Weaver's Week 2011-01-23

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The Only Connect Challenge Match

Crossworders v Emmanuel College Cambridge

It's a clash of the Titans, six quizzers so smart that they sting. The Crossworders won the first series of Only Connect in 2008, and bettered the Rugby Boys in the first Championship of Champions match the following year. Emmanuel Cambridge won the 2009-10 series of University Challenge, and Victoria is gazing dreamily into the eyes of captain Alex Guttenplan.

She warns us that this is going to be the hardest quiz ever, so if you're able to get a single question correct, do please apply to be a contestant. Applications are now open.

The University Challengers won the toss and elect to bat. They've got the pictures: a Hebrew letter, a direction, the flag of Qatar, and QWERTY. It's obvious when we spell it out, and that's a point. Crossworders have Swedish Air Force, KLM, HM Revenue & Customs, and think about crowns. Rolex confirms it for one point. The Challengers pick the Wick o'Twisted Flax o'Doom, and have four very strange items. It's passed across, Mark gives one answer, Ian another, captain David very honourably prefers the first answer, the wrong one. Bad luck.

On their own question, the Crossworders have Aurelian and Stonewall Jackson and Anwar Sadat, so that's people killed by their own troops and two good points. Audio for the Challengers, who get pan pipes, a strange speech, "Johnny B Good", and is that things that have been sent into space? They have, it's Serbian speech, part of the Voyager record, and two points. To the Crossworders, who have Muntadar al-Zaidi, Saboteurs, Fortis shareholders, and doubtless other people who have protested using shoes – two points there, and Nikita Kruschev's been edged out. It's 1964 all over again. Crossworders lead 5-3.

Only Connect (2) 75% of the winning side – Andy Hastings completes the set.

Round two, what's next? Parasurama, Rama, it's deities of some sort. Krishna comes third, so who is the next Buddhist avatar? Not Vishnu, which they're avatars of, but Buddah. Devon and Carbon for the Crossworders, who give "Triassic", which isn't right. Nor is three; it's "three strata". Cor, Victoria's being tough tonight. Good-oh! Pictures for the Challengers: flags of Spain, Mexico, and Cuba, so which flag flew over that part of the world next? Argentina? No, the flag of the USA; that third one was the flag of the Republic of Texas, and a bonus for the Crossworders. Our favourite Texan was very pleased to note the historical accuracy of the researchers, displaying a 28-star version of the USA banner.

Let's play numberwang! 0.142857, 0.285714, so what's just over half? 0.42... Really? Try 0.571428, and 7/7 of a bonus to the Challengers. Were the Challengers listening to Brain of Britain today? That show discussed the current definition of one metre, and this sequence is the various definitions of that distance, beginning with an inaccurate measurement of the earth. Three points. For the final question 5=IV, 6=IX, so 8=I. That's fIVe, sIX, seVen, eIght, and III points there. Scores on the board? Challengers 7, Crossworders 10.

To the walls, where the Crossworders go first, and instantly kick off with things that were named after their inventors. There's a set of Norwegians, and are there Mothers? Call signs in Top Gun? Roles played by Tom Cruise? Five guesses, four groups, plenty of time left. Ah, those were things named after people, but not necessarily their inventors – the silhouette was named after a politician. The team goes for the pilots in "Top Gun" as the final link, and that was a costly over-specification on the inventions. Seven points!

In come the Challengers, and they have sorts of den, ignoring the Dragons' den. Are there types of 80s computer in there? Ah, the flush of youth, these people are too young to remember the Dragon 32 or the Acorn Proton. Eugene ready. Alex gives a brief history of the Forth Bridge, and goes down things to do with nations of the UK. Jenny's going for things that are drawn with a single line. They get just the one group themselves, and pick up the computers and types of kite. They miss things found on the back of the pound coin. Four points!

There's a 17-11 lead for the Crossworders going into the Missing Vowels round, and Fictional Pairs extends that by 2-1. "They equal 42" contains the obvious answers "The atomic number of molybdenum" and "the Messier number of Orion". 2-0 to the Challengers. Films based on true events, that's 3-0 to the Crossworders. "White is to black as..." is a 3-0 win for the Challengers. And that's the game! No-one gets "Barry is to Cilla".

In the final analysis, the University Challengers are beaten, 17-22, but the guys from the other side put up a very good performance. Victoria tells us that the Crossworders are now down to meet the winners of Total Wipeout; result will depend on whether it's a home or away fixture. Bring on the balls!

Only Connect (2) Can no-one beat these cross worders?

Next match: there's another special in the works for later in the spring.

The Magicians

The Magicians

BBC1, 7pm Saturday

This review is mostly based on the show of 8 January

Regular readers will recall that last week, this column reviewed Penn & Teller: Fool Us, a magic show on ITV. This week, we're reviewing a magic show on BBC1. It's got a title that will fool absolutely no-one, seeing as how the title says that there are going to be magicians involved.

The magicians of the title are Luis de Matos, a stage illusionist; Barry and Stuart, who exude a gothic charm; and Chris Korn, a close-up magician. In each week's show, each act is paired with a minor BBC celebrity. In the sample episode we saw, the celebs were Peter Jones (3) from Dragons' Den, Adrian Edmondson from The Young Ones, and Amanda Byram from Total Wipeout, which finishes not two minutes before.

Over the fifty minutes of the main show, each of these pro-celebrity groups will perform three tricks. Two will be done on stage, in front of the studio audience; the other has been pre-recorded out in the street, with some Members o' the Public. After all the performances have been seen, the studio audience votes on whichever one they think is the best. The pro-celebrity group with fewest votes is the loser, and they are obliged to perform one final stunt, such as being ridden over by a motorcycle.

The Magicians Peter Jones (3) isn't going to say he's out.

And, er, that's it. The programme promises spectacular magic, the likes of which we've never seen before. It certainly delivers, so long as the viewer has never actually seen much magic. Luis de Matos's first trick – making a brand new car disappear even though it's surrounded by two chains of people – is spectacular, but we remember David Copperfield doing exactly the same stunt in the 1980s. Heck, we remember Andrew O'Connor as David Copperpot taking the mick out of this stunt in the 1980s.

Host for the proceedings is Lenny Henry, dressed up in his suit and tie. It's an awfully long time since we've seen Lenny Henry in an entertainment role, and we have a nasty suspicion that he's become a Serious Actor, Darling. The jokes he makes to introduce each act feel forced and heavily scripted, and there are times when we're more laughing at him than laughing with him. These are details; there's a graver error here.

Fundamentally, we suspect that the BBC has built this series on a flawed idea: that good magicians paired with celebrities makes for good television in general, and good Saturday night television in particular. We don't actually think the idea is correct – magic is compelling when it's really well done, as Fool Us demonstrated. It's acceptable when it's one item in a varied line-up – magic is one form of entertainment, and on a show with singers and dancers, it's fine.

Sad to say, this pro-celebrity demonstration simply doesn't make for remarkable television. As a one-off, it would be an interesting experiment, but it's not a strong enough idea to support a month-long series. The performances are also a little passé and subdued. Barry and Stuart, in particular, have had to tone down their act for the demands of the Saturday evening slot, in a way they wouldn't have done if the series had gone out on (say) Wednesday evenings. The street magic lacks any sparkle, we can see the edits and the joins, just as we can see the gossamer threads holding up the "flying" car.

The Magicians Look, no strings. Unless you're watching in HD.

Our ultimate problem is that The Magicians is uninspired and uninspiring television. Being well-read game show commentators, we can compare and contrast against a more successful magic programme, The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Here, magic tricks were important, but so were performance skills, so was the process of learning about magic, and even the dullest episode could be enlivened by virtuoso performances from Max Somerset and his co-tutors. The average hour's show contained no more than ten minutes of actual magic performance, yet it made for compelling television.

For viewers of The Magicians, there's little respite from the wall of performance, and it all blurs into one by the end of the show. Maybe that's a lesson in how we should take our magic: often, but in small doses.

University Challenge

Deci-final 2: York v Peterhouse Cambridge

York got here by defeating the Royal College of Music and Exeter; Peterhouse Cambridge defeated Exeter and St John's Cambridge in their earlier rounds. Yes, both sides beat Exeter, thanks to the repechage for high-scoring losers in the first round. The show begins tonight with discussion of Richard the Lionheart, and extinct birds. Speaking of birds, we note that York has brought three plastic ducks of increasing size to put atop their nameplate. Peterhouse have brought along a moose.

More questions about the Millennium Prizes have Peterhouse's historians sitting back and hoping that the others will know what these mathematical conundra are. Shall we have a round of Only Connect The Picture Quiz? Here are the state flags of four of the United States in some sort of order: what is the reason for them being in this sequence? Peterhouse's lead stands at 50-25, and we very strongly suspect a Hidden Transmission Indicator.

More questions about the US help York, this time about presidents, and then the teams are asked about the village in Nova Scotia giving its name to a conference about peace. Neither of the teams is able to shout "Pugwash!", so they'll all have to walk the plank off the Black Pig until we get tired of chortling "Ho ho, me hearties" and "Suffering seagulls!" and they get picked up by the Flying Dustman. Or just Tom Scott Of The Internet, who attended York uni and stood for election on a platform of being a pirate.

University Challenge York (l-r): Edward Tait, Ben Slingo, duck, duck, duck, Andrew Clemo, Simon Donnelly.

Quite enough Pugwash, let's take the Little Billy Shakespeare Question of the Week, on Henry V. This week's audio round begins with some slow and tedious violin work, and the old adage – whenever you don't know a question about music, it's Tchaikovsky – would have fitted. Peterhouse's lead is 95-35. York look a little out of the game, but come back with knowledge of a film about John de Lorean.

We've reached the Missing Vowel round, in which Thumper describes plants and animals with common names that have three occurrences of the vowel "A" and no other. Gosh, that would be a good idea for another show. The second picture round is on scenes from literature, specifically "Macbeth", and Peterhouse's lead is 150-60. More questions concatenating chemical symbols to form a word put Peterhouse almost too far ahead to be caught, but York are going to give it a go, with the Herzhogs, and classical composers and computer mascots. Then this happens.

Q: A number that is the sum of its factors is a [buzz] perfect number
Peterhouse Cambridge, Louise Howes: [looks aghast at the camera for some agonising moments]
[just when we're thinking of giving a five-point penalty]

They're charmed! It's the right answer, causing Thumper to phone to the studio upstairs for the return of his eyebrows. "How on earth did you get that when I hadn’t even finished asking the question?" She was anticipating the definition, buzzed in just late enough to realise her error, and instantly came up with another plausible answer. Better to speculate than be wrong on a pass.

More numbers in the bonuses, this time anagrams of foreign numbers, then there's the path of the Tropic of Capricorn. At the gong, Peterhouse has won, 205-120. Edward Tait was best on the buzzers for Peterhouse, four starters and none of the side's three missignals; an 18/38 bonus conversion rate there. Three starters for York's Andrew Clemo, they made 13/21 bonuses and also had three missignals. Overall accuracy was 51/85.

Next match: Sheffield v Magdalen Oxford


Heat 19

Note that progression carefully: we're certain to know two people into the semi-finals tonight. The winner will make the next phase, as will Nick Mills, unless the runner-up here betters his score of 34 points and 4 passes. Readers are cautioned that this write-up contains one of the most obvious puns in the history of mankind.

Julia Hobbs is first into the chair, taking the Life and Works of Armistead Maupin (b 1944). The American author is best known for his "Tales of the City" books, originally published as a newspaper serial in the mid-1970s. Maupin is openly gay, and his works chronicle the experiences of queer people of all genders. The contender is eager to show off her knowledge, which always helps, and finishes on 13 (2).

Stan Headley is going to tell us about Prehistoric Orkney (to AD 600). Recorded history didn't arrive in the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland, until Christianity and the Vikings arrived. The times prior to this include a remarkable number of excavations dating to the Neolithic era, the best-known of which is the settlement of Skara Brae, an almost-complete village from about 4000 years ago. It's a round to make that other Orcadian, Magnus Magnusson, proud – 15 (0).

Nick Stewart is up next, he's been seeing the Films of Michael Mann (b 1943). A native of Chicago, Mann started out writing for shows like "Starsky and Hutch", and was the creator and producer of "Miami Vice". His film works include 1990s classics "The Last of the Mohicans" and "Heat", and more recently "The Aviator". Another perfectly good round, the final score is 13 (2).

Last into the hot seat is Chloë Wells, and she's taking the Finnish Winter War (November 1939 – March 1940). Following the German invasion of Poland, the Soviet Union army launched an attack to regain the territory of Finland, which Russia had lost following her revolution in 1917. The Soviets encountered more fierce and determined resistance than they had anticipated, and when hostilities ceased in March, Finland had lost only 11% of its territory; this was a mineral-rich area, and provided the Soviets with a buffer to the north of Leningrad. We learn that this war gave the world the Molotov cocktail, and that John Humphrys really isn't that good at pronouncing local names. But he's started so he'll Finnish (sorry!), 15 (1).

It's a very even contest this week, and the runner-up needs to beat 27 points (2 passes) to appear on the repechage board. Julia Hobbs kicks off by remembering Agatha Christie and Frank Sinatra. She remembers neither of Iain Duncan Smith, but does work out that bungee jumping was introduced to Britain on the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It's the only suitably daft place to do it, really. The contender's a bit lucky to get a question started after the buzzer, and finishes on 27 (4). It's win or bust for her.

Nick Stewart kicks off with the Bourbon biscuit (yum!) and the career of Tito. There's a number of good guesses, some of them correct, such as a guess that Tottenham Hotspur Nil has won "the cup" more often than any other side. But later in the round, after a run of incorrect answers, the contender falls into a run of passes, ending on 18 (11).

Stan Headley begins by saying "Open, Sesame", hoping to raid the cave of all its points in the next two-and-a-half minutes. He has a guess at the martial art played in the Olympics, is correct that the Beatles sung a song about a meter maid called Rita, that Calais was England's last possession in France, some of the Diddymen, and after a shaky start, it looks as though he might make the lead here. Might, but won't; 25 (4) is the score.

So it's into the semis for Nick Mills, and win or bust for Chloë Wells. When do the Yanks celebrate independence, where were the 2010 Winter Olympics held? That's two good starts, but then the contender falls straight into a deep pass spiral, guessing Casualty when the right BBC cross-promotion was Holby City. Later in the round, a few points hove into view, but it's all too late – 24 (8) is the final score.

So Julia Hobbs has come from last to first, and takes her place in the next round.

This Week And Next

What's Vlanderen for 0898gate? We ask because an investigative journalist for Belgium's Dutch-speaking broadcaster VRT has been doing some investigating, and found that call-and-lose quizzes there are no better than they were over here. Puzzles are deliberately difficult to solve, and callers aren't checked for age. "The government should do something!" fulminated the journalist concerned, before realising that Belgium doesn't actually have a government, hasn't had a government in months, and probably won't for some time yet.

Two weeks ago, we summarised Famous and Fearless as "celebrities repeating their favourite recent Blue Peter stunt." This week, turnabout proved to be fair play, as new presenter Barney Harwood was challenged to undertake some street luge, a stunt performed on Famous and Fearless.

We regret to report the death of the Earl of Oxford and Asquith. He was a participant in the Spelling Bee of January 1938, the first game show ever to be broadcast across the UK.

BARB ratings for the first full week of the new year show that Dancing on Ice is back; 9.35m saw the initial skating performance on ITV, a further 860,000 on HD. In It to Win It is also back, 6.15m saw Dale and his balls. Celebrity Mastermind took third place for the week, 5.7m saw the episode on Friday. The Magicians (5.5m) beat Fool Us (4.3m), and Total Wipeout (5.25m) did for Take Me Out (4m). The Big Fat Quiz of Last Year gave 3.35m viewers to C4 on Monday, approximately twice the score of Famous and Fearless (1.7m on Wednesday). Eggheads was BBC2's biggest game show, 2.5m viewers.

The Satellite Channel's Got to Dance remains the biggest hit on digital television, 1.15m saw the show. After Dancing on Ice comes QI XL on Dave, with More4's Come Dine with Me relegated to fourth place. Kerwhizz on Cbeebies, Total Wipeout on CBBC, and America's Next Top Model on Living all scored more than 400,000 viewers.

It's not exactly the most exciting week in prospect: The Million Pound Drop Live returns to generate post-pub debates on Friday night (C4, 10pm). Beyond that? House of the Year continues (BBC1NI, 7.30 Monday), Don't Forget the Lyrics Us (Sky3, 5pm weekdays), and some new Come Dine with Me (C4, 8pm Sunday). And that's about it.

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