Weaver's Week 2007-08-26

Weaver's Week Index


Is it all fitting together, in a stupid fashion?

Last week, we discussed how Lesley Judd, Paul Darrow, and Robert Malos found themselves on the planet Arg. This week, we follow their adventure as they try to retrieve their time crystal.

The Adventure Game

BBC Bristol for BBC1, 9.09 Saturday 21 June 1980

Our intrepid trio enter a room containing a grandfather clock secured by a padlock, a shop till, a table with a sealed box and perspex pipe, a large box on which is a tin of mixed nuts and nutcracker, a women's toilet, and two other doors; one glass, one silver. By the other glass door is a tube, and the legend "Insert ball and blow here." Gandor is wearing some military medals, and tells the visitors of a small charge that they can register on the cash register. And he'll lock the door behind him. Robert starts by opening the can of nuts; it contains a squeaky snake that jumps out at him, and a magnetic coil. In a cubby-hole, there's a book, "Great Military Battles".

You wouldn't catch Natasha Kaplinsky doing this.

Just as they're making sense of all this, Dangor and Gnoard enter. One is blowing her own trumpet, the other bashes coconuts together. "She blew a cavalry charge - the charge of the Light Brigade?" muses Paul. "Charge. Oh, charge! He said there would be a small charge." And there is; it's not the gallant 600, or half-a-league, but the year - 1854.

£18.54? That's almost a week's wages!

In the till are a battery and some wire clips. These, obviously, go with the magnetic coil, to create some sort of electro-magnet. On the table is a small maze containing a ball-bearing, with a hole in the middle. Robert quickly rigs up a magnet, sufficient to pick up a small piece of tin, but not magnetic enough to move the ball around the maze.

A military cross, a Victoria cross.

At the door is Gandor, still wearing his military medals, but now with a funny helmet as well. He indicates to the far side of the room, but the team miss his lead. Instead, they spot a pressure pad on the floor, marked with 190kg. The team, combined, is about 12kg short of that figure. Behind the entrance door is a 20kg weight, but that door's locked, with the key still in the lock. A little work with pushing things under doors, and poking wires through keyholes, and the door is open. 20kg goes onto the pad, and there's a trolley to wheel in. As a little bonus, Robert teaches the principle of an iron core: if he can insert something made of iron into the middle of the electro-magnet, he can amplify its effect and move the ball through the maze.

Gnoard explains what Lesley has got to do.

Then there's a slight dragonus ex machina: Gnoard steps out of the Ladies' lavatory, and invites Lesley to follow her. It's not a real lavatory, but a door to a solo challenge. Two ropes are hanging from the ceiling, and Lesley's task is to pull both at the same time. If she can manage it, she'll get a prize. The ropes are too far apart for her to reach at the same time. In the room with her are a stout wooden crate, a postage stamp, a ping-pong ball, a magnet, and an aspidistra plant. Lesley's efforts are in vain, and she eventually takes the magnet and ping-pong ball back to the gentlemen in the main room.

We didn't warn you about the Argond's regrettable sense of fashion.

Back in the game, Robert and Paul are looking again at Gandor's medals. They identify them as the Military Cross and Victoria Cross. "MCVC! Roman numerals. M is 1000, C is 100, V is 5, C is 100, so it's 1700," says Paul. "Are you sure?" asks Robert. "No," says Paul. Robert is clearly getting frustrated, and Gnoard steps back through the Ladies'. She changes the sign, so that it's now a Gentlemen's, and invites Robert to step through. She explains the problem, and repeats the offer of a prize. The prize now includes Lesley, who was "attacked by a dragon" as she made her exit.

It's a rollover!

Robert has the idea: attach the magnet to one of the ropes, set it swinging, stand on the other box with the other rope in hand, and when the swinging rope comes back, jump and pull them both. The prize is the safe return of Lesley, and a garden gnome, complete with toadstool. As garden gnomes go, this one's rather heavy.

Back in the main room, Paul has finally worked out that MCVC means 1195, and used this code on the padlock securing the grandfather clock. It opens! Inside is a metre rule: "A metre measures three foot three; it's longer than a yard, you see," recites Paul. There's also an extra weight. Lesley is beginning to get the idea: pile all the heavy things onto the pressure pad. Then she bursts into laughter at the idea of weighing a garden gnome, complete with toadstool.

Shortly to be appearing in an old folks' gnome.

Paul starts fiddling with the nutcracker. "Hang on!" says Robert, using words that have fast become his catchphrase. Nutcrackers form the soft iron core that they need to work the electro-magnet, move the ball around the maze, and drop the ball down the hole. That allows them to release the lid from the table; inside is a copy of that day's newspaper, and a safe box. The original plan was for the explorers to use the newspaper to push under the door and slide out the key, but they found other means.

That's nuts! That's crackers!

What's the combination for the safe? It's a four-letter word. NUTS? NEWS? No, but back at the door is Gandor, pointing at his medals. MCVC! In the safe are some pencils (intended to poke the key out of the keyhole), a knot around one of the pencils, and a piece of paper saying, "1 metre equals 1 second." Robert instantly identifies this as being a simple pendulum: a length of 1m will swing in 1s.

Lesley's fortune is written on a ping-pong ball.

But how to piece everything together? Put 190kg on the pad, and the ping-pong ball rises out of the perspex tube for Lesley to grab. On the ball is a legend: "the tube opens at exactly 10 seconds past the hour." The cameramen are clearly looking at their watches: they'll stop filming at 10pm precisely, and it requires a none-too-subtle hint from Gnoard to solve this: the grandfather clock chimes the hour whenever 190kg is put on the pressure pad; ten seconds later is the time to blow the ball up the tube. Lesley's attempt at blowing the ball is a dismal failure, but Robert has enough blow to get it up.

Robert blows the ball up the tube

And that, lady and gentlemen, is The Main Problem solved! But before the team can get their crystal back, they must answer a question from The Rangdo. He wants to know, "what is the question?" After a few guesses, Gandor pipes up with "Those are nice pencils, which do you prefer?" We did warn you about the Argonds' regrettable sense of humour.

The Rangdo (centre) poses the final question.

Equipped with the crystal, the team must now make their way back across the entrance hall to their spacecraft. However, the squares are now live: if someone happens to step onto the wrong one, they won't just hear a very annoying squeaky noise, but they'll be evaporated off the planet. Most inconvenient. The team take a different route back, though still a legal one, and bring the false tile with them. They lay it on a square they believe to be invalid - by the logic employed in the first time they crossed, this would make an invalid square valid. But not this time, the team is evaporated as soon as Lesley steps on to the false tile. Moving the goalposts in this manner struck us as a bit of a swizz. Hope the Species Relations Inspector wasn't watching.

Red triangle plus green triangle equals a long walk home


Because Wimbledon '80 began on 23 June, we're giving the shows that aired in the week from Monday 16 June. It was the week when the BBC concert orchestra was on strike, football's European Nations Cup finals were complete in a week, and Tina Heath had an ultrasound scan of her unborn baby.

Highlight of the week was the first in the new series of The Krypton Factor at 7pm Monday. Gordon Burns introduces the first four of this year's 32 contestants in the mental and physical pentathlon; the Response round, at this early date, had yet to be invented. Robert Robinson turned up twice on the BBC - Brain of Britain posed questions to the Midlands on Radio 4, and Ask the Family pitted teacher Rex Satchwell and his family from Coventry against the family of George Yates-Mercer, a chartered accountant from Enfield.

On Tuesday, Adrian Hedley, Janet Ellis and Jigg presented Jigsaw with Sylvester McCoy and David Rappaport as The O-men, David Cleveland and David Wyatt in CID Sleuth, Wilf Lunn as the mad inventor, Chris Emmett as the narrator, and Pterry as Himself. Square One went out on Wednesday at 3.45, except for viewers in Granadaland, who waited until 5.15 Thursday. By then, they could have heard Just a Minute and My Music on Radio 4. And suffered through Looks Familiar, Denis Norden's nostalgia showbiz quiz. HTV viewers were spared this torture, while Thames threw it out at 6.30 Friday, purely to leave LWT with no viewers.

Runaround with Mike Reid went out in all ITV regions at 4.45 Friday, and Winner Takes All at 7pm. Opposite it was the last in the present series of It's a Knockout. Cliff Park, Seaburn, Sunderland was the location; the hosts competed against Gateshead and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with the winners going on to Jeux Sans Frontieres in Coburg, West Germany. That's except for viewers in Wales, who will see the show on Sun 29th. There was a strange little filler on Sunday afternoon, Look Back and Laugh. A repeat from last November, it was highlights from the first fifteen years of Knockout, hosted by Stuart Hall and Eddie Waring, with guest appearances from David Vine, Katie Boyle, and Robin Scott. The annual Celebrity edition of Knockout will air on 11 July, after Wimbledon has completed. Tickets are available now for the national final, It's A Championship Knockout, to be recorded on 25 July at the Park Hall, Charnock Richard, for transmission in early August.

Apart from The Adventure Game, radio quizzes dominated Saturday. The News Quiz with Alan Coren and Richard Ingrams was in its traditional 12.27 slot. Over on Radio 2, Three in a Row (7pm) was a light entertainment game show, where three correct answers in sequence netted £20 in premium bonds. This show was subject to cancellation if the Nations' Cup third-place match goes into extra time.

Bambi fans needed a degree to find out when University Challenge is on. This week sees Manchester take on Newnham College Cambridge, and it goes out on Sunday: ATV 11.30am; Tyne Tees, HTV, Ulster 1pm; LWT 2pm; Granada 4pm; and at 5.15 Monday for Anglia, Yorkshire, Border, Westward, Grampian, and Channel. Viewers in Granadaland had to choose between UC and Round Britain Quiz, where Gordon Clough and Anthony Quinton continued to perplex teams across the land. This week, London (Irene Thomas and John Stewart) took on Northern Ireland (John Mays and Michael Dewar). No Regionalia for Sale of the Century: Nicholas Parsons quizzed us quick at 5.30.


Heat 7

Tim Hall kicks us off tonight, talking about the Battle of Gettysburg. And if you don't want to know the result, look away now. The Americans lost. Mr. Hall, though, puts up a very strong performance, finishing on 15 (1).

Trevor Larder has the Life and Career of Mario Lanza. One of the greatest voices of the recorded sound era, and a not-at-all bad score of 10 (2).

Sheila Altree has been swotting up on The Divine Comedy. Before the Press Association stirs up another silly season storm, this is Dante's Divine Comedy, and not the band of the same name. The contender finishes on a pass, but has already racked up 13 (1).

Stuart Martin takes the Life and Career of Sir Edwin Lutyens. It's a careful round, but one that ends with a rich reward: all correct, 15 (0).

Though the contestants have different passes, John doesn't mention them this week. Be consistent, sir. Mr. Larder doesn't show his knowledge, finishing on 16 (6).

Sheila Altree reads The Divine Comedy for fun, but the conversation quickly dissolves into human excrement. "Have you seen anybody about this?" enquires our host. Regular reader Lisa Hermann points out that it's Mrs. Altree's fourth appearance on the show; she entered in 1980 under her first married name of Denyer, then won in the first round in 1985 under her new name, only to be disqualified when her previous appearance came to light. Magnus Magnusson made a point of inviting her back in 1997; she had the misfortune to draw the same head as eventual-champion Anne Ashurst, but qualified for the repechage. Back in the present day, Mrs. Altree's general knowledge is good; it has to be good, finishing on 28 (1).

Mr. Hall is a police officer, and discusses all the paperwork involved in catching criminals. This isn't The Here Today Gone Tomorrow Programme, young presenter. He doesn't know the element with chemical symbol Kr; this factors against him, but does identify Crackerjack. His final score: 27 (2).

Stuart Martin tells us about the wonderfulness of Lutyens. In one of his questions, he zigs for Gilbert when the answer is Sullivan. That sums up the round, which ends on 23 (2).

University Challenge

First round, 7/14: Lucy Cavendish Cambridge v Warwick

Our reader mailbox has been full to overflowing with reaction to this week's show, and we'll get to that as we get to that.

Lucy Cavendish is a women-only college, with what Thumper describes as a "deserted" bar. Warwick is the defending champion of University Challenge. The university, situated on a Siberian plain just outside Coventry, has been in the news this week after Arvind Aradhya won Scholar Hunt: Destination UK. The Indian quiz ensured that one bright youngster would win a full scholarship - worth about £45,000 - to Warwick's school of Engineering. Who knows, he might pop up on a future team here. Other Scholar Hunt champs will go to Leeds, Cardiff, Sheffield, and Middlesex.

Back to UC, and it's a cosmopolitan edition: Lucy Cavendish's captain is from New Zealand, and one of the Warwick team is an Indian name, but hailing from Basle. Let's play!

Q: From the Greek for "turn away", what word can mean an exclamatory piece with an absent..?
Warwick, Minh Nguyen: Apostrophe.

A missignal for each side in early play, and here's a fad that's been and gone: charity wristbands. We never did make the ones saying, "Make Call-and-Lose History;" after his attack on the genre at the Edinburgh festival, Thumper would approve. We will note, but not make a comment about the fact that Lucy Cavendish scored 15 on a set of bonuses about editors of Vogue magazine. They pick up the first visual round: Name That Fictional Dog, and lead 65-30.

It was Sirius last week; this time, Warwick is asked to name the third brightest star in the night sky - Alpha Centurai - and then get this one.

Q: Slightly nearer, at 4.2 light years, is a red dwarf star thought to be in slow orbit around Alpha Centurai A and B. By what name, referring to its closeness to our own sun, is it usually known?
A: Alpha Proximi.

Thumper accepts - the answer on the card is Proxima Centurai. It's a difficult one to judge in the cold light of Tuesday morning: our gut feeling is that the key part of the answer is the "Proxima" bit, and on that basis, we'd (slightly reluctantly) have to give the points.

Onwards! We are convinced that the question setters only included the set about Great Hip-Hoppers Of Our Time to make Thumper sound out of touch. They failed: he actually sounded as though he knew what he was talking about. The week's second controversy arose with this set of bonuses. We'll give the questions, and answers from Lucy Cavendish, but not how Thumper marked.

Q: The mineral silvite used in the manufacture of fertilisers is chiefly composed of which chloride, used as a substitute for table salt for those on a low-sodium diet?
A: Potassium.
Q: Used in disinfectants and fungicides, which potassium salt has the formula KMNO4 and is a dark purple, water-soluble crystalline solid?
A: Potassium permanganate.
Q: Saltpetre is an alternative name for which potassium salt used in fireworks and gunpowder?
A: Nitrate.

Only the second question was judged correct: the other model answers were "potassium chloride" and "potassium nitrate". This is somewhat easier for Tuesday Morning Quibbling: the key parts of the answers were provided, and the points should have been awarded. Both of these incidents raise questions about the quality of the question-setting process. We're not going to criticise Thumper personally, he is the public face of the question-setters and producers, who should have provided him with better guidance. There does seem to be a particular weakness when adjudicating on science questions, one that's absent from politics, literature, and history - subjects where the host has a strong knowledge.

Back in the game, it's a ding-dong match, the lead changes hands five times in the second stanza, and after the audio round - on the works of Ennio Morrione - Warwick has a lead of 100-90. We're slightly surprised to find Warwick doesn't remember much about last year's football World Cup. The second visual round is Name That Bit Of France, after which Warwick has a lead, 140-110.

After this show, we'll be half-way through the opening round, and it looks like 170 is - at the very least - going to suffice to come back in the repechage. Warwick reaches that mark two starters later, and then proceeds to run away with the game. The final score certainly doesn't reflect the balance of the game - 225-130 makes it seem a much easier win than it really was. That was a spirited performance by Lucy Cavendish, and it's a shame that they won't be back. The various adjudications in the second stanza didn't alter the game's outcome, but it is most unfortunate that one of the best games we've seen this year will be remembered for dubious questions, and not the quality of the quizzing.

Seven starters for Warwick captain Howard Lightfoot; his side made 19/42 bonuses and two missignals. Christina Poole Majerus was the best buzzer for Lucy Cavendish, three starters as the side made 13/21 bonuses and a missignal.

Repechage standings: Lancaster 185, Liverpool 165, Magdalen Oxford 160, Birmingham 145.

Next match: Worcester Oxford v Pembroke Cambridge

This Week And Next

OFCOM's Moaning Minnies report has criticised Britain's Got Talent. In particular, a segment pretending to feature a live autopsy was found to be too much for children to watch at 8 o'clock of a Saturday evening. The panel declined to pass judgement on the combination of Simon Cowell and Piers Moron.

Ratings for the week to 12 August saw Big Brother just retain its position as the most-viewed show, 4m tuned in to the Friday night exit show. The last Millionaire to bear a Celador imprint went out on Saturday night, pulling in slightly fewer than 4m, and just beating Baby Ballroom The Championship. We really ought to review this show, and will do so now: The best part of this programme was Bonnie Langford.

Dance X continued to find its ratings were swallowed up as effortlessly as the credits to the previous programme, 3.7m could be bothered. University Challenge had 2.4m, Mock the Week 2.25m, Link 1.6m, Mastermind 1.55m, and repeated Buzzcocks 1.3m. BB On the Couch had 1.85m.

Leader on the digital channels was America's Got Talent on ITV2, 605,000 tuned in on Friday night. BB Big Mouth (570,000 on Wednesday) and Little Brother (490,000 on Monday) continued to pull viewers into E4. BBC3's Last Man Standing was also seen by 490,000, and 200,000 answered More4's call to Come Dine With Me. CBBC benefited from the new series of Raven The Secret Temple, 170,000 saw the first episode, and we'll have a review next week. Same score for Hider in the House, and a repeat of Beat the Boss attracted 145,000 on Tuesday morning. G2 had 175,000 for QI, and 120,000 for HIGNFY and Buzzcocks. The Book Quiz took 130,000 viewers and becomes BBC4's first entry into this section all year. Challenge's biggest show was Wednesday night Millionaire, 85,000 saw it.

Channel 4 is to throw Scrapheap Challenge on the, er, scrapheap. The show inviting people to construct mechanical devices out of pieces of household junk aired each year until 2005, but the next series came off the air earlier in the summer, and appears to have vanished without trace. A final series is in the can, and will air next year. This news was buried beneath an announcement that Channel 4 will not air a series of Celebrity Big Brother next year. In its place will be another Big Brother project, airing on E4 alone. The current series of Nonentity Big Brother finally peters out into its own ennui next Friday night.

Before then, Identity becomes the first quiz show other than The Weakest Link to air in the 5.15 slot since August 2005. Then, Link moved to 6pm, making way for a 45-minute version of Eggheads. Spinning a twenty-minute game into a slot twice as long made for even more tedious viewing than normal. Monday also sees two shows with simple titles: Test The Nation The National IQ Test 2007 (BBC1, 6.40) and Britain's Strongest Man (C5, 8pm).

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