Sunday, 1 December 2013

Ones that got away: Only Connect Special 3!!

Warning: the following contains spoilers for Series 8, episode 9 of Only Connect, first broadcast on BBC4 last Monday (25th November). 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!

Immediately before Victoria drops the M-bomb
Just when you thought you'd got rid of us, the Board Gamers (Hywel Carver, Michael Wallace and Jamie Karran) were back again in the Only Connect hot seat(s). Victory would see us through to the semi-finals while defeat would see us on the train back to London (or possibly Swansea, if Jamie had anything to do with it). Having just been trounced by the Lasletts, our route through the competition had taken a slight detour, but at least it meant we got to show off an extra set of super trendy quiz show outfits. (And if a chess player can be a model, then so can we.)

In any case, if you're interested in what was going through our heads during this latest televisual adventure, read on. First though, a quick bit of background on how we wound up with the name Board Gamers.

Before the show

One thing the more regular Only Connect viewer knows is that a lot of teams have 'connections' that are perhaps a tiny bit tenuous. Sure, you have plenty of contestants with an undeniable link (tonight's Science Editors being a great example), but often you know you're watching three people who are just friends who like quizzing (it's like being friends with benefits but with less sex and more vexillology). A quick look down the list of series champions alone is quite telling in this regard: I, for instance could easily call myself a Crossworder, Gambler, Analyst or Epicurean, and at a push claim to be a Scribe or even a Rugby Boy (if watching it counts, at least...). We were prepared, then, to get a bit creative.

At first, however, coming up with a connection for our team seemed straightforward. First up, I proposed Assassins as we are all erstwhile members of the Cambridge University Assassins' Guild - a student society based around a mock assassination game where you hunt down other players with water pistols, cardboard knives and rubber band guns. However, Hywel wasn't too keen on being 'outed' as such on national television, so we didn't pursue that (and I'm just going to embarrass him in my blog instead). Our next thought was the factual-but-boring UCL Graduates which ultimately led (via a brief dalliance with Benthams) to what we put on the application form: Godless (a reference, as any obsessive University Challenge viewer knows, to Thomas Arnold's description of our alma mater as "that Godless institution in Gower Street").

This was actually Hywel trying to pitch his latest business idea.

We were known by the production team as Godless right up until we got the post-audition call to tell us we were on the show. Unfortunately, said post-audition call also involved them telling us to pick a less rubbish name. Working on the Godless angle we considered Atheists, while other options included Animal Lovers (we're all vegetarian) and Bhel Purists - an hilarious play on Bhelpuri a spectacularly delicious Indian snack that is best described as "spicy Rice Krispies with jam".

Getting more into the geeky side of things, Jamie suggested Webheads (combining both his love of the Internet and Spiderman), while Open Source Advocates was deemed too long to fit on anybody's TV screen. We knew we'd finally lost it when Hywel suggested that, based on the free and open-source software movement we could be the F.O.S.S.ils, but apparently they like you to avoid team names that take up most of the show to explain. Finally, then, we settled on Board Gamers referring to our mutual enjoyment of 'proper' games (with Settlers of Catan the standard go-to example).

Just call me Nostradamus.
Still, that's enough team name based waffle. On with the show!

Round 1: What's the connection?

The questions
1) Wheat, rice, potatoes, etc.; C. S. Lewis; Tubes for fastening oboe reeds; Office supply superstore
2) Music: Mia Madre Aveva Una Povera Ancella (Verdi); Mother and Child Reunion (Paul Simon); My Yiddishe Momme (Sophie Tucker); Mama Told Me Not to Come (Tom Jones & Stereophonics)
3) 'Dungeons and Dragons': 1 to 10; 'Harry Potter': 1 to 17; 'World of Warcraft': 1 to 100; Aureus: 1 to 25
4) Kniphofia; 'Fighting AIDS through Pop Culture'; 500-800 Degrees C; Have Flea on bass
5) Incognito; Unbeknownst; Misnomer; Nonchalant
6) Pictures: Middle C and the G above on a treble clef; We have solved the problem; A 300 game in bowling; Perfect binding

The answers

The excuses
1) Like the Editors, we were thinking 'staples' on the first clue, but they couldn't confirm it with either of the next two. A slight shame it wasn't our question, as Hywel knew that the CS in CS Lewis stood for Clive Staples, but nevertheless a relief after our previous episode to not be immediately 5-0 down!
2) As was evidenced by Hywel's suggestion that Paul Simon was Bob Marley, we were nowhere until the last clue where we finally recognized Mama Told Me Not to Come. Relations/mothers seemed a reasonable shout based solely off that clue, and some good captaining from Jamie steered the point home. (I'm actually a moderate fan of Paul Simon but had never heard that particular track.)
3) This seems like a question that would be right up our street, but we couldn't see it. While we've obviously played Dungeons and Dragons, none of us have ever dabbled in World of Warcraft (you lose a lot of friends to that game, believe me). Jamie's medical mindset, meanwhile, saw 'aureus' and thought 'staphylococcus' The one 'in' for us was Harry Potter where, if given a few days to think about it, the penny (ho-ho) might have dropped. A fiendishly brilliant question, I thought.
4) My understanding is that a lot of quizzers would know Kniphofia is the plant red hot poker, which would probably be enough to get this for a punty five. We only started to get an idea on the 500-800C clue, but were worried about the possibility of 'white hot' so took the last clue to confirm it.
5) It's a trite observation, but this one really does seem so easy once you know the answer, and yet so hard to miss when you don't. You can sense there's something wordy going on, but we couldn't get to it.
6) The first real breakthrough, and a veritable gift of a question. We're all musicians, so we knew we knew everything about the first clue. This meant the second clue allowed us to quickly identify which of the few features of the first could be the connection without the worry of having missed something.

In contrast to our previous game, then, we had a useful 5-1 lead after the first round. Coming out of one of our two weaker rounds with our noses in front was more than a little encouraging, but we also knew that round two can be very volatile, so no-one was even thinking of the semi-final yet.

Round 2: What comes fourth?

The questions
1) Pictures: Middle C and the G above on a Treble Clef; French Quarter of New Orleans; Bronze medallist
2) February; August; March
3) 4th: Iudaeorum; 3rd: Rex; 2nd: Nazarenus
4) Clement Davies; Jo Grimond; Jeremy Thorpe
5) Just begun; Nearly new; Hardly me
6) 4th: Hôtel-de-Ville; 3rd: Temple; 2nd: Bourse

The answers

The excuses
1) The key to this one was identifying the second picture as the French Quarter of New Orleans. Jamie paid a visit to it while touring America with his school's handbell choir (obviously) and while he mistook it for the Latin rather than French, it was the quarter bit that mattered. My suggestion of 'a half pint of fine ale' (which I had worried would out me as a bit of a tit) went largely unnoticed, which was nice. I should have left it to Hywel, though, who was ready with 'scrum half' to help score us some ungeek points.
2) Hywel spotted the trick here as soon as we had the second clue, from which it was fairly easy to work out that the only option for the answer was July. Jamie had no idea what we were talking about, and after briefly trying to explain it you can just about hear me saying "Hywel's going to explain the answer" in my Serious Voice, before reminding Jamie that he needed to press the buzzer. What a leader.
3) Despite appearances, Jamie was raised Catholic (it's ok, he got better), and got this (along with Hywel) roughly when the Editors did.
4) Naturally, I'm calling in the 'before our time' excuse on this one. I'm not sure how Jamie got the Liberal link, but while I knew Charles Kennedy was wrong the only alternative I could've given was his equally-wrong predecessor, Paddy Ashdown.
5) Got to feel for the Editors here, as they seemed to have it immediately but couldn't drag out the fourth line. As was betrayed by Jamie's suggestion of "Merry Christmas", we were nowhere. (Although on looking this up, I've learnt that it's one of the poems from Now We Are Six, which we have at least heard of.)
6) Brutal. We were thinking Paris Métro (I mean really, what else are you supposed to know about Paris other than the tourist attractions?!), but to no avail. Quite a fun thing to find out about though, especially with their nice spiral arrangement.

We had managed to stretch our lead out to 9-3, which was starting to get our hopes up. As long as we could avoid a wall disaster we'd be well in contention going into missing vowels. Unfortunately, and as Victoria reminded us, walls were not really our friends.

Round 3: The connecting walls

We were up first with Wall 388 on the Only Connect website. Answers below.

The answers

After our first show I was worried about another wall that would prove tough to crack, but we quickly saw a couple of plausible sets with cats and alcoholic drinks. Initially these refused to fall out as there were two cat red herrings in Rag Doll and Manx (and we didn't have Korat), while we'd never heard of the drink Queimada. Fortunately, this was a time when being able and prepared to just cycle through as many plausible guesses as you can paid off. Here, I was rattling through various combinations of drinks when Jamie suggested sticking Queimada in as it sounded Mexican. A couple more permutations and the group fell out, to my audible relief.

Unfortunately, this hadn't used up either of the fake cats, so while we carried on thinking I tried a few more combinations of cats and maybe-cats, but to no avail. Time was slipping away and with it (we imagined) any hope of a lead going into the vowels. Then, with 15 seconds left I started to spot the 'adjective-y' sounding island names, and some more stabbing got us a second group with a few seconds to go.

With our answers, Jamie rambled a bit on the Spanish drinks, but fortunately the first thing he said was "alcoholic things...wines" which was what they wanted to hear (they're all alcoholic and either made of, or distilled from, wine). He then fished island nationalities solely off the back of his Manx heritage. Cats was a given, and while we just about recognized the songs, we had no idea about the band (despite walking past the theatre showing it in London numerous times, we never felt the urge to go and see Jersey Boys...). Five points in the end, and we knew we'd be ahead going into missing vowels; if we'd been offered that at the start of the show we would have gladly taken it.

Next came the nervous wait while the Editors tackled their wall, it's 389 on the website.

The answers

In the comfort of our own (stress-free) home, Jamie and I managed to crack this, with the Bible books and birds falling out fairly quickly. If you know 'The Day Today' then it's a fairly easy wall to finish off, but unfortunately for the Editors they couldn't quite drag it out.

The only indication you get of how the other team has done on their wall (before the scores are revealed immediately before missing vowels, that is) is how long it takes them. A speedy turnaround and you know you're in trouble, while a long wait (as we had here) tells you very little; it could mean an undefeated wall, or just a slow solve. Once back in the studio the scores were finally revealed. Five points for the Editors meant that we had a six point lead going into missing vowels; and my brain had a moment to briefly glimpse the semi-final before it was eyes down for missing vowels.

Round 4: Missing Vowels

Of course, a six point lead is by no means insurmountable (after all, we'd managed an eight point swing in our first match), but similarly we knew we just had to avoid a complete disaster. Impressionists was reasonably in our wheelhouse (although I'd never heard of Alfred Sisley) with Hywel and Jamie combining to tie the round 2-2. The Editors then put on a burst of speed taking the first three of 'Words containing C-O-R-E-N' to halve our lead, and things were getting a bit hairy. Fortunately I managed to take the next three (including the first two of 'Also known as papa') and the Editors, needing to push, lost a point to let Hywel see us home. 21-12 in the end looks more comfortable than it felt, but we were nevertheless through.

As with our defeat to the Lasletts there was little time to come to terms with the result (not to mention our exciting new status of Only Connect semi-finalists - I was working on my chat-up lines already). We'd be playing our third straight game of the day against an as yet unknown set of opponents, but ironically were probably at our most relaxed. Our aim coming into the show was to win one game and avoid a record of played 2, lost 2. By making it to the semis we'd already surpassed that expectation, so the pressure felt somewhat lifted. (Either that, or I was just starting to feel delusional from not enough sleep and overdosing on game show induced stress, of course...)

Still, could we go any further, or were we about to be sent to the great game show studio in the sky? Stay tuned to find out!


  1. It's funny that you mention our name as an obvious one, because we went through a few iterations too. We went to the auditions as the Open Accessers, but open access apparently suffers from the same "half the show to explain" problem as open source. Our next proposal was Ex-Geneticists, which was rejected by the producers on the (entirely reasonable) grounds that it'd be too hard for Victoria to say quickly during the missing vowels; seriously, try to say it fast. Science Editors was our unexciting but accurate compromise.

    Anyway, a deserved win and best of luck in the semis! (Even though it's already happened; can good luck be sent back in time?)

    1. That is excellent background info, thanks for that. And yes, someone should devise a tongue-twister involving ex-geneticists. We shall (retrospectively) endeavour to defend your honour on Monday!