Saturday, 30 April 2011

Mayday in Melin - Rugby Club Latest

It comes round so quickly, doesn’t it ? What does ? Well, everything really, when you think about it, except school holidays. However the particular event to which I refer is the Mayday in Melin quiz. If you’ve been with me for more than a year you may remember that the Mayday in Melin is the quiz where I became a born again quizzer, way back in 1994. I’ve won it 4 times myself, but following my last win 2 years ago I was asked to be the question master last year. Hopefully I didn’t do too terrible a job since they asked me to do it again this year. I couldn’t really refuse since the trophy is called the David Clark Mastermind 2007 trophy. Yes, bragging again.

The thing about this quiz is that the format established when the quiz was first revived a few years ago is that its multiple choice. Now you know me, I’m pretty straight laced about what I like and what I don’t like in a quiz, and I think that with things like multiple choice questions less is more, and a little tends to go a long way. Still, the first thing you need to realise when you’re making a quiz is that you’re not making it for yourself. So I shall grit my teeth, and get down to it as soon as I make this posting.

Speaking of making quizzes, it was my turn in the rugby club last Thursday. I have to say that I worked myself up into a little bit of a state about it. Not so much because of the quiz, after all I’ve been compiling quizzes down the club for the last 16 years, and I’ve done a few stinkers in my time and got away with it, so there really wasn’t any great cause for concern on that score. No, it was because I’d made up my mind that I was going to make my stand over this phone cheating business which has been, at the very least, an undercurrent in the last couple of weeks. Well I handed out the answer papers, and the picture handout, and then I made my stand. It was a little pathetic to be honest with you. Far from naming names, or laying down the law it came out as a pretty pathetic , “Ladies and gentlemen, just before we start, can I ask you to please not use your phones to look up answers. Its cheating, and I go to a lot of quizzes, and internet phones are killing them. If you want to know the answers, come up here and I’ll show them to you . . . “ etc. etc. Funnily enough the quizzer I stared into putting her phone away last week wasn’t there again this week, so I have no idea how effective it will be. One other thing which gave me a wry smile was that one of our long term players, whose been with the quiz for much longer than I have, sat there nodding sagely to my plea, and then added ‘Quite right.’ Nice to know, only, well, his was one of the teams who cheated in the New Year quiz. And I don’t suppose he told the cheats in his team that night to put their phones away then ! Oh well.

Did my outburst make a difference ? I have no idea . Although I have to say, it’s the first time this year that my quiz wasn’t won by an underdog , so you never know .

It was a connections quiz – and all the connections were solved by at least one of the teams. This one was the trickiest – one team solved the connection, despite not getting the third part right, but none of the other teams solved it . See what you think : -

1) Which british athlete gained a silver medal in the men’s 400metres in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics ?
2) Who made his only visit to Britain in a very brief stopover at Prestwick Airport in 1960 ?
3) Which is the shortest of William Shakespeare’s play ?
4) What is the connection between your last three answers ?


I’m back to work on Tuesday, and looking back over the holiday I’ve played in a surprisingly small amount of quizzes – only two Sundays, one Thursday, and last Tuesday – famine rations as far as I’m concerned. Still, looking on the bright side, the weather has been fantastic. I’ve been out on the bike every day – and believe me I never thought that I’d be writing a sentence like that this time a year ago ! I took a walk through the nature reserve at Kenfig Pool a couple of days ago, and saw 8 of my favourite species of butterfly. Also we had a very enjoyable afternoon at St. Fagan’s Museum of Welsh Life , when I produced the drawing you can see underneath. Have a great bank holiday .

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Wellington's Waterloo

You may well recall me mentioning the Tuesday night quiz in The Duke of Wellington pub in Cowbridge before now. Well, sad to say that last night was the last quiz there, at least for the time being. The pub, which is a marvellous old building, and frankly in pretty decent nick inside, is being closed for refurbishment. I'm not really sure how long for. Mark, the landlord for these past couple of years is being moved on to pastures new, and someone else will be taking over afterwards. To say its a pity is a bit of an understatement. The quiz was a good quiz, and it was well attended before Mark took the pub over, but its fair to say that under his stewardship it has gone from strength to strength. Last night the whole place was packed to the rafters. I was particularly pleased to see that the mentions of the quiz in the blog led to my friend Richard Parnell giving it a try last night.

Well, even the very best of endings tend to have a bittersweet quality about them, but it was a good quiz last night, and a really enjoyable occasion. As for the questions, they were all taken from quizzes Mark has asked in there during the last 18 months. As it is, John and I only ever attend once a fortnight, so our familiarity with the questions might well be less than other teams.. Mind you, Richie had never been before, so he was at even more of a disadvantage. Whatever the case, by the end of the evening Mark was able to present over £1000 that had been raised solely through the quiz to a cancer charity, and that's a great gesture to leave on.

As I said , Mark isn't sure where he will be going next, but hopefully it won't be too far away. Mark, if by any chance you come to read this, very good luck, and thanks for some highly enjoyable quiz evenings.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Everyone Knows Something - Adios Weakest Link

Despite what you might think, everybody has the capacity to surprise you with what they know. I'll tell you what prompts me to make this far from startling observation. You may have noticed that “Who Dares Wins “ returned to BBC1 on Saturday evening. I didn't actually watch it at the time, but John was talking about it in the quiz in the Dyffryn Arms last night. In case you haven't ever seen it, I'll just briefly explain how it works.

Two teams of two players, who have never met before appearing on the show, play against each other in two games. Our host, Nick Knowles , announces a category, for example, the 30 highest grossing animated feature films of all time. Then the teams bid against each other as to how many of those they think they can name. For older readers its a little like the old Bid A Note game in Name That Tune. If the team with the higher bid suggest they can name 12, lets say and they do without a mistake, then they take that game. If they make one mistake, then the game goes to the other team. If both teams win one game, then it goes to a sudden death tie break. A category is announced, and the teams take it in turns supplying answers. The first team to drop an answer loses. The winning team goes on to play for the money. A category is announced, and they have to supply answers – for example , films starring Matt Damon. 3 correct answers brings £5,000, and another three £10,000, all the way up to £50,000. You can stick on any money amount, but supply a wrong answer and you get nothing. Winner stays on. As Alexander Orlov continually says, simples.

John's beef with the show was that he reckoned that the winning team looked as if they had been briefed before the show – not with the answers, but on which categories would be coming up. Well, I did tell him that I thought that this was unlikely. In my experience ( 18 TV / Radio appearences in 8 different shows, thanks for asking ) production teams are meticulous to ensure that contestants don't get any untoward advantage. The phone scandal of a year or two ago has made this even tighter, I'm sure. Still, I watched the show on the iplayer this morning to check out the two categories that John highlighted. The first was to name as many Central American countries as possible, including island nations of the Caribbean. The winning team offered, I think, about 9, and John was surprised that they went for island nations mostly. I'll admit that it was impressive the way that the lady rattled off answers like St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but I'd don't think for one minute that there was anything untoward there. Its just doubtless one of the things she knows.

The second subject which got John a little hot under the collar was Weddings in Eastenders. Again, though, while the knowledge shown was impressive, I can't think you could say that there was anything that unusual in it. They didn't, for example, go the whole hog for the full £50,000, and the knowledge shown was the sort which you wouldn't expect the average person in the street to know, but a regular viewer of the show wouldn't have found it too taxing. Everybody knows something. One thing John didn't mention when he was talking about the show, was how both teams struggled on a category asking them to name female characters who speak lines in Shakespeare plays. The champs offered to name 4. The challengers upped this to 5. Now, bear in mind that the champs were 1 – 0 down at this point, yet they still asked the challengers to name the 5, rather than risk trying to name 6 themselves. And they were right to do so ! The challengers managed 4, but couldn't get a 5th. Which kind of adds a corollary to my original point – people know lots of things you don't think they know – and they also don't know lots of things you think they might.

I do actually rather like the show myself. Its a lot better on the iplayer since you can skip the National Lottery which bisects it. Also you have to bear in mind that this is a big money show ( well, by BBC standards ) and its on the main channel in family viewing slot time, so a lot of the categories are going to be just entertainment – on Saturday it was something like 3 entertainment to 1 geography, 1 literature and 1 sport. OK, there's not a lot of questions asked in the show either. But for what it is its got something, and it does get you playing along at home, which is never a bad thing.

While we're on the subject of TV quizzes, I read in the paper that it looks like its farewell to “The Weakest Link”. Anne Robinson, the Queen of Mean, has decided to call it a day, so it seems, and the BBC have announced that they will not be commissioning any new shows with anyone else in her place. That's probably right. There's relatively few quizzes which wouldn't work with a replacement question master, but WL must be one of them.

I have a strange love/hate relationship with this show. For one thing it was one of the first shows I ever applied to. The first ever was Bob's Full House, back in about 1987. No reply. Then in about 2001 I saw that you could apply online to WL, and so I did. Again, I never heard back from them. Since then I've considered applying once or twice. I think, really, that I'd like to appear on it just so that I can add it to the set. I don't think for one minute that they would have me on now, and if they did, then the other contestants would vote me off sooner or later. But I'm not lying, I would have liked to be able to add it to the list of shows I've been on.

As regards the show's place in the pantheon – well – that's a tricky one. Any quiz which notches up more than a decade has done well, especially in these days. It started as a BBC2 show, and then graduated to the tricky BBC1 teatime slot, a measure of its popularity, even if the prime time big money version never really caught on. Its also been one of the most successfully franchised quiz shows ever produced in the UK – only Millionaire has had more licensed versions made in other countries. If its responsible for nothing else, WL is the quiz that made meanness permissible. Before WL , can you ever remember a question master on TV telling a contestant just how stupid their stupid answer really was ? Quite a number of shows have tried to pick up the idea of getting contestants to be mean to each other and run with it since, with varying degrees of success. One brings to mind the dreadful 'Shafted' – so bad that it was scrapped without the whole series being aired, if I recall correctly. Then there were “Sell Me The Answer”, and “Divided” where if I'm honest I found the unfairness just grating, and certainly not entertaining. WL may never have been my favourite quiz, but even I would admit that it managed to do mean with a little bit of style at least.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Two Questions You Get Asked . . .

The huge benefit of having Easter so late this year has been the weather. In most years we'd have been back in school already, and that first week is traditionally one of gorgeous sunshine. So its been very nice to get the benefit for once. I've been out on the bike for getting on for an hour every day, and I've already seen 5 different species of early butterfly locally. Of course, every silver lining has its cloud. By which I mean barbecues.

I think I'd better qualify that. I have nothing against barbecued food per se. Granted, its not the healthiest stuff in the world, but not the sort of thing I'd lose any sleep over once in a while. No, its the whole rigmarole of it. We have a gas barbecue, and that's better than one you have to fuss about lighting, and waiting until the coals have all turned grey, or whatever it is you're supposed to do, but even so its a lot of potch. I think its really the regimented organised nature of it that I don't like so much. You can have one burger now, but don't take a sausage, they won't be done yet – don't even think about the chicken – salad is fine, but you can't take a corn on the cob yet – and so on and so forth.

Mind you, worse than that is the whole business of buying the actual stuff that you're going to cremate – sorry – cook. We go to a discount specialist, which means a car journey to Swansea. And of course, since we don't go there very often, We Have To Get Enough Stuff To Make It Worth Our While. So, as we were filling our second trolley this morning, I felt a light tap on my shoulder. It was a colleague of mine from work, with her husband whom I've never met before. Pleasantries were exchanged, and then she said words to the effect of – Dave was the one who won Mastermind . - Now, please don't misunderstand me. I have absolutely no problem with being introduced in this way, in fact, lets be honest , I'm vain enough to enjoy it, but it did mean that I knew exactly what the husband was going to say. The first thing was of course - What was your subject ? Being a gentleman in his fifties, the second thing was – Have you met that, oh, what was his name now, Fred Housego ?

I'm not having a go at Fred here at all. No, its just the annoying thing is – no, I haven't ever met Fred Housego. And I'd really like to. If you include the Radio and Discovery channel versions of the show – and you should – then there have been 37 champions in total. Which means 36 other champions apart from myself. By my own reckoning I've met 17 of the others. All 15 who took part in Champion of Champions, along with Kevin and Ian. So what's so special about Fred ? Well, I was a bit of a nerdy kid in many ways – does that come as a shock ? Thought not. The earliest series I can remember watching was Elizabeth Horrocks' series in 1974 when I was 10. Elizabeth was the third champion . From then on I religiously watched every series right up until my university years, and even then still did when I could manage to. Of the early champions I really liked Sir David Hunt, oldest winner, and also the first ever Champion of Champions in 1982. I never met Sir David, and sadly never will now since he is no longer with us. However Fred was something special. A great deal has been made in the past over Fred's background as a London taxi driver, but the fact is that he was the first Champion not to come from one of the traditional profession. He spoke with an accent not a million miles from my own. But it really wasn't just that, though. Its incredibly difficult to project personality through that small screen when all you get to do is give a few personal details, and then answer some quiz questions, yet that kind of happened with Fred. Of all the Magnus champions I think a similar thing happened with Chris Hughes in 1983, and Chris I have met on a number of occasions. Its fair to say though, that Fred was my earliest quiz hero. So Fred, if by some slim chance you ever read this, I'll be in the South East again sometime in August. If you fancy meeting for a drink , then drop me a line. My round.

A First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Rugby Club Cads

The late David Marques was a fine rugby union second row forward who won 23 caps for England between 1956 and 1961. In one of the highlights of his international career he was selected to tour Australia and New Zealand with the 1959 British Lions touring team, a great side who were unlucky to lose the test series 3 – 1 to the All Blacks, due in no small part to the boot of Don Clarke. During one of the non test matches, David Marques was kicked in the face in an off the ball incident , and instead of flattening his attacker, he stood up and shook him by the hand. When his second row partner, Bill Mulcahy asked why he reacted in this way, he replied,
“You wouldn’t understand, Bill. I wanted him to feel a cad.”

While I’m in no way suggesting that what happened to me on Thursday night was anything like as magnificent as this, I couldn’t help bringing this to mind as I was walking home from the rugby club. If you were with me last week you’ll possibly have read my rant about the phone-cheating that was going on in the quiz last week. If you haven’t read it, well the last sentence tells you pretty much all you need to know. I won’t say that I was going into the club looking for a fight on Thursday, but I certainly was ready for a row if it happened.

The first round of ten questions was asked, the papers were collected in, and the scores were given. We scored, I think, either 8 or 9. The team who cheated on their phones last week scored a maximum 10. Alright, it did immediately cross my mind that they were cheating again, but then possibly not. I’m not so arrogant as to think that if my team can’t get a maximum in a given round, then its too hard for any other team to do so. However it did make me wary. I normally sit with my back to the other teams, but Anne of my team faces the rest, and as the next round started she said words to the effect of – look – there she goes with her phone again. Well, I resisted the temptation to turn around straight away, and we dashed off our answers to the round in double quick time. Then I turned round.

It was so blatant it was almost funny. One of their team was just sitting there, jabbing away at her phone. I stared. She didn’t look up, but the chap sitting next to her looked straight at me, almost as if to say – well, what are you looking at ? OK – you remember how your mother once told you that its rude to stare ? Well on Thursday night I was rude. I was very, very rude. Not in words, though, which I will admit would normally be my inclination. I just sat there and stared at the one who was using her phone. I stared at her, and I stared at the guy sitting next to her. He blinked first, and looked away. Then he looked back at me, and I shook my head sadly at him. He gave a sheepish grin. I shook my head again, and mouthed the word ‘cheating’. He looked down, and then nudged his oblivious teammate, and whispered something. She looked up, saw that I was staring at her, and looked away again. She also, though, shoved her phone back into her handbag.

We scored , I think, 9 out of 10 on the round. They scored 4. Even as early in the quiz as this, they wouldn’t have come back from this now even if they had scored a maximum on every remaining round – which they didn’t. For good measure I stared at her throughout the next round, but I think that she was already feeling ‘a cad’ , since she didn’t look over once, but neither did she get her phone out of her bag. A small victory ? Well, obviously I can’t help seeing it in those terms. It really, though, wasn’t about winning or losing the quiz as such. It was about teams recognising what is acceptable within even a social ‘fun’ quiz with no prizes, and what isn’t. Or put it another way, treating what is usually a great quiz with just a little bit of the respect it deserves.

As a postscript I did wonder whether anything would be said at the end of the quiz. I didn’t, certainly, and the other team left as they normally did, without mentioning the staring thing at all. I think, on reflection, that without singling out individuals I shall put the whole phone cheating issue on the table at the start of my own quiz in the club next week, and see if that provokes any comment or not. Watch this space for that one.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

A Question of Quiz Books

I suppose that it all started with Howard. Howard is a regular in the rugby club quiz, and when I started compiling quizzes for the club 16 years ago, he was still working as a teacher in a local school, although not the same one in which I teach. Whenever I used to act as question master, Howard always used to ask if he could borrow the set of questions, so that he could take them to work the next day, and ask them in the staff room at lunchtime. –Good idea – thought I. However I took to actually asking just my questions before I used them in the club. The staff room seem to enjoy them, and they often ask me when the next one is going to be if I haven’t done one for a couple of weeks. As for me, it’s a useful acid test of the questions, being as my colleagues really aren’t quizzers – highly intelligent and educated people, yes, but not quizzers. So if they fare pretty well on the questions, then I know that its certainly not going to be too hard for the regular teams at the club.

This time last year our headteacher, Huw, moved on to a school in another authority, much closer to where he lives, saving himself a rather arduous commute each day. Our new Head is actually a former colleague of mine, who went on to other schools to further his career, and has come back to us as Head. So we already knew each other quite well when he started, and more importantly, he had played in many of these lunchtime sessions himself before he left. We share a lunch duty every Wednesday lunchtime, and a couple of weeks ago he asked me,
“Did you ever think of writing your own quiz book ? “
Interesting question. I can see where he was coming from with this. After all, I’ve produced many, many quizzes over the years for the club, and even allowing for the fact that you do recycle questions over a long period, I suppose that I must have set enough decent ones to fill a book in my time. I tried to put it into words exactly why it would probably be a non-starter, and probably failed miserably. What I think I was trying to get at was as follows.

There are many, many quiz books out there. The vast majority of them carry the same questions – with of course a few variations, but by and large there are huge similarities between a great many of the general knowledge quiz books out there you can buy. Why should anyone want to publish another just because I compiled it ? Even if you think of a gimmick to make it slightly different, chances are its already been done. My favourite gimmick for my rugby club quizzes is the connections quiz. You know how it works – three seemingly unconnected questions are asked, and the next question is to explain what connects the answers. I never invented this format of question – I nicked it from Geoff Evans in Neath, and he probably had it from someone else – but I was the one who introduced it in the rugby club. Its very popular, but in terms of quiz books, its been done. My favourite examples of this genre were the two Hutchinson QuizLink books- shame that they never did more.

An alternative would be to produce a very specialist quiz book on a particular subject. Actually, there are also a hell of a lot of these out there on the market. If you think of a specialist subject which has appeal to more than just a small handful of people, then chances are that there is already a quiz book about it out there somewhere. Special interests mean smaller sales, I would have thought as well. Which also brings me to the point that fun though it might be to compile a quiz book, even allowing for the unlikely possibility that you could interest a publisher in the first place, the question remains as to whether you would ever sell enough copies to make it worth the effort. In all honesty I don’t know how many copies an average quiz book sells, but I would be surprised if it’s a huge number.

This train of thought, though, did lead me to start speculating on a couple of related questions. First question - if you could write a quiz book about ANY subject, however esoteric, what would it be ? I must admit in answering this one I would be tempted to fall back on two of my Mastermind subjects – namely London Bridge, and The Bayeux Tapestry. Even though its almost a year since I was learning about the Tapestry, I feel I could probably sit down and write a good 500 questions about it from scratch now. Now, lets get to the second question. Thinking of all the quiz books in my collection, I picked up an aged copy of “The Hunting Quiz book” a couple of months ago, which I guess would probably be the most unlikely one that I’ve got. So I’m intrigued as to what people think might be the absolutely most unlikely subject for a quiz book .

Looking forward to your suggestions.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Guinness Book of Answers

This is how it all started. A fortnight ago Mary and I were walking around a car boot sale in Bridgend, and in a basket, under one of the sellers’ tables I noticed a book with the word – Answers- in big letters on the spine. Mildly curious I picked it up, and saw that it was a paperback copy of the 9th Edition of The Guinness Book of Answers. Having had the 1st, 4th and 10th editions in my library for the last few years I honestly had no intention of buying it, but the seller leapt in with “You can have that for fifty p. if you like.” Well, the fact is that my bargain detector has been finely trained by years of poverty ( cue violins playing in the background) and in almost pavlovian fashion I had the money out of my pocket before she had a chance to up the price.

Well, that started something. We were out again last week at a different boot sale, and this time I saw a copy of the 7th edition , from 1989. Once again, 50p changed hands, and the book joined the burgeoning collection.

I suppose that I’d better state in the interests of honesty, that “The Guinness Book of Answers” has never quite been an essential go-to book when I’ve been compiling quizzes. Which is not to say that I have no appreciation of it at all. I first encountered it back in about 1989, when I was really just a fledgeling quizzer. The first ever quiz team I played for – the Railway Club in Port Talbot - lost a quiz , mainly because we had bombed on a round of some of the more obscure US state capital cities. As I say, I was a bit of a novice in those days, and so I asked Noel, one of the stars of the team, where you could go to learn things like that. He pointed me in the direction of the Answers book. Now, back in those days it wasn’t unheard of for me to fritter away our precious 45 minutes of lunchtime on totally un-school related activities, and so a couple of days after the quiz I dug out the school’s library copy of the Answers book to look them all up, and I learned them. This was actually the 5th edition of the book which came out in about 1985, and it was still in its large, coffee table format, of similar dimensions to the Records book. The book remained in the school library for years, but there was a clear out some time ago, and it went before I even had a chance to offer to make a donation so that I could take it home. It’s a shame.

OK, lets fast forward to 1995. In the summer of 1995 I became a born again quizzer, after a couple of years of doing, frankly, not very much in the way of quizzes at all. After a stellar performance in a one-off charity quiz in Neath I was invited to join the Neath Workingmen’s Club team in the much missed Neath Quiz League. At pretty much the same time I was invited to join a team playing in the Aberavon Rugby Club on a Thursday night. Within a month I had set two of the quizzes for the club, and I’ve been playing and setting regularly ever since. I knew that if I was going to set anything approaching a decent quiz, then I’d best invest in a few books to get started with. Which is how I came to buy the 10th Edition of the Answers book. This was actually the last edition to bear the title “The Guinness Book Of Answers”. It’s the one with the turquoise dust jacket with Rodin’s Thinker on the cover. Back then I will admit that I found “The Pears Quiz Companion” far more to my liking, despite its inaccuracies. For one thing, all the hard work has been done for you with the Quiz Companion, since all the information is packaged to make it easier to slip into questions. But the Answers Book was always a useful source to fall back on, and especially a good source to use for verifying the answers to some of my more dodgy questions. For years it was one of a couple of books I always kept by my side when I was setting a quiz.

If we come right back to the present now, its been rather interesting comparing the different editions in the last few days, and you can see the way that the book continued to develop between them. Remember the long hot summer of 1976 ? Well, it was in this summer that the first edition came out. Like all of the first 6 editions of the book, this is in coffee table format, as I said. The general editor was Norris McWhirter, who contributed to all 10 editions. As it happens, the first edition doesn’t acknowledge any contributors as such. However it does name 15 associate editors, and 5 of these would still be contributors to the 10th Edition, namely Clive Carpenter, Robert Dearling, John Arbalaster , Alex Reid and John Marshall. The first edition weighs in at 255 pages, with 23 separate subject headings. This is quite a serious tome. There is hardly a centimetre of space wasted, use of colour is sparse, and compared to subsequent editions the use of pictures is minimal.

Coming forward 6 years, the next edition I have is the 4th edition. This one is far more similar to the 1st than the 7th. It’s a bit longer, at 270 pages, and has 26 separate subject headings, which is even more impressive when you consider that some separate headings in the first edition have been put together in one heading in this – for example Dance and Music are separate headings in the 1st, yet one combined heading in this. The 4th edition also covers Geology, Meteorology, Philosophy and Religion, which the Gradgrind-esque 1st edition doesn’t. The ways the information is presented , though, is not all that different from the first. Its still packed in, although pictures and diagrams are more in evidence in this edition. The outlines of countries , so useful in picture handouts, are absent from the 1st, but present in this edition, for example.

The last three editions, from the 7th in 1989 to the 10th in 1995 saw a change in size and format. All 3 are a similar size to Trevor Montague’s magnificent “A to Z of Almost Everything.” The seventh edition, has 596 pages. This compares with 800 pages in the 9th edition, and a few more than that in the 10th. All of which is not actually meant as a criticism of the 7th Edition. Comparing this one with the 9th edition just shows that they really did work on updating and improving the book, making it more comprehensive and more useful. For example, the 7th Edition names 17 contributors, and gives thanks to an additional 12. The 9th names 93 contributors. To be honest, there’s not that much difference between the 9th and 10th Editions – a different font, a slightly less crowded style, but basically the same , just updated a bit. However, the 7th edition lacks quite a lot that I’ve used the 10th Edition for. Let me give you a few examples – shipping forecast areas – patron saints – media. Not only that, but remarkably there is no separate section on History.

If we bring in the 10th Edition, this does have more information and detail in it than the 9th, even though the difference between the two is less obvious. For example, in this edition you have all the different alphabets, and a section on digital communications.

The Answers book had definitely become a worthy and useful work of reference for the quizzer and the quiz master, and I’ve wondered on several occasions why they never made another edition. I have a book called “ Getting Into Guinness” by an American journalist called Larry Olmstead. Its an amusing and entertaining account of his own forays into the world of record making and breaking, and particularly into the intricacies involved in getting into the Records book. In the book he explains how a new Managing Director was brought into Guinness Publishing in 1995. At this time the Records book was losing something like 5% of its sales each year. The new Managing Director instigated a radical reorganisation of the whole company, and a complete rethink over the design and direction of the Records book. From 1996 the Records book began to use many more colour photos, for example. Olmstead’s book doesn’t actually say that the Answers book was a casualty of the upheavals going on at this time, but I don’t think you have to be a genius to make the connection.

As a footnote, in 1997, two years after the 10th and final edition of the Answers book, Guinness Publishing brought out The Guinness Book of Knowledge. There are actually people who collect Guinness books, and in the course of researching this post I read on a couple of websites that the Knowledge book is very much looked on as the 11th Edition of the Answers book. I can actually understand why they say this. For one thing the section titles in the Knowledge book are either the same or similar to those of the 9th and 10th edition. Not only that, but the name of Clive Carpenter, who had contributed to all 10 editions of the Answers book, was listed as Consultant Editor. Just one other associate editor of the 1st edition is acknowledged – John Arbalaster. However I personally feel that the differences outweigh the similarities. You don’t have to look far within its pages to see that the book had taken the same direction as the Records book, with regards to redesign. To bring it in line with the redesign of the Records book, this one saw a return to coffe table format - albeit that it has almost twice as many pages as the first edition of the Answers book. Inside it looks gorgeous, full of colour and colour photos, and large, eye catching headings. Yet the whole thing feels somehow less authoritative than the answers book did. Maybe that’s because only 29 consultants are named – although to be fair many of these worthies did also contribute to successive editions of the Answers book. One other difference was that the name of Norris McWhirter is conspicuous by its absence . I’ll be honest, I’ve never really warmed to it at all.

Well, even if the Knowledge book really was the 11th edition of the Answers book, it really did prove to be the end of the road. From 1997 ownership of Guinness World Records – formerly Guinness publishing – was to pass through several hands. When Larry Olmstead wrote his book in 2008, the owners were now the same group who own Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, ironically one of Guinness World Records chief competitors.

Its been superceded as a quiz resource since, most notably by the afore mentioned “A to Z of Everything”. But I still have a soft spot for it, if for no other reason that its just full of . . . well, stuff, for want of a better word. And I’m a sucker for stuff.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Interesting question

In some ways it was a relief to get back to the Dyffryn Arms last night after my fury over the phone cheating in the rugby club on Thursday night. Its not a bad little quiz there, and Graham, the question master, asked one particularly intriguing question.

"Name all of the counties of England - modern ones - that have no coastline. I'm looking for 24 of them."

I'll put my cards on the table now and say that we were flying a little blind on this one. However, between John and myself we managed 23 of the ones on Graham's list - the only one we missed out on being Cambridgeshire. It was discussed, but rejected for some reason which escapes me now.

Mind you, I don't say that Graham is necessarily right with the number 24. With the best will in the world he can be a little - how should I say - careless sometimes. Case in point - in the very same quiz last night, as the answer to the penultimate question he claimed that Madame Butterfly was written by Mozart ! As they say in these parts, ah, pity, mun.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Mastermind Grand Final

I won’t lie to you, there’s little that gets my juices flowing quite as much as the Mastermind Grand Final. I always clear my schedule for Mastermind on a Friday evening anyway, but even more so for the final.

Well, lets get started shall we ? The first into the chair tonight was Peter Reilly. In the first round he answered on The Grand National, and in the semi, on the TV series “our Friends in the North”. In the final last night he answered on The Life and Career of Frankie Howard. Ooh, no , stop it, don’t. Before his round though we saw the return of the filmed insert. Cards on the table, I was happy to see this return for the final. I think that the series has been better for having longer GK rounds through cutting out the films or the chats, but its nice to keep it in just for the final. The finalists deserve a little treat in the shape of the day out for making the film. Peter , then settled into the chair, and delivered a faultless perfect round of 18 from 18. I had Peter as being an outside chance for the podium, but more likely to finish outside of the places. This round forced me to reassess that prediction.

Ian Bayley came next. Ian was runner up in 2008/9 to Nancy, a fact which he mentioned in his filmed insert. In the first round Ian had answered on The Romanov Dynasty, and in the semi on the life and work of Sibelius. In the final he was answering on the Paintings in The National Gallery. Ian, I take my metaphorical hat off to you for picking such a potentially wide subject for the final. Ian filmed his insert inside the gallery, naturally enough, and you could see his determination to go one better than last time. When he sat in the chair Ian adopted a new tactic that I haven’t seen him use before, that of shutting his eyes while being asked the questions. It certainly must have worked, for he too managed an incredible perfect round of 18 from 18. Tonight, Ian was really going to take some beating.

Diane Hallagan won the third semi final when she answered on “Black Books”, having taken Peter Tinniswood in her heat. In the final she was answering on the life and career of Dame Margot Fonteyn. If Diane was daunted by having witnessed two perfect rounds before hers, she certainly didn’t show it. There was just the one pass in the round, but 16 correct answers certainly put her in with a chance, albeit that nobody wants to be behind Ian going into a General Knowledge round.

Carrying the LAM banner into the final was Paul Steeples, the top scorer from the semi finals. Paul , it seems, had won the filmed insert lottery since he got to take the trip to new York, being as he was answering on The Life and Career of David Byrne. Paul answered on Charles Ives in the heat, and then on Victorian Churches in London in the semi final. Paul made the comment in his film that he had worried his friends and supporters in both the heat and the semi by going behind on specialist , and having to come from behind on GK, and hoping that he wouldn’t have to do so in the final. Being the superstitious soul that I am I worried when I heard him say this. His round of 12 was fine, but being realistic the chances of overhauling a 6 point lead in the GK round were slim. Paul, I can only apologise here and now for scuppering your chances by tipping you as favourite.

Dr. Tim Fenn was one of the surprise packages of the semis. In the heat he had answered on the Life and Works of John Hunter, and in the semi, on the Life and Career of John Adams. Last night Tim offered us the life of William Wilberforce. In his insert Tim earned my respect by facing up to the fact that he was probably an outsider, considering the pedigree of other finalists, and recognised that winning, while nice, wouldn’t be the be all and end all for him. Its vital that, if you get to a final, you set out to enjoy it , come what may, because they don’t come along that often. As it was , Tim produced a brilliant specialist round of his own, scoring a seemingly effortless 17.

Finally, then , Julia Hobbs. In the heat Julia had answered on Armistead Maupin, and in the semi on Calvin and Hobbs. In the filmed insert Julia, like Tim, made it pretty clear that she saw herself as an outsider, and was proud of the achievement of reaching the final. Well she should be as well. When I heard that Julia’s specialist subject was going to be the Life and Career of Eddie Izzard I stunned my nearest and dearest by predicting that the first question would be in which country he was born . Julia knew that it was Yemen, of course. Mind you she knew 12 of the other answers as well, which I didn’t. Her score of 13 was a good one, but only put her into 5th place.

To put the standard of this set of specialist rounds into perspective – the aggregate of 94 compares with 90 in 2010, 81 in 2009, and 85 in 2008. We can compare since these were all two minute rounds.

Paul, then returned to the chair to set a target. He proceeded to do just that. His score of 18 was a fantastic performance. Yes, surely he must have known that the chance of winning was gone, but nonetheless he didn’t let this affect him , and his overall score of 30 will have placed doubts in the others’ minds at the very least.
Julia matched her first round GK performance with 14. You can’t do better than consistently achieve the best that you are capable of, and I think Julia did just that. Still, it meant that Paul had leapfrogged from 6th at halfway, to no worse than 5th.

3rd to go was Diane. Of the remaining contenders I felt that Diane was the most likely to be able to set a score to give Ian a real challenge. For the first half a minute or so it looked as if she was going to do just that. However I’m afraid that one slip seemed to break Diane’s concentration, and the round never quite got back into top gear. Diane’s round was some way short of her first round performance, and she finished with 28.

AT the halfway stage , two of my outsiders were in podium positions. The first of them to go was Tim Fenn. By his own admission Tim was probably the weakest of the finalists in General Knowledge, and he struggled a little to impose himself on this round. By the end he had scored another 10 points, to put him onto 27 points, a score which gives him absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Paul, then , was still in the top spot, with only two contenders still to go. Were we going to see the greatest comeback since Lazarus ? I still thought it was unlikely, but then again . . .

Peter Reilly sat down in the chair, needing to find 13 correct answers to go into the outright lead, and as many more than that as possible to put Ian under pressure. No pressure, then. As it happened, Peter kept his head and his nerve, and kept picking off the answers – and he had some crackers while he was doing it as well. He passed Paul’s total with some time left on the clock, and pushed on. By the end he had scored 15, which pushed his total up to 33.

Now, back in 2008/9 Ian scored 13 in a two minute round on GK. With an extra 30 seconds a similar round last night would be more than good enough. Add this to the fact that Ian scored 17 on GK in the first round heat, and you have to say that he looked like favourite to do it. Yet the fact is that he still had to get into the chair, and still had to do it. Eyes closed in concentration he began, and after two minutes he had produced one of the finest GK rounds we had seen in the whole series. I’ve always said that its impossible to count how many answers you’ve got right when you’re in the chair, and Ian showed the truth of this when he looked apprehensive, and then surprised as John announced that he’d done it ! By some distance as it happened. His 19 and 1 pass was a fantastic performance by anyone’s standards.

It was John himself who presented the trophy, and Ian paid tribute to the people who’d help him learn that mammoth specialist subject – a nice touch that. Many congratulations Ian. You’re a great quizzer, and a most worthy champion. I take satisfaction in the fact that after Ian trounced us in our Brain of Britain final I predicted in this very blog that he would surely join Roger Pritchard, Kevin, Chris, Pat and Geoff as a double champion very soon. More than that, though, Ian is actually a triple champion, since he has also won Only Connect ! Many, many congratulations.

Commiserations to the other finalists. To Peter Reilly, special congratulations on a fabulous performance to make runner up in an extremely strong field. To Paul as well, producing a GK round from the top drawer to make the podium. In fact to all the finalists for producing a great contest. In fact thanks to all 96 contenders for the entertainment you’ve given us this year.

Finally thanks as always to Jon Kelly and the team. This series has been wonderful, and the decision to axe the inserts and lengthen the rounds has produced a leaner, even more exciting and interesting show. Very well done.

The Details

Peter ReillyThe Life and Career of Frankie Howard18 - 015 -433 - 4
Ian BayleyPaintings In The National Gallery18 - 019 - 137 - 1
Diane Hallagan The Life and Career Of Dame Margot Fonteyn 16 - 112 - 528 - 6
Paul Steeples The Life and Career of David Byrne 12 - 318 - 130 - 4
Tim Fenn The Life of William Wilberforce 17 - 010 - 527 - 5
Julia HobbsThe Life and Career of Eddie Izzard13 - 014 - 327 - 3

Friday, 15 April 2011

Quizzing in the War

This is on a much lighter note than my previous post. I’ve mentioned my collection of veteran and vintage quiz books before. I obtained a nice little item last week. It’s a very thin, very small booklet from world war II, not that much bigger than a pamphlet really, of games and quizzes to play in an air raid shelter . It was published by the Guardian press, price 6d, and the title of it is actually “Buzz”. Isn’t it funny how some things come around again and again? “Buzz” as I’m sure you know, is the name for the interactive quiz games you can buy for the playstation 2/3 etc.

It was intended for use , and I quote ,
“ . . . not only in the home, and for parties, but also in public shelters, ARP quarters, or on fire watching duty.” Isn’t that rather something?

It sells itself as a handbook for a spelling bee game, but this only makes up the first few pages of the book. There are actually 31 pages of questions – albeit small pages, and these manage to cram in 277 questions. They’re an interesting mixture, with rounds on quotations, general knowledge, who wrote what , countries and capitals, London, where in the world, song lyrics, sport, kings and queens advertisements ( contemporary with the book, obviously ) and cryptic clues to film and radio stars. The answers to the questions come in a slightly smaller booklet within the booklet.

In case you’re wondering what the questions are actually like, I’ll give you a flavour with a small selection from different rounds : -

1) Who wrote these lines “They also serve who only stand and wait “?
2) Who wrote these lines “The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor “?
3) Which coin ( pre decimal ) is exactly one inch in diameter ?
4) Which greek philosopher lived in a tub ?
5) Who wrote Bulldog Drummond ?
6) Who wrote “Love Among The Chickens “ ?
7) Who is being described “ with his ukulele many would choose/ he suffers from Chinese laundry blues”
8) Who is being described “ A politician , gangster, airmen and yet/ Nothing surpasses his acting as Rhett”
9) Who took the world Heavyweight boxing title from Jack Dempsey ?
10) What is the meaning of MCC ?
11) When did Gibraltar become a British possession ?
12) Where is Sarawak ?
13) What is isinglass ?
14) In which film did Rudolf Valentino make his debut ?
15) What are sedilia ?

Interesting set , aren’t they. Some easy, some surprisingly difficult, and the whole book is like this. I don’t know, I just really like the idea of the humble quiz being used to keep the spirits up at that particular time in history. It’s a nice little item, and a welcome addition to the collection.

Just because another team does it, that doesn't make it right.

I give you fair warning that there is every good chance that this post will develop into a full size rant.

Up until very recently I did think that the scourge of internet phones was a nuisance and an annoyance in quizzes, but not something that would come to seriously threaten their very existence. Well, I’ve changed my mind.

I’ve been to four pub quizzes this week. As far as I know, the Sunday night quiz in the Dyffryn Arms in Rhos was totally clean and kosher, and there was no phone cheating going on. With regards to the other three, though, there was definitely cheating going on in two of them, and I believe there was in another, although I can’t be certain.

To put it into perspective, on Monday night I played in the £100 quiz in Cardiff. There’s always trouble parking, and we were running late, so I sent my son Mike in first, to sign up and get us started while I parked the car. When I walked in the quiz had already started, and I walked past three teams who were already on their phones. As it happened the picture round did for all the cheats again, and the only team I can guarantee were 100% clean – namely mine – won. Well and good.

I can’t prove anything about the Tuesday night quiz, so please taken my comments in this light. However the only other team who ever win on the Tuesday night have three ladies in their team who always disappear out the back for a ‘smoke’ at half time. OK – fair enough , smoking’s not a crime. However when they come back in, they always provide a flurry of answers to their captain. Now, when Andrew, from our League team and a smoker himself accompanied us one Tuesday a couple of months ago, he went out at the same time himself, and actually saw them flagrantly using their internet phones, and jotting down answers. So as I say, I can’t actually prove that they were at it again this Tuesday just gone. But they won all the same.

And do you know what ? None of this would normally bother me that much. Its probably sad to say it, but I tend to accept that it goes on in those places. But last night was different.

The Thursday night quiz in Aberavon Rugby club is very precious to me. I’ve been participating by playing or setting the quiz for almost 16 years now, and there are very few Thursdays that I’ve missed in all that time. How important is this quiz to me ? Well there were times when it was the only quiz I was doing, and it would be the highlight of the week. I’ve had offers and invitations to play in other places on a Thursday night, and I’ve always turned them down because Thursday night is the rugby club night. There have been times when things haven’t been going well, and I’ve always been able to console myself with the thought – never mind, it’s the quiz in the rugby club on Thursday. A couple of us regulars have our own saying – it’s a bad Thursday when there’s no quiz at the rugby club. Its been a weekly treat for a long, long time.

Now, in all the time I’ve been going down on a Thursday there’s never been any entry fee, and there’s never been any prizes. Among certain teams there’s always been a certain level of cheating going on. For instance, there are two women , in different teams, who sit there thumbing through their reference books, as bold as brass , during the quiz. OK, I don’t say I’ve ever liked this, or condoned it, but it’s never made a material difference to the outcome of the quiz as far as I can see.

If you’re a regular, then you’ll probably remember how angry I got over what happened with the New Year quiz. I’ll say a bit more about that in a moment. Well, last night Clive was setting the quiz, and he did another good’un. Its probably fair to say that it was a little more testing than his normal quizzes. Actually, very much the sort of thing I like. I was actually very pleased with myself, and with the team and the way that we played. But we couldn’t quite get away from one of the other teams, the largest in the place. We scored 9, so did they. We scored 10, so did they. Then on one round I was absolutely delighted to score 10 out of a possible 11, considering that I thought that three of the questions were so difficult no other team was likely to get them right. The other team got 11 out of 11. Alright, granted that they usually cheat with books, but even so that never normally makes a difference.

I had a quick look over now and again to see if they were using phones, but I couldn’t really see. Then after the quiz Brian, who was scoring confirmed that yes, they were definitely using phones. Cue a rant from me - I expect you can guess the sort of things coming out of my mouth – tainted win – what’s the point – morally bankrupt etc. etc. Now, while this was going on we were joined by another of our semi regular question masters. Who just so happens to play for one of the two teams who phone cheated through the New Year quiz. And when he heard what I was ranting about, he mildly offered the opinion –
“Well, everybody uses their phones here some of the time. “
Well, that was it. We don’t use our phones – ever. Neither does Rob and Terry’s team, the Lemurs. I told him this, and also told him that while we were on the subject, his team and one other team had made a mockery of the New Year’s quiz by cheating on the 4 point gambles . I wasn’t shouting, but I was serious, and it could have all got quite nasty.
To be fair he didn’t raise his voice , but he did come back with
“What are you taking it all so seriously for anyway? It doesn’t matter who wins , or what score you get. “ In which case, why use the phones at all when you don’t know the answer ?

Right, sorry, I know how petty and pathetic this makes me sound. But the fact is that even though its not that serious a quiz, and even though it doesn’t really matter at all who wins, or how many points you score, it DOES matter if teams are so blatantly cheating, and worse than that, think its OK to do so. In my opinion it makes the whole thing pointless. Its disrespectful to the question master who has put time and effort into putting the quiz together, and its disrespectful to the other teams who are taking part. I don’t believe that the team who were cheating last night, most of whom I’ve known and played against for many years, don’t know this. The fact, then, that it doesn’t seem to matter to them saddens and sickens me. What makes it worse is that some of the other teams seem to feel the same way about it.

I’ve asked myself – is it me ? Am I the one in the wrong ? Am I being terribly na├»ve in thinking that regardless whether there’s a prize or not, you play by pitting your team’s knowledge against that of the other teams ? The joy is in dredging up those answers from heaven knows where – or in being beaten by a question you KNOW you know the answer to, but you just can’t dredge it up out of your memory. That’s what it is for me, anyway.

As I’ve said, this quiz has been important to me for a very long time now, and in my time I would estimate I’ve set well over a hundred quizzes there myself. Last night, at the end of the evening, I came very close to telling Brian, the de facto organiser, and the other regular question master, that I don’t want to set any more there , not if the majority of teams there think that its OK to ruin it by cheating. I didn’t actually say anything then and there, mainly because I know from experience that I do have a tendency to say things when I’m angry, and then think better of them later on. But sitting here a day later, I still feel like this. And I’ve never felt like this before. About 18 months ago Brian was thinking of jacking in setting the quizzes himself, because of the apathy of some of the teams, and the fact that there even was one ignorant team who were deliberately staying away when it was his turn to set the quiz. I was really sorry for him at the time, but I knew that even if Brian stopped doing it, I was going to keep setting the quiz as long as any two teams wanted to turn up and play on a Thursday evening, and that I’d do it every week if necessary. I couldn’t foresee any circumstances under which I ever wouldn’t want to set the quiz for the club. Well, that’s exactly how I feel now. But I’m going to give myself some more time to think it over. I’m going to be question master a week on Thursday, and I’ll let you know how I feel about the whole thing after that.

Sorry to rant on over such a trivial thing, and thanks for listening.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

I Still Hate Family Fortunes Rounds . . . But . . .

Sometimes it pays to have a memory which remembers the most inconsequential nonsense forever. On Tuesday night John and I were in the Duke of Wellington in Cowbridge again. I’ve told you about the quiz on several occasions. John and I don’t go every week, because it’s a really nice little quiz, and we don’t want to ruin it by coming and winning 7 times out of every ten, or whatever the figure would be. Actually we lost on Tuesday night, and also a fortnight ago, which was the quiz that brought the long winning streak to an end. However that’s not the point that I’m writing about.

Mark the landlord says that he puts the questions together himself, or he certainly implies this anyway. Well, on Tuesday night one of the themed rounds was ‘Family Fortunes’. If you’ve been reading LAM for any length of time you’ll know just what my reaction was when he announced this. Cards on the table, I hate Family Fortunes rounds. There’s a place for guessing games within a quiz, but not a whole round of them. Still, for once, moaning about that is not actually the reason why I write. The fact is that as he began asking the questions, a little light bulb went off in my memory. The first question was something along the lines of
“I asked 100 people in Cowbridge – name a famous Peter. Was the most popular answer – Blue – Pan – Kay – Andre ?"
The fact is that the most popular was Pan. Next question was
“I asked 100 people in Cowbridge “ where is a good place to take someone on a first date – was the most popular answer cinema – pub – park – etc. "
Here’s the rub. 18 months ago when I played in a quiz in a British bar in Alicante, exactly the same Family Fortunes round was asked then. Except it was - we asked 100 british people on the Costa Blanca etc. etc. ! So I actually had my most successful Family Fortunes round ever, and the three I didn’t answer correctly I had heard in that quiz, but just couldn’t remember the answer.

As I say, it made no difference because we lost the whole quiz by a point anyway. But it just gave me a little glow of satisfaction to know that what I have always suspected, ie – that Mark is buying in the quiz, is actually true.

Little things please little minds, they do say . . .

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

QM's Gaffe

I heard another halfway decent one to add to my collection last night. I'm sure that I've told you my two favourites before , but because I enjoy them both so much I'm going to repeat them anyway.

a)Question - Which is the largest carnivore in Europe ?
Question master's answer - Notting Hill

b) Question - how many British Prime Ministers have been assassinated ( thinks for a minute ) and I tell you what , I'll give you a bonus if you can tell me his name.

Last night's was in a similar vein to b) which is quoted above. The quiz was the £100 first prize quiz in Cardiff. It must be more than 6 months since I last played there. This is partly because I've been playing in the league in Bridgend on a monday evening, but mostly because I just don't like it that much. As for the quiz itself, the questions are pretty good, but as I think we all know , there's more to an enjoyable quiz than just having good questions, albeit that you can't have a good quiz without them. The question master is a very nice guy, but he's one of these who drags each round out way past its natural life span. The place is really noisy, and you don't have to look very far to see people cheating with their phones. Well, enough said about that , and back to the gaffe. Last night I was delighted to hear this one : -

Question - how many states of the USA have a pacific coastline - ( thinks for a minute ) oh, and I'll give you a bonus if you can name all five of them.

I know that this wasn't intentional , since he let go a naughty little word when people began laughing, and he realised what he'd done.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Mastermind - Grand Final Preview

Well, then, does last night’s last semi final make anything clearer in terms of what is likely to happen in the final ? Maybe yes. . . but then again maybe no.

Lets start at the beginning. If we look back to last year, you can say that the semi finals produced some great matches, and some close matches, but you can’t say that any of the finalists came as a real shock. Compare that with this year. Only one of the finalists was among the 10 highest scorers in the first round. Even in my year, out of the finalists both Derek and I were in the top scorers in the first round, albeit that I was only just in there by the skin of my teeth. I really hope that they don’t take offence if they read this, since I have nothing but admiration for what they have achieved so far this series, but I think its fair to say that both Tim Fenn and Peter Reilly were something of a surprise package in the semis. After their first rounds I certainly hadn’t marked them out as potential finalists. Especially when you consider the number of great quizzers who lost out at the semi stage – I shan’t add to anyone’s agony by singling them out, but trust me, they were there.

So , enough beating about the bush. Let’s have a look at the runners and riders, and I’ll tell you what I think.

1st qualifier – Peter Reilly
Peter is actually the second highest scoring qualifier from the semis, and so he really has to be taken seriously . His semi score in particular was built on a great specialist round, and a very good GK round of 12. However I do have some doubts – and Peter, please, by all means prove me wrong. Its just that he only scored 12 on the GK round in the heats, which is OK for 2 and a half minutes, but not championship form. I worry that he may be vulnerable on GK. So I’m playing safe on this one – possible podium finisher, but not the top spot, and more likely in the chasing pack.

2nd qualifier – Tim Fenn
Tim was the other real surprise package of the semis. Now, if you average out first round scores and semi final scores, Tim actually has the second highest average total of the series behind Paul. He scored 13 and 12 in his semi, but I have the same reservation as I had with Peter. Tim only scored 12 on his first GK round, and while I admit that this may have been a one off, it may also suggest that he is vulnerable on GK. Come the final, unless you produce a performance of Jesse Honeyesque proportions you are not going to blow everyone else away on your specialist, and you have to be prepared to equal the best on GK. I am not convinced that Tim can do this. Prediction – again, possible podium although not top spot, most likely off the podium.

3rd qualifier – Diane Hallagan
The first finalist whom I mentioned as a potential finalist in the preview of the semis. Diane actually came second in her first round heat, and when I spoke to her just after the show was recorded she was rather despondent about her chances of making the semis. Well, Diane, you’ve certainly done that . In terms of quizzing Diane has seen and done it all, she is very experienced, and a great quizzer. Now, Diane had a great GK score in the first round, with 17, and a more modest specialist. In the semi, she had a great specialist, and a more modest 10 in the GK. It all comes down to whether she can get close to her best in both rounds. If she does, then she’ll be in the shakeup when it comes down to the final reckoning. Prediction – podium, but maybe not top step ( Sorry Diane , and I hope I’m wrong. )

4th qualifier – Ian Bayley
Well, if Diane has seen it and done it all, so has Ian, who also had time to stop and buy the T-shirt and read the book while he was at it. In case you need reminding, Ian is a former Brain of Britain Champion – and a member of the mighty Crossworders, first winners of Only Connect , and series champion of champions. Speaking of that , incidentally, I do think a showdown between the Epicureans and the Crossworders is in the pipeline somewhere down the line, however, I digress. Ian was runner up in 2009 , to Nancy. If anything should make the other finalists worry about Ian, though, it is the fact that he hasn’t necessarily seemed to be on absolute top form throughout the series. He scored a brilliant 17 on GK in the first round, but only 11 on his specialist. In the semi he only scored 11 on GK – good enough to get through, but only 4th highest of our 6 finalists. Ian has the ability to blow everyone away in the final, be in no doubt about that. But I’m basing these predictions on what I feel may happen in the show. So . . . Prediction. Possible champion – yet more likely on the podium.

5th qualifier – Julia Hobbs
Julia is an experienced quizzer and TV campaigner, and this will always give you an edge. For me she’s certainly less of a surprise package than Tim or Peter. However if we dispassionately look at the stats, Julia’s suggest that she may be among the outsiders for the final. Like Diane she scored 10 in the GK round in the semi, however she only scored 14 on GK in the first round heat. Alright, I say only , its actually a good score, but when you consider some of the heavy artillery she is competing against , you can see that it looks like she’ll have to produce her best GK round by some distance to have a realistic chance. So once again – Prediction – not on the podium – sorry Julia, and I’ll be delighted if I’m wrong.

6th qualifier – Paul Steeples
If you believe the stats, then Paul is the most likely winner of the grand final. His was the best performance of the semis. A great and difficult round on The Victorian Churches of London was followed by a terrific GK round. Believe me, 15 in a 2 minute semi final GK round is no mean feat at all, and comfortably better than the rounds any of our other finalists managed. When you add this to the fact that Paul also scored 17 on GK in the first round – as did Diane and Ian, you can see that his challenge has to be taken extremely seriously. Paul is no stranger to Grand Finals either, having been runner up to Geoff in Brain of Britain 2009. I don’t like to burden anyone with the tag of favourite, but bearing in mind that the final will already have been recorded some time ago, and being realistic nothing that I say can possibly affect the outcome, I make Paul my favourite to be the next champ. So – prediction – most likely champion, and definitely on the podium.

Well, ladies and gents, you have already seen that first round form doesn’t necessarily tell you that much about how well people can do in the semis, and we’ve often seen that semi final form is no reliable guide to what may happen in the final. So please take my predictions with a modicum of sodium chloride. Whatever happens, only a week to wait before we find out. Best of luck to all 6 finalists.

Mastermind Semi Final 6/6

The last semi final of the current series offered me something of a quandary, as you may recall, since it featured no less than 2 LAM readers and contributors, Paul Steeples and Min Lacey . Who to support ? Well, in the end I rooted for them both, with varying degrees of success as you’ll see.

Before all that, though, the show was kicked off by Robin Seavill. Robin won heat 7 on the Plays of Alan Bennett. He had been the 26th highest scorer of the first round, and his 13 on GK suggested that this would probably prove to be a hurdle too far. Still, his subject last night was my favourite one of the show , the “Unreliable Memoirs” of Clive James. I love the first three, but haven’t read any since ‘May Week was In June’ and so any about his career since leaving Cambridge I couldn’t get. I had all of the others, though. Robin duly laid down the gauntlet, with a fine 11, a very good score for 90 seconds.

Next came Min. Min scored a handy 16 on GK in her first round, where she was the 18th highest scoring qualifier for the semis. Back then, in show 6 she answered on the Life and work of Charles M. Schultz. Last night she gave us the “Discworld” novels of sir Terry Pratchett. Blimey, but there are a lot of them. Brave choice Min – I thought. Considering the amount of material to have to learn I thought Min did really well, but 8 points put her 3 behind at this stage, with possibly more to come from the other 3 contenders as well.

Peter Watkins scored a handy 15 on GK back in show 15, which marked him out as a dangerous dark horse for the show. In the first round his specialist subject had been mark Antony. He opted for a real change of pace in last night’s show, with radio’s “The Navy Lark”. He must really love the show, since a) it went on for donkey’s years, and b) he got every single question right ! Yes, it was a perfect performance which saw him score 13 correct answers from 13 questions. Very well done, sir, a noteworthy achievement.

James Collenette set a highest runner up score way way back in August, in the first show of the series. This, mind you , despite the fact that he scored a very good 16 on GK that day. To be honest, in coming second in his heat he had looked quite a bit better than quite a few people had in winning theirs. As it was he was the 14th highest scoring of all the semi final qualifiers. In August he had given us the history of Argentina since 1800. In the semis he opted for The Novels of Raymond Chandler. I have to say I loved the questions about the contrived similes that Chandler used. I have never read any Chandler, but after this round I think that maybe I should give him a try. James scored 10, a good score by anyone’s reckoning, but still one which left him with quite a bit of ground to make up on Peter.

Finally, then, came Paul. I said in my semi final preview that Paul looked a pretty good shout for the final. He was 6th highest scorer in the first round, and managed a massive 17 on GK. However, you will recall that the top 10 scorers from the first round heats have all been falling like ninepins in the semis. Paul, in fact, was the only one left. So there was a definite trend here which he needed to buck. IN his heat, the second of the series, he had answered on Charles Ives. Last night he opted for Victorian Churches of London. Good choice, although one which leaves the mind boggling at the possible amount of information to take in. 12 points and 1 pass were a very fine return on the round, and placed Paul very handily in his challenge for the final place in the final.

Min returned to the chair. Now, you’ll recall that in the last couple of semis, the contenders have many of them seemed to have been stricken by nerves in the GK rounds. I’m happy to say that for the most part this wasn’t the case last night. Min knuckled down to building the bet total that she could, and the score climbed into double figures, a significant performance in a semi final GK round. She finished with 18, and although she looked unlikely to progress any further, she has nothing to be ashamed about with her performances in the series this year.

James, I’m afraid, was the exception to the no nerves in the GK round rule tonight. He struggled to get on terms with the round, and I have no doubt that this was an under par display from a respected quizzer. It happens. James finished with 16 points.

We were climbing up the leaderboard now, and the scores began to climb too. Robin Seavill threw down his gauntlet, producing a decent round of 11 , to set the bar at 22 points and 1 pass or less. So Paul returned to the chair , in the chaser’s position which I have to admit was always my favourite. I never really enjoyed going last in the GK round myself, although I had to in my own semi , way back when. Paul produced the finest GK round which we had seen in any of the semis up to this point of the series. As we always say, anything in a two minute round over 12 is a good score, and anything over 14 is excellent. Paul produced a pretty nerveless round of 15 and 2 passes, to set the bar at 27, incidentally the highest score of the semis so far. Peter certainly had a mountain to climb.

To climb it, then, was what he set out to do, one step at a time, in the only way you can. You have to say he made a pretty decent fist of it as well. I sensed by the minute mark that he was perhaps one or two questions behind the clock, but nonetheless he kept rhythm, never lost concentration, and the 12 that he scored pushed him up to 25 points. Not enough to beat Paul, but a score which would have won three of this year’s other semis, and so a praiseworthy performance indeed.

So well played Paul ! You carry the LAM banner into the final – we all wish you the very best of luck retrospectively.

The Details

Robin Seavill ”Unreliable Memoirs” of Clive James11 - 011 - 222 - 2
Min LaceyDiscworld Novels of Sir Terry Pratchett8 - 010 - 018 - 0
Peter WatkinsThe Navy Lark13 - 012 - 325 -3
James CollenetteNovels of Raymond Chandler10 - 16 - 116 - 2
Paul SteeplesVictorian Churches of London12 - 115 - 227 - 2

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

First Aid In Knowledge ?

I apologise if you think I’m going over old ground here.

We had a discussion in the staffroom at lunchtime, as we often do, and the subject turned once again to the general knowledge – or lack of it – displayed by even exceptionally bright pupils today. The catalyst for discussion was that my Head of Department was working on J.B.Priestley’s “An Inspector Calls” with his good year 11 GCSE class. Trying to probe into the political background that produced the book, he found that not one had heard – or would admit to having heard – of Marx, Lenin, or even the Russian Revolution.

Alright, this is quite familiar ground, and I’m sure that its ground that has been well - trodden in staffrooms the length and breadth of the country. And yes, we semi-omniscient greybeards solemnly intoned that it wasn’t like this in our day, and that we had at least some general knowledge when we were at school, back in the days before Maggie T. stopped the free school milk. The reason why I write is that the discussion moved on to considering why this is. Why, if things are as they seem, do children who are every bit as bright as we were at the same age have such a seemingly inferior general knowledge to that of children 30 and more years ago. I have my own views on this, but I was interested to hear what they came up with. And the most interesting thing of all was that all of those in the staffroom at the age of 35 or over all came up with the same answer – every single one of them. This answer was- when they were at school, they all used the “First Aid in English “ !

Now, I fall into the over-35 category , by quite a distance as it happens , so I well remember the “First Aid In English” . I tried to do a little background research before writing this post, and considering its something which was used by, and which influenced a whole generation of schoolchildren, there is relatively little background information readily available out there on the net about it. I was rather surprised to find that there is no Wikipedia entry for the book at all, which is a little odd considering the wide range of ephemera which get their own space in this particular online resource. Amazon gives hardly any details when you look up the most modern version – “The New First Aid In English” – I couldn’t find any publisher’s notes, and while its always interesting to read the reviews by readers, they didn’t really answer any of my questions. So while I know that it was written by Angus Maciver, and that it was certainly around by the 1950s, I have no idea when the first edition was published, nor how many copies have been sold, nor how many editions or versions there have been, nor how many countries have their own editions. It’s a shame.

I don’t intend to discuss its value as an English textbook – far better qualified and cleverer people than me have already done so – but I just find myself wondering why it is that so many of my generation and older have such respect for this book as a purveyor of knowledge. After all, to take my Head of Department’s example from earlier today , my memory may be at fault, but I don’t remember finding anything about Marx, Lenin or the Russian Revolution between its covers. Yet on the other hand, I do think that I know what he and the others meant. I think many of us recall the book for the pages of stuff like collective nouns, and proverbs. After all, lets be honest, this was for some of us maybe our first encounter with something which we learned , or were asked to learn, with hardly any practical value . This was knowing something for no other reason than its arguably better to know it than not to. Which may be why we remember it , rather than the Look and Learn comics we read in the school dentist’s waiting room, for example, or the Valerie Singleton items we saw on Blue Peter . ( Maybe again my memory is playing tricks here, but it always seemed to me that in my youth on Blue Peter they would give anything educational to our Val, anything where there was a chance of getting hurt, or making a complete p@*!t of yourself to John Noakes, and Peter Purves got to play with the model trains.)

For the record, I don’t actually subscribe to the view that children aged 11-16 today have little or no General Knowledge. However I do hold the view that they have a very different General Knowledge to that which we had , and that of our parents before us. I also challenge the view that they have no interest in the world around them, or in knowledge that has no practical use or immediate relevance to themselves. Case in point. There is one book in our school library which many children of all ages and abilities make a beeline for. The latest edition of The Guinness Book Of Records. They love it. Yes, ok, there’s some amazing pictures in each edition, but that’s not the whole appeal of it. The desire for knowledge for its own sake is still there, but it comes out in different ways, and in different places.

Oh, and by the way , it’s a muster of peacocks, a nide of pheasants, and a covey of partridges.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Final Congratulations, boys

Yes, forgive me if I say one last set of final congratulations to my boys of the Llangewydd Arms quiz league team. Last night we played the final of the cup competition in Bridgend. I was worried that it was going to be a close call, and for much of the match that's exactly what it was . Our opponents, a very fine team from Maesteg Catholic Club even led after the first set of A and B questions, and the Individual rounds. We hit a little run of form after this, and had some questions which suited us, and we managed to pull away, but it was by no means easy. So Andrew, Neil, and of course John, many congratulations. You can't do better than to have a 100% record for the season.

But thanks also to all of the teams we've played in both league and cup this season. Your welcome and good humour has been one of the things that has made this season a joy from start to finish. If I admired and respected the league before I played in it (and I did ) , then that admiration and respect has increased exponentially. Many, many thanks indeed.

University Challenge - Grand Final - 2010/11

Magdalen , Oxford v. York

Yes, the contest that everyone has been waiting for finally took place last night. After a huge struggle, Llangewydd Arms won the cup final in Bridgend. Oh, and there was the small matter of a little University Challenge match on at the same time. Of course, it was Grand Final night, of this, the most closely contested series of University for quite a while. The mental gladiators prepared to give their all in this final bout were :-
James McComish,
Kyle Haddad- Fonda,
Will Cudmore
Captain Matthew Chan

for Magdalen, and for York,
Chris Caudwell,
Ben Keane,
Simon Donnelly
captain Andrew Clemo

The outcome of the final was always going to be settled in the buzzer race. Possibly the race to the first starter could be an indication of how the whole contest was going to go. First blood went to Andrew Clemo, the inspirational captain of York, who knew that the rule of mughal emperor Akbar the Great closely coincided with that of Elizabeth Ist. Bonuses on responses to Shakespeare proved rather daunting, and they only managed one. Will Cudmore hit back immediately, knowing that the man who changed the eating habits of the British more than any other man since world war 2 was Egon Ronay. Good bonuses were taken on Huxley, Handel and others. A great answer to the next starter followed from Andrew Clemo, involving working out the differences in minutes between historical events if rendered as times on a clock. Believe me, it was as hard as it sounded. 2 game theory bonuses followed. Will Cudmore took the first picture starter, identifying Berlin. More of the same followed, and all three were taken. Magdalen were certainly into their stride on their bonuses early in this show. Will Cudmore then correctly paired Perdita with Florizel from the play “A Winter’s Tale”. Bonuses on names of elements of the periodic table saw them drop their first points, but nonetheless they were still forging ahead. A great early buzz from Kyle Haddad-Fonda saw him say what sounded like ‘jumping jeans’ but I guess was ‘jumping genes’. It was right, anyway. A set of bonuses on quotations rather stopped them in their tracks, although they managed the last of them. Kyle Haddad-Fonda identified definitions of the words – east – least – yeast for the next starter. I half hoped that he was going to follow it up with –iron – lion – zion – but alas it was not to be. Bonuses followed on British trees, which took them up to a score of 105 by the 10 minute mark. York languished on 35, and at this stage were looking to get a toehold in the match again.

Kyle Haddad-Fonda knew the term fixation, and this brought up a set on metaphysics and theology. 2 were taken. Simon Donnelly , justifiably trying to break the cycle of Magdalen dominance, buzzed early on the next starter, unfortunately wrong, and given the whole question Will Cudmore confidently asserted that the answer required was Elgar . So it was. On the music starter neither identified a little tune on the harpsichord by Bach. Andrew Clemo managed to nip in with a double a town – Aachen – to get the music bonuses. This involved identifying keyboard instruments. Simon Donnelly got virginal ( ooh, matron ! ) , the clavichord and spinet got away. James McComish waited until York jumped too early on the next starter, then came in with tea tree for the next starter. 2 bonuses on rulers with epithets were taken. And still it went on. Magdalen took the next , and a full set of bonuses on JM Keynes. Ben Keane came in with the epiglottis to take the next starter, and made a slight temporary inroad into the lead. However bonuses on conductors and artistic directors proved difficult and only yielded one. A mathematical starter I couldn’t follow came next. Neither team could either, and so we rolled on to the next. Will Cudmore took the unzip starter, and the bonuses brought them up to 200, and , realistically, took them over the event horizon before the 20 minute mark. The picture starter asked for the painters of two paintings to be identified. Neither team could see Turner and Constable. Andrew Clemo knew that if its Hungarian wine, then its either Tokay or Bulls Blood, and he zigged correctly with Tokay. Picture bonuses comparing a Turner with another artist’s work followed, but I’m afraid they managed none of them. So at the twenty minute mark there was, realistically, only pride left for York to play for, as Magdalen led by 200 to 60.

A brilliant buzz from Matthew Chan for the next starter showed that he knew that ten to the power of minus 9 is – nano, and if you turn that round you get the name Onan. Fantastic answer. A set on medicine proved tricky, but no matter. Lovely starter next , about titles of books with the word ‘room’ in them – and Forster’s, as Will Cudmore knew, had a view. A set on economists proved difficult. Ben Keane took another starter for York, recognising a set of areas of the city of Beijing. Terms from the lyrics of Bohmeian Rhapsody were my all time favourite set of bonuses ever, and I’m delighted that York had them all. Still, back came Magdalen to take the next mathematical starter. A set of bonuses on astronomy saw them add a couple more . They were in no mood to show mercy to York, and Will Cudmore leapt in on the next starter on The Merry Wives of Windsor. A couple of bonuses on writers were taken. With the next starter it was Kyle Haddad-Fonda leaping in with Piaget. A set of literary terms followed, and a couple again were taken. Poor Ben Keane buzzed in for the next, but made the mistake of hesitating, and JP was having none of it. Kyle Haddad-Fonda knew hydrofluoric acid for the last starter, and then that was it. At the gong Magdalen had won by 290 to 85.

The trophy was presented by Anthony Beevor, who certainly impressed JP, going by the fulsome approval which he gave him. Thanks to Mr. Beevor for pointing out that the series gives the lie to the old chestnut of the dumbing down of education.

Hard lines York. You have played with guts, grit, and knowledge in your last few matches, and fully deserved your place in the final.

Many congratulations to Magdalen. Any team from Magdalen has a lot to live up to, and you have proven yourselves the equals of any previous vintage. Very well done.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Surprisingly not a lot to report tonight. I enjoyed his comment that Anthony Beevor rather broke the mould by topping the best selling non fiction charts without having written a cookery book. Thanks, Mr. P. as always, for the enjoyment you have given us during the series. In a world of often very bland, eminently forgettable hosts, you are a purple emperor among cabbage whites.

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

I liked two of them so much that I couldn’t choose between them – so here they both are.
The Queen Mum said that T.S.Eliot looked so gloomy he looked like he worked in a bank. ( He did !)
The only headword in the OED beginning with unz – is unzip.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Calling david.call2

I was delighted to receive an email from Thomas Benson, Questions editor on University Challenge. On the subject of spoilers, Thomas is quite rightly anxious that people's enjoyment of the series is not ruined by spoilers, and so he asked me if I could confirm the website referred to by david.call2 in a comment he posted after the second semi final review - which I take the liberty of reproducing here : -

"Talking of spoilers (which you were) it seems to me that the BBC is as bad as anyone. Even before Monday's programme had been transmitted the UC website was announcing that the Grand Final constituted a contest between Magdelen Oxford and York - which rather made Magdelen scorching hot favourites to win their semi. I believe a similar thing happened before episode 34 was transmitted (when York featured in two programmes in a row)."

David - can you tell us exactly which UC website you were referring to, and leave us the URL if possible ? You can email me personally, or leave it as a comment to this post if you prefer. Thanks for your help on this on.

University of Manchester Quiz Society Tournament

Delighted to receive an email from Rach Cherryade over the weekend. Amongst all the news, was a request if I could carry this message from Tom Whyman - a good UC man himself, you'll recall. I think you might be interested in it -

"Hi, my name is Tom Whyman and I am the chair of the newly-formed University of Manchester Quiz Society. We are hosting our first tournament on April 30th. This is an academic quizbowl which will take the form of a round-robin tournament. It follows a number of successful university quizbowls that have been staged in Oxford recently. One of these was won by Manchester: it was in fact the heats for a major quizbowl held in the USA, and we got to go to Chicago and participate against 30-odd American and Canadian teams (a team from Oxford went too). There we saw first-hand the quality of the academic quizzing scene in America. The best teams are intensely committed, very competitive, and almost impossibly quick and knowledgeable. They also play tournaments frequently throughout the year.

By contrast quizzing in British universities is very much oriented around University Challenge. The biggest problem with this I think is that they only let you go on once, so there's no way you can build on past successes if you did well on the show and enjoyed it but didn't quite win (for example). So, what we want to do is help move quizzing in the UK away from a focus on just UC and towards more American-style quiz bowls.

There are a few institutions that get involved on a regular basis: Oxford, Manchester, Sheffield, Imperial, Warwick, Oxford Brookes (and some others have shown up too: York, Southampton, Cambridge, UCL). But the purpose of this tournament is really to get as many new institutions involved as possible. In particular, universities from the north of England: like I say, the quizbowl scene has up until now been focused exclusively on Oxford, which Manchester can just about get to and from in a day (although our ability to beat Oxford A, never substantial anyway, is diminished by the early mornings), but anyone further away or less well-connected on the trains might struggle to make the journey. So, if anyone is from an institution that is interested in attending please e-mail me at

We need four-player teams but don't be discouraged if you can't find four people: we are open to allowing nearby institutions to compete together if they can't get enough players to attend on their own to get as many people involved as we can (and you are allowed to compete with fewer than four members anyway). The questions are from the 2011 University of Minnesota Undergraduate Tournament with British alterations by myself and others, so they are about the same level of difficulty as UC (but longer and in a pyramidal format which means the hardest clues are always first before the reveal at the end). There is a £40 tournament fee with a £5 discount if you bring a buzzer set.

Even if you can't make this quiz, get in contact anyway if you're interested so that I can let your university know about future quizzing events. The next big academic quizbowl that is coming up is the British Student Quiz Championships which will be hosted by Imperial on June 11th.”

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Mastermind - Semi Final 5

If you read the blog earlier in the week, you’ll know that I already highlighted Rach Cherryade’s appearance in this semi final. I always look forward to a Mastermind show, but you’ll appreciate that this one held a special fascination.

Julia Hobbs, who kicked off the show, won show 19 when she answered specialist questions on Armistead Maupin. Back then she scored 14 on GK, and she had the 17th highest score of all the qualifiers for the semis. All of which marked her out as a contender to take seriously in this semi, but not necessarily a favourite. Last night she offered us Calvin and Hobbes. And a very good job of it she made too. 12 on a 90 second round is the equivalent of 16 or 17 in old money, and that’s good quizzing. So she would certainly be in the shake up for the place in the final.

Our second contender, Hamish Cameron, is, I am fairly certain, the most experienced Mastermind semi finalist there is. Hamish had made the semi finals in three previous series, the most recent being the 2007 SOBM, where he was unlucky to meet Stewart Cross. That night Stewart produced by far the best performance of all of the semis. Hamish, had he been in 4 of the other 5 semis, would have won a place in the final on the strength of his performance that night. Well, what will be will be. In show 9 Hamish became one of the highest scoring runners up answering on The Scottish Covenanters. More importantly he scored a very fine 17 on GK that night, and this marked him out as one of the most likely finalists from this group. However his specialist tonight, the Life and Work of Aphra Behn, left him with some work to do. Yes, 9 is a perfectly good score in a 90 second round, but you don’t want to be 3 points behind a quizzer like Julia going into the GK round.

Lee Holmes beat Diane Hallagan in the last show of the first round, when he answered on British Domestic Politics 1970 – present day. His score was the 11th best of the first round. I did point out in my review of the first round that even though he beat Diane, I felt she was more likely to get to the final, since her GK score was quite a bit better than Lee’s 14. Well, Diane is already through to the final. Could Lee join her ? His specialist subject was my favourite of the 5 on offer tonight, and I have to say that I did rather well on The Life and Work of Ronnie Barker. Lee didn’t do badly, either, with a nifty 11 points putting him only a point off the lead at this stage.

Thomas Perry was one of the surprise packages in the first round. He answered on freshwater fish of the British Isles in show 23, and also scored 16 on GK. His score was actually the fifth highest of the first round. Which should have made him one of the favourites for tonight’s show . . . only it hasn’t been working out like that so far in this series, has it ? 9 points and 1 pass is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in a 2 minute round, let alone a 90 second one, but as I said with Hamish, 9 points put him 3 points behind Julia, and that is a significant gap to have to close.

At last Rachael came to the chair. Rachael produced one of the finest specialist rounds of the heats when she scored 18 on Belle and Sebastian in show 3. Her overall total was the 15th highest of the first round. Significantly, though, her GK score in the heat was a little lower than any of the other contenders in this show. Imperative, then , for her to take a lead on the specialist round. Answering on John Shuttleworth’s radio series, she didn’t disappoint. 13 is a superb score , and frankly on a par, I thought, with her round in the heat. Well done Rach ! I will admit that I was shouting at the telly at this stage in the competition.
On to the GK round. Hamish had to come back to the chair first. In the heats, it can happen that one contender is so much better than the rest on GK that they can overturn deficit on all of the other contenders, but that’s always less likely to happen in a semi. Its even less likely to happen when you get a really rather tricky set, which is exactly what was served up on a plate to poor Hamish. He just really couldn’t get his round started, and a run of passes scuppered his chances.

You may remember how last week the contenders seemed struck by tension and nerves in the GK round. Well, as for last week, so for this week. Poor Thomas Perry seemed frozen into indecision with some of his own questions, so much so that although he passed fewer times than Hamish did, he also scored less, and ended with 14 points.

The contest was crying out for someone to grab it by the scruff of the neck, and force themselves into the final. Lee certainly started as if this was what he was going to do, but his round too unravelled a little as time went on. He kept his head enough o keep pushing the score on to 9 , which gave him a total of 20 . Alright, it didn’t look that much like a winning total, but it was certainly enough to give Julia and Rachael food for thought, and to use a term from boxing parlance, to keep them honest.

Julia needed 8 and less than 3 passes to take the outright lead. She kept her head, and I thought had some great answers at the start of the round to build just that little bit of momentum that you need. She kept her head well, and offered answers to every single question. There was still time left on the clock as she reached the target , and in the end she scored 10 and no passes to set the bar at 22. Not perhaps a vintage GK round, but the semis are a funny old round, and its all about doing enough to get to the final. This looked like it might well be that.

However , the fact was that 9 and no passes would put Rachael through. A serious target, yes, but not an insurmountable one, albeit that this would be a win rather against the odds. Fair play, Rachael gave it a go. However she was behind on the clock by the one minute mark, and notwithstanding a rally in the last quarter of the round, she fell a little short , ending in third place with 19.

Well done Julia ! Best of luck in the final .

Well done, Rach, too. Semi finalist in University Challenge, and semi finalist in Mastermind. That’s an impressive looking CV you’re building up.

So , by a process of elimination, I believe this should leave us with: -
Paul Steeples
Min Lacey
James Collenette
Robin Seavill
Peter Watkins

next week. A few names to conjure with there. Should be a very good show.

The Details

Julia Hobbs Calvin and Hobbes12 - 110 - 022 - 1
Hamish CameronThe Life and Work of Aphra Behn9 - 07 - 716 - 7
Lee HolmesThe Life and Work of Ronnie Barker11 - 19 - 320 -4
Thomas PerryHistory of Burnley FC9 - 15 - 514 - 6
Rachael NeimanJohn Shuttleworth’s Radio Series13 - 06 - 319 - 3