Thursday, 28 October 2021

Winning Combination

You know, time was when I would seek out any new TV quiz show, watch it carefully, analyse it and then offer my opinion in this very blog. Well, that practice went the way of all flesh some time ago. Had it not been for the fact that this is the half term break from school, then I might never have seen ITV’s Winning Combination, which I watched for the first time earlier this week. Apparently this is the second series – I didn’t know there had ever been a first.

The show is presented by Omid Djalili. My first thought was that he might actually be too good for the show. I’ve enjoyed his stand up in the past and I was afraid his talents might have been wasted here but to be honest I thought he just about managed to stay on the right side of irritating in this show. In some of the very best TV quiz shows, a strong format means that you really don’t need a presenter whose personality fills the screen, but I don’t think that this is one of those. I think that a bland, generic presenter would be detrimental in this case.

As for the format, well it’s not without interest, but on the same hand, not without problems. There are three types of round. The first type sees a question being asked, and a range of possible answers start to pop up on the screen. Once two correct answers have popped up, you can buzz in and identify them. Get it right you go through to the next battle round. Once 5 players have progressed to the battle round, then we play said round. In the battle round each of the  players starts with 5 points. They must buzz in to answer a question. Get it right and not only do they get another point, they also get to take one away from another player. Get it wrong and they lose one of their own. The player with the most points after 2 minutes and a tie break if necessary goes through to sit in the final combination. Each player has their own number. So if you had 9, for example, it would make more sense to sit in the thousands column. The other 4 players go back and join the rest. This continues until there are 4 players sitting in the final combination. The other 5 leave with nothing.

In the final, then, the team have 30 seconds to answer questions. So let us say that the final combination is 4321. The first player has to answer 1 question correctly, then it immediately passes to the second who must answer 2 correctly, then the third with 3, and the last player with 4. To make it possible, for every correct answer the team are given  extra seconds. If they complete the combination, then each one receives an equal share of the £4321 jackpot. If they fail, then they don’t even get their bus fare home.

You might be surprised by what I’m going to say now, but there’s actually quite a bit that I liked about Winning Combination. I liked the finding the correct two questions in the selection rounds. That takes a bit of knowledge (or a lot of luck). I like a quickfire quiz, so I enjoyed the battle rounds as well. I wouldn’t mind playing in either of these rounds. I will be honest, when I watch a TV quiz I am rather misanthropic, inasmuch as I am not the least bit interested in the life stories of any of the players, and don’t care to be told any funny little facts about them. One odd thing about the show is that every now and then Omid stops the proceedings to ask one of them “Tell us something we don’t already know about you?” Well, frankly, we don’t know anything about them other than their name anyway, Omid, and what’s more, it’s totally irrelevant to the game. Omid is a little more acerbic than your typical host, and this makes this aspect of the show just a little more bearable.

I’ll be honest though, I do find the -selection round, then battle round, then selection round, then battle round and so on format to be rather repetitive. You get something similar in ‘Impossible’, but at least you only have 3 finalists in this show. By the time we got round to our 4th selection round in Winning Combination, then I was a little bored with it. Then there’s the final round. On the one hand it looks relatively fiendish. It makes sense that the player with the highest number sits in the thousands, and so he or she has the largest number of questions to answer, with the least amount of time. Fiendish. Except it isn’t really. If you combine 9 + 8 + 7 + 6 it comes to 30. Which is exactly the same as if you combine 6 + 7 + 8 + 9. So it doesn’t really matter what order you have to answer the questions in, your team still has to answer the same number of questions. What struck me, as I watched, was that the level of knowledge we’d seen from the contestants during the show meant that it looked extremely unlikely that they’d win, and indeed they didn’t. I’ve only watched one edition of the show, so I could be wrong on this, but I would have thought a team actually managing to win would be very much the exception rather than the normal outcome. It left me feeling a little flat, if I’m honest. I made a comparison with Impossible earlier. At least on Impossible you still have the possibility of taking home the daily prize pot, even if you don’t win the jackpot.

Did I like it enough to want to watch it again? Fair question, and all I can tell you is this. I watched the show on Monday. I haven’t watched it since. At no point have I said to myself – well, I won’t be watching that again – but also at no point in the last couple of days have I made the conscious choice to watch it, in the way that I make a conscious choice to watch Pointless and House of Games every day.

Themed Quiz

If it hadn’t been the half term break, then I doubt that I would have gone to the quiz in Neath’s Gwyn Hall last night. Every month there’s a film based quiz on a Wednesday evening. You might recall that I posted about the last one, which was all abut the official James Bond films. Last night – well, bearing in mind the time of year, see if you can guess which genre it was about. Yes, being the last Wednesday in October, and close to Halloween, it was Horror films.

Now, you must, by all means, feel free to dismiss this next observation as proof of my self-centred arrogance, but I’m going to say it anyway. Fact is, in my 33 year long quiz career I’ve rarely experienced being a passenger in a quiz team. Well, I was last night, and going into the quiz I was pretty sure that this was going to be the case. I don’t watch that many films any more, and this really isn’t my favourite genre anyway. Yes, if the questions had covered horror from the birth of cinema, through the Universal era of the 30s, and the B movie shockers of the 50s, then maybe I would have had a few more than the 4 or 5 I managed to answer. But then again, maybe not.

It's a long time since I last played in a proper Halloween themed quiz. As I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned more than once in the past, I don’t often enjoy a themed quiz as much as a general quiz. After all, to get enough good questions on just the one subject is, I would imagine, a lot harder than getting enough good questions for a general quiz. Which means that more often than not, a themed quiz can end up rather flawed. Even if the questions are brilliant, I can still find myself becoming bored with it. I can’t remember which one of my friends said, “There’s a limit to the number of questions you should ever ask about bats in one evening.” after the first themed Halloween quiz I played in, but the truth of this has stayed with me ever since.

For all that, though, I have to say that there was one genuinely excellent question asked last night. I’ve been out of circulation for a long time, so for all I know this is a chestnut that has done the rounds in the last few years, but it’s the first time that I’ve heard it: -

In which year was Jaws 19 due to be released?

I will post the answer in the comments with this post.

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

University Challenge 2022: Repechage 2: Emmanuel, Cambridge v. Royal Northern College of Music

The Teams

Emmanuel, Cambridge

Nicole Pullinger

Nicholas Thatte

Cara Malcolm

James Wrathall

Royal Northern College of Music

Keelan Carew

Dominic Wills

Lila Chrisp

Alex Robarts

Shall we take a quick glance at the form guide, dearly beloved? Last time out Emmanuel lost by a mere 5 points to St. Andrews. RNCM were beaten more conclusively by Dundee, but only by 10 points, having scored exactly the same as Emmanuel did in their match. So on paper, there looked to be nothing in it, however I do always feel that a specialist institution such as RNCM is always going to be at a disadvantage in as much as their opposition are likely to have in depth knowledge about a greater range of subjects. Time would tell.

You had to wait with the first starter, and then strike like a coiled cobra the moment it became clear. That’s what Keelan Carew did –  for me he was the pick of the RNCM buzzers last time out. Roman Emperors gave them two bonuses – I was pleased with myself for recognising Vespasian for the last. I understand Alex Robarts going for Gladstone as the soon to be PM who supported the mild expansion to the franchise in the 1867 Reform Bill, but I was actually Disraeli who stole a ride on the coat tails of this particular measure and rode it to the top of the greasy pole. James Wrathall opened his team’s account with this one. Place names in England ending with – ham – brought a single bonus. Respect to James Wrathall for knowing a couple of cities in Mauritania – for me, if it ain’t Nouakchott, then a Scooby I ain’t got. Words beginning with v and ending with l brought two correct answers. So to the picture starter. We saw titles of a particular author’s work in different languages. It was Lila Chrisp who recognised the work of Agatha Christie. Three more of the same – albeit with different authors – brought them an impressive full house. There is such a thing as knowing too much. Recognising the names of two of Les Six composers, Lila Chrisp jumped in too early for the next starter and lost 5 when the question took a wee bit of a swerve since it was just asking for the word marimba. Cara Malcolm plucked that piece of low hanging fruit. A set of bonuses on kinetic art was announced- bet Alexander Calder comes up here, I muttered. He kind of did, too. Emmanuel managed 1 bonus. This meant that on the ten minute mark, we had what seemed to be a nicely balanced contest with Emmanuel just ahead on 50 to RNCM’s 40.

I’m pretty certain that I have never before heard of chirality, but it brought Nicholas Thatte the next starter. Chirality begins at home? Pioneer species of trees brought them just one bonus. Neither team had Arte Povera for the next starter. Nope, me neither. My third successive nul points starter came with ‘nocebo’. Haven’t heard of that one but Nicholas Thatte had. Now, Astronomy is one of the few areas of Science that there is ever any slight chance of me knowing the answer, so albeit that knowing that Titan was the 6th moon of the Solar System to be discovered is not the most impressive display of knowledge, I was grateful to take a lap of honour for this one. Emmanuel only took 1, but they were extending their lead. James Wrathall put them close to triple figures recognising some landmarks in Tamil Nadu. They didn’t quite break through the barrier on this visit to the table, but their lead had grown to 55 points, and RNCM really needed to get a starter. Well, the music starter certainly offered them an opportunity. Keelan Carew identified th composer as Mozart, and they were away. They duly took a full house on three more composers, and JP was moved to ask ‘Is it ridiculously easy?’ which I thought was, well, I don’t know, but if another team had a full set on let’s say, physics, I’m sure he wouldn’t ask the same question. Any road up, nobody knew that the Berne convention began moves to establish a system of international copyright for the next starter. Cara Malcolm won the buzzer race to identify Doggerland as submerged beneath the North Sea. Emmanuel then duly followed with a full set on Hindu festivals. Cara Malcolm took her second starter in a row knowing that Rottnest Island off the Australian mainland is known for its population of quokkas. Keelan Carew was penalised for a buzz which can’t have been much more than a nano second too early. Another full house on psychology saw Emmanuel take a lead of 145 – 60 at the 20 minute mark, and it was starting to feel as if they had a choke hold on the contest now.

Alex Robarts offered his team a lifeline recognising the discontinued Olympic sport of Tug of War. Autarchy (they made their debut in the Doctor Who serial ‘Spearhead from Space’ in 1970) offered little but RNCM still managed 2 bonuses. Cara Malcolm was in very quickly to recognise author Chimamanda Nigozi Adichie for the second picture starter. Other winners of the UK Women’s Fiction Prize in its various forms brought one bonus. Didn’t matter. For my money Emmanuel were already beyond the event horizon. Nonetheless, Lila Chrisp won the buzzer race for the next starter to recognise Fantine, Cosette and Marius from Les Miserables. Now, for the electricity bonuses I had to award myself another lap of honour for guessing silver has the lowest resistivity. I didn’t know it, but I did know that silver has the highest conductivity, so guessed this would be a good shout. I didn’t have a scooby about the other two questions and neither, sadly did RNCM. Still, they took the next starter when Dominic Wills knew that the National Forest is partly in Staffordshire. This put RNCM into triple figures, and the bonuses fell kindly for them on Franz Liszt. They duly took a full house. I took the science starter that came next , since it’s an old chestnut that magnetite is one of the main ores of iron – haematite being another. Nicholas Thatte took that one, and Emmanuel were marching away again. A couple of bonuses on the Arctic Ocean meant that they were just one set away from a second hundred. Neither team knew faience for the next starter. Neither team knew Spiro Agnew – all too young – and nobody recognised a definition of the word clone. Me neither. I did know the next starter, that the constellation Monoceros is also called the unicorn, as did Nicholas Thatte. That was it – the contest was gonged, and Emmanuel took a clear win with 180 to 115.

I thought RNCM did well. As I said at the start of the review, specialist institutions must be at a disadvantage, but this team have a knowledge that goes well beyond their own subject. Guys, you gave a fine account of yourselves. Well done to Emmanuel, though. With three members of the team supplying quick buzzes for starters, I don’t think that any team will find them a pushover in the next round.

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

The German word for Mermaid is Meerjungfrau

Monday, 25 October 2021

Mastermind 2022: First Round Heat 8

Good evening, dearly beloved. I’m enjoying my half term holiday, thanks for asking. No overnight trips planned this time.

So, let’s get down to business, shall we? First up tonight, well, first up tonight was Gill Woon. I know Gill through the wonders of the internet, but even before I made her acquaintance this way, I knew that Gill was runner up to Mary Elizabeth Raw in the 1989 Mastermind Grand Final. So, bearing in mind Gill’s pedigree, I thought that she’d be my favourite for the win tonight. Gill, I can only apologise for burdening you with the often fatal support from the Clark sofa. Gill was answering on the Fauna of the Galapagos Islands, and although Gill knew a hell of a lot more about the subject than I do, she scored 5 with no passes. Sometimes the questions won’t fall for you, and when that happens there’s not a lot you can do.

Next up was Nigel Booth, answering on The Mighty Boosh. Last week I scored a couple of points on Buffy The Vampire Slayer despite never having watched an episode, and this week I did the same with the Mighty Boosh. In all honesty I don’t know how it was that I never got round to watching it, but it’s just one of those things. There’s loads of shows that I only ever got into several years after everybody else had and I suppose there’s a fair number where I just missed the boat completely, this being one of them. Nigel certainly didn’t miss the boat and scored a perfectly respectable 7.

Mark Eaden, our third to go, offered UEFA Champions League Finals. I have a feeling that Shaun offered something very similar for one of his subjects when he won in 2004. And it must be said that Mark put in the specialist round of someone with serious designs upon at least this heat, if not the whole series. His was clearly the specialist round of the night, and I’m glad to say the 4 points I gained doubled my aggregate for the evening so far.

The last contender to go tonight, Eleanor Ayres, was taking on Catherine de Medici for her specialist subject. Very well she did too, I often fancy my chances on a round about a historical figure like this one, but the only one I managed to answer was that her daughter in law was Mary ‘Hoots, where’s ma heid gone?’ Queen of Scots.

All of which meant that Gill was first to return to the chair. Now, sometimes you really get to see what someone is made of from the way that they deal with adversity. I can’t say what happened in Gill’s specialist, but I’ve definitely been in the position of finding the questions just falling against you. In such a situation all you can do is just focus on answering the next, and the next, and I think it’s fair to say that, following the adversity of her specialist round, Gill showed herself to be a quizzer of some substance in the way she dealt with her GK round. I felt that if she could whack in a round of 15 or more she could still win. For the first minute, it certainly looked as if she had every chance of doing so. Alas, in many of the best GK rounds we’ve seen in this series, the contenders have had to negotiate a bit of a slowing down in the middle of the round, and to be fair to Gill, this she did. She kept going, and at the end of the round had scored 13 to take her total to 18. Could it be enough? Well, possibly . . .

It would turn out, though, that all of the contenders in tonight’s show were better than average when it came to GK. Nigel Booth needed 11 and no passes to equal Gill, and 12 and any number of passes to overhaul her score. He certainly gave it a lash. This was not a case of a contender tiptoeing gently through the corridor of doubt. No, he forged onwards, and you could actually see the frustration of getting some of the answers wrong written on his face. However a moment of weakness saw him pass, and the end of the round arrived before the tape of the finishing line. Nigel scored double figures, and that’s a good performance. But 10 gave him 17, and Gill was still in the lead.

Eleanor Ayres was doing even better than Nigel did, though. Again, this was another contender who did not seem at all daunted by the scale of the task ahead of her. This is not to say that she answered everything correctly. However she did answer a large proportion of her questions correctly, and importantly she did it quickly and without passing. It sounds a simple thing to say – answer what you know correctly, answer what you don’t know quickly and don’t pass – but it really does take composure, concentration and presence of mind to do it when you’re sitting in the chair. By the end Eleanor had scored 12 and raised the target to 21 points.

This meant that Mark actually needed a double figure performance in order to a least take the match to a tie break, and 11 to win outright. At the risk of repeating myself, he did not seem daunted by the task, and although I didn’t feel he was answering quite as quickly as Eleanor did, he was knocking off the points needed, and he wasn’t passing. I somehow doubt that he had a clue as to whether he’d got there or not when the round ended – I was never able to keep count while I was in the chair – but I suspect he didn’t know until Clive told him the score, and the fact that he’d fallen a mere 1 point short. It’s hard- I know, I’ve been there myself – but you have every right to focus on the positive and how well you’ve done. That’s what I did at the time.

So well done, Eleanor. I wish you good luck in the semis. Well played to all 4 of our contenders tonight, another good show.

The Details

Gill Woon

Fauna of the Galapagos Islands







Nigel Booth

The Mighty Boosh







Mark Eaden

UEFA Champions League Finals







Eleanor Ayres

Catherine de Medici







Sunday, 24 October 2021

"He's not going to start coming here, is he?"

My son Mike played in a quiz in Coity in Bridgend last Tuesday. His team came second, and he told me that when they had a chat with the team who won, my name reared its ugly head. I’m not exactly sure how – but it did, and the other team’s reaction was words to the effect of ‘Oh God, he’s not going to start coming here, is he?” According to Mike they calmed down a bit and seemed mollified when Mike told them that I hadn’t been invited, and even if I had I probably wouldn’t come because I only go to one quiz anymore, and I’d only started going back to that one recently. Mike reckoned that they’d been part of the Bridgend Quiz League during the years I’d played from 2010-16. Their argument went something like this – “This is just a nice friendly quiz, and nobody takes it that seriously.” Then it went something like this – “If he came we’d never have a chance of winning.” Honestly, I’m not making this up or embellishing it to big myself up, this is what they actually said.

You know, I have a nasty little metaphorical quiz devil that pops up on my shoulder sometimes and whispers suggestions in my ear. Nowadays I rarely listen to it, but there was a time when, If I’d been told something like this, then I would have made a point of going to the quiz the next time it was on. Yes, I’d have justified it to myself with the observation that there was a disconnect between their two statements and that if nobody takes it that seriously then you wouldn’t care if you don’t win. There was a time when I’d have said that if winning matters that much to you, then start learning stuff, make yourself a better player and increase your chances that way, rather than just hoping that a better team never turn up. But that was then. Now, I can honestly say that I hope they enjoy the quiz, and I promise that I won’t be there.

I understand the desire to win, believe me, I do really understand that. I don’t recall ever entering a quiz without wanting to win. Yes, many times I’ve entered a quiz feeling it’s unlikely that I’m going to win, and many times this feeling has been correct. But I’ve still wanted to win. So I do know how frustrating it can be when situations change, and you find you’re no longer the strongest team in a particular quiz. I remember several years ago in a Sunday evening quiz in Bryncoch. John and I were the strongest team for several years, then another friend of mine, Rob, a Brain of Britain runner up started coming with quite a larger team. He’s a great quizzer anyway, and the rest of his team were no slouches. They were too strong for me and John. Still we didn’t stop going, in fact the only reason we stopped going a year or two later was when the new landlord changed it form a pure quiz, to a Family Fortunes style guessing game. I can stand going to a quiz I’m likely to lose. I can’t stand going to a quiz which is just a guessing game, though, and not a very interesting one at that.

A similar thing happened in the rugby club. When I started the quiz would usually be a contest between my team, and the team containing my dear friends John and Alan. When I started we would win 2 or 3 quizzes out of every 10, and they’d win the rest. As I got better as a quizzer, largely through becoming a regular question setter, we matched them, and then started to win more than they did. Rob joined their team, and we had some cracking matches. Alan got ill, John stopped coming, and we had a period of dominance. It didn’t stop Rob coming. Eventually some strong players joined Rob and Claire, and our team started to weaken as we lost players to illness, or just stopping coming. Eventually it was just myself and long standing team member George, against a very good and strong Rob’s team. I didn’t stop coming. Well, not until about 6 months before lockdown.

I’ve just realised that I don’t really know where I’m going with this post. But I guess the point is that I’d like to think that I’m sufficiently mature now that I’d still want to keep going to the quiz on the Thursday nights even if we didn’t win another quiz before Christmas.

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

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

The Teams


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







Dean Ward

The Life and Work of Margaret Thatcher







Marianne McKillop

Buffy The Vampire Slayer







David Howard

Venomous Snakes of Africa







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


Mark McParlan

John Robinson

Michael Joel Bartelle (capt)

Jaimy Sajit


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







Tara Jackson-Rigchung

Martin Luther







Sam Anderson

The films of Paul Thomas Anderson







Richard Aubrey

Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister