Tuesday, 19 October 2021

University Challenge 2022: Repechage 1 - UCL v. St. John's Cambridge

The Teams

UCL

Hugo Fleming

Max Traeger

Kiro Kiso (capt.)

Hamaira Maka

(R1 – L 140 – 135 to St. Hilda’s, Oxford)

St. John’s. Cambridge

Thomas Clark

Louis George

Jonathan Chang (capt.)

Kiana Ouyang

(R1 – L 210 – 155 to Imperial)

Bonuses on fermented products saw me consider taking a lack of honour for the first. I knew that kvass if made from fermented mare’s milk, so lactic seemed a good shout for the acid. But hey, I have a bad chest, so I let it go. Didn’t know kombucha, but kimchi was a bit of low hanging fruit that we both took. Kiro Kiso knew about the Abel Prize ( for being killed by your older brother?) and earned a set on Vergil, who we all know was named after the pilot of Thunderbird 2.We both took a brace on that set. All square. Kiro Kiso came in too early on the word question that was the next starter, and seemed rather angry about it too. Had he waited, the second clue clearly referred to latex, the middle letter of which is T, as Thomas Clark was only too happy to say. Bonuses on the Platinum group – who surely performed in the Goldsmith’s College 1984 Fresher’s Ball – saw me earn another declined lap of honour from osmium, and to be honest that was the only one either of us got on this set. I might have had Palladium, but I zagged with Cerium. So to the picture round. We saw a brightly coloured map of the South Pacific, and were asked to identify which country has control of the dark blue blobs. I thought Jonathan Chang was in very quickly for the correct answer, USA. More coloured blobs brought a further 5 points. We were still some way from the ten minute mark and St. John’s already had 55. Kiro Kiso earned JP’s approval for knowing or guessing that a quote by a thriller writer who also wrote film scripts came from Raymind Chandler. This brought a set of questions on American author Isabelle Who? – or Isabelle Wilkerson to use the name JP gave her rather than the one I gave her. You know it might not be your night when you get questions about writers you’ve never heard of. They actually got one, and weren’t a million miles away with the other two. A clutch of sporting Edwards (surname , not given name) saw Jonathan Chan win the race once the ski jumper Michael, known as Eddie, was added to the list. The Russian Composers known as The Five (Julian, Anne, Dick and George and Balakirev the dog?) brought them two correct answers. The Cambridge skipper thanked Kiana Ouyang, as well he should since she was the source of both answers.  Which all meant that his team led by 75 to 30 at the ten minute mark.

This was the point at which it all started to go wrong for St. John’s last time out. Yet the St. John’s march continued with the next starter. Did Jonathan Chan know it from ‘reticulated’ – which is what gave me giraffe. Yeah, you get a reticulated python too, but giraffe seemed a better fit to the rest of the question. Terms first coined by 20th century authors. They ignored the traditional quizzing axiom which goes along the lines of – US author – woman – witty quote = Dorothy Parker, and so only took one of the set. I have to admit, “Cash fo Ash” seems to have completely passed me by, but Hugo Fleming knew it. Flippin’ ‘eck – thought I as a set on nuclear physics was announced. Amazingly I guessed alpha decay (honestly!) to get a bonus. Funnily enough this was also the only one that UCL got as well. The music starter saw Louis George identify the dulcet tone of Jennifer Lopez. JP, who must obviously be well known to the artist called her J-Lo. How would he like it if we called him J-Pa? I encourage all of you to use this sobriquet more in conversation. Other winners of the Icon Award at Billboard’s Annual Women in Music Awards brought us both two but saw us miss out on Mary J. Blige (ooh, the temptation to make the much used misspelling, there.)These put St. John’s into triple figures, and Jonathan Chan pushed them further ahead knowing that the film “The Dig” centres on the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship burial. Good film, too. South America saw them drop gettable points on the Iguazu Falls but the 10 points for the correct answers they gave pushed them closer to the breaking point of the elastic between the two teams. This got even worse for UCL as Hugo Fleming zigged with oleaceous when he should’ve zagged with oleaginous – and let’s be honest, who among us has never done that? – and lost 5. Louis George took that one. I’m not impressed that St. John’s passed on the butterfly bush bonus, but the one they did answer correctly gave them a lead of 145 to 40. Home and dry, surely? Now, having watched Billy Connolly’s World Tour of Australia, many years ago, the moment JP said “Walter Burley Griffin” I shouted Canberra. Jonathan Chan won the buzzer race once it became gettable from other details and earned a set of bonuses on artists. The one they had correct took their score to 160 as against UCL’s 40, just as we approached the 20 minute mark. Surely, even if UCL threw caution to the wind, this must be game over?

Kiro Kiso didn’t seem to think so. He identified Lawrencium for the next starter. They might have done better with the gettable football bonuses which yielded nothing. Still they were at least buzzing. So Jonathan Chan won the picture starting identifying David’s Death of Marat, once described memorably to me as ‘killed by  a mad bint when he was havin’ a bath.’ More of David’s work was enough to push St. John’s to the seemingly unreachable eak of 175 points. At last UCL won a buzzer race, to identify a Colombian artist. Italian verbs which have different meanings in English cut the deficit to a mere 100. The indefatigable UCL captain buzzed early on the nest starter to identify French words beginning with es. Bonuses on Danaus from Greek Mythology saw a full house cut the lead by a quarter. Kiro Kiso recognised the Lagrangian function for the next starter. Bonuses on jealousy only provided 5 points. It seemed as if Max Traeger was taking inspiration from his skipper’s example as he buzzed early to correctly identify the Notting Hill Carnival for the next starter. Surnames of 20th century PMs cut the deficit to 40. Nobody knew that Browning wrote the Ring and the Book. Kiro Kiso knew the hexagonal columns of the Giants Causeway are made of basalt. 2 bonuses on the name Boniface cut the lead to 20. If there was time for a full set, then UCL could even win! Max Traeger went for death or glory with the starter and was rewarded with his answer of Michelangelo. They took the first bonus – just 5 points behind. They just didn’t have time for the one bonus they needed to take the contest to extra time.

So St. John’s march on, having narrowly won a splendid contest by 175 – 170. In particular bouquets to both captains, whose buzzer work was an inspirational example to their respective teams.

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

The citation for the first use of the word ‘beep’ meaning a sound is from “The Sands of Mars” a 1951 Arthur C. Clarke novel.

Mastermind 2022 - First Round - Heat 7

Well hello there, dearly beloved. I’m sorry I’m a day late. It come down to a couple of things. Partly it’s because I was having an internet message conversation with KD, my best mate from University, which we kept up throughout OC – sorry Victoria – and also partly because I’m still suffering from the flu. My temperature had gone down and my head had cleared enough for me to go into work today, but I'm still suffering from a distinct lack of energy. Enough of my problems

Let’s begin with Gillian Burgoyne who gave us a round on the saxophone. Do you do what I do before a round like this? Ransack your memory for what meagre facts you might know and then sit there muttering things like “Adolphe Sachs was Belgian, Raf Ravenscroft did the sax solo in Baker Street’? No, didn’t think so. Well I often do, and those bought me two correct answers, which got me off to a great start when combined with a couple of good guesses for 4. Gillian just missed out on double figures with 9, which would surely put her in the mix for the GK round.

I fancied the second specialist, Margaret Thatcher, as my banker for the night. Maybe I should rephrase that. Not even in my most depraved moments did I ever ‘fancy’ Mrs. Thatcher. 'Eyes of Caligula' etc. But I watched “A Very British Revolution” , read her books (a fine cure for insomnia) and lived through the Thatcher years. My political stance has always been considerably to the left of Mrs. T., although it’s worth noting that the two best friends I ever had at Uni – KD and my best friend on the same English course as me – were big supporters of her and her policies. Now, Dean Ward looked incredibly nervous, an impression which was confirmed when he failed to identify her constituency as Finchley. Maybe he’s never seen the ‘Mrs. Finchley’ clip. He steadied the ship after this, and powered his way to 8, and, what’s more, so did I.

Now, Marianne Mckillop’s subject, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” didn’t offer me a great deal. It was possibly my eldest daughter’s favourite TV show when she was considerably less eld, but I’ve never watched it. Still a little bit of Spanish (the hellmouth question) and a good guess (the Woodstock one) added another precious couple of points to my aggregate. Marianne did well, and powered her way into double figures – and let’s face facts, dearly beloved, in the current existence of the show, you have to do well to get into double figures.

Okay, remember what I said about my reaction to the round on the saxophone? Well, when David Howard sat down to answer his questions on the venomous snakes of Africa, I began to mumble “Black Mamba – Puff Adder – Black Mamba – Puff Adder) Don’t knock it if you’ve never tried it. It was precisely these two wrigglers – or do I mean slitherers? – that brought me two points for the round to give me an aggregate of 16. Bloomin’ happy with that. David looked happy with his 8 as well he should, for it was an impressive display of knowledge. Glass half empty? – he was in joint last place. Glass half full? He was a mere two points off the lead.

So, with all 4 contenders having earned my respect for their preparation for their specialist rounds, we moved to what would once again be the business end of the competition. First to return was Dean. Now, I have to say that I was impressed with the range of answers that Dean gave. His face suggested that a few of his correct answers were guesses, but then that can also be said to be an attribute of a good quizzer – you prefer to be certain of the answer, but you’re able to make an educated guess at many things you’re not certain about. At one stage I did think Dean might get a score in the teens. Well, he didn’t quite. Nevertheless, his 11 was more than enough, I thought, to open up the prospect of an uncomfortable crossing of the corridor of doubt for the three remaining contenders.

David Howard really didn’t do badly at all when all is said and done. He bagged a further 9 points, which is certainly a respectable score, but somehow it never quite looked like he would do it, and the doorway leading out of the aforementioned corridor was still a couple of steps away from his outstretched hands as the line of doom snaked it’s way around the score.

Gillian Burgoyne held a one point lead over Dean at the halfway stage, and it  certainly looked as if she was going to need it. Although she actually picked off some quite difficult stuff during her round, her guessing antennae seemed off, and it was pretty clear that she wasn’t going to make it before the end of the round. She scored 6 to finish with 15.

All of which brought Marianne McKillop back to the chair to have her tilt at winning the heat. She seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself, and yes, of course she had the support of the Clark sofa. She’s an English teacher! Marianne, in her after show insert, did say that she never plays in quizzes, but she does shout along with TV quizzes at home. As do many of us, Marianne, as do many of us. Bearing this in mind her tactic of giving a correct answer to anything she knew, taking a guess if she didn’t, and saying something which conceivably might be the answer if she couldn’t guess, was absolutely the right one. She was on 19 and no passes, which would have seen her through, as Clive asked the last question – all she had to do was say anything and she’d win. So she did say something. The correct answer. Well done, ma’am! I take the liberty of saying that I speak for all English teachers when I say we’re proud of you.

The Details

Gillian Burgoyne

The Saxophone

9

1

6

0

15

1

Dean Ward

The Life and Work of Margaret Thatcher

8

1

11

0

19

1

Marianne McKillop

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

10

0

20

0

20

0

David Howard

Venomous Snakes of Africa

8

0

9

0

17

0

Friday, 15 October 2021

Fair play

I’m still awaiting the results of my Covid test, dearly beloved. They did say-  “If you haven’t heard from us in five days, then call us.” So I have to be patient for at least a couple of days more.

In yesterday’s post I put forward some thoughts on the issue of how much of a duty of care production companies have to the participants of their quiz shows. Today I’ve found myself thinking about the issue of fairness.

How can you make a pub quiz fair? Well, I’d argue you can go a long way towards this by using a wide range of general knowledge questions and making sure that all the teams playing have the same amount of time to answer them, do not cheat on phones, and are marked impartially. And let’s be honest, that it do-able, isn’t it. Yes, if you’ve been to enough quizzes you’ll maybe have played in some which have fallen a bit short of this ideal, but probably plenty which achieve it too.

When it comes to TV quizzes, though, there is a problem. Giving all the contestants the same questions creates problems which we’ll go into in a little while. Which is why most quizzes don’t do it. So you either have separate questions for separate contestants, or the same questions where contestants have to win a buzzer race to answer them, or a mixture of both. Now I know for a fact that shows like Mastermind, Brain of Britain, Only Connect and University Challenge go to huge lengths to ensure that the level of the questions set is fair and gives every contender a fair chance, and they do a fine job too. But nobody’s perfect.

Thinking off the top of my head, the only quiz show I can remember which had a significant number of questions, all of which were given to all of the contenders, was 100%. (There may have been others – I’m getting on a bit now and the memory isn’t what it was.) If you’re too young to remember it, or have forgotten it, 100% was launched at the start of Channel 5 in 1997 (I think). In this show three contestants faced the camera. In the course of the 30 minute show, the disembodied voice of Robin Houston would ask the contestants 100 questions and they would have to choose between 3 answers. After 100 questions, the person who had answered most correctly and therefore gained the highest percentage of correct answers would be the winner, and receive £100.

So was this the purest quiz show on TV? Well, that’s up for debate. Was it the best quiz show on television? Not in my opinion, no. I don’t know anyone who would have said that it was either, although you must as always please feel free to disagree. I really liked the lack of waffle about the contenders. I really liked the volume of questions too – 100 in 30 minutes (in fact if you take the advert break out the show was even shorter.) But as a piece of early evening entertainment, it was somewhat lacking. There wasn’t a great atmosphere about it, nor was there much drama about it. For the first couple of years, it was a case of winner stays on, which meant that Ian Lygo bagged a total of 75 consecutive wins in 1998, which was a stunning achievement, but did mean that what drama and excitement there was in the show was further diminished during his reign. So the Grundy Organisation changed the rules to limit the number of wins anyone was allowed to 25.

As a quiz, also, there were problems with the show. After all, if you’re aiming for a decent audience, you maybe want to pitch your questions at a level which is going to offer the person playing along at home a decent chance of getting some of the questions right. On the other hand, you probably don’t really want anyone getting close to 100%. This resulted in a level of questions which could vary wildly between the ridiculously easy and the ridiculously difficult. Not only that, but with a number of the questions, the choice was between two plausible answers, and one ridiculous ‘jokey’ answer for option C. A lot of the time it seemed to me that 50/50 would have been a better title for the show.

Probably trying to find an audience, the original idea of 100 pure general knowledge questions was diluted after a while, so that only the first 10 ad the lst 10 questions were general knowledge, with the rest being in categories, and every fifth question being a true or false question. Yuck.

There were spin off versions – 100% Gold and 100% Sex but I don’t think that they added anything much to the show, and it ended in 2001, after 4 years. To be fair, there were over 1000 editions, so on that score you could claim it was a success on these terms.

I think that it all illustrates that there are some things which can only work well on TV when you change the format. For example, I really enjoy Sky Arts’ Portrait Artist of the Year and Landscape Artist of the Year. However, the titles of both shows are a little bit of a misnomer. You see, each of the artists selected from their submissions to participate are given just 4 hours to produce their picture, and even a dauber such as me can tell you that 4 hours to produce a painting from scratch is nothing. So it should be called “Sky Arts’ Speed Portrait Artist of the Year” And there’s nothing inherently wrong with this – it’s a good show which I enjoy watching.

So when you get right down to it, if we go back to my definition of a ‘fair’ pub quiz, while I enjoy playing in them, I’m not sure I would want to just watch one.

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Duty of Care

What’s this? A weekday post that’s not a review of Mastermind or University Challenge? Has the world gone mad? No, not really. You see by the end of school yesterday afternoon I’d developed a sore throat, bad chest and a splitting headache. I took a lateral flow test and the result was inconclusive. So I booked a test at my local drive in centre yesterday evening, and I’m waiting at home for the results to come back. If I was a betting man I’d say it’s just a cold, but it’s not a gamble I can afford to take. If I am positive the last thing I want to be doing is spreading it to classrooms full of kids. So I do have this little bit of unexpected time. It also means I won't be going to the rugby club quiz tonight.

I’d like to revisit the question regarding how much of a duty of care, if any, a production company has towards the contestants participating in their shows. When I say duty of care I’m not referring to physical safety, since I’m sure that’s pretty much a given. But do production companies also have a duty of care as regards the way that a contestant or a team come across on the screen? Yes, alright, this is inspired at least a bit by the plight of the Sussex team on this Monday’s University Challenge. But I think it’s a fair question.

I can understand if you think that no, they don’t. After all, nobody forces you to apply, do they? Either you’ve watched the show and so you’re fully aware of the risks involved, or you haven’t watched the show in which case you maybe deserve what you get for applying. Personally, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that.

I think you have to take into account the risk/reward ratio of each different show. If you take a show like, let’s say for the sake of argument, Tipping Point, I’d argue that the risk of appearing on the show is small, while the potential reward is fairly substantial. After all, as much as the show is about getting questions right, it’s also about the luck of the way that the ‘coins’ fall for you. So you go out in the first round? It’s unlikely that you’re going to face a Twitter storm about your assumed lack of intelligence. Now let’s take Mastermind. The risk is – in terms of quiz shows – about as high as it gets. You need to put a lot of work into preparing your subject, and even then you don’t know how you are going to react to sitting in the chair until you are in it, by which time it’s too late. Most contenders manage decent or good rounds. However, on the relatively rare occasions when a contender posts a low score, then there’s the embarrassment factor for the contender, and often a barrage of unkind and ill-informed comments on social media. And let’s be absolutely clear on this – a low score on Mastermind or University Challenge or any other quiz show is NO REFLECTION WHATSOEVER on that contender’s intelligence. Yes, I’d like to think that doing well on Mastermind shows that you’re pretty smart, but really and truly, all it definitely shows is that you’re good on quizzes like Mastermind. As for the reward – well, there’s only one tangible reward, the winner’s bowl. While it’s very nice, and a great conversation piece, it’s not quite riches beyond the dreams of avarice.

So saying all that then, when a show has such a high level of risk with such a (financially) low level of reward, is it still reasonable to say – you applied, no one forced you to, so what’s the problem? Well, to be fair, I don’t think that the various production teams of MM, UC, OC have ever been blasé about the fate of their participants. In Magnus’ book “I’ve Started So I’ll Finish” he does talk about the selection criteria aimed at saving some contenders from themselves. In my own audition in 2005 the 20 GK questions formed an important part of the audition, as did a set of questions and an improvised connections wall in our audition for OC. To my own regret I never explored the possibility of going on UC when I was at uni, so I have no personal experience at their selection processes, but I’m sure that they have their own ‘quality control’ for want of a kinder term. So what happened on Monday night? Who knows? As I said at the time, I have no doubt that the Sussex team are highly intelligent people who are good at their subject. So maybe it was just a perfect storm of questions to which they didn’t know the answers. I don’t care who you are, there are questions to which you don’t know the answer, and if you get twenty or thirty of them altogether on the same evening then you can end up looking and feeling distinctly second or third rate. Maybe that was what happened on Monday night. Whatever the case, I think it’s a shame that the team were put in the position where it happened. I’m not going to reprint any of the Twitter comments posted afterwards, but many of them weren’t pleasant.

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

University Challenge: Round One: Heat 14: Birmingham v. Sussex

The Teams

Birmingham

Mark McParlan

John Robinson

Michael Joel Bartelle (capt)

Jaimy Sajit

Sussex

Marianne Glascott

Spike Asri

Tom Khan-White (capt)

Jack Harcourt

Well, dearly beloved, it’s the final heat of the series and, as it turns out, a remarkable heat in its own way. Now, lovers of pedantry will have known the next starter, - the summit of a mountain in which range is the furthest point on the world’s surface away from the centre of the Earth? John Robinson correctly answered ‘The Andes’ , knowing that, the Earth not being a perfect sphere, the summit of Chimborazo in Ecuador is further from the centre of the Earth than Everest. A lovely set on crows and ravens in Shakespeare yielded us both a full house. I ran out of luck then when a question about Dutch scientist Peter Debye raised its head, and it was scant consolation that neither team knew this one either. The Scapegoat and The Light of the World saw Michael Joel Bartelle win the buzzer race to supply the name of William Holman Hunt. A set of words which all began with t and contained r gave me another full house, although Birmingham rather tied themselves up in knots with them, only getting 1 of a decidedly gettable set. John Robinson won the buzzer race to identify Joshua as the first person with a book of the Old Testament named after him. If it hadn’t been just one person, then surely the band Genesis would take that one. Astronomy often offers me the rare chance at a Science bonus, and so although I didn’t take a lap of honour for knowing Cassiopeia, once Cassini came up I set off around the Clark sofa. Now, my Spanish isn’t brilliant, but for the picture starter the words “familia que la llama” – and – “la industria textil’ were enough to suggest alpaca as a pretty good shout. So it proved, as the Birmingham skipper confirmed. More of the same, with creatures whose English names are Spanish, if you see what I mean, yielded mosquito, armadillo and coyote (which sounds like a firm of solicitors in Alicante I once used) and a full house for Birmingham. “Statistical Physics” announced JP. “Nighty nighty” announced my brain. Gawd knows what the question meant, but neither team had much more of a scooby than I did. Mark McParlan either recognised or guessed several different flags used by China, earning a set of bonuses on US cartoonist Sarah Andersen. Once again, my brain switched snooze on. Which makes me all the happier that I guessed Adulthood Is A Myth. Birmingham only managed one bonus as well. However this meant that just after the ten minute mark, they led by 100 – 0. As for Sussex, one suspected the dreaded ‘plenty of time for you to get going’ might already be on the JP launchpad.

John Robinson recognised that a description of a great icy London winter came from Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando”, which book holds the great distinction of being the only one of her novels I ever managed to finish. Co productions by the BBC and HBO brought just the one correct answer. The 1908 Siberian Explosion saw Tom Khan-White , the Sussex skipper, win a buzzer race, sadly only to supply an incorrect answer. John Robinson hadn’t heard of the Tunguska Blast either. I did think that both teams rather sat on their buzzers for the next starter, since the names of a group of animals, and the name Saint -Saens meant that it couldn’t really be anything other than the Carnival of the Animals. John Robinson took that. Wildlife provided just the one bonus, but really and truly even only halfway through the show it was pretty clear that there was only going to be one winner in this contest, and it wasn’t going to be Sussex. For the music starter I was pretty sure it was Liza Minelli singing, which really suggested the musical in question would be Cabaret. It was, but neither team recognised it. Jack Harcourt did recognise a group of authors all distinguished by a middle initial D – Salinger, James, you know the sort. In one answer he turned Sussex’s minus 5 to a plus five. It was at this point that Jeremy Paxman really rather disgraced himself. Having earned himself my approval for not telling Sussex there was plenty of time to get going, he then well and truly rubbed their faces in it saying “and you storm away to a whole five points!” Couldn’t resist it, could you Jez? Shame on you. This earned them the music bonuses on musicals that take place during World War Two. Sadly they only managed one of a very gettable set. Another astronomy question brought me the opportunity of a second lap of honour. Maybe it’s just me, but I would have thought it was obvious that e, in terms of orbit, stands for eccentricity. Neither team knew it. Up until this point it really looked as if Sussex were buzzer-shy, and it was all too easy for John Robinson to buzz in with the correct answer of the One Hundred Years War for the next starter. The actor Irfan Khan was the subject of the bonuses, which provided us both with 2 correct answers. Tom Khan-White grasped the nettle and buzzed early for the next starter, losing 5 for his pains. It never rains . . . To be fair Birmingham didn’t know the answer – Classics – either. So on the cusp of the 20 minute mark, Birmingham led by 150 – 5.

Okay – let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room, shall we? I never want a team to do badly in UC. But I have to say that I watched the last few minutes of the contest feeling something like a tricoteuse, since I was wondering whether we would see a remarkably low score. Birmingham certainly weren’t giving any free buzzes away, as Michael Joel Bartelle correctly identified Phoebus’ Marriage as one of the chapters of Notre Dame de Paris. Books of the King James Bible and also the Apocrypha named after females led me to suggest that we’d be looking at Esther, Ruth and Judith, and it was only a question of which order. Birmingham had the order spot on. This brought us to the picture bonus, stills from films which David Clark Has Never Seen ( a remarkably wide genre, as it happens.) Jack Harcourt recognised Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and suddenly it looked as if Sussex would be capable of posting a score that was just modest as opposed to being interestingly low. They didn’t know any of the bonuses, sadly. Now, it’s an old quiz chestnut that Keanu Reeves was born in Beirut, but sadly not one that Spike Asri had heard before, which meant that Birmingham had a bite of the cherry and correctly identified Lebanon as the country in question. Now, when you get a set of Maths or Science bonuses where the team in possession of the ball don’t get any of them, I often wonder whether the question setter is making them up. Well, this might have been the case with the maths set had followed, had the setter been the late Stanley Unwin. A stream of what sounded like pure gobbledygook furnished none of us with a sniff of any points here. Adding insult to industry this was followed with a maths question answered ridiculously quickly by Jaimy Sajit. St. Anthony provided a set of bonuses that provided the one correct answer necessary to take Birmingham to 200. Spike Asri admirably threw caution to the wind with the next starter asking for a compass direction, but sadly zigged with East when he should have zagged with West. 5 points lost. A full house on Istria applied a little more gloss to the Birmingham total. Nothing daunted Spike Asri slung some buzzer again with the answer Beijing. It was Shanghai which brought more bonuses to Birmingham on Selma Lagerlof – which is emphatically not a muppet name, but the first female winner of the Nobel for Literature. Nobody knew the answer to the next starter about chemical elements. And that was it. Birmingham won by 245 to 10.

Right, let’s get that Sussex score out of the way. I could well be wrong, but I believe this is the lowest score of the Paxman era. I also believe that it is equal with the lowest score from the Bamber era – another Sussex team, as it happens, not including the Christmas specials. Doubtless Twitter users have had their say. JP himself said – at least you got on the show and 100 teams didn’t. Well, yes, that’s true, and it’s not necessarily something I’d go advertising. I am certain that the Sussex team are all very intelligent and capable people – they got to the university in the first place for one thing. But on this evidence, they’re not great quizzers, I’m afraid, and one questions the show’s selection criteria which would allow them to endure an experience like this.

Congratulations to Birmingham. We’ll see in their second round match how much of Sussex’s plight was due to great buzzing, but whatever the competition, you can’t argue with a score in the double hundreds.

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

Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando” was dedicated to Vita Sackville-West (Hey, it was a bit of a slack week)

Monday, 11 October 2021

Mastermind 2022: Heat 6

Well, to borrow Clive’s words, that was a corker, wasn’t it? Maybe not quite as good as a couple of weeks ago, but one helluva finish.

First up was Hayley Goddard, who offered us the Giza Necropolis. I always think that there’s a chance of me getting 1 or 2 on anything Egyptological, but in all honesty there seemed rather little for a dilettante such as myself, and I was happy to take four on this round. Hayley’s round spoke of excellent preparation as she scored a fine 11 points and just one pass.

Our second subject, Martin Luther, as offered by Tara Jackson-Rigchung, was another which offered points to me, but not many. In fact, only that perennial favourite the 95 theses, and the Council of Trent provided me with two pieces of low hanging fruit. Again, this was the kind of round in which only good preparation was likely to give you a hance of a double figure round, which is exactly what Tara achieved. Good round.

It probably says something about me that the only two questions that I managed to answer on Sam Anderson’s round on the films of Paul Thomas Anderson were both about ‘Boogie Nights’. Let’s be honest, I’m not a great film fan, and several of the films mentioned I’d never even heard of. Sam Anderson was the third of our contenders in tonight’s show to ave prepared himself admirably, as he too reached double figures with a fighting 10.

All of which left a former semi finalist recidivist to bring the first round to a conclusion.This was Richard Aubrey, who passed this way in 2017, IIRC, and already knew what it takes to win a first round heat. Now, I will lay my cards on the table here – I had 8 on this round. But you see, his subject, “Yes Minister/ Yes Prime Minister” is one of those sitcoms which, if you like it, you absolutely love it, and can watch it over and over again. Now, I’m not suggesting that Richard didn’t need to put in the preparation, because he had a perfect 13 on it. Now that really is excellent preparation.

So to the GK. Poor Tara looked rather like a rabbit in the headlights for most of her round. I think it was probably a combination of , well, not the world’s strongest general knowledge, and a combination of questions that really didn’t suit. She finished with 15.

So Sam only needed 6 to take the outright lead. However, in order to set the kind of total necessary to place Richard within the corridor of doubt he would need to do considerably better than that. And for the first minute of the round he missed nothing, and was on target for a monster score. Well, a bit of a mid round hiatus slowed his progress a bit, but nonetheless his 14 for a total of 24 was, to be honest, up there with the best GK rounds we’ve seen so far this series. The doorway into the corridor of doubt was now beckoning.

Hayley Goddard started her round convincingly, but once she’d had a question wrong the round became a bit of a grim old struggle. Hers wasn’t really a poor round, but in all honesty, if you have ambitions towards winning a heat, realistically you have to have the kind of general knowledge that gives you a realistic chance of getting into double figures at least.

So to Richard. I had a feeling that he might do it, but it certainly didn’t seem that this was going to be correct when he struggled to get into a rhythm during the first minute or so of the round. However, the experience of sitting in that chair, and learning you can cope with it and even enjoy it gave him the tenacity to cling on, and keep picking off the answers. He was actually through on pass countback with one question still to go, but made sure of it with the last, to finish with 25. Not, actually, as good a GK round as Sam’s had been, but his overall performance, combining that GK round with his perfect specialist round was enough to see him through. Well done, sir, and I wish you good luck in your semi.  

The Details

Hayley Goddard

The Giza Necropolis

11

1

7

3

18

4

Tara Jackson-Rigchung

Martin Luther

10

1

5

5

15

6

Sam Anderson

The films of Paul Thomas Anderson

10

0

14

2

24

2

Richard Aubrey

Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister

13

0

12

0

25

0

I

Sunday, 10 October 2021

More on the subject of subjects

I don’t know if you watched last Monday’s heat 5 of Mastermind. The winner, Patrick Wilson, took on JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and very well he did on it too. In my review I remarked upon the difficulty of such a wide-ranging subject and expressed the view that just “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy itself would be a fitting subject. Well, thinking about this again, I can’t help wondering whether it was Patrick’s original choice, or whether the production team prevailed upon him to widen the subject.

My active experience of the show dates from more than a decade ago so whatever I say has to be viewed in that light. But on a couple of occasions, I did experience some of the horse trading over specialists that certainly went on in my experience. For my first audition, which led to my appearance in the first round in 2006, I went into the audition fully armed with my 4 subjects, only to be told not to do any of them. Basically, being an English teacher, they didn’t want me doing any authors in case I didn’t do very well, and it therefore reflected on me as an English teacher. It is arguably an admirable thing – saving people from themselves if you like. Still, it did mean that I had to really think on my feet to come up with the subject that I actually did do – the Modern Summer Olympic Games, and what I would have done for semi and final had I got there – Henry Ford and The Prince Regent. One of the subjects I discussed possibly doing was the anglo-saxon poem “Beowulf”. However, no sooner had I suggested this, than the member of the team who was auditioning me had bid it up to the whole canon of Anglo-Saxon poetry. So I drew the line at that one.

When I applied again the next year, I threw Henry Ford into the pot for the first round, and the Prince Regent for the semi. 2006 was before the temporary reinstatement of runners up places in the semis, and so I’d gone to the semis as a stand in and wasn’t used. Now, my way of thinking was this. In 2006 they’d have had to have a set of Henry Ford questions made which they never used. So maybe, just maybe, taking it for the first round in 2007 would make me a little more attractive because it would mean one fewer set of questions to make. Who knows whether this had any influence or not. Still, for my final subject I wanted to take Old London Bridge. This was the bridge which stood from 1179 – 1831. The team horse traded this up to every bridge bearing the title London Bridge, or standing at this point on the river prior to 1179.

Conversely, though, when it came to Champion of Champions my first round subject, the Bayeux Tapestry went through on the nod. When it came to the putative (and unused) final subject, the team actually lightened the burden for me there. I offered The Children of Queen Victoria, but the team reduced it to The Daughters of Queen Victoria. Not really sure why, but I certainly wasn’t complaining.

I didn’t have the experience I know some people have had of being asked to change the order of their specialist subjects. In the cases where this has happened, I’m pretty sure that the production team’s concern has been to get the best spread of subjects across each of the shows.

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Moving on, the newest member of our team on the Thursday night had one of the most frustrating experiences in quizzing last week. By which I mean the experience of coming up with a great answer to a difficult question, and not getting a point  because the QM has a wrong answer down. One of the very first questions began, “Which fruit is a cross between a raspberry – “ and as you would, I immediately began to write down ‘loganberry’, and just as quickly stopped writing it when the question continued ‘ and the American dewberry.” I always thought that a loganberry was a raspberry/blackberry cross. Indeed it is. Fran said that she believed it was a boysenberry. That, to me, seemed like a bloomin’ good answer. Of course, the answer given was loganberry. I consoled Fran that I was sure that the QM’s answer was a wrong’un, and we didn’t argue as I am trying very hard to be a good boy in the quiz now. Well, I will admit that I did google this when I got home. Now, although I didn’t find an answer which perfectly fit the question, boysenberry, which is given as a cross between raspberry, and dewberry ( and blackberry and loganberry!) is a better fit.

Actually, I really enjoyed the quiz apart from this. It’s the first ‘connections’ quiz I’ve played in for a few years – whereby the answers to let’s say 4 consecutive and seemingly unconnected questions – are all connected. I love the way that, if you’ve engineered your connections well, then the player can use what they do know to help figure out what they don’t know.

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

University Challenge 2022: Round One: Heat 13 Wolfson, Oxford v. Bristol

The Teams

Wolfson, Oxford

Martin Nowakowski

Maitrai Lapalikar

Daattavya Aggarwal (Capt)

Archie Williams

Bristol

Alex Regueiro

Sam Woodcock

Seb Priest (Capt)

Anna Brian

Not long to go people. Just one more heat after this one and we’ll have seen all of the teams in this year’s competition. Tonight, then, I took the first starter for the first time in a few weeks, recognising that rose, tulip, cedar, velvet and green were all terms applied to various revolutions. Archie Williams took that one. Quotations from English Literature which all involve words from the acronym TARDIS were a UC special set that was very much to my liking, as you might imagine. Wolfson managed 2 of them. None of us knew that Tonle Sap is in Cambodia. Daattavya Aggarwal lost five coming in for the next starter, something to do with telescopes and black holes, I think. Then, suddenly the question became clear *Warning – Lap of honour imminent!* by saying that the telescope network in question shares its name with the boundary limits of a black hole. “Event horizon!” I shouted, just before Alex Reguiero, rather more calmly, said the same. Now, maybe it was because I was circumnavigating the sofa, but it seemed to me that the next question suggested that Talulah Bankhead was born in 1982! Nay, nay and thrice nay! Bristol managed just the one on people connected with Huntsville Alabama. Archie Williams gave a good early buzz to identify polar explorer Shackleton for the next starter. I turned down a second lap of honour for knowing enzyme for the first bonus and likewise electron for the last. It’s been a long time since I took two bonuses on a science set that wasn’t specifically about the periodic table. Wolfson took the same two. The picture starter showed the rather distinctive national flag of Grenada. Martin Nowakowski took that one, and then treated us to the first of a brace of starter celebrations, a manoeuvre which I believe is commonly known as a ‘dab’. One thinks that Bamber Gascoigne would somehow not have approved. More examples of fruit in heraldry brought Wolfson no further points. Now, 30 odd years ago, if you heard the words ‘Mexican’ and ‘Painting’ you’d be fully justified in slinging buzzer and giving the answer Diego Rivera. Now, though, you’d be playing with fire if you gave any answer other than Diego’s missus, Frida Khalo. That’s the answer that Archie Williams gave, and he was right to do so. Video games are rather less fruitful as a subject for me than even psychology, economics or the sciences, so I wasn’t surprised to score zero on video games of 2001. Rather more surprisingly, Wolfson didn’t score at all either. Nonetheless they’d had clearly the better start to the contest and led Bristol by 55 to 10.

Various clues gave Martin Nowakowski the word canton for his second starter. This time he made an exaggerated toasting gesture by raising his class of water. Thanks, Martin, we’ve got it that you’re the ‘wacky’ member of your team by now. Early 19th century French art brought Wolfson nowt. Sam Woodcock began the Bristol fightback, buzzing in with the answer that it was Debussy who composed La Mer. Me, I thought it was Georges Trenet. Or Bobby Darin. (Ask your grandparents). A couple of bonuses on John of Salisbury wiped ou  significant slice of the Wolfson lead. This took us to the music starter and a very quick buzz from Anna Brian to recognise ‘Leader of the Pack’ and recall that it was recorded by the Shangri-Las. Other examples of the teenage tragedy genre of the 50s and 60s saw them miss out on The Everly Brothers’ Ebony Eyes. They stopped performing it, and when asked to perform it on tour would usually reply – sorry, but we do have to fly places, you know. They recognised Bobbie Genry, but couldn’t recognise Roy Orbison. Ah, the folly of youth.  I wouldn’t have minded hearing all of the next question about some remarkable stuff which produced facial convulsions amongst other effects, but Alex Regueiro buzzed in early to say whatever it was, it came from Sardinia. A UC special set on film titles formed by combining countries’ internet codes proved to be rather low hanging fruit which Bristol were only too happy to gorge themselves upon, and in the process they opened a 5 point lead. Alex Regueiro took his second starter on the bounce by recognising a definition of the word sedition. This earned them a set of bonuses on black holes. Well, I’m very sorry but I already exhausted the totality of my knowledge of black holes in that bonus earlier on. Bristol lapped them up. 8 minutes earlier you’d have got very long odds on Bristol being the first to break into triple figures, but here they were just one bonus away. Captain Daattavya Aggarwal buzzed to shake his team out of their torpor, correctly supplying the mathematician Ramanujan ( well his name – not the actual person. That would have been weird). Sadly for Wolfson the bonus dice were still refusing to roll kindly as they received a set of bonuses on Puccini. I somehow doubt that they are great fans of his oeuvre, missing out even on Madame Butterfly. Sam Woodcock buzzed early to guess that in the exercise form H I I T, the H I must mean High Intensity. (Or in my case – Help – It Is Torture) A set on History followed. Yum yum! – said I. The swines only went and tuned it into a maths set – all the events mentioned happened in years when the final two digits of each answer were three times the first two. I confess, I was still working out the question as Bristol were picking off the answers. The two they gained meant that hey had just completed a splendid ten minutes’ work, and they led with 115 to 75, and all of the forward momentum.

Sam Woodcock recognised the work of an artist I particularly like, El Greco, for the second picture starter. In the bonus set of artists influenced by El Greco I was intrigued to see Jackson Pollack come up. Neither team recognised a description of the Ridgeway – who was the milkman for whom I used to work on a Saturday – apparently he also had a prehistoric trail named after him. Seb Priest took his first starter, knowing a group of words which all begin with sch in German. Remember Sch – you know who? Again, ask your grandparents. US States bordering Canadian provinces brought another full house, and with a score of 150, even if they didn’t answer another question, Bristol were guaranteed at least a repechage slot. Both teams were a little slow in recognising some well known titles of works by Aristophanes, so Sam Woodcock buzzed in to take that unconsidered trifle. Bristol couldn’t do much with SI derived units, but hey, they had a massive lead and weren’t going to lose now. Daattavya Aggarwal knew a frustum, a name absolutely begging for puns, as it happens. You somehow knew that bonuses on the Prix Goncourt weren’t going to help them very much. They didn’t. Poor Wolfson, they really didn’t have much luck the way that the bonuses worked out for them. Now , surely the Tritone Paradox was an episode of the third and final series of Star Trek (The original series)? Nobody had a Scooby about it anyway. Move on, Jez. Daattavya Aggarwal, playing a captain’s innings in the face of insuperable odds, knew the Lambda Constant (Which was DEFINITELY an episode in the second series of the original series of Star Trek. I remember it since it was the one in which William Shatner wore a syrup and snogged a lady in a dress made out of a couple of handkerhiefs. Why he was wearing a dress made out of a couple of handkerchiefs – that I don’t recall. ) Chinese history took Wolfson’s score to 110. Was it possible that they could yet claim a repechage slot? Well, their chances weren’t helped when neither team knew Limburger Cheese. That was it, since the contest was gonged before JP could finish asking the next starter.

A sterling fightback from Bristol. Hard lines for Wolfson. Had a couple of the sets of bonus fallen more to their liking they might well have made the repechage. Well, as we always say, them’s the breaks.

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

The device which looks like a lit matchhead on the flag of Grenada is actually a stylised representation of the fruit of a nutmeg tree.


Monday, 4 October 2021

Mastermind 2022: Round One : Heat 5

 Well, after last week’s pyrotechnics, this was an altogether more less tense affair. We began with Mohammed Shakir who was answering on villains from the official James Bond film series. While I’d never claim that Bond was one of my own specialist subjects, I’m pretty safe on films from Dr. No to Octopussy, and this was enough to bring me a welcome 6 points towards the aggregate. Mohammed managed to reach double figures, which is always the mark of a good round with the questions being the length that they are – maybe it’s just me, but it seemed that some of the questions in the later rounds were interminable.

I thought that I might have had a chance to add to my aggregate, bearing in mind that Elizabeth Dawson was answering on Byron. Perhaps if there had been a few more questions about the poems then I might have done. However this was specifically the Life of Byron rather than the Life and Work, and so I achieved the grand total of zilch. I don’t know whether Elizabeth would also have preferred more questions on the works herself – she had to have pretty good knowledge of the life to get the 6 that she did, but at the end of the round when Clive announced the score she did seem just a wee bit frustrated.

Patrick Wilson’s choice of subject “JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth” was an interesting one. After all – surely “The Lord of the Rings “ would have been a daunting enough task as it was, without adding on “the Hobbit”, “The Silmarillion”, and all the other stuff which was only published after his death. I was pleased to manage 7 of these, but Patrick did considerably better, and scored a fine 11 points on a very wide ranging round.

Last but not least came Gill Austen. Her subject, “Castles of Northumberland” held out little or not prospect of adding to my score, so when the first question name-checked good old Ranulf Flambard I was very happy to take the money and run with the Bishops of Durham (and how many of us ever get a chance to make that bold claim, I wonder?). Gill too steadily accumulated her points throughout the round until she too finished with 11 and no passes. In fact, there were no passes at all in the specialist round – so well done to all 4 contenders for that.

When Elizabeth returned to the chair she was always struggling against the fact that she’d scored 4 points less than any of her fellow contenders. So although she battled throughout the round, and scored a decent nine, she still ended with the modest total of 15, which I would have said was not a corridor of doubt total.

Well, I would have said that, but Mohammed certainly had to pass through the corridor in order to overhaul it. In fact, he only managed to do so by one point. I did feel a little sympathetic while the round was winding to its conclusion – there’s nothing worse than just not finding the answers to a series of questions coming to you. Mohammed finished with 16.

So there were no prizes for predicting that either Patrick or Gill was going to win this heat. And within 30 seconds of the start of Patrick’s round it looked very much like it would be him. This was a good round, a decent quizzer’s round, and Patrick seemed to be immensely enjoying his Mastermind experience. That isn’t always the sign of a good round, but it was certainly true of this one. While his score of 24 would only have put him in 3rd place in last week’s heat, I reckoned he had one foot in the semi final from this one.

We still had Gill’s round to go though. To be honest, after the first 40 seconds or so it did look as if she wasn’t going to be able to challenge Patrick’s score. It wasn’t a bad round, but there were too many wrong answers, and apparently too many gaps in Gill’s knowledge. Hard lines, but well done anyway.

Well done Patrick – certainly the pick of the GK rounds tonight – a good performance which gives you a chance in the semis. Best of luck to you.

The Details

Mohammed Shakir

James Bond film villains

10

0

6

2

16

2

Elizabeth Dawson

The Life of Lord Byron

6

0

9

1

15

1

Patrick Wilson

JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth

11

0

13

0

24

0

Gill Austen

Castles of Northumberland

11

0

8

0

19

0