Saturday, 29 September 2018

Mastermind 2018/19 - Starts Friday (but not in Wales - typical)

Pretty much what it says in the title. Annoyed but not surprised to see it's not on Friday in Wales. That's what the iplayer is for, mind you.

University Challenge 2019 - Heat 10 - University of London Institute in Paris v. Goldsmiths College, London

University of London Institute in Paris v. Goldsmiths, London

A London University derby, dearly beloved. More than that, a derby between an institute of London University that I never even knew existed, and my alma mater, at which I spent three mostly extremely happy years in the mid 80s. Apparently there are only around 120 students in the Institute, and their team was represented by James Dann, who hailed us in English, Jac Griffiths, who wished us good evening in Welsh, Niamh Merrit, who said hello in Manx, and captain Liam Alcock, who saluted us in French. As for Goldies (look, I don’t know if they still use the same nickname we used for the place, but that’s what my lot called it) we had Keshava Guha, Ieuan Cox, Jamie Robinson and skipper Diana Issokson. It was all sightly worrying when JP announced that they didn’t have a scientist among them. When I write these reviews I try to be as unbiased and fair to both teams as I can. Well, I’m afraid it was a case of stuff that as I watched this one. I was firmly in the Goldsmiths corner.

Thus began one of the more memorable contests of recent years. Both teams rather dwelt on their buzzer a bit before identifying the figure written about by Byron and Moliere among others as Don Juan. Keshava Guha took that one, to cheers from the Clark sofa. Spencer’s “The Faerie Queen” brought 2 bonuses. Skipper Diana Issokson took the first of several starters, buzzing in to recognise a description referring to a pineapple. A Short History of the World by HG Wells once again brought two bonuses. Goldies were 40 points to the good. Our second literature starter out of the three so far saw Keshava Guha identify Philip Larkin’s use of toads. Fossils ending in ‘ite’ saw Goldies take another brace of bonuses. This was starting to look too good to be true to me. I loved the UC special we had as the picture starter next. We saw a flag – obviously Panama – whose colours had been replaced by the colours of the flag of a bordering nation – in this case Colombia. Very bad luck to James Dann. He correctly identified the flag of Panama, but went for neighbouring Costa Rica rather than neighbouring Colombia. Diana Issokson then went on to earn the picture bonuses knowing that ‘Herland’  was written by Gilman. Which made 3 out of 5 literature starters. Were we, perhaps, watching a show where the question sets had been specifically tailored to show the strengths of the particular teams involved and not highlight their weaknesses? If so, I feel very uneasy about that. I myself know bugger all about Science, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to see Science starters being used. The flag bonuses brought another 10 points to Goldies. A little short of the 10 minute mark they led 80 – 0, and so far the London Institute in Paris had managed just the one buzz. What was going on here?

Now, Wanda Landowska may well be – and indeed is – known as Wanda Who? in LAM Towers, but I was pretty sure that if she played JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the instrument they were written for, then the word we were looking for was harpsichord. Keshava Guha tried a possible organ. Here, I thought, we would see the Institute get off the mark. Sadly Jac Griffiths offered synthesizer. Finally, more than 10 minutes into the show we got our first Science starter, and Liam Alcock got the Institute’s first points. Gawd knows what the question meant, but the answer was ATP – which I always thought was the original tilting railway train, but there we are. Bonuses on artists saw them fail to add to their score. Back to literature again for the next starter, and Keshava Guha took it with Tolkein’s Beren and Luthien. Films on Nobel Laureates saw Goldies take a full house, as well they should have done on this set. This took them through into triple figures. Jamie Robinson took a flyer on the next starter, and was on the right lines Geographically in his thinking, but lost 5. Look, it’s probably about time to acknowledge the elephant in the room. The London Institute in Paris just failed pretty much all evening to demonstrate the kind of General Knowledge you need in order to at least compete in a show like UC. For example, if you’re asked for a river, and Uruguay is mentioned, it’s not unreasonable to expect in a quiz that you might know the River Plate. They didn’t, and thus missed a shot at an open goal. In an astronomy starter the teams were asked to name a star of the Milky way based on its description. Turned out it was the Sun. Neither team added to their scores. Both teams sat on their buzzer as the next question gave a range of clues pointing to a swan – Swanage, Swan River, Swansea etc, until James Dann doubled his team’s score with a correct buzz. Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I and VI, provided a really rather tricky set of bonuses, none of which were to the Institute’s benefit. Diana Issokson was in very quickly for the music starter to identify the dulcet tones of Kanye West. Mr. West is, I believe, a popular musician of recent years, and no relation to the late great Adam West, nor indeed canned fish purveyor John West. Tracks featuring the Roland TR-808 drum machine – none of which were by JS Bach either – brought another two bonuses. A series of works by Umberto Eco were identified by the Goldsmith’s skipper. Science in the 1740s followed. I’ll be honest, I nearly went for the lap of honour with Celsius. What with Science questions so very thin on the ground in this show, I doubted that I’d get many other chances. My nerve cracked with Leiden jar, though, and off I went, albeit that both of those bonuses were gimmes. With almost 20 minutes on the clock, Goldies led by 140 to 20. The contest was long over, and frankly all that remained was a question of how high Goldies would take their total, and how low the Institute’s would remain.

Nobody knew about sheep worrying for the next starter. Nor about the biological term climax. Asked for a 17th century French dramatist, your percentage answer is Moliere. That’s the answer Keshava Guha gave, but it was wrong. Paris, unsurprisingly didn’t have a Scooby. It was Racine. In one way it was nice to see James Dann at least buzzing in for the next starter, on Geography, but a shame that his answer was so wide of the mark. Keshava Guha came in with the correct answer that the Balkan Mountains are in Bulgaria. The films of Daniel Day Lewis brought yet another two correct answers. So to the second picture starter. See if you can guess which specific subject this starter linked to. What’s that you say? Literature? Give that person a peanut! I shall have words to say about all of this at the end of this review. Liam Alcock recognised Camus. Apparently he’s the world’s sexiest philosopher according to a poll in Existential Comics. Others featuring in the poll actually gave them two bonuses. This seemed to put a little heart into the Institute, as Jac Griffiths took the next starter, knowing that certain species of ants practice dulosis or slave making. Mrs. Herbert Hoover provided one bonus, and two answers that, I’m afraid, brought more evidence that the Institute team really weren’t cut out for this sort of contest. Ieuan Cox managed his first starter of the contest, working out that there are three sets of consonants in terrific tariff agreement. Their bonuses – literary titles that include the name of an SI unit. Again, two of them were answered correctly. Unsurprisingly neither team had a correct shy at a botany starter about fungi. That was it, as we were gonged halfway through the next starter. Goldsmiths won by 180 – 55.

Right then. JP said to London Institute in Paris, “Well, you had a great sense of humour to take part in this.” Agreed. They showed good humour and sportsmanship. Offered the chance to take part, I don’t blame them for one minute for taking it up. I do think that the production team, though, have a question to answer. Now, I’ve spoken to quite a few people about this show since, especially former Goldies students, and all of them are asking the same thing – and there’s no real polite way of saying this – how did the London Institute in Paris team get to be on the show? All I can suggest is that their novelty, being based in France, saw them through. And I can understand that. Mind you, if they were given a place which would otherwise have been taken by another London University college, or University based in London, then I’m sorry, but that’s not on if they weren’t worthy of their place on merit. And we have only got this one show on which to make judgements, but based on this performance I think it’s unlikely that they were better than other London based institutions who didn’t make it onto the show. Let’s look at it this way as well. Will it really have done the London Institute in Paris that much good that they were seen in this way. This sort of thing can’t really be great for the reputation of the Institute, can it?

Well, look, we’ve seen other teams struggle in previous series, and we’ve seen lower scores than the Institute’s. The other issue for me, though, was what appeared to be a conspicuously ‘Science-lite’ show. I don’t have reams and reams of statistics with which to compare the spread of questions in this show with others in the same series, but this is how it seemed to me. It was especially glaring considering that JP highlighted Goldies’ lack of a scientist in our their team. Maybe I’m just imagining it – and I’d certainly be interested in your points of view in this one.

So finally, how good were Goldsmiths? Very difficult to say on the evidence of this one show. Their opposition did not discover their buzzer fingers until it was far, far too late, and I’m sorry, did not seem to have the general knowledge to put up any kind of decent fight. I think that Goldsmiths will surely have a decent bonus conversion rate from this show, and I was very, very proud of them, no doubt about that. How they will fare against a better team, with faster buzzers, well, time will tell. But I’m rooting for them.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

JP’s instinct got the better of him on the harpsichord question. Even so early in the competition it was fairly clear that the London Institute in Paris were out with the washing, so when offered the word synthesizer he took a deep breath, a long look at his card, then replied “No, it was written for the harpsichord.” Then the dam burst and his basic instincts took over, and in the same tone in which Captain Mainwaring used to call Pike a ‘stupid boy’ in Dad’s Army, couldn’t stop himself from saying “How could they have been written for a synthesizer!”

You could see that JP was feeling for the Institute, in the way that he saluted their second correct buzz of the night with a much prized Paxman “Well done.”

Diana Issokson seemed, frankly, to be absolutely loving the competition, and when she announced Kanye West in the tones of the cat that swallowed the cream, JP seemed to get into the spirit of this unusual contest, laughing and announcing ‘it is indeed!’.

Our hero applied the coup de grace to the Institute at about the 20 minute mark, with the words “Still plenty of time for you to come STORMING back, Paris!” Normally I think he’s trying to be kind when he says this sort of thing. In this case, I think he was just taking the proverbial. After all, there wasn’t and they wouldn’t.

When Keshava Guha answered Moliere for the French dramatist, Jez turned to the Institute and asked “Anyone like to buzz from Paris?” No, was the simple answer. “Zut Alors!” he hooted in derision. Then when the Institute took a rare starter identifying the photograph, he put on his best Inspector Clouseau to salute their answer – “It IS Albair Cammooo!” In the answers to the bonuses they actually took two correct answers, and not knowing the last just threw out a philosopher’s name. “HEGEL?!” spluttered JP, who by now was just letting it all hang out. So when, on the next set of bonuses, they suggested that Mrs. Herbert Hoover might have received an award from King Albert of England, he just let rip with “Have you noticed a King Albert in this country?”

Interesting Fact That I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week
The term climax, as used in Biology ultimately derives from an ancient greek word for ladder.

Friday, 21 September 2018

University Challenge 2019 Round One Heat 9 - Bristol v. Queen's, Belfast

Bristol v. Queen’s, Belfast

Heat 9 already, dearly beloved, can you believe it? Well, probably yes, come to think of it. So, last Monday’s heat pitted Bristol against Queen’s Belfast. Bristol’s team were George Sumner, Owen Iredale, Pushpam Basu and captain Anne Le Maistre. Queen’s team were Matthew Hooton, Ria McQuillan, James Breen and skipper Stephanie Merritt. So much for the formalities, and let battle commence.

James Breen took first blood, knowing that rum is in a Dark and Stormy cocktail. (It was a dark and stormy cocktail – hmm, works rather better, methinks.) Writers buried in Highgate Cemetery weren’t exactly gimmes, but I did think that Queen’s might have done better than just the one bonus. The only undisputed fact is that he died at Pontefract is a rather lovely way of describing Richard II, and this was recognised by Matthew Hooton. Nobel prizes for Chemistry offered me but little, but I’m sorry, you ask me for hollow carbon molecules named after a US architect and I’ll give you buckminsterfullerenes every day of the week. And I’ll take a lap of honour for it. I was halfway round when I answered carbon dating for the next one as well, but limited myself to the single lap. For the next starter exoplanets in the constellation of Pegasus did for my chances, but Matthew Hooton was perfectly happy to take his double. Textile artists bonuses saw James Breen ask his team, in my favourite bit of interplay of the whole contest , “Who’s your boy who sawed the cow in half?” – by which he was referring to my fellow Goldsmiths alumnus Damien Hirst.The answer wasn’t him, though. I have to say it, this Queen’s University team did like to chew over their answers at length – albeit rather entertainingly. Ten years ago JP would have already been at the OH COME OONNNNNNNN! stage with them by now. They didn’t add to their score. So to the picture set and a clever UC special. What we saw was a French phrase, describing a French compound noun that has been assimilated into English. My A Level French (not quite failed, but frankly pushing my luck) was good enough to tell me that the compound noun was faux pas. This allowed Owen Iredale to put Bristol’s team into credit. More of the same provided 2 bonuses. Pushpam Basu recognised a description of Ginsberg’s “Howl”, to earn bonuses on pairs of words differing by a single letter. Bristol themselves took their time chewing over the bones of each pair, but this at least helped them convert two of them into points. Thus, a little after the ten minute mark the score stood at 50 – 40 to Queen’s.

A UC special which involved using the symbols of a range of SI units yielded Matthew Hooton the word scam. Bonuses on New Atheism yielded them a brace of bonuses. A description of Hannah Arendt was recognised by Pushpam Basu, and Bristol earned bonuses on biological classification. A couple of correct answers reduced the gap to 10 again, and brought us to the music starter. This borrowed the ‘Name the Year’ question from Ken Bruce’s Pop Masters quiz on Radio 2. We were played several singles and asked to name the year, with the proviso that the teams were actually allowed to be 'one year out'. No promise of t shirts if they were, though.We heard a brief snatch of “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats from 1983 when Owen Iredale buzzed in with a good enough 1982. Three more sets of singles followed, with the clue being that all 3 years were actually prime numbers. Only one yielded a bonus, but it did mean that Bristol had taken a slender lead for the first time in the contest. A rush of blood to the head saw Pushpam Basu come in too early, and offer Shelley as the name of the poet to whose memory Keats dedicated ‘Endymion’, and the teams were all squared again. Queen’s though could not capitalise by dragging up the name of Thomas Chatterton – or – ‘the whelp’ as the notoriously peppery Samuel Johnson called him. Now, if you’re asked for a country whose independence was proclaimed by the heir to the Portuguese throne, Brazil is always going to be a good shout, and it was a shout made by Owen Iredale, whose efforts on the buzzer were really starting to bear fruit for his team. The American painter, John Singleton Copley (you remember him? He’s called John Singleton Who? in LAM Towers) brought a good 2 bonuses. It was Owen Iredale too who took the next starter. When asked which of Shakespeare’s plays was based on Robert Green’s “Pandosto”, both teams sat on the buzzer until he scored with a long range punt on A Winter’s Tale. (Not apparently based on the David Essex single, then.) Welsh History brought another couple of bonuses, so, at the 20 minute mark, Bristol had forged what was starting to look like a healthy lead, with 110 to Queen’s Belfast’s 70.

This was a lead which was immediately reduced by James Breen, who was first to buzz in for the second picture starter, a still from the Money Supermarket Advert with the Sindy Dolls – (Or Thelma and Louise as it was called in the cinema.)Three subsequent films for which women won the Oscar as sole credited screenwriter saw them take 2 bonuses, but miss out on a full house by missing out on “The Piano”. You had to feel for them. “What was the name of the one with the piano?” they asked each other, before plumping for The Pianist. Hard lines. Never mind. The fight back continued as Matthew Hooton identified some Physics gobbledygook as Newton’s Constant. Amazingly, I knew one of the questions on Fundamental theories, while Queen’s managed two. Asked for the two main families of monotremes, that was always going to be a buzzer race, and Owen Iredale was always going to win it, to offer Echidnas and Platypus. Bristol didn't have much of an appetite for the bonuses on apatite, and took just the one. Pushpam Basu showed a fast buzzer finger when he buzzed in with the title “The White Tiger” immediately after the name Aravind Adiga. Bristol failed to capitalise by not being able to answer any of a set on battles. Now, Which SI derived unit, equivalent to one ampere in one second is named after which French scientist, the teams were asked. The heat of battle can do funny things to you, which saw George Sumner buzz in early with ampere, even though it was in the question. Any embarrassment though must have been forgotten as James Breen buzzed in with Voltaire. Look, he must have been thinking about Volta, but JP was never going to let that one pass. Now, I didn’t know that the great Indian writer Kalidasa wrote in Sanskrit, but I guessed, and this was confirmed correct when Pushpam Basu buzzed in with the same answer. That for me confirmed Bristol’s win, as the sands of time had almost all reached the bottom of the hourglass. We only had time for one bonus on towers before the gong confirmed that Bristol had won, by 140 to 110.

Hold a gun to my head and demand my honest opinion, and I’ll tell you that this was not a contest of the highest quality, with only the buzzing of Owen Iredale catching the eye at all. But it was enjoyable and entertaining, and I thank both teams for that.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Jez was in rather a jolly mood all evening, so it seemed. I’ve already observed how patient he was with both teams’ dwelling on their answers. Then, with the music bonuses, when Bristol offered 1971 rather than 1973 he replied that this wasn’t a prime number, then veritably chuckled as he added ‘Imagine not knowing!’ What a tease! This jocularity was shown again when Matthew Hooton offered Tennyson for the Chatterton bonus. Normally JP hates it when teams are a bit out on English Literature. This time the tone in his voice, “Tennyson!” was clearly mock indignation, and he was grinning all over his phizzog. Even with the Voltaire answer he grinned as he incredulously repeated “Voltaire!” Positively avuncular, Jez.

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

Thelma and Louise was the first film for which a woman received the Oscar for solo credited screenwriter.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Mastermind 2019 - Update

My thanks to everyone who took the time and trouble to comment on my previous post. If you haven't had a chance to look at the comments, contenders who have actually taken part in the next series have confirmed that it is 'in the can', and believe from what they have been told that it will begin airing from before the end of this month. Well that's certainly good news. As you were.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Mastermind 2019 - The Winds of Change Are Blowing

Generally, gentle readers, Autumn has tended to have a pretty good press down the years. By way of an example, the first poem I ever really loved was John Keats’ “Ode To Autumn”. Without doubt, Autumn does have its delights, and one of them, for me, has been the return of Mastermind. Sad though this may sound to some, I’ve come to look on it as a reward for a week’s hard work at the chalkface.

Well, like me, you may well have noticed that the next series hasn’t started yet, which is a little surprising since in recent years, the new series has begun in August. I went to the BBC’s Mastermind website, and all it says is that there are no upcoming programmes. So I did a Google search for Mastermind 2019. The first things I found were articles from the beginning of August saying that the show is being put out to competitive tender. OK. Well, underneath that, I found the BBC’s own – what would you call it? – prospectus? Not sure. Anyway, it was the document giving information to prospective producers about the show, about what they were looking for, and about how to apply. I have no idea what this was doing on the net. Maybe the BBC are under a Freedom of Information obligation to put this sort of thing out there, being a publicly funded institution? It has only been out there since Monday. Presuming that it wouldn’t be out there on the net if it was not meant to be read, you can have a look at it yourself if you like – here’s the link -

It's quite a weighty document, but there were a couple of things which I noted. Firstly, for the new producer and team, their series won’t start transmission until August 2019. Now, I’m pretty certain that if there was going to be another series before this one, it would have started already, and it hasn’t. So it seems we have a long wait ahead of us for the next series.

The second interesting thing was this. In the document it states,“We wish to maintain the intellectual rigor of the programme, the precision of the questions and the format overall but we would be interested to creatively refresh the programme within these constraints. We wish to appeal to a broader audience potentially using social and digital.”

This is amplified a little further later on in the document,

“We wish to attract a wider and even more diverse audience and contestants for these series. We wish to explore how to cast a wider ranging contestant pool attracting younger and older contestants, and wider diversity in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexuality and disability. We’d like to have proposals for ways of making the show even more attractive to younger audiences for example through approaches to production and/or use of social media. We also want to capitalise on the BBC One celebrity version to drive new audiences to BBC Two and increase the overall appeal of the brand and we need to do all this without alienating the core audience. As far as possible we would also like to increase the Programme’s appeal on iPlayer and would be interested in proposals addressing this.  One of the strengths of the existing format is the “play-along-ability” of the questions particularly in the general knowledge round.”

Very interesting. And no, I don’t think there’s necessarily anything to alarm lovers of the show, such as myself, in there. I think it that it’s always been a desire of the show’s producers to attract a wider net of potential contenders, and it’s not an easy thing to do. I may be wrong, but I think by far the largest number of applications still come from white middle aged men, for example.

Attracting a younger audience though, that’s just as problematical. If you look at the show since 2003, there have been changes to the format and presentation, in order to ‘freshen it up’. When regular Mastermind returned in 2003, we had 2 rounds of 2 minutes, chats between the rounds between John Humphrys and the contender in the chair, and no repechage places in the semis. Since then we’ve seen the repechage slots come back – good move – necessitating the end of the inter-round chats – good move again. We’ve also seen the change of the amount of time in the round, tipping the balance in favour of GK. Then in 2016 we saw the advent of the blue line of death around the score for the last 10 seconds, together with a bit of tension music. But this all comes down to tinkering, and I don’t think that there’s much you can do with the format other than tinkering. Otherwise it wouldn’t be Mastermind.

As I said, I’m not worried. I’ll be honest, attracting a younger audience is something a lot of TV shows would like to do. How you do it, though? Well, that’s another matter. I’m not a TV producer, and I’m very much an older audience, so I don’t really have any idea. I’m pretty sure that we are unlikely to see any of the following: -

·       Viewers at home getting to vote in and ‘save’ contenders they like, and eject contenders they don’t

·       A panel critiquing each contender’s performance (Let me tell you, tonight, you OWNED that chair)

·       A sudden death quiz off between the two lowest/highest scoring contenders.

What we WILL see, now, that I don’t know. So all I really can do is, in case there are any prospective producers of the show reading, just give you an idea of what would be alienating to me as a member of the core audience:-

·       Too much ‘jazzing up’ of the show. Sorry, but I like Neil Richardson’s “Approaching Menace” as the theme, and I like the lack of showbiz razzmatazz in each programme.

·       Shoving the contenders’ personalities in our faces. I’ll be honest, I’ve never really enjoyed the ‘tell me what you do’ interludes on other quiz shows. As a contender I always found sitting through other contenders’ inter-round chats with John to be excruciating. Even though they were edited when broadcast I found these an alien and unnecessary element, and I hope that they, or any version of them, are never brought back. It’s fine to have the filmed inserts when you get to the final – that after all is a special occasion. But not on the rest of the series.

·       Let’s get to the double D’s – dumbing down. This always has been, and probably always will be a contentious issue on Mastermind. I’m glad to see the BBC document make a commitment to ‘maintain the intellectual rigor of the programme, the precision of the questions’ – and hope that this will be adhered to. In my opinion - feel free to disagree – a lot of the allegations about the show supposedly dumbing down in recent years have been ill informed, and just plain wrong. I really, really, really have no axe to grind about the range of specialist subjects contenders can offer, and since I started reviewing the show back in 2009 there have honestly only been a very few occasions when I’ve felt that the specialist round has been noticeably too easy compared with the other rounds on the same series. What I would feel alienated by would be an editorial decision to lose balance between the more traditional subjects, and those more likely to appeal to a younger audience – for the sake of argument, a series in which a typical show consisted rounds on a current band, a series of contemporary graphic novels, Hollyoaks and A.N.Other. But I don’t think that would happen. The show can only use the subjects that the contenders are willing to use.

·       Intrusive interactive elements. Let me give you an example of the sort of thing I mean. Let’s say the new producer decided to try to increase the playalongability of the show by having a caption with a multiple choice of 4 potential answers appear with each question. Now, if you want to do that sort of thing with the red button, then fine, go ahead, but I’d hate to see something like that forced on the viewers.

·       A young, trendy question master. To be fair the document makes it quite clear that John will be continuing in the chair whoever gets to produce the programme.

Whoever wins the tendering process, I wish you the very best of luck. If you or a member of your family have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this post, feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email.

University Challenge 2019, Round One - Ediburgh v. Sidney Sussex, Cambridge

Edinburgh v. Sidney Sussex, Cambridge

Well, hello, good morning, and welcome. In last Monday’s match Edinburgh, in the shape of Matt Booth, Marco Malusa, and Robbie Campbell Hewson and their captain Max Fitz-James, took on Sidney Sussex of Cambridge. They, in their turn, were represented by Radu Thomas, James Delaney, Isobel Ollard and their skipper Jay Vinayak Ojha. Good enough, so let’s get cracking.

Now, I didn’t know that it was the projecting head of a glacier, but I did know that Snout was the tinker in A Midsummer Night’s whatsername. The nose or muzzle of an animal was enough for Isobel Ollard to take the starter, and earn a set on mythical beasts, of which they managed one. The Wyvern is a bit of an old chestnut. Also appeared on the badge of Vauxhall cars for that matter. Matt Booth knew that oxidane is a name for water. Edinburgh also only managed to convert one of their first set of bonuses on rivers. The Edinburgh skipper showed a twitchy buzzer finger when he came in for the next starter before it became obvious that the answer was the French ship The Medusa, as in The Wreck of by Gericault. That allowed Isobel Ollard to take her second starter. Cross gender productions of Shakespeare again saw just the one bonus taken. So to the first picture round. We saw the name of several characters created by the same author, written in Cyrillic. Now, I know just enough Cyrillic to see that the second one had the first name Boris, so it was possibly Boris Godunov, which would be Pushkin. So it was. Off the point, but Pushkin wrote a poem about my great, great, great, great uncle once. True story. No marks for not knowing that the current England cricket captain, Joe Root, was also captain last year. AT last Robbie Campbell Hewson stopped the rot, knowing Freetown in Sierra Leone. This brought up the picture bonuses, more sets of characters in Cyrillic. 2 bonuses meant that by the 10 minute mark, Edinburgh led by 30 -25. A close match, although by no means a high scoring one so far.

The next question was about moments of inertia, and I had more than a moment of inertia while it was being asked. Neither team had it. Me? Don’t be silly. A lovely early buzz from Marco Malusa saw him identify Skopje as a city roughly halfway between Tirana and Sofia. My heart, gentle reader, did not exactly jump for joy when JP announced the next set was on particle physics. However, cryptic crossword type clues to electron – elect – ron, lepton (leapt on) and gluon (work it out for yourself) saw me take a full house, and the wheeze-athon that is m weekly lap of honour around the living room began. Some stuff about molecular biology followed, and it did no more good for either team than it did for me. Max Fitz-James was in early to identify Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as 2 territories incorporated into the Dominion of Canada in 1867. Good shout that. 2 bonuses on the ancient people, the Alans (make your own jokes about that one) followed, and it looked as if Edinburgh were shifting up through the gears. The Edinburgh skipper took his second consecutive starter with Wilfred Owen’s poem “Strange Meeting”. A surprisingly easy set on words beginning with -imp – gave me a second Science full house, but Edinburgh missed out on the second. So to the music starter, and possibly my favourite Genesis song (it’s the shortest! Joke, I don’t mean it! I loved Genesis, and went to see them at Wembley Arena in December 1983. Getting out of the car park afterwards took longer than the whole gig.) Follow You, Follow Me, from And then there were three. That gave Matt Fitz-James his hat trick. More bands or artists with single names that feature in the titles of books of the Old Testament gave Edinburgh just the one bonus. However, this meant that they had scored 75 unanswered points, and Sidney Sussex were on the ropes and starting to look a wee bit groggy. Edinburgh’s captain pushed it a little too far coming in too early for the next starter and losing 5. Sidney Sussex could not capitalise with the word cortex. Matt Booth knew that the San Francisco Giants have won the Baseball World Series several times recently. A nice set of old chestnuts about the names of countries in their own language – for example Suomi = Finland – saw Edinburgh take their first full house of the night, and a lead of 100 points. Now, when a question asks you what game links – then gives the name of films with knight and queen in their titles, then it doesn’t matter whether you know or not, you go for the buzzer and answer chess. Neither team did. They both waited for the information which made it even more obvious, and Matt Booth won the buzzer race. The 2009 book Twitterature, which sums up major novels in tweets of 140 characters or less, brought two more bonuses. Having been shut out for the best part of 10 minutes, Isobel Ollard revived Sidney Sussex, identifying Sleeping Beauty, the ballet, from the names of some of the characters. Two bonuses on spots in paintings brought the score to 145 – 45 to Edinburgh at the 20 minute mark.

Radu Thomas recognised the work of Egon Schiele for the second picture starter. Three more depictions of Autumn brought, well, nowt, I’m afraid. I guessed the lamb dish whose name comes from stewed in ghee would be Rogan Josh, as did Matt Booth. The polymath Thomas Young ( altogether now, also known as Thomas Who in LAM Towers) brought both of us just the one correct answer. Radu Thomas recognised the words of Samuel Beckett for the next starter. Two bonuses on the British Empire were useful, but Sidney Sussex needed a lot more. I didn’t really understand the next question, but the answer, given by Robbie Campbell Hewson was caesium. Fair enough. Zoology only brought one bonus, but Edinburgh only needed points for gilding now. Sidney Sussex could not claw back the gap by now. Especially after Edinburgh’s distinctly useful skipper provided the answer that Boreas and Zephyrus, amongst others, represented winds in Greek Mythology. Chapter titles from well known novels provided another Edinburgh bonus. Max Fitz-James added another to his burgeoning starter collection, knowing that the something something something in molecular biology is phosphate. Fair enough. A set on US state capitals sounded full of Eastern Promise, but sadly we were gonged when we were both on for a full house after the first two bonuses. That was it. Edinburgh won by 210 to 75.

Sidney Sussex have my commiserations, but the fact is that you have to go for your buzzer, and sometimes take risks with starters, which they never quite managed to do. As for Edinburgh, well, it’s difficult to realistically assess their chances. They have a good buzzer in their skipper, but how they will cope with a faster buzzer team than Sidney Sussex is a matter of conjecture. Best of luck in round two anyway.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

On the cross gender productions, JP seemed a little tetchy when Sidney Sussex offered the male Benedict Cumberbatch in the male role of Malvolio. “No, it’s a cross ge – oh, never mind.”

Our host struggled really to say something positive to Sidney Sussex at the end. One sensed he mentally pulled back from the brink after saying “Well Sidney Sussex, that was a . . . “. Now, I’d like to think what he had in mind would not have continued with the words – load of old – but I can’t be certain. He gave the fair assessment of their performance with “Well, you never really got going did you?”

Interesting Fact That I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week
There is a species of gibbon called the Skywalker gibbon. 

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Interview with Peter Meindertsma, Propietor of Triviaplaza, ActionQuiz and DominoQuiz

Dearly beloved, I had an email last week from Peter Meindertsma, the creator and proprietor of, Actionquiz,cm, and, to ask my opinion. Very kind of him in my opinion. Rather cheekily I asked Peter if he’d mind me writing a bit about him for the blog, and I set him a few questions. He was good enough to answer, and I take the liberty of reproducing these here for you now.

1.      How did you first become interested and involved in quizzing?
When I was a student I participated in a few general knowledge pubquizzes, but I did not become a 'regular' until several years later when I joined the team of my department at the university. Teams changed over time and I have been a weekly quizzer for over 9 years now. Besides all this, about 15 years ago I won the first pop music pubquiz I ever attended and that inspired me to create my own annual pop music pubquizzes, as well as my site

2.      What made you decide to create your first quiz website?

At university I created my first personal website and it kind of evolved from there. I tried several things and found that my quizzes attracted some visitors, so I started in 2001, in 2003, in 2005 and in 2015.

3.      Do you play on any other quiz websites other than your own, and if so, which?
Not that much, but I sometimes visit Sporcle. There is so much creativity there, although that site has become annoyingly slow at times.

4.      How serious are you about your quizzing (do you play in quizzes regularly? Have you ever taken part in championships – European/ World? Have you ever played in a television quiz?)

Although I have never taken part in televised quizzes or European/World championships (maybe, maybe one day) I do consider myself a fanatic quizzer as I nowadays participate in two or more pubquizzes per week and my team also participates (and have won several times) in two annual regional/national competitions (50-100 teams)
5.      Do you watch quizzes on television, and if so, which are your favourites? (British or otherwise.)
The UK has so many great and serious quiz shows and these are pretty much the only ones I watch. I've been following University Challenge, Only Connect and Mastermind on Youtube every week for a couple of years now. And I occasionally watch episodes of Eggheads, Pointless, The Chase (Australia), 15 to 1, Impossible etc. Nowadays I also really enjoy Richard Osman's House of Games because of its fun and creativity.

6.      How much time do you spend updating your quiz websites, would you say (weekly? Monthly?)
I work on my sites several days a week, e.g. writing questions, updating, stats, handling email etc.

7.      Do you get any financial return from your quiz websites? (from advertising eg. No need to give specific details of amounts)
Yes, I run ads on my sites, which (thankfully) allow me to spent more time on creating new questions etc. 

8.      In your opinion, what is the secret of a good quiz website?
I do not think there is a 'secret' to it, although I think it helps being a quiz fanatic, and liking to play the quizzes yourself (e.g. for testing and trying to remember facts). And I am very happy to see that many people seem to like the quizzes I make.


Thanks for that Peter, and best of luck with your sites.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

University Challenge 2019 - York v. St. Edmund's Hall, Oxford

I’ve been back to school this last week, dearly beloved, but I’m in one piece, and ready to go. So were our two teams. York’s team were Nils Boender, Danny Bate, Francesco Palazzo and skipper William Blackett. Their opposition, St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, were Agastya Pisharody, Marceline Bresson, Lizzy Fry and captain Freddy Leo. Let’s get on with it.

When I heard “What four letter component of place names . . . “ in the first starter, I guessed it would be -stan. After a little more Agastya Pisharody buzzed in with the same answer. BAFTA Television craft awards for best comedy writing provided blank looks from three of the team, but a full house for Lizzy Fry. Freddy Leo – who hails from one of my very favourite cities, Berlin, knew that a list of artists all hailed from Belgium, and crucially managed to do it just before JP supplied the key name of Rene Magritte. Agatha Christie, and specifically the works from which she took the titles of several of her books, provided but a single bonus. The Oxford skipper loomed large over his buzzer, waiting for the split second when the next starter, on Geometry (I think) became clear (to him, not to me). He slammed the buzzer and correctly answered Poincare. Hindu Festivals saw me correctly answer juggernaut for the first, but be out with the washing for the next two. Full hall for Teddy house, er, full house for Teddy Hall. So to the first picture round. We were shown two cities marked on maps, ne obviously in North West Spain, the other in Chile. First to buzz was Danny Bate, whose answer of Santiago got York off the mark. Three more pairs of places named after biblical figures provided a great UC bonus set, and brought York a timely full house. Freddy Leo recognised a list of heroes and subjects of Wagner operas for the next starter. Sport in Art brought them two bonuses. In terms of starters the Oxford team had certainly had the best of the exchanges by the ten minute mark and led by 85 – 25.

For once Freddy Leo was beaten by the buzzer for the next starter, but sadly Danny Bate had got the wrong end of the stick about the question’s requirement. He gave the answer Chisinau, but the question wanted the -au at the end of this name, and several others. So the Oxford skipper took that one. Science stuff gave them a single bonus and me nowt. Archbishop Whitgift escaped both team, neither knowing that he was one of Elizabeth I’s boys. Neither team could quite manage to spell the author of the Twilight series. She’s Stephenie Meyer – both teams thought she was Stephanie and so did I. In physics – began JP, and a short while later Agastya Pisharody correctly answered 90 degrees. Gawd knows what the stuff that came between the two meant. Opening lines from noted poems saw an interesting conflab between Marceline Bresson and Freddy Leo, as she persuaded him to go for Ezra Pound’s Cantos, and earn both a full house and a high five from the captain. Maybe it’s just me, but the music round seems to be coming somewhat earlier in the show this series.  So did Freddy Leo’s buzzer. OK, the overture from The Barber of Seville is well known, but it was still impressive work from the excellent Oxford skipper. 3 more Rossini overtures brought 2 bonuses. The York skipper, trying to buzz his team back into the contest, came in too early for the next starter, but St. Edmund’s Hall were unable to dredge up that hardy quiz perennial, mullion. Nothing daunted, William Blackett succeeded in an early buzz this time to identify Nancy Mitford as the biographer daughter of Lord Redesdale. Video game designers who’ve been awarded the BAFTA Fellowship gave them just one bonus. A really nice UC special asked for the country whose flag is made up of horizontal bands of the colours expressed in the words Melatonin, rubella and chrysanthemum. Ironically, Freddy Leo buzzed incorrectly. I say ironically, because the answer was Germany, as supplied by William Blackett. Medieval biographies brought two bonuses. Now, okay, I didn’t know that Federer means ‘trader in quill pens (Federer – featherer?) but I knew Nadal means Christmas, and you get Nadal, you’re going to pair him with Federer. Both teams dwelt on the buzzer a little until Danny Bate chanced his arm, correctly. They needed a full house really. I wonder if their hearts sank, as did mine, when JP announced a set on enzyme inhibition. Whatever the case they failed to add to their score. Agastya Pisharody was first in to give Aurangzeb as the name of one of the Mughal Emperors of the 17th century. I offered Shah Jahan, and we were both right. Plants of the parsley family brought a brace of bonuses.   You know, even now, 50 years later, every time I hear the word parsley I think of the song “I’m a very friendly lion called Parsley”. There will now be a short interval for younger readers to go and ask their grandparents to explain that popular culture reference. For that matter, waldorf salad always makes me think of Fawlty Towers (we’re out of Waldorfs). Enough nonsense. At the 20 minute mark the Oxford team led by 165 – 60, and York were some way short of a repechage score.

The second picture starter was obviously the work of Caravaggio, and Freddy Leo won the race to identify this. Three other old master paintings that failed to sell at auction saw Miss Bresson and her skipper disagreeing over all 3 paintings, but they still took two and could have had a third. Freddy Leo turned to Marceline Bresson with his hand raised for another high five, and saw that hers wasn’t so somewhat sheepishly withdrew it again.  Francesco Palazzo knew that force and lift re two forces acting on an airplane in level flight. Latin terminology meant they had finally won the bonus lottery, and took a full house. The highly impressive Oxford captain was in far too quick for York to identify Tennyson as the poet who took 17 years to complete a poem. Well, I’m a bit of a slow writer myself. Politics and Social Science -isms took St. Edmund’s Hall past the 200 barrier. Freddy Leo helped himself to another starter, knowing that Jean-Luc Godard directed Alphaville. Boroughs of New York City brought, well, yes, another 2 bonuses. Nobody knew that synechia affects the eye. The next starter contained the words ‘briefly Napoleon Bonaparte’ and ‘symphonies’ which meant that it was always going to be a buzzer race, and in this match there was only going to be one winner of it. Freddy Leo, with Beethoven. The human skeleton provided them with nowt. They didn’t really need it at this stage, mind you. I didn’t get the next starter, but Francesco Palazzo knew that the answer was Black Mirror and came in for a very swift starter. African countries that share borders with only two other countries brought York a good full house. Danny Bate threw caution to the wind and confused his Hebrides with his Shetlands for the next starter. This allowed Lizzy Fry in. That was it. The contest was gonged, with the score at 240 to 105. You know what I’m going to say. It looks like a bit of a walkover, but I genuinely feel that York were better value than their score suggests. They were beaten by a buzzer onslaught from Freddy Leo, and when you’re outbuzzed, there’s little you can do. Hard lines York, but well done for getting into triple figures. As for St. Edmund’s Hall, any congratulations on a very good performance. Special mention should be made of Freddy Leo’s 9 starters. What price a Golfinos v. Leo buzzer shootout at some stage of this year’s competition?

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Previously, when St. Edmund’s Hall have appeared, JP has told us of it’s nickname Teddy Hall, but he seems to have taken it for granted this time. Didn’t stop him calling them by this affectionate nickname as early as the second set of bonuses. You know what? When my Alma Mater Goldsmith’s College are on, I bet he never calls them Goldies. Favouritism!

It was a bit odd when the Oxford team answered ‘siblings’ to a bonus, and JP asked ‘specifically?’ The nonplussed skipper replied ‘brothers and sisters’. ‘Correct.’ Replied our hero. Well, what the hell else is siblings supposed to mean? Get a grip, Jez.being Rousseau’s nickname.

There was a little bit of showing off from JP in the sport in art bonuses. When St. Edmunds Hall correctly answered ‘Henri Rousseau’ to the first, he replied, “Yes, Douanier Rousseau” – douanier (customs officer) being Rousseau’s nickname.

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

A translation of the surname Federer, as in Roger, is 'trader in quill pens'

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Impossible! Worth watching, in my opinion

You’ve probably worked out for yourselves that I’m pretty much ‘semi retired’ as regards quizzes, judging by the dearth of posts in the last couple of years. It’s not that I’ve fallen out of love with quizzing so much, but the things which really irritated me about quizzes were irritating me more and more. So I only play in one fairly big quiz competition a year now – Brain of Mensa – and I only play in one pub quiz, and not every week either, for that matter. I still watch and enjoy every episode of University Challenge, and Mastermind, and still enjoy writing the reviews of them, and I still enjoy new episodes of Pointless, and there are a few other quizzes which I won’t switch off when they’re on. But I don’t seek out and try every new quiz on television.

So, over this summer, I’ve been rather surprised to find myself looking forward to each weekday evening’s edition of Impossible! I think we’re actually on something like the 4th series now, but I’d never seen it prior to this July. And of course, I’m usually a far more forgiving viewer during the long summer holiday from school. But I have to say that I’ve been rather enjoying it.

Impossible for me pulls off being entertaining enough for the man and woman on the Clapham Omnibus, and yet there is enough there to sustain my interest. If you haven’t seen it, basically a wall of three tiers of contestants are asked five questions. Each question has three answers to choose from. One is right, the other could be right, and the third, according to the terms of the question, is impossible, hence the title. So for example if the question was – which presenter of the BBC television show Mastermind was born in Wales – you might be given the choice between Magnus Magnusson – Peter Snow – John Humphrys. The correct answer would be John Humphrys, while Peter Snow would be impossible since he presented the Radio 4 editions of Mastermind. If a contestant selects the impossible answer, then they are sent home until the next show. All of the contenders change at the end of the week. The contender with the highest score in the quickest time gets to play for a place in the final. They get a board with 9 answers on and the first half of a question. For example – Which BBC Blue Peter Presenter – and five of the answers would be impossible. The contestant has to pick the five impossible answers, earning money for the prize pot with each. Then they get shown the rest of the question. So if the rest of the question asked – went on to co-present Saturday Superstore and Going Live – then the answer would be Sarah Greene. If the contestant picked a wrong but possible answer, then the next best contestant of the previous round would get to answer. If he/she answers correctly, then that earns a place in the final. If he/she gives a wrong answer, then our first contestant automatically gets a place in the final. If any impossible answers remain on the board, and they give it, then that’s them finished for the show. Basically this process is twice repeated until there are three finalists. The final is in two parts. The first is a buzzer quiz. Answer a possible question correctly, and it knocks a life off the two opponents. Identify an impossible question correctly, and you knock two lives off. When one contestant remains, he/she has another 9 square grid, and a question. Three answers are correct, three possible but wrong, and three impossible. The contestant must select three answers. If all three are right, they win £10,000. If all of the answers are at least possible, then they scoop the prize pot, normally about £1500. If any of their answers are impossible they leave, as Anne Robinson once said, with nothing. 

Its sounds very complicated but it really isn’t. Host Rick Edwards might well be no Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman – well, there’s no might about it, he isn’t. But he moves things along at a fair old clip and doesn’t really irritate. For me, the show has play along value. I get a kick out of spotting the Impossible answer asap, and explaining why it’s impossible. This probably explains why my mother in law didn’t want me to watch it while I was in Spain a couple of weeks ago. Alright, it’s not Pointless, which for me is the king of teatime shows which carry out the delicate balancing act of having enough entertainment value for most, while having a great enough level of challenge for . . . well, for me. But it’s not bad at all, and I’ve been really enjoying it. In fact I did go so far as applying, but didn’t hear back. Never mind, I don’t hold it against them. 

Of course, there are criticisms I could make. Now, it’s a given that a tea time quiz show which isn’t setting out to find Britain’s best quizzer is going to have a significant proportion of entertainment questions. But it does seem to me that a huge proportion of the questions which have been asked for the £10,000 have been on entertainment, and a large proportion of those on modern pop music. Variety being the spice of life, I would like to see a more random selection. 

One nice thing has been seeing that the production team doesn’t seem to have a bias against people who have appeared on a number of other quiz shows, who might be expected to do well. Our own Rachael Cherryade Neiman was a contestant only last week. Yes, of course she got to the final – twice as it happens, and the second time of asking she made it to the final question. She avoided the impossible, so took home a cheque, but sadly not the £10,000. Which underlines that this does have a good level of challenge to it. 

I don’t know if it will be back for another series when this one finishes, but I hope so.

University Challenge 2019 - Heat 6 - Strathclyde v. Durham

Well, here we are, dearly beloved, with the last review we need to take us up to ate with the competition. That wasn’t too painful. So, in last Monday’s heat we had Strathclyde, in the shape of Billy Hogg, Thomas Callan, Catherine Ember and captain Jack Pollock. Their opposition was provided by Durham, whose team comprised of Sian Round, Cameron Yule (any relation to legendary quizzer Donald Yule, I wonder) Ben Murray and skipper Matthew Toynbee.

Asked for a precise form of weather, Ben Murray needed no more than a mention of a 1971 track by The Doors to buzz in with the answer Storm. The novels of Daniel Defoe brought two bonuses. Ben Murray also took the next starter, knowing about the word gauge in particle physics. A full house on cricket commentators followed, although not, sadly, a reference to a great Two Ronnie sketch. Cameron Yule took his team’s third successful early buzz, knowing that the Blue Mosque is one of the sights of Istanbul. Atmosphere and space physics provided Durham with a further 10 points, and me with a lap of honour for guessing the term Heliopause based on what had come before. Nobody knew Martha Lane Fox who became a crossbench peer in 2013, but Jack Pollock lost 5 for chancing his arm before the end of the question. He made amends with the next starter, buzzing in with Russian rocket pioneer Tsiolkovsky. I had that as well, but had only just finished my previous lap of honour, so sat this one out. Now, I’ve never heard of Existential Comics, but it sounds like fun. Two bonuses on Captain Metaphysics brought a more healthy hue to Strathclyde’s score, and took us to the picture starter. This was a wonderful UC special, showing us the flags of the sequence of teams beaten in a specific year of the FIFA World Cup finals. Thomas Callan had that one, and a full house on three more of the same put Strathclyde within a full set of Durham’s score. The score stood at 65 – 40 right on the cusp of the ten minute mark. 

Sian Round recognised the Venice Bienniale for the next starter. Feminism in the 1970s brought two correct answers. I didn’t understand about stuff smelling of garlic, but  I did know that arsenic takes its name from a Persian word, as did captain Matthew Toynbee. Now, I’m very sorry. But when I took a full house on the bonuses on anti-coagulants, not only did I do another lap of honour, I also accompanied it with a pursed lips fanfare. Durham managed two. A UC special requiring the words either and differ saw Ben Murray being far too quick on his buzzer to allow Strathclyde a sniff of the points. Deaths in “The Lord of the Rings” proved to be meat and drink to Durham who took a full house. That man Murray was in again for the next starter, recognising the words of Schopenhauer. The domestic in 20th century art provided two correct answers. So to the music starter, and both teams dwelt on the buzzer a little before Matthew Toynbee buzzed in to tell us that the composer of what was obviously the Can Can was Offenbach. Three more examples of operatic satire or parody brought two more correct answer, and poor old Strathclyde just couldn’t seem to get into the contest at this stage. They didn’t get in for the next starter, when Matthew Toynbee recognised definitions of quartz and quasar before JP had finished the question. Named experiments in Physics brought another full house, and the game looked as good as over. Descriptions of other characters’ relationship to the title character of a well known novel were more than enough to give Cameron Yule “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”. Questions on medicine whose answers all began with G only provided a single bonus, but Durham had already gone beyond the 200 point barrier. Nobody knew the Han Dynasty of China for the next starter, but sadly Catherine Ember gave an incorrect early buzz and lost 5. That mean that not only had Durham shut Strathclyde out for a whole ten minutes, but Strathclyde had actually seen their score decrease. Durham led by 210 to 35. 

Volume of a sphere yutta yutta. Nobody had it. Cameron Yule knew that James II was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne. Margaret Thatcher gave Durham a full house, and a lead of 200 points. At least JP had not administered the coup de grace by telling Strathclyde that they had plenty of time to catch up, because they didn’t. The second picture starter looked like Cezanne, and by golly it was Cezanne. Cameron Yule knew that. Other works on show in the inaugural exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in New York brought another full house. Ben Murray buzzed in immediately after being asked the decade in which Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto. I actually knew that was 1930 too, but stuff it, no third lap of honour for that. Statues brought two bonuses. With 4 minutes to go Durham were now less than a full set away from the magical 300 point barrier. A good shout from Billy Hogg saw him identify that, as California is the most populous state of the USA, so New South Wales is the most populous state of Australia. Scientific terms beginning with flu- added a further ten points to their score. Both teams rather sat on their buzzers once we heard the word pipistrelle, with Matthew Toynbee eventually buzzing in to pluck that particular piece of low hanging fruit. Fish whose common names refer to other animals gave a full house which took Durham to 305. And there was still time for more. Cameron Yule was just too fast on the buzzer for Strathclyde when the teams were asked about the director in 16 of whose films Toshiro Mifune starred. A full house on fictional dogs followed. It was all too easy for Durham, whose Ben Murray buzzed in very early to identify the term mole from the definition. People with the surname Ford gave them the ten points they needed to reach 350. There was still no mercy shown towards Strathclyde, as Cameron Yule buzzed in to identify an 1867 Abraham Lincoln as a rare postage stamp. That was it, though, for the contest was gonged halfway through the first bonus. The final score was 360 – 55. 

For once, JP said the most appropriate thing he could to Strathclyde, that they were beaten by a very good team. Certainly were. As for Strathclyde, well, it’s difficult to comment on how strong or otherwise they were, although they managed 7 out of their 9 bonuses. They lacked firepower on the buzzer, and that gave them no chance against this Durham outfit. In my review of Heat 4 I criticised Downing for not achieving a score of 300 + when they were dominating the buzzer so much. Well, you certainly can’t make the same criticism of Durham. Their score – fantastic. Their bonus conversion rate I would imagine was very high. Ben Murray and Cameron Yule particularly caught the eye, but there was buzzing throughout the team. We’ve only got this one performance to go on, but this Durham outfit certainly seemed to have all of the attributes you’d expect from a team that can do extremely well in UC. I shall watch their second round match with interest. 

Jeremy Paxman Watch

JP couldn’t quite bring himself to say well done when Strathclyde took their full house on the first picture set. “You watch a lot of football” he sniffed. Hmm. You never say “You read a lot of Periodic Tables” when a team gets a full house on Chemistry, Jez.

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

Apologies. I certainly didn’t know everything in this show, but I was so engrossed in the match that I didn’t jot a standout gobbet of information in my notes.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

University Challenge - Heat 5 - Clare, Cambridge v. Hertford, Oxford

Clare, Cambridge v.Hertford, Oxford. 

Dearly beloved, in heat 5 we had an Oxbridge match up, which is usually enough to get the adrenaline flowing. Representing Clare of Cambridge we had Anish Naik, Matt Nixon, Elijah Granet and captain Andrew Gurr. Batting for Hertford of Oxford were Steffi Woodgate, Pat Taylor, Chris Page and skipper Richard Tudor.

Elijah Granet came in very early to answer the first starter, knowing that a TV series – we didn’t hear all the details but I’m guessing it was The Wire – was set in Baltimore. Bonuses on words with the suffix -ist brought 10 points. I thought that both teams rather sat on their buzzers for the next starter. Asked for three letters starting a series of words, the first definitions obviously belonged to carburettor and cartilage. Richard Tudor was the first to buzz in, and earned bonuses on Physics. Now, I guessed argon for the first, but hung on to hear the second, when I actually knew about James Chadwick and the neutron. Knowing that there was no point in pushing my luck and hanging on for a hattrick, I set off chugging around the living room on my lap of honour. As it turned out, the last of the set was an absolute gimme, which gave me a full house on Physics. Which may have happened before, but not often. Hertford managed just the last. I’ll be honest, though. I couldn’t dredge up the title of T.S.Eliot’s The Dry Salvages for the next starter. Neither could either team. Now, I didn’t actually know that Henry II was ever called Fitzempress – but it was an educated guess that the term referred to him, especially when given other clues that made it a certainty. Richard Tudor took that one, earning a set on hedonism. Again, they took one bonus. For the picture starter we were given three Old English kennings. I did study Old English as part of my degree, over 3 decades ago now. Basically a kenning is a metaphorical compound. So we were given hwæl-weg, swan-rad, and fisces bæÞ. The first is literally ‘whale – way’ (Gweat Western Whale Way? Bwitish Whale Ways?), the second, swan road and the last fishes’ bath. Which obviously suggests the Sea. Honestly, old English poetry has loads of these. Chris Page was in for that one, earning the coveted Paxman well done. Three more of the same followed, of which they managed two. Anish Naik took an incorrect interruption for the next starter, allowing both Pat Taylor and me to answer that Einstein’s first scientific paper was about capillarity. To be fair, the extra details in the question gave me a decent shy at that one. The 1990s gave Hertford no more points. Nonetheless they led by 60 – 10 at the ten minute mark. At this stage of the contest it seemed like pretty plain sailing for Hertford. However I did wonder at this stage whether they might rue all of those missed bonuses.

A great early buzz by Matt Nixon to identify “What Happened” by Hilary Clinton began the Clare fightback. We returned t Old English poetry with a set of bonuses on the Exeter Book. Typical. You wait ages for a question on the subject, and then two sets turn up one after another. With the first question about a specific poet – usually if the question asks about a hymn it’s Caedmon, and anything else, then it’s Cynewulf. It was Cynewulf. The last question asked about the Lament for the Rohirrim, and which volume of the Lord of the Rings it appears in. Skipper Andrew Gurr offered The Return of the King, while it was the Two Towers, and Elijah Granet extended his arms beseechingly in the universal gesture of ‘you idiot!’. A little mutiny in the ranks there. Now, ‘Bunthorne’s Bride’ is one of those hardy perennials which surfaces from time to time in the rugby club, which wasn’t enough to give the teams the word Patience. Other clues though were enough to allow Matt Nixon to take a double. Western Australia brought Clare another 5 points, but they, like Hertford, seemed rather profligate with their bonuses at this stage of the game. Elijah Granet took Clare’s third consecutive starter, knowing the term McDonaldisation. Agglutination bonuses followed. No, me neither. Again, Clare took just the one bonus. This brought us to the joys of the music round. Playing Elton John’s Rocket Man and asking for the title, we were always going to be in for a buzzer race. The two skippers looked to go for their shooting irons first, and the quicker on the draw was Andrew Gurr. Other tracks on Major Tim Peake’s playlist saw Clare take. . . well, yes, they took one bonus. Which was enough to give them the lead. Paul Erdos – who wins the accolade of being this week’s otherwise known as Paul Who in LAM Towers – gave Richard Tudor a chance to stop the rot, and earned Hertford a set on the deaths of Roman Emperors. Which brought them a full house – yippee! They weren’t all gimmes either. Chris Page stretched the restored Hertford lead, knowing about earthquakes in Tokyo. Indie rock bands were a nice UC set, which meant that even someone with little or no knowledge of the bands themselves could achieve a full set with a little lateral thinking. This gave Hertford their second consecutive full house. Elijah Granet took an exceptionally fast flier to supply the correct name of Elena Ferrante when hardly any of the next question had been asked. It was a fabulous buzz, although I’m not too sure that extending the arms and inviting the applause from the audience was called for at this stage. Meera Bai gave Clare 2 bonuses. A rush of blood to the head saw Anish Naik hear ‘Swedish anatomist’ and buzz in too early with Linnaeus. The answer actually involved the teeth, and Hertford couldn’t take it. This meant that as we neared the 20 minute mark, Hertford led by 110 to 80. Alright, up to this point it hadn’t exactly been a match of the highest quality, but it was at least an interesting contest.

For the next starter Matt Nixon hesitated before giving the correct answer of Nunavut. Names in the Solar system associated with heaven or paradise saw Clare only take one of a very gettable set. This brought us to the second picture starter. I didn’t recognise the work of Edouard Manet, but Chris Page did. This brought a set of bonuses on Manet paintings inspired by original Spanish works, which gave them a timely full house. With a lead of 40 and just over 5 minutes to go, Hertford looked most likely winners at this stage. Nobody knew that, among other clues, the M1 runs by Leicester and Leeds. Elijah Granet took the next starter, recognising poems from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Questions linked to giga- brought them, well, it brought them one bonus, but crucially put them withina full set of catching Hertford. Andrew Gurr made the classic mistake of giving the Greek god, Dionysus, when asked for the Roman god. Chris Page made no mistake with Bacchus. (Bacchus was the Roman God of Wine, while his brother, Tobacchus, was the Roman God of cigarettes. Boom boom . That one came from my A Level English teacher, decades ago. John Browning, take a bow.) Literary oxymorons were the bonuses. Last time this came up I expected darkness visible and it didn’t come. This time it kicked us off. Hertford couldn’t get it, but did take the second bonus on Alexander Pope. With the gap at 40 and the ref already looking at his watch, you could probably have named your own price on Clare. Andrew Gurr won the buzzer race to identify red and roe as species of deer. They needed a full house on events of 1918, but only took two. Still, this brought the gap down to 20. With a full house, they could just snatch victory. The next question, on trignonometry, was one of those inscrutable what is the value questions. Whenever I hear one I always say either 1 or 0, and I was delighted to see Richard Tudor answer 1, and Andrew Gurr answer 0. Sadly, it was a half. The next starter really became a buzzer race when it became obvious that the question was looking for Grand Canal, and it was a race won by the Cambridge skipper. Flight ofs gave them the two bonuses they needed to draw level with Hertford. Squeaky bum time, as there quite possibly would only be time for one more set. Various Robinsons gave Elijah Granet the next starter. Now, if I told you that I’ve never fist pumped after a speculative punt answer has come off you’d know I was lying, so I can’t criticise Elijah Granet for that show of emotion. It literally was the moment that separated the two teams, since we were gonged immediately. Which meant that Clare had won with 160 – 150.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know if 150 will give Hertford a realistic chance of a repechage slot. It was an oddly polarised performance. As their bonus conversion rate seemed to improve, their buzzer form seemed worsen. As for Clare, well they won on the buzzer. I don’t know what their bonus conversion rate was, but I would imagine it was some way south of 50%, and that has to improve to give them any realistic chance of winning their next match. Thanks to both teams for a match which was exciting to watch, if not out of the top drawer in terms of quality.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Matt Nixon hesitated almost too long before giving the answer Nunavut. Now, JP’s words might have said “I’ll accept that but only because I’m being kind’, but the tone of his voice and the pointing finger said ‘do it again and I’ll smash yer face in’.

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

Nunavut actually means ‘Our Land’.