Weaver's Week 2007-12-23
A big finals week
"It's a brilliant experience!"
In this week: Countdown | Junior Mastermind | University Challenge | The rest of the news
In the final week of qualifiers, Lynn Collier and Nigel Fisher both scored a win. Jason Cullen carries his bat over to the new year; he's currently on four wins, 357 points.
QF1: Mikey Lear (8th seed, 7 wins, 680) lost to Craig Beevers (1st, 8 wins, 907), 106-69
"Let's get the humdinger under way," suggests Blowers in Dictionary Corner. Mikey has certainly come in a humdinger of a shirt, bright green with what looks like a parrot on it. Straight away, Craig shows his form, DEMONISE is a winner. Honours even through two difficult rounds, but Mikey blobs on the final letters round to fall 15 behind. A fairly easy three-large numbers game ensures Craig's lead is 36-21 at the anecdote, wondering why his mobile blower blows at Blowers.
Craig comes back in round seven with HARPOONS, then CAPSTONE in the next round puts him over thirty points clear, and EXOTIC is his third winner in as many rounds. Both contestants score the maximum on what struck us as a very difficult numbers game, and Craig's advantage is 73-36 at the intermission. Des suggests that Mikey might wish to change his shirt, suggesting it looks like a golf course from the air. Leaves, that's what the design is! A seven and two eights each in the letters, and Mikey's face when he correctly offers GERMINAL is a sight; Alison Heard in Dictionary Corner confirms that EMAILING is also acceptable. Eight points in the last letters round takes Craig past 1000 points for the series so far. A final numbers game adds to both scores, the conundrum (CABINETRY, when solved) eludes both players and the entire studio audience, and Craig has won by 106-69.
QF2: Steve Baines (7th, 7 wins, 758) beat James Hurrell (2nd, 8 wins, 838), 100-83
The introductions are interrupted by a mobile telephone ringing; it's Henry Blofeld's, and we suspect that he won't be back on Monday. The first split comes in a tricky round two, NICELY does it for Steve. The anagrams ATOMISER and AMORTISE run up the scores in round three, but the first-half letters are a rum set. A more simple numbers game leaves the scores 36-30 in James's favour at the anecdote.
Steve comes out with HOMAGE, another winner in a very tricky round; James comes back with INCISED in the next round after Steve uses a letter twice, but James still trails by five. A six-small selection turns out to be simple, ensuring that Steve's advantage at the break is 65-60. In honour of our guest, FIELDERS gives points for both players, then James goes into the lead with ANTINODE; it's an anagram of the more usual ANOINTED. Both offer LETTERS in the last letters round, but it's Steve who moves ahead after solving another six-small numbers game. Steve takes the conundrum as well, wrapping up a 100-83 victory. As we rather suspected, both players were on good form, and it was a cracking little game.
QF3: David Von Guyer (6th, 8 wins, 724) lost to Jeffrey Hansford (3rd, 8 wins, 818), 86-77
Jeffrey was a whizz on the conundrums, often solving them before they'd been turned over. David was solid in his wins, but there's a gap of almost 12 points a game between the two. Jeffrey moves ahead with PRIMATE in the second round, and moves further ahead when David's FUNDABLE* is disallowed; it's not in the ruling dictionary. Even after seeing Carol solve the first numbers, we're not sure how she did it. At the anecdote, provided by Pam Ayres, Jeffrey's lead is 32-19.
The longest word in round 6 is very nearly spelled out for the two JESTERS. David strikes back in the next round with the winner ENTITLE. It appears that GOSSAMERS is acceptable, but must we think about Pam Ayres and Des O'Connor in that context? Please no! The second numbers game is a stinker, leaving the scores 52-46 to Jeffrey at the break. No differences in the early letters in the final period of play, and there's the nagging possibility of an upset here. David offers UNTAMED in the final letters round, and that gives him a one-point lead. In sharp contrast to the last one, the final numbers round is trivial. In the crucial conundrum - and David survived a fair few of those - the clock barely has chance to move from its home before Jeffrey shouts PARQUETRY. Is that a word? Evidently so; Jeffrey has pulled this one out of the bag, but he looks vulnerable to Mr. Baines and Mr. Beevers.
QF4: David Edwards (4th, 8 wins, 737) beat James Roberts (5th, 8 wins, 736), 80-61
Another day, another David. Mr. Edwards (for future researchers, he's not the Millionaire winner) begins the game with the winner GOITRE, but James's offer of AURALS (as in examinations) is denied, ensuring David takes an 11-0 lead. Honours are even through the next two letters rounds, but James solves a trickier-than-it-looks numbers game to trail by just the one point, 25-24.
We said in the preview that this should be a ding-dong match, and the lead changes hands three times during part two. David offers PLIENT* in the first round after the fast-forward button, but it's actually "pliant", and James has the lead. David comes back with PROTECT in the next round, giving him a three-point lead. James offers ISLANDER in round nine, putting him ahead by five. A simple numbers game ensures that at the break, it's 49-54.
The chopping and changing continues afterwards, David's UTENSIL is a winner, a two-point lead. James offers SHOOTED* in the next round, but it's not there, and David goes ahead by nine. A six-small numbers game doesn't help David, as James gets it spot on, and just for once we don't have a crucial conundrum. It's a good job, neither player is able to unscramble it, so the score of 80-61 is final.
SF1: David Edwards (4th, 9 wins, 817) lost to Craig Beevers (1st seed, 9 wins, 1013) 60-118
The first two letters out of the boxes are II. That's yer lot!
Okay, we'll review the game properly. The two players are matching each other letter-for-letter in the opening rounds, offering the same three words in the opening three rounds. David tries to break the deadlock with UNSPACED* in round four, but it's not there. He also misses a moderately simple numbers game, giving Craig a 38-21 lead at the fast-forward. Craig comes up with INSOFAR immediately afterwards, and UNTHRONE is common enough to earn him even more points.
Half-way through, and the game is as good as over: David surely cannot recover from 32 points down. A difficult letters game, and simple numbers round, makes it 76-44 to Craig at the break. He turns the screw with ABATTOIRS immediately after the interlude. REPLACES in the next round brings up Craig's century with three rounds to play, and puts the game beyond any mathematical doubt. Six each in the last letters round, Craig has the perfect score in the last numbers, but David gets the conundrum. Had Craig solved it, he would have tied his personal best of 128 points. As it is, Craig has eased into the final.
SF2: Steve Baines (7th, 8 wins, 858) lost to Jeffrey Hansford (3rd, 9 wins, 904), 66-81.
Should be another cracking game, but sevens each in the first round is a quiet start. Jeffrey moves ahead with UNLACE in the second, and IMPOSTER in the third. But Steve didn't get where he is without a few setbacks, and ROOMIEST reduces the gap in the next round. A four-large numbers game causes Jeffrey's mind to go blank under strange circumstances - he declared the solution, saw Steve give his answer, but declined to put forward his method. Odd. 25-21 to Steve at the fast-forward. The cards are not well shuffled today - three Os come up in one round, another has three As and two Rs; the latter rounds sees Jeffrey take the lead again with RADARS. Two points is his advantage. Five-all in the next two rounds, including a valid offer of NANAS. More than one silly person, or a meeting of the Desso Connor fan club.
After a simple numbers, Jeffrey still has his slim lead, 53-51. There's another break in the penultimate letters game, as Jeffrey offers WALKED, extending his lead to eight points. Steve stays in contention with STRIATES in the last letters game, matching his opponent's RUSTIEST. Amazingly, Steve blobs the last numbers game, and though Jeffrey is one away, it's enough to take him past the winning post. Carol, meanwhile, shows her complete thickness by being 100 away, while the ten points go to Desso! In his quarter-final, Jeffrey buzzed his buzzer on a fraction of a second, then appeared to do his thinking while he was asked for his answer. It looks like he does the same thing tonight, but thinks for long enough to be noticeable, and though he gives the right answer, it's disallowed. Steve, being the epitome of a good sport, declines to profit from the situation, throwing the conundrum - and the Spotter's Mug they've started awarding for anyone who can beat the panel - to the audience. It's a slightly sour end to a good semi-final.
F: Craig Beevers (1st seed, 10 wins, 1141) v Jeffrey Hansford (3rd, 10 wins, 985)
Craig, we find, has been watching Countdown since he was six. Seven all in the opening round, but AMMONITE is a winner for Craig in the next round, and SNIFTER in the third. Eight-all in the last letters, before Craig chooses four large numbers, but it's one away for all. Craig still has a nifty lead, 37-22, as we reach for the fast-forward button. Sevens away in round six, but Craig offers OUTRAGED to win. Sixes and sevens take us to the last numbers.
It's beginning to feel as though Craig is grinding out another efficient win, one that isn't a particularly enthralling spectacle as a contest, but is magnificent in its completeness. Ten-all on the numbers leaves the scores 75-52 in Craig's favour. After the break, sevens, sixes and another seven from all, putting the game beyond doubt. Just to run up the score, Craig gets the last numbers game spot on, when Jeffrey blobbed. If it's any consolation, this column got stuck three away. Once again, Jeffrey gets the conundrum on approximately zero seconds, meaning that Craig's final winning score is 105-82.
Hayley from Edinburgh kicks us off this week, with the Life of Walt Disney. The round starts slowly, but picks up speed as the contender picks up confidence, and she finishes on the very respectable 14 (1).
Matthew from Manchester will tell us about Oldham Athletic FC. The side is always there or thereabouts without clearly winning much, and the contender finishes on a similar position, 14 (2).
Oliver from London plonks himself in the chair to tell us about William Wallace, the Scottish independence campaigner. It's another fine example of learning, 15 (0).
Tesni from Swindon has the My Story series of books, a collection we have to confess knowing nothing of until researching this show. They appear to be historical novels, written from the point of view of children at that era. 13 (4) means she's straight back in the chair, telling us how she's been writing her own books, and has been writing for some years. Her final score is 25 (8).
Hayley tells us how she's been to lots of the Disney theme parks, and can tell us both the similarities and the differences between each of them. The question about jet lag was lucky, and she finishes on 23 (4).
Matthew is an Oldham fan, but John Humphrys points out that he lives in Manchester. Why is he not a United fan? Because he doesn't live in Surrey, for goodness' sake. He gets a question about Basil Brush, which is most unfair, no-one should have to think about that, and finishes on 26 (5).
Oliver was impressed by Wallace's diminutive stature: his five-foot sword was longer than he was. He pauses for a very long time on a question about William Tell, and it clearly knocks his confidence for six, ending on 22 (3).
Benjamin from Argyle and Bute tells us about The Titanic. You'll recall that it sank, after the band played Nearer My God to Thee and using the new SOS signal. He scores 11 (2).
Kathryn from Bangor Northern Ireland will discuss Tiger Woods. He's the golfer who seems to win absolutely everything he goes in for, the Craig Beevers of his sport. Smallhead is a bit naughty, talking through the bleep then refusing to repeat the question that was obscured by the bleep. 12 (3) is her score.
Max from Whitley Bay has Crocodilians. That's crocodiles, alligators, and similar creatures. Not much we can say about this subject, he ends on 13 (3).
Edmund from London takes William Wilberforce. He was the most famous MP for Hull until recent times. The round has some rather obscure trivia, and also ends on 13 (3).
Benjamin reports that it's the size and luxury of the ship that impressed him. Sounded like a lot of passes, but he still advances to a very respectable 21 (8).
Kathryn says she's an OK golfer, nothing better. She's asked about the comedy character played by Rowan Atkinson: who shouted "Gordon Brown" there? She ends on 24 (8).
Max confirms that his reptiles are aggressive, but won't attack unless they're provoked. Be nice to them, and they'll happily let lads from the north-east sit on them. It's another decent general knowledge round, finishing on 25 (11).
Edmund is the brother of twins Tinzin and Robert, who competed a couple of years ago; Robert won, and Edmund thanks both parents for their broad general knowledge. And the general knowledge proves to be his success: though the round is book-ended by passes, almost everything between is correct, and 29 (6) is a clear win.
"Four wise men", says the continuity announcer (well, the one for viewers in England did).
Edmund from London has the rare distinction of answering two consecutive sets of questions on different shows, and will take Isaac Newton. You'll remember him from his work on calculus, gravity, and being the last bloke to be on the back of the one pound note. There were a couple of mistakes in there, probably, but we're not going to argue with 16 (0).
Andrew from Biggleswade won heat 2 last week; tonight, he has The Spanish Armada. A failed invasion of England from 1588, and it's alarming to recall that this contestant won't have seen ITN's Twelve Summer Days programme from 1988, re-telling the story as though on a contemporary news bulletin. The questions tell the story from beginning to the grim end, and the score finishes on 12 (1).
Matthew from Manchester has Alfred the Great. You'll remember him as the country's best baker, as Matt had yet to be invented. He also invented the Danelaw, and was one of the better kings. One of the better scores, too: 15 (1).
David from Lancashire has moved to George Lucas. He is (quickly looks up) a failed racing car driver from the California area. Seems to have done a bit in films since. Another sparkling round, ending on 15 (0).
Before the general knowledge round, there's a brief montage of the editing of the programme, and some revision at the British Library. Edmund gets to revise from a Newton original, Andrew from a history book printed circa 1600, Matthew and David also see antiquities.
Andrew is first up, and there's no chitter-chatter. Probably edited out to allow the clips we've just seen. A fair number of passes and errors in the middle, but recovering towards the end, 19 (3).
Matthew has some home questions - football and kings of England, and gets Take That from their reformation date. Here's how old we are: he wasn't born when they were around first time. It's a good round, in spite of a number of passes here and there, 28 (6).
David gets a question about ABBA, a thoroughly confusing question about Test matches, and Smallhead talking through the buzzer again. He takes the lead with 31 (1).
Edmund needs to repeat his 16-point general knowledge round from the heat to assure himself of the win. Confusion of the Amazon and Nile is unfortunate, but there are perhaps too many errors, and not knowing the plot of Escape from Scorpion Island is the end of his challenge. A lot of passes in the final moments means he ends on 28 (6).
So, David from Lancashire, our Jurassic Park and George Lucas fan, receives his trophy from last year's winner Robert. He'll take it to school, and then he'll appear on University Challenge. Watch this space.
Second Round, Match 5: Sheffield v Edinburgh
Sheffield was all over Central Lancashire in their match, winning by a near 3:1 ratio; Edinburgh won a dismally low-scoring match against Bangor. We've a replacement on the Edinburgh team: Steven Palmer (Brighton, PhD Glaciology) has been replaced in seat 4 by David Ritchie (Edinburgh, Scottish history).
Just as they did in the first round, Sheffield gets off to a racing start; Thumper has already reminded us that Edinburgh didn't get into their game until the final stanza. We're not entirely convinced that we'd get a series of questions on pseudo-random processes anywhere on national television any more, not now that The Vault has been locked away. One starter to Glastonbury discusses the Tor, and not the annual mudlarks festival. The visual round is on the flags of Lander, and Sheffield's lead is a comprehensive 80-15.
That advantage briefly grows to 85 points, but a couple of missignals and starters to the opposition trim their sails. They're quickly back in their stride, getting "herring" from a miscellany of definitions. The audio round is on music associated with wars, and Sheffield's lead is already looking impregnable: 155-30.
Thumper is harsh, but fair, to take play away from Sheffield when they're slow to complete a two-part answer. It doesn't put them off their stride, nothing short of the desk falling to bits because they're hitting the buzzers so hard looks like stopping them, and Sheffield aren't hitting their buzzers hard. The second visual round is on vegetables, and allows Edinburgh to close the gap just a little: it's still the daunting 215-85.
Can Edinburgh pull off another come-from-behind victory? They'll do their best: two starters and a missignal from their opponents will help, but failing to answer the bonus questions will not. We're impressed that Sheffield knows all the answers to questions about Former Yugoslavia, including the claim-to-fame of Franjo Tudjman, the man indirectly responsible for England failing to qualify for Euro '08. The game closes with both sides exceeding their heat score by five points. Sheffield wins, 270-135.
Captain Paul McKay gets the nod as Sheffield's best buzzer, responsible for six starters; the side had 25/45 bonus questions correct, and three missignals. Henry Roe had three starters for Edinburgh, the side made 11/24 bonuses.
University Challenge returns on 7 January, with the penultimate second-round match, Nottingham v Christ Church Oxford.
This Week And Next
The X Factor tottered to an end last week, and a bad karaoke singer from Wales was beaten by a bad karaoke singer from Scotland. The Welsh are moaning about this result, claiming that lines for their bloke were all engaged. Has no-one learned anything from the various premium rate scandals that have been raging all year? It's a device to enrich Simon Cowell, and anything that might make the public believe they can influence the result is a mere marketing gimmick.
While tittering at this storm in a saucer, we noted a comment asking why the UK always comes last in international talent contests. "It's because the public always votes for talentless oiks" was the thrust of the contribution. Actually, isn't it because the public is only able to vote for talentless oiks, anyone with a little bit of talent will have been screened out long before the finals?
OFCOM has completed its deliberations into the deceptions of Richard and Judy and Deal or No Deal. The Richard and Judy case was documented in the ICSTIS report in July: some or all callers were selected before lines closed. In particular, a "staggered selection" took place - six callers at 5.05, six at 5.10, six at 5.15, and six at 5.20, for instance. Channel 4 was found negligent by failing to ensure that the producers were trained, and by not reviewing the contestant selection procedure. The channel was fined One Million Pounds, and will have to apologise to viewers on three separate occasions. Channel 4 has started legal proceedings against Eckoh Communications. Full report (PDF file).
The Deal or No Deal case is, if anything, more alarming. Following the problems with Richard and Judy, C4 was advised that the same staggered selection was being used on Deal or No Deal. It agreed to let the game continue without modification, even though it knew the contest to be unfair. C4's defence was that an "equal chance of winning", laid down in the ICSTIS and OFCOM codes, actually meant "some people can take a small advantage". While Richard and Judy raised £11 million in five years, Deal or No Deal had an income of £15 million in seven months, with a further £2.1 million during the seven weeks it knew the contest to be unfair. A new selection process was put in place from 14 May, and the contest abolished from 29 September. The fine in this case is Half a Million Pounds, and there will be three on-air apologies. Full report (PDF file).
Very quickly through the ratings to 9 December: Strictly Come Dancing (10.45m) and X Factor (9.85m) both returned their best scores of the season, the first time X Factor had beaten its opening show in August. Family Fortunes had 6.5m, and Who Dares Wins (4.9m) was beaten by I'm A Celeb Coming Out (5.1m), which didn't even air in Scotland. Secret Millionaire (3.55m) had its best showing, with Dragons' Den, UC, and Dancing on Two all exceeding 3m.
On the digital tier, Xtra Factor's 855,000 is still two-thirds of its total from August. QI holds position 2 (BBC4, 640,000) and 3 (Dave, 570,000). Come Dine With Me tops More4's ratings (410,000) and Challenge's most-viewed show was Family Fortunes (99,000).
Though Strictly Come Dancing has now finished, there's a challenge match (BBC1, 8.30 Tuesday) and a historical perspective (BBC1, Friday evening); viewers in Wales get a chance to go Cha-Cha Gethin (S4C, 5.55 Tuesday). Also this week are a Joseph and Maria musical concert (BBC1, 7pm Monday), and another chance to see The Sorcerer's Apprentice (BBC1, 9.30 weekdays). Strength is tested in World's Strongest Man (C5, 8pm, from 30 Dec), mental agility in the Brain of Britain final (Radio 4, 1.30, 31 Dec) and Celebrity Mastermind (BBC1, weeknights from 31 Dec). We're particularly looking forward to seeing John Humphrys test William G. Stewart's knowledge (31 Dec) and seeing Kaye Adams and Nicholas Parsons (4 Jan). ITV has gimmicks - No. 1 Soap Fan (7pm 30 Dec) - and the tried and tested Celebrity Millionaire (8pm 1 Jan). C4's The Big Fat Quiz of the Year premieres at 9pm on the 30th, and the channel begins the year as it means to go on, with the Big Brother Celebrity Hijack (from 3 Jan). Golden Balls begins its second spin (from 2 Jan).
May we wish all our correspondents, contributors, and readers the compliments of the season, and we shall darken your doors next week with the review of 2007. What shall we make as the lead story. Call now; the winner is selected and lines have closed, but we'll still charge.
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