Monday, 7 October 2013

Ones that got away: Only Connect Special 1

Warning: the following contains spoilers for Series 8, episode 2 of Only Connect, first broadcast on BBC4 last Monday (30th September). I'd be surprised if anyone reading this both cares about the result, and yet hasn't seen the show, but if that's you look away now!

More like bored lamers, amirite?!
It's a Ones that got away Only Connect special! Rather than the usual post mortem of one of our pub quiz adventures I'll instead be going through our performance on last week's episode of Only Connect. So if you're interested in how the Board Gamers (Hywel Carver, Jamie Karran and me) would have fared with the other team's questions, or what exactly was going through our heads on that connecting wall, then read on. Naturally this will take a slightly different format to a normal OTGA post, and so rather than only look at the questions we got wrong, I'll instead be giving every question a small comment. First though, a tiny bit of insight into what it's like behind the scenes.

Before the show

An early morning (well, for a Saturday) saw us on a train out of London Paddington at 8.42am. The journey largely consisted of going through a book of connection quizzes and trying to explain to a Turkish woman how to use her mobile phone. At the studios we were shown to our dressing room and Hywel got told off for only bringing checked shirts. The first episode (between the Lasletts and the Pilots) was being recorded while we went through the pre-show motions. At some point Jamie decided to do roly-polies in the corridor, shortly after which the Lasletts - fresh from victory - appeared. A brief 'you're all happy and relaxed while I'm a bit stressed' conversation followed before we were whisked off to get our microphones. It was at this point we finally met the Globetrotters.

Predictably, Only Connect tends to attract some pretty seasoned quizzers, and so we were half-expecting to recognize our opponents from other game shows. They turned out to be entirely fresh faces, but it did emerge just before filming that they were part of a team from the Quiz League of London. This immediately had us slightly on edge; every Only Connect series-winning team has featured at least one QLL member, so our initial optimism from not playing a bunch of  'old quiz blokes' was short-lived. Still, we didn't have much time to let that sink in as all too soon we were heading into studio.

Did I mention that the production team are lovely? Well they are. Victoria Coren is too, obviously, but there wasn't time to think about that: the intro music had played, our awkward introduction was over, and the game was afoot.

Round 1: What's the connection?

The questions
1) Music: No Memory by Scarlet Fantastic; I'd Rather Go Blind by Ruby Turner; Love Don't Live Here Anymore by Rose Royce; Get the Party Started by Pink
2) B├╝singen, Switzerland; Monaco, France; Berwick, Scotland; Swansea, England
3) Jet-propelled unicycle; Dehydrated boulders; Invisible paint; Iron bird seed
4) 1968 Black Power salute athletes; Curley in 'Of Mice and Men'; Freddy Krueger; A baseball fielder
5) The World: 1804; Facebook: 2012; Africa: 2009; China: 1982
6) Pictures: Lady Bird Johnson; Professor Green; Queen Latifah; Prince Naseem Hamed

The answers

The excuses
1) No Only Connect team wants to get the music question, and we were fortunate for it not to be our downfall here as our admittedly vague answer of 'colours' was accepted. The first three clues were well out of our musical comfort zone, and while I did at least recognize Love Don't Live Here Anymore, I would never have been able to tell you the artist. Fortunately we knew Pink thanks to Jamie's brief obsession with playing that particular track on EZ2Dancer machines (and there are people out there who think his extreme nerdiness is a front) and figured there weren't many alternatives for connections that could include that particular name.
2) A lovely question, but one I'm glad we didn't pick ourselves (I'm a pretty big football fan but only knew Swansea of the four). The mention of Berwick will send many a quizzing brain to "most northerly town in England" and even when it was thrown over we couldn't get beyond the idea of extreme locations. All credit to Globetrotter Suda for spotting this one, albeit just too late. Meanwhile, a large number of people now think (albeit inaccurately) that a guy called Hywel didn't know where Swansea is. Every cloud...
3) Iron bird seed was of course a big giveaway, but we got to it too late for the penny to drop. My only reliable memories of Road Runner, meanwhile, are limited to when I collected Looney Tunes Tazos during a 1996 Walkers promotion. Obviously.
4) As something of an Olympics nerd, and having studied (as I think everyone of a certain age) Of Mice and Men for GCSE English Literature, I had this off the second clue. I was a touch surprised the Globetrotters took the third (which, ironically, wouldn't have helped me), but better safe than sorry, of course.
5) The only question in the whole show I think I'm really disappointed about missing. We got preoccupied with Facebook's 2012 floatation on the stock market and hypothesized that the world's first stock exchange might have opened in 1804. This is, of course, utter nonsense, but it goes to show how quickly an idea can take hold under studio pressure. Having wasted time on this we were then running short to come up with any other inspiration and so missed something that was very much in our wheelhouse. Fair play to the Globetrotters for hoovering up the bonus.
6) Another question I'm glad we didn't have to face. Our record of recognizing people in pub quiz picture rounds is beyond awful, and I'm thankful that the nation was protected from seeing this for themselves.

So after a pretty poor opening round we were trailing 4-1. This was a disappointment but not too unexpected; we knew rounds two and four were our strong suits, so we were hoping this would prove only a temporary blip.

Round 2: What comes fourth?

The questions
1) 4: Parade's End; 5: Forsyte Saga; 6: The Chronicles of Barsetshire
2) Fred Dinenage children's TV show, IPC Media celebrity magazine, Red and green paints mixed
3) Pictures: Graph of y = x4; Graph of y = x3; Graph of y = x2
4) Flight; Shaft; Barrel
5) Adenine; Cytosine; Guanine
6) Pictures: Courtroom scene; Kevin Pietersen; A vinyl record

The answers

The excuses
1) After a bad start a literature question was not what we needed, but just as we were going to take the third and final clue Hywel spotted the possibility of it being books in a series. This would make the last in the sequence seven, which made a lot of sense given the existence of such famous examples. Hywel suggested Chronicles of Narnia but we played it as safe as possible with Harry Potter.
2) We were nowhere on this one, having forgotten who Fred Dinenage was and having no clue on the magazine. Not sure if we'd have got this with all three clues, but no way of knowing now.
3) If there's one thing a statistician likes to see on a quiz show, it's graphs (well really, we like to see them anywhere, but quiz shows especially). We were almost tricked by this one, though, thinking the first picture was y = x2 and the sequence was heading up to x5. Hywel's observation that it was really too flat to be x2, and mine that y = x is a much more likely answer than y = x5 meant we picked up another valuable three points.
4) Rather frustratingly, both Hywel and I were telling Jamie the correct answer when it was thrown over, only for him to whip out his warhead from nowhere. Fortunately (for him) it didn't matter in the long run, but 'point' became something of a running joke within the team for the rest of the day, because we're just that funny.
5) Following on from our graphs question, one about DNA bases was also well received. I'll admit I was nowhere (I have long since expunged GCSE biology from my memory) but after Hywel and Jamie spent a very long time persuading themselves thymine had to be the correct answer we bagged a tasty five points to give us the lead.
6) I know very little about cricket, but I do know that Kevin Pietersen is often referred to as KP. With the resulting sequence landing on MP I would have been tempted to go for this on three (although suspect I would have chickened out in reality). The Globetrotters took the third clue and our hopes of picking up a bonus were swiftly dashed.

Some rather delicious questions for us meant we'd turned the game around swapping a three point deficit for a three point lead. A respectable performance on the wall and we could hope to go into missing vowels at least level...

Round 3: The connecting walls

Less than 24 hours later >:(
The Globetrotters' wall can be played on the Only Connect website (wall 348). Groups (and connections) under the button:

Fun Only Connect fact: teams don't watch each other's wall performance. Instead you lurk in the green room eating sweets while the (lovely) production team tell you to stop worrying. Consequently the first we saw of the Globetrotters' wall was when it was uploaded to the Only Connect website just before the show last week. Playing at home Jamie and I managed to score 10, helped no doubt by the lack of pressure and the presence of board game manufacturers (although notably none of these happen to produce any particularly good board games).

As for our wall, that's number 349 on the website, groups and connections below:

So yes, this didn't go brilliantly, but on retrospect was always likely to defeat us. A lot of Twitter conversation (understandably) took issue with our 'strategy', which to the casual observer appeared to be centered on pressing at random and hoping for the best. In reality most of what we did was reasonably thought out, even if it did look a little manic.

With little inspiration hitting for possible groups of five (the standard four plus a red herring) I, as the 'designated presser', spent much of the time trying three from one group with every other thing on the board (for example trying canopic, jam, bell and everything else in the hope of finding that fourth jar). Having done quite a lot of wall practice in preparation, we were all used to playing in this way and so could keep thinking about other ideas while essentially getting a bunch of free attempts at hitting a group. (Fun fact, even if we were guessing entirely at random, then at an average rate of one group of four every two seconds you'd still have a 15% chance of hitting at least one purely by luck. If there's one way to guarantee you won't solve the wall it's by not trying.)

As it was, we were always going to be in trouble. None of us had heard of a kilner jar (despite subsequently learning that everyone I know seems to own one) and I'm still utterly bemused by how much everyone else seems to know about helicopter manufacturers. We probably should have got the bands, and might have done on another day, but there's no accounting for what being on the spot can do to you. Walls are much more about fundamental general knowledge than you might think, and ours was sorely lacking here. Still, four points for the groups meant we were within touching distance going into missing vowels, which was better than nothing.

Round 4: Missing Vowels

From the comfort of our own homes we knew that missing vowels was potentially a 'get out of jail free' card for us. Unfortunately, we also knew that when you watch on TV there's a small delay between when you see the clues and when the contestants do (necessary so as to provide time for the viewers to be shown the correct answer after it's given in the studio). Consequently we appreciated that any sort of missing vowels confidence could prove misplaced. There's not much else to say about how the round unfolded, but I remember realizing we'd probably done it after Suda's unfortunate mis-buzz on the 'furnished flat' clue. My performance here was poor (I've had a fear of buzzers since being rubbish on University Challenge and only picked up a couple of answers here) but a strong showing from Jamie, and especially Hywel, got us over the line 26-21.

So that was that. As we had hoped, it was solid scoring on sequences and missing vowels that saw us through, while I won't forget about that wall in a hurry. Victory meant that we had avoided the worst-case scenario of turning up only to lose twice, so there was relief all round on that front. It also meant we had the rest of the day off, so we did what any self-respecting quiz team would do: a wild night in a Cardiff Wetherspoon getting drunk and playing a quiz machine.

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