Saturday, 29 January 2022

University Challenge Quarter Final Round - St. John's Cambridge v. Emmanuel, Cambridge

The Teams

St. John’s, Cambridge

Thomas Clark

Louis George

Jonathan Chan (capt.)

Kiana Ouyang

Emmanuel, Cambridge

Nicole Pullinger

Nicholas Thatte

Kara Malcolm (capt)

James Wrathall

Yes, I know, what the hell happened on Tuesday? Or Wednesday? Or Thursday or yesterday, for that matter? Well, it’s a fair cop, guv. I know that I usually post on a Tuesday, but as it was I didn’t get round to Mastermind until Tuesday this week, for reasons explained in that post, and well, I always promised myself that if I was going to have a reasonable stab at keeping the blog going, then I wouldn’t pressure myself to post on a specific day if I just really didn’t have the time. So, sorry – I’ll try to be more prompt next week.

Enough of that. Let’s look at the form book. St. John’s have looked good value since narrowly losing their first-round match, beating both UCL and QMC of London. Emmanuel also lost in the first round but came good in the repechage. So both of these teams were already battle hardened, and this held out the prospect of a close match.

First blood was drawn by Thomas Clark, who, apart from sharing a name with my grandfather, knew the latin origins of the word trivia. St. John’s were unlucky to only take one bonus on events of 1991, offering Mercosud rather than Mercosur. James Wrathall opened Emmanuel’s account, knowing that a rooster is the creature appearing on various coats of arms that we were offered. The 20th century synthesis movement in Science brought me an early opportunity for a lap of honour for knowing that Thomas Huxley was ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’, but on a whim I spurned it for being a good old quiz chestnut. Two correct answers brought Emmanuel the lead. However, when I correctly guessed that Tar Camphor is napthalene I decided to take the lap of honour while the going was good. Neither team had that. Jonathan Chang took the next starter, knowing that Rothko, Pollock et al were exponents of abstract expressionism. Borges Book of Imaginary Beings brought us both a full house. So to the picture starter, where we were given a picture of a type of stage. I was rather surprised that neither team managed to dredge up proscenium. James Wrathall worked out the county linked by various clues was Northamptonshire. This earned the picture bonuses, inevitably more pictures of different kinds of theatrical staging. We both of us only knew the last one, in the round. So, just before the ten-minute mark the contest was very nicely balanced, with St. John’s leading by just 5 points.

I know nowt about restriction enzymes, but this was the answer to the next starter, and Kiana Ouyang took it. The physicist Maria Goeppert Mayer – (yes another member of the Who? family to us in LAM Towers), provided the bonuses – like me, St. John’s didn’t provide the answers. I knew the next starter referred to a postage stamp, because I remember a Blue Peter item from many decades ago, explaining the difference between definitives and commemoratives. Neither of the teams knew this. Kara Malcolm knew that David Fincher directed Mank in 2021, and knew it very quickly too. A UC special set on pairs of words that differ only through the addition of an extra letter T. I thought Emmanuel did well to take a full house and the lead. A Maths starter which made use of the word integer and I don’t even begin to pretend I understood was correctly answered by Thomas Clark. We both took just the one bonus on important prehistorical sites in England. James Wrathall made his third timely buzz of the evening to identify the 1911 Act of Parliament referred to in the next starter as The Parliament Act. Bonuses on Gonchorova yielded nothing, and still neither team could begin to establish much of a lead over the other. For the music starter Nicole Pullinger was first to buzz in with Holst’s Mars, Bringer of Glucose, Sugar and thick, thick chocolate. Now, the bars (Mars bars?) we heard were marked with an uncommon four fortes, to be played exceptionally loud. Other works with similarly extreme directions were beyond all of us. Jonathan Change knew that the syndrome whose name translates from latin as Horse’s tail is cauda equina. One bonus on Saturn meant that as we approached the 20-minute mark, they now trailed Emmanuel by 5 points.

Now, if you hear the name Maria Branwell, then buzz and just say Bronte. You’ll be right a lot more than you’re wrong. That’s what Jonathan Chang did. Literary bonuses connected with Iceland (the country, not the freezer centre) brought a single bonus. It’s always nice to see Snorri Sturluson get a name check though (not meant to be a joke – I studied Old Icelandic at Uni and loved Snorri’s work.) Nicholas Thatte took his first starter of the evening, recognising a couple of types of feldspar when he heard them. I’ve never played Conway’s Game of Life so scored nowt on the bonuses, but I think Nicholasa Thatte must be a black belt or a grandmaster, since he took a full house. None of us knew Angelique Kidjo for the next starter. Look, if you get a question about a move on a chessboard, 90 of the time it will be the knight, and the next starter was no different. Thomas Clark had that one. Two bonuses on intercropping followed and the arm wrestle continued. I knew that if a stadium in Naples was renamed after someone it was going to be Maradona, for the next starter, and Jonathan Chang won the buzzer race to give the same answer. A full house gave St. John’s a 30 point lead, and I believe that this was the first time in the whole contest when the gap between the teams was greater than the total points for a full set of starter and bonuses. Quite rightly Kara Malcolm was in like a flash to identify the work of My 4x great grandfather’s associate JMW Turner. (great great great great grandpappy was his favourite engraver). So the gap was down to 20 now. Later artists who, like Turner, were influenced by Goethe’s thoughts on colour, brought another 5 points to reduce the gap to 15. James Wrathall knocked ten of these points off by knowing that the Wittelsbach family were once the rulers of Bavaria. Events of years ending in 99 brought the one bonus that they needed to level the scores. Nicholas Thatte won the buzzer race to link Albert Einstein, Nobel Prize and Photo electric effect. Couldn’t have come at a better time either, and Emmanuel must have been tempted to hold the ball by the corner flag and wait for the ref to blow up. As it was there was no need to play for time since the gong struck after one bonus, giving Emmanuel a hard-earned win by 155 to 140.

A very enjoyable match. Do I think either of these teams will win the series. Not at the moment – but nobody is going to get an easy win over either of them. Well played both.

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

The least dense moon of Saturn is Tethys

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Mastermind 2022 Round 1 heat 20

Sorry I’m late, dearly beloved. Yesterday was my daughter’s 30th birthday. What’s that? Yes, of course I’m old enough to have a 30-year-old daughter. She’s not even my oldest, either. My son is 34, and my oldest daughter is 35! Enough of that for now. Let’s talk about last night’s show.

When I saw that Kim Humphreys, last night’s first contender, was answering on the films of Tom Hanks, I thought – yum yum, Dave, fill yer boots, son. I didn’t even fill one toehole of one sock. Like many of the film rounds in this series it concentrated almost entirely on the events of the films rather than production details, and it required a depth of knowledge that I just don’t possess about these films. I thought Kim did very well with this set, albeit that he fell just a little way short of a double figure score. I had two of these.

Second contender, Pam Douglas, was answering on Sir Edward Elgar. This was one of those rounds where I just had the feeling that the contender might have done slightly better with what she was given. It’s difficult to quantify, but I just have times when I watch a specialist round when a question is asked which, even though I don’t know the answer myself, sounds as if it is the sort of thing the contender really should have known. I just had the feeling that Pam’s round, although yielding a respectable 7 points, could have been better. Aright, so I only got the one on Nimrod myself.

Which is one more than I got on Clare Lowe’s round on Bess of Hardwick. Contrary to popular belief this Tudor lady did really exist and wasn’t a joke name invented for Carry On Henry. Look, nobody deliberately posts a modest score on Mastermind. But it does take really focused preparation to guarantee you’ll do much better. As I may have said once or twice before, if you leave gaps in your coverage of the subject, the setters will expose them. Was this what happened to Clare? Only she could answer that, but I did feel for her.

So, with 3 contenders down, and the highest score only 8, if Paul Risebury-Crisp could manage a double figure round on Icelandic songstress Björk, then he would be very much in the driving seat. I managed, um, null, which is Icelandic for sod all. Paul, though, certainly seemed to have prepared his subject thoroughly and seemed to have very little difficulty scoring 10 to put a little daylight between himself and the chasing pack as we moved towards the GK round.

We had the frustrating spectacle last week of good GK contenders throwing in good GK rounds to little effect because of moderate specialist scores. Welcome back to the chair Clare Lowe. Clare managed to put in the pick of last night’s GK rounds, but it was to little or no avail. It’s a shame, but at least being able to point to a double figure round is something.

It was something that Pam Douglas couldn’t boast, sadly, but at least she wasn’t far away from it. Pam put in another respectable round of 9, for an overall respectable total of 16. To be honest, as the round developed, while I felt it was likely that she would beat Clare’s total, I didn’t think it would be by much, and that’s pretty much the way that it went.

Kim Humphreys really needed to whack in the highest round that he could in order to place Paul within the mythical Corridor of Doubt. He scored 9, and with Paul having a 2 point head start you had to think that this was never going to be enough. Once again, a perfectly respectable overall performance, but not one which was every going to win a heat.

Yes, I know that I’ve spoiled the result now, but that’s the kind of evening it was, I’m afraid. You’d have been forgiven for thinking that it was all over by half time, and you’d have been right to draw that conclusion. All of our contenders scored 9 or 10 on GK, which meant that they were all decent on GK, but none of them were good enough to blow the others away.

Well, there it is. Congratulations to Paul, and as always, best of luck in the semi final. Thanks to all the other three contenders – if we didn’t have people willing to put themselves in the firing line then we wouldn’t have a show.

The Details

Kim Humphreys

The films of Tom Hanks







Pam Douglas

Sir Edward Elgar







Clare Lowe

Bess of Hardwick







Paul Risebury-Crisp









Monday, 24 January 2022

Unlimited Win

Look, I have nothing against Ant and Dec. I think that they are very talented presenters. I have never tried to present a TV show myself, but I am pretty certain that it is a very difficult job to do. When you see just how long they have been at the top of the tree, and look at the wide range of very different shows they have presented then it all goes to show, they are very, very good at the job they do. But there’s the rub. Ant and Dec, with their collective metaphorical cupboard bulging with best awards for being the best hosts on the box, are very much ITV’s A Team. So, when I saw that they were presenting ‘Unlimited Win’ my thoughts were – ITV must have high hopes for this if they’re presenting it. Which means it will be big, bold and spectacular, and trying to appeal to a mass, lowest common denominator audience, which really isn’t my cup of tea at all.

It’s not as bad as I feared. The gimmick behind the show is that there is no final jackpot. Players can keep building the jackpot, well into the tens of millions. If they’re good enough. Of course, that just isn’t going to happen in a month of Sundays. Or Saturdays.

It does seem to me that all of ITV’s eggs are in the basket marked ‘potential prize beyond the dreams of avarice’. Don’t knock it. You could argue that this was what made “Millionaire” an overnight smash, all those years ago. But Millionaire had other things going for it, not the least of which was the fact that if you rang in and answered a question correctly, you could soon be on the show yourself. There was also the lifelines too, which added interest. But that was then. This is now.

The game play is, to be honest, pretty simple. It’s one of those shows where contestants not playing against each other. A pair comes on – they may be friends, or sisters, or whatever. Our hosts ask them a timed set of questions to determine how many lives they start with. Okay. Then they are asked the first question. These always have a numerical answer If they get the answer spot on they win the first amount of cash - £2500 I think. If their answer is less than the correct answer, then they can play on but they lose lives, to the tune of the number out they are. So if the answer is 10 and you answer 7, you lose three lives. Once the lives run out, it’s game over. If the answer they give is greater than the correct answer, then they also leave with nothing. Once they are past the first amount of money, they start to play for the second. It really is that simple.

On the show I watched, the first question is a gimme – for example, how many words are in the version of Humpty Dumpty in the show I watched. Yeah, you probably don’t know it – I didn’t, but you can work it out. Just count them up, and that’s what the contestants did. After that, though, it gets harder. I’m trying to remember some of them, but they weren’t the sort of thing you are going to necessarily know. For example, how many years is it since Take That had their first hit single. Early 90s, yes, but oh, so easy to go over. Which means you deliberately underestimate in the hope of getting one you can answer spot on. And it’s on this level that the show works, and has a level of interest.

I watched it with my oldest daughter. The first couple on our show were friends, I think, and with a large total in the bank, instead of cashing in they locked in an answer with only a very small number of lives left. They lost and left with nowt. My daughter shouted at the telly how stup0id they were to do so, totally ignoring the fact that I threw away £15,000 on Millionaire once. The lure of all that cash does strange things to you. Which is, I suppose, another appeal.

Will it catch on. Look, maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think so. We’ve done the mind-bogglingly awesome amounts of cash thing before. And with “Millionaire” although it took years for anyone to win a million, it always looked possible. Because the questions, while you might not know the answers, were fair GK questions. Just look at the questions that Judith had to answer for a million and you’ll see what I mean. With the game mechanics of this show, I can’t see anyone winning a truly awesome amount of cash. But then, what do I know? Not enough to win more than £1000 on Millionaire, that’s for pretty damn sure.

Tuesday, 18 January 2022

University Challenge Quarter Final - Kings College, London v. Imperial College

 The Teams 

Kings London 

Ananth Sathyanath 

Rachel Bedwin 

Atyab Rahid(capt) 

Oliver Beard


Imperial College 

Max Zeng 

Fatima Sheriff 

Michael Mays (capt) 

Gilbert Jackson 

So, let’s begin with the traditional glance over the form book then, shall we? Kings just about beat Glasgow in a low scoring first round match, then showed a clean pair of heels to Hertford, whom they beat 175-115 in the second round. Imperial bust through the 200 barrier in both of their victories, over St. John’s in the first round and then Exeter in the second. The smart money said Imperial to win – but would the smart money be smart enough? 

The first starter gave clues to, amongst other things, the given name of one of the famous Mitford sisters. Atyab Rahid showed his intent by chancing his arm with Nancy, however the required answer was Jessica, which Fatima Sheriff well knew. This brought up bonuses on Boethius. I don’t know more than about three things about him, but those were all covered in the bonuses. Imperial managed the second and third of these. Right, now, last time out I made the point that Max Zeng is extremely good at Geography questions. I think he may have had one wrong last time out though. Well in this game, he opened his account with the Sea of Marmara. Zoological surveys of wildlife in the River Thames again provided two bonuses. Atyab Rashid took Kings’ first points recognising that Elegast is a brown dwarf. I thought he was one of the wizards in “The Lord of the Rings”. Chemical compound bonuses promised me nowt, which is just what they delivered me. If I said that I understood any of the bonuses I’d be lying, but Kings had all of them. So to the picture round. The moment a map came up I thought – in you go, Max Zeng! - and he did, identifying the state of Tamil Nadu and the capital, Chennai. There was a sense of inevitability as he picked up three more Indian state capitals for a full house of bonuses. Nobody was able to identify the Griffith Observatory for the next starter. Another rush of blood to the head saw captain Rahid in too early on the next starter, allowing that man Zeng in to identify the French term Flaneur. Works inspired by earlier artworks just provided a single bonus. That was enough to complete a very effective opening ten minutes for Imperial who led by 80 – 15. 

Nobody could dredge up that it was Blefuscu at war with Lilliput in Gulliver’s Travels. Fatima Sheriff was first in for Imperial to recognise the original meaning of the word tenterhooks for the next starter. Fungi provided nothing in terms of bonuses for any of us. It was a good old quizzers starter next. You’re given up, down , bottom and top so you slam the buzzer down and say ‘strange’ and ‘charm’, being the missing quark flavours. That’s what last night’s supercharged Max Zeng did. It’s also what I did. What’s that you say? Yes, of course I took a lap of honour for it. I’m afraid that my knowledge of They Might Be Giants goes no further than birdhouse in your soul – a song I love if it’s any consolation – so I didn’t manage any of the bonuses. Imperial took all three, which pushed them into a triple figure score and a lead of 95. One couldn’t help feeling that the event horizon was rapidly approaching. With the music starter Michael Mays was in extremely quickly to recognise the Magic Flute. Imperial struggled with the bonuses though, not recognising any of the opera with mothers singing to daughters. Not surprised. There was a hint of Geography in the next starter – which city in Indiana – so it inevitably fell to Max Zeng. I had it right too, but only because Gary is my stock answer to any question beginning with – which city in Indiana. Authors and bank notes brought a full house. It seemed an awfully long time since Kings had put any points on the board, do it was good to see Ananth Sathyanath buzz in to tell us that Hellas is one of the two football teams of Verona – a title that Shakespeare inexplicably passed on for his play. Their bonuses were on thermo dynamics, and yes, I did take a second lap of honour for guessing the Scottish scientist referenced in the third bonus was James Clerk Maxwell. Kings managed one of these. Sadly, Ananth Sathyanath came in too early on the next starter, allowing Fatima Sheriff to identify a list of films belonging to Charlie Kaufman. 2 bonuses on vaulting – fan rather than pole – were enough to ensure that Imperial led by 165 – 25 on the brink of the 20-minute mark. Game over, I’m afraid. 

Landmarks in Taiwan fell to Max Zeng, as the Imperial onslaught continued. Terms beginning with amph – did not unfortunately contain amphitheatre or Amphitryon, so I was out with the washing after amphora, but Imperial took two. Atyab Rahid rediscovered his touch on the buzzer to win the race to identify a picture of Ayatollah Khamanei for the second picture starter. Others among the world’s longest serving leaders brought one bonus but at least the Kings score was moving upwards again. A nice UC starter on films followed, asking who starred in films ending in Glory, Winter etc. Small point of order here. Atyab Rahid offered Hepburn, which JP accepted on the nod. I just thought he might have asked – which one, bearing Audrey in mind. Yes, I know he knew that Kings knew, but that hasn’t stopped him in the past. This only brought one bonus on physiology, but at least Kings were giving themselves a chance to show what they could do. Right – would you accept a third lap of honour? I took this hat trick for guessing that the physics starter that followed was about the something ratio between electrons and protons. Guess who took that for Imperial? What an evening Max Zeng was having. Units of measurement accepted for use with the SI did nothing for any of us. It didn’t matter – this was running the clock down and hastening the inevitable Imperial win. Michael Mays correctly buzzed in early to supply the answer Ethics  (as opposed to Suthics and Middelthics) and earn a set of bonuses on US state panhandles. Fair play to Max Zeng, I give credit to him for not rubbing his hands together and licking his lips. He had all of them though. To be honest, the two of the Great Lakes linked by the Welland Canal is an old chestnut, but everyone seemed to give Max Zeng a clear run. Yes, of course he had it. The Simon Bolivar Orchestra brought us both just the one bonus. The contest was gonged before Max Zeng had the chance to answer another Geography starter – was it just me, or were there quite a lot of these tonight?  

Imperial won by 235 to 50, and let’s be honest, they were pretty good value for their win. Kings aren’t done yet, though. Yes, they’re in the last chance saloon in their next match, but don’t count them out just yet.  

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

The French word ‘flaneur’ is thought to ultimately derive from Old Norse