Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Urreeeeeeaarrrggghhh: The Memory Strikes Back

Moments in my quiz career that make me spasm and seize uncontrollably, whilst making nincompoop sounds, in the unexpected remembering

Fifteen-to-One Grand Final 2002

Report Card grade: C- "Could have done better"

How very kind of someone to put it up on YouTube. How very very very kind. Kindness spilling everywhere like a breached dam.

PS. Six years ago? Six years. Six. Blimey.

PPS Rewatching it in a kind of lovely, gibberish-punctured agony and I am reminded of my youthful sluggishness and that old 'why didn't I buzz right there at that crucial moment, you lily-livered scaredy-pants shark-finhaired twonk?' feeling. That's what television was invented for wasn't it? To make people feel like right shitclowns when a clip or two pops up during a time far in the future. In fact, if I had a time machine I would go back in time and bludgeon myself in the back of the head with a blunt instrument, just to get the young brain working. Even if it didn't, brain damage would provide an effective excuse. And to keep the utterly fantastical element going, I would of course, be wearing a cloaking device. And have a 2000-2050 Sports Almanac tucked in my back pocket.

PPS Rewatched all of it now: GOD. God, and deary me. I would hit myself in the face with a horse-whip right now if I thought it would do me any good. Lucky I don't own any horse-whips. Or whips. Or S&M paraphernalia. Otherwise, I would have a very welty, Sheffield United kind of visage.

PPPS Naturally, I don't like hitting myself in the face or head at all. But how else to react to bits and pieces of repressed memory? With logic and goodwill? NAH. Hands over ears: "I am at Disneyland. I AM AT DISNEYLAND..."

Monday, May 19, 2008

For You, Forever Ago

Oh, lordy, I've just remembered I have a blog to maintain. So obviously this is one of those typically apologetic blogs going on about how bloody busy I've been. Therefore, sorry, I've been bloody busy with all sorts of quiz goings-on and doings-on, most of which are highly confidential, in the embryonic stage etc that I cannot discuss in any scant let alone real detail at all: auditions, run-throughs, writing questions which I go over and over until I'm convinced they look absolutely pathetic and must write some new ones when it's plain to any impartial observer that I'm just being completely weird and all pedantic like. Questions which I then send off to far off climes, like Manchester, while I ready myself for the hopefully kind feedback.

Anyhow, yes, I am applying for 'Are You an Egghead?' and am auditioning tomorrow. I do hope they disregard any confusing comments and possibly deranged screeds about the show I might have left lying around the internet years ago and write them off as midly youthful folly when they hear my gushing encomions. Whatever encomions are. Aren't they some sort of Icelandic pastry? Anywayhoohow, time to get me some nice mature folly, methinks. Ya no wot ahm talkin' 'bout 'boiiii. The kind that is so much more serious. Do I hear life's winged chariot sweeping near? No, it's a bloody huge bus, whose driver should stop slapping his horn like a MASSIVE C...

Thursday, May 01, 2008

BH151: Back to Patricia

Books like 1,000 Places To See Before You Die are awfully good sources for swotting up before the June World Quizzing Championships, and if the reviews are anything to go back far more useful than actual travel guides to the mentioned destinations, unless you happen to be rich, rich as astronauts! Trust me. So here is the sequel to the BH quiz I did on Patricia Schultz's tantalising tome many moons ago ...

1 The highlight of the parkland Nara Koen is a colossal bronze image of a sitting Buddha housed in what building, whose name means 'Great Eastern Temple" and which is believed to be the world's largest wooden structure?
2 On which island will you find the Four Seasons Resort at Jimbaran Bay?
3 Celebrating its 2500th anniversary in 1997, which city is home to the 12th century Kalan Mosque and Minaret, and the 1000-year-old Ismael Samani Mausoleum?
4 One of the world's premiere sources of rugs, the Tolkuchka Bazaar is the Sunday market in which Central Asian capital, the 'City of Love'?
5 'A freak of nature and a geological fairyland', which 'Cotton Castle' in Turkey is known for its white travertine tiers and curative waters?
6 Which Istanbul museum occupies what was originally the 5th century Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora ('the country'), its magnificent interior Byzantine decorations completed in 1321 by Theodore Metochites?
7 The Jaljale Himal High Ridge Trek is found in the east of which country?
8 Captured by Alexander the Great and subsequently burned to the ground, which city was chosen by Darius the Great in 512BC for the site of a massive and magnificent palace complex sitting on a plateau that rises 30 feet from the plain below?
9 Known as the "Golden City", which former caravan centre in Rajasthan on the route to the Khyber Pass rises from a sea of sand, its 30-foot crenelated walls and medieval sandstone fort sheltering carved spires and palaces, remains India's only still-functioning fortress city?
10 Tscechus are colourful traditional festivals of which country, the springtime celebration in Paro being its best-known annual dance festival?
11 In Japan, what are 'hanami'?
12 Located not far from Nara and Kyoto, which Japanese mountain is covered with tens of thousands of centuries-old white mountain cherry trees divided into groves called Hitome-Sembon or One Thousand Trees at a Glance, that according to their altitude bloom at different times, usually starting in early April?
13 What does the Japanese term 'goraiko' mean?
14 Revered in the Hindu, Buddhist and Bon faiths, which 22,028 foot Tibetan peak is the most sacred in Asia and, believed to be the home of the gods and centre of the cosmos has seen pilgrims visit it for more than 1000 years to perform a kora, a 32-mile clockwise circumambulation around the mountain to pay homage to the deities?
15 What is the famous collective name of Qutang, Wu and Xiling?
16 Perhaps the largest such market in Arabia, the Gold Souk is part of which United Arab Emirate?
17 Many of Oman's forts are reminders of the years - 1507-1650 - when which country controlled it?
18 While coastal Oman was involved in lucrative sea trade with India, China and Zanzibar in medieval times, which inland city and centre of learning famed for its ancient poets - it being the supposed birthplace of Sinbad the Sailor- manufacture of curved kanjar daggers and 17th century fort, was the seat of the imams who ruled much of the interior for centuries?
19 Founded by the soldiers of Alexander the Great during the 4th century BC, which place and archaeological masterpiece framed by the hills of Gilead in Jordan and home to the Temple of Artemis is widely held to be the best-preserved Roman provincial city in the Middle East, having its golden age during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD?
20 Named after the hills it contains, which Zimbabwean national park is home to a number of huge and unique granite masses and the hillside grave of Cecil J. Rhodes that he named 'View of the World'?
21 Site of the Nyamandhlovu and Camp Pan, a fossilised riverbed popular with tourists, what is Zimbabwe's largest national park?
22 The Pemba Channel Fishing Club is a famed institution in which country?
23 Discovered by wealthy French and other European ex-pats at the turn of the 19th century and again in 1942 by Andre Gide, which 'painting-perfect blue-and-white' Tunisian coastal village is named after the Muslim-Sufi figure who died there in 1231 and was buried in the local mosque and was a favourite haunt of the anti-Christian Corsair pirates?
24 La Gazelle d'Or is an exclusive and opulent retreat close to which ancient market town, once called 'Little Marrakech'?
25 Which chef remarked: "There are only three cuisines in the world: French, Chinese and Moroccan"?
26 Deep in the heart of Marrakech's medina, which 200-year-old restaurant has a name meaning 'sapphire' in Arabic?
27 Which writer advised: "Before you go to Marrakech, make sure you say goodbye to all your friends and draw your savings from the bank"?
28 An emblematic ritual of the Berbers, which betrothal ceremony takes place at a site in the middle of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco every September?
29 Host to a Festival of World Sacred Music, which city of the Maghreb is Morocco's oldest imperial capital?
30 Set up as a caravansary in 1382, which Cairo bazaar is Africa's largest souk and home to the El Fishawy coffee and tea house, open around the clock since 1752?
31 What are "sheehas"?
32 Meaning "queen's island" as it was built in 1622 for Queen Eleanora, what is the official year-round home of Sweden's King Carl XVI and Queen Silvia?
33 Often called the world's largest igloo, the 'Ice Hotel" has been built every November since 1990 where in Sweden, disappearing every spring when it melts into the River Torne on whose banks it is constructed?
34 Visby is found on which island, at 78 miles long, the largest of Sweden's island?
35 Master chef Hans Stucki was one of which country's culinary giants until his premature death in 1998?
36 In which Spanish region will you find "The Way of St James" and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela?
37 Which King captured Toledo from the Moors in 1085?
38 What is the Spanish delicacy 'cochinillo asado'?
39 Known for its Baroque Plazo Mayor, which Spanish city in Castile and Leon was once home to Europe's most important university, founded in 1218 by Alfonso IX?
40 Designated the capital of Christian Spain in 914, in which city will you find the Parador San Marcos - Spain's largest parador - and a Gothic cathedral, begun in 1205 and including 125 stained-glass windows, three giant rose windows and 57 oculi?
41 What is a government-owned inn called in Portugal?
42 The annual European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) is held in which Dutch city?
43 Which Umbrian town, nicknamed 'City of Silence', is set into the rugged, steep slope of the forest-clad Mount Ingino and was a moderately prosperous Roman settlement called Iguvium?
44 Which counts of Urbino ruled Gubbio from 1387 to 1508?
45 Pope Pius II dreamed of creating 'the perfect urban gem' and in 1458 commissioned the architect Bernardo Rossellini to raze his hometown Corsignano and recreate it as which Tuscan "Pearl of the Renaissance"?
46 The Uffizi was designed by Vasari in 1560 for which duke?
47 Originally designed in 1296 by Arnolfo di Cambio, by what name is Florence's Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori better known?
48 Taormina is a fashionable resort on which island?
49 What is Lake Como's 'Pearl of the Lake'?
50 What is Lake Garda's 'Jewel of the Lake'?
51 In which city is the Deutsches Museum, the largest, oldest and most complete technology museum in the world?
52 Set on seven hills, which Bavarian town was capital of the Holy Roman Empire under Heinrich II, the town's most famous son, and is the site of the Kaiserdom, the cathedral that hosted his 1012 coronation?
53 Named after the twice-deposed king of Poland who with his son-in-law Louis XV commissioned its construction in 1751-60, Place Stanislas is a feature of which French city?
54 Site of Les Calanches, which island was called Kalliste - "the most beautiful" - by the Greeks?
55 The southernmost seat of the Hapsburgs as early as 1379, which city boasts the empire's and Europe's largest armory and features the ubiquitous motto "Austria rules the world" (A.E.I.O.U.) left behind by Friedrich III, King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor, who resided there?
56 Portillo, considered to be South America's best ski resort, is located in which country?
57 Seen playing Salvador's famous festivals, what name is given to Brazil's "Carnaval" percussion groups?
58 Genipabu is considered to be the finest beach of which Brazilian city in Rio Grande de Norte, famed for its white sands?
59 Which South American capital is known for its daily Mercado de Hechiceria, or Witch Market, that is integral to the native Kallawaya traditions of magic and healing?
60 In which South American capital will you find the Alvear Palace and Recoleta Cemetery?




Answers to BH151
1 Todai-ji 2 Bali 3 Bukhara 4 Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan 5 Pamukkale 6 Kariye Museum 7 Nepal 8 Persepolis 9 Jaisalmer 10 Bhutan 11 Sake-drinking parties 12 Yoshino Mountain 13 Sunrise 14 Mount Kailas 15 The Three Gorges 16 Dubai 17 Portugal 18 Nizwa 19 Jerash (ancient Gerasa) 20 Matobo National Park 21 Hwange National Park 22 Kenya 23 Sidi Bou Said (named after Abu Said) 24 Taroudant 25 Paul Bocuse 26 Yacout 27 Truman Capote 28 Imilchil Betrothal Fair 29 Fez 30 Khan El-Khalili 31 Hookah water pipes 32 Drottningholm Palace 33 Jukkasjarvi, Norrland 34 Gotland 35 Switzerland 36 Galicia 37 Alfonso VI 38 Roast suckling pig 39 Salamanca 40 Leon 41 Pousada 42 Maastricht 43 Gubbio 44 Montefeltro counts 45 Pienza 46 Cosimo de' Medici 47 Il Duomo 48 Sicily 49 Bellagio 50 Sirmione 51 Munich 52 Bamberg 53 Nancy 54 Corsica 55 Graz 56 Chile 57 Bateria 58 Natal 59 La Paz 60 Buenos Aires


To Paraphrase: Choking, But Choking Better

Brain of London. The final. Hmm. A missed opportunity. Hmm. Let's rake over the ashes. With really big rake. I suspect this is because I am suffering from the fact that the only TV channel I can get reception for in my room is Channel 4, thus limiting my viewing options to Des O'C, Deal or No Deal, Desperate Housewives, Dirty Sexy Money, More Shows Beginning with D like the Driday Night Project, Bear Grylls eating anything that moves and saying "It's good protein", Mobile Speed Dating adverts, Jamie Oliver's computerised table tennis arm, heroin and incest-filled Hollyoaks, and, this week - what an exquisite treat! - shows about roaming doctors treating, exposing and poking deformed naughty bits in front of the nation and talking about 'nipple reconstruction' like they were urban planners reconfiguring city landmarks. It makes me think we live in a beautiful world. Full of hairy man-boobs.

Realising this is mutating my once pristine outlook and inducing a grotesque lust for sparkling superficiality, warped morals, as well as a need to clobber a number of actors, game show people and TV presenters with spiky killing clubs of murder in me, I have resorted to watching Nathan Barley and Peep Show (series two) episodes, which originally appeared on Channel 4. Thinking about it, that isn't going to make things any better, considering they thrive on delivering cutting insights into the depressing twattiness of my generation. But at least they're also funny and written by geniuses of their type: Bain, Armstrong, Brooker, Morris. Stroke my chin and call me a ponce for using only their surnames.

Diversion Over: The Raking of The Ashes Begins
Bonus attempt management is a key skill when things get tight in Mimir-style individual competitions. And boy, can it and did it get constricting. A bygone black-and-white flashback example? During a 2004 Brain of London semi-final, also with Robert Willer and Kevin Ashman in the line-up, I went into a four-point lead after three rounds. Then, stupidly, I started having any old random guesses on football teams Geoff Hurst played for, my painfully naive approach - I was young back then, so young - being compounded by the idiocy of confusing the straits of Messina and Bonifacio (I shall never forget the sounds of murmurred achs produced by the watching quizzers. I would have groaned audibly too, and laughed a little to myself). And random guesses will not do in such situations because they will inevitably bite yo in the ass when you do know something and everyone else is going for the answer. You will be passed over, as in you've blown your chance matey, because they will have had fewer bonus attempts. You will feel mental agonies that still mildly haunt you four years later. Four years later. Forever...

So what happened this time? I thought I had kept the necessary bonus discipline. Then calamity struck in the fourth round. Everyone was equal on bonus attempts (3, yeah, like you're really getting into this post). Someone was asked for the chemical make-up of corundum. They couldn't get it. Somehow I found myself putting my fist out and 'aving a bleedin' go. What was this? Sheer insanity that's what. I realised I had no idea but said: "Aluminium oxide" anyway, which was nowhere near the bloody answer. Which, in turn, meant that I would have to wait in turn when another question I knew went begging. And so one did.

The crucial moment came when Roger at number two couldn't name the actor who played Henry VIII in Anne of a Thousand Days. If I hadn't said, like an utter buffoon "Aluminium oxide" I would have been first in the queue to say "Richard Burton". Alas, it went St Elsewhere (been watching a lot of that in the morning at Channel 4: cheesy yet compelling, so many familiar faces, and unfamiliar heads of hair in the case of Howie Mandel). Because of that boner of a bonus attempt. Only it was a more than a week later when I realised that - sheeeeeeet - I misheard the question. - corundum is aluminium oxide, carborundum is what was asked for: silicon carbide. Where did the 'arb' go between it being said and my hearing it? *silent scream time again*

But that wasn't the killer moment in the triumvirate of questions that unravelled my four-game campaign. Good old Charlie finished me off. The literary ghost that scuppers my interest and attention span and therefore ability to deal with him in a quiz situation. A Dickens question came along to do me like the Straits did four years before. That beardy word-gremlin just had to pop with his silly named characters. Sergeant Buttmunch, Buzfuz, Fuzzybum. It was, in my opinion, the easiest of the four asked - if you hadn't watched Bleak House on the Beeb that is - on that Victorian novelist who raises my hackles now more than ever, especially when I remember that a question on Barnaby Bloody Fudge Rudge knocked me out of my first go at Fifteen-to-One in 1996. I couldn't muster The Pickwick Papers. Instead, I said something that was resolutely rubbish. I forget what it was so I can move on. Then write a blog post a few days later, bemoaning my ineptitude in florid, overwrought and syntactically complex prose, and realise I probably said: "Um, David Copperfield?". Like I always do, it being my default Dickensian answer.

So just like that Robert came zooming from behind and sped past myself and Kevin through to snatch his second and thoroughly deserved Brain of London title. He kept his head and played brilliantly to win it when others were losing the plot. I, who had been leading for the first four of the five rounds - ooh that sticks in my craw when I type it - finished runner-up with Kevin on 14, Robert scoring 15. I guess it must have been a riveting watch for everyone else in the room. Obviously, when you are through the looking glass and actually playing the game, it becomes a different kind of riveting. One riven with fear and terror and the heart going 150bpm.

It was the initial aftermath of once the final was done that I wasn't quite prepared for. You wander around in a strange, useless-feeling daze where people commiserate on the difficulty of your final trio of questions, and so very kindly say they would have bought me a drink if I had won, whilst all the time you're thinking drat drat and triple drat. The change in tempo, like a sudden shocking freefall drop into soundless water, lets in time for reflection. Next year. Must start again. Stew a bit in the meantime. Very frustrating. Very short sentences. But that's not to say I didn't enjoy the whole experience. I really like the Mimir format. It is simple and brilliantly efficient. I only wish we got to play it more than once a year (twice if you're lucky). Perhaps, I will actually learn to keep my wild stabs in the dark in check. Just for once.

However, truth be told I don't feel so bad about it. All those wordy cries and expressions of mental agony are massive exaggeration for comic effect, of course! It could also be said that it was Kevin's to win and, confessing himself that he wasn't on the ball on the day, he did drop a couple of howlers, mistaking for instance Thucydides for the "Father of History" rather than Herodotus: the answer obviously escaping from his mouth in the kind of rapid reflex action that seasoned quizzers know only too well, and to their eternal chagrin. Had he given those two relatively 'easy' answers he would have won another BoL title. It was surprising, but then again you can't win them all. Cliche cliche cliche platitude platitude platypus. Nobody's perfect, to quote one correct answer in the London Cup final that took place the same night. Finals night that is (yep, we picked up our shiny trophies for winning the QLL Division 1 and the President's Cup and smiled for the camera while thinking of all those Sundays and Tuesdays we spent sitting down four-on-four and sticking our fists out etc. Was it worth it? One-word answer: yes.)

Noticed and Heartened
Was it a first? Two graphic novel questions in the Cup final? Graphic novels in QLL (Maus and Persepolis) and both identified by the each of the teams. That was a pleasant surprise. I only wish the Brain of London final questions, possibly handed down from the MQL's own Mimir tournament, had such equally and relatively ultra-modern touches. It was, shall we say, traditional. I mean, Ullapool? I've never even heard of such a place, let alone begin to believe that ferry services operate from such a mysterious locale. It's in Scotland you say? Where's Scotland? 'Tis loco. But that's not a complaint per se. It just looks as if it is. Promise. (I was reading the Plan B magazine style sheet, which states the one-word lines or 'widows' as they are known in the biz are banned. Which is why I put five in this post). It jus 1 of dem dayz (blame that on the 1000 hip hop questions, they are still distorting and peppering my memory: Twista, Jay-Z, please leave me be) or weekz fo' dat matta.