Weaver's Week 2008-03-02

Weaver's Week Index

A small earthquake was reported from Market Rasen in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The USGS said it was 4.7, the BGS 5.3, and UKGS gives it 5.1 for technical merit, 4.9 for artistic impression, mostly thanks to Holly's dressless evening strap.


Brain power

Brain-Jitsu, BBC Manchester for BBC2, 7.29am weekdays

Brainbox Challenge, BBC Manchester for BBC2, 6.30pm weekdays

Last time we saw Simon Greenall, he was trapped in a tower by The Voice, a perfectly-enunciated purple-lipped beast who gave children silly things to do before tea-time. In the months since, he's escaped from that tower, and turned up in a mind gym, where he rubs shoulders with Haruka Kuroda, and hopes not to bump into Clive Anderson.

Last time we saw Clive Anderson, he was hosting a nostalgia quiz and asking moderately famous people to answer ten eight-second questions in a minute. In the years since, he's caught a train to Manchester, been delayed for some months by knitting on the line near Hanslope, freed only when a marksman shot a dead pigeon out of a signal, and finally caught a taxi to the Oxford Road studios. We have no evidence that he's bumped into Simon Greenall.

Brain-Jitsu is a very simple competition. Eight children gather, and over the course of an hour, they'll face seven tasks of brainpower. Seven of them will leave with nothing, but one will be awarded the Black Belt of Brain-Jitsu. Brainbox Challenge is also a very simple competition. Lots of people walk on the stage, attempt to answer some questions, and a few of them might leave with money.

In both shows, the games are designed to test mental agility, mental flexibility, and processing. There are observation tasks, tests of short-term memory, alphabetical and mathematical coding, hand-to-eye co-ordination, and even tests of disgust. Well, the last two are for the Brain-Jitsu competitors – those who appear with Clive Anderson have these skills tested in other ways. Two words: BBC coffee.

Only one of the shows bothers to explain the biological processes at work in the brain. While viewers to Brain-Jitsu get to learn the difference between the antebellum, the cerebellum, and the cerebrum, those who watch Brainbox Challenge just get to see an animated version of Clive Anderson.

Both programmes work at their own pace. Brain-Jitsu has seven main games per show, each taking up the screen for about four minutes, though this is often edited down from a somewhat longer task. Between each round is a visit to the Room of Mental Nourishment, in which the remaining contestants gently warm each other up for the next task, while it's explained to the viewer with examples and a diagram of the active parts of the brain. After each round, the Walk of Eternal Regret, in which the departing contestant delivers their thoughts on the competition, before pretending to walk off down the Great Wall of China. The geographical inaccuracy we'll forgive, the fortune cookie mottoes delivered to the Room of Mental Nourishment are fine, but we can't let the rubbish CGI of the Great Wall slip by without criticism. It's by far the weakest element of the show.

Brainbox Challenge also works at its own pace. Very fast. It also features six main games per show, even though it's barely half as long as the Children's production. The reigning champion sees their next challenger – but not the title of the game – and must decide whether to leave the game with the money they've won, or to face the challenger. "Do you want to take the cheque, or take the challenge?" asks Clive, in a clear attempt to enter the Catchphrase Hall of Clunk. Each game is then explained with a single example – there's no science in this show, remember – before the challenge. The vast majority of challenges are best-of-seven, making it rather tiresome when one contender rushes into a 4-0 lead. Within three minutes, the winner is determined, and we're moving on.

The final game in each show is a bit special, and the same on each episode. For Brainbox Challenge, it's a Flying Shapes game, where the champion at that moment is confronted with a sequence of shapes, and must call out the shape two before last. Back at Brain-Jitsu, it's the Table of Supreme Focus, where a brain activity meter translates thoughts into electrical charge, and moves a ball up and down a table. One of them makes entertaining viewing.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Brainbox Challenge is the speed: we hardly have time to get to know the contestants before they're off. Something like eighteen minutes of questions in a 28-minute show is good going, but we don't get to know the contestant unless they remain with the show for days on end. It'll take 15 games, three complete shows, to win the promised top prize of £10,000. No such trouble for Brain-Jitsu, where the same cast remains with us throughout the hour.

Mercifully, both shows rotate their games regularly, there's a bank of between fifteen and twenty for each programme. If there's one problem with Brain-Jitsu, it's well-hidden. The Banzai-style silly voices and manga-style animation takes a bit of getting used to, but adds to the atmosphere. Perhaps the show's length counts against it, but the brevity of the challenges allows them to be chopped up into little bite-sized chunks and put in awkward spots in the CBBC schedule, just as they've done with Raven.

Brainbox Challenge has three possible areas for improvement. First, make each challenge the best-of-three (or aggregate of two games, draws going to the champion. Or challenger. We don't mind) would reduce the turnover and allow Clive to talk to the champ and challenger, while still keeping the Gold Run at the end of the show. Second, not every game has to be at the podia. Brain-Jitsu gains from setting challenges where the contestants have to walk, or use the hot-air blowers last seen on Friends Like These. And finally, those buzzers need some work: it's not clear when the buzzers activate, and there's a two- or three-second delay before Clive asks for the answer. A swifter buzzer, perhaps with just a light and not a sound effect, could work.

Clive Anderson isn't allowed to use his swift wits here, and his show suffers. Simon Greenall is a convincing martial arts teacher, and his show profits.

University Challenge

Second Semi-Final: Magdalen Oxford v Sheffield

Magdalen, lest we forget, has come through the repechage and St Andrews; Sheffield has been mightily impressive in each of their three wins.

This week's word is AXIS, and Sheffield finds questions on the prefix "tetra-" to be a treat. They also remember that the novel Crystal was written by Jordan; we confused her with the infinitely more attractive Dustin the Turkey. Magdalen gets a couple of starters, but their bonus conversion rate has been poor in the past, and a series of questions on dimensionless numbers (such as Prandtl, of whom more in the next section) doesn't help. We'll take Guess the Number on 0898 THUMPER:

Q: Answer as soon as you buzz, giving your answer as a decimal number. What is the answer to the sum 101+111 where both these numbers are given in base three?
[We wait.]
[Time passes.]
[Thirteen seconds later...]
Well, I'm enjoying you pretending to work this out...

Guesses of 68.9 and 72.1 rather bear Thumper's point out. The answer, of course, is 23. The first visual round is the crests of British overseas territories, and in spite of answering more starters than their opponents, Magdalen trails 35-40. Sheffield knows their mnemonics, and the definition of the Tree Line, and picks up on questions about the word "ablution". And, unlike Sherlock Holmes, they know the earth revolves around the sun.

Goodness, Magdalen are still there, getting a question about cave paintings, and one on the definitions of "aesthetic" and "anaesthetic". The audio round is on composers of classical music, and Aditya Balachander for Sheffield names that composer in two notes. The side is now ahead by 135-65.

Magdalen begins the third stanza by ensuring that everyone's answered at least one starter. Both Danzig and Konigsberg have changed their names, to Gdansk and Septponts respectively. We'll take Impressing Thumper of the Week:

Q: Javan, Sumatran, White, Black...
Sheffield, Phil Smith: Rhino
Q: Well done, yes!

Thumper thought they'd say "tiger", and he could go "ha ha!" Sheffield proves their knowledge of the islands around Great Britain, we rather hope that they get a job on Coast. Magdalen knows that "hic jacet" is Latin for "here lies", not "coat worn when drunk". Sheffield has fans of fens, Magdalen of Ian McEwan. By the second visual round, on paintings of scenes from Genesis, Sheffield's lead has crept up to 215-115. Which brings us to the traditional Where Are You From, Magdalen?

Q: In which English county are the villages of Thrupp, Cam, Box, Edge, and Slad, the latter the birthplace of author Laurie Lee?
Magdalen, Jon Wright: Gloucestershire.

Even their knowledge of recent European election results isn't going to save them, though the Oxford side briefly closes the gap to 60 points. Sheffield remembers who the 1926 General Strike was supporting, stretching the gap to 80 points with three and a half minutes to play. Sheffield gets the next starter, drop the bonuses to leave the door ajar, then gets the next starter. Who knew that it would pay to know the flag of Kazakhstan?

"Multiplying by seven and then dividing by 47 is an easy way to work out VAT," suggests Thumper. C'mon, how is anyone going to divide by 47 in their head, and work out the answer correct to two decimal places? Sheffield has also all answered at least one starter. A question about Norway and Sweden's union also appeared in Mastermind, the gong goes, and Sheffield has clearly won, 275-165.

Six starters for Jon Wright, Magdalen made 15/33 bonuses with four missignals. Sheffield had 25/45 bonuses and no missignals, with Phil Smith getting six starters.

Next match: Christ Church Oxford v Sheffield


Second Round 3/6

It's 7.30 in the evening, so someone will tell us why BBC Broadcasting has decided that this is the perfect time to plug a programme that started on Radio 4 a quarter of an hour ago.

David Down will take the Life and Career of Bobby Charlton, an association football player with a famous haircut and winner of a grand on Celebrity Double Your Money. Mr. Charlton was known for banging 'em in at a remarkable rate, just like this contender who ends on 17 (0). Eat my goal!

John Welsh discusses the Roman Republic to 43BC. It was contemporary studies when they started planning this series. The questions run in approximately chronological order, and include at least one question about a king of Rome, hardly a Republic. 11 (4) isn't an old woman sitting atop a pole.

David Hill takes the Life and Poetry of Wilfred Owen. Though he's best known for his conflict poetry, including the masterful "War Goes Bang", Mr. Owen had a significant career before his deployment. 14 (0) is a good score.

Katie Bramall has been watching The Day Today, a television series from 1994. And there's no mention of Valerie Sinatra, whose mile-high traffic tower has been blotting out the sun just up the road from here since 1991. A good round, taken at a remarkable clip, ending on 15 (0).

Mr. Welsh is first up, and suggests that the secret of Rome's success was the way it imposed the same rules everywhere, but grew too big for its own stability. The round starts slowly, but picks up speed towards the end; by its conclusion, the currency cat is showing 21 (9).

Mr. Hill pays tribute to the combination of Keats's romanticism and the honest description of the horrors of war. He does very well to remember a very obscure Greek legend, the remainder of the round is successful in comparison to the famous Soccerometer. Enough to take the lead, at least for the moment; 22 (4).

Dr. Bramall is making us feel *very* old, saying she was still at school when The Day Today first aired. And, finally, we have confirmation that the ITN graphics team practiced there, before putting their work on the main channel. Again, she's right to guess at everything, and guesses quickly, but zigging with Oxford when the correct answer is Cambridge doesn't help. Whatever happened to Norwich, anyway? 23 (1).

Mr. Down requires seven to win, and confirms that Mr. Charlton was his boyhood hero. He takes his time, picks off the easiest pickings, and just about manages to get over the finishing line with 25 (4). Closing music!

This Week And Next

Image:Square RTE1.jpg

It's remarkable how similar some of RTÉ's shows are to those going out on the BBC. The annual Children In Need appeal crosses the sea, has a slight change, and becomes People In Need. We have Strictly Come Dancing, they have the oh-so-similar Celebrity Jigs 'N' Reels. We have the unbelievably simple Spelling Bee, they have the even less taxing Gridlock, where Derek Mooney started to explain the rules in 1999 and hasn't yet finished.

The UK has run the very successful entertainment 0898gate for a year, now Ireland comes back with 1550gate. The press in Ireland have raised almost one eyebrow over long-running lottery show Winning Streak. On this show, contestants can win large amounts of cash, cars, and holidays, purely on the luck of the draw – no skill is required from the contestants. Apparently, rather than actually winning the car or the holiday, contestants are given the cash value of the prize, and allowed to make their own arrangements. Host Derek Mooney, a cross between Dale Winton and Father Dougal, did not comment. He was still reading out the rules to Gridlock.

The UK held her Song for Europe selection last night, and we'll publish the review next week. The people of Ireland have already had their say, and it would be impolite to question their decision. They're sending someone who has had almost as many chart-topping singles as the 1968 runner-up, Mr. Sir Cliff Richard. Dustin the Turkey is a close friend of former Big Breakfast stars Zig and Zag, has been a regular fixture on Irish television screens since the early 1990s, and has released a number of massive hit singles and albums, while ribbing everyone from anywhere that isn't Dublin.

Reaction to the Irish sending a proven pop star – and this is the first foreign singer we've heard outside of Eurovision since Tatu in 2003 – was surprisingly negative: failed presidential candidate Dana Domestic said that this was "a disaster" and it would be "the worst song Ireland had ever sent." Has she forgotten "Millennium of Love" already? Yes? She wins! Mr. the Turkey's song takes the mick out of everyone involved with Eurovision, including the winner of the 1994 contest. The concept of sending people from Ireland to be offensive about other performers is nothing new. Terry Wogan will make his thirtieth commentary on the contest in May.

Meanwhile, we understand that the Daily Tabloid has fulminated against the whole concept of the Eurovision Song Contest. According to the house comic of Rupert Murdoch, the whole contest is "a crooked farce". It's taken seriously by other countries, including Ireland, and apparently that shows "how many decades their music is behind ours". We'll address the last topic next week, but what, we wonder, would Mr. Murdoch's companies know about being crooked? After all, News International is a British-registered company that gladly pays every penny of its corporation taxes without a murmur of complaint, and without using any accountancy tricks to minimise its tax bill. No-one could ever call such a company crooked. And its owner is so internationally-minded that he's acquired a huge collection of different passports purely for the love of being cosmopolitan, and not merely so that he could expand his business.

The Rose d'Or nominees were announced this week. The ones we're interested in:

Image:Square codex.jpg

  • Best Game ShowCodex (Tony Robinson, British museum, cypher); Who Dares Wins (Nick Knowles, teams of two, listing more heavily than a sinking ship)
  • Best EntertainmentStreetmate (Holly Willoughby, pairing off, not much); Hider in the House (Jay Kay and Or Joel, does what it says on the tin)
  • Best RealityDeadline (Janet Teeth Porter, celebs making a celeb mag, paparazzi is an adjective); Last Man Standing (strongmen around the world); The One and Only (but it's the old Star Academy format, to a T!)

In the week to 17 February, the most-seen game show was Dancing on Ice (9.15m) The One And Only's final had 6.5m, just beating the return of Saturday Night Takeaway (6.4m). Millionaire recorded 4.2m. On the minor channels, University Challenge had 3.5m, Masterchef 3.35m, and Deal 2.75m. Link moved to BBC1 this week, and failed to record the 4.7m for the channel's top 30.

Pop Idle US (840,000) led on digital, with Come Dine With Me (540,000) beating Dave's Monday night QI (485,000) and Mock the Week (424,000). Children's channels did well during half-term week: CBBC's Stakeout had 230,000, CITV's Jungle Run took 210,000, and Challenge's most-seen show was Tuesday night Small Talk, 125,000.

Next week: two new shows for BBC2 daytime. Murder Most Famous invites celebs to solve murders and write a crime novel, while Recipe for Success is competitive restaurant-running.

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