Friday, 13 May 2011

Question Master's Eye

I hope that nobody thinks that this post is in any way a celebration of the work of Mr. Jim Davidson. To be honest, on the odd occasion that I’ve seen him on TV shows when he’s offstage, being himself, warts and all as it were, he hasn’t really come across as being very nice at all. Still, the fact is that I did used to watch “Big break”, his 90’s snooker based gameshow. The reason why I feel drawn to make this confession is that he and his co presenter John Virgo always used to have a little banter each week over Mr. Virgo’s ‘Commentator’s Eye’. This referred to the way that John Virgo could spot almost immediately whether a given shot was going to go into the pocket or not. Years as a snooker professional, and then a commentator had trained him to this peak of ocular achievement, so it seemed.

Ok. Well, I wouldn’t have mentioned this, except that last night, at the rugby club, I found myself using the phrase ‘question master’s eye’ in rather a similar vain. At the moment none of our semi regular setters want to be question master in the club, so Brian and I have been taking it in turns between us, in a sort of holding pattern until somebody else volunteers to have a bash. Ths is why it was my turn to set the quiz at the club last night, even though I last did it only a fortnight ago. Now, both Brian and I like to start each of the 8 round with one ‘in-the-news’ question. It turned out that of my 8 questions, Brian had earmarked no less than 4 of them for next week’s quiz. When he mentioned this after the quiz was over, my immediate response was
“Ah, well, that’s question master’s eye.” Question master’s eye , then is the ability – or the affliction if you prefer- of seeing, hearing , or reading something, and almost instinctively knowing that its going to make a good quiz question. And as we all know, if you think some piece of information will make a good quiz question, chances are other people are going to think exactly the same thing when they hear , read or see it. After all, you don’t really have to be any kind of quiz genius to see that
What is the name of Sir Paul McCartney’s fiancee ?
Which two teams will play in the final of this year’s Europa Cup ?
Where in Pakistan was Osama Bin Laden Killed ?
In which city did the Tesco riots take place ?
etc. etc. – are all things which are going to make decent questions.

In terms of quizzing, certainly, I have always thought of myself as a fairly lucky soul. When I was nobbut a novice, back in the days of my semi-youth in 1988, I was fortunate enough to be noticed playing in a social quiz in the Railway club in Port Talbot by the best league quiz team in the town, and asked to play for them. The other team members were all pretty good, and one of them was a great quizzer, my old friend Allan Coombs who sadly passed away a year ago. I don’t honestly think you make a better start to a quiz career than coming under the collective wing of a team like that. For one thing they’d all been playing for years. For another thing, without being cold – hearted, win at all costs professionals they were serious and competitive, and they knew what you had to do to be a top team , well , certainly for the circles in which we moved then, anyway. I learned a lot about tactics, but also I learned a lot about preparation for quizzes. Most of which I have never put into serious practice, but that’s just through my own indolence. One of the things that Alan, Barry, and later on when I met him, John were all keen to stress was the importance of ‘doing the papers’, and loath though I am to admit it, of course they were right. And of course, the more you do it, the better you should get at spotting the questions which are likely to arise from them.

Coming back to this whole idea of ‘question master’s eye’ I’m drawn back to my first round appearence in Mastermind 2007 ( Season of Blessed Memory ) . I managed to have a brief chat with each of the other three contenders before the start of the show. I will admit, I would never deliberately try to psych an opponent out. I’ve had something of this kind happen to me once, and it was rather unpleasant. Still, I wasn’t above trying to figure out who was likely to be a strong player amongst the opposition. So I asked the quietest one of them, a very nice chap , a rather transparent, “Do you play in quizzes at home ? “ to which he made a reply something like this –
“Not so much now, although I set a few . In fact I’m hoping that my question master’s eye ( yes, I’m sure he DID actually use this very phrase, although this may be my memory playing tricks on me ) will help me spot the questions which arelikely to be asked. “
My immediate thought was that he was referring to general knowledge, in which case it was a bit of a forlorn hope, since it is just so wide. However thinking about it, he must have meant his specialist subject, in which case I think he was spot on. It worked too, he had a very good score , as I recall, although the wheels came off a little for him in the GK.

Mind you, with regards to question master’s eye, the glass is probably just as much half empty as its half full. I think particularly of the times we all think we’ve been rather clever on boning up on a thing we think we’re likely to get asked in a particular quiz, only to find that effort wasted. For example, all those hours spent on the Russell Ash Top 10 of Everything book in preparation for the CIU finals, only to find the top 10 question isn’t one of the ones in the book !


Andrew B. said...

That's leaving us on tenterhooks - how did someone try to psych you out?

Londinius said...

Hi Andrew

Ok - since you're asking, it was my first time on Mastermind - 2006, and it wasn't even someone on the same show as me ! As it happened two of the other three contenders on that show are still friends of mine, Neil , (Untruth of this parish) and Kath . Well, I'd hardly sat down in the green room before this man leaned over to me, without introducing himself, or making any attempt at passing pleasantries, and said - Well, how well did you do in this before ? - which I thought was a pretty odd thing to ask, especially considering that I'd never been on the show before. When I said as much he began to tell me how he'd got to the semi final before , and was planning to go one better this time, and without putting too fine a point on it showed that he didn't think too much of my chances. Then he grabbed my Daily Telegraph without so much as a by your leave. I can't remember exactly what he said, but I felt rather patronised and put down, and all in all it was rather strange, considering that none of the three of us, Kath , Neil or me , was actually on his show ! Which he didn't win, as it happens.

Some people are a bit odd.


Anonymous said...

"For example, all those hours spent on the Russell Ash Top 10 of Everything book in preparation for the CIU finals, only to find the top 10 question isn’t one of the ones in the book!"

I wonder if the top 10 quesion in the CIU finals was always going to be one not sourced from Russell Ash, perhaps given a second-order question master's eye from the setters of the CIU finals?

Londinius said...

Hi J

Yes, since then I've spoken with Dave Cornish whose set the CIU quiz for the last few years, and he's a smart cookie who knows what's what, and was never going to set anything quite so easy to prepare for !

Thanks for leaving a comment


Londinius said...

Oops - that should read Thanks Jack said...

For my first Mastermind appearance, my specialist subject was a 15 book series, by Monica Edwards.
In one of those books, Tamzin is upset by the subject of a picture in a room she is staying in, and takes the picture down. It's a minor character detail in one book of a series packed full of characters, places and advenures.
It struck me though, that this was something the question setter might pick up on, so I included it in my notes. On the way over to Manchester, my friend, Ven, was using my notes to ask me questions, and she picked that incident out to ask me about. And sure enough, during the recording, I was asked about 'The Dog's Tragedy'. I very nearly laughed, especially as the question was phrased almost exactly the same way that Ven had phrased it a couple of hours earlier.

Londinius said...


I had a similar experiemce in Champion of Champions, only it didn't work out so well. Two questions among the 850 odd I'd prepared which came up I couldn't answer ! No idea why - the answers just didn't come.

Thanks for leaving a comment


LisaH said...

Well, I took your hint and learnt up the answers to the 'this week' questions - and the name of Paul McCartney's fiancee came up at the pub quiz tonight. Thanks

Londinius said...

Hi Lisa

You're welcome ! We aim to please.