Weaver's Week 2009-09-06

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Later: the most wonderful hair on television, fewer passes than Polderland, and BBC1 says, "no game".

A couple of newspapers reported this week that men performed worse at a brain test after they'd been chatting to an attractive woman. The test was to say if a letter they're seeing is the same as the one they'd seen before last – so A-B-A is "yes", B-A-A is "no" – and men's performance in this sort of test really does deteriorate after they've been talking to a woman they find attractive. Does this effect last beyond very short-term mental recall? Does it, for instance, stretch to the ability to link otherwise disparate concepts? Might we find a very attractive host, a method of taxing the brain, and observe the effects? Let's do just that...


Only Connect

Series 2 Grand Final: Rugby Boys v Cambridge Quiz Society

"Minds so packed with facts they make Wikipedia look like a random splurge of rumour and guesswork. Which it is." No, this column didn't write the host's script, even though she is self-evidently correct; that other wiki is to scholarship as Jackie Collins is to literature. Here comes the experiment: the host talks with Simon Spiro of the Cambridge side about mind-controlling parasites. "They can make you more sexual," reports the contestant. Oh, purlease, don't prove our point already, there's still 28 minutes until the watershed. The only hard-core element about this show is the brainwork. Rugby's captain, Gary Dermody, talks about the snobbery faced by rugby players. They're not as thick as the stereotype would have it.

Time for round one to begin, and the first question on time zones is handed across to the Rugby Boys for a bonus. Novelist barons might have given them five points if they'd been sufficiently (ie ludicrously) reckless, it's worth two. Cambridge pick up the picture round, which turns out to be London theatres. It's the Palladium that gave it away for us, too.

What links Lisa Simpson and Adolf Hitler, other than regular contributions to an obscure satellite channel? Vegetarians, that's what, and a point to Rugby. Cambridge get the audio round, which should come with a health warning because it contains Boney M, but it's songs based on Bible passages, and a point to the opposition. The final question is solved in part by both teams, but neither gets the points. Rugby leads, 5-2.

Only Connect (2) This week's object of desire: the trophy.

Round two, and what comes fourth? No, the first clue isn't about the traditional magpie rhyme, but it's layers in Dante's inferno: level one is the virtuous unfaithful, or the unbaptised. Herr Hitler makes a slight return in the next question, for opening the Summer Olympics, and three to the Rugby team. There's a throw-back to The Adventure Game in the next question, heraldic terms for the colours of the rainbow, and another bonus for the Rugby side.

Question four does throw them rather: it's a series of letters, and boiling down to letters requiring one straight line. That'll be I, then, and no points at all. Everyone thinks islands in increasing size come next, but it's actually by population, and Java rules it all. Rugby has the picture question, but (horror!) doesn't recognise a Commodore 64 when they see one. Did they never play Blitz? It's ranks in the Royal Navy, a bonus to Cambridge, but Rugby leads 9-3.

Rugby are first to the walls, and after a bit of discussion start dabbing on scientists. They get a group quickly. Any quartets? Enough people called Francis? Ah, people called Roger could be there. Then they start thinking about meats, and composers, and it really does seem to be going to pot. We've been shouting "smoked" at them for ages. Time expires, the team has made just one connection, people called Francis. There is a set of literary quartets, a set of cricket terms, but the link "smoked ___" evades the team. Four points!

Only Connect (2) More wins than losses: the Cambridge Quiz Society

Cambridge Quiz Society are next up, and they don't even start jabbing for 30 seconds. There's a set of birds in there – Loonie, Kiwi, Mallard, Lark, but no points. "Wonder Woman was Linda Hamilton", then they discuss Ariel the goddess of the airwaves. There's discussion about railway engines, centreing around Rocket, but it's clear that the team are just stabbing away in the dark. "Is there a set of Vinces" in there, based on Cable and not a lot more? If they knew who Sara Crewe was, they might stand a chance, but time expires without a single connection made. The answers were: nicknames for currencies, fictional princesses (including Princess Peach from the Nintendo games), "sky____", and not ships, but steam engines which they'd mentioned for the previous link. And not a bird in sight. Two points!

Rugby takes a 13-5 lead into the final round. Military decorations start us off, and the third piece of Nazi memorabilia – the Iron Cross – is part of a 3-0 win for Rugby. Children of Zeus goes 2-1 to Cambridge, but Local Names of European Countries is 3-1 to Rugby. Wordsworth Poems ends 1-(-1) for Cambridge.

As time expires, Rugby has won, 19-9. They'll get their trophy during the closing credits, and will play a challenge match against the Crossworders. We wonder if this will be the first instance of pay-to-view quizzing. Anyway, congratulations to all the teams for making a series that's been a joy to watch, a pleasure to recap. Particular congratulations to the Rugby Boys: Richard Parnell, Mark Labbett, and captain Gary Dermody.

Only Connect (2) Undefeated champions: the Rugby Boys.

The question crowbarred into the Round Britain Quiz billing in the Game Show Times was: "Half of Globelink's secretary amounts to a Steps single. Silver is its own square root, but gold's only one more. What's Happening??" We'll unpick this one before we fly away.

University Challenge

Heat 8: Newnham Cambridge v Sussex

Now we'll spiral back in time an hour. And write a complaint. Dear BBC2, can you please start University Challenge at the traditional time of 8.02, and not bang on 8pm? As they say on Accumulate! when asked to name a village in south Lincolnshire, Kathuxby.

"Apparatus" is the word of the week, and it's answered by Newnham Cambridge. The college, of about 550 students, was founded in 1871, and remains dedicated to the education of women. Sylvia Plath, Iris Murdoch, and Emma Thompson are amongst the alumni. And, for those of you reading this column by email, we really should point out that all of the Newnham team have some of the most wonderful hair we've seen in a very long time.

There's something very odd happening at the bottom-right corner, where it looks like a couple of the Sussex team are conferring on the starters. Must be the way one of them is leaning off the buzzer. There's less excuse for both sides buzzing in very quickly while Thumper's reciting the lyric to "Always look on the bright side of life." Let him finish and tell you what to complete. The first visual round is on emblems of national parks, and – after some missignals earlier – it gets Sussex away to a flying zero. Apparently, the campus, which educates 12,000, looks like a cat when seen from above, and alumni include Hillary Benn and Peter Hain. None of that can overcome the dubious start, Newnham leads 55-10.

University Challenge Newnham Cambridge: Heidi Egginton, Megan Williams, Libby Cole, Leonie Pett

The old chestnut about things you can't do with the philosopher Kant helps Sussex to catch up a little, but self-help books help Newnham to pull away again. Has no-one heard of conspicuous consumption? Evidently not. The audio round is about songs said to have been on the generic MP3 player of Mr. Barack Obama, and proves that while Sussex know Kayne West, they don't know Bruce Springsteen. Newnham lead 105-55, but Sussex's lack of musical knowledge might just be for the win.

Finally, Thumper picks up on the blatant looking around of the Sussex team. Thumper goes on to ask questions he doesn't understand, they're answered by a captain who doesn't pretend she understands the answer, but her team-mate does. That's how to win on this show. "You either know this or you don't", seems to be Thumper's catchphrase of the day. Even before the second visual round, Newnham have done enough to bring their lovely hair to the second round. We're being totally shallow to mention this twice, but it really is far more easy on the eye than this show's host. The second visual round is on caricatures, and Newnham's lead is up to 155-70.

We'll take the Hidden Student Indicator of the Week. The migratory habits of fish bring Newnham a full set of bonuses, but they only get one on a set about the origins of wine. Three minutes to go in the show, five minutes until Victoria Coren arrives, and three of the Newnham team have hit for the cycle – answered a starter leading to none, one, two, and three from the resulting set of bonuses. The final score is 260-120 in their favour.

University Challenge Sussex: Tom Anderson, Emily Bernadout, Edmund Kirby, Nick Neasom

As a competition, this show was over at half-time, but we're very impressed by the way Newnham picked up their bonus conversion rate from less than a third at that stage. As we implied, three contenders answered at least four starters, Leonie Pett got six right, and the team finished with 23/45 on bonuses and one missignal. Nick Neasom was by far the best buzzer for Sussex, he got six of their starters, the side made 10/22 bonuses and two missignals.

Next match: Imperial London v Southampton

Repechage standings:

  • UCL 175
  • Christ's Cambridge 170
  • Clare Camb 165
  • UCLAN 155


Heat 2

After last week's surprise, we've had another look at the opening sequence. Goodness, it drags. It's 95 seconds until Brian Allerdyce takes the chair; he's telling us about Apple Records. And it's nigh-on two-and-a-half minutes before he's mentioning that the apple is a Granny Smith, a tribute to Magritte. There's a brief pause part-way through, but knowledge of such classics as "Knock knock who's there" takes the contender to 12 points (3 passes).

Will Salt is up next, he's taking the Life and Times of Maximilien Robespierre. The subject was the most fervent of French revolutionaries, the driving force of the post-revolutionary parliament, but turned out to be such an extremist that he lost the confidence of his fellows and was executed. No danger of that happening to this contender, not only because no-one's been executed for failure on game shows since the original series of Gladiatorii, and because he does very well – 14 (2).

Katie McCorkindale has the Fictional Works of Paul Auster. There's philosophy and some quality plots in Auster's works, of which City of Glass is probably the most famous. Apparently, the most typical sentence of Auster's work is, "When you rip the cloth off the umbrella, is the umbrella still an umbrella?" The contender is a little flummoxed by some of the details, but 11 (1) is not a bad score.

The final contender is Colin Wilson, discussing World Heavyweight Boxing Champions 1882-1929. The former date was the point when the Queensberry Rules came into effect; the latter was the end of Gene Tunney's reign. The contender delivers correct answers like his sporting heroes deliver scoring punches, and finishes the round with one error – 16 (0) is a superb score.

Another thing that's changed this year is that we can't pad out the reviews by reference to the contender's chat, it's straight into the questions. We're feeling a little sorry for Katie McCorkindale, who has to remember David Mellor and Bryan Adams in her round. It's enough to throw anyone off their stride, and she finishes the round on 18 (4).

Brian Allerdyce remembers Felix the Cat and the inventor of the cowcatcher on trains – the latter went on to a residence on Family Fortunes. The contender is asked to remember the pop group 5ive, a task that's probably beyond many of the people who bought their records. The final score is 25 (7).

The challenge has been set for Will Salt, twelve needed to take the lead. We've now got to spike next week's RBQ question, because the fact that Cheshire and Lancashire give their names to cheeses has been blown here. The contender remembers the hosts of Masterchef, and Ridley Scott's work on Gladiator. But not the one with Wolf. Hudson's Bay puts Mr. Salt into the lead, and he plays to finish on 28 (4).

So Colin Wilson needs thirteen to be assured of the win, though twelve should suffice, and nine will put him onto the repechage board. Mr. Humphrys has a very good run at pronouncing the names of the collapsed Icelandic banks, but there's a tense moment during the round when Mr. Wilson stalls on 20 points. He progresses, not least from knowing the members of the Sugababes and the local name for Croatia, but finishes on 25 (0).

Which means that Will Salt and Robespierre will progress.

This Week And Next

Answer to the question. "Half of Globelink's secretary amounts to a Steps single. Silver is its own square root, but gold's only one more. What's Happening??" The link, as we hinted in the Saturday billing – and the Cambridge side mentioned in The OC – is the magpie rhyme. One for sorrow, a 1998 single by Steps. Two for Joy, Joy Merryweather was the harried and overworked and underappreciated secretary for Globelink News on Drop the Dead Donkey. Then it goes, Three for a girl, four for a boy. Five for silver, a silver anniversary is generally celebrated after 25 years. Six for gold, being one more than five. What's Happening? was a news quiz hosted by Tommy Boyd, who along with Susan Stranks and Mick Robertson hosted the ITV show Magpie during the 1970s.

Ratings in the week to 23 August show Simon Cowell Annoys is still inexplicably popular, 11 million people has nothing better to do with their Saturday night than to watch this rubbish. The Cube debuted with 5.85m viewers, and Dragons' Den came in third with a year's best 3.5m. Cowell topped the digital tier, too: 1.4m saw a Sunday repeat, and 1.3m additional silliness on Saturday night. It knocks Come Dine With Me to third, even though that had 750,000. Big Brother's Big Mouth had 550,000 on Friday night. QI and Mock the Week on Dave also bustled past half-a-million, but so did Four Weddings after aggregating its various showings on Living's channels, and comes to Virgin1 next week. What happened to BBC1? Not a single game show made the channel's top 30 all week.

In the next Week, we'll be reviewing The Cube, and completing an apparently-simple challenge: to watch the show without reaching for the sick bag. Before that, Britain's Best Dish (ITV, 5pm weekdays) is back, and Clever v Stupid (BBC3, 8.30 Monday) is the replacement for The OC. 9pm Monday is the home of food (The Restaurant on BBC2, Hell's Kitchen on ITV2), but Channel 4 replies at 10pm Tuesday (The Big Food Fight). Mastermind Plant Cymru begins its new series (S4C, 8.25 Thursday).

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