Weaver's Week 2012-02-05
The Wit and Wisdom of BBLB's Useless Bloke, number 64 in a series. "So, Louise, what're you going to put in your almond tart? It's almonds, isn't it?"
Gogglebox Entertainment and Victory Television A Sony Pictures Entertainment Company for ITV, 8pm Tuesday, from 11 January
Two people are about to meet Matt Alwright. Not 'arf, both of them. They stand on a neon-and-perspex platform above the lift shaft from Take Me Out. Matt introduces them, and then tells them that they're going down. Down into The Memory Maze, an arrangement of 26 rooms. In theory, there's a possible £200,000 up for grabs.
The contestants descend, and are asked a question. For instance, "Which of these has a wavelength shorter than visible light? Infra-red, Microwave, Sound, Radio" They have thirty seconds to deliberate amongst themselves, and give an answer. The pair will have to remember the answer they give.
If it's the right answer to the question, the answer they give is the only answer they'll need to remember. However, if they've got the answer wrong, the pair will need to remember all four answers.
A right answer means the team have the knowledge to unlock the vault, but the team only get to lay their hands on some money, and not the delightful Mel in Black. Unlike The Bank Job, the players are allowed to handle their own cash. The prizes increase as the contestants move forwards in the maze: £1000 on the first level, £2000 on the next, to £5000 on the fifth, and £10,000 on the last layer. It's almost like unwrapping an onion of knowledge.
- "Almonds. Microwave. Zippy."
After each answer, whether right or wrong, the voice of Kait Borsay reads out the answers the team needs to remember. Remember, that's one answer per question answered correctly, and all four options when they go wrong. Viewers of a certain insomnia may recall Kait Borsay from her work on Quiz Call. For everyone who can sleep at night, she delivers the repetitive lines in a cold, emotion-free, almost robotic voice. It's a great piece of voice characterisation.
A correct answer means the players have the option – but not the obligation – to move forwards. If they wish, they can remain on the same level, playing for a little more money, but they will certainly add additional items to their memory banks, and may add four items for no reward. Matt will always tell them the subject for the next room, helping them to make an informed decision about whether to stay or go.
- "Which of these was not regularly provided for the contestants on 'Now Get Out of That'? A lemon and two strips of metal, twelve stones, half a brick, a milk bottle."
Unless they're spectacularly lucky, the team will at some point encounter a Panic Room. Here, they'll be shown ten pictures, and Kait's voice will name them. Then the team will be shown the same pictures in a different order, and they will need to give the names back. Whatever they pass on, or don't name correctly in 30 seconds, forms a code from the first initials. For instance, if the team were presented with the words from the copyright statement at the end of the show:
"Live Visual, Absolutely Independent, 2waytraffic, A Sony Pictures Entertainment Company"
the code would be LVAITASPEC. And would leave their list of things to remember as:
- "Almonds. Microwave. Zippy. A lemon and two strips of metal, twelve stones, half a brick, a milk bottle. A Contract With the People. LVAITASPEC."
...and try not to think of Stephen Nolan
The team can exit on a failure, but usually they'll keep on going. The rules are that the team cannot retrace their steps – if they start off by heading left, they cannot go right until they've gone forwards. And they can only go forwards on a correct answer. If they reach the end of a line and give a wrong answer, or find a Panic Room, they can only go forwards by abandoning the money they've won so far. But they still have to remember everything they've seen so far.
- "Which of these was a top ten hit for Roachford? Teddy bear, Huggable duck, Cuddly toy, Humpty dumpty."
Eventually, the team will decide to turn back. At this point, they'll be invited to pick the Draw Straws, borrowed from Trapped. Whoever picks the draw straw will have to remember the list to win whatever money they've accumulated. The other player will make their way back to Matt in the observation tower, and Matt will make them an offer. He'll offer some money – typically around a quarter of the possible winnings – and make the remembering bit redundant. Should the player take Matt's offer, that's what they'll win, no questions asked.
- "Almonds. Microwave. Zippy. A lemon and two strips of metal, twelve stones, half a brick, a milk bottle. A Contract With the People. LVAITASPEC. Jamaica. Cuddly toy. Discus, hammer, javelin, shot. FUNEX."
If the player rejects it, then their comrade will need to remember the entire list – and their route – to win the money. Ten seconds per room, the player can deviate from the route but will be buzzed back on with no loss beyond the time. And, to keep up suspense, we don't get to find what their playing partner chose: did they take the offer, or leave it?
There are many things almost, but not quite, right with this show. For instance, the players have to shout out their answers, prefixing their final decision with the words "Lock in", as though they were auditioning to be the new Richard O'Brien. The question:
- "Which singer was described as 'Bearable in doses as large as her shorts, and the ones she's wearing are minuscule?' Pixie Lott, Eliza Doolittle, Lily Allen, Jessie J."
invites the response "Lock in Eliza Doolittle". Can they not afford 26 sets of small buttons? Another little thing wrong is the wildly inconsistent use of typefaces. While considering questions, the question is displayed in a very readable display font, the options in stark bold capital letters. The amount of money is shown in a title typeface, and the time remaining as a digital countdown. There's yet another typeface for the show's title. Pick one or two fonts, and be done with it, purlease!
Host Matt Alwright is – well, he's all right. Nothing spectacular, nothing special, but he does keep up the banter with the contestants, and doesn't try to influence their decisions in any way. On the first episode, the players could have turned round with £40,000, but played on and won a six-figure sum. The host didn't push them either way.
Andrew Scarborough contributes a voice-over at the beginning and end of each part, not a terrible spoiler, but the title sequence has ruined at least one episode. We're finding that the law of diminishing returns applies – we enjoyed the first show a lot, the second a little less, missed the third, and this week's was very ho-hum. Perhaps it would work if contestants were allowed to straddle, and the show moved faster, but we fear that the problem is that second viewings add very little to the experience.
There's something slightly hypnotic about the way Kait's voice will continually repeat the same things over and over again. Perhaps the hope is that the audience will be able to recite it along with her, but will they be able to remember the final elements? Will the contenders be able to remember the final elements?
- "Who first dipped croutons into molten Gouda?"
The best bit of the show is the remembering of the list. It gets harder as the game goes on, which is right. It isn't clearly going to be won or lost until the last thirty seconds or so, maintaining tension. But it leads directly into the biggest problem. One contestant has recalled the list to perfection. The other stands at the top of the lift, waiting to greet their colleague. But has anyone been sold out? The producers ask the player waiting at the top of the lift to keep a poker face, to try and not give anything away.
Inevitably, they're going to fail, they've just won £100,000 or some such amount, and can't keep the delight in. Or they've taken an assured £22,000, and are now thinking "If only..." There's a further problem: contestants are going to see this, see that they can get a certain offer of around £20,000 for getting one question right, and just play for that. We don't like shows that can be played so cynically.
The Exit List is going out in ITV's No Confidence Hour of 8pm Tuesday. It's been the home to shows they'd really don't think will fly, but might – The Vault, late series of Millionaire, High Stakes. A month in, we can just about see why – when the show is good, it's good, but when it's bad it's slow and ponderous and we find ourselves actively willing for the contenders to bail so we can see the fisticuffs. And that's not healthy.
The show's gimmick is that list of things, and basically it's The Generation Game from about ten years ago. In the Jim Davidson error, there was a bonus prize for anyone who could recall everything from the conveyor belt. It was an additional climax to the show, and a over in three minutes. ITV has stretched it out to an hour, all so people can win:
- "Almonds. Microwave. Zippy. A lemon and two strips of metal, twelve stones, half a brick, a milk bottle. A Contract With the People. LVAITASPEC. Jamaica. Cuddly toy. Discus, hammer, javelin, shot. FUNEX. Eliza Doolittle. Hassocks. Chas von Ducet."
Interminable phase, match 6: Manchester v Newcastle
Both of these sides are drinking in the last chance saloon: one more defeat will eliminate them from the contest. The winners will go on to meet next time's losers, in the Winner-Loser Challenge. Works in the Cortauld Gallery allow Manchester to discuss returns to power, such as Aristide and Napoleon. What does BTDTGTTS stand for, other than a Panic Room code? They'd have got it last week, being laid-back and cool. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.
Never mind, Manchester score on the biography of Marie Curie, string theory and the Iliad for Newcastle. How many composers wrote 104 symphonies? The answer's Haydn from no-one, a race to the buzzers. British military unit symbols form the first picture round, after which Manchester leads 70-40. A round on neologisms features DJ Paxo reading out a definition of "grime", the musical style.
"I will show you fear in a handful of dust." Too right, DJ Paxo, we're well afraid now, isn't it. Ah, we're never going to pull off this patois, we're less convincing than Richard Madeley doing his Ali G impression. Manchester got that, and quite a lot else, though captain Tristran Burke is perhaps showing off a little by taking an answer and a swig of water simultaneously. The audio round is on composers with a family relationship, and Manchester leads by 160-40. Maybe they can afford to talk and glug at the same time.
"Watt is the SI derived unit of electrical conductivity," says Thumper, auditioning to host Perfection. 'False' is the answer they were looking for, it's "watts per metre kelvin". Though Bayes' theorem is admissible in this show, innumerate judges have decreed that it cannot be used in court. The Hidden Student Indicator of the Week is that Manchester do know about the origin of the kebab. The second visual round is pictures in the Capitol Building in Washington DC, and Manchester's lead is 255-40.
It's not exactly going to be the most tense ten minutes, this, is it? We're on the edge of our seats almost as much as when the team on Who Dares Wins suggested that one of the characters in Alice in Wonderland was called Alice. Alice? Who the ... oh. Layers of the alphabet allow Manchester to bring up the 300, but Newcastle do spectacularly well on questions about Serbs in sport. And, mercifully, they don't take six hours about it, causing Ski Sunday to be postponed to Tuesday. Popes and kings are fruitful for Manchester, Newcastle spend a long time rehearsing "Charleois" only to find the answer is "Ghent".
Sums up their night, really. Manchester's final winning score is 330-95, and they were right in 50/81 questions they faced. That includes an unusually large eight dropped starters. Newcastle had 14/44, and overall accuracy was 64/95.
Next match: Pembroke Cambridge v Clare Cambridge
Walls Night Special 2
"Wall to wall walls," says Walter the BBC4 announcer. First up are the Wrights, who have some carpets and some Penelopes and some tribes. Penelope Cut and Loop? They miss the Wacky Races drivers. Drat and double drat! Four points. Birkbeck Alumni take us back to the first series, when Sarah Palin was in danger of winning something. These days, she's remembered only for giving her children silly names. But not by this team, who mistake them for cockney rhyming slang. Four points, and this side go through on the grounds of getting their first group faster.
From the most recent series, the Inorganic Chemists take characters from The Little Mermaid faster than a speeding sponge, and then spend some time working out the remaining connections. Which they manage with about five seconds to spare. That's perfection. Ten points! The Taxonomists spend an awfully long time debating before pressing any button, an extremely dangerous tactic. The team don't quite get to grips with the grid, ending up with five points. The Taxonomists may be Victoria's favourite team, but they're going no further.
The Bankers – you'll remember them from the Mousetrap question in series one, if you were watching in 2008 – instantly see some Muppets on their wall. There are European techno acts, but no Muppets were involved, and four points. This column's favourite team is the Mathematicians from series two, and they have cards and games and professions and cartoon captains. The caveman is a profession? Ten points!
The Oxford Librarians went in for Extreme Rock-Paper-Scissors, and now get a group of Little Misses and synonyms for "steal". And then they've enough time to indulge in a good think, a really good think, allowing them to solve the wall and score ten points! The Strategists reckon there are no zebra crossings on motorways, and is that a set of Mister Men we see? It is. Some composers come out and – goodness – they've solved it! We didn't have a single team achieve ten points! in the first Wall Night, we've already had four tonight!
Before the semi-finals begin, we have words from Simon Singh of the High Court, Stuart Maconie from BBC 6 Records, and Richard Coles of The Communards. Familiar faces all. This week's online references are 158 – 170.
Inorganic Chemists are seeing dog puppets, including CBBC's Hacker. Looks like some characters from "The Tempest", but they've no clue about old British motorcycle makers. Four points! The Birkbeck Alumni get gates in London quickly, and spot some NFL-ball teams, but don't get the group out. "Don't tell me there are more of Sarah Palin's daughters" says the captain. "Raven is a television programme," and we almost have a new favourite team. They're not getting the line of Olympic sailing classes, or characters from Glee. Two points!
David J Bodycombe of Puzzle Panel explains how hard it is to write a connecting wall. No, actually, it's tougher than that. Far tougher. The Only Connect goblins have three more up their sleeve tonight.
The Oxford Librarians are going to see if they have a Top Cat group. Goodness, they do. There's also been a group of animals at London Zoo, and the wall is solved! Ropes on a ship, and that leaves a group that the team have no idea about – burned effigies. Seven points! The Mathematicians get a group of technological aids found in cricket very quickly, and follow with some Euripedes plays. What does "Hot Lips" have to do with anything? There are, apparently, some famous women called Carmen. "Baywatch was before my time," says one of the team. They're also too young for characters in MASH. Four points!
While Mr. Singh and Mr. Maconie struggle with the probability of guessing the last group, and Rev. Coles prays for a divine revelation, we're going for a final. The same wall for both sides, and the Inorganic Chemists begin with French personal pronouns. Et ne pourquoi pas? There are Asian currencies, which they leave, and there are islands, which they take almost by accident. The last group? As easy as 1, 2, 4, 8. Genius wall, and very nearly genius solutions: the team confuse their pronouns with prepositions. Seven points!
The Oxford Librarians don't know that they have something – just a little something – to tilt at. Their first move is to go for the islands, then through the French pronouns. They spot that there are currencies, but will they spot the linguistic pun? No anagrams, no back words, just say it! "What can 'ait' be other than an island?" They stick with "won" as a currency, and lose their last life. It's game over, they eventually score five points, missing the currency homophones, even with Victoria pointedly not reading out the group.
So the Inorganic Chemists – Saul Moorhouse, Charles Markland, and Henry Fisher – are the new Connecting Wall Night champions. Only six more of these mini-tournaments until a Championship of Champions of Walls, at which point the universe will spontaneously rearrange into a 4x4 grid of even greater complexity.
Next match: Sport Relief special, mid-March
Speaking of even greater complexity, we have a rant about the scheduling of Mastermind, which we're holding over till next week because we've gone on quite enough already. Cheese fondue set, indeed.
Jonathan Perry is the first up tonight, with the Life and Work of Mori Ogai (1862-1922). We have to confess being completely unaware of this person until now. He was both a doctor in the Japanese imperial army, and wrote influential novels and poetry. We get a little learning from the round, the contender gets 12 (2). Read more: the author's best-known work*.
Craig Rice tells us about the Anglo-Zulu War (1879). A victory for the Zulus in January proved to be short-lived, with the British sending over re-inforcements, and their surge gave victory in July. It's most famous for the Battle of Rourke's Drift. 11 (1). Read more: a history from the Zulu perspective*.
Elizabeth Hashmi discusses the life of Mary Eleanor Bowes (1749-1800) She was the "Unhappy Countess", the widow of the Earl of Strathmore, the wife of a fraudster, the author of a book to scandalise the establishment*. A fascinating life, with details shown in the round. 10 (1).
John O'Hagan has the films of Clint Eastwood (b 1930). He's best-known for cowboy films, including "A Fistful of Dollars" and "For a Few Dollars More". In recent years, he's mostly moved into the director's chair. 11 (0) means it's close. Watch more: some of Eastwood's best-known films*.
Elizabeth Hashmi is able to take the lead with two correct answers, and does just that with calligraphy and Romeo and Juliet. The round never quite gets out of third gear, and the contender finishes on 18 (3). Craig Rice also has difficulty getting going, he guesses at questions, and he gives very sensible guesses, but so many of them fall short. We didn't know that the post at the top of a flight of stairs was a "mule post". 16 (5).
John O'Hagan knows that one has to have eiderdown to keep warm. Temperatures outside are making our freezer look tropical. The contender remembers the Whitewater affair that nearly did for Bill Clinton, and plenty more besides. But 24 (0) will leave him just short of the repechage board, so Jonathan Perry will have to win or bust. We wonder if the contender was in on the Save 6 Music campaign of 2010; it's certain that he keeps going, keeps picking up points, and finishes on 25 (1). He's tonight's first winner.
Denise Smith is (er) fifth in the chair tonight, taking Fleetwood Mac 1967 to 1977. This covers the group from their foundation to the ultra-successful "Rumours"* album, during which period they stopped being a blues band and effectively founded middle-of-the-road light rock. Are we going to get a question about "The chain"? Of course, but just the one. The contender goes slowly, and has a long think at one point, finishing on 7 (2).
James Mackenzie is next up, with the Lost Railways of West Yorkshire (since 1830). There was a time when the railways were the main means of transport, before the motor car was invented. These days, most people drive, and useful links – like the line to Holmfirth – have been closed. The round closes after two minutes, on 13 (3). Read more: a pictorial record*.
Rob Green has chosen Astronomy. Big subject alert! Astronomy is large. Mind-bogglingly large. Stars and planets and the sun and constellations and meteorites and the moon, all introduced by HRH Sir Patrick Moore and that bloke out of D:Ream. Nevertheless, the round is strong, 11 (2). Stargaze with Moore*.
Martin O'Gorman has the Novels of John Updike (1932-2009). One of the foremost prose writers of the late 20th century, Updike's work – mostly fiction as a veneer of fact – delights in the tedium of existence. He's best-remembered for the Harry Angstrom novels including "Rabbit, Run"*, and "The Witches of Eastwick". A couple of very long pauses in the round, but some very quick answers, and a final score of 8 (0).
Two contenders aren't really going to come back, but they're going to do well in their time in the chair. Denise Smith remembers the musical "Chess" en route to 16 (7), Martin O'Gorman gets the brief history of the garden gnome and finishes on 17 (1).
Rob Green begins by confusing Clive James with Clive Anderson (it's easily done), and picks up points slowly and gently. He doesn't know about the person appointed energy secretary in 2010 – by a coincidence, Chris Huhne resigned on the day of transmission. 18 (5) means James Mackenzie – no, not him off of Raven – needs just six to win. Copper, Michael Jackson, and it looks like he's going to walk it. There's a little trouble on the line, but not enough to ruin the show, and he finishes on 22 (6).
This Week And Next
Remember Steve Jones (2)? Host of 101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow (sic), Drop Zone, and As Seen On TV? His record of perpetual success on television game shows continues, as The X Factor Us has dispensed with his services after just one series.
Ratings in the week to 22 January, with Dancing on Ice (7.1m) leading Who Dares Wins (5.9m) and Masterchef (5.3m). Take Me Out had 4.7m, University Challenge 3m, and there was a tie between QI and Celebrity Big Brother, both on 2.48m. That's a surreal ratings moment. A more telling one is that The Exit List isn't in ITV's top 30 shows. But The Chase is, 2.6m saw Monday's edition.
"Big Brother will get 15 million viewers a week," proclaimed Richard Desmond last year. People scoffed, but the Channel 5 owner got his wish. 2.5m viewers on Friday, 2.4m on Tuesday, 2.3m on Thursday... and it all adds up to 17.4 million viewers over the week. Though not 17.4 million people viewing. There's a difference.
Got to Dance led on the digital channels, 1.145m viewers beat Celeb BB live streaming (995,000) and Come Dine With Me (610,000). Copycats scores its top score of the year, 455,000.
All of which brings us to next week, when the 45th anniversary of Just a Minute (Radio 4, 6.30 Monday) is marked by the panellists replaying subjects from 1967. Alexander Armstrong's army of fans will want to know that Big Ask has made a series (Dave, 9pm Monday). Doubtless it's hoping to be as successful as Celebrity Juice (ITV2, 10pm Thursday). Jedward's Big Adventure (CBBC, 4.30 weekdays) may or may not be a game show, and involves the celebrity haircuts trying to be tour guides. Or just being trying. Next Saturday has the return of Family Fortunes (ITV, 6pm).
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