Monday, 8 September 2014

Only Connect Post Mortem: Series 10 Episode 2
History Boys vs. Oxonians

Warning: the following contains spoilers for Series 10, Episode 2 of Only Connect, first broadcast on BBC Two on Monday 8th September. If you haven't seen it yet go and watch it on iPlayer!

Missed last week's recap of the Politicos vs. the Felinophiles? Check it out here!

Only Connect's second week on BBC Two featured a new sight for the show; for the first time a team from a previous series made a repeat appearance. Seen off by the eventual champions the Rugby Boys (including a certain Mark Labbett) 27-18 in the first round of Series 2, the History Boys were back for a second bite at the Only Connect cherry. This time they were up against the Oxonians, about whom there is comparatively little to say, so why not take a moment to enjoy the word Oxonion instead.

Continuing on from last week, then, here were our thoughts on the first two rounds of questions.

Round 1: What's the connection?

The questions
1) Music: Die Moritat von Mackie Messer; Comme d'habitude; Io che non vivo senza te; Dorogoi dlinnoyu
2) Pope John XX; The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 2; Australian Open 1986; 3-13 September 1752
-3) the Biography of Great Men (Carlyle); a race between education and catastrophe (Wells); a set of lies agreed upon (Napoleon); more or less bunk (Ford)
4) Henry Pym; Emberiza citrinella; Flavivirus febricis; Musical subaqueous craft
5) Guernsey; Jersey; Balaclava; Bikini
6) Pictures: Ken Dodd's teeth; Merv Hughes' moustache; Betty Grable's legs; The Titanic

The answers

Our thoughts
1) An interesting question where plenty of us would have had a good inkling on the first clue, but with the challenge of working out precisely what's going on. I didn't entirely like that the first two were songs so strongly associated with one artist (Frank Sinatra), but we're starting to see a trend for questions of this form - where the first two clues carry a soup├žon of misdirection - both from this series and the last. The History Boys carefully dodged the Specifically Sinatra trap whereas we would've taken three clues to be sure. Jamie was close to impressing me on this, immediately announcing that Die Moritat von Mackie Messer was from The Threepenny Opera, before helpfully following up with "I know nothing about The Threepenny Opera".
2) I think a certain type of quizzer would consider this an absolute gimme for five, but having never been too interested in lists of Popes or the Wilburys it was only on the Australian Open that I was confident that my first instinct was correct. A really lovely idea for a question, particularly since once the answer comes to you there's fun to be had working out how the previous clues could possibly make sense.
3) Controversy! After the roasting my team the Board Gamers justifiably received for getting a question about a board game during our run, the History Boys get one about, er, history. Except that isn't controversial at all, obviously, but does rather go to show how silly it is to complain about teams getting questions relating to their team name. Another one where once the penny drops (for us, on Napoleon) you get some good fun going back to the previous clues.
4) A particularly frustrating one for Jamie here, who probably knew too much about Henry Pym (AKA Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, Wasp, Scientist Supreme...) and as always had to deal with my incredulity for not recognizing a very rare disease. I think if you hit on 'yellow' a little sooner then it could be inferred that something with 'citrinella' in its name might also relate to the colour, but this still seemed a fairly tough ask for more than two points.
5) This one fell into the category of "it can't be that easy...can it?" for me. Guernsey and Jersey obviously leave a lot of room for possibilities, but once you see Balaclava in a quiz you're pretty limited in what could be expected.
6) Jamie managed to spot this once we got to a picture of a boat, rather than people (who we're reliably bad at recognizing), but I appreciate the fun lateral thinking potential in "why are they pointing at those bits of famous people?".

Round 2: What comes fourth?

The questions
1) Moore: Dr. Kananga; Dalton: Gen. Georgi Koskov; Brosnan: Alex Trevelyn
2) 1st: the aqueduct; 2nd: the sanitation; 3rd: the roads
3) 6th: Heresy; 7th: Violence; 8th: Fraud
4) Picture: Pep Guardiola; Pip (one of Gladys Kight's); Iggy Pop
5) Savannah; Isla; George
6) Mortimer 1961; Haydon Jones 1969; Wade 1977

The answers

Our thoughts
1) Bond is one of those areas of trivia that come up time and time again, so it didn't surprise me to see the History Boys take maximum points here. I'm sure many at home would also have got this for five (while grumbling about the show dumbing down, no doubt), but it still takes a calm head to manage it on the show. A nice enough question, but perhaps a bit too much in the "you'll get it for five or not at all" bracket.
2) This question reminded me of the Dead Parrot sketch that came up in our semi-final last year. Then, like now, both teams knew the link but no-one could remember the answer. It's obviously very tricky to judge whether this is just Too Hard or merely an unfortunate blind spot of the six contestants who happened to face it, but particularly when compared to the preceding question it does seem a bit tough.
3) I do enjoy sequence questions where you can get some extra information by using the numerical clues. Starting at 6th you know it's probably going down to 3rd or up to 9th, and when I said that Jamie twigged it must be circles of hell. From there it's just a case of whether you know your Divine Comedy, but again this is a question where I don't think the extra clues help all that much.
4) A nice question even if we did completely mess it up at home (Jamie thought it was 'car insurance mascots'). Recognizing at least two of three should give you enough.
5) Given the latest royal baby news I wonder if someone at OC HQ is kicking themselves for having now used up this question. While Elizabeth does (currently) have four great-grandchildren, and so this makes for a neat Only Connect group, it nevertheless seems tricky to ask a question about them that doesn't end with George. Mia was born back in January, a few months before this series filmed, so it was nevertheless a good spot from the History Boys to remember the name.
6) A fairly standard question to end the round, here, with Virginia Wade the giveaway should you need all three clues. The earlier clues, of course, reward those with a more encyclopaedic knowledge of British tennis (or, alternatively, those who paid more attention to the "he's the first male champion in 77 years!" stories).

Question of the Week

Another strong set of questions, although I think the quality and difficulty was a touch more erratic than last week. Things continue to seem easier (but by no means easy) compared with the infamous series 9, and the teams' scores reflect this. This time around it was a two-horse race for Question of the Week, with 'Descriptions of history' a very close second. For us, though, Pope John XX... takes it by a nose, being both fun trivia and requiring some careful "wait, how could that make sense?" thinking once you land on the answer.

Disagree? You can vote for your own favourite questions in the poll below!


  1. A fair analysis Michael.

    As someone who felt at the time that OC should have avoided any sniff of controversy by switching the board game question in your semi to the other semi, it was somewhat ironic that I was the captain of the History Boys when we received a question to which the answer was history. The fact that we made of meal of it meant that it didn't prove significant. And of course, sharp eared viewers will have noted that the Oxonians probably have a stronger pedigree in terms of history knowledge than we did. The viewers at home don't know that we wanted to be the Football Fans in series 2 and were asked to find a different name because it wasn't high brow enough ;)

    Nonetheless I really do think this sort of thing is best avoided if at all possible. Not because I think the question was unfair, but because it could hurt the show if people perceive such things to be unfair. You can't totally avoid questions where history knowledge will help, but if that question had been in last week's 1st round match your only comment would have been "nice question", and that's rather the point. Anyway, all's well that ends well. Thankfully the question had no impact on the final result or there could have been another brouhaha!

    All that being said, it was a great experience, our opponents were charming and the production team are second to none!

    1. Hi Gareth, well done on the win. I don't actually think this instance courted any (much?) controversy; a quick look on Twitter didn't seem to throw up anyone who even noticed. I think in our case it was an unfortunate confluence of being a topic people think is really obscure/nerdy, a specific game we'd mentioned previously, a popular team in opposition *and* a rather polarizing team captain on our side.

      As I said at the time, I think the very small risk of some 'hurt' to the show for perceived unfairness is more than dominated by the impracticality (and genuine unfairness) in trying to rig the questions. I would wager the show probably suffers more from what people perceive as 'easy' 5 pointers than they do from the occasional question that could be perceived as biased towards one team. I remember in our semi people complaining about there being questions, along with the infamous board game one, about Harry Potter, mathematics, and even Scandinavian crime dramas(!) as being topics that were 'obviously' selected to benefit us; if people want to find controversy they will :)