Weaver's Week 2004-04-10

Smart Enough?

The usual hard stares to the Daily Tabloid, an organ that circulated money-off vouchers this week. And expects its potential readers to print out their own savings. Still, with instructions like these: "1) Make sure you are connected to a printer" perhaps they can be excused for not giving adequate warning. Oh!


Magdalen Oxford bt St Andrews
---> Gonville & Caius Cambridge -v- London Metropolitan

So, which of these sides will be the best team in the contest? The Cambridge quiz champs beat a strong Reading side, overpowered a promising Strathclyde team, and scraped past Reading's other conquerors, St John's Oxford. The best New Uni team ever also accounted for St John's Oxford, then scraped past Durham and overpowered Jesus Cambridge in the match of the season. So far.

London Met gets off to the stronger start, picking up 40 points before G&C finds their buzzers. The London side also knows about that well-known French aggressive action, The Pastry War, an 1838 invasion of Mexico. The picture round following is on those other inhabitants of modern Mexico, the Mayans.

Forty points adrift, G&C starts interrupting Thumper's overlong bonus questions in the second quarter of the match. It's going to be a high-scoring week, especially with three questions loosely based on amendments to the US constitution. Those easy questions go to G&C, as does the benefit of "talking"

when the full answer is "first all-talk motion picture".

The audio round is another of those lengthy triple deckers, but this time the group, album, and year is guessable after one song. Thanks to a strong performance in the second quarter, G&C takes the lead shortly after the tunes. The 250 aggregate falls at the same time. London Met pulls within ten, but G&C has the wind in their sails, and they're just going to keep going.

The second picture round is fun and games with words in the International Phonetic Alphabet. That quickfire round brings London Met to within 5, but then G&C pulls away again.

Perhaps the best starter of the year:
Q: What word is both a former British monetary unit and the unethical practice of bidding in auctions with the sole intention..? [1]

G&C gets that, and extends their lead to 45 points. Then London Met pulls back, G&C pulls away, we have no time checks, and the gong takes us all by surprise. G&C has the win, 220-190.

Souag 53.6 Warner 72.0 Wallace 40.8 Ashe 53.6
GCC 25 80 60 55 [220] 20/36

LMT 65 55 40 30 [190] 18/27
MacDonnell 40.4 Dawid 40.4 Horton 80.2 Grundy 29.0

The final stats for London Met: Andy Horton buzzed for 313.4 points, Jonathan Dawid for 209.6. The team made exactly 800 in total, scored 61.11% on the bonuses (slightly behind St John's but ahead of G&C) and a strike rate of 54.28%.

[1] Shilling

There were no missignals this week, the third time that's happened this year, and the 410 aggregate is only the fourth time we've passed 400 this year. St John's and Reading combined for 405 in the repechage final (second round), St John's and London Met made 410 in the opening round, and London Met and Jesus took 435 points. This week's contest didn't feature implausibly easy questions - this column scored a pitiful 45% of the show total, the lowest total of the year.

For those following the stats from December: The median aggregate score in the knockout phase is 332.5, 17.5 below last year's score, and 57.5 beneath the previous average. With one programme to go, the series is turning out 310 points a game, 35 down on last year, and 70 below the average.


Nicky Campbell has always projected an aura of intelligence and asking difficult questions mixed with suave sophistication. He's well known for spending twenty minutes of the Radio 1 Driveltime show not playing records but talking to an IRA informant. He's also well known for being the smoothest and probably the smarmiest host Wheel Of Fortune ever had. Which Nicky Campbell would turn up on this show?

Not a tricky question, really. It's Saturday night, and as this column pointed out a couple of weeks back, intellectual discussion just isn't going to happen. Enter, stage right, the suave Nicky, ready to give away oodles of someone else's money.

Viewers get to enter the show from home; they first call a premium-rate number (and donate 15p to the prize fund) then play by one of the following hi-tech methods: 1) By interactive television. This only works for viewers on digital satellite, or for viewers who use the BBC co-owned digital terrestrial television service. Those who (like the Week) watch their television via digital cable have no entry via this route, because the BBC has still not enabled the cable return path. 2) By internet, for browsers with a working Flash plugin. 3) By mobile phone, for modern handsets that support Java.

Those viewers who are still on analogue television, don't have an internet connection and don't have a whiz-bang modern mobile phone, or who don't know how to work the technology they do have, are immediately disenfranchised from the quiz. Has society advanced to a stage where one of these devices is a social norm? Perhaps this column is being something of a Luddite, but there must be something like a third of the country who do not have the technology to play, and maybe two-thirds don't have the know-how to use their devices.

Anyway. Four teams of four are in the studio, and they're introduced with some of the most dizzyating camera work ever seen on British television. If we wanted to spend our Saturday evenings being spun around, we'd go to the fairground, surely. Host Nicky briefly chats to the studio players, and says how much money is in the pot. Surprisingly, the prize pool was never shown on screen, nor displayed on the big screen above Nicky's head, an opportunity missed. Viewing the show again, we reckon that the main quiz is pre-recorded, but that still doesn't excuse not showing the big prize during the second part. The studio audience played along on their buzzers "for fun," and Nicky once told us how the best person in the audience was faring against the teams. Then he rather forgot about the audience, which is a little unfortunate.

For each question, there are four possible answers, and players in the studio and at home answer by pressing the appropriate button on their mobile or television remote, or on their computer screen. The first round consists of ten questions. They're billed as "general knowledge," but skewed heavily towards entertainment on the opening edition. The studio team with the fewest correct answers leaves the show at this point. A tie-break may be required, in this case a scrambled face to decode. The losing team are briefly shown in silhouette, then fade to black, then reappear walking off the set as the set lights return.

Round two consists of three categories, each of five questions. This week's set: TV Detectives, Posh and Becks (for overseas readers and fellow Luddites, that's footballer David Beckham and his ex-Spice Girl wife Victoria Posh-Spice- Beckham-Aadams), and Musicals. Again, the team with the lowest score at the end of this round leaves.

To the surprise of almost no-one, round three follows, and two more categories of five questions - this week, World Leaders (including the team from BBC's Ground Farce) and Toys and Games. Once more, the lower scoring team leaves, leaving one team left.

Now, what could possibly be going wrong so far? Firstly, there are 35 substantive questions, and 50 minutes in which to ask them. Even with ten seconds to answer, that leaves a little too much time for Nicky to bore us, with his catchphrase "the smart answer is ..." This column can't recall another catchphrase - or potential catchphrase - that annoyed the heck out of us the first time we heard it.

Interspersed through the game are chats with a couple of home players, who are linked to the studio by video phones. The conversation tends to the anodyne, but this does demonstrate that the BBC deems the picture from a video phone to be of broadcast quality, and that will surely have implications for other game shows over the next couple of years. Wanted. Harrumph.

Between the two parts of the show, we scooted to the BBC's web site and checked the rules to find out what happens next. At the end of part 1, Nicky gave out the qualifying score: this week, 26/35. There's a code and a phone number to call. An automated system then calls back, and poses five questions, each with a ten second limit. The player with the most correct answers in the shortest time to the first four questions becomes this week's home winner; question 5 becomes a tie-break. A runner-up becomes the standby player, just in case...

Then a motorbike and video phone go to the winner's house, and broadcasts live to the nation from someone's front room. Should the video equipment not reach the house in time, then the show proceeds in sound only. For all its high-tech trappings, the team has to physically be in the same room to play, so the notional UKGameshows.com team - with members in London, Birmingham, Vancouver, and Ulan Bator - would have to get all four people onto one couch, and have that couch in the UK. We wouldn't be able to play online, communicating by streaming video and IRC or other instant messenger.

The final is eight multiple choice questions each: a correct answer is worth one point, an incorrect answer resets the score to 0. Yep, it's the Revised Wipeout Scoring System, in which the first few questions are almost pointless, and only the run of general knowledge questions at the end counts for anything. Correspondent Nick Gates compared this round to one on ITV's iconic 1995 show RAISE THE ROOF for its arbitrary nature. Each team can pass one question to the other side, so tactics are involved - more on the tactics in a moment. In the event of a tie - and, yes, we had a tie this week - the side that scored more in the main game sees four answers but no question. They can elect to see the question and answer, or pass to the opposition. A correct answer wins, an incorrect answer loses.

As noted above, the final round is wide open for game theory. The team playing second will (obviously!) face the last question, and must keep its pass for that. If they're trailing, a successful pass will give a win, or at least force a no-score draw; a one-point lead could guarantee a tie-break if the team's not confident, and a two-point lead cannot be overtaken on one question. The only scenario that would make it worthwhile playing - a one point deficit on a question the team reckons it knows - arose this week. It's hard to tell, but this column reckons the studio team spotted this gaming opportunity at once.

The strategy for the team playing first is a little less obvious. They need to keep their pass for as long as possible, and assume only the passed question will provide an error. They'd want to use it when they would have a win from the other side's error, and a tie if the other side gets the question right.

The questions in the second phase were a little more difficult, and the overall balance of the 53 questions - using the traditional Trivial Pursuit categories - was:

Geography 2
Entertainment 22
History 5
Art and Literature 11
Science and Nature 4
Sport and Leisure 9

(Questions about BBC productions 5)

The bias towards populist subjects is all too predictable for primetime Saturday BBC1, and was more noticeable here than in Test the Nation.

As a host, Nicky Campbell acquitted himself well; he didn't actually impress as an outstanding host, but then neither did Richard Littlejohn on his Wanted debut. The music included an irritating bleep running right through, and the set is sort-of V shape, but with curves, with Nicky at the apex and the teams along the top.

Overall, the concept - people at home against people in the studio - is very good. The implementation is less promising, with all sorts of minor rules and regulations in place to make heavy work of what would seem to be an easy show. The first part would strongly benefit from losing five minutes and the forced catchphrases, and we can certainly lose the dizzy camera work. The gimmick of having a camera in someone's living room is done well, and might well be the most influential concept to come from the game. This column would like the questions to be a little more taxing, but then this is primetime Saturday night BBC1.


No matter what it did say, The Tab didn't tell us about Bill Copland, an Australian student from Northampton, for whom this happened:

£100: Which of these phrases is used to describe a tenacious person?
A) Hard biscuit B) Robust wafer C) Firm snap D) Tough cookie
"Tough cookie."
£200: Which of these means to dislike intensely?
A) Deter B) Detest C) Detain D) Delete
£300: In which building might you expect to see a safety curtain?
A) Hospital B) Church C) Theatre D) Supermarket
Bill thinks for a few moments, then decides to Ask the Audience. They go 5-1-90-4.
"Theatre, Chris"
£500: Complete the phrase that means to unexpectedly come up with the right
solution: "Turn up"
A) Trumps B) Aces C) Kings D) Jokers
£1000: Which veteran comedian has the catchphrase "It's the way I tell 'em"?
A) Stan Boardman B) Frank Carson C) Bernard Manning D) Ken Dodd

Ah. An Aussie being asked about British culture. Smells like trouble. Bill wants to Ask The Audience Again, but decides to go 50/50

"I'm reasonably certain it's not Frank Carson, I'll go with Bernard Manning."
Final answer? Final answer.
"I have to tell you..." "You've joined a very small band of people."

Next week, it's the second series of The Games (C4, all week). John Craven's on Countdown, and Liza Tarbuck is back (already? Without Prejudice? is still on air) with Win, Lose or Draw Late.

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