Weaver's Week 2010-01-31

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What Do Kids Know?

Shine for Watch, from 10 January

There's a famous puzzle in mathematics, known as the Monty Hall problem. Three doors, behind one is a car, behind two a goat. The contestant picks a door, and the host may open another door to reveal a goat, and may offer the contestant a chance to swap. If the host always offers the choice to switch, then it's best to switch. Why? Generalise up to a million and one doors, and one car, and think about it. By the time Monty Hall has finished opening one million doors, the goats will have had to find something to pass the time, and there will doubtless be some young goats on the way. This quiz poses the question: what do kids know?

The bad news for goat fans is that this programme does not involve any horned animals. It does have host Rufus Hound, now without the distinctive haircut we spotted on Argumental a few weeks ago, and subsequently pilfered by John and Edward Grimes. Joining him are regulars Joe Swash and Sara Cox, and another minor celebrity guests on each show. And each of these famous people (apart from Mr. Hound) has a younger partner, a child who will be playing the game with their celebrity partner.

Round one invites the teams to try and work out what some other children are describing. Let's be brutal, this round is a direct lift from such shows as Child's Play (1984-88) and Small Talk (1994-96). And it's played in a binary scoring method: each team will only have one description to decipher, and their score will be 1 or 0 at the end of the round. Having sat through some terribly long introductions, and with this particular part proceeding at the pace of a baby snail, it can be ten minutes into the show before anyone gets off the mark.

Round two seems to vary from episode to episode. We've seen one show with an orchestra playing a medley of contemporary and classic tunes, and the panel was invited to name those tunes. Have we tuned into a poor version of School's Out by mistake? Another show had many children describing one thing, with the objective being to work out what it was they were talking about. Any similarity between this round and the one before it was disguised by the intervening presence of an advertising break.

With possibly as many as two points on offer in the first two rounds, the final game has the possibility to change the scores utterly. Teams can score as many as three or four points, and that's not happened before. The celebrity will begin by describing a concept to their child, and will score a point if the youngster can guess what it is they're talking about. Success means that the roles reverse, and the child will talk about something to the celebrity. Again, they'll swap places as soon as the celeb gets something right. The whole thing will come to an end after 60 seconds, or the last member of the audience has fallen asleep. What, you mean this is The Pyramid Game played by teams where one member is wise and the other is famous? Er, yes, so it is.

There are some good bits about this show: Rufus Hound is a funny comedian, his joke about serving Céline Dion on toast is one that only he can tell. Joe Swash is always pumped up, and any programme that invites Mel Giedroyc onto its panel is clearly doing something right. But we found the programme dragged terribly, there was lots of filling, lots of padding, and if they'd kept the orchestra round in every show (or come up with a fourth round), it would have moved at a far more acceptable speed.

University Challenge

Preliminary quarter-final 4: Jesus Oxford v Emmanuel Cambridge

Emmanuel got here the hard way, losing to Regent's Park Oxford, then defeating Christ's Cambridge and UCL in the repechage final on 23 November. Jesus Oxford downed Clare Cambridge and Warwick in their two matches, we saw them most recently on 7 December.

Adjective of the week is "long", it goes to Jesus, and earns them a set of bonuses on the letter A, and the excuse to discuss the vitriolic pen of another show's host's brother when the indefinite article goes walkabout. They do less well on trees in the Bible, and Emmanuel get scarcely more traction from some obscure questions on stage works. Diamonds are the Cambridge side's best friend, somewhat more than the growth in bacterial cultures. The first visual round is to Name That European King and Country from the 1800s, it gives Jesus the lead they ever-so-briefly lost, by 40-35.

This week's Shakespeare question of the week is on Hamlet, (where they all die, darling) and it restores Emmanuel's lead. One question asks for three rhyming words, a question that surely defies any interruption. After a shaky start, Emmanuel are roaring away again, just as they've done on their previous outings – they're perfect on popular songs of the 1930s. The audio round is on music from films set during wars, and Emmanuel's lead now stands at 140-35.

As we seem to be asking at or around this point every week: is it too early to be writing "game over" in our book? In this case, it might well be: Jesus gets a starter, and look like they might get some bonuses, but don't. Emmanuel get a starter, and a perfect set of bonuses on lobsters. Another starter has Jesus reaching for their water: they may as well be looking for the Elimination Quarter Final in a few weeks' time. Thumper is, perhaps, a little harsh to disallow one of Emmanuel's answers, but it's not going to alter the result. The second visual round is on the covers of novels, and Emmanuel's lead stands at 200-50.

Still, Jesus are going to finish with a bit of a bang, whizzing through some loan words in European languages, and decoding this week's Word Spelled Out in Chemical Elements. But there's no stopping Emmanuel, every member gets at least one starter correct, and they know a lot about the membership of the British Commonwealth. And the successes of people called Banks. Jesus add points knowing their Swiss lakes, and have the dubious honour of a set of bonuses on teeth. The other side has two medics, Jesus have none. Emmanuel's final winning score is 280-125.

Tom Spellar led for Jesus with five starters; the side made 9/27 bonuses with two missignals. Alex Guttenplan was – again – quick on the draw for Emmanuel, picking up seven starters as the side answered 28/41 bonuses. The overall accuracy rate: 60/93.

Next match: (QQF1) St John's Oxford v Manchester
Then: (EQF1) Girton Cambridge v St Andrews
Followed by: (QQF2) Imperial London v Emmanuel Cambridge
And then: (EQF2) Edinburgh v Jesus Oxford

(Provisional schedules for 15 February indicate that University Challenge will air in its usual slot, and the Winter Olympics will be confined to overnight and daytime coverage. We'll keep a closer eye on this.)

Only Connect

Heat 4: Philosophers v Hitchhikers

Victoria's opening remarks would perhaps benefit from explanation. "Tangential" derives from the Latin "tangere", to touch. "Tangerine" has an etymology from Tangier, the city in Morocco, which takes its name from Tingis, the widow of Anteus – he founded the city then came off second-best in a struggle with Hercules.

None of this has any bearing on the game, naturally. The Philosophers are all first year university students of philosophy at Merton Oxford; the Hitchhikers are all fans of Douglas Adams's work and met while at university in York. (In the interests of full disclosure, we should note that Tom Scott of the Hitchhikers designed the UKGameshows.com website.)

The Philosophers get the show under way, and offer "they're all genitives". No, far too loose, said the host acidly before proceeding to make a disparaging comment about her brother in the hidden University Challenge synchronicity of the week. The next set is people and capital cities, and – after considering it in the opening moments – the Hitchhikers finally work round to the fact that they're the architects for parliamentary buildings. Philosophers whizz through their set of names, they're clearly pieces of music, not all in A-flat major, not imitations of household objects. No, they're themes to Radio 4 shows, but it does require Victoria to whistle the theme to The Archers.

Only Connect (2) They'd already beaten teams of Sages, Luminaries, and Other Assorted Thinking Persons.

The Hitchhikers tell us that audio CDs are round. With that level of perspicacity, they'll go a remarkable distance, and might end up in our little red book of remarkable quotations. Philosophers get the picture question, and it's one they surely wished for. Hitchhikers get the audio round, but they've no clue about the first two clues: the last two ensures the round doesn't go south for them, leading as they do by 5-1.

Round two, and the Philosophers are completely confused by the first set – it turns out to be an answer that none of them was expecting. Will the Hitchhikers be able to descend to the answer for their question? It's not grammes, joules, pence, just the queue of letters. Philosophers very nearly go for it on five points for keyboard shortcuts in Microsoft programs, and get a well-earned three.

The scientific method adopted by the Hitchhikers stands them in good stead, it doesn't test them at all. Philosophers spend a long time going down the column, but they should have been doing a John Noakes and going up it. Coloured circles are the visual clue for the Hitchhikers, and they zig with the red ring of the Olympic flag when they should have zagged for the green one. Not that it stops the Hitchhikers from leading, 8-5.

Will anyone offer a score that isn't a Fibonnaci number? Maybe after the walls. Hitchhikers start jabbing straight away with types of graph or chart, but give up on that after some little time. They consider musical terms, and have a "7" in the grid that might be of use. So might cricketers, but they're not there. The Hitchhikers just can't get a start on this grid, jab wildly, and fail to find a single group. Flummoxed! None of them have spent time on fruit machines, there really is a set of charts in there, and Bill Tidy and Posy Simmonds will be most amused to learn they're members of Kiss. Two points!

Only Connect (2) A team that knows where their towel is.

The Philosophers have something to tilt at, and begin with theories in astrophysics. And begin with a group on their first effort, suggesting that the opponents picked the wrong grid. They think about something to do with wine tasting, types of game, lines. And then it all goes quiet, apart from a few erms. Bodyline might be their breakthrough, but it's not. Just the one group, found and linked; there is a set of terms used in wine, but that's as far as the team gets. Three points!

The Hitchhikers have a 10-8 lead into the final round, so eyes down here we go. Endangered mammals goes to the Hitchhikers by 3-0. Rulers who abdicated is the next category, a 2-2 draw. "Hello" in different languages, that's the greeting and not the magazine that no-one in Australia has ever heard of. Another 3-0 win for the Hitchhikers there. Literary works set during wars contains this week's only Shakespeare nod, a 2-1 round to the Hitchhikers. Major South American rivers ends 1-0 to the Hitchhikers, and they've won decisively, 21-11.

Not winning a fondue set next week: Neuroscientists v Rugby Fans

(No danger of BBC4 taking live sport, so set your PVRs for the usual time in late February.)


Heat 16

We're reminded that there's no money at stake in this show. It's all done for the love of the chase, the thrill of competition, of mind against mind.

David Buckle will take the Work of Gerry Anderson. We're not entirely sure if this is referring to the Radio Ulster and Radio 4 presenter, or to the puppeteer who doesn't even merit an entry on TV Cream. Ah, it's the animator, and the contender claims Mr. Anderson was responsible for some of the best television ever. We're not going to object too loudly, it's a dashed good show and it's stood the test of time. Not quite a perfect round, but 13 (0) is a good score to go.

Next up is Andy Crane. It's not the presenter for Channel M who was immortalised in the Tribe of Toffs single, but a business analyst. He's swotted up on the Summer Olympics 19681988. Er, these were games taking place during the named summers, which meant lots of David Vine getting all excited and absolutely no shots of the presenters taking a cardboard cut-out of the big medal winner into the central square. They didn't do that sort of silliness back in the day. He finishes in a gold medal position, 14 (1).

Sally Wardle is going to tell us about the Life and Work of Sir John Everett Millais (1829-96). The subject was a pre-Raphaelite painter, whose work was mostly of society ladies and their children. We find ourselves more lost than usual with this subject, but the score is another remarkable one, 12 (1).

Kajen Thuraaisingham discusses the Life of Mustafa 'Ataturk' Kemal (1888-1938). Kemal led the Turkish forces at Gallipoli in the Great War. When the Ottoman Empire crumbled after the war, he became President and turned the country into a secular, rather than an Islamic, state. The contender has the misfortune to fall into a pass spiral early in his round, and only reaches 4 (4).

Which means Mr. Thuraaisingham is back amongst us already. He doesn't remember the 2001 flop film "Poole Harbour", so we have a sneaking suspicion that he wins. He also suggests that La Maillon Faible is a French version of Mastermind. Actually, do they have an equivalent show? We've never heard of one. The final score is 5 (11). Posterity demands that we note this is the lowest score recorded in the 21st century revival, and is probably the lowest score in Mastermind history. It's still far more points than this column has ever achieved in the chair, and criticism from this quarter would be entirely out of place.

Sally Wardle comes back, three to take the lead, and her knowledge of Wham! lyrics is greater than the plot of "The Canterbury Tales". There's a stall in the middle, and 21 (1) doesn't quite feel like a winning score.

The top six runners-up:

  • John Cooper 29 (3)
  • Ian Scott Massie 26 (2)
  • Les Morrell 26 (3)
  • Colin Wilson 25 (0)
  • Peter Cowan 25 (2)
  • William de Ath 25 (4)

David Buckle begins with one point on dalmation dogs, which (apparently) are born all white. We did not know that. The contender knows his Greek myths, and his astronomical knowledge proves he's Sirius competition, ending on 25 (1).

Andy Crane needs twelve to win, eleven and no passes to force a tie, eleven and two passes to make the repechage board. He knows about the original name of the Grand National, and the hit singles of T Rex, but the director of "The Last Temptation of Christ" evades his mind. Not that it's going to put him off, a good run at the end takes him to 23 (3). Not enough for the win, or the finals board, but a good effort.

(Mastermind is appearing on the schedule for 19 February. Again, we'll keep an eye on this one.)

This Week And Next

OFCOM's fortnightly bulletin of complaints against broadcasters shows that the regulator has dismissed almost 2000 objections to The X Factor. People were annoyed by Simon Cowell's decisions. OFCOM gently pointed out that none of the regulations is breached by Simon Cowell being a plonker.

OFCOM did object to a performance on the show by Westlife. Not on the grounds that showing Westlife murder a song on national television is a gross breach of taste and decency, but because their performance used too many flashing lights. Everyone concerned is guilty of the wrong kind of shiny.

Though we may not be that good at exporting cars or steel any more, and even our chocolate is up for sale, there is one industry where the UK still leads the world: dodgy call-and-lose programmes. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has upheld ten complaints against Play TV, which goes out on TV3. Viewers weren't being given enough information to make an informed choice as to whether they should call (and lose), or turn over and watch Podge and Rodge's Lemur Street. One question asked callers to move two matchsticks from 3895 and make the largest possible number – the answer given was 151321. Even turning the table upside down, we can't quite get that to work; another similar puzzle has 8014 turning into the nonsense Roman numeral DDIII (which the producers claim is 500,503). Other "guess which number we're thinking of" questions were described as easy to solve by logic, when they're anything but. Needless to say, the BAI has told the show to clean up its act.

Interesting news from the BBC, where Pete Waterman has been invited to write and produce the corporation's entry to this year's senior Eurovision Song Contest. Mr. Waterman has worked with such hitmakers as Donna Summer, Jason Donovan, and One True Voice.

Remember Lee Mead? Winner of Any Dream Will Do a few years ago? He's moving to the West End stage, taking the role of Fiyero in Schwarz's Wicked from May.

Three entirely brilliant shows reach their climactic finals this week. Brain of Britain 2009 (Radio 4, Monday 1.30) finds the greatest general knowledge quizzer from four outstanding players. Bamzooki (CBBC, Wednesday 5.15) reaches the greatest fighting computer creation, and the final of Accumulate! (RUON.tv) should be published at some point in the next week. Viewers need not fret, as Panic Attack (BBC2, weekday lunchtimes) allows Stephen Nolan to appear on national television. Panic!!!

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