff Weller – 27 – 5 (12)
Robin Seavill – 27 – 7 (13)
John Wharton – 27 – 8 (14)
Leslie Hurn – 26 – 2 (14)
Kate Morris – 24 – 5 (10)
Martin Short – 20 – 3 (12)

Stand out performances are those of 2011 Brain of Britain champion Iwan Thomas, and our own Brian Pendreigh, both of whom scored in the 20s on their GK rounds. Congratulations too to our own Rachael Neiman, who is now a double semi finalist, having been part of the Manchester team who made it to the semis in last year’s University Challenge. Go Cherryade ! I may be wrong, but I think this will be Hamish Cameron’s 4th appearance in the semi finals, which is a Mastermind record. Ian Bayley, the only person so far to do the Only Connect and Brain of Britain double, not to mention coming runner up to Nancy in 2009, is in there too. The best show of the series - well you'd have to go a long way to beat the titanic battle between Keith Nickless and Nick Mills, who both scored 34s in their heat.

So, who looks good for the final ? Well, the temptation would be to take the first 6 off the top of the table. Oh, if only life were that simple ! A couple of factors make that a very dangerous thing to do. Firstly, there is no seeding as such in the semis. The team put together sets of subjects which they think will make a good show for the semis. This is why its not uncommon to get a ‘top heavy’ semi where two or more contenders for the overall title have to slug it out with each other just to reach the final. That’s just the way that it is. If you want to be the champion you have to be prepared to play anybody in any round of the competition. Also, anyone can play a blinder on the night, and anyone can have a ‘mare. So bearing that in mind, here’s what I think.

Iwan Thomas and Brain Pendreigh pretty much pick themselves for my list of most likely finalists – unless they get drawn in the same semi. Paul Steeples looks good value, and I hope that Hamish can make it through too. You have to say that anyone whose overall was 30 or more, and whose GK was at least 15 looks like a potential finalist. I mention the GK because for me it’s a slightly more reliable indicator than SS. For one thing its half a minute longer, and for another anyone can potentially have ONE good SS subject, but producing a massive SS score twice in a row takes something more. Which is why, for example, Gillian Taylor does not make it onto my list of potential finalists – only 12 on GK. Sorry Gillian, and I’ll be delighted for you if I’m wrong. Likewise it makes you look at some dangerous names in the middle of the draw on the 29s and 28s– Diane Hallagan and the afore mentioned Ian Bayley both scored 17 on their GK rounds, and James Collenette scored 16 on his. Which is why, incidentally , I’d say that Diane is a better bet for the final than Lee Holmes, even though Lee beat Diane in last night’s show.

As regards the male /female split, there are 7 female semi finalists , which is slightly less than a quarter, which is perhaps a little less than might be expected. I would say that Diane is the best bet for a final slot, although you’d be a fool to discount Min Lacey, who scored 16 on her GK round, and is an experienced TV quizzer as well.

Apologies to all of those whose chances I’ve probably just scuppered by mentioning them.

Mastermind - First Round - Heat 24/24

Here we are then, at the end of the first round heats. Yes, the first round does take a long time to get through, but I’ve found this series even more enjoyable than before, probably because of the added 30 seconds for the general rounds. As you know if you’re a fan of the show, things start to move a hell of a lot faster in the semis now. Still, lets not put the cart before the horse.

Right, I have a confession to make. I had insider knowledge about this particular heat. Not about the others, I hasten to add, but in this case it was recorded on the same day as the final of Champion of Champions. Immediately after this heat I had the chance to have a chat with Diane Hallagan – first of last night’s contenders – and so I already knew quite a bit about what happened in this show. Diane was answering on The Brandon Family Novels of Peter Tinniswood. Peter Tinniswood was responsible for one of my favourite observations – “All men are buggers for Geography “. I’m afraid that I don’t know a lot more about him than this, and so I managed to score a paltry one on this round. Diane had obviously prepared well, and her 11 was a good score, but just a few questions which were asking for names of places within the novels tripped her up. 12, though, meant she would be there or there abouts at the finish.

Martin Gamble came next , with the Life and Times of Douglas Jardine. A man, who it must be said, was never worried about being popular – that’s Douglas Jardine, and not Martin Gamble, whom I have never met, but I’m sure is a very nice chap. I doubt you could say the same for Mr. Jardine, though. I scraped a couple of answers, but Martin put on a fine performance to score 15 and no passes.

I liked the look of Lee Holmes’ subject – British Domestic Politics from 1970 to the Present Day. Glancing down the list of specialist subjects before the start of the show this looked by far my best bet for a decent score, and I was right. Sitting on the Clark sofa I managed 11. Lee, on the other hand, shaped up like a pro by racing through the first 16 questions without a mistake, and only tripping up on the last one. Still, 16 correct answers and no passes from 17 questions is an excellent return.

Orde Wingate and the Chindits, offered to us by Tom Weir, looked an altogether more formidable subject, so I was very glad that he was asked where the word chindits originated. I knew that one, but I didn’t know any of the others that he was asked. Tom had obviously done his homework, as he built his score up to 11. Only good enough for 4th place in the round, but a highly respectable score on what looked to me to be a very tricky set of questions.

I’m afraid that Tom found the next round rather heavy going, and he added another 6 to take his score to 17. Then Diane returned to the chair. Having spoken to her after the show I know that she was kicking herself for not getting sugar lumps as the answer to one of her first questions. She needn’t have felt bad about it. Diane produced a terrific GK round – not that this was unexpected – but up against it, knowing that Lee had a 4 point lead at halfway, and Martin a 3 point lead, she needed to set the target as high as she possibly good. 17 was a fine score , and set the target at 29. Incidentally this also meant that even if one of the others beat her score, Diane would still make it through to the semis anyway.

Martin’s round highlighted what has been an interesting factor in this year’s competition. I’m not saying that contenders didn’t run out of steam in 2 minute rounds, but the effect of it is far more pronounced in a 2 and a half minute round, as I see it. Martin started well, but a couple of wrong answers came and you could see the confidence literally seeping away as he struggled for the rest of the round. In the end 11 gave him a score of 26 , which is a good score, but some way adrift of Diane’s. So by this stage she at least was guaranteed a semi final slot.

It remained for Lee to make sure that he bagged a semi final place as well. His round wasn’t as impressive as Diane’s , but it had a certain momentum of its own. Although he got some wrong as he went along, he kept his mind on the task, kept answering correctly when he could, and by the buzzer he was equal to Diane – although behind on passes. A correct answer on the last question brought him 14 points, enough for 30 , and the win. Well done sir !

As for Diane, well, speaking to her after the show, she didn’t know that she was through to the semis. I don’t know if there were any more shows in the heats to film – they don’t necessarily show them in the same order in which they are recorded. She was a little pessimistic about her chances, having spoken to Nick Mills a little earlier the same day, and hearing that he had come runner up with 34. Well, as we’ve seen, Nick’s runner-up score was exceptional. I couldn’t say anything in the last couple of weeks, but its been obvious for a couple of shows that Diane was going to make it. So well done ! I’m looking forward to the semis.

The Details

Diane Hallagan The Brandon Family Novels of Peter Tinniswood12 - 217 - 429 - 4
Martin GambleThe Life and Times of Douglas Jardine15 - 011 - 226 - 2
Lee HolmesBritish Domestic Politics 1970 – present day16 - 014 - 530 - 5
Tom WeirOrde Wingate and the Chindits11 - 36 - 617 - 9

Highest Scoring Runners Up

Nick Mills – 34 – 4
Hamish Cameron – 30 – 2
Anne Skillen - 30 -7
James Collenette - 29 – 2
Diane Hallagan – 29 - 4
Philip Evans – 28 – 1

Friday, 25 February 2011

Is Variety the Spice of Life ?

I’ll tell you why I ask. Its because after a bit of soul searching I introduced a slightly different format of questions in my quiz in the rugby club last night. Fifteen years ago I was the first to introduce a connections quiz to the good people of the club. I say introduce, because I never invented the format, whereby you’d ask three seemingly unconnected questions, then for the fourth question teams would have to look at the answers and say whatever they thought the connection between the three of them was. I got it from an open quiz during the days of the late lamented Neath Quiz League, in which was compiled by a good quizzer called Geoff Evans. Geoff had doubtless had the idea from another quiz he’d attended, and so on. Connections caught on in the club, and every third quiz I do tends to be a connections quiz . By only doing it every third quiz people’s appetite is whetted, and they do tend to ask me if it’ll be a connections quiz, and seem disappointed if I say no. Maybe they just don’t like my normal quizzes, however that’s by the by. The connections idea has been copied in the club, though, and the other regular setter, and two of the semi regulars like to use the format themselves from time to time.

Last night I did something slightly different. If I can make an analogy with Only Connect, if the connections in the usual connections quiz are like the first round in Only Connect, then the ones I used last night were more like the second round of Only Connect. So a typical set of 4 questions was like this one I used : -

1) In the Book of Genesis, what was said to have been built from gopher wood ?
2) A station on the London Underground shares the same name with a station on the Paris Metro. Which name ?
3) Peter the Hermit was a key figure in which historical event ?
4) Look at your last three answers, and then say what would come next in the sequence.

Please don’t think I’m insulting your intelligence if I give the answers – but they are : -
1) Noahs ARK
3) The First CRUSADE
4) Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones films. Acceptable answers were the words Crystal, Skull , or anything containing those words. I might have given it just for the one word kingdom , but since no team gave just that one word this wasn’t a decision I had to make.

I was a little worried that , in the same way that many people find that round two of Only Connect is harder than round one ( I did ! ) I was worried that this may prove to be a bit too hard , but actually the scores held up surprisingly well last night. To the point that a couple of people even congratulated me on the idea ( not mine, but I’ll take all the praise I can get ) . So I think I’ll definitely give it another shot in a couple of weeks. The only difficulty is coming up with the sequences , but then I do have a bit of time to work on it.

What's killing quizzes ?

Its half term week in my corner of South Wales, and I was idly checking back on some past posts from the very early days of LAM. I noticed that a post I made in 2008, which had never had a comment on it previously , had now attracted a comment. The post was on my preference for home made quizzes over the quizzes that can be bought - and are bought by many pubs and clubs - from a number of companies. This comment had been posted in October 2010.

"Hi David

My name is Martin Green and I write pop culture and trivia questions for the 4,000 pubs and clubs that play one of 23 different quizzes produced each week by Redtooth.

Our main objective is to stop the smartest quiz teams from winning and killing the quiz nights.

You are living proof that this is working."

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this. Martin, if by any chance you're reading this I am sorry that I haven't responded before - I genuinely did not see your comment before yesterday.

I don't know how fair it is to say that the smartest quiz teams are killing quizzes. Oh, don't misunderstand me, I'm not going to bury my head in the sand and say that the same team winning a quiz week in week out wouldn't be a disincentive for other teams to turn up, but neither am I willing to accept that , if a quiz night dies the death, then this is the only reason why. For example, I can say for a fact that I know teams who have stopped attending quizzes for these other reasons : -

* A question master who either turns a blind eye to phone cheating, or is ineffectual at dealing with it.
* A question master who prefers the sound of his own voice to getting on with the quiz.
* Particularly loud and argumentative teams, who don't necessarily win all, or sometimes any of the quizzes, but just make it a less pleasant experience for others.
* A quiz made up of predominantly one category of questions above all others - entertainment for example.

There are others, but let these suffice for the moment.

I have a feeling that I understand what may have prompted Martin's comment. In 2008 I did comment once or twice on the fact that I had attended Redtooth quizzes, and found them not to my liking. If Martin is taking time and trouble to set quizzes for them, then I can understand that this comment would not be particularly nice to hear, but nonetheless it was how I felt.When I played in some Redtooth quizzes in different places, my opinion was that they were rather gimmicky, had a preponderance of entertainment questions, and questions such as family fortunes type ones which needed guesswork rather than knowledge. For these reasons I didn't find them very enjoyable. That's just my opinion, and as always, please feel free to disagree.I think I should say that I haven't played in a Redtooth quiz since 2008, and therefore am in no position to say whether the points I raised at the time still apply or not. Still, if you enjoy that kind of quiz more than the kind of quiz I enjoy, then that's great - good luck to you. Quizzing is a broad church. If Redtooth quizzes are deliberately constructed this way - as Martin suggests - so that serious or experienced quizzers are discouraged from participating, then that's OK too . Fair enough.

However I think its a little unfair to be portrayed as some kind of unhealthy influence on quizzing. The fact is that most quizzers who have reached a certain level do, I find, tend to be very careful about taking the risk of destroying their local quiz nights by winning week in week out, and scooping up whatever prizes may be on offer. If I talk from my own experience, in the Rugby club I set the quiz myself at least once a month, and always step in when nobody else will do it. Hardly destroying that quiz night, I'd say. In Cowbridge John and I deliberately only go very other week, so we can't ever win two weeks' in a row. On Sunday night we never accept the prize. I've no doubt that we're far from unique in this. Also, let's be honest here as well. Even if you stop quizzers such as John and myself taking part, in my experience there's only usually a couple of teams at most who dominate any local pub quiz. Yeah, change the names of the teams, change the personnel involved, but you're still going to have the situation of one or two flat track bullies dominating, but maybe winning by a couple of points each week rather than 10 or 20. Not that it matters in the slightest, but I think that John and I won 2 out of the 3 Retooth Quizzes we played - although its a long time ago now, and my memory may be playing tricks on me.

I'll be interested to hear anyone's views on this topic.

Thursday, 24 February 2011 Website is Back !

Yes, the best quiz website that I know is back up and running. You can find it here : -

If you're already a member you may find that you have to request a new password. Don't worry, it only took me a couple of minutes, and once I'd logged in I could change it back to my trusty old one.

Welcome back ! I've missed you !

Contestant Call - New Quiz Show

I’ve finally managed to reactivate my email, and I found this waiting for me yesterday. I’ve contacted Lindsay since, and she is happy for me to share this with you.

“I am a researcher on a new pilot show for Channel 4 and I am looking for contestants. Essentially, we are looking for Britain's most enthusiastic quizzers to take out on a pub quiz roadtrip across Scotland at the beginning of March. The team we put together should be made up of strong characters, who between them, are strong enough to defeat the other teams they go up against. . . . we're filming pretty soon, 6 March to 10 March with a travel day on either side “

Now , I can’t do it, since there’s no way I can get the time off work. However if you’re in a position to be able to spend the time, then it could well be worth your while. I believe that they will especially welcome applications from lady quizzers as well. Likewise , while this is a pilot, there’s a good chance it may well become a series in the near future, and so it might be a good idea to get your foot in the door now.

Application forms and more details can be requested from this email address

The Third Degree - Radio 4 - Mondays 1:30pm

I’m indebted to Hugh Bennett for pointing me in the direction of this one. The Third Degree is Radio 4’s current offering in the Monday lunchtime quiz slot, vacant following the triumphant conclusion of this year’s Brain of Britain.

How does it work ? Well, its relatively simple. The quiz is chaired by Radio 4 stalwart Steve Punt, which is a fair enough indication that this is not necessarily going to be the most serious thing on the menu. Nothing wrong with that either. It’s a contest between two teams, one made up of three students, and the other made up of three dons from the same university. Each student is from a different faculty or discipline, and this is matched by the dons, the reasons for which will become clear.

I may be wrong, but the students v. dons idea isn’t new. I’m sure in the past we’ve had UC specials along these lines. Still it makes for an interesting contest, with, you’d think, nothing to lose for the students, and nothing to gain but a lot to lose for the dons. The format , if I recall correctly, works like this. The first round is a straightforward A and B round , with each team receiving their own General Knowledge questions. Nothing to intimidate a decent quizzer there. However after this we embarked upon a series of individual rounds, and these were pretty tough. I say that, but the Maths and Science ones were as unfathomable to me as the ones on UC , so I’m not really in a position to say just how high they rate on the Mohs scale of questions.

I liked the next team round, which was called Highbrow – Lowbrow. Each team in turn was asked a set of questions. Before the question was asked they were told the category, and then could choose whether to go highbrow, or low brow. For example – one question was called Jack and Bobby. The lowbrow question asked what was the surname of the brothers Jack and Bobby who won world cup winners medals with the England football team in 1966. The highbrow question wasn’t really all that, just asking for the Christian name of the father of Jack and Bobby Kennedy. The twist was this. If the students opted for the lowbrow questions , they only got a point for a correct answer, but two points if they opted correctly for a highbrow one. However the dons were given it the other way around – one point for a highbrow and two for a lowbrow. Well, they gobbled up the lowbrows, to really forge a lead which they were never going to relinquish. Maybe this was just a one off, but I do see this being maybe a flaw in an otherwise interesting format.

A traditional buzzer round finished off the contest, and a good win for the dons of Southampton University. Overall I liked the show. The format is interesting, but as I say I do think that the highbrow lowbrow round is a great idea, but the mix of questions really needs careful scrutiny of the balance of the questions. I liked Steve Punt’s interjections as well. I can’t say that I will be making a lunch date every Monday when I’m back in work, but then that is what the iplayer is for. Worth a listen.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Streak News

I feel that I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er. Or put it another way, since it was I who brought up the subject of the winning streak last week, I’d better keep you posted until it finally ends – which can’t be too far away.

Since I last posted I attended a social quiz on Sunday, and that crunch match in the league on Monday. The Sunday quiz is a very nice little social quiz which John and I attend every week. 3 different question masters take turns to set it. The top prize is always a bottle of wine, and when I tell you that John and I have lost once in the 18 months or so we’ve been going then you’ll probably understand why we never take the prize. Not that I’m saying for one minute that anybody would ever kick up a fuss there about the same team winning week in , week out, but when you don’t want the wine anyway, which neither of us do, then its just a small gesture which costs us nothing and means that you don’t wear out your welcome. There’s normally 5 rounds of ten questions – three rounds, then a break, then the last two rounds. Only last Sunday the first round was a music round. 20 songs, and you had to identify the animal either in the name of the song or the artists. What made it slightly easier was that all that was required was the name of the animal. So although we knew 16, we took another two points by the tactic of hitting and hoping. That put us as joint leaders at the break, and it was highly unlikely that we were going to lose on General Knowledge, and although it was close we squeezed home in the end.

Then came Monday. The situation was this. The team we played against in the league on Monday night are a great team. When I tell you that they did the League and Cup Double last year , and for many times in the last few seasons, that should give you an idea of the calibre of team I’m talking about. So far in this season the only league match that they’d lost out of the 14 played was our home fixture against them. So, going into the match, we had 14 wins from 14, and they had 13. Which meant that if we lost it would be all square in the league. It seems very unlikely that they will lose any other match, and so we would be in the position of having to win all of our remaining three league games just to qualify for a play off at the end of the season. However, if we won, then we could afford to lose two out of our remaining three matches, and we’d still at least be in a play off.

It was a close run thing. In the 32 written questions which always make up the first round of a league match I would say that we knew just one that they didn’t. Two questions neither team knew for certain, and we guessed. They guessed wrongly, we guessed correctly. We managed a couple of more points during the team A and B questions, and to cut a long story short, it was enough.

So the streak continues, at least until this Sunday. There is a quiz in the rugby club tomorrow night, but I will be the QM. In fact I should be putting the finishing touches to the quiz, rather than writing this now. I’ll keep you posted on the streak after Sunday.

University Challenge - Quarter Final - Qualification Match

Peterhouse v. Queens'

Yes, here we have the second automatic qualification match, pitting two teams, neither of whom I tipped to make it through to the semis. Living proof that the Clark crystal ball is back to its 2009 form, after my 2010 aberration.Peterhouse looked slightly the better bet going into the game, with a team of Edward Tait, Ben Slingo, Christopher Stanton and captain Louise Howes.Queens’ also fielded an unchanged team of Mark Jackson, Simon Wallace, David Webster and captain William Belfield.

Contrary to my expectations, it was Queens’ that made a lot of the early running. David Webster took the first starter, recognising that JP was referring to détente far quicker than anybody else did. 2 bonuses followed on Ancient History. Christopher Stanton took Peterhouse’s first starter with Little Lord Fauntleroy, but the team only managed a single bonus on plants. Mark Jackson, very much the star of Queens’ last outing, weighed in with his first starter of the night when he knew that the prefix required for all the examples given in the question was – anti - . 3 bonuses on a physicist followed. Ben Slingo – who you’ll remember had 18 correct starter answers before the start of the quarter finals - buzzed in for the next starter but was unable to supply an answer. Nobody on either team knew that it was Tobias Smollett who wrote Roderick Random amongst other things. I tried reading it once – failed miserably. Peterhouse took the net knowing that Portugal was one of the European countries whose name is actually the same in English as it is in their own language – believe me there are precious few of these. A bonus was taken on ceramics. Simon Wallace recognised that the picture starter showed a very young Bill Clinton, This earned Queens’ 3 more pictures of US presidents in their younger years, and they managed two of them. Ben Slingo weighed in with his first correct starter of the night with the term Stalking Horse, and this enabled Peterhouse to take two bonuses on wives of Henry VIII. After a lively first ten minutes Queens’ held a slender lead by 65 pointd to 50.

Mark Jackson took the next starter, with a theorem whose name was so long and cumbersome I didn’t even attempt to write it down. 2 bonuses on particle physics followed. Ben Slingo took a fast buzz to identify John Fisher, and the team earned the first of the show’s UC specials with a set of 3 bonuses on works of literature with 1 word titles. 1 was taken. Edward Tait nipped in for the next starter on soap, and Queens’ managed a bonus on artists’ works. Louise Howes took her first bonus on the musical Fiddler on The Roof. I took part in a school production of this once. After hearing me sing the director said “Don’t call us . . . Ever “ However , I digress. 2 bonuses followed on musicals and the works that had inspired them, and for the first time in the competition Peterhouse had taken the lead. Queens’ were in no mood to just roll over, though. Captain William Belfield knew that the convoluted way of working out a winner in a rain affected limited overs cricket match is the Duckworth Lewis method. Then the second UC special set of bonuses of the night followed. The team were asked to work out which monarchs acceded to the throne in the years represented by specific prime numbers. Unsurprisingly they didn’t manage any. Christopher Stanton knew that the Skylon was the iconic needle like structure built for the Festival of Britain . 2 points were taken on Jeremy Bentham – though sadly his continued attendance at University of London Senate Meetings in mummified form was not one of them. A brilliant starter was taken by Louise Howes, which went something like this. If you type the letter immediately to the left of the one you mean, which European capital city would be spelt IAKY ? Before you could say qwertyuiop she had buzzed in with Oslo. Great work. One bonus was taken on the Duke of Wellington. Ben Slingo – who’d had a very good ten minutes – knew that Rwanda joined the Commonwealth in 2009. Peterhouse also took the next starter, on paintings of Adam and eve, although none of the bonuses. By the 20 minute mark Peterhouse had pulled out to a healthy lead, with 170 to 95.

Heaven knows, Queens’ certainly gave it a lash at this point. William Belfield took the next starter on the writer Philip K. Dick . No bonus could be taken on art collectors and collections. Then Simon Wallace took the next on tuna, and 3 good bonuses were taken on alternative names for elements of the periodic table. Ben Slingo steadied the ship for Peterhouse with a terrific answer which involved adding up all the minimum ages in the UK for marriages with parental consent, driving a motor vehicle, and voting in a general election. I would have worked out 51, but nowhere near as quickly as he did. The next two starters went begging, and you got the feeling that the finish line was probably just going to come a little too quickly for Queens’ Simon Wallace won the buzzer race to explain that the flags of Australia et al have the Union Jack in the corner. 2 music bonuses were taken. Christopher Stanton took a vital starter for Peterhouse, identifying Halicarnassus as the ancient site near Bodrum in Turkey. Then Louise Howes wrapped up the competition by getting Hubble, in a question about astronomy. At the gong the final score was 215 to Peterhouse, and 160 to Queens’. Well played Peterhouse – you’ve earned your place in the semis. As for Queens’ all is not lost – good luck in the next match.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

A veritable smorgasbord of Paxman treats in this show. I’ve picked out just three for the connoisseur to enjoy. Firstly, when the team failed to identify a photo of a very, very young Richard Nixon, he explained,
“Its Richard Nixon – that awful mouth gives it away every time !”
Then when he was offered Picasso as one of the Adam and Eve artists he spluttered “It doesn’t look a BIT like Picasso !” ( Mind you, it didn’t. )
Finally, when searching for some words of consolation for the Queens’ team he managed this –
“Well, bad luck – you were on pretty good terms for most of the match , but . . . you lost ! “

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

The Kiel Canal claims to be the busiest man made waterway in the world.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Mastermind - First Round - heat 23

The penultimate heat of this year’s first round, as ever, brought together an eclectic mix of specialist subjects. Naturally my first thought was to see whether I would be able to answer at least one question in each specialist round, or whether I would have to resign myself to getting the weekend off to the worst possible start. I checked the list – Queen, OK – Dante’s Commedia – good – RAF Bomber Command during world war II- could just scrape a couple – freshwater fish of the British Isles – oh dear.

Still, its not about me. Its about the contenders. Warren Tang kicked things off with a round of questions on Queen. It is to my shame that I admit I twice passed up the chance to go to see Queen live when I was in my teens. In my defence I was doing my A levels at the time, and the proceeds from my Saturday job in Budgens in Northfields Avenue didn’t stretch very far. Still, that’s the way it goes. Warren knew a lot of his stuff, but I thought that there was an interesting point about his technique. I may be wrong but I think there were at least two questions requiring names where he gave the wrong Christian name but the right surname. Had he just given the surname, I’m sure that he would have been given the points. There’s an old quizzers’ saying – Christian names for show – surnames for dough.

Harriet Earle was one of this year’s younger contenders, who offered a seriously heavyweight subject in the shape of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I yield to no one in my admiration of this work of genius. But it’s a hell of a subject to have to learn for a Mastermind round. I scraped three points on it – incidentally the same amount as I had scored on Warren’s round. I thought that Harriet’s score of 8 was commendable on what I can vouch for as a very complicated subject. However it did put her at a considerable disadvantage already, with two contenders yet to play.

RAF Bomber Command proved a fruitful hunting ground for Karl Taylor. He showed commendable good sense in coming up with an answer for every question. It isn’t easy to do at all, and requires huge concentration – it really is SO easy just to let the P word slip from your lips. His score of 13 was a good one, and put him in contention for the win. I didn’t think that this would be my worst specialist round tonight, yet as it was I only managed a solitary one correct answer on this one.

As I said , the freshwater fish of the British Isles is not a subject which I can say I had any great degree of relish for. Not so Thomas Perry. He produced one of the finest specialist rounds we’ve seen all series. 17 questions, to which he provided 17 correct answers, and believe me it looked as if he was digging deep for a couple of them. A fantastic round. If you’re interested I was also delighted with the fact that I managed three of these myself – which meant that my combined score for the 4 rounds was 10. Double figures, and I’m happy to take the money and run on that one, thank you very much.

Little remained for Harriet or Warren to play for other than pride, a runner up repechage slot looking just too far away. Harriet managed a battling nine, and poor Warren hit something of a pass spiral during his round of 8. So the targets for Karl worked out something like this. If he could find 5 correct answers and fewer than 6 passes, he would be guaranteed runner up spot. To go into the repechage slots with only one heat left he needed to improve upon 27 and 1 pass. Obviously to win he needed to set as high a target as possible, being that Thomas already had a three point head start. Karl put together a good round. He was getting a few wrong, but what he was doing well was providing an answer to every single question, and not getting too worked up or worried about the ones that he missed. By the buzzer he had added 14, to take his score to 27. Crucially he hadn’t passed at all. All of which meant that even if Thomas did surpass the target, Karl would be joining the repechage board.

Thomas certainly did pass the target. Then he kept going. And going. Seriously , 16 isn’t the finest GK round we’ve seen this series, but its pretty good, especially when you put it together with the perfect 17 he scored in the first round First round form doesn’t necessarily mean that much when you get into the semis, but nonetheless this is a combined score that marks Mr. Perry out as a dark horse for a place in the final. As for Karl, well done sir ! A well earned place on the repechage board with only one show to go. Well done too to Philip Evans, whose own place in the semis is now guaranteed.

The Details

Warren TangQueen 10 - 08 - 718 - 7
Harriet EarleDante’s Commedia8 - 29 - 317 - 5
Karl TaylorRAF Bomber Command 1939 - 194513 - 014 - 027 - 0
Thomas Perry Freshwater Fish of the British Isles17 - 016 - 233 - 3

Current Highest Scoring Runners-Up

Nick Mills – 34 – 4
Hamish Cameron – 30 – 2
Anne Skillen - 30 -7
James Collenette - 29 – 2
Philip Evans – 28 – 1
Karl Taylor – 27 – 0

Friday, 18 February 2011

That Streak . . .

Further to my last post, I thought that I ought to report that the winning streak was extended last night, although it was a pretty close run thing in the end. I tell you why I thought that it might end last night . Firstly because there was very serious opposition in the form of the team of Rob, Terry and Claire, but secondly because the setter last night has the habit of serving up a few bouncers. When I tell you that the top score in both of the first two rounds was 5 out of ten, that should give you an idea . Still, credit where it's due, he asked one absolute corker, which I shall take the liberty of repeating here : -

Which group, very well known in the 60s, performed the theme song of the 1970's ITV children's magazine programme Magpie ? ( Ah - Susan Stranks ! Ah - Jenny Hanley !) Nobody knew . The answer given was The Spencer Davis Group. I didn't disbelieve, but I was idly googling at lunchtime, and I checked this out, and yes, its true. They performed it under the alias of The Murgatroyd Band, but nonetheless it was the Spencer Davis Group. Murgatroyd was, of course, the name of the cartoon magpie on the show's logo. What the question master would have done if any of the teams had actually put down The Murgatroyd Band I don't know, but it didn't arise, so it didn't matter.

So the streak continues, and there's only Sunday left in which I could possibly end it before the crunch match on Monday. Watch this space.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Winning Streaks - Good or Bad Thing ?

See what you think on this one. I never go into a quiz hoping that I’m going to lose. Oh, I lose my fair share of quizzes, that’s a fact, but I never play to lose, and I never usually want to lose. Its just . . .
Well, its like this. As it happens I am currently on a 4 week winning streak, and I’ve won something like my last 14 or 15 quizzes in a row. Yes, quite right, bragging again. Its not necessarily that much of a boast, since its only the 3 league matches and 1 cup tie in Bridgend which were seriously competitive matches. Still, a winning streak is a winning streak. The thing is that bitter experience tells me that all winning streaks come to an end sooner or later, and the longer they go on, the greater the chance is that you’ll lose the next quiz you play in.

Which wouldn’t matter in the slightest, except for the fact that we have a crunch match in the league in Bridgend on this coming Monday. If we should win we won’t be guaranteed the league title, but we will be taking a significant step towards it. If we should lose we won’t have lost the title either, but it will probably mean that we’ll have to win all of our remaining matches to go into a play off at the end of the season. Pressure, eh ? Well, not too much. I’m not going to lie, I don’t mind this kind of pressure situation in a quiz, since it adds a little , shall we say, frisson to it that you just can’t get in a social quiz. Still, I’d be a lot happier if this match was coming anywhere but at the end of a long winning streak.

I always say that I’m not a very superstitious person, but who am I kidding ? We were playing in Cowbridge this week, and this is a quiz where we don’t always win. As the final scores were being read out I found myself totally unbothered about whether we’d done enough or not, so much so that it did cross my mind that it might have actually done us a favour if we had been beaten. Didn’t happen. Still, there’s always tonight in the rugby club. The only two quizzes I’ve lost this year have been in the rugby club as it happens – once fair and square, and once in the New Year quiz about which I have already posted, and have no real wish to add anything further. So I find it crossing my mind at the moment that although I can’t deliberately play to lose, if we did, it may just be a blessing in disguise. Better that the streak ends tonight than on Monday.

I’ve just read back what I’ve written, and I’m fully aware of how pathetic it sounds. Casual quizzers beware. The moment you start to take it all seriously this is what you are letting yourself in for.

University Challenge Quarter Final Elimination Match

Christ’s, Cambridge v. Magdalen, Oxford

Last week we saw the first qualification match which saw our own Sheffield team progress through to the semis. On Monday night we saw the reverse of that particular coin, with the first elimination match. Neither of the two teams involved would automatically progress to the semis, but one of them would definitely be eliminated. So, drinking in this veritable last chance saloon we had Christ’s Cambridge, and Magdalen Oxford. You have to say that it looked a big ask for a good Christ’s team, but then we have seen upsets before. Playing for Christ’s were Jack Belloli, Joe Walmswell, Alexander Greaves, and captain Natasha Simonova. Magdalen too fielded an unchanged team in the shape of James McComish, Kyle Haddad-Fonda, Will Cudmore and skipper Matthew Chan.

Magdalen started as they meant to go on, with a timely buzz from Kyle Haddad-Fonda for the first starter, knowing that it was Mahatma Ghandi who was being described. 3 out of 3 bonuses on Europe were taken. Mr. Haddad-Fonda took the next for good measure, knowing that the various definitions he was being offered all referred to the word horn. We saw an early appearance of a UC special set of bonuses, which asked for pairs of words which only differed with the use of an acute accent. Made no difference to Magdalen as they took all three of them. Will Cudmore knew that the original meaning of the word symposium was something to do with getting sloshed – or something like that – and Magdalen had so far answered every single question correctly. They only managed 2 on Royal offspring, but this was no sign that the wheels were about to come off the runaway express train which was the Magdalen team at this stage. James McComish knew that if the question mentions style of dress, and the French Revolution, then sans-culottes is going to be a pretty good bet, and another full set of bonuses were taken on chromosomes. You have to say that Magdalen looked a million dollars – Australian or US dollars depending on whether you favour Mr. McComish or Mr. Haddad-Fonda – at this stage . Will Cudmore took a good starter which required the answer Francis Bacon – more of that later, and added a couple more bonuses, and then James McComish took his second knowing that the Temple of Artemis was the one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World that was situated at Ephesus. Only one starter remained before the ten minute mark, and Joe Walmswell of Christ’s made sure that this opening period wasn’t a complete shut – out by recognising a quotation about NATO. 1 bonus was taken on the naturist – sorry, that should read naturalist – Père David. After a breathtaking opening by Magdalen they led by 140 to 15.

As he had done in the first part of the competition, Kyle Haddad-Fonda took the first starter in this middle part, on Wavelength. Finally Magdalen showed some weakness by failing to take any of the bonuses on hydroscopic materials. Not surprised either. Will Cudmore knew the paternoster elevator, and normal service was resumed as Magdalen took all three bonuses on Antarctica. Maybe it was me, but it seemed curiously ironic that it was at this point that Natasha Simonova took a starter on The Slough of Despond. You couldn’t have blamed Christ’s for feeling at that point as if that was an accurate description of their position. Note this – they weren’t playing badly , but they couldn’t get to the buzzer quickly enough. Still, this starter at least edged up the score. Nobody fancied the music starter on Johann Strauss the second, but then we saw a relative rarity. Skipper Matthew Chan of Magdalen has, lets face it, been overshadowed by the exploits of his three team mates, but with the next starter he leapt like a salmon to the buzzer, and supplied the correct answer of Schiller. One of the ensuing music bonuses followed. Christ’s managed the next two starters – with Joe Walmswell getting corpuscles, and Jack Belloli getting Fantastic Mr. Fox. Only 1 bonus on physics was taken, and none of a set on Charlie Chaplin . Neither teams knew that sarcoptic itch had anything to do with scabies, which I always thought was the surname of the lead singer of the Damned, but I digress. This question actually saw a Haddad-Fonda miscue. However Will Cudmore took the next, and Kyle Haddad-Fonda the next after that. Incidentally, this brought them two more 6 point hauls on the bonuses. In many ways this was the most impressive aspect of Magdalen’s performance. They were hot on the buzzer, but also very hot on converting bonuses. Which is the mark of a very successful team, as we know. With ten minutes remaining the contest was all over as a contest, with Magdalen leading by 235 to 50.

Will Cudmore took the second picture starter, identifying a picture of Genghis Khan. They only took one of the bonuses – I was pleased with myself for getting Vlad the Impaler. Next followed an unfortunate miscue from Kyle Haddad-Fonda. He knew that the US continental congress met in Philadelphia. However , when the full question was asked, it was the state required, not the city, and skipper Natasha Simonova gratefully accepted the windfall. 2 bonuses on Pollys in literature were taken. No matter, since Kyle took the next starter anyway, on towers. Alexander Greaves took some more points for Christ’s with the next starter. By his usual standards James McComish had had a relatively quiet contest, and he made some amends by taking the next on the Isles of Arran. 2 bonuses followed. Will Cudmore took a quick buzz on Les Miserables, and Kyle Haddad-Fonda took Magdalen’s last of the contest on Keppler. I always liked his sand dance with Wilson and Betty. As a consolation Christ’s Simonova and Greaves managed the last two starters, and the score at the end was an emphatic 330 – 120 win for Magdalen. Bad luck Christ’s, but you were playing one of the very finest sides in the whole of this year’s competition. As for Magdalen, I think that the semis are beckoning.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Very little to report from this show. He seemed extremely amused by Fantastic Mr. Fox – is he a closet Roald Dahl fan ? - and at least did manage one bellow towards Christ’s of “No You May NOT CONFER !” on the scabies mite question.

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

2 to choose from here. The design for the alien which bursts from John Hurt’s chest in Alien was partly inspired by a painting by Francis Bacon.Also the Helm is the only named wind in the British Isles.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Brain of Britain Grand Final

Brain of Britain Grand Final

If I told you that I wasn’t eagerly anticipating this final, then you’d know that I was lying. 4 fine quizzers, battling it out for the most prestigious title on the radio, and one of the absolute pinnacles of quizzing. Drawing on my own experiences of last year’s grand final I expected it to be fast and furious, although for the sake of at least three of the contestants I hoped that it would be a little closer than last year’s.

John Beynon went first, and was given 2 decent questions to get off the mark, but failed to get that Lord Roberts was the last holder of the title Commander in Chief of the British Army. Nobody else quite managed a bonus. Mark Kerr, for whom I was rooting, took four on the bounce but couldn’t quite manage to convert it to a full set. Never mind, a confident start there. Iwan Thomas took his first, but failed to get the other Gentleman of Verona to accompany Valentine. A second bonus for John there. Andy Tucker couldn’t name Scotland’s longest river, but Iwan knew full well that it was the Tay. Mark and John led with 4, from Iwan’s 2.

John took his first, but failed to answer that the new sport with a shortstop in the 1992 Olympics was baseball. Simple as that. Mark in this early part of the contest was doing well on hard questions, but when asked which spa town in England Sochi was twinned with didn’t know that it was Cheltenham. Neither did I. Iwan did. On his own questions Iwan didn’t know Mr. Wu from the George Formby song . I’d say that this was nothing to be ashamed of, but actually I have quite a soft spot for old “turned out nice again “ George. He made some of his films in Ealing , you know. Still, I digress. Andy took his first, but the coriolis effect stumped him as it did the others. Scores at the end of the round – Andy – 1, Iwan – 4, John – 5, Mark – 8, and looking good value for his lead.

In round three again John had a nice starter, this time on the Kaalevaala. He followed this up with a good answer on Sibelius for a music question, although is third on physics did for him. Perhaps a portent of things to come , Mark was served with a bouncer to start with – as the frontalis muscle did for him. He guessed the cheek, but it was in fact the forehead. This didn’t look too disastrous since Iwan failed his first as well, not knowing the 1983 album by the Police called Synchronicity. Allowing for bonuses, as we headed into the Beat the Brains interval the scores were Andy – 3, Iwan – 5, and both John and Mark tied on 8.

As is traditional the reigning champion set the questions for the beat the brains interval in the final. Ian Bayley’s questions were on astronomy – firstly - which class of minor planets orbiting between Jupiter and Neptune were named after composite beings from Greek mythology ? The brains dismissed this quickly, knowing they were centaurs. The second found them out, though . Which centaur was the first to be classified as such ? The answer was Chiron. Well done Ian.

Round four saw John beaten by the first question for the first time. Actually I was surprised that nobody could remember that Il Milione – the million – was the proper title of the Travels of Marco Polo. It happens.
Mark for the second round was given a nasty starter, requiring the rock called Keiselguhr , which nobody had. Iwan now made his move. He hit a superb series of five for a bonus, which catapulted him into the lead. Even more so when he took a bonus from Andy’s first question on the crab nebula. Now the scores were Andy – 3, John and Mark – 8, Iwan - 12.

As round five began it was still all to play for, but neither Mark nor John could really afford a scoreless round, and a set of five would really come in handy. It was not to be.
John was stopped by his first again . Mark was given a nasty anagram to begin, requiring him to work out Durban and Dunbar. He didn’t, and Andy took a good bonus. Iwan only took one of his own questions, yet it was the kind of round where that would be enough to increase his overall lead, even if Andy top scored in the round. AT the end of the round the scores were Andy – 5, John and Mark – 8 , Iwan 13.

Into round six, and Iwan’s lead was beginning to look decisive. John took his first, but was stopped in his tracks by someone singing My Funny Valentine – nice planning there guys ! I can’t even remember who they said it was, but I’m afraid that nobody had it right. Mark got going, but I’m afraid that his second question , on Wordsworth, brought him up short again. Iwan offered a slight hope to all the others by failing with his first , but kept a crucial bit of momentum by taking a bonus from Andy’s first question.

So into round Seven, and the ominous announcement from Russell that this was in fact the last. Realistically it wasn’t going to be Andy, and both John and Mark needed full sets. Iwan needed really just to keep his head. John made a fight of it by taking the first two. Poor Mark got another stinker, asking him the name of the prison in which Nelson Mandela finished his time in prison – nobody got it. Iwan – home and dry now, couldn’t take his first, and so it only remained for Andy to see out the match. In the end the scores were : -

John Beynon – 12
Mark Kerr – 9
Iwan Thomas – 14
Andy Tucker – 6

My commiserations to Mark. I'm sorry for jinxing you with my support. Still many congratulations to Iwan , a worthy champion and successor to Ian. Both doctors as well , as a matter of coincidence. When I tell you the past roll call of recent champions you’ll see that he has joined illustrious company indeed –
Ian Bayley
Geoff Thomas
The late Mark Bytheway
Pat Gibson
Chris Hughes

Chris , Pat and Geoff are all , of course, also Mastermind champs. We have the mouthwatering prospect ahead of us that Iwan, already through to this year’s Mastermind semis – will be chasing a double. The only person to hold both titles simultaneously before is of course the great Kevin Ashman. Can Iwan do it ? Of course. However I think Ian, the 2010 BoB champion, will have his own eyes on the double as well. Plenty to look forward to.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Mastermind - First Round - Heat 22/24

We’ve reached the 22nd heat , which means we have two left to go after this before we enter the delightful melee that is the semi final stage of the competition. Let joy be unconfined, whoever Joy is. OK, lets get down to business. Although the contenders wouldn’t have known this when they recorded their show, I’m sure, the bottom line was that a second place score of 29 and 1 pass or better would guarantee a semi final berth.

First contender Steve Upstone certainly put in the kind of first round performance which made this look like a possibility. He was answering on the life and music of Richard Thompson. Richard Thompson of Fairport Convention. Cards on the table folks, I had a pretty good idea that this was not going to be a round where I would be supplying any answers from the Clark sofa, and I proved correct in my assumption. It would be down to the other three rounds to bump up my TSS (Total Specialist Score) in this show. Steve, on the other hand put on a very good performance, and his 16 was the pick of the specialist rounds.

Leslie Hurn on the other hand was offering a subject much more to my taste. The Life and Films of Ray Harryhausen to be precise. When I was a kid I was given a copy of Michael Rodd’s Screen Test annual – it would have been about 1972, and there was a section in it all about Ray Harryhausen. I developed a great fondness for his films – I have even been known to sit through the Valley Of Gwangi – and I still have to cancel all appointments if his Jason and The Argonauts is on the telly. So my 7 points was a fairly decent return on what was I felt rather a tricky round – you had to really know your stuff. Leslie knew enough to earn 12 points.

I always fancy my chances on Kings and Queens – in my semi final in the 2007 SOBM I took George IV, so I watched Helen Walking’s round on King Stephen with great interest. I thought she did extremely well. None of these questions were gimmes, and to get 14 showed that she’d prepared thoroughly, and didn’t seem to suffer adversely from nerves in the chair. I was happy to get my 5.

Last in the first round was journalist Max Cooter, taking another subject to my liking, The Plays of William Shakespeare. I thought that all of the questions about the plays I knew were very fair. The problem with this subject is that there are just so many of them. Which I think Max discovered to be a problem as the round progressed. Going by his GK performance I don’t think it was nerves, but he really seemed to struggle. I managed 7 of his questions, and sadly he only managed 6.

All of which makes his GK performance all the more praiseworthy. With nothing to lose, and a repechage slot beyond the bounds of possibility, he went for it all guns blazing. It might not have been quite in the same league as the very best GK rounds we’ve seen this serious, but it was still a bloomin’ good one. 16 points off a 2 and a half minute round is a good performance by almost anyone’s standards. With a better specialist , he coulda’ been a contendah.

Leslie didn’t look quite as assured on GK as Max. Still, he had a considerable points advantage to begin with, and easily overhauled the 22 which had been set as the target. His 14 was a good , steady piece of quizzing. Answer what you know, guess what you don’t, keep moving on. It’s a simple game plan, and an effective one, but not always easy to stick to when you’re sitting in the chair. 26 looked a decent, if gettable target.

Well, gettable it may have been, but Helen couldn’t manage it. After a fairly confident start you always felt that she was against the clock. Her specialist had been 2 points better than Leslie’s, but that 2 points was gobbled up by the unforgiving hand of the clock. In the end she scored 10 to put herself on 24. Nothing to be ashamed of. So only Steve Upstone could deny Leslie his place in the semi now. At first I thought he was going to do it. He had clearly decided upon the 3 step tactic of 1) think, 2) answer if you know it, 3) pass if you don’t. Now, if you observe the think part of this, then it’s a viable tactic especially when the target is relatively small. However the danger of this is that when you start to get a couple of passes in a row, then it becomes harder and harder to think, and easier and easier to pass the next question as well – the dreaded pass spiral. He reached 25, just one point behind, but was to come no closer than this. In the end he passed on 12.

So well done Leslie Hurn. Well done too to James Collenette.Back in the very first show of the series he scored a fine 29 , and has been waiting patiently on the repechage board for the whole series.

The Details

Steve Upstone The Life and Music of Richard Thompson16 - 19 - 1225 - 13
Leslie HurnThe Life and films of Ray Harryhausen12 - 214 - 226 - 2
Helen WalklingKing Stephen14 - 010 - 324 - 3
Max CooterThe Plays of William Shakespeare6 - 316 - 222 - 5

Current Highest Scoring Runners-Up

Nick Mills – 34 – 4
Hamish Cameron – 30 – 2
Anne Skillen - 30 -7
James Collenette - 29 – 2
Philip Evans – 28 - 1
Duncan Byrne – 27 – 2

Brain of Britain Semi Final 4

The last four brave contestants trying to earn a place in what looks like a fearsome grand final line up were William de’Ath, Elizabeth Manning, Derek Moody and Andy Tucker. The form guide suggested that 2010 Mastermind semi finalist William de’Ath, who had the highest score in the first round of these four semi finalists, should be the favourite. However Derek Moody was also a Mastermind runner up, and we saw last year just how successful they can be in BoB. Elizabeth Manning won through just pipping our own Mark Walton for the last repechage slot, and Andy Tucker had quietly impressed when winning heat 7.

First to show were Elizabeth with three correct answers on her own questions in the first round, and especially Andy, who took the first four of his own questions, and two bonuses for good measure. He looked good value for his lead.

When you’re on BoB your absolute nightmare is to get stinkers, and keep getting stinkers for your first question, round after round. To be fair it rarely happens quite as badly as that, but it happened to poor William de’Ath. Rounds 2, 3 and 4 all saw him fail to score a point on his own questions, which realistically made his chances of progressing extremely slim.Derek fared slightly better, picking up points in the first three rounds, but as a contest the early stages were all about Elizabeth and Andy. By the end of the third round, as we broke for the Beat the Brains interval, Andy led by 10 to Elizabeth’s 9, with William and Derek both on 4.

The Listener’s questions were dispatched to the boundary without any hesitation. All the panellists knew that when Matti Nykanen of Finland won both individual ski jump gold medals in Calgary in 1988, Eddie The Eagle Edwards came last in both competitions. They also knew all about the Jamaican bob sleigh team. Back to the game, and we were rather becalmed for the next two rounds. In round six, though, William finally managed to escape from the shackles a nasty set of questions had placed upon him, and scored the only full set of five of the whole contest. With a bonus as well, the seven point put him up to 11, just two points behind Elizabeth, but still 5 points behind Andy, who had a good round himself. Russell then announced that this would in fact be the last round. William fell on the first question of his set. It had been a valiant fightback from a fine quizzer, but the quiz gods had clearly set out their stall against him this evening. Elizabeth improved her score by one, but with a good enough lead any way Andy saw out the match by answering his first. The final scores were : -

William de’Ath – 11
Elizabeth Manning – 14
Derek Moody – 6
Andy Tucker – 19

So we have the final line up : -
Mark Kerr
John Beynon
Iwan Thomas
Andy Tucker

I’m sure they are all biting their fingernails, hoping to goodness that they don’t become the recipient of the Clark tip. I honestly, hand on heart, have no inside information on this one, and genuinely do not know how it did/will turn out. So with that in mind , this is how I see it. Both Andy and John have shown that they are excellent quizzers, and great competitors. Either of them could win, and either of them would be a worthy champ. Both Mark and Iwan, though, are incredibly strong. If I’m put on the spot, I’d say that I think it will be one of them. No disrespect to Iwan, whom I don’t know as well, but I shall be rooting for Mark, who I have had the honour of sharing a studio with, and who is a great guy as well as being a great quizzer.

Good luck to all of you.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

News from the Watercooler

You know me. I keep a weather ear open for reactions from my non quizzing friends and colleagues to new TV quizzes as a decent indication of how well they're received by the general public. So I thought I'd share with you some of things I've been hearing for the last week or two.

Basically nobody likes Million Pound Drop. No surprise there since I'd guess that most of the people I have regular contact with aren't really the target audience anyway. Still, you can't say that it has made a sizeable splash in the public consciousness - or dare I say it, even a drop.

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed BBC's new quiz Perfection. I rather enjoyed it, given that there could be more questions per show. Well I'm sorry to say that this show has not found much favour against my colleagues. Admittedly rather a small sample on which to base a conclusion. Still, these were the same people who liked both The Chase and Pointless before these shows had finished their first seasons, and they have both become very well established since. I hope that this is unrepresentative. From what I've seen of it it deserves a second series to establish itself.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

University Challenge - Quarter Final Qualification Match 1

Oxford Brookes v. Sheffield

For the second time in this set of quarter final matches two of my four picks for the semis came face to face, Oxford Brookes, and my adopted team for this year, Sheffield. Oxford Brookes have tended to look more and more assured with each match, and the team of Sara Johnson, Austin Sherlaw-Johnson, Richard Williams and captain Anthony McLarin won their first quarter final match against Christ’s Cambridge by a narrow margin, but nonetheless they did it. Sheffield, in the form of LAM readers Andy Bolton, our own Tristan Cole and Hugh Bennett, and captain Tom Thirkell, also had to put on a late , late show in a pulsating match against the impressive Magdalen team, winning on the last starter.

First blood went to Sheffield. Tris leapt straight in, knowing that it was the White Goddess that Robert Graves wrote of. 2 bonuses followed on American humourists. Sheffield made a virtue of sharing the starters around the team tonight, and it was Andy who took the next, recognising a definition of the word minnow. One bonus was taken on notable clubs. I was in the kit kat club once. Every lunchtime we’d club together and buy a kit kat – sorry. Back to the review. Tris took another great starter early, recognising the Christian names of the characters in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, an early buzz which rather left JP taken aback. Again a single bonus was taken, this time on piano instructions. There was a hiatus in Sheffield’s blitz starts for just a moment, as neither side could take the next starter on Geometry. This allowed OB to catch their collective breath, and captain Anthony McLarin buzzed in before JP could complete the official title of the Society of Harmonious Fists, knowing full well that this was in fact the Boxers. 2 bonuses were taken on power series in Mathematics. Our own Hugh Bennett took the next starter, a picture special. It showed, all jumbled up, the words of a famous speech. The more times the word appeared in the speech, the bigger it appeared. Got it ? Hugh did, recognising Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech. Good shout. 3 more of the same followed, and the guys took two of them. Rounding off the first ten minutes Hugh took the next starter for good measure, knowing an area of modern Slovenia when he heard it. After a whirlwind start by Sheffield, they led after 10 minutes by 90 to 20.

The game wasn’t over. Sheffield have carved big leads before, only to see them almost clawed back. This wasn’t going to happen tonight if Andy Bolton had anything to do with it. He recognised a description of red blood cells. Only one bonus followed on jewellery. Austin Sherlaw-Johnson, so impressive in the last couple of matches, miscued on the next, but Sheffield were unable to capitalise. Andy took the next on cartilaginous fish. I’ll have chips with mine please. 2 more bonuses were added to the total. A nice starter came next, where a series of clues to names were given, and then the teams had to supply the letter which both began and ended the name – for example Renoir and Reuter. Austin Sherlaw-Johnson atoned for his previous miscue with this one. Alas, OB couldn’t convert any of the bonuses on particle physics. Neither could I. On the music bonus we heard the sounds of Aretha Franklin , and frankly Tris was lucky not to get a wigging from JP for buzzing early, then pausing before answering. Never mind, he got it right, and a full set of bonuses on singers singing Burt Bacharach songs followed. Sara Johnson then got into the game with her first starter, knowing the word mammon, and two good bonuses on English cities followed . Unlucky for OB that they got Hastings, but not the full Hastings Banda of Malawi. Richard Williams miscued the next, and skipper Tom Thirkell knew it was referring to my Goldsmith’s College contemporary Damien Hirst ( To the best of my knowledge we never met. ) A good full set of bonuses on glaciation were taken. Andy, very impressive again tonight, correctly gave the term implantation for the next starter, and two more bonuses, this time on exploration. Poor old OB found that when things don’t run for you they really don’t run for you. A question was asked obviously referring to Lerner and Loewe. Austin Sherlaw-Johnson buzzed early with Lerner, and lost 5, as he came up as part of the question when it was all given to Sheffield. It was Hugh who answered Loewe, appropriately apologetically I thought. 2 bonuses on paradoxes followed. At the 20 minute mark you have to say that it would have required a greater comeback than Lazarus by OB, as Sheffield led by 215 to 35.

This OB team are far better than the scoreline suggested at this point, and the last third at least went someway towards proving my point. Nobody took the second picture set, which showed a scene from Shakespeare , where Richard the Third is visited by the ghost of Lady Ann. Andy buzzed in on the next knowing that Birds Foot and others are types of delta. Good shout . Sheffield for their pains received the bonus set of pictures of ghosts in Shakespeare, and took Banquo and Hamlet’s dad, but missed Julius Caesar’s. Richard Williams buzzed in with the next knowing that it was William IV who was the last British monarch to – well, it escapes me exactly what it was that he did, but Richard knew, and that’s good enough for me. A nice set of bonuses followed on foreign words which can be made from some or all of the letters in the word sojourn. 2 were taken. Richard Williams had found his range now, and he took the next on Capital Gains Tax. Not that this put Sheffield much off their stride. Tom Thirkell took the next on the Volta effect. Sara Johnson pulled more points back with a starter on the word Sum, so the Sheffield skipper buzzed again for coronary arteries on the next. OB saw out the match with skipper Anthony McLarin, and then Austin Sherlaw-Johnson taking the last two starters, but in the end it was an emphatic victory for Sheffield. Well done ! Into the semis now, and still with every chance of going all the way. As for OB – nil desperandum. You were comprehensively beaten to the buzzer tonight, but you still have everything to play for.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Little of note in this show. I did rather enjoy the way that he muttered “You knew those alright, then. “ when Sheffield took the full set of bonuses on the Bacharach songs.

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

The word pal actually comes from the Romany, or Roma word for brother.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Funny Old Week

As Aristotle once said, its been a funny old week. Actually thinking about it, that was probably Ronnie Barker in “Open All Hours”. Played in 4 quizzes since last we spoke, and won 4, albeit that the third was only won on a tie break . That was an odd one as well. The two teams were asked : -
“How deep is the deepest point of the Atlantic Ocean ? “
We plumped for 28,500 feet. As it was we were close to the answer given, which was actually 35,000 feet. That’s a rum ‘un we said – or words to that effect. When we got home we found that the depth of the Challenger Deep in the Pacific is 35,840 feet, and that the deepest point of the Atlantic is 28,374 feet. What are you moaning about Dave ? You were the closer team anyway, and therefore got to take the bottle of wine, which you don’t drink anyway and gave away to the nice team who marked our paper. Fair point.

I’m a little ticked off at the moment generally, and what makes it worse is the fact that I haven’t got anything to be ticked off about. I’ll try to explain. A couple of weeks ago Mary’s Dad explained that he and her step mum are organising a “Millionaire “ – style quiz fund raising evening for the local church. Well and good. They asked via Mary whether I could be a phone a friend for the evening for them . OK – of course I agreed, even though for one reason and another it meant that I had to cancel my plans to go to Bristol for the Grand Prix event. So I made some other plans , and commitments for family etc. for the day. This morning Mary turned round and said that the organisation for the quiz has changed, and they don’t need me a as a phone a friend. Which means I could have gone to Bristol after all if I hadn’t made all these other commitments. Nobody’s fault, but it’s annoying.

I’ll be honest , I am going to go along to the church event tonight anyway. But its going to be hard for me. When I heard they were doing it I deliberately didn’t offer my services to set questions, help organise etc. , but only because if I did I think they would have felt obliged to accept it, and I know what I’m like, I would have tried to take over. I did say to Mary to let them know I would give them any help they wanted, but nothing more came of it. Its just . . . Oh God, I feel like a heel saying this, but they are not quizzers. At all. You don’t have to be a quizzer to set a successful quiz, I’m not saying that, but a gimmicky thing like a Millionaire quiz, well. . . I know what I’m like as well, I will be sitting there, praying that I don’t open my gob if things go wrong. Mary will never forgive me. I’ll let you know how it all works out.

Mastermind - First Round heat 21

We’re winding towards the end of this highly enjoyable series of first round matches now – only another three to go after last night’s show. I have to say that my attention was really drawn by the fact that sitting in contenders’ row was none other than my Brain of Britain conqueror, the mighty Dr. Ian Bayley. A little more about Ian in a moment.

Before Ian though Karen Davies took to the chair. Her subject was The Avengers and The New Avengers. I turned to my daughter Jessie and said – I bet they ask something about the original title of the show being Police Surgeon. They didn’t. Gypsy Rose Clark strikes again. I quite fancied my chances on this subject, and I wasn’t unhappy to get 5 of them, even if the ones I got were of the gimme – what was the name of Honor Blackman’s character ? – variety. Karen did better than this, and her 9 didn’t look that bad at all considering the in-depth knowledge of particular episodes that was required.

Right, to Ian. Ian as I’m sure you remember was runner-up to Nancy in 2008/2009. ( filmed in 2008 – final was broadcast in 2009. You know how it works. ) Just out of interest that means that he has only had to sit out one series before having another go. If we look for precedents , well, Geoff Thomas was runner up to Andy Page in 2003, and came back to win the series in 2006. Then Mark Grant was runner up to Pat in 2005, and then was on the podium in Jesse’s final last year. Well, if its good enough for Jon and the team its certainly good enough for me. After all, I played in 2006, and then won in 2007 – albeit that I did get knocked out in the first round of 2006. I said last year after Ian demolished us in the BoB final that he will surely soon join the ranks of those who have done the Mastermind / BoB double. Maybe this will be the year. Having said that though he looked a little nervous with his round on the Romanov Dynasty. 11 was a good score, but not amongst the highest we’ve seen this year.

Now, Andrew Smithies was offering a subject which I have actually considered myself as a potential subject. The History of the London Underground was something I did give a moment or two’s thought to as a subject for the Champion of Champions series last year. In the end I decided against it since the amount of work would have been, I believe , considerably greater than The Bayeux Tapestry which I plumped for in the end. Still, I was pleased that with no revision – alright, sitting in the comfort of the Clark sofa rather than the ‘notorious black chair’ as John called it – I still managed to get 7 of Andrew’s questions. Andrew managed 9 .

Finally Duncan Mitchell. Duncan was offering us Scottish Malt Whiskey, although only as a specialist subject. Not a drinker myself, and I know very little about the subject. This worried me, since I was on for a good total for the combined specialists tonight. I had 5 on both the Avengers and the Romanovs, and another 7 on the Underground. Now it looked likely I wouldn’t get any. Thankfully though I knew the 16 men of Tame were Glenmorangie, and that George Orwell wrote “1984” on Jura, and that gave me two points. Back in the real world Duncan managed a good 11, although he did pick up 2 passes as the round progressed.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t think that anyone there would be able to beat Ian on General Knowledge. His speed and range of knowledge in BoB last year was breathtaking to behold. It had been a relatively low scoring show again so far tonight, and to be honest the chances of the runner up getting enough points to join the repechage board looked very slim. Still, a target needed to be set, and I’m pleased to say that Karen Davies gave it a good old lash. I thought that her round of 13 was a pretty good one. She built up a head of steam quite early, although like many she did run out of momentum as we approached the last half minute. 13 is a perfectly respectable return for a 2 and a half minute round, and set the target at 22. Lets not forget, this would have won last week’s show.

Andrew Smithies followed. He was a little hesitant, and picked up quite a run of passes, which was a shame because he also had some good answers. As did all tonight’s contenders, he made the distinction of getting into double figures in the general knowledge round, finishing with 10 for a total of 19.

Now Ian. For some reason, in 2009 Ian only had very good general knowledge rounds, rather than outstanding. He scored 13, 12 and 13 in the respective rounds – very good scores for a two minute round as I say, but not unbeatable. So what was he going to produce tonight ? Well, going on 2009 form, with an extra half minute you’d expect about 16 . Actually he was well up to this standard, and produced 17, despite dropping a couple which I know that he knows. His total was 28, incidentally the same total that he managed in both the semi final and the final of the 2009 series. Add another four or five for specialist, which he is easily capable of doing for the semis, and then you have a very serious score indeed.

Not that the show was over yet. Duncan still had to go, but asking him to find 18 correct answers was a bit of a tall order. He started brightly, as did all of last night’s contenders, but pretty soon he was behind the clock. In the end , though, he too made it into double figures with 10, which was not quite enough to overhaul Karen for second place. A just reward for her GK round there, I thought.

So Ian goes forward. I was mentally asking myself whether if he wins he will be a simultaneous holder of the BoB and MM titles, but no, not quite. Mind you, there are quite a few of the other semi finalists who will have their say in the outcome of the series before anyone gets their hands on the glass bowl, I fancy. Well done Ian ! Good luck for the semis. Congratulations to Anne Skillen as well, who is now also guaranteed a semi final slot.

The Details

Karen Davies The Avengers and The New Avengers9 - 413 - 422 - 8
Ian BayleyThe Romanov Dynasty11 - 017 - 028 - 0
Andrew SmithiesThe History of the London Underground9 - 410 - 5 19 - 9
Duncan MitchellScottish Malt Whiskies11 - 210 - 321 - 5

Current Highest Scoring Runners-Up

Nick Mills – 34 – 4
Hamish Cameron – 30 – 2
Anne Skillen - 30 -7
James Collenette - 29 – 2
Philip Evans – 28 - 1
Duncan Byrne – 27 – 2

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

University Challenge - Quarter Final Match Four

Quarter Final Match 4 – Queens’ Cambridge v. Bristol

An interesting match on paper was this one. Queens’ had the lowest aggregate of the 8 quarter final teams, with Bristol just above them, equal with York. I did say that I had a sneaking feeling that Bristol might do the business though. Well, I’ll be honest, I did feel sorry for both teams tonight, but simply because their match had to follow the feast put on for us last week by Sheffield and Magdalen. Still, I’m quite sure that this didn’t bother Mark Jackson, Simon Wallace, David Webster and captain William Belfield of Queens, nor for that matter Ario Brunet, Lucinda Critchley, Georgia Malcolm and skipper James Williams of Bristol. They had other things on their mind, and its precisely those things we shall now move on to.

First blood fell to Queens’, as for that matter did second and third blood. David Webster kicked off by recognising a description of the flag of the European Union, then Mark Jackson knew that JP was describing the various derivations of Finnegan’s Wake, and skipper Belfield recognised a quotation from Paul Dirac with a good buzz. A mixed bag of bonuses on French history, historical novels and communication pushed them into a very confident early lead. Lucinda Critchley hit back for Bristol with the 4th starter, when William Belfield miscued on the birds known as petrels. 2 bonuses followed on mathematical constants. For the picture starter Mark Jackson buzzed in very quickly when a map of Japan was revealed, to answer correctly that the section in red would be Hokkaido. Unfortunately they didn’t get any of the other coloured sections for bonuses. Neither did I for that matter. A very quick buzz on Philip Larkin from Lucinda Critchley impressed JP no end, which unleashed a set on Canadian Territories. So at the 10 minute mark there were signs of Bristol beginning to warm to their task, but Queens’ had the advantage, leading by 65 to 30.

Now began the Bristol charge. Georgia Malcolm recognised a definition of the word isotonic. Good shout that one. No bonuses followed on artworks with very long titles. Funnily enough this did not include the classic film The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies – but I digress. Red face for skipper James Williams when he ignored Georgia’s correct answer of pop art for the last bonus. It happens. Neither of the next two starters were taken when offered, but Georgia Malcolm knew that the Architectural prize in question was the Stirling Prize. Poor James Williams was having a funny five minutes, when given a set of bonuses on infectious diseases when asked about the disease which led to shingles in adults he replied ‘ shingles’ knowing full well that he meant chicken pox. JP couldn’t accept it. NO matter, and James went on to more than make up for this momentary lapse as the show went on. Georgia Malcolm managed her third starter with lithium. All three bonuses on fast food were taken. Then Ario Brunet took the next starter by identifying the super smooth soul sounds of the late Mr. Luther Vandross. Was this second period going to be a complete shutout , I mused. It began to look that way when James Williams took the next starter on the term bimetallic. But then William Belfield managed a blow for Queens’ by recognising the similarity between the ilium and the ileum – or something like that. 2 bonuses were taken. Ario Brunet took one more starter, and then James Williams another, identifying a statue of Beethoven. By the 20 minute mark Bristol were well ahead, leading by 145 to 80, and looking a very good bet for the win.

This, though, was a game of three halves. Firstly Lucinda Critchley took a starter which earned a great set of bonuses on famous grandchildren of famous grandparents. Then there was a sense almost of Queens’ rolling their collective sleeves up and getting down to the serious business of pulling themselves back into the match. Mark Jackson identified the paleozoic. 2 bonuses taken. Bang – Simon Wallace identified a description of the flag of Bhutan from the description, and 3 bonuses were taken. Well, if you’re going to fight back, then you give it a good old lash , I say. Mark Jackson took the order of the garter for the next starter. David Webster took the next starter on triangular numbers, and another two bonuses on words beginning with pol followed. The scoreboard never lies, and it told us that the teams were now all square. With a little time left on the clock, and all the momentum with Queens’. Skipper Belfield made a lunge for the line for Queens’ by identifying the Korean War, and the team followed up the good work by taking all three bonuses on countries connected by bridges. There was just time for one starter, and it was Mark Jackson who knew that 10,000 traditionally was the meaning of a myriad.

That was it. Game to Queens’ , and you have to say it was an exciting game too, which I hadn’t necessarily expected. Well played to both. As for Bristol , I am sorry with burdening you with the curse of the Clark tip, but you can still qualify.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

When one of the Queens’ team offered Robespierre instead of the Empress Josephine I though he was going to go into orbit. Well done JP ! This is the sort of reaction I tune in for ! I also enjoyed the way that he described the music bonuses which asked for three artists who recorded songs called The Power of Love between 1984 – 6 as too easy ! Well, its too easy for us old timers who were there, Jez, but not for those who weren’t.

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

Chips – as in chipped potatoes – are first mentioned in print in Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”