Tuesday, 28 September 2021

University Challenge Round One: Heat 12: Dundee University v. Royal Northern College of Music

The Teams


Conor Phillip

Olivia Russell

Barnaby Stonier (Capt)

Jacob Spurrell

Royal Northern College of Music

Keelan Carew

Dominic Wills

Lila Chrisp (Capt)

Alex Robarts

You know, I always think it must be hard for a specialist institution like RNCM to compete in a general all-round competition like University Challenge, considering that all of their team are going to be music students, while their opponents most likely will have members representing a variety of disciplines. Yet for all that, we have seen some fine performances from such teams over the last decade, so who was to say that RNCM were going to prove a pushover for anyone?

Well, Conor Phillip from Dundee – which fine city I visited for the first time a few weeks ago – took the first starter, recognising different meanings of the word mint. Bonuses on ancestors of the present Duke of Cambridge gave them two more correct answers, and allowed JP to pooh pooh the idea that the Royal Family are inbred. Jacob Spurrell made a superbly early buzz for the next starter to identify the film “Parasite”. I’ve never seen it, although I’ve taught a few in my time. Partnerships between screenwriters and directors only brought one correct answer. Dominic Wills, seeking to give his team a toehold in the game, clutched at a bit of a straw with an early buzz to suggest that Siberian Brown is a species of tiger, thus putting his team in the red. Given the benefit of the full question, it became obvious that the answer was lemming - although at one time it could have swerved into a reference to the famed filigree Siberian hamster. Two bonuses on artists kept the scoreboard pushing along nicely for Dundee. This took us to the picture starter. Shown a map of the US with a city marked in, I thought Barnaby Stonier buzzed in very well to give the correct answer of Oklahoma City. 3 more US cities with a footprint of more than 300 square miles brought another two correct answers. Dominic Wills stopped the rot, and put his team into the black for the first time, working out that the next starter wanted the answer of mariachi. 1 bonus on blood classification doubled their score, but even so, the fact that Dundee led by 75 – 10 suggested that the Scottish side would continue to make serene progress into the second round.

Keelan Carew continued RNCM’s fight back with the answer of Oslo for the next starter on a play named after the city in which a 1993 peace accord was signed. However, they weren’t brilliantly served by a set on Polish football, and were only able to take one bonus. Jacob Spurrell buzzed early to identify Paraguay as the country where a majority speak Guarani, and this was rewarded with a set of Science bonuses. The first of these saw me take a lap of honour around the Clark sofa for knowing cold fusion. Then before I had the chance to sit down, I awarded myself another one for guessing cold dark matter. Which also formed the main course on a Thursday lunchtime in my old school, if I recall correctly. I didn’t have a scooby about poikilothermal, which is probably just as well, or my knees might have given way after another lap. Keelan Carew buzzed early again, and all I can tell you is that it was something to do with Beethoven, and the answer was Waldstein. The bonuses were on the year 1666, and kudos to the setters for not referencing the Great Fire of London in the set, which brought RNCM one bonus. So to the music starter, and Keelan Carew recognised the theme of Stranger Things extremely quickly. Three other retro synthesizer TV themes brought us both two correct answers. Nobody knew the answer to the next starter, about sun spots. I’ve not heard of hinomaru, but the word seemed Japanese, and I guess Alex Robarts must have thought so too since he gave the same answer as I did, thus earning bonuses on some rather venerable video games, on which they took a timely full house. Nobody knew that of all the countries entirely in the Southern hemisphere, New Zealand has an area closest to that of the United Kingdom. Lila Chrisp knew that the title of the first chapter of the first Harry Potter book is “The Boy Who Lived”, which earned a set of bonuses on British coastal towns. These passed them by completely. However, that starter alone was enough to ensure that, as we reached the 20 minute mark, not only had RNCM wiped out Dundee’s lead, they had a 5 point lead of their own, 95 – 90. What an interesting contest this was turning out to be.

Now, about that third lap of honour. Had I not been still wheezing on the sofa I would have taken another one for saying that the maximum number of hydrogen atoms that can combine with an atom of a neutral molecule is three. Yes, of course it was a guess. Jacob Spurrell knew that one to take back the lead. Dundee could only manage one of a gettable set on Roman emperors. Keelan Carew continued with his excellent work on the buzzer, coming in to identify a still from “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”. More stills from films or TV shows based on Le Carre novels were enough to give them a ten point lead. Barnaby Stonier wiped it out with the next starter, knowing various Italian words beginning with GE. Now, having already earned 3 laps of honour I’m afraid that my brain just switched off after the first three words of the next starter – ‘If the isotope. . . “ By the time my mind was back in the room, Dundee had failed to convert any of the bonuses. Both teams, with tied scores, lingered on the buzzer before it was the Dundee skipper who identified Hamlet as the tragedy about a man who could not make up his mind. He should have listened to Bucks Fizz (Hamlet, that is, not Barnaby Stonier). The Women’s Prize for Fiction brought three questions to which Dundee had no idea of the answers, and I give them credit that they admitted this without running down the clock. Jacob Spurrell knew that India and Pakistan celebrate their Independence Days one day apart, to give Dundee just a little breathing space in sight of the finishing line. Schools of thought named after places  - no, me neither – yielded just one correct answer. However with time almost gone, RNCM needed more than a full house to force the match into extra time. So, just as if written in the script, Alex Robarts of RNCM correctly answered that the fruit in question in the next starter was dates. They took the first bonus, but the Muscovian novelist Voinovich did for them. Even though they took the next bonus, this left them 10 short of Dundee’s score. Was there time for another starter? Well no, not quite. JP started it, but didn’t have time to finish, leaving Dundee the winners by 145 to 135.

Congratulations to Dundee – a lesser team would not have found the nerve to steady the ship and fight back once RNCM took the lead. I have to admit for a partiality towards the team, because Dundee was my Grandy Clark's home town, which he had to leave to seek work in London during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Hard lines to RNCM, but congratulations also on a splendid fight back. As the saying goes, jolly good show.

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

India and Pakistan celebrate their Independence Days one day apart, despite gaining their independence on the same day.

Monday, 27 September 2021

Mastermind 2022: Round One Heat 4

 Now, wasn’t that more like it, dearly beloved? Tonight’s was to my mind the best contest we’ve seen so far this series.

First up was Mollie Bingham. It was announced that Mollie’s specialist subject was Margaret of Anjou, consort of King Henry VI. While I wasn’t exactly saying yum-yum and expecting a windfall of points, I do immodestly think of royal history as one of my stronger subjects, but all I managed to pull from this round was 2. Mollie did a lot better, scoring 9 and incurring 2 passes. That’s a pretty decent score for the current era, and Molie looked justifiably pleased as she took her seat.

Alice Walker was offering the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein. That’s the sort of subject that you’d think offers opportunities to a regular quizzer of a certain age – such as myself – since a basic working knowledge of their oeuvre has brought points in quizzes across the years. I added a further three to my aggregate. Alice took pole position by scoring a fine 11 points, and also by incurring no passes.

The History of Canterbury was one of those subjects that I was wary of predicting how I might do. Funnily enough all of my points came from the questions based further back in time, which brought me 4 on this round. Andrew impressed with his knowledge, which may even have brought him more points than his fine 11, if he had only answered just a wee bit more quickly. He too incurred no passes, to sit comfortably alongside Alice on the front row of the grid.

If Sean Lea was intimidated by the previous two rounds, he didn’t show it as he began his round on the first 9 seasons of the Simpsons. I will make no apologies for the fact that this was my best specialist round of the evening, netting me 6 more points for an aggregate of 15. Sean took 9 points from the round with 2 passes, which actually only left him in joint 3rd. with Mollie.

Kudos to all 4 contenders for their specialist rounds. This is just my opinion and as always, feel free to disagree, but I do feel that if you accept a place in the first round, then you are also accepting the responsibility to learn your specialist subjects as thoroughly as you can in the time available. All 4 contenders in this show had clearly done this.

Onto the GK, then. Despite a rather good specialist round, Mollie was starting from the back row of the grid, and she never really picked up enough momentum to pull off any passing manoeuvres on the rest of the field. Or, if I leave the tortuous formula 1 metaphors behind, she never looked convincing in her round, and rather laboured to add 7 to her total. Whatever the case she never lost her composure and seemed to be enjoying the experience, and that is often the main thing.

 Sean, who, like Mollie, began the round on 9 points, did something quite different. He did something I always love to see, that is, to throw caution to the wind, try to answer everything, and as a result, come up with a round that is every bit good enough to mean that anyone coming after would have to cross through the corridor of doubt in order to overhaul his score. Whichever way you look on it, his 13 n GK was a good score, which, in a slightly weaker heat, might have brought him a win.

It didn’t in this one, though. Alice Walker, seemingly totally unphased by the round she had just witnessed, strode boldly trough the corridor of doubt to overhaul Sean, and just kept going. This was the best GK round I think that I’ve seen so far in this series, and I can’t help wondering just what level of experience Alice has in quizzes, since this was the round of a very good contender indeed.

If I felt sympathy towards Sean for the way that his fine performance would not bring him an appearance in the semi finals, then I was even more sympathetic towards Andrew Whiteley. I mentioned, when describing his SS round, how I felt that he was just a little slower answering than Alice had been, and the same thing might be said of his GK. However, he was accurate, and his score kept climbing and climbing. The buzzer beat him, though, as he finished with a fine 14 and no passes, to end with 25.

To put the quality of tonight’s show into perspective, the third placed contender, Sean, would have won 2 out of the previous 3 heats with 23, and Andrew would have won all of them with 25. It’s harsh that neither will be back in the semis, but that’s the way the series rolls at the moment. As for Alice, well, let’s watch out for her in the semis. If this is the level of GK that she can produce, she’s certainly in with a shout. Well played to all.

The Details

Mollie Bingham

Margaret of Anjou







Alice Walker

Rodgers and Hammerstein Musicals







Andrew Whiteley

The History of Canterbury







Sean Lea

The Simpsons Seasons 1 - 9








Saturday, 25 September 2021

Picture Handouts - what are they good for?

I don’t expect for one minute that everyone who regularly plays in quizzes will agree with me on this, but that’s fine. It’s just my personal opinion. As we so often say, please feel free to disagree. The thing is, I just don’t like picture quizzes. – Ah – those who know me might say – that’s because you’re no good at them- which is sadly true. If you were to twist my arm behind my back, I’d offer my opinion that recognising people’s faces, while a valuable skill in its own right, isn’t really quizzing. Okay, okay, put the pitchforks down, please – as I said this is just my opinion. I’ll try to explain my prejudice against picture handouts. Some people think that with a quiz question it’s simple – you either know the answer or you don’t. Personally I don’t think so. In the early days of the blog I formulated what I grandiosely titled Clark’s taxonomy of questions, in which I split them into 4 basic types, namely :-

Questions whose answers you know that you know.

Questions whose answers you don’t know that you know.

Questions whose answers you know that you don’t know.

Questions whose answers you don’t know that you don’t know.

So, for example, last Thursday night we were asked “In which cathedral is the tomb of King John?” Immediately I answered Gloucester, convinced that I’d heard this in another quiz. Heaven alone knows why because the answer was Worcester. You see, I didn’t know that I didn’t know it. On the other hand, though, we were also asked at one point,

“Where did experts replace confide save the number of flags?” No, I didn’t know that I knew it. This is partly because ‘experts’ was wrong. ‘Confide’ and ‘flags’ were nagging away at me, and when I decided that instead of experts the question master may have meant ‘expects’ then I was able to get the answer – Nelson’s message to his ships at the Battle of Trafalgar.

So, wending my tortuous way towards my point, in a quiz, I always feel that there should be opportunities to work out the answer to some questions where you don’t know that you know the answer. Well, with pictures, it’s pretty rare that there are enough background clues in a photo to help you figure out the name of a person you don’t recognise. You literally do recognise it, or you don’t. If you’re the sort of person who will learn things, and improve your quiz performance that way, there’s precious little you can do to make yourself better at recognising them.

I reflected upon this as we only won on Thursday night because of the pictures, an occurrence which has been sufficiently rare over the years as to be worthy of comment. It’s just the way I feel about it, but to lose on the questions and just win on the pictures feels like losing to me. What’s that? No, of course we didn’t renounce the win. That would have been rude.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

University Challenge 2022 - First Round Heat 11 - St. Catharine's, Cambridge v. University College, Oxford

The Teams

St. Catharine’s, Cambridge

Jenny Hay

Emma Dinnage

Nick Scott (capt.)

Lydia Michaelides

University, Oxford

Leonardo Buizza

Anisan Qausher

Oliver Hargrave (capt)

Abby Karas

Nearly there, dearly beloved – just the one heat left after this one. A nifty turn of speed on the buzzer was shown by Nick Scott, the Cambridge skipper, as he buzzed just when the first starter, asking for the 30th member of Nato, became obvious as JP started to say about the addition of a word to its name. Bonuses on names in architecture beginning with the same letter were not especially difficult, but the Cambridge team couldn’t take any of them. A lovely UC special starter saw Abby Karas correctly answer that the first word of Pride and Pred, amongst other novels, is ‘it’. Book titles taken from lines of poetry saw University take just the one bonus. Incidentally, one of the titles – “Eyeless in Gaza” I once saw written as “Eyeless in Gazza”. I think we’ll leave that one and move on.  Leonardo Buizza won the buzzer race to identify a definition of palm oil for the next starter. Provincial birds of Canada saw University miss out on tits – ooh Matron – but score on ravens and puffins. For the picture starter, asked to identify a city on map of part of Britain, Leonardo Buizza was close but no cigar with Leeds, leaving Jenny Hay to swoop in with Bradford. More cities in the UNESCO Creative City network brought our first full house of the evening. Nick Scott, not for the first time or the last of the contest won the buzzer race for the next starter, identifying the fortress of Masada. Silence in television brought a further two correct answers, and this was enough to give the Cambridge team a lead of 55 – 35 at a little past the 10 minute mark.

Time was that the answer to any questions featuring the words “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” was as likely to be the film ‘Rollerball’ as it was to be JS Bach. Well, the film, which used it as its theme music, has largely faded from public memory so it fell to Emma Dinnage of Catz to provide the name of the composer. Bonuses on two digit numbers earned my respect for referencing the best number according to Sheldon Cooper – 73.*WARNING – Lap of honour is imminent* - Yes, I awarded myself a lap of honour for knowing the atomic number of chlorine – 17. Catz took a full house, and it was just starting to look as if they were pulling away from University. I knew that the 19th century translator of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam – who incidentally is also a character in Noel Dyson’s enchanting ‘ The Land of Green Ginger – was Edward Fitzgerald, so Fitz was the prefix linking all the clues. Oliver Hargrave took that one. Slim pickings were to be had by them on Metropolitan Boroughs and rivers. Nobody knew that The Committee on Evil Literature was formed in the Irish Free State in 1926. The next question, about a mathematician, took a long time to get where it was going, but as soon as the word enigma was uttered Jenny Hay buzzed in with Alan Turing. Bonuses on History took Catz to within one starter of triple figures. The music starter offered us Donna Summer, who was gratefully accepted by the University skipper. More tunes which Georgio Moroder included on his top disco tunes list saw them add just the one bonus. Nick Scott was the quickest to play through the to be or not to be soliloquy in his mind to be able to buzz in and provide JP with the two nouns he wanted – slings and arrows. Bonuses on Edith Wharton provided just 5 points, nonetheless this was enough to ensure that as we approached 20 minutes, Catz had a useful lead of 110 to 60.

Cometh the hour, cometh the team. The fightback for University began as Oliver Hargrave identified concepts associated with Nietzsche – there’s nothing Nietzsche couldn’t teach yer ‘bout the raising of the wrist, you know. There was only one bonus they managed on Geology, but never mind, their score was at least rising. Oliver Hargrave took a flier that the story of Samson and Delilah was in Genesis, which let theology student Jenny Hay in with Judges. Bonuses on Juliet Binoche saw them rather tie themselves in knots, but then running down the clock is not a problem when you’re in the lead. For the second picture starter Abby Karas identified one of the many film versions of Jane Eyre, or as I preferred to refer to it when studying A Level English, ‘ that bloody awful Jane Eyre’. I never put that in an essay about it, mind you. More stills of other actresses playing the title role showed that University had not, I believe, really listened to the question. A great early buzz from Leonardo Buizza saw him concatenate the two letter code for given US states to make the name Ganymede. Too fast for me. Bonuses on metabolism meant that University were now a mere starter behind Catz. Leonardo Buizza soon added that starter, knowing that the Lelos is the nickname of the Georgian international rugby team. They failed to answer any of the bonuses on ruins in Asia, and with hardly any time next, chances are the next correct answer would win it. Neither team knew Alan Aykbourne for the next starter. Just one last throw of the dice remained, and it was Nick Scott who knew that immediately to the west of Ghana you get Cote D’Ivoire. We were gonged before the first bonus, giving Catz a win by 130-120. What a good contest.

JP was uncertain whether we’ll see University College again. Well, hard lines if we don’t, but well played. Kudos to Catz. They rode their luck a little at times, and will want to do better with some sets of bonuses, but they’re safe in the second round. Best of luck.

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

The Committee on Evil Literature was formed in the Irish Free State in 1926

Monday, 20 September 2021

Mastermind 2022: First Round Heat 3

The continuity announcer on BBC2 said it was nice to see Mastermind back after a few weeks. Yes, but who’s fault is it that it was taken away in the first place? I suppose we should be grateful that it hasn’t been kept off to make room for the Chelsea Flower Show. Well, allow me a moment to get down from my high horse, and then we can get down to business.

First up tonight was David Finlay. I think I probably should apologise for burdening David with the support from the Clark sofa, which has been the kiss of death for so many. Well, be fair, he is a schoolteacher, and not just a teacher, but an English teacher to boot. As I think I may have mentioned several hundred times over the last few years, I am still the last schoolteacher to win a series, and it’s a title I’ve held for longer than any other – so it’s high time one of my brethren or sistren took it from me. David was answering on the life and career of John Cleese – for which I was very grateful since it allowed me 6 points towards my first round aggregate. David acquitted himself well but let a little too much go by to give himself an easy ride in the GK round. 8 is certainly not the relatively modest score that it once appeared to be, but it’s not a score to give you a runaway lead.

Bearing in mind that Ro Duns was offering us the Alnwick Garden, a subject on which I could write everything I know on the back of a small postage stamp and still leave room for the address, I was pleased to take my one point for Capability Brown and run on that one. Ro achieved the psychological boost of a double figure score, and while she didn’t get everything she was asked, I’d still say that this was a pretty good performance.

So, I had an aggregate of 7 going into Shamina Chowdhury’s round on the Marvel Avengers films. Again, I extend my thanks to her on her choice of subject because this meant I was able to raise my aggregate to 14, Which pales a little into insignificance when you consider that Shamina herself, in the best specialist performance of the night, took 12. Not perfect, but pretty damn good I’d say.

I didn’t fancy I’d get more than one on John Charnock- Wilson’s round on Manatees, Dugongs and Sea Cows – I expected one because I had Stellers Sea Cow up my sleeve, as it were (big sleeve – the thing was up to 25ft long, supposedly). I got another for vibrissae. Now, certainly from the first part of his round, John definitely appeared to know his subject. Yet somehow it just fell away from what had looked like it would be a good 8, or 9, and he finished with 6.

All of which meant that John was the first to return to the chair for the General Knowledge round. His GK round in one way rather reminded me of his specialist round, in as much as the first half seemed noticeably better than the second. It’s an odd thing, a GK round in Mastermind. Once you start to guess the wrong way on a couple it can really start to play on your mind, and the last 30 seconds or so can be a struggle. Well, that’s how John’s round appeared to me. He finished with 8 for 14.

David began his GK round at full speed, and after the first 30 seconds or so I was telling myself – this boy’s a quizzer – and – he should set a score to put the others into the corridor of doubt. Well, the rest of the round wasn’t quite as good. Don’ get me wrong, he got himself into double figures, and finished with 18, but considering that the two contenders yet to play had respectively a 2 points and a 4 points head start, it looked a little short of a winning lead to my mind.

Ro Dunn had a very contrasting style to David’s in her GK round. While David had rattled off the answers and guesses, Ro was more considered, giving herself a moment on some of the questions, making sure that she didn’t miss any of the low hanging fruit, and provided an intelligent guess to any she didn’t know. Don’t knock it – this can be a very effective technique and it worked well for Ro. She added a further 12 to her score, and that target of 11 for an outright win for Shamina looked like a difficult one.

It looked even more difficult after the first 30 seconds of Shamina’s round. It sometimes happens that the best performer on specialist turns out to earn the lowest score on GK, and sadly for Shamina, this was the case tonight. All I can say is that that’s quizzing. Sometimes it’s just not your night and when that happens there’s very little that you can do about it. Shamina scored 5 to end with 17.

Well done to Ro – best of luck in the semi final.

The Details

David Finlay

John Cleese







Ro Duns

The Alnwick Garden







Shamina Chowdhury

Marvel Avengers Films







John Charnock-Wilson

Manatees, Dugongs and Sea Cows







Sunday, 19 September 2021

1 Week, Two Quizzes and Fred Housego - RIP Jimmy Greaves

 I cannot honestly remember the last time that I played in two quizzes in the same week. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was back when I gave up on Sunday evening quizzes, which was some time before the pandemic struck. A week ago on Thursday the newest members of our quiz team made their debut in the rugby club quiz, and they mentioned that there was a themed James Bond movie quiz in the Gwyn Hall in Neath on Wednesday 15th. There’s a movie quiz on different themes there once a month. Well, it’s quite a long time since I watched a James Bond film for pleasure, but they’re a pretty recurrent theme for general quiz questions, so while I couldn’t offer anything on films from Skyfall onwards, I thought I might help out with some of the older stuff. Long story short, we won on a tie break. Not my doing. Skipper Adam did all of the heavy lifting (and truth be told, nearly all of the light lifting as well.) 

The second quiz was of course the Rugby club quiz on Thursday. Not a bad quiz at all, either. I particularly liked a question on which we scored only 1 of the 2 points. It went some like this – of the original Wombles on the TV series based on the novels of Elisabeth Beresford, which of the Wombles are northernmost and southernmost according to their names. Southernmost is simple – Wellington. For northernmost though, which one would you go for – Tobermory or Tomsk? We went for Tomsk, but the answer given was Tobermory. When I asked the question master about it he said that there is virtually nothing to choose between them, with the former being a tad further north than the latter, and I’ve no reason to doubt that. Time was I would have googled that when I got home. Maybe I’m growing up a little.

 I’ve already made 10 posts since restarting the blog at the end of August. Nothing can be guaranteed, but you never know, it looks like this just might not be another false dawn. I did spend a little bit of time thinking about the sort of posts I’d like to be making, all being well. Obviously the TV reviews have to continue. Certainly for the time being I’m not planning on expanding on the range of shows. Mastermind and University Challenge are enough to cope with for the time being, and ironically, they were the two shows I started reviewing way back in 2008 when I first started the blog. But I made a mental wish list, and in order to fill it in, one of the questions I asked was – if I could interview someone for the blog, who would I most like to interview? Now, don’t misunderstand me, if anyone with something interesting to say on quizzing wanted to step forward, I’d be only too delighted to interview them. But I think my number one – and this is purely my personal choice – would be Fred Housego. 

If you’ve been with the blog for a long time, and you have a great memory, you may remember that I’ve written about this before. I am being totally sincere when I say that I would absolutely love to meet Fred Housego. Now, okay, 1980, when Fred won Mastermind, was 41 years ago, so maybe his name doesn’t have the resonance it once did. But I was 16 back then, and I was one of the unwashed millions who marveled at the London cabbie winning the title which had previously been the exclusive right of academics, educators, civil servants and a retired ambassador. He was my first quiz hero. Fred didn’t participate in the 2010 Champion of Champions series – I can only imagine that he was busy or couldn’t do it for some other reasons, since the thought that he might not have been invited is surely ridiculous. It's the only thing I regret about that excellent series, which was huge fun to be involved in. So, Fred, I have no idea if you have ever read the blog, or if you, or anyone else who knows you well enough to mention it will ever read this post, but I have to make the offer. I would absolutely love to meet you, or, if that doesn’t work for you, I’d love to send you some questions, and if you’d like to answer, well, then you’d make me very happy. Over to you.


I must pay my respects to another hero whom I never met, Jimmy Greaves, who has passed away aged 81. I'm too young to remember him much as a great footballer and goalscoring hero, although he was one of Tottenham Hotspur's greatest ever players (which in itself is enough to endear him to me) , but also for his good humour, his quick wit, and his honesty over his battles with alcoholism. Having grown up with an alcoholic myself, I have nothing but admiration for the way he met his demons head on, and continually won the daily battle for sobriety and sanity. 

Have a good week. 

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

University Challenge First Round Heat 10, St. John's, Cambridge v. Imperial

The Teams

St. John’s Cambridge

Thomas Clark

Louis George

Jonathan Chan (capt)

Kyanna Ouyang


Max Zeng

Fatima Sheriff

Michael Mays (capt)

Gilbert Jackson

 The shame of it. The BBC takes Mastermind off for a fortnight of Test Cricket – and then the second of the two tests is cancelled. Doesn’t mean that they do the decent thing and bring Mastermind back a week early, mind you. Thank heavens for Only Connect, then and University Challenge. Last night pitted St. John’s, Cambridge against Imperial, once of the University of London but since 2006 and independent institution in its own right. 

Fatima Sheriff drew first blood, recognising the word Park from a series of clues. I was far too slow on this one, and so my run of correct answers didn’t so much come to a grinding halt this week as never even make a grinding start. They picked up two bonuses on Samuel Coleridge Taylor, but missed out on the performing rights society. Good early buzzing from Louis George opened St. John’s’ account when he buzzed early to identify events that happened in 2013. French physicist Emilie du Chatelet promised me but little, yet the first bonus earned me this week’s lap of honour around the Clark sofa for knowing Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica. We both took two bonuses to leave the teams tied. I made the same mistake as Gilbert Jackson with the next starter. When asked about notable buildings in the Derby Gothic style – no, me neither – when I heard the name Ribblehead I too went for viaducts. St. John’s couldn’t capitalise. We were close but no cigar. First in for the next starter to identify the breed of collie was the Imperial skipper Michael Mays. Bonuses on the Musee Marmotan – I guess visitors either love it or hate it – largely passed them by. The picture starter was a UC special, showing two countries, the flags of the neighbouring countries, and asking which one country lay geographically between the two. I had Poland, but the bonuses, more of the same, showed Max Zeng is a master at this sort of question. On the three bonuses – more of the same – if we’d both been greyhounds he’d have caught the electric hare before I was even out of the trap. Highly impressive. It meant that as we approached the ten minute mark Imperial led by 55 – 20.

That man Zeng again took the next starter knowing that two battles mentioned took place near the city of Prague. Bonuses on Ancient India saw all other Imperial heads turn to Max Zeng, and he didn’t let them down, swatting all three bonuses to the boundary. Something was needed from St. John’s and it came in the shape of a very speedy buzz from skipper Jonathan Chan, who won the buzzer race to say that it was Turner who was strapped to the mast in a thunderstorm. (That was his story). Birds on the red list of conservation concern of the RSPB saw them take just the one bonus, but at least the scoreboard was moving again for them. Fatima Shariff recognised John Polidori’s work I think which led her to say that the next starter required the answer of Vampire. Three questions followed on words that look as if they are oxymorons based on their etymology saw Imperial take another rfull house, thank you very much. Yet again the reply came from St. John’s in the form of very sharp buzzing by the captain, who worked out that the culinary herb made from two personal pronouns is thyme. Great question, great buzzing. Two bonuses took them to 55, but the gap to Imperial was looking ominous still. Nobody recognised the work of Liszt for the next starter, however the moment JP mentioned the Sorceror’s Apprentice during the next starter I would imagine that voices throughout the land were suddenly shouting “Fantasia!” at the screen. I was. Jonathan Chan won that particular buzzer race to earn the music bonuses. Symphonic poems influenced by Liszt were on the liszt for the bonuses. Which did no good for me, but saw Jonathan Chan consolidate the excellent evening he was having by taking all three. However the next starter was on Geography, a subject which Max Zeng was proving ubeatable on and he quickly identified Uzbekistan as the answer to the nest starter. A tricky set on literature saw them take just the one bonus. Taking their atomic numbers, what element is calcium minus fluorine? Working out 20 – 9 and then working out that number 11 is sodium, all before Max Zeng buzzed in with the same answer, well, I’m very sorry, but if that isn’t enough to earn me my second lap of honour, then I don’t know what is. I took it, anyway. All of which meant I was too knackered to properly listen to the bonuses on mathematical notation, but whatever they were, Imperial had a full house. I thought that both teams sat on their buzzers a bit for the next starter but as soon as it became obvious we were talking about the Battle of Waterloo, Michael Mays won that buzzer race. We got crabs for the bonuses. Ooh, Matron. We both took a full house with that set. All of which meant that as we were on the cusp of the 20 minute mark, Imperial had a match winning lead of 170 – 80.

Which didn’t mean that the remainder of the contest was without interest. St. John’s might not win, but they had every chance of claiming a repechage slot if they could keep slinging buzzer. Jonathan Chan, as he had done all evening, showed the way by buzzing early to identify the second picture starter as the work of Gauguin. Three other works depicting washerwomen brought us both two correct answers. Now, if I said ‘Italian Lake’ and ‘Law enforcement agency’ how quickly would you come up with Garda? Max Zeng beat me to it. Three Bergs provided a brace of bonuses, and put Imperial within a starter of 200. Nobody knew the prefix yotta. Jonathan Chan knew that Jacques Chirac has been both Prime Minister and President of the Fifth Republic. Scientific terms beginning with ax brought just one bonus – sadly none of them referred to the Claws of Axos from Doctor Who – which I referenced in this very blog last week. It was inevitably Jonathan Chan who won the buzzer race to tell us that the US state with an 11 letter name made up of only 5 different letters was Mississippi. He shook his head ironically when JP announced the bonuses were on card games in works of literature – and yes, St. John’s hadn’t been extremely lucky with the bonuses they were given. No marks to them for not knowing Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda, though. One bonus brought them to 130, and their chances of a repechage slot were looking better all the time. Now, be honest. Did you shout out “Dambusters” when the next starter began with ‘Operation Chastise-‘? I did, and threw away an answer, since what was wanted was the name of the secret weapon involved. Louis George came in a raction of a second too early and lost 5 valuable points. Gilbert Jackson mopped that one up with the correct answer of the bouncing bomb. Two bonuses took them to 210. Jonathan Chan pushed his team to probable qualification for the repechage round by answering the next starter that called for quarts and quartz. Bonuses on River saw them drop a couple of answers – no prizes at all for saying that the Dee runs through the Clark ancestral hometown of Dundee. Right, I have a story about the Peter Pomegranate. We were asked pretty much the same question once in a CIU Wales and West of England quiz. My dear mate John said the Mary Rose, and was pretty certain, only to be overruled by my brilliant but wayward friend George Sheldrick. Needless to say, we lost by that one point. I always said that if you cut John open – please don’t – but if you did you would find the words Peter Pomegranate engraved on his heart. Any road up, my man Chan had that one. A UC special set on monarchies and the periodic table took their score to 155. The last buzz of the evening saw St. John’s lose 5, but they should still be fine. Imperial won with 210. 

I can’t help wonder if St. John’s kept their skipper under 24 hour surveillance to make sure nothing could happen to prevent him playing in he repechage. He really was all of his team’s buzzing, a fine individual performance. As for Imperial, this was a strong performance, especially considering the way that St. John’s refused to make it an easy win for them. Best of luck to both teams.

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

A factor of 10 to the power of 24 is denoted by the prefix – yotta. That’s a helluva yotta noughts. Aye thenk yow and goodnight.

Friday, 10 September 2021

Hang onto your bread and butter

 There’s an old saying. I can’t remember which of my quiz mentors said it to me first, but it goes something like this – you win more quizzes by answering the bread and butter questions correctly than by answering caviar questions correctly. By which he obviously meant that there’s a body of knowledge that you get asked about quite a lot in quizzes, and if you have that knowledge, then you’re not going to do badly. Last night’s quiz in the rugby club was, for my team, a good, old fashioned bread and butter quiz. While we by no means had every question right – I’ll come to the last round shortly - - I can’t think of any whythe’ell questions (as in – why the ‘ell is he asking that?) that came up last night. Question master last night was a member of the team we just about scraped past last week, so they were weakened, and right up until the last round a relatively comfortable win looked on the cards. The last round consisted of 10 questions, and we had a five point lead. Now, up to this round, I’d say at least 8 of the questions each round we’d known, and in most of the rounds we’d had one or two correct guesses. Well, we knew 5 for definite in the last round. . . and none of the guesses came off. So while our lead was not completely wiped out, we ended up scraping home by a point.

The most annoying thing about the last round was not that we had the answers on the table for several of the ones we had wrong, and zigged when we should’ve zagged. No, the really annoying thing was that the other ones we had wrong were things that I know that I used to know. Now, not including the family quizzes I made during lockdown, I haven’t made a quiz for the club or anywhere else for probably over 18 months. So not playing in quizzes for much of that time either, I find I’ve lost some of the bread and butter. The shame of it.

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

University Challenge 2022 First Round Heat 9 - Edinburgh v. Peterhouse, Cambridge

 Last night’s 9th first round heat of UC pitted teams from Edinburgh and Peterhouse, Cambridge

The Teams


Ben Russell Jones

Lewis Thomas

Rishi Sundar (capt)

Al Karunaratne

Peterhouse, Cambridge

Beatrix Huissoon

Anamay Shetty

Eli Hong (capt)

Lucy Hart

For the first starter the words ‘San Luis Rey’ saw me shock my nearest and dearest by shouting out ’Bridge!’, which it turned out was the answer. Rishi Sundar had a bit of a rush of blood to the head and buzzed in too early which allowed Peterhouse a little thinking time, and then Lucy Hart supplied the right answer. The first set of bonuses were on international trade and brought ten further points on a relatively gentle set. Al Karunaratne opened the scoring for Edinburgh when he recognised that the next starter question was leading towards the answer of samovar. To be fair he did seem mightily pleased by it too. A full house of bonuses on letters of the Greek Alphabet were dispatched to the boundary in short time. Eli Hong won the buzzer race for the next starter, knowing that the family of mammals including weasels and stoats are mustelids. Sadly the bonuses did not ask one of my favourite questions – what is the difference between weasels and stoats? Well weasels are weasily recognised, but stoats are stotally different. Aye thenk yow. Prominent people who share a given name did see my opening burst of 7 on the bounce peter out rather dismally. I’ll leave you to guess which of the two Hannahs I didn’t know. Peterhouse had that, but Edgars and Amys went begging. It was worth sticking with the next question  and holding your nerve, as it did eventually mention Monte Cervino, and as many people know, that’s the Matterhorn. Lewis Thomas certainly knew it for Edinburgh. Sweden and Switzerland in the 20th century brought them another full house, and rather impressed JP in the process. So to the picture starter, and a county highlighted on a map of England. Ben Russell Jones was close-but-no-cigared with Bedfordshire, while Beatrix Huisson scored a bullseye with Buckinghamshire. For the bonuses, other places associated with lace making were highlighted. Peterhouse managed one. This meant that at just past the 10 minute mark, they led with 50 to 45. They’d outscored Edinburgh 3 – 2 on starters, but profligacy with bonuses meant that this was looking like a tight contest.

Lewis Thomas grabbed the lead for Edinburgh by recognising that Le Roi Soleil, or Louis XIV, was the answer to the next starter. Technical terms beginning with the same three letters saw them take a third consecutive full house of bonuses. Lewis Thomas showed some really nifty buzzing recognising the start of the subtitle of Brideshead Revisited before I did. I did think that parallel worlds in fiction might give me a shout – but it was (for me) the wrong kind of fiction, although to be fair I did know Stranger Things. Lewis Thomas took his hattrick knowing that lagopus mutus is the ptarmigan. Here's a quiz history fact. After World War II Penguin launched an imprint specifically for quiz and puzzle books called Ptarmigan, in the same way that Puffins were for children, and Pelicans non-fiction. I don’t think that the imprint lasted very long – I’ve only ever found 9 books that were published under it. Which has nothing whatsoever to do with the bonuses on philosophers which furnished Edinburgh with a further 2 correct answers. In the space of 4 minutes Edinburgh had opened a 65 point lead, and things were looking ominous for Peterhouse. For the music starter Ben Russell Jones recognised the unmistakeable voice of Billie Holiday. She was singing the state song of Georgia. More state songs didn’t do either of us many favours – like me, Edinburgh could only recognise Louis Armstrong. Ben Russell Jones recognised a description of Cardigan Bay to take his second starter on the bounce. Diseases with names that are commonly plural forms saw Edinburgh take two of the three, and to be fair, I didn’t know yaws either. What’s yaws?, as you might say. And yet the agony continued for Peterhouse, as skipper Rishi Sundar correctly gave the name of Arrhenius as the scientist who won the 1903 Nobel Prize for something or other. English towns ending in -ham with notable parish churches brought just the one bonus, but it was all starting to look increasingly academic at this point. Al Karunaratne recognised the name of a space centre that is in the United Arab Emirates. This meant that every member of Edinburgh had now scored at least one starter since Peterhouse had managed their last one. ‘Orange’ in History saw Edinburgh take another full house, to put them just one starter away from a double hundred on 190. This middle ten minutes of the contest had been that relative rarity, a complete shutout as Peterhouse remained on 50.

I read “The Underground Railroad” a couple of years ago, so recognised it in the next starter. So did Ben Russell Jones. A relatively gentle set on Geography gave a full house. For the second picture starter we were shown an abstract painting by Tracy Emin. “No,” intoned JP, “It’s by Tracy Emin and it’s Ruined”. Was there a hint of irony there, Jez? None of us got that one. At last Peterhouse won a buzzer race as Lucy Hart buzzed into give the answer ‘Axion’ to the next starter. Wasn’t he defeated by the Third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee? The picture bonuses, showing work by other artists who had works exhibited alongside Tracy Emin’s, saw them take a quick full house. To be fair they needed a few more of those to give them a hope of a repechage slot, but at least it was possible. For the next starter, both teams displayed enviable nerve in waiting and waiting, but almost inevitably as soon as the name Batavia made the question clear it was Lewis Thomas who buzzed in with Jakarta. Now, it had been a long time coming, but knowing that the shape of the area where two circles intersect is called a lune brought me my first opportunity for a lap of honour around the sofa, and I’m not the kind of chap to turn my nose up at that. Edinburgh only took the one bonus, but by now it was all academic anyway. I didn’t really get the next question, but Rishi Sundar said the answer was Hilbert and that was good enough for Jeremy P so it was good enough for me. Former names of capital or former capital cities brought another 2, and at this stage a potential 300 points did not look totally impossible. Lewis Thomas, who’d had a splendid match, worked out that the word libertine was the one derived from a term for a freed slave in Ancient Rome. Things mentioned in Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” brought two bonuses. Trying for the full set to take Edinburgh to 300, Rishi Sundar came in too early for the next starter, losing 5. They could afford it. I’ll be honest, I didn’t understand the question, but Lucy Hart came in with a superbly precise answer with decimal points and minus numbers. Words that appear in the title of the Japanese video game franchise Tales Of sadly did not offer Peterhouse the chance to increase their score, as we were gonged with the score on 270 – 80 to Edinburgh.

I don’t really know what went wrong with Peterhouse. Only they could say whether it was a case of genuinely not having a Scooby about all of those starters, or whether Edinburgh really were that much faster on the buzzer. It’s hard lines, because I got the feeling they were better than the score suggested.

As for Edinburgh, though, well they looked pretty much as good as the score suggested. They have buzzing throughout the team, and cover quite a wide range of ground. Time will tell whether they can outbuzz other teams the way that they outbuzzed Peterhouse, but you have to say that based on this showing, they do look a bit tasty.

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

John Ruskin swooned the first time he saw Grantham Parish Church. Silly sod.

Saturday, 4 September 2021

A Question of A Question of Sport

Suppose I had put a less obvious title to this post, and I asked you the question – which TV quiz show began in 1970, and has run for 51 series? What would you have answered? In some ways Mastermind would be the closest fitting wrong answer – having begun in 1972, and run for 45 series – 3 of which were broadcast on Radio4, and one of which was broadcast on the Discovery Channel.  But, not, it’s A Question of Sport.

Cards on the table, I’ve rarely written about Question of Sport in the past on the blog because , well, certainly since I started the blog in 2008 QOS has been as much an entertainment show as anything else. And if you take it as that, then it’s worked pretty well. I’m fortunate enough to have played in charity quizzes against both Matt Dawson and Phil Tufnell, and what you saw on TV seemed to me what you got in real life. Now, the thing about the Barker – Dawson – Tuffers set up was so much of your enjoyment depended on how much you liked the three of them. If, say, you found Tuffers got on your nerves – I didn’t, but I know people who did – then there was progressively less and less pure quiz content for you to get your teeth into as the years went on.

The new series kicked off this week, and so I decided to give it a go. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too hopeful when I saw that Paddy McGuinness was presenting. Don’t get me wrong, I think that Paddy is an assured and comfortable broadcaster, whose manner would be at home on the show. However, the show has always been presented by either someone respected within the sporting community like David Coleman, or a former sportsperson like Sue Barker. Paddy’s presence made me wonder if we were going to be moving even closer to Sky TV’s “A League of Their Own”. Like the BBC’s own “They Think It’s All Over” of a couple of decades ago, there are occasionally sports questions in the show, but it’s far more interested in extracting comedy and entertainment from the captains and the guests.  Which is great, and it’s an entertaining show. A sports quiz though?

If you haven’t watched the show for about 20 years, well, it’s quite a bit different from how you remember it. Still, what I did like was that the two team captains, Sam Quek and Ugo Monye, don’t yet have the kind of relationship between them that Daws and Tuffers had. The show had become very much about the banter between the two of them, and so at least this has freed up some more space for sports questions.

However, that having been said, I really don’t like the section where the two captains have to try out a sport and compete to win a couple of points. This is the sort of thing they do in “A League of their Own”. The thing is, though, in that show they do it for laughs, to make the captains/participants look a bit ridiculous. And this is the sort of thing you can’t afford to do by halves. So when you have the two team captains who were both sportspeople who reached the top of their game, doing a sport which is unfamiliar to them quite well, but obviously nowhere near as well as people who actually do the sport, then it just doesn’t work. In a quiz show, this sort of thing is just pointless padding. I’d

I’ll be honest, I only tuned in after seeing a couple of extremely negative reviews in a couple of the national papers. Well, to be honest, I think this was a little unfair. It’s still pretty watchable – although purely as a matter of personal taste I’d like to see still more genuine quiz content. The Home and Away round went the way of all flesh some time ago, and that’s a shame. Surely there must be enough clips available to start doing the What Happened Next as well. There you go, though, If you haven’t watched the new series yet, I’d give it a try and make your own mind up.

So - is the spark still there?

In all honesty I’m not sure. I a post that I made a few days ago I explained how a chance meeting with one of the regulars from the quiz at the rugby club led to me thinking seriously about giving it a go and seeing how I felt. I enlisted my youngest daughter and my son in law, and we decided to have a go.

For my first 25 years or so playing in this particular quiz we always began at about 9:15, which meant that we wouldn’t finish before 11, and often it would be around 11:30. The thing is, though, I’m no spring chicken any more. Bitter experience over the last two or three years has shown me that if I’m going to teach the next day, then I really have to be in bed by 10:30. That’s one of the reasons why I stopped going. Well, after the first lockdown, when the quiz did come back it was shifted to start at 8, which is certainly a good development for me.

Thursday’s quiz was a good, old fashioned General Knowledge quiz – 8 rounds of 10 questions. In the final analysis, I feel that we probably benefitted from not having a handout. To be honest, for the first 5 rounds, we seemed to be really playing for second place. In these rounds the best we could do was to post the same score as the leaders, and in 3 rounds we lost a point to them. Then in round 6 we wiped out the deficit, and in round 7 we established a 3 point lead. I’m not really sure how that happened, other than there were quite a few either/or questions in both rounds, where we zagged correctly, and maybe the other team zigged. We held on to 2 of the 3 point lead we took into the round.

So I’m buzzing about going back, and getting a win? No, actually, I’m not. Which really surprises me. When we last went to the quiz for several weeks in August last year, I was absolutely bouncing when we managed a few wins. Now, meh, so what? But then that may well be a good thing. If you twisted my arm, I’d admit that I’ve always taken quizzes too seriously. And I’ll be honest, there was another good sign when I didn’t badger the question master after he asked, “Who scored the first 147 break at the snooker World Championship?” You see, as I see it, the answer to the question the way that it has been asked is John Spencer. For whatever reason, the TV cameras were not running at the time, and it was several years before Cliff Thorburn came along and did it in front of the cameras. Rather than hectoring the question master, whom I don’t know, we just played the man rather than the ball and wrote down Cliff Thorburn. That was the answer he gave.

We’ve invited a couple of Jess and Dan’s friends to join us next week, so we’ll see how much we enjoy that. One thing I don’t see myself doing, though, is volunteering to compile the quiz for the foreseeable future. 25 years is enough, I’ve done my whack with that.