Thursday, 24 February 2011

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.

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