Weaver's Week 2013-12-22

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Travis Penery, 1984-2013

It was with complete shock and sadness that we heard about the death of Travis Penery this week. Travis had been an integral part of the internet game show community for about ten years; back when most conversation took place on email, Travis was always ready to say something useful, something fair, and something said with tremendous enthusiasm for games. He kept detailed records, and did most of the legwork for our All Time Winners List.

As our memory serves, Travis came in through Who Wants to be a Millionaire, he was a regular pilgrim to the Deal or No Deal studios. He was a key commentator at fan sites [1] and Bother's Bar, he was a regular on The Fifty-50 Show, he spread the love on Buzzerblog. More recently, Travis enjoyed Pointless, and played along with the finale to Break the Safe. The last we heard from him was at the start of this month, when he suggested Eamonn Holmes as a host for Millionaire Hot Seat, and said "God bless 12Yard shows". And then bad health suddenly turned into a stroke, and then he was gone.

We will remember Travis with fondness and affection.

File:Travispenery.jpg Travis Penery's avatar.


Series 69 finals

From one great talent, we turn to eight contestants at the top of their games. We last looked at Countdown in mid-November, when Simon Whiteley was in his four-game winning streak. He was narrowly beaten by Philip Creed (1 win), he was beaten by June Madell (1 win), and she was beaten by Jonathan Liew. Eight wins, three centuries, and a very consistent set of performances. George Skinner and Bea Hill took a win each, and Rod Chatfield carries his bat into the new year with five victories.

QF1: Dylan Taylor (8 wins, 974 pts) beat Gemma Church (6 wins, 602), 108-83

Records were set in early August when Dylan Taylor won eight games in a row. His lowest score was 113, the other seven were over 120. The total of 974 is a record. Gemma Church had the impossible task to follow that; she made six wins, with two century scores, and a total of 602 points. That's actually the ninth-highest points total of the series, but Abdirizak Hirsi only won five games en route to 610 points, and the first decider is the number of wins.

As we might expect from such exalted company, the standard of play was high. Gemma missed the opening numbers round, which brought up Dylan's 1000th point on Countdown. She fell further behind after incorrectly seeing the letters, and found "undergot" isn't a legal word. The game was over by now, but the spectacle was not. Dylan had yet to be beaten on a letters game, and had solved all three numbers games. He found "Impaired" and "Pinout", unusual words from tricky selections. Then "Blushes" and "Deeming" from more simple choices.

Dylan brought up his century in that last letters round, and then Gemma chose four-large for the last numbers game. She finished one away, Dylan finished one away, and Rachel claimed that was perfection. Subsequent analysis proved Rachel to be correct. And so to the conundrum. "I Curb This" foxed the contestants, but not a few people in the audience, solving for "Hubristic". As the clock expired, so expired Dylan's attempt for a perfect game, the longest an unsuccessful attempt could possibly last. It was Dylan's lowest score, albeit in a game where only three rounds had an eight-letter word.

QF2: Jen Steadman (8 wins, 952) lost to Callum Todd (7 wins and 1 draw, 747), 105-108

Jen Steadman made eight wins in August and September, and set a very high standard in her games. There was a game where, like Dylan yesterday, she was perfect in 14 rounds, and three others where she was unbeatable in twelve or more rounds. We say this as though it's an everyday occurrence; it's not. According to the statistics people at [2], Jen has the highest percentage of maximum rounds since Countdown moved to a 15-round format in 2001. Callum played in late September and October, and was unbeaten in his games, failing to progress from the last on a tie-break. Both players are fallible; Jen seems to be weak on six-small numbers selections, Callum had a few words disallowed in his first and last games.

It was first blood to Jen, with the winner "Stodgier". Both players spotted the niner "Outlander" in approximately one second, and it looked like a regulation win was in order. But not so: Callum pulled level with the winner "Argufies", Jen retook the lead after offering "Votives", but Callum came back with his six-small numbers game, securing a three-point lead that remained until the second interval.

The decisive moment came in round 11, when Jen thought long and hard about whether to pick a consonant or vowel for her final letter. She chose a consonant, and the "R" increased the number of maximum words from one to seven. Had she picked a vowel, it would have been an "A", and brought up the obscure winner "Odonates". As it turned out, lots of sevens in round 11, lots of sevens in round 12, a pair of eights in round 13, and we find ourselves wondering if there's any meaningful difference between 6/8 and 7/9 on the conundrum rounds.

Both players solved the six-small numbers game, to set up a crucial conundrum. "Gang Lions" was the scramble, and on eight seconds Callum buzzed and offers "Sloganing". This was incorrect. Jen had twenty-two seconds to remain in the contest. But the time ticks, ticks, boom. Callum has pulled off a surprise victory, we completely didn't see that coming.

Countdown Gemma Church and Jen Steadman.

QF3: Glenn Webb (8 wins, 945) beat Jonathan Liew (8 wins, 754), 107-45

The surprise on Friday left number three seed Glenn Webb with a clearer path to the final. He was the carry-over champion last series, scoring his eighth win in the first heat of this series. It was his seventh century, and he made three scores over 120. We reckoned that Glenn against Jennifer could be the greatest match of Finals Week; we shall never know. Jonathan Liew was the last of the six octochamps this series, completing his run at the start of December. Only three centuries, but Jonathan was a very solid performer, he made the most of some unpromising selections.

But it always felt more likely that Glenn would have the edge, and so it proved in the first passage of play: the winner "Minored" in the first round, a spot-on numbers solution in the third, a 24-7 lead after the prelude. Jonathan gets his hopes up with "scoopy", but the journalist from the Poddington Peas isn't allowed on this programme. Jonathan's speciality was six-small numbers selections, but he was beaten by the opponent. Dan Walker had been the guest on the first two shows, he's replaced by Richard Madeley, who regales us with tales of waking up in the broom cupboard. (It's a far worse anecdote, but we can't show you everything at this hour.)

Glenn comes up with "Totalise", extending his lead to something impregnable, but everyone misses the niner "Heliostat". It's a device for recording sunlight. Ah, they're recording in Manchester... "Muriates" is another winner for Glenn, and "Estufas" in the last letters round rubs it in a little. Chambers where Madeira wine is heated, apparently. One of those days when the only question was the size of the win. Thursday might be a bit different.

Countdown Alex Fish and Jonathan Liew.

QF4: Bradley Cates (8 wins, 862) beat Alex Fish (8 wins, 798), 116-85

Two players from the autumn here; Bradley had eight wins in late October, six centuries in his run. Alex won his eight in September, three centuries and all scores of 93 or more. We got the impression that Bradley was tired on his second day of recording, there was a slight difference in performance. Would that count against him, potentially playing three games in nine hours?

Any doubts we might had were reduced when Bradley came up with the opening winner "Doubts", and then he smashed ahead with "Atomiser". But then we remembered that the contestant introductions were short. Painfully short. Little more than "this is Bradley, this is Alex." Was there a comeback on the cards? Alex's three-large numbers game backfired; the selection of 5, 100, 25 and a target of 525.

So what's with the short introductions? It can't be Richard Madeley's anecdote, about giving up smoking. Ah! Could it be "Tactful", Alex's winner in round eight? That cut the gap to seven points. Alex had the slightly dodgy "Enticers" after the break, that's fine. But then Bradley invoked the spirit of Thirty Years Ago Next Week by giving us "Unperson", restoring a fifteen-point lead, and that felt like it should be enough. "Badges" was Bradley's next offer, another winner, and that proved to be enough. The conundrum was the 12th round where Bradley made the maximum score. Yes, he was helped by four very simple numbers games, but a 12-maxer in any game is quality.

SF1: Dylan Taylor (9 wins, 1082) beat Bradley Cates (9 wins, 978), 121-103

And so we come to the semi-finals. A quiet start, both players offering the same words in the opening rounds, and reaching the target in a six-small numbers round. The players have different sixes, in a round where Richard and Susie find their one winner of the day; and eights in the round after that. The second numbers round is going to be crucial: it's a difficult one-large selection, one away is easy, spot-on requires some split multiplication: don't multiply 5 and 4 to make 20, but add or subtract in the middle. Dylan gets it right, takes a ten-point lead.

Countdown Bradley Cates.

After that, it's as you were: the same word and then two of the same length, and another relatively simple six-small number round. So it's 70-60 to Dylan at the second interval. Bradley thinks hard about his final choice in round ten: the first eight letters are "seratend", and seven consonants will provide a nine-letter word, as will three of the vowels. In the event, Dylan comes up with a winner – "Dewaters". After missing a nine-letter word in that round, everyone in the studio gets "Atrocious" in the next one. "Respites" and a pair of sevens mean the gap remains eighteen going into the last numbers game. Another six-small selection. Another fairly simple six-small selection. Another one that both players get, by very different methods. Neither player gets the conundrum, so Dylan has a twelve-max game of his own.

SF2: Callum Todd (8 wins and 1 draw, 855) beat Glen Webb (9 wins, 1052), 107-82

The stats suggest that Glen should have the beating of this match, but the stats suggested that Callum wouldn't be here today. Honours are even in the first two rounds, then Callum picks six-small, and comes within an ace of making his declaration, but misses, and allows Glen to pick up a slightly lucky five points. After the break, Callum comes back with "Solutes", a chemical term, and enough to give him a two-point lead. The next round is the classic "Orientals" / "Relations" scramble, eighteen points for even this semi-regular player.

Countdown Glen Webb.

Glen picked four-large for his numbers game, but missed a modestly simple target, and suddenly Callum had a lead of a dozen. After about two seconds of the next letters game, Callum looks up. Apparently, "Overtires" is a word, making someone more tired than they would usually be. Both players got that; Glen's next offer of "Hearting" is a recent addition to the book, as in "I'm hearting the standard of play". More usually expressed as "I <3 Countdown".

Did we just write that? (Washes keyboard with soap and water.)

(That was a stupid idea.) Turning to a backup keyboard, we find Callum has again failed in his six-small selection, but so does Glen. Back to the letters, and his offer of "impudes" isn't going to cut the mustard, so Callum's lead increases to 18. Later, Glen decides to risk "unspared", Callum follows suit, neither is going to have the word allowed. Callum's final winner, "Petiole", puts the game completely beyond reach. The final numbers round sees Callum go "the long way round", via 3850.

Countdown It all comes down to this.

Final: Dylan Taylor (10 wins, 1203) vs Callum Todd (9 wins and 1 draw, 962)

A perfect game is something we'll only see rarely – with the new focus on numbers, perhaps once a year. A perfect game in a grand final is something we'll see less frequently. But the way Dylan and Callum have been playing this week, it feels like one of them will need to turn in a perfect game to secure victory.

And, after that build up, both players miss in the opening two rounds: Dylan wins round one with "Teratoma", Callum takes round two with "Souvenir". A six-small numbers solve, and then "Pledges" and the niner "Insulated" helps to run up the scores. Both players seemed to get that on about two seconds, and were detained for little longer on the numbers round. A pair of sevens, and "Immolate", and a very simple third numbers game.

So it's 78-78 going into the final part. Toe-to-toe, the gladiators take their place in the arena. Who has the acuity? Who will be the first to solve the surely-inevitable crucial conundrum? Are we going to need a tie-breaker? "Outsider" comes from both players. "Potage" from both sides. "Coning" and "Booing", and then we're all "Revering" the players' efforts. At the end of the letters, both players have scored maxima on 9 of the 10 letters rounds. They both secure a 13-max game with another numbers game, the most difficult one of the day.

We said a crucial conundrum was inevitable. A crucial conundrum arrived. "I hurt palm" the scramble. Whoever can unscramble this, he's the winner. The clock ticks. Two seconds. Three. Tick. Tick.

Buzz. "Triumphal", offers Callum. Nick Hewer builds up the tension for a long time before turning over the answer. It's right. It's right! Callum has the win! Callum has the win!

Countdown Dylan Taylor.

It required a great, a classic, a superlative Countdown performance to take this title. With the final score of 126-116. Dylan has the highest single-series total of 1319, beating Giles Hutchings' mark of 1279 set in June. Callum has clearly improved since his initial appearances, showing how a good player can become great through practice; his final week total of 341 also appears to be a record.

Records are made to be broken, and one day they will be broken. Having one's name on the Richard Whiteley Memorial Trophy, that achievement lasts forever.

Countdown Callum Todd, series champion.

Only Connect

Series 8, Match Y: Lasletts v Bakers

This show likes to pick up Hitchhikers, we're told. Well, good news for Tom Scott. (An Easter egg for viewers since 2010, there.) The Lasletts know a little about lots of things; the Bakers's nieces and nephews will be "disappointed" if they don't go through. Walls 403 and 404 are bidden and found, but more on that a little later.

The Lasletts kick off, with pictures. Celtic Park, a depiction of hell, two women in velvet costumes, and a bird with a very bright tail. Paradise by Tintoretto, the bird of paradise, and "The Paradise", a BBC television series. One point, there. For the Bakers, it's 1960 King Constantine II, 1924 Dr Benjamin Spock, 1908 City of London police, 1932 Buster Crabbe. Did they all change their name? Is it "we're stumped"? No: these were all gold medal winners in the sporting spectacle we're not allowed to name for trademark reasons. 1-0 to the Lasletts.

For the Lasletts, Spider Man and "Moby Dick", and that's enough to buzz in. It's the Missing Hyphens round, scoring three points. The Bakers need to follow that: they have the Abu Simbel temples in Egypt, they have a good discussion, and they sound the Five Point Klaxon! "They were all relocated." Right! The giveaway was London Bridge. 5-4 to the Bakers.

Non-musical clues for the Lasletts: Leopold I takes oath as king, Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, Arrival of Columbus in the Americas, and Storming of the Bastille. It's not a common place, it's not a common date. It's not even that they happened in years ending 92, or 14 July. No, these are national days. Being entirely polite, neither side is prepared to mention which country was indicated in the first clue. Music for the Bakers: "All that jazz" from Chicago, "Born to try" from δ Goodrem, "Have you seen her" from the χ-Lites, and "Fascination" from αbeat. No, they didn't all win the award for Best Original Song. And – ack – no, it's not phonetic alphabets. The Chicago singer was Catherine ζ Jones. Which leaves it 5-4 to the Bakers, still.

Only Connect (2) The great British connectors: Tim Spain, Peter Steggle, Matt Rowbotham.

Sequences begin with one for the Lasletts. NOC list, Chimera, a good discussion before calling for Rabbit's Foot. The link is targets in the Mission Impossible films, and the fourth was Cobalt. Onwards! Observing Norman English, The Wondrous Oratorios, and they buzz in for Feeling Our Undying Regret. That's good for The Heart Reveals Each Endeavour points, 8-4.

The National Dairy Council. Littlewoods. Rumbelows. What links these, wonder the Lasletts. Sponsors of something? This is good. They're going for B&Q, and don't know how close they are. Not Primark, as the Bakers suggested. It's the Football League Cup, latterly sponsored by Coca-Cola. The Scottish edition, that was sponsored by B&Q. Over to the Bakers, where it's Chargé d'affaires, Minister Resident, and they'll take Ambassador. Or "Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary", to spoil us. 11-4.

Pictures for the Lasletts: celery, three apples, walnuts. The answer is neither lettuce nor meat. The answer is "grapes", and it's a reference for this week's comedy classic: the Waldorf Salad from Fawlty Towers. Over to the Bakers, who have Grande-Terre New Caledonia, Corsica, Martinique, et finalement? French Guyana? Non. France? Absolutement non. This is French islands by population, concluding with Réunion. Still 11-4.

To the Walls! The Bakers go first, and they have a set of oil companies, then four terms in heraldry reveal themselves. They're thinking of things too hot, but then twig that there's a group of homophones for composers. The last group – buffer, bed, cars – has them wondering about things with pillows, railways and transport. For want of a better offer, they go with railways, but it's not quite right. Things prefixed with "Z-". Seven points!

The Lasletts are brilliant on the walls. Four characters from The Wizard of Oz, done. Four Latin phrases prefixed by "In ", done. Words that contain artists at the beginning is spotted, and forms of address to Catholic clergy (remember, we had the Anglicans last week). Ten points! In the semi-final, too!

So it's 18-14 to the Bakers going into Missing Vowels. Four shades of grey goes to the Bakers 2-0, then Solar activity or its results is 3-1 to the Lasletts. Ironic idioms is another strong start for the Lasletts, but they suffer a penalty and win 1-0. Terms used in a newspaper office is a final point to the Bakers.

And that's the final score! The Lasletts have 18, the Bakers take it with 23. So defeat is no barrier to victory, as the Bakers and Board Gamers will demonstrate next week.

This Week And Next

We also regret to report the death of David Coleman, the sports broadcaster and host of A Question of Sport for many years.

The final student University Challenge of the year was something of an oddity, as it had neither Manchester nor Cambridge involved. Liverpool (conquerers of Keele) and Cardiff (victorious over Exeter). Cardiff had the better start, helped by the first visual round paying tribute to their erstwhile UW colleagues Bangor. They also managed to guess that the best evidence for the Hidden Hand of Satan is — the M25. From time to time, UC still throws up these wonderfully entertaining questions; we're spoiled by the way Only Connect does that three, four, five times a week.

Liverpool went on to get a question about the Seven Sisters star cluster, just one stop down the line from Highbury and Islington. One stop, and a million light years. The audio round was on classical music played on the ukulele, and it goes to Cardiff. Most things went to Cardiff, except a round on the "ceremonial counties" of various MPs. We'd rather like to see the evidence that "Greater Manchester" is a ceremonial county, as claimed here. Liverpool staged a bit of a comeback in the final quarter, and though they'd given it their best shot, they'd left a little too much work for the time available. The final score was 230-145, and Cardiff's bonus conversion rate of 22/35 suggests they could be a dark horse in the group phase.

There's one more match in the University Challenge second round, and that'll go out on 6 January.

The X Factor final last week suffered from a technical glitch. Millions of people watching live entertainment from Wembley's taxi service found their enjoyment spoiled by a bad karaoke party using radio mikes.

The X Factor Such was the confusion that Rihanna got lost.

Listeners to Brain of Britain were shocked and stunned to hear one of the contestants this week. Surely that can't be, it mustn't be, the Mark Grant? One of the Crossworders, unbeaten super-champions of Only Connect? It was, and he won the heat by a large margin. One of his opponents was called Andy Crane, but it wasn't the Broom Cupboard-to-BBC Manchester presenter; BBC staff (and their relatives) are not allowed to apply.

Once more to Mastermind.

  • Liz McSheehy (Novels of Peter Carey) answered on the author of Oscar and Lucinda and other novels. It was a stop-start round, finishing on 7 (3). The second round contains a fair few guesses and passes, finishing on 16 (8).
  • Chris Forse (Presidency of John F Kennedy, 1961-3) had us wondering why they didn't put this show out four weeks earlier, on the anniversary of the subject's assassination? Rugby, on the network, not just in Wales. 10 (1) is his total here, and it doesn't particularly increase in the general knowledge round: the contender stumbles his way to 17 (6).
  • Lawrence Cook (World Heavyweight Boxing 1960-2000) had the likes of Floyd Patterson, Cassius Clay, Sonny Liston, George Foreman, and Mohammed Ali. It's a round primarily about events in the first half of the time-frame, finishing on 11 (0). Third into the hot seat, his main aim is to set a decent target, and perhaps secure a place as a high-scoring loser. That latter aim falls short fairly quickly, but the latter improves as the round goes on. The final score is 23 (2), enough to give the last player some work.
  • Ramdas Mullath (Life and Works of James Clerk Maxwell), the nineteenth-century physicist responsible for work on radiation and electromagnetic forces. 12 (0) could have been higher, but the contender repeatedly had to interrupt the prolix questions. Twelve again to win, but the contender here seems to struggle with the general knowledge questions, and the round never gets any sort of traction. The final score is 18 (3).

So Lawrence Cook comes through a low-scoring week, and takes his place in the Top Thirty. Mastermind has seven heats before the semi-finals begin, the next is on 10 January.

BARB ratings in the week to 8 December, with 11.85m for Strictly Come Dancing, 10.2m for the final of I'm a Celebrity, and 8.35m for The X Factor Results. Pointless Celebrities had 5.65m wowing at Shaun's brilliance, with 4.35m for the daily show. The Chase With Celebrities (3.65m) barely beat Masterchef The Professionals (3.55m) and University Challenge (3.25m).

Get Me Out of Here Now concluded on ITV2 with 1.75m, Four in a Bed was Channel 4's top game show on 1.35m viewers. Only Connect brought 915,000 to BBC4. This week's cabsat comparison: Millionaire repeats on Challenge (135,000) are beaten by Bigg Boss (145,000), India's version of Big Brother airing on the Colours channel.

Pointless Someone who needs no introduction, with Father Christmas.

And so to the Christmas holiday schedules. The soft centres in the selection box are Just a Minute at Christmas (Radio 4, 6.30 Mon), the Only Connect final (BBC4, 8.30 Mon), World's Strongest Man (C5, Boxing Day to New Year's Eve), and a 3-2-1 Christmas special from 1979 (Challenge, 6.05 Christmas Day). Challenge has a Firsts Weekend (Sat and Sun from 2pm), a special edition of The Cube (ITV, 8pm Sat), That Puppet Game Show (BBC1, 3.20 Sun), a special Deal or No Deal (C4, 7pm New Year's Eve).

Through the holidays, there are Christmas University Challenge and Celebrity Mastermind (most evenings, BBC2 and BBC1 respectively). For the new year, a Blue Peter edition of Pointless (BBC1, 5.10 Thu), and — sorry! — Celebrity Big Brother (C5, 9pm Fri). Battle lines are drawn on Saturday 4 January, when Splash! (ITV, 7.20) and Take Me Out (ITV, 8.50) go up against Who Dares Wins (BBC1, 7.50) and Mrs. McClusky on Pointless Celebrities (BBC1, 7pm).

We'll be back in about a week with the review of the year. Until then, we wish all our readers the very best for the season.

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