Weaver's Week 2009-01-18

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We're currently waiting for the declaration in the Poll of the Year 2008. While the returning officer adds up his numbers one last time, a brief diversion into the winner of Best New Format (Channel 4) 1982.



Yorkshire Television for Channel 4, 3.25 weekdays

Eighth-final 1: David O'Donnell (11 wins, 1172 pts) beat James Hurrell (8 wins 1 loss, 921 pts), 101-82

David O'Donnell won the grand final in summer 2008. As in, summer last year. Six centuries in the qualifying rounds saw him the number one seed, and after beating Jonathan Coles (who we'll see next week) in the semis, he beat Richard Priest (Thursday) in the final. James Hurrell was the carryover champion in June 2007; his eight wins included six centuries, and saw him through to the finals as the number two seed. He fell at that stage, beaten by Steve Baines (Friday) in a high-scoring game.

Good grief, they've had the decorators in over the break. The set is now a shade of blue, with letters and numbers gently displaying in the background. It's far better than the old stripey set, and we understand that if you view the new one from the right angle, it looks like the Channel 4 logo. Des O'Connor has also had a makeover, he's got a slight north-eastern twang, and Carol has gone blonde and adopted a clear Essex accent. It also looks like she's had some years off of her. What? They're not Des and Carol. Lummee. It's Rachel and Jeff.

There is a game in there, and we begin with a rather bad omen, James offers ERRORS (which is legal) as David's RESHOES* is found not to be in the dictionary. It's good that the default shot of the contestants includes their name tags, perhaps less good that the letters and the board they're being put on and the hostess are all wearing similar shades of blue. After a low-key opening segment, the contestants find the first numbers game trivially easy, and spend about 27 seconds bantering before inviting Rachel to solve the game. James leads, 35-29, as Andrew Sachs delivers the anecdote.

Apparently, the new host is a bit of a sports fan, but he misses the sitting joke when part two begins with E-E-E. Are we the only people who remember "E for England" from the side's abortive World Cup '94 campaign? We are? Oh. The deadlock in what's been a quiet game so far is broken in round seven, when James offers ENCODES. Just before round eight, the first groaning pun in three-and-a-half years: James is a fan of Plymouth (the Pilgrims), making good progress. Ahem. David comes up with MORTICE in the round to close the gap, and takes the lead with WIRETAP. Another numbers game (easier than it looked) gives David a 59-58 advantage at the interval.

Round eleven is a RAINOUT, and round twelve ABOUNDS with a winner, so the one point lead remains. David offers ETHMOIDS in the final letters round – it's a bone in the nose, if we understand Susie correctly, and that's a nine-point lead. James gets the last numbers game in about 15 seconds, David is scribbling to the limit, but both players get it spot on. Which means it's a crucial conundrum, and the set does go to a darker shade of blue. At least for the half-a-second until David unscrambles it, to win by 101-82. To score 82 and lose is rare. David will play Steven Briers or Debbi Flack.

Eighth-final 2: Junaid Mubeen (11 wins, 1098) beat Tony Warren (10 wins 1 loss, 932), 80-55

Junaid Mubeen was the champion of last autumn's series, making five centuries and winning close semi-finals and final. Tony Warren took a record 41 days to complete his eight victories in summer 2006, wrapping them around the last Championship of Champions. His eight wins included two centuries, and he progressed to the final, beating Phil Watson in a standout semi-final. In the banter, we find that Rachel supports Manchester United, a mid-table side in the Northern Premier Division. It's a long way to travel from her home in Essex, and a long way from Jeff's .

Back to the game, and Tony's got his trademark loud ties on, and an early winner SWIPED. It's round three that contains E-E-E today, three of the five vowels selected by Junaid. It works for him, OVERSEE is a winner. Tony's STONKER in the next round is a blimmin' good word, though not a winner. A six-small selection gives the advantage to Junaid, 27-19; Rachel couldn't get it spot on, we couldn't get it spot on, and it took the combined brains of the C4Countdown forum almost three hours to get it spot on.

Tony tries the eight-letter SEIGNEUR, and it makes him the lord of the manor in this round, tying the scores, which reach deuce after eight games. Junaid tries QUAIPS*, but it's completely not there. Rachel's choice of numbers is two-large, which yields a tricky but solvable numbers game, allowing Junaid to go 50-45 ahead at the intermission. He moves further ahead with DEMENT and GAOLERS, and when Tony offers CRANDIES* in the final letters round, the game is well and truly up. The final score is 80-55 in Junaid's favour, and he'll meet the winner of next Tuesday's game between Charlie Reams and Peter Davies.

A simple numbers game for all concerned.

Eighth-final 3: Jon Corby (9 wins 1 loss, 1012) beat Richard Brittain (11 wins, 1102), 92-52

Richard Brittain won the series in December 2006, qualifying as the second seed with four centuries. Only one of his matches has been decided by fewer than ten points. Like Tony Warren and today's opponent, Mr. Brittain has jumped straight from the Des Lynam days to Spelling's Stellings. Jon Corby was an outstanding semi-finalist in the summer 2006 series, but his octochamp run came after the invitations had been issued for the Championship of Champions. Mr. Corby secured five centuries, eventually losing to Matthew Shore.

Again, the first round breaks the contestant, Jon very tentatively offers LADIFIES, which puts him eight up. Richard falls further behind with a disallowed word in the third round, but there are no other breaks, and Jon has a 38-23 lead at the break. It's Richard to resume after the anecdote, and he does so with five vowels. Three of them are "U"s. It doesn't help, and he falls further behind with BIOPOT* in the next round. Jon offers EPISODE in round eight, and leads by 27 points.

At least three of the undefeated players must fall in the competition, but will Richard fail at the first hurdle? The fightback begins at once, when Jon offers CASSATO*, which is within a sneeze of a correct word, the actual one ends in A. Richard's COASTS cuts into the lead, and he goes for a four-large numbers selection. It's less difficult than he might have expected, and Jon leads 66-45 at the intermission. Round eleven contains the selection I-I-I, and Richard lets the advantage slip with OMMIT*, an extra M there, and 26 points to make up. We're not sure what Richard offered in the final letters game, it was a desperate roll of the dice, and didn't work. Jon pulls away in the numbers game, which only Rachel gets, and the conundrum beats them both. Jon won the game easily, and will meet Anita Freeland or Jonathan Coles in the next round.

Eighth-final 4: Kai Laddiman (9 wins, 1 loss, 908) beat Richard Priest (8 wins, 2 losses, 959), 93-85

Last year, a couple of people noticed that the presenters of Blue Peter didn't begin each episode with a hearty "Hullo!" It's taken four days for Jeff Stelling to open the show with that five-letter word. Richard Priest won a mere (mere!) six games in April 2008, qualifying for the summer's finals as sixth seed. That didn't stop him from carving through the bottom half of the draw to the final, where he was beaten by David O'Donnell. His wins have included five centuries. Kai Laddiman was last autumn's young (very young, he's still only twelve!) genius, winning nine games en route to the semi-finals, though only racking up one century. Before the game proper gets going, Jeff asks Susie to tell us what she knows about the phrase "back to square one". Save it for round nine, squire.

There's another first in this game: both players score in the opening round, and that's not happened since last year. Indeed, both players score in the opening four letters games; one of them had some very difficult winners, but neither player saw them, and with both players equidistant in the first numbers game, it's 31-31 at the anecdote. Is Andrew Sachs going to tell us about the oft-forgotten Wiggly Park animation? No? Oh. The deadlock is broken straight afterwards, Richard offers OPPOSE for the win. Eights and sevens in the next two rounds, but Kai hits with DECLINES, and takes his first lead of the game. A trivial numbers game puts Kai 64-62 up at the intermission.

Richard needs a breakthrough after the break, but Kai plonks himself down on the SETTEE and extends his lead. It's sixes and sevens thereafter, including the non-hyphenated SITCOM. The numbers game falls to both players, which means we have another crucial conundrum. Richard buzzes on one second, says FIERCETEA unscrambles to "cafeteria". It doesn't, and Kai has won the game, even though the solution – CAFETIERE – eludes him. Kai has come through a stellar game, and will meet tomorrow's winner.

Susie Dent and co-stars.

Eighth-final 5: Nick Wainwright (11 wins, 1033) beat Steve Baines (8 wins, 2 losses, 924), 105-85

Nick Wainwright won the tournament in summer 2007. Though he didn't score a century in the qualification rounds, he passed three figures in the quarter- and semi-finals, and beat Anita Freeland (who we'll see on Monday) in the final. Steve Baines won seven qualifiers in August 2007, and returned in December as the seventh seed. Beating James Hurrell with his third century, he fell to Jeffrey Hansford in the semi-final, in a disallowed conundrum incident that was almost a storm in a teapot. Mr. Hansford subsequently lost to Craig Beevers in the final, and it is known that Mr. Beevers declined an invitation to compete in this tournament.

There's not much to say about the opening few rounds: a couple of religious terms, both players spot the only seven in one of the rounds, and a reasonably simple six-small numbers round makes it 37-37 at the anecdote. Jeff is a little cheesed off that the players are getting the same words (not surprising when one is the only legal word of that length) but passes on in good humour. The deadlock breaks in round six, when Nick offers MORTICE. The next round has a surfeit of Ss, four of them, but ends on sevens all round.

No-one offers it, but round nine includes the word DAYMARE, like a nightmare, only on during the day. We're thinking about For the Rest of Your Life. There were a couple of sixes, another perfect numbers game, and Nick's lead is 73-66 at the intermission. The equality continues in the final period: seven, five, seven all push the score up. Ah! Ah! Nick's offered CREATER* in that final round, the allowable spelling ends -OR, and that ties the game at 85-85. Nick gets the final numbers round spot on, Steve misses, and that gives Nick a ten-point advantage. It's still a crucial conundrum, but it's over twenty seconds before anyone buzzes. Nick offers DAVENPORT, it's the correct answer, and he's run out the winner. It's only the second century of the week, and doesn't reflect Steve's very strong performance. Nick will meet Kai Laddiman in the quarter-final, and that'll go out on the 27th.

So, we've had a week of the new presenter and numbers whizz. The latter has hardly had any puzzles to solve, typical for the Champion of Champions tournament. We're not convinced that the letters board is at the right height for her. As for the host, he's taken a back seat to the contestants – this is their show, not his – though we do hope he can talk about something other than football and sport. On the other hand, we note John Inverdale is back in Dictionary Corner next month, so break out the crash helmets. We'll not form a firm opinion of Jeff and Rachel until we've seen more of them, perhaps by the June finals, but we'll continue to cover the CoC next week.

University Challenge

Quarter-final, match 1: Manchester v LSE

Useless stat of the year: Manchester was the first side to appear in last year's quarter-finals. Manchester crushed Bristol and York in their first games, the LSE accounted for Bath and Selwyn Cambridge earlier in the tournament. Apparently, the LSE has three postgrads to Manchester's two, and Manchester has accumulated 75 more points. None of this explains why Marianne Fairthorne of the LSE is wearing such a bizarre hat.

(bottom) Fairthorne, LSE (top) Hat, Bizarre.

"Coin" is the word of the week, leading to a set of bonuses on the number 50. LSE gets a set on American politics; it helps to have a captain from that part of the world. There's almost a Hidden Transmission Indicator of the week, but Barack Obama is just going to feature every week, isn't he. The first visual round is on classic Private Eye covers, and though Manchester is inch-perfect, LSE leads 65-45.

Thumper is harsh – but absolutely fair – to disallow "de Beauvoir" when he wanted "beautiful view" – another clue had already given "Belvoir". Manchester picks up the starter, draws level with the bonuses, and ahead with the next starter. While University Challenge's bonuses have advanced to forming words from contiguous postcode areas, Will Shortz has given up the race, last week basing his quiz on an old Two Ronnies sketch, "Swedish Made Simple". O S, V F D X. N D M. E T C. LSE briefly takes the lead, but Manchester moves ahead with the next starter, and pulls further away before the audio round. LSE is buzzing early, and perhaps paying for it later with missignals. The audio round is on popular music, which Rajan Patel gets in about three notes. Manchester's lead is 145-95.

It feels like it's going to be a home win, and a good buzz on a question about Brian Clough earns another set of bonuses, and another 15 points for Manchester. At this point, the teams have combined to answer 31/39 bonus questions correctly, a remarkable standard at any stage, particularly a quarter-final. The second visual round is on Oscar Wilde, and Manchester's lead is stretching to a surely insurmountable 210-95.

LSE move into three figures with the very next starter, it's somewhat less than the quality of their play deserves – every member of the team has at least one correct answer, including the slightly dubious hat. Thumper's a little sniffy when LSE guesses "Wordsworth" when suffering for an eighteenth-century poet: it's not a tremendously bad guess, only a few decades out. A couple of missignals on speculative buzzes from Manchester, and the LSE are suddenly within fifty points. There's life in this game yet! Manchester's knowledge of the geography of Slovenia gives them a much-needed starter, the gong goes with surprisingly little warning, and Manchester has pulled off a good win, 210-165.

Manchester's best buzzers were Henry Pertinez and Simon Baker, both making four starters. The side made a remarkably brilliant 23/31 bonuses, with a not-so-brilliant three missignals. Chris Coleridge captained the LSE with four starters, the side had 19/27 bonuses right, but picked up four missignals. They're very unlucky to go out at this stage.

Next match: Lincoln Oxford v Queens Cambridge

This Week And Next

We regret to report the death of David Vine. Best-known as the voice of snooker, Vine also hosted a number of entertainment programmes, including A Question of Sport, It's a Knockout, and Superstars.

Viewing figures for the Christmas period are fully out, and show that Strictly Come Dancing finished third for the year, a smidge under 13 million saw the final. Have I Got News For You edged into ninth place for the year, 7.65m for Noddy Holder hunting the sixpence. Deal or No Deal also recorded its best figure on Christmas Eve, 3.2m saw the guesswork. The Shooting Stars night was a success for BBC2, 3.4m saw the new episode; University Challenge night didn't quite work, more people saw the Ministry of Quiz Justice rule the roost in the Professionals series. Channel 4's Big Fat Quiz of the Year scored 3.1m.

Tim Vine's appearance on Celebrity Mastermind edged Total Wipeout for the first leader of 2009, both just over 6.5m viewers. Celebrity Big Brother opened with 5.9m, a sneeze ahead of In It to Win It. The Krypton Factor attracted 4.5m viewers for its opening edition, which compares well with the 1.6m who saw World's Strongest Man on Channel 5.

We were watching The Krypton Factor on Thursday, it's not as though there's anything worth watching on other channels. The assault course round remains a poor mess, a couple of timing points are no substitute for seeing all four contestants on the course. But we were more interested in the opening mental agility round. Mr. Bother has picked up on the fact that contestants are given questions of varying difficulty; some get the easiest questions at the start, others end with the easy business. We've just one further point: was this round really meant to look like Numberwang? Let's rotate the Kube!

How many yellows are Numberwang?

Highlight for the coming week is the grand final for Brain of Britain (Radio 4, 1.30 Monday), pitting the newest Egghead against the last-but-one Mastermind champion. Big Brother comes to a conclusion on Friday night, but if the overdose of talent shows is getting you down, Radio Active punctures the genre (BBC7, 8.30am and 10pm Friday) with Mike Says... Here's a Bit of Talent. Richard Hammond gets a review in the next Week, along with more Countdown news.

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