Friday, 17 November 2017

University Challenge 2018 - Round 2 - Heat 1


Strathclyde v. Emmanuel, Cambridge

Strathclyde, represented by Ian Brown, James Flanigan, Paul Dijkman and skipper Alastair Logan, won through to the second round in a tight match against Imperial. Their opponents, Emmanuel Cambridge, represented by Ed Derby, Kitty Chevallier, James Fraser and their captain Alex Mistlin also won a tight contest against St. Hugh’s. My personal feeling was that Emmaneul had looked the stronger of the two teams first time out, but then first round form is notoriously unreliable.

Kitty Chevallier won the buzzer race for the first starter, recognising a couple of definitions of the word scale. Bonuses on agricultural machinery brought a full house which served well as a statement that this Emmanuel team meant business. Alastair Logan came in too early for the next starter – although I don’t blame him for trying to land a counterblow as quickly as possible – allowing Kitty Chevallier to correctly guess that the bivalve mollusc that the question required was a mussel. Ugh, mussels. Love the taste, but ate a bad one in France once and became intimately acquainted with a fetid toilet for hours. Bonuses on the philosopher Hannah Arendt promised me little but delivered another full house to Emmanuel. You can’t do better than 50 points from 2 visits to the table. I liked the next question, since it was one you just had to wait and then go for it. You see, there are actually no fewer than 4 elements named after Ytterby in Sweden, and it wasn’t till the end of the question that it became obvious that it was the first three letters of Terbium that were required. James Fraser took that one. Only one bonus followed on astronomy, but I was glad to take a lap of honour for correctly guessing that a star with an apparent magnitude of 6 seems 100 times bright than a star with an apparent magnitude of 1. Little things please etc. A great buzz from the Emmanuel skipper saw him identify 1914 as the last year in which, according to AJP Taylor, an Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the State. A UC special set on historical figures who shared the first and last letters of their names saw JP rather leniently allow Alex Mistlin to correct the team’s first answer of MarEt to MarAt. On another occasion he would have insisted on taking their first answer. Nonetheless, this gave Emmanuel another full house. Out of the first 16 questions asked, they had correctly answered 14. That’s great quizzing by anyone’s standards. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t work out the first picture starter any more than either of the teams did. They were flags showing the nationalities of Premier League winning managers since 2007/8. Perfectly fair question, perfectly work outable, but I didn’t and neither did either team. As soon as the next question became obvious, requiring the country that hosted the first FIFA world cup final, Alex Mistlin struck mercilessly to provide the correct answer of Uruguay. Incidentally this brought up 100 points before the 10 minute mark. This soon became 115 as the team made short work of the picture bonuses. With poor old Strathclyde languishing back on -5 I feared that it was only a matter of time before JP unleashed the dreaded announcement that they had plenty of time to catch up.

Up stepped Alastair Logan, who knew that if a question mentions ‘Byron’ and ‘Greece might be free’, then you’re never going to lose points answering Byron. This put his team’s.  account into the black, and they added one bonus on the Wirral peninsula. From somewhere I dredged up the idea that a bird’s migratory habits can be changed if you expose it to an increased magnetic field, and Alastair Logan took his second starter in a row with the same answer. Some physics stuff brought me nowt and Strathclyde another correct answer. Alastair Logan couldn’t complete a hattrick on the next starter, which allowed Ed Derby in to tell us that Gauss said number theory is the Queen of Mathematics. Fair enough. Another full house of bonuses on infectious diseases widened their lead again. So to the music starter, and Ed Derby well knew that if you’re asked for a German composer and it doesn’t actually sound like music, then you’ll go a long way by answering with Stockhausen. More composers who suffered bad reviews by Cardew (the cad?) took an awfully long time and brought none of us any points. I don’t think either team ‘got’ that the next question was asking for a given name, as both offered surnames even when it became fairly clear that we were looking for Charles. The indomitable Strathclyde skipper correctly answered that Measure for Measure begins with a song taken from the St. Matthew version of the Sermon on the Mount. A couple of bonuses on Californian cities took their score to 45. That man Logan also knew that the moment you hear the words ‘Council of Clermont’ you give the answer – the First Crusade. A couple of bonuses on calculus meant that for the previous 10 minutes, Strathclyde had actually had the better of the contest. Mind you, that was all relative to Emmanuel’s dominance in the first 10 minutes, since they still led by 145 to 65. 

Ed Derby looked as if he knew the answer anyway when he confidently offered Bertrand Russell for the next starter, but even so he’s always a good shout for an English philosopher. Bonuses on Africa were in short supply. The second picture starter asked us to identify a virginal as the instrument in a Vermeer painting. The bonuses rolled over. Paul Dijkman correctly identified the Parthenon for the next question. Picture bonuses brought nothing to Strathclyde, sadly. I wasn’t that impressed that neither team recognised the description of Lord Melbourne, but then no team knows everything. Neither did either team know that strawberry pips are called achenes. Alastair Logan did know that the Minch and the Little Minch separate the Outer Hebrides and the Western Isles. Questions in poetry delivered no points, and I am surprised that nobody on the team recognised the one from Blake. Ian Brown knew that Turkey was the answer to the next starter, and two bonuses on Kings of Scotland took them to 105, a splendid fightback after a disastrous start. Ed Derby knew the start of Catch 22, though, and Emmanuel managed one bonus on pairs of explorers. Nobody knew that Nessler’s reagent detects the presence of ammonia in water. That was it, and the gong ended the contest.

As I said, a good fightback from Strathclyde, but they were always going to be second best in this contest. As for Emma, well, they did the damage in the first ten minutes, and then somewhat slackened off. They’ll still be a handful for any other team in the quarters though. Well played. 

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Unlike last week, we saw something worthy of comment. When Kitty Chevallier took a stab in the dark with the Six Nations for the answer to the first picture starter he wrinkled his nose and sniffed, Very odd Six Nations. No!

For some reason as well the great man seemed to wet himself at the suggestion that a hurdy gurdy might actually be called a drone. Weird. 

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

Rwanda and Burundi have the highest population densities in sub Saharan Africa.

Mastermind 2018 - Round One - Heat 16

I couldn’t help thinking back to a comment left by Mycool on the review of heat 14, asking us to spare a thought for Brian Chesney, runner up in both Mastermind and BoB. For there he was last night, another former finalist having another tilt at the title. We’ll come back to Brian shortly. Meanwhile, let’s start with Darren Smith. Being a teacher, Darren was saddled with the burden of support from the Clark sofa. He was answering on The Vicar of Dibley. This is just my opinion, so please feel free to disagree, but from my vantage point the round got harder as it went along – I rattled off the first 7 answers, but then struggled to find many more as the round progressed. Darren, though, was hardly phased at all, only missing out on one to end with an excellent 14.  

Andrew Gregory, our second contender, offered us something altogether more serious, in the shape of George Orwell. I will admit that I’ve only ever read two of Orwell’s works – “Animal Farm” and “1984”, and I missed one of the questions on those, so I was impressed with Andrew’s command of the full range of his oeuvre. In the end he finished with 12. Normally I would have been confident that this was a score which would keep him in contention. However, with a score of 14 on the board, and Brian still to come, I did feel that this might leave him a little short.

Our third contender, Hugh Williams, was answering questions on Roman coinage in Britain AD 41 – AD 402. This was one of those subjects where the armchair viewer could pick up a few points without knowing a huge amount of the subject. I know little or nothing about Roman coinage, but I do know a bit about the Roman Empire period, and the Roman occupation of Britannia, and this was enough to take my specialist aggregate to 20 after three rounds. Hugh did absolutely fine with a score of 11, but in this particular heat, even a couple of gaps in knowledge were always going to leave you amongst the backmarkers.  

So to Brian. Brian was in the agonising position of coming second on pass countback to my friend Clive Dunning in the 2014 series. To the best of my knowledge I’ve never met Brian in the flesh as it were, but he’s always struck me through his demeanour that he is more than able to treat the twin imposters of success and (relative) failure just the same. Certainly he gave a perfect display of tackling a specialist round on Harold Wilson, giving us a nerveless and perfect 15 from 15. As for me – well, I needed 7 to raise the highest aggregate total for this series. . . and I managed 6. Such is life.  

Going into the GK round, then, it looked pretty obvious that this heat was going to be won by a high score. Brian looked favourite to provide it. Still, nothing was guaranteed. Nobody knows everything, and if you get a rogue round where you get a run of questions you don’t know and can’t guess, then anything can happen.Hugh returned to the chair, and started very well. For the first half of the round he was cruising along nicely. However he then hit a patch of turbulence, and the answers dried up. Never mind. He scored 10 to take his score to 21, and having double figures in both rounds he had acquitted himself well. Judging by his expression he’d really enjoyed his Mastermind experience, and that’s always good to see.  

Andrew Gregory, I think, knew he was going to have to set a terrific score to give himself the chance of a win. And let’s be fair, he wasn’t far short of a top drawer performance. The main thing with a Mastermind GK round is to take it as a marathon rather than a sprint, and make sure that you keep picking off the answers that you do know, and keep guessing the answers that you can guess. In the end, Daniel had added a praiseworthy 13 to his total, to set the bar at 25. That’s a good Mastermind score, and in many cases it will give you the chance of a win.  

Certainly it was too good for Darren Smith. He had a massive 14 already in the bank at the start of the round, but this meant that he would still need 12 to go into the lead without resorting to pass countback. His round never quite looked as good as Andrew’s, and he ended with 24. Again, it’s a double figure round, and 24 is the kind of score which means you can leave the show with your head held high. Tonight, though, it was not going to be a score to take him to the semi finals.  

In my heart of hearts I was pretty certain that Brian would make short work of throwing in the best GK round of the night, and that’s exactly what happened, and in fact it turned out to be amongst the best GK rounds of the series so far. What I was most interested in was what Brian was going t do with the questions to which he didn’t know the answers – was he going to go all out to avoid passes this year? Well, there’s an old boxing adage I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, that states you gotta dance with the one that brought you. This basically means, you have to stick with the style that brought you success, and this is what Brian did, maintaining speed and momentum while accruing 15 correct answers and one pass.  

Congratulations to Brian, a fine performance which serves as an excellent statement of intent – best of luck in the semis.  

Darren Smith
The Vicar of Dibley
14
0
10
0
24
0
Andrew Gregory
George Orwell
12
1
13
3
25
4
Hugh Williams
Roman Coinage in Britain AD 41 – AD 402
11
2
10
5
21
7
Brian Chesney
Harold Wilson
15
0
15
1
30
1

Saturday, 11 November 2017

University Challenge - Repechage 2


Ding dang dong,

ding-a-ding-a-dang-dong-

ding – a -dang – ding – a -dong

Do you always join in with ‘College Boy’ , the theme to University Challenge? Well, there’s no need to be like that, I was only asking. I do. In fact I would go so far as to say that it’s one of my highlights of a Monday evening. I’m a traditionalist, so I tend to do the original ITV version, as opposed to the sting quartet arrangement that the Beeb use.  Once the last dying echoes of my off-key warbling had faded on the evening air, JP was announcing the two teams. Representing UCL again were Tom Allinson, Charlie Dowell, Omar Raii and their captain, Robert Gray, while St. Hugh’s, Oxford were Kazi Elias, Ewan Grainger, Aiden Mehigan and their own captain Daniel De Wijze. Nothing much to choose between these two teams in their first round matches, so it looked like a good match on paper.

Right, then I think you know what I’m going to say here. You hear “novel – posthumously published – 1818” you slam the buzzer through the desk and answer Jane Austen. Tom Allinson did, and claimed UCL’s first set of bonuses on birds, and their archaic names. They managed one correct answer.  Robert Gray knew fossil words, or, as I did, guessed. The Old Testament provided us both with a full house. Nobody knew that Rama II of Thailand sent troops along with those of France to occupy the Rhineland immediately after the 1918 Armistice, but St. Hugh’s came in too early and lost 5 points. A fine early buzz from Charlie Dowell saw him identify several of the applications of the word castor. Robert Gray nodded his head approvingly when JP announced a set of bonuses on physics, and they took one. Incidentally, my old tactic of answering a Science or Maths - . . . adds up to what? – question with 0 or 1 paid dividends with the last of the bonuses, and sent me off early on my lap of honour. So to the picture starter. Omar Raii identified the highlighted area on a map of England as Bradford. Three more of England’s Metropolitan Boroughs brought 5 more points. Both Robert Gray and I guessed that the scale going up to 14 metres measures wave height at sea for the next starter. Claire Tomalin’s biographies saw us both take a full house. This meant that as we approached the 10 minute mark the score looked extremely ominous for St. Hugh’s as UCL led by 90 against minus 5.

St. Hugh’s account was put back into the black as Aiden Mehigan answered that Hayek wrote the Rod to Serfdom. Was that before or after she guest starred in the (unfortunately) never to be forgotten “Wild Wild West”? Memory gave them a further five. Robert Gray recognised the titles of works by Jim Al-Khalili for the next starter to take his team to a triple figure score to bring up a set of loan translations, or calques. We both took another full house on that set. Did you know that the word disparage originally meant to trap someone into marriage with someone of a lower class or stratum of society? Me neither, and neither did the teams. Robert Gray knew that Cystine is one of the building blocks of Keratin. No jokes about the cystine chapel, please. Transuranium elements gave me the opportunity for another lap of honour – but even a full house couldn’t stir me from the sofa. It must be said that UCL all stayed in their seats after their full house too. So to the music starter, and Omar Raii won the buzzer race against what I’m guessing must have been a pretty dispirited St. Hugh’s by this point. The answer – REM’s The End of the World As We Know It had an upsurge in interest on spotify immediately after the election of Donald T. Rump. 3 more songs which also had an upsurge in interest at this time brought two correct answers. I know nothing about Magic: The Gathering, but Aiden Mehigan was in very quickly for it. St. Hugh’s second set of bonuses were on fiction, only brought the one bonus. Aiden Mehigan, seemingly singlehandedly keeping his team from drowning completely, knew Bedrich Smetana wrote an autobiographical piece about his deafness. Painting and photography brought another single bonus. Omar Raii knew the Dutch physicist Lorenz for the next starter, bringing UCL a set of bonuses on plastics and their recycling codes. They probably should have done better than just the one bonus, but they were so far ahead that it looked unlikely to have much bearing on the contest in the final analysis. Charlie Dowell new that the first adjective in my favourite Keats’ poem – Ode to Autumn – is mellow. American musicals of 2010 saw 2 correct answers take the UCL score to 200 at the 20 minute mark, while St. Hugh’s languished on 40. Game over.

So to the second pictures. Omar Raii identified a photo of John Hurt, and photos of his roles provided a rather easy full house. Charlie Dowell veritably bounced out of his seat to win the buzzer race for the next starter, identifying various soup flavours associated with Andy Warhol – cream of eccentric was not one of them, sadly. Biochemistry gave me nowt, but UCL a full house. On a score of 250 with several minutes to go, the rarely seen score of 300 looked a distinct possiblility. 10 of them came when Robert Gray knew that there are 100 pico metres in an angstrom. No, me neither. Bonuses on France and the direction to travel between cities put them on 270 with 5 minutes to go. For once Robert Gray came in too early and lost five as the question as to which island nation has the motto – Star and Key of the Indian Ocean – allowed St. Hugh’s to answer Mauritius as the question became clearer. They really could have done better with the questions on Scotland, even though it was all academic by this time. Nobody knew that the word rough could precede a set of given words. Merciless Omar Raii was in extremely quickly to identify Caernarfon Castle as the birthplace of the future Edward II. Managers of the England National Football team brought the UCL total to 285. If they could answer the next starter, then 300 would be likely. Well, Tom Allinson knew when Bangladesh became a test playing nation, to take them to 295. One bonus would do. Places associated with 12th century authors saw them do it. Just as well because they missed the next two. Charlie Dowell again sprang into action for the next starter, knowing a device that measures ozone. Bonuses on chemists born in the Russian Empire saw me say that Borodin would definitely be one of them. I was right, and so were UCL and that was the last question. UCL had won by a whopping 315 to 45.

As we often say, we need to be cautious about what conclusions we draw. For whatever reason, St. Hugh’s seemed a little off the pace on the buzzer. Mind you, all of the UCL team were buzzing well, with both Messrs Gray and Raii looking particularly impressive. They’ll fear no one in the second round, nor, I dare say, should they. 

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Absolutely nothing of note in this show.  

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

Words such as ‘kith’ which only appear in set phrases and are no longer used on their own are called fossil words.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Mastermind 2018 - Round One - Heat 15

Yes, dearly beloved, I am aware now that last week's heat was not the one scheduled, but I'm numbering them in broadcast order. Sorry I’m a little late posting this. Knackered last night, if truth be told. Still, let’s make up for lost time and crack straight on.  

Out first subject, offered by Chris Sloley, was the Simpsons. Now, for potential contenders, this is the sort of subject that should come with a government heath warning. To the average person on the street, who has never harboured the least intention of appearing on Mastermind, the Simpsons may look like a more easy subject than many. Au contraire. According to Wikipedia, there are currently over 600 episodes that have been broadcast. And yes, some episodes are more famous than others, and maybe more likely to be asked about. But you can’t leave it to chance. You have to be familiar with every episode. Even then they might well ask you about the creator, or the vocal performers, or the background to the show. Put bluntly, taking a subject like this puts you on a hiding to nothing. To get a high score would be an amazing feat of memory, yet if you did, the general public would probably be unimpressed. More likely though you would find yourself in the same position that Chris did. He was let down by his knowledge of specific episodes, and finished with 7.  

Is Venomous Snakes of the World a subject with less to learn than The Simpsons? I have absolutely no idea. What I do know, though is that whatever the size of the task, our second contender, Tim Kenny was well up to it. He managed 13, and as we know, with the current SS rounds, if you can get into the teens then you’ve done a very good job. On a personal note, I was surprised and happy to score as many points on this round – 7 – as I’d scored on The Simpsons (and I’ve been a fan of that show ever since it was a series of brief inserts in the Tracey Ullman Show 30 odd years ago. ) 

Way back in 1981 I won my first Mastermind competition. This was Elthorne High School Mastermind, which in its own way was just as hotly contested as the TV show. I was in the lower 6th form. A girl in the upper 6th was answering on Sherlock Holmes. Now, the gossip after the competition was that she’d turned up, fully expecting that she would only be asked about the 4 novels, and only realised that she was going to be asked about the 56 short stories after the round began. Well, Charley Hasted, our third contender, was well prepared for all eventualities, and she too scored a great 13. I pushed my score to 19 – well, I have read all of the stories, although this was a few years ago, to give me just a chance of breaking my best aggregate SS total for the series. 

I would have to do well on the last subject, though, which was Alfred the Great. I didn’t expect to get zero, since I knew a bit about Alfred from having studied Old English literature as part of my degree, but that was a long time ago. In the end, though, I managed 5. A good aggregate performance of 24, but no cigar this week. Alfred Williams, our 4th contender, really proved himself to be Alfred the Great, since he managed a superb 15 from 15. He hadn’t won yet, since Tim and Charley were still very much in the competition, but he had given himself a great springboard. 

Chris returned to the chair, and I fancy he may have been a bit downhearted after what had happened in his specialist round. Who knows? He battled manfully with his round, not quite accumulating a double figure score, and added 9 to his total to make 16.  

Tim’s round was rather better, and indeed with abut 20 seconds to go he was in with a chance of making a score of around 25/6. Wrong answers to most of his last few questions though left him high and dry on 23, and with the best will in the world that was not going to be enough to put Alfred into the corridor of doubt. Charley too scored 10 to put herself on 23, although behind Tim on pass countback. Any GK score in double figures is perfectly decent, but this left Alfred needing only 9 correct answers in order to win outright.  

And let’s give credit where it’s due, Alfred did considerably better than that. His technique was, I felt, extremely good. He snapped out his answers the moment that John had finished the question, and didn’t agonise over the ones he had wrong. As it was he passed on 3, but if you’re going to pass, then you have to pass quickly, which is exactly what Alfred did. In the end he had amassed a hugely impressive 16, for an overall total of 31. That’s extremely good quizzing, and I dare say that Mr. Williams will be one to watch in the semi finals. Very well done sir – we at LAM salute you.  

The Details

Chris Sloley
The Simpsons
7
3
9
4
16
7
Tim Kenny
Venomous Snakes of the world
13
0
10
0
23
0
Charley Hasted
Sherlock Holmes
13
1
10
4
23
4
Alfred Williams
The Life and Times of Alfred the Great
15
0
16
3
31
3

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Is It A Question of Age?

Here’s an interesting question which has arisen through comments made about my review of the first repechage match of this season’s University Challenge. Is an average older quizzer more likely to be better than an average younger quizzer?

A few years ago I would probably have said, yes, in all probability an average quizzer in their 50’s is probably going to be better than an average quizzer in their 30s. Now, well, I just don’t know.

The only quizzer I can discuss with any real degree of authority is me, so let’s do that. I began as a quizzer in early 1988. I wasn’t a bad player, and I was lucky to be part of a good team, in local terms, until it broke up about 3 years later. Then I hardly quizzed for 2 or 3 years. So in 1995, when I started to go to the quiz in Aberavon Rugby Club, and to play in the Neath Quiz League, I was 31, and a decent player who hadn’t played in a few years. Am I a better player now than I was in 1995? I would say yes, without doubt I am. I’ve had 22 years’ experience since then. But I would argue that I’m not that much better now than I was by 1997/8. Those first few years in the League and in the Rugby Club were hugely important to my development as a quizzer. I can’t tell you the value of those early years of preparing quizzes for the club every 2 – 4 weeks. By this time I was attending at least 3 quizzes every week as well. Physically I was only 2 years older by 1997 – 33. In terms of quizzing, though, there was no comparison between the 31 year old me and the 33 year old me. In fact I’d say there was far less of a difference between the 33 year old me and the 43 year old me. And probably the 53 year old me, for that matter. 

I’ve never really worked at my quizzing as such. However, for a few years between about 2010 and 2014/15 I was doing the papers every day, writing down things I felt would possibly come up as quiz questions. So I’d say that if I had a ‘peak’ as a quizzer it would be about this time when I was just about turning 50. I’ve probably been gently rolling downhill ever since. We have a more healthy roster of regular setters for the club now, and I doubt that I set a quiz more than once in a couple of months. I’ve stopped playing in the Bridgend league, and the rugby club quiz is the only quiz I do regularly, although I still have a go at Brain of Mensa. I’ve written about this before, so I won’t go overboard, but basically, going to different pub quizzes on a Sunday evening was only bringing me grief and aggravation, and I stopped enjoying the League. 

I’m straying a little from my original brief. In all honesty, I don’t know if people in their 20s/30s are naturally going to be weaker quizzers than people in their 40s/50s. I mean, you’d think so purely in terms of life experience. But then when I do the rugby club quiz, when I played in the league and various Sunday night quizzes, I was often struck by – a) How much people don’t know, regardless of their age – and – b) how the same people could keep getting the same questions wrong, year after year. And I suppose it comes down to this – there is a wide gulf separating those who want to work at their quiz, who take it very seriously – and those who don’t, and that’s regardless of age. 

I’d be interested in your opinions on this.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

University Challenge 2018 - Repechage 1 - Ulster v. St. Anne's, Oxford


Repechage 1: - Ulster v. St. Anne’s, Oxford

Yes, it’s that time again, dearly beloved, we’re onto the repechage matches, and soon the second round will begin. First up we had Ulster, who, frankly, looked pretty much the pick of the bunch of runners up, and were certainly my favourited to make it through this match. They were represented by Cal McDaid, Kate Ritchie, Matthew Milliken and their captain Iain Jack. Underdog opponents St. Anne’s Oxford were well beaten by the impressive Corpus Christi team first time out. They were represented by Ramani Chandramohan, Cameron Royle, Andrew Jamieson and captain Kanta Dihal.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t recognise a group of objects that all feature in self portraits by Frida Kahlo, but Kate Ritchie was in well before the question ended. This earned a set of bonuses on Japanese innovations, which brought just 5 points. Both teams rather sat on their buzzers for the next starter. It asked for a type of cloth, and suddenly became much clearer when we were told that it was often dyed green. Even so it was a moment or two before Iain Jack won the buzzer race to tell us it was baize. This brought bonuses on stars, which saw Ulster fail to score, but also saw me take an early lap of honour for Algol. Strictly speaking I shouldn’t have, since I know more about astronomy than most other branches of Science, but I wasn’t going to wait on the offchance that a more worthy opportunity might come along later. Kanta Dihal opened her team’s account, knowing Charles Seife’s work ‘Zero’. The title proved sadly prophetic of how many points St. Anne's would score on Scottish Artists. To be fair, I only managed the Eduardo Paolozzi one myself. This was compounded when Cameron Royle buzzed too early on the next starter letting Kate Ritchie in with Acetylcholine. Gesundheit. Composers – specifically Polish ones, brought me two and Ulster a full house. Thence to the first picture starter. We saw the floor plan of St. Paul’s cathedral – which floor plan once featured on the Christopher Wren £50 note, unless I’m very much mistaken – not that I ever saw many of these when they were around. Cal McDaid had that one. 1 from a set of more floor plans of London buildings meant that by the 10 minute mark they led by 65 – 5, and it looked ominous for St. Anne’s since Ulster clearly had the whip hand on the starters.

It looked even worse for them after Cameron Roye lost 5 for getting the first English translator of Virgil’s Aeneid wrong. To be fair I didn’t have a clue until it was mentioned that he shared a surname with the actors who played Spartacus and Gordon Gecko (I’m Gordon Gecko! No, I’m Gordon Gecko!) It fell to the Ulster skipper to buzz in with Douglas. Modern Feminism provided both of us with just the one correct answer. Matthew Milliken seemed surprised that Matthew Arnold appropriated the term Philistines in his work Culture and Anarchy, but he was right. I was surprised that Ulster missed the old chestnut about John Ruskin being sued by Whistler – I think Whistler received damages of a farthing -  - but managed both other bonuses. Now, if you subtract the number of moons in the inner solar system from the number of planets in the inner solar system, you get 1 – (Moon, Phobos Deimos from Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars). No, I didn’t take another lap of honour after this one. The fauna of New Zealand stymied Ulster – again the Moas at least are a bit of an old chestnut, considering that they were the largest species of bird known to have ever existed. To be fair to Ulster, at least their skipper was very quickly in for the old chestnut of the Norse word berserkr. Roman history added another 5 points. I have to admit, at this point, with the score at 125 – 0 I felt that the dreaded “Plenty of time to catch up, St. Anne’s” was due to be launched from the Paxman lips at any moment. I was right. Poor old St. Anne’s – it must have felt like the kiss of death when he came out with that one. So to the music starter. Now, I knew it was the music used for the Austin Powers films, but couldn’t for the life of me remember that it was Quincy Jones’ “Soul bossa nova”. Andrew Jamieson did. More pieces of music later reused for films provided another 5 points. Again, I thought that both teams dwelt a little on the buzzer for the next. The Bitter Lakes have come up quite often in quizzes, and that by itself could have given the correct answer of the Suez Canal, while the construction between 1859 and 1869 was even more of a clue. However it wasn’t until the 1956 nationalisation was mentioned that Iain Jack – pick of the buzzers in this contest, gave the answer. Questions linked by burning saw Ulster manage none of an extremely gettable set. Cameron Royle knew that the original standard metre was made up from platinum. Noble laureate Tawakkol Karman brought them a further 5 points. Thus, at the 20 minute mark Ulster led by 135 – 30, and the contest was well and truly over. 

Still, there was interest at least in seeing how close St. Anne’s could come, and Kanta Dihal added 10 to her team’s total, knowing two sons of Rama. Rather fortuitously this earned St. Anne’s a full house on provinces of the Netherlands – the St. Anne's skipper is from the Netherlands. Iain Jack knew that one of the years in which William Jennings Bryan was defeated in a bid for the US presidency was 1900. The US philosopher Richard Rorty brought 1 correct answer. The second picture starter showed us a phot of Sir Tim Berners Lee – who was in my picture quiz for the rugby club only days earlier. Neither of the teams could see it. I earned a second lap of honour for guessing Pascal as the SI Unit in the next question – well, 10 to the minus bar sounded like pressure to me. Cameron Royle had that to earn the picture bonuses. Other recipients of the Bodley medal brought St. Anne’s total to 75. Iain Jack guessed that siphonaptera are fleas, which brought a set of bonuses on physics. I had one right! I knew Einstein actually received his Nobel prize for his work on the photo electric effect. Ulster missed Einstein, but took the first. The stage direction ‘enter a servant with two heads and a hand’ comes from Titus Andronicus. I hated that play. Neither team knew it. Andrew Jamieson knew the term ‘skew’ in statistics. Well done. Hong Kong Cinema might as well have been Hong Kong Phooey for all St. Anne’s knew about it – I can’t say that much since the only one I knew was John Wu. Cameron Royle knew various varieties of olive, but could get none of the bonuses on Tuberculosis. Sadly Cameron Royle lost five by buzzing too early on the next starter, allowing Matthew Milliken to answer Krakow, which fitted the definition given. That was it, and at the gong Ulster had won by 175 – 90.

Well played Ulster – clear winners over a St. Anne’s team who were buzzed out of the contest until the last few minutes. Do I fancy Ulster's chances? Sorry, but no, I don't. It all depends on whom they play in the second round, but without wishing to be horrible I was struck by their low bonus conversion rate, which makes me rate them as unlikely to go all the way. I hope that they may prove me wrong. 

Jeremy Paxman Watch

What has happened to the great man? AT the top of the show we were served up the unedifying spectacle of him descending into childish schoolyard abuse, suggesting that Ulster had received a highly commended in the Yul Brynner lookalike stakes – presumably directed at Matthew Milliken. Ho ho ho. Jez, grow up. 

I did like the way that JP had to cough to cover up his amusement that Ulster offered ‘Nelson lost his left arm (no he didn’t!) “ rather than “The boy stood on the burning deck”.

Once again he demonstrated that he gets awfully sniffy when one of the teams gets an English Lit question wrong. When Ramani Chandramohan suggested that the stage direction – enter a servant with two heads and a hand ‘ might be from Troilus and Cressida, he wrinkled his nose and snorted “Good Heaven’s no!”, as if she’d maybe suggested Scooby Doo. 

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

The only mammals native to New Zealand are bats.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Mastermind 2018 - Round One - Heat 14


Another week, another heat, dearly beloved, and yes, thank you, I had a lovely time during my short half-term visit to Budapest. We had at least 2 recidivists in tonight’s heat. I say atr least, because I can’t be sure whether Michael Clark, our first contender tonight, was the same Mike Clark who contended in 2009.

So let’s talk about Michael, then, since he did go first, as I said. Michael was offering us what I thought would be my worst subject of the evening, Elvis Presley. Now, you’d be a fool if you said anything other than Elvis was a great singer, and you’d be a fool to deny that he was a strong contender for the title of most important popular entertainer of the 20th century. But for all that, Elvis was my parent’s thing, and not mine. So I was never that sort of Elvis fan. So I was extremely surprised to kick off my attempt at setting a record specialist aggregate for a heat of this series with 8 points. All I can suggest is that there were a lot of guessable questions in this round. Still , considering that this was supposed to be my worst subject, it boded well. Michael kicked off with a good 12 to give himself a decent chance of the win.

So then we came to Sarah Elder. I thought I recognised her, and a quick check revealed that she did take part in the first round a couple of years ago. Sarah must have really enjoyed the experience, since although she put in a perfectly respectable performance last time out, she wasn’t really that close to winning her heat. This time round she was offering a good historical subject, The Glorious Revolution. Now, while I scored 8 on Elvis, I only scored 6 on this round – go figure. Like Michael, Sarah too managed a good 12 points. On 14 myself, a new top score was definitely possible since I could count on points from both of the last two subjects.

Ian Slater came up clean from my search of the database, so I’m fairly sure he is a Mastermind virgin. His subject was the Foundation Novels of Isaac Asimov. I have read all of them. When I was a teenager, I loved Asimov’s work. However, that was decades ago, and I haven’t re-read the books since, a fact which became clear as a flood of points failed to materialise. While Ian too mopped up 12, I struggled to get 5. That gave me 19, one away from a respectable score of 20, but needing a really good round to set a new target.

The subject, then was the 70s sitcom “Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em”. This was being offered by Philip Isaac, semi finalist in 2015. Last time he was in the heats, Philip offered us ‘Allo ‘Allo, so he was keeping very much with the sitcom theme. I have to say that Some Mothers made far more of an impression on me than the later show, as I took 8 points to set a new record of 27. More to the point, though, Philip himself whacked in a fine 13 and no passes. As we’ve observed several times before, in this era of the show, a specialist score in the teens in the heats is pretty good going. Indeed, a congratulations to all 4 contenders – it’s always nice to see all 4 contenders paying the show respect by preparing thoroughly. 

So to the General knowledge. The way things had worked out the contenders would be returning to the chair in the same order in which they had contested the specialist rounds. Putting it in perspective, last time out in the heats, Philip had managed 13 in GK, and there was no good reason to suspect that he wouldn’t manage that level of performance this time round. Allowing for that, then, while Michael added a perfectly decent 11 to his score, it looked unlikely that his 23 would be a winning score in this heat. Sarah Elder had scored 9 the last time she was in the first round, and that’s what she managed tonight, to take her to 21. I’m sure that this is scant consolation, but I found her GK round harder than any of the other three. Of course, this is all in the eye of the beholder, and I dare say that there will have been viewers who found her round easier. Once again, though, she looked as if she had enjoyed her Mastermind experience, and once again she had acquitted herself perfectly respectably. 

As did Ian Slater, in fact, he did somewhat better than respectably. He needed to score 12 to go into the lead without needing a pass countback, and that’s exactly what he managed. John rather rubbed it in that he missed a wee bit of a sitter with his last question, which wasn’t strictly necessary, but nonetheless he at least had put in a score which would leave Philip needing to cross the corridor of doubt in order to win. Yet Philip certainly didn’t look in any doubt. . . until he had reached 23, that is. Then a couple of questions came and went before he could put himself equal to Ian. Almost immediately after this, though he made the pass situation academic with another correct answer, and by the end of the round he’d put daylight between himself and the chasing pack with a score of 13 to give him 26.  Well played, sir, and best of luck in the semi final. 

The Details

Michael Clark
Elvis Presley
12
0
11
2
23
2
Sarah Elder
The Glorious Revolution
12
0
9
0
21
0
Ian Slater
The Foundation Novels of Isaac Asimov
12
1
12
2
24
3
Philip Isaac
Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em
13
0
13
3
26
3

Monday, 30 October 2017

Brain of Mensa 2017


Well, my reign as Brain of Mensa champion was always going to come to an end sooner rather than later, and so it did yesterday in the Grand Final in Birmingham. To be honest, I can’t say it was unexpected. People who know me well enough know that I don’t really have a modest bone in my body, and so when I said that I won last year because the questions really fell right for me, well, I wasn’t lying, and lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place. After a bright start I fell away, while Les Hurst, who had already been champion three times before, put on a bravura display of frankly brilliant quizzing. Once he got into his stride there was only one person in it, and I take my hat off to him for the display he produced. 

Well, I never enter a quiz without trying to win, and I was trying to win yesterday, even though it didn’t work out. Still, coming second did bring its own consolation in the shape of a second place and silver medal. This means I now have a full set of gold – 2016 – silver -2017 and bronze – 2014. I wasn’t together enough to apply and play in 2015. As things stand, though, I’m looking forward to applying again and playing in 2018.


The three medals - 2016 gold, 2017 silver, 2014 bronze

Saturday, 28 October 2017

University Challenge - Round One - Heat 14 - Merton,Oxford v. King's London


Merton, Oxford v. King’s College, London

Well, here it is, dearly beloved, the last heat of the first round. Once this is over, we’ll have definitely seen the winning team. Not necessarily in this heat, but then again, possibly.

Merton were represented by Edward Thomas, Alexander Peplow, Akira Wiberg and their captain Leonie Woodland. King’s in their turn drew on the services of Marta Varela, Richard Senior, Lochlan Pryer and their skipper Caroline Spearing.

Now, the fact that we were dealing with a revolution of 1959 should possibly have alerted both teams a little bit earlier to the fact that the first starter was looking for Fidel Castro. Edward Thomas was first in for that one. This brought Merton a set on World Religions. These weren’t all gimmes by any standard, and the way that Merton dispatched them to the boundary was a serious statement of intent. Look out King’s. Akira Wiberg came in quickly when asked to identify the order in which the Genus Homo is placed. The Fifa World Cup proved somewhat trickier than world religions, and we both only took the one, although not the same one. Alexander Peplow gave us Alexander Hamilton as the first US Secretary of the Treasury. When JP announced bonuses on diseases named after the location they were first identified, I immediately shouted that Lassa fever would be one. Don’t know why, since the room was empty. Neither of us had heard of the Rift Valley Fever, but we both took the other two. The picture starter showed us the first few lines of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116. Marta Varela opened King’s account knowing the two missing words. More mistreated sonnets provided ten more points. Alexander Peplow won the buzzer race to tell us that the Famous Five reappeared in a new set of books in 2016. Events of 1907 provided Merton with 2 more correct answers, and meant that they led by 80 – 20 at the 10 minute mark. 

Captain Leonie Woodland knew the Pigeonhole Principle for the next starter. The phrase – by the skin of our teeth – provided them with a further two correct answers. Akira Wiberg knew that the southernmost point of the Asian continent is on the Malay peninsula. Serial publications of the 19th century provided a full house which took Merton into treble figures. Various scientific things all linked or symbolised by the letter C gave Merton’s skipper another starter – and you have to say, poor old King’s looked to have been flattened by the Merton juggernaut by this stage of the proceedings. Merton only managed the one correct answer on comets, but I set off upon my lap of honour around the living room for taking a full house. For the music starter we were treated to a good slice of Edwin Starr’s War . And I can’t resist saying that both teams scored absolutely nothing (say it again, y’all). Caroline Spearing earned the music bonuses for her team by knowing that Blanche’s Chair was an early draft title for A Streetcar Named Desire. (or as my Nan once charmingly called it, A Streetcar named Desiree). Three other songs banned from BBC radio during the Gulf War provided a full house, which narrowed the gap – although this still stood at more than 90 points. Marta Varela knew that in Futsal each team can have a maximum of 5 players on the field at any one time. British physicist Hertha Ayrton promised me little since I’ve never heard of her, and yet it provided both me and King’s with a full house. Akira Wiberg shut down King’s mini revival when he knew that Cowper’s lines “I am monarch of all I survey” refer to Alexander Selkirk. The Cold War saw Merton pick up two bonuses, as was their wont, but miss out on the term Ostpolitik. Leonie Woodland either knew or guessed that the two longest rivers in European Russia are the Volga and the Don. ISO codes for languages almost inevitably saw Merton give two correct answers. Caroline Spearing held her hands to her face when she realised that, when asked for a Biblically named character from Moby Dick she’d zigged with Ahab when she should have zagged with Ishmael. Alexander Peplow took that one. The cavalier poets provided, well, no, not 2 answers, only the one. It didn’t matter. As a contest the game was over, as Merton led by 195 to 65 at the 20 minute mark, and frankly looked pretty decent value for their score at that. 

There was no mercy for King’s either as Akira Wiberg was very quickly in to identify a photograph of Mata Hai for the second picture starter. Three more figures known for their involvement in spycraft provided just the one correct answer. Leoni Woodland knew that 2 pi radians is 360 degrees. Fair enough. Playing the violin brought another 10 points. Edward Thomas knew that Gower is an area of outstanding natural beauty. It is, too. Income tax brought a full house. Alexander Peplow knew Judith Weir was once appointed Master of the King’s Music, as the agony continued for King’s. Stately Homes added 10 more points to their burgeoning total. Fair play to Marta Varela for finding an early buzz at this stage of the game to give the correct answer of Magellanic clouds to the next starter. Taglines of British films were an appropriately gettable set, and the full house King’s achieved pushed the towards respectability. They achieved triple figure respectability with the next starter, knowing that Jacob and Bob were two famous Marleys. Little bit of trivia – in the Muppet’s Christmas Carol – Mrs. Londinius’ favourite film – Marley’s Ghosts are played by Stadler and Waldorf, and their names are Jacob and Robert Marley. Bonuses on tea provided another two correct answers. Leonie Woodland knew that Fermions have half integer spin. No, me neither. A UC special set of titles differing only by the final word – eg Life of Pi and Life of Brian sounded good, but we didn’t have time for them, as the gong stopped the contest with the score at 285 – 110 in Merton’s favour.

Hard lines, King’s. We really never got a chance to see how good you were since you were comprehensively outbuzzed, although I suspect your bonus conversion rate was pretty decent. Well played Merton. Strong contenders in the second round, I fancy. 

Jeremy Paxman Watch

A rather good example of precision biting of the hands that feed him saw JP moan “What a ridiculous organisation it is!” after it was revealed that Roberta Flacks Killing Me Softly was kept off the national radios stations during the Gulf War. Rather sensitive and sensible, I would have said.

JP also demonstrated an interesting way of pronouncing Woburn Abbey. I’ve always heard it pronounced WOE-burn, but Jez called it WOO-burn. Hmm. 

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

“The Skin of My Teeth” is a phrase first coined in the Book of Job

Friday, 27 October 2017

Mastermind - Round One - Heat 13


For a couple of reasons Mastermind took me back in time tonight, and I promise I’ll explain why. Not yet, though.

Kicking us off tonight, then, was 2013 semi finalist Richard Chaney. Richard offered us one of my all-time favourite sitcoms, Porridge. I could wax lyrical about the acting of messrs Barker, Beckinsale, Mackay and Wilde, and the writing of Clement and LaFrenais. But I won’t. What I will say is that I was annoyed with myself to score only 10 on this round, one less than Richard. Now, I do know enough about Porridge to say that these were a difficult enough set, although I do think that they might well have asked the name of the series of Ronnie Barker pilots in which the first episode, Prisoner and Escort was broadcast. 

Well, anyway, at this rate it was a good start for a tilt at another 20+ specialist aggregate. My chances, though, were not helped by Sophie Starkey’s round on Peggy Guggenheim. Yes, there were a couple of pieces of low lying fruit in The Titanic and Yoko Ono – now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write – but that was about it for me. Sophie did a lot better than that. However, you really need to get double figures to give yourself a fighting chance in the GK round, and Sophie’s 8 always looked like it was going to leave her too much to do.

In the normal course of events, schoolteacher Eddie Alexander would have had the dubious benefit of support from the Clark sofa, however the circumstances were a little different tonight, as I’ll explain shortly. Nonetheless I was hoping he’d do well on his specialist round on the band Deep Purple. I never saw Deep Purple live, although I did see once Whitesnake, which band had more than its fair share of former Deep Purple members. As with Sophie, Eddie didn’t do at all badly, but just missed double figures with 9.

And so to our final contender, Derek Moody. Seeing Derek took me back 10 years to the 2007 SOBM. Why? Because Derek was runner up in the Grand Final, missing out on a tie break by a single point. I’ve written and spoken more than enough about that particular event, so I’ll say no more, other than that I was really, really , really hoping that Derek would go well. As indeed he did. In my answers to his questions I proved that I know nothing about Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles. I expected Derek to go close to a perfect round, since I’ve had first hand experience of how well and carefully he prepares his specialist rounds. This wasn’t quite perfect, but it was good enough to give him the joint lead with 11. 

Who would win, then? In terms of experience you’d have to have given it to Derek. Not only was he runner up in my Final, he had been stand-in for the final a couple of years earlier, after just narrowly missing out in his semi final. In 2013, though, Ricard had shown impressive GK form in his first round. Well, we’d come to that. Firstly, though, we had Sophie Starkey’s GK round. And a pretty good GK round it was, and at least gave her the satisfaction of having reached double figures in one of her Mastermind Rounds. Eddie Alexander, well, Eddie had been a point better than Sophie in the Specialist round, now he was a point worse in the GK. He scored 9, to also finish with 18 points. 

This brought us to the main event, as it were. Richard took the chair first, and while he never quite reached escape velocity he certainly maintained a steady momentum throughout his round, to add 13 to his total. Putting this into perspective, it meant that Derek was going to need to score 13 and no passes to force a tie break, or 14 to win outright. That’s a sizeable total, not easily achieved, and certainly enough to put you into the corridor of doubt. 

Not that you’d have known it from Derek’s first couple of answers. In fact, for the first minute or so he was well up with the clock. However, the wrong answers were starting to creep in. From this point onwards, in all honesty it became one of those rounds for Derek. More than once he was asked questions where you could see him narrowing options down to a couple of options, and zigging when he should have zagged – for example with Rodin’s Burghers of Calais instead of zagging with The Thinker. When thinks work out like that there’s nothing you can do. Derek took his score to 21.

At the start of this review I did say that there were two things which made this show a bit of a trip down memory lane. The second, then, was the rather extraordinary chat that John had with winner Richard after announcing the final scores. I can only suggest that for some reason this show was a bit short and required some padding. John probed Richard for his reasons for choosing Porridge. Richard, congratulations on reaching another semi final, and thank you for not providing the plug for the revived series of Porridge– starting immediately after the end of the show over on BBC1 – I have a feeling John may have been angling for just such a plug. All in all it was rather reminiscent of the excruciating inter-round chats we poor contenders had to suffer through in my era of the show – and that’s something we really don’t want to see coming back. 

The Details

Richard Chaney
Porridge
11
0
13
1
24
1
Sophie Starkey
Peggy Guggenheim
8
0
10
1
18
1
Eddie Alexander
Deep Purple
9
0
9
2
18
2
Derek Moody
Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles
11
0
10
1
21
1