Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Unsent Letter (Polite Version)

(With silly title censoring in the first line)

As a question setter for both "a certain paper" and "a particular quiz show", I have to say I was irritated by the assertion in your Media Correspondent's* article that the questions are easier simply because the executive producer said they contained "more clues".
The piece mentions nothing of the length of today's questions. There are "more clues" because the questions are significantly longer than they used to be. A clued-up modern day starter, conforming to a kind of pyramidal structure, may often end up revealing a very easy answer, but it begins, rather far back, in a very obscure place. Thus, the player who buzzes in early and gets the question right is rewarded for their deeper knowledge, as well as their nerve.
Also, in many cases, the question never gets the chance to become easy precisely because someone interrupts correctly.
In contrast, Bamber Gascoigne's University Challenge reign was replete with far shorter one-line questions that went in the blink of the eye and were, indeed, a matter of you either know it or you don't.
Subject matter also leaned heavily upon on history and literature. Today's show is far more catholic in taste for its potential material and therefore given far wider scope to test every single facet of the contestant's knowledge.
But if you must make comparisons, take a quick tour of the video websites. They will yield you enough clips from Bamber through early Paxo to the now to help you make your own conclusions about how hard the questions are.
There is, however, one immutable law that many setters believe in. Questions on long-running quiz shows have no option other than to become increasingly difficult simply because retreading or repeating the same old chestnuts is bad for the programme's integrity; contestants who haven't heard them but then play against those who have learnt them off by heart; and the viewer, who will be thoroughly bored before long. Therefore, new and invariably trickier stuff must be found.


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