Sunday, 23 July 2017

Making it easy


I’ve never deliberately tried to ‘scupper’ a team’s chances when I’ve compiled a quiz. For one thing, I would imagine that it’s a far harder thing to do effectively than you might think. For another, though, it goes against the principle which I think should guide you whenever you compile a quiz, You’re not in competition with the teams, no. Any fool can go on the internet and come up with 80 questions which most teams would struggle to answer. What’s the point in that? What you should be trying to do is to produce a quiz which will give as many people as possible an evening’s entertainment. If you stick to this aim, then you’ll have some better quizzes, and some worse quizzes, but by and large you won’t go far wrong. 

I mention this because it was my turn to compile the quiz for the rugby club on Thursday. As it turned out, Thursday was also a red letter day in another way, being the last day of this school year for the good people of my school. Now, I could have told you the result of the quiz before we played. When I’m playing, there are normally just two quizzes really contesting things, my team, and Lemurs, the best team in the quiz. When I play, sometimes we win, more often Lemurs win. When I’m not playing, if Lemurs are there, they win. 

Now, nothing was going to change that, and I’d be a fool if I even thought about manipulating the result. Now sure how I could do it even if I wanted to. But as I was compiling the quiz, I did want to try to make the gaps a little narrower – to give the other teams at least a chance of getting decent scores of their own. The obvious way to do that is to make it easier. Yet, although nobody ever complains that a quiz is too easy, I don’t really think that anyone wants a quiz full of everyday, easy questions. So the answer I came up with was this.

I often use connections in a quiz – three or four questions, where the questions are unconnected, but a link can be made between the answers. Well, this time in each round the first question was a news question, but after that questions 2 – 9 were all connected by their answers, with question 10 being the connection itself. 

So how well did it work? Generally the scores were a lot higher than they normally are when I compile the quiz. Hopefully the teams enjoyed it, but there’s no point me asking, since none of them would tell you to your face even if they hadn’t. They’re nice and polite like that. Lemurs always have a double figure lead over the second place team when I compile the quiz, and this was the first time that their lead over the second placed team stayed within single figures.

Friday, 14 July 2017

I'm not proud of this. . . but . . .

Thinking about this, I'm pretty sure that I would hate to have somebody who behaves like I do on one of the teams when it's my turn to do the quiz in the Rugby Club. I take it all far too seriously, and although I know, understand, and fully accept the rule that "The Question Master Is Always Right - Even When He's Wrong" - but there are times I just can't stop myself from disputing.

Now, if a question master gives a wrong answer to a bread and butter question, that's one thing. The sensible ones will see that every side has put the same answer which isn't his, and amend his answer accordingly. Alternatively he'll do what I've done on more than one occasion, put his hands up and say, look, sorry - you may well all be right, and if the answer I've got here is wrong I apologise, I just don't know enough on the subject, but I have to stick with what I've got. I can live with that.

However, there are other times when the QM will ask what seems to you a difficult question, which you feel most of the other teams won't answer. Take last night : -
"Who was the first Scot to be Prime Minister of England and Scotland, in 1762?"
The date was the giveaway. I wrote down the answer , "The Earl of Bute", feeling pretty pleased with myself. The QM gave the answer: -
"John Stuart". To which I replied,
"Yes, known as Prime Minister by his title , "The Earl of Bute". I wasn't making this up, it's true. If you look on many lists of British Prime Ministers, he's one of those Prime Ministers known by his title, in the same way that Henry John Temple is much more commonly known as Lord Palmerston.
"It's not what I've got here." he replied, not unreasonably adding, "So I can't give you the point."

In the cold light of day I am glad that I did not succumb to the urge to stand up, and metaphorically slap him across the face with my gauntlet and suggest that we settle this with pistols at dawn. I did, on the other hand, spend the rest of the evening moaning to my team about the way that we were being robbed of a good point, about question masters who can't be bothered to check whether there are alternative answers to their questions - look, I'm not going to go on about it, but I wasn't very pleasant at all. A couple of times I deliberately ridiculed his pronunciation of a couple of words - mind you, to be fair he did insist on pronouncing Poitiers as Potty-arse, so there was some mitigation. You're quite right if you think that this was all very childish and pointless - we wouldn't have won even if we had been given the point for the answer.

Which is a shame, because, it wasn't a bad quiz when all was said and done, and did have a great hand out - well, great for me, anyway. We were given a sheet of paper with the titles of about 30 quiz or game shows, and the year they first began, and asked to name the first presenter. You know that I love quiz shows, and so this sort of thing was right up my street. In fact, I was convinced I'd have all of them right, until the QM announced - "What's My Line - 1951 - Gilbert Harding." I had written Eamonn Andrews. Thankfully I resisted the temptation to make a comment, on the possibility that this might be right - and I googled it when I got home. Quite right, Harding presented the premiere, but threw a hissy fit when he was handed the cards about the contestants in the wrong order, or something of that ilk.

Is Food and Drink a problem?

Actually, the title reminds me of an old Morecambe and Wise joke during one of the plays wot Ernie wrote. Eric picks up a bottle and does his thing holding up his arm straight to conceal the fact that he is drinking straight from a bottle concealed behind it. The female guest star, shocked, remarks, words to the effect of - surely you're not a hard drinker, are you? - to which Eric replies - not at all, I find it very easy! -

Wrenching myself back onto the subject, in an email conversation with a quizzing friend this week, he asked me whether I felt it was fair to say that Food and Drink is a subject that is problematical even to good quizzers. Interesting question, and I thought I would share my thoughts with the world in general on this one. As always, this really is just my opinion, and feel free to disagree: -

The kind of person likely to be any good at quizzes will probably have picked up a grounding, a baseline of knowledge about a wide range of subjects through education, personal interest, general reading, television etc. This is less likely to have happened with Food and Drink. For example, there are a significant number of popular TV programmes about food and drink, but they’re often just about the preparation of food, and the creation of dishes. With the best will in the world, education, personal interest, general reading, television etc. are unlikely ever to have provided you with the knowledge that the apple is a member of the rose family, aloo in Indian cuisine refers to potato, and Yarg is a Cornish cheese wrapped in nettles whose name is not a Cornish word, but the name of its creators – Gray – backwards. So it really is a subject where the average quizzer would not begin with a decent baseline knowledge, unlike a subject like History, for the sake of argument. This means that it’s a subject where most of us have to do some learning, unlike History.  What complicates this as well is that it’s not the sort of subject that most of us would choose to learn about purely out of interest, and the fact is that there are plenty of even good quizzers out there who can’t be bothered to learn for quizzes, especially anything in which they are really not that interested for its own sake. 

I also think that it’s a subject where the question master’s own lack of knowledge and interest can cause problems. In the traditional quiz subjects, the question master will often know enough to be able to understand the difference in difficulty and obscurity between asking

“Who was the last Anglo Saxon King of England?” and 

“Who was the last Merovingian King of France?” and in practice a question like the latter would rarely if ever be asked in a pub quiz.  It doesn’t always work like this with Food and Drink. For example – you might get a QM ask an easy one like: -

“Which spirit is used in a Bloody Mary cocktail?” – That’s a perfectly reasonable general knowledge question which you wouldn’t have to have specialist knowledge to answer. However the same QM is just as likely to ask: -  

“Which spirit is used in a Red Witch cocktail?” – which just isn’t within the realm of general knowledge so much, and is far more specialist. The QM in many cases just wouldn’t know that it’s much harder than the other question. This sort of thing can bedevil quiz leagues as well.  

However, on the other side of the coin this doesn’t mean that it’s a subject which has to be a problem for the serious, dedicated quizzer, if you’re prepared to put some effort in and learn for it.  With a little thought, it's not that difficult to identify areas of Food and Drink knowledge which pay dividends in quizzes. So I guess I’m saying that where Food and Drink becomes a problematical subject it is because :- 

* The typical quizzer does not begin with the same baseline knowledge of the subject as he/she does with subjects like History/Geography/Sport etc. 

* Question masters as a rule do not have the feel for the subject that allows them to pitch questions consistently, and so it can happen that questions asked on F & D can end up being relatively harder than questions on other subjects.  

* Decent to good quizzers need to learn for the subject but they often don’t bother, because it seems like a bore, and quizzing, after all, is something they do for pleasure. The top quizzers negate the problems with Food and Drink because they analyse what question masters tend to ask, especially the recurring sub-topics , and they learn more than they need to.  

* Therefore my personal feeling – feel free to disagree – is that it’s not a problem subject if you’re just quizzing for fun and don’t mind that much if you win, lose or draw. It’s not a problem subject if you’re serious about winning quizzes and you’re prepared to put the time and effort into learning your stuff. It IS a problem subject if you’re serious enough about wanting to win quizzes, but not serious enough to put the time and effort in and are just relying on your natural ability.

Friday, 30 June 2017

The pitfalls of connections

It is possible to know too much, and this little vignette from last night illustrates this idea, and one of the pitfalls of using questions with connected answers, an idea which I actually introduced to the rugby club more than 20 years ago. The way it works is that the QM will ask 3, 4, 5 or more seemingly unconnected questions, and then ask you what connects all of the answers. It’s good fun, and it always makes compiling a quiz more enjoyable for me, since there’s the challenge of making the connections. OK. So, last night, we were asked this question. I can’t remember the exact phrasing, but this is a pretty good paraphrase : -

“The Western Wall, otherwise known as the Wailing Wall, in Jerusalem, is the last remaining part of a much larger structure. By whom was it built? “ or words to that effect. The question, though, distinctly asked who built, or who ordered the building, of the Western Wall? Now, I was certain that the Western Wall is a remnant of the expansion of the Second Temple, built by Herod the Great. Answer given – Solomon. No, sorry, incorrect. Solomon’s Temple was the first temple, and destroyed in 586 BC. And yes, I did google it when I got home to check. 

OK, mistakes can happen. I don’t know, but I can see how the QM might have come up with this. He needed the word Solomon for the connection. Maybe the thought process was something like this: -

- I need the answer Solomon. What can I ask about Solomon? King Solomon? Yes, what can we ask about him? Well, he built the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple in Jerusalem? Ah yes, the Western/Wailing Wall is the last bit still standing. Lovely jubbly, question sorted.-

Maybe. However, had he googled “Wailing wall built by” he’d have seen the mistake. Moral of the story, even when you think you know something, sometimes you don’t, and it doesn’t hurt to check.

As I say, mistakes happen. Once you’ve set enough quizzes you can pretty much guarantee you’ve done something similar sooner or later. The trouble was, this stumped us for the connection. I won’t bother you with the other questions, but the answers were Chatham – Long John Silver – Monserrat Caballe. I bet you’re already working out what the questions were, aren’t you? You can probably see the connection already – islands or island groups. However – if you substitute the right answer to the Wailing Wall question– Herod the Great – for the answer given – Solomon – then try to get the connection. Herod Island ? Great Island? Doesn’t work, does it? Please feel free to suggest in a comment what connection you think that we came up with for Chatham – Herod the Great – Long John Silver – Monserrat Caballe.

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All of that having being said, we still won, and it was still great fun. I’m thinking in terms of work particularly, but generally after I started feeling better, for the first 4 weeks after my return to work I think I was just on a bit of a high from the sheer relief of being back in work, and not feeling a) truly awful – or b) zombified. Reality has bitten a bit this week – but in a good kind of way. I’ve had some great lessons this week, and I’ve also had some hard ones, and some frustrating ones. But, and this is important, no harder or more frustrating than I had for donkey’s years in the old school. It’s easier to keep yourself on an even keel when everything in the garden looks rosy, but being able to take things in your stride when it’s more difficult, that for me is a sign of progress. And where the quiz comes into it is that even though I’ve now come down a bit from my post-depression little ray of sunshine phase, I still thoroughly enjoyed last night’s quiz.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Me and Quizzing right now - Brain of Mensa


If you were with me with my previous post, then you’ll know what’s been going on with me for the last few months. Reading it back, I can see that it might give you the impression that I finished with quizzing completely during this time. That’s not true, at least, not quite true.

I said that I made up my mind during that time that I was going to step down from playing in the Bridgend Quiz League after the end of the 2016/17 season. That is actually true, and I still have no intention of playing next season. It’s a little bit complicated. I’ve already written in the blog about things which happened in the 2016 AGM, which led to my decision not to play in the league in the 2016/17 season, a decision I had to renege on due to the sad passing away of our mate Brian. I didn’t want to leave the team in the lurch mid season, so I played, but enough is enough now. Put simply, my heart isn’t in the league any more, and so I’d rather say that by and large it’s been a fun 7 years, and I’d rather me and the league part as friends.

I also said that I’d begun missing Thursday night quizzes in the Rugby Club. That’s true, and may well happen again. I suppose that one way I’ve changed a bit in the last couple of months is I’ve stopped doing things which I don’t have to do out of a sense of duty. I’ll try to explain that. Prior to 2017, if there was a quiz in the rugby club, and I wasn’t out of the country, or at some work business I couldn’t get out of, then I’d be there. For most of the 20+ years I’ve been going to the Thursday night quiz I really wanted to, anyway. There have been times in the last couple of years when I haven’t really wanted to go, but I’ve gone anyway out of a sense of obligation to the people who’ve taken time and trouble to compile a quiz. (Yes, I do appreciate you all, even though I may moan like hell while the quiz is actually on. Can’t help it.) Since my treatment started, though, I don’t go if I don’t feel like it. The nice thing is that most weeks, I do feel like it, and I do want to go. We still don’t win that many, but when we do, it brightens the whole week for me.

And so to Brain of Mensa. Ah yes, Mensa. That’s a word which tends to put some people’s backs up, and in a sense I can understand why. I’m sure that you already know, but basically Mensa is a society founded in 1947 as an organisation for people who can demonstrate that they have an IQ in the top 2% of the population. The whole idea of intelligence, and how accurately any IQ test can measure whatever intelligence is, well, that’s a whole can of worms which is not best opened here. It’s difficult to argue against the idea that Mensa is an elitist organisation, however much we might like to think differently. It’s also difficult to respond in any meaningful way to the assertion – ‘I don’t need any organisation to tell me that I’m intelligent’ - . So maybe Mensans are the insecure and pitiable figures that certain individuals and sections of public opinion think we are. Personally, when I’ve been involved in a Mensa event, I’ve found that the people involved are a pretty wide cross section of society, and the only characteristic that links all of them is that they are members of Mensa. I’ve yet to see two people swapping IQ scores for that matter.  OK, so I guess what I’m trying to say here is, yes, I know that Mensa as an organisation is something a lot of people take a very negative view of, and that’s fine. If that’s your view, nothing I say is likely to change your mind, and I can live with that.

So – Brain of Mensa. When I first heard about the competition in about 2008, I filed it away in my memory as something to come back to in the fulness of time. I took the test and joined in the summer of 2013, and entered the 2014 competition, where I reached the final and came third. I enjoyed the competition, and very much wanted to win it if I ever could. Back in 2014 I gave myself 10 years to win it. I didn’t enter in 2015, then last year I entered, got to the final, and the questions fell my way. Not being modest here, they did. The great thing about winning last year was that I don’t have to worry about winning now. Seriously, having won it once, everything now is just for fun, and if I never win it again – and let’s face it, that’s the most likely prognosis – that’s fine by me.

Still, I never enter a quiz without wanting to win it, and so I was pleased to get through my first round heat on Saturday just gone.



If you’re not a member, or you are and you’ve never played in the competition, you might be interested in the way that it works. There are three rounds – first round heat, semi final, and final. One winner from each heat goes through to the semi finals, and the winner and second placed in the semis contest the grand final. One of the features of the competition that I really like is that each heat and semi final is hosted by one of the competitors. In theory this doesn’t have to be at anyone’s home- it could be at another venue arranged by the nominated organiser. In practice though it’s usually the organiser’s home. On Saturday I played host for the first time.

I don’t know, but I imagine that the Geographical aspect of the competition can make organisation tricky. To give an example, I live in Port Talbot South Wales. The other two competitors in my heat were from Rhyader in mid Wales, and Wexford, in the Republic of Ireland. Geographically, we were the latter’s closest competitors. I imagine that there’s probably a lot less travel involved for participants living in the South East of England. I’m lucky. Living in Port Talbot I know that I’m probably going to have to travel, and I love it. I’ve been to heats and semis in Chard in Somerset, in Stevenage in Herts., in Marlborough in Wilts. , and in Derbyshire. That’s not counting the two finals, one in Birmingham and the other in London.

As for the quiz itself, well, I think that it’s the hardest individual quiz I ever play in. The breadth and depth of the questions are a real challenge, and that’s the way it should be. The way it works is probably best explained if we take a round involving 4 players, the final or semi. There are 120 general knowledge questions. The questions are set by the estimable Brian Daugherty, who is also question master for the grand final, and they are far above the level of your local pub quiz. They are asked in rounds of 20 questions. Each player would be assigned a letter, A,B,C or D, and a seating position – A 1st, B 2nd and so on. In round 1, A would be asked first question, then B and so on. Should A answer his or her question incorrectly, then B gets a chance for a bonus, if he answers incorrectly then C and so on. Then B would be asked his or her first question, and should he/she answer incorrectly, then it would be offered to C, then D, then A. You see how it works, I’m sure. Each correct answer is worth a point.

Now, after the first 20 questions, seating positions are changed. So while A might remain in seat 1, B,C and D would all swap. This is done in the interests of fairness. In any group of 4 quizzers, while they might all be strong quizzers in their own right, some are going to be even stronger than others. So there is a distinct advantage to coming immediately after one of the comparatively weaker players, in terms of the chances to answer bonuses which you may receive. So after each set of 20 questions the seating arrangements are changed, with the idea being that every player gets a fair crack of the whip with regards to bonuses.

It’s a terrific quiz, and over the years it has been won by some very well known quizzers, whose blushes I’ll spare. Suffice it to say, though, that in the last ten years, the competition has been won by either a Brain of Britain Champion, a Mastermind Champion, or an Egghead 7 times, while the player who won on the other three occasions is easily good enough to win BoB or MM.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Where Have I been? - Good Question. . .


The King of Hearts told Alice to begin at the beginning. That’s good advice, but it presupposes that you actually know where the beginning is. So for convenience’s sake, let’s take up the story from after my last post in LAM. 

I left off Lam abruptly right at the and of March after posting about the UC semi final. A few days prior to writing that I made a visit to my GP, during which he diagnosed me with depression.

Since being diagnosed, I’ve been hugely surprised by the number of people I’ve met who have also gone through it. If you’ve been through depression, then you’ll know that any description I try to make of it is likely to be inadequate. If you haven’t, well, I will try my best to describe it for you.

From January onwards I had become (more) moody and irritable, and started losing interest in, well, pretty much everything. I fought against it, because I’ve felt like this before a few times in the last few years. You may be aware yourself of my long periods of silence in the blog in the last two or three years. That was bad enough, but this was something different, or worse. 

By March I found that certain things, many concerned with work but not all of them, left me a quivering wreck of anxiety. For example, in certain situations I was finding that I just couldn’t make a decision. And I was scared, many days absolutely terrified of God only knows what. Many days I would drop one or other of my daughters into work, then drive to work myself gripping the steering wheel so tightly that my knuckles would go white, trying very hard to stop myself from crying. For no reason that I could put my finger on. I started missing the quiz in the rugby club on a Thursday night, and I announced that I would be retiring from the Bridgend Quiz League when the season came to an end. No matter how early I went to bed I was waking at 4 am every morning on the dot, heart thumping and a feeling of dread and terror wrapped around me like a cloak. 

I didn’t go to see the doctor, though. I tried to just carry on as if nothing was wrong. I don’t think I was making a brilliant job of it, mind you, since I had a growing number of colleagues telling me to please go and see the doctor. 

It finally came to a head over my diabetic check up. I knew full well that I had to take a party of children from the school to Swansea University on the day that I had my appointment, yet could I bring myself to tell the Deputy Head? No. What made it worse was that I didn’t go to my GP’s surgery to cancel the appointment until the day before. That was the last straw. Pretty much failing to hold back the tears as I apologised to the practise receptionist, and tried to explain the inexplicable convinced me that I had to make an appointment to see my GP – well, that and the wife beating me over the head with a frying pan until I agreed to go. Joke. That’s another thing too – I lost my sense of humour. Some would argue I haven’t got it back yet. 

I was in such a state going to see the doctor that my youngest daughter, Jessica had to accompany me. To cut a long story short, I was diagnosed with depression. I found myself admitting to my GP that while the thought of the effect that it would have on my family had stopped me going so far as making plans for suicide, I certainly went to bed every night hoping that I wouldn’t ever wake up again after falling asleep. In fact the real thing that stopped me was imagining my eldest daughter having to explain what had happened to my grandson. That chokes me up now even thinking about it. The moment the doctor suggested a month off work I could have kissed him. He also prescribed a course of fluoroxetine, which I’m informed is either a type of Prozac, or similar to it. He also told me not to expect improvement for a few weeks. 

What brought this on? To this day I have no idea. It would be easy if there was one traumatic event I could point to, but there really isn’t. I suppose that the most traumatic thing had been changing schools. We were first told of the plan to merge our school with two others in a brand new school way back in October 2010, and the school opened in September 2016. The school is 3 times as big in terms of numbers as my last school ever was, and frankly, some of the worst groups are awful. In many ways, it’s like being a brand newly qualified teacher all over again. The worst thing about this was that I was 23 last time, and I’m 53 now. So yes, probably moving schools brought it to a head. But I think it has been building up for several years. I just don’t know exactly why. Maybe I never will. 

There were only two weeks left in the term before the Easter holidays. The best thing I can say about those weeks is that there were only two of them. In addition to the huge anxiety and gloom I’d been feeling everyday, I now had a shedload of guilt over missing school to deal with. In 30 years the longest consecutive absence I’d had so far was 3 days. For those two weeks and a little bit more it was as if there was a little invisible demon sitting on my shoulder, whispering all the worst things I have ever felt about myself before, constantly, and what is more, in my own voice. 

I’d booked a short solo sketching trip to Prague for the second week of the Easter holiday, the 4th since my diagnosis, and my family were adamant that I should still go. When I was there, I found that the whispering demon had gone, but he’d actually left a huge void. It was like it wasn’t me – or indeed anyone. It was a little bit like somebody walking around in my body – I was doing all the things I had planned to do, but it was like somebody else was doing them and I was watching the video. The only people I spoke to for three days were the hotel staff, and hot dog vendors. I made some great sketches though. 

I had a telephone consultation with my GP, and I said, and he agreed, that I didn’t feel ready to return to work yet. In truth, I thought that I’d never feel ready to go back ever again. He gave me a paper for a further month. The first sign that I was improving came about a fortnight later, when I found myself actually hungry, and actually enjoying a meal. Don’t get me wrong, I’d been eating meals previously, but this was because it was something I thought I should do rather than something I actually wanted to. I started to take myself out on visits to places in Wales I’d always wanted to visit but had never got round to, places like Dylan Thomas’ boathouse in Laugharne. I sketched constantly. My sleeping became better than it had been for years. More than that, after the sixth week of being on medication, I could face phoning the school to discuss my return. When I had a meeting with the school’s business manager I surprised myself by saying that although she offered me to start after the half term holiday, I’d like to come back for the two days before. Where did that come from? Well, those days were the first two days after my second sick paper ended and. . . I felt ready. 

We agreed that we’d do the Thursday, and then talk about whether I could do the Friday. Both went well, and (whisper this quietly) for the first time in I can’t remember how long I actually enjoyed some of the lessons. I started back full time after the half term holiday, and the only day I’ve missed since was for my diabetic eye check up (had the results, all fine, no change thanks for asking).

I don’t kid myself for one minute that I’ve bid a final goodbye to the little demon on my shoulder. I wasn’t as bad two years ago, but looking back, I can see that I was on the way at the time. So I know that he could be back, and that’s something I have to live with, and something I find I can live with. At the moment, then, I’m taking it one day at a time. Well, as much as I can take one day at a time – at work there are times when you have to look forward to later in the week, term etc when you have events coming up which need to be prepared for, but ok. So far, I can handle it. 

So I’m back. For today, at least, I’m back. Whether I’ll have anything worth saying in the blog now, well, that’s something which will only become clear as time goes on. One post at a time.

Friday, 31 March 2017

University Challenge Semi Final - Emmanuel Cambridge v. Wolfson Cambridge


I think that it’s probably fair to say that this was the most highly anticipated match of the series so far. The excitement on social media about a match many people billed as Seagull v. Monkman was palpable in the days leading up to Monday’s semi. That billing is a little unfair – after all as well as LAM reader captain Bobby, Emmanuel could boast the talents of Tom Hill, Leah Ward and Bruno Barton-Singer. On the other side, as well as their iconic captain, Wolfson’s Justin Yang, Ben Chaudri and Paul Cosgrove should never be underestimated.

It looked good for Emma at the start as Bruno Barton-Singer was quick to recognise an example of deus ex machina for the first starter. Bonuses on the German born art historian Erwin Panofsky sounded tricky, but we both managed the second and third. Now, I’m sorry, but you can’t sit and wait when you hear the name Robert Catesby. Both teams let the name sink in for a second before Eric Monkman buzzed in with his first answer of the night – the gunpowder plot. It wouldn’t be his last. This brought up bonuses on property  of which they managed one. Ben Chaudri recognised that the two probes NASA sent off on their merry way in 1977 were called Voyager. Their bonuses were all terms beginning with ‘apo’, and they managed 2. Tom Hill buzzed in with the term Naturalistic fallacy for the next starter. No, me neither. Davis Cup tennis provided them with a timely full house, a fact which seemed to surprise Bobby a little – in a good way, of course. A starter about a French physicist caused Eric Monkman to buzz in with “De Broglie”. Gesundheit! – I shouted at the telly, but he was right. This brought Wolfson a set of bonuses on scientific units used to measure constants. How many of these do you think I got right? How dare you? You’re right, mind you, I didn’t get any of them, but Wolfson managed a full house. A nice picture starter showed us two cities marked off a map showing Africa and South America. The South American one was Bolivia, so presumably La Paz. Asked which name element they have in common, I went for peace – guessing that Dar Es Salaam was the other. Eric Monkman buzzed in with the same suggestion, and we were both right. The picture bonuses showed more of the same and after confusion with the first they failed to take any of the bonuses. So, at some way past the ten minute mark, Wolfson just looked to be establishing control of the contest with a lead of 70 – 45.

You had to wait and wait and wait with the next starter, and then as soon as you heard ‘designed for world fair in Brussels’ slap that buzzer through the desk. Justin Yang won that buzzer race with “The Atomium”. A set of bonuses on stained glass in North West England promised but little, but general history knowledge enabled both of us to take a full house. Leah Ward struck back, recognising three titles of novels by Georgette Heyer. Be honest, ‘Lady of Quality’, ‘Venetia’ and ‘Regency Buck’ could have been anything – fishing flies, roses – marital aids . . . apologies. Bonuses on silent comedy saw Emma drop two out of a gettable set, and for the first time I started to worry about their chances of pulling this one off. Mind you, Bruno Barton-Singer had a fantastic early buzz on the next starter to identify the super-continent Pangaea. Criticisms of Marxism were not easy – I only had Bakunin, and Emma failed to add to their score. Now, for the music starter, when I’m asked for a modern British composer I usually plump for Benjamin Britten. Nobody was buzzing in, so Bruno Barton-Singer used the same tactic, and with success. More Britten songs, setting poems to music followed, and Emma identified Donne and Blake, but missed out on Wilfred Owen, which they probably should have had. Harsh, but this was a very tight match, where only 5 points separated the teams at this stage. Every answer counted. The speed of Eric Monkman, recognising a definition of the DMZ – Demilitarised Zone – was apparent when he won the buzzer race for the next starter. Early Nobel Laureates provided a further 10 to stretch the lead to a full set. I know nowt about C. elegans but it brought another starter to Justin Yang. Mathematics brought me nothing, but took Wolfson to 130 against Emmanuel’s 90. Still all to play for, considering how we’d seen Emma powering to the line in previous matches.

Another great buzz from Eric Monkman saw him identify the word ‘zany’ from Love’s Labour’s Lost. Hill forts escaped them completely. For the second picture starter I had a feeling that we were looking at the work of Franz Hals, but neither team had it. Tom Hill won the buzzer race to spell the capitals of firstly Senegal and then Bangladesh. The picture bonuses showed more works which featured in Proust’s A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, of which Emmanuel identified 2, to narrow the gap to 30. I thought Hilbert was a cartoon character, but apparently he was a german mathematician. Eric Monkman knew him anyway. Contemporary figures who appeared in Byron’s Don Juan only provided a single bonus. Eric Monkman made a rare miscue for the next starter, and I thought that it was a bit of a harsh adjudication when JP would not allow Bruno Barton-Singer apposite for apposition – they’ve often accepted answers this close in the past. Nobody knew Derek Parfit for the next starter. Some maths thing escaped both teams but then Tom Hill recognised a series of caves and stuff in the Yorkshire Dales. Galilean Moons of Jupiter gave me a full house, and when I completed my lap of honour I saw that 2 correct answers had put Emmanuel just 15 points adrift. The Wolfson skipper immediately stretched that lead again, knowing the Rashomon effect. Impressive shout. Latin terms including verbs in the present subjunctive were a bit of a gift, and they duly accepted that windfall to take th lead up to 40 points. Again, Emmanuel, through Tom Hill, came back, knowing that Monet painted more than 30 views of Rouen Cathedral. Had he never heard of postcards? The second South African War – with answers commonly found in UK street names, was a great little UC set, but the gong sounded after the first. Wolfson had won by 170 - 140

It had promised to be a terrific match, and it was. Not quite the closest we’ve seen this series, for once Wolfson got ahead they always seemed to have that tiny bit more in the tank. These two teams know each other well, and the congratulations from the Emmanuel team were genuine, and I have no doubt they’ll be cheering on their fellow Cambridge team in the final. Indeed, both Bobby and Eric made it clear that they’re mates in their appearance on Tuesday’s One Show. Congratulations to Wolfson, and best of luck in the final.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Rather a forebearing JP again tonight. When asked for the picture bonuses, Eric Monkman got rather the wrong end of the stick, offering up “Vladivostock” rather than a name element. All JP said was, “That isn’t what I asked you for, “ and repeated the question. Mind you, that did enable him to refuse to accept the right answer when they gave it, since they’d already given a wrong un.

I think Jez, a Cambridge man, was a little bit emotional by the end of this all Cambridge semi, for I don’t recall him ever saying anything like his final oration to both teams in this show, “Well, I will say that all of you guys, of whatever gender, you’re very very clever.”

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

Belgrade translates into English as White City.