My attention this week has turned to a group of gentlemen who describe themselves as being involved in a ‘niche’ sport. Apparently there have been girls in the team but Miranda Wood told me she has not been to any meetings for a while and her lack of commitment led to her dropping out of the team. She was very disappointed by this and told me that she wants to be on University Challenge one day. Her mother informed me that as a young child she loved nothing better than to be quizzed from a book for hours at a time, although she appears to be a bit more normal now. “I am a bit more normal now,” said Miranda.
The more committed members have just returned from a Regional Semi-Final where they narrowly missed qualifying for the Regional Final. They were just two rounds away from National glory, having already conquered all before them in the first three heats they competed in.
Jamie Nugent, an extremely knowledgable and ardent quiz enthusiast, was somewhat downbeat after their defeat at King Edward's, Birmingham. Jamie is not one to make excuses, but he did tell me that the mini-bus was a little shaky, which may have disturbed the more sensitive parts of the team brains. He added, "The strong scent of academia may also have affected our olfactory senses, which can sometimes trigger buzzer-hesitation - which can be the difference between victory and defeat, life and death, love and despondency, and other things."
We all love a good quiz, don’t we? Surely life would be Pointless without knowing who the Mastermind of your generation is. Who Wants to be a Millionaire when you could be the King of Trivia? As the Countdown to the end of term begins and the Chase for Christmas bargains becomes more acute, crosswords can become more prevalent. I hope that when you have been introduced to our quiz team squad you will realise what Blockbusters they are and not dismiss them as Eggheads.
The driving force behind the Shrewsbury School quiz team is Dr Charles Oakley, otherwise known as The Doctor because he appears to know the answer to everything; quite simply, he is a Time Lord! The Gallifreyan genius used his skills to fund his University education by ‘cleaning up’ at pub quizzes and quiz machines to the tune of at least £1,000. The Doctor was, as I am sure many of you remember, part of the 2004/5 Corpus Christi Oxford team that won University Challenge 250 -140 against the University of London. In one of the earlier rounds they scored 345 against Lancaster University’s 80. This is the 10th highest score in shows from 1994 to the present day.
The BBC were so impressed by the young Doctor that they employed him to write questions for them for six years. This was fine until the Shrewsbury School Common Room quiz team that entered Eggheads discovered that their lynch pin was unable to participate, as he was technically an employee of the BBC and might have insider knowledge of the questions! Team Member Laura Whittle wistfully put it: “It could have been so different, but we got rather a scrambling that night!” In a nutshell, Dr Oakley has always liked quizzing; “I have always liked quizzing," he told me.
The Shrewsbury squad meet on Mondays and Wednesdays to hone their skills and I joined them to see how these mental athletes keep in shape. I asked Sasha ‘buzzer happy’ Arridge, with no conferring, if there were any tips for success. He told me that he takes sage as a supplement to his diet before each match. He hopes that this will make him more sagacious. He grows his own sage in his garden at home and he supplies other team members when they are in need of extra sage. His reason for this is rooted in the wise words of TV doctor Michael Mosely.
Responding to his ‘starter for ten’, Joe ‘guns’ Lafferty told me he goes for a more physical approach. He believes that looking physically intimidating can put off opponents. He currently attempts 100 press-ups a day with no passes.
Dan ‘fingers’ Edwards was quick to emphasise the importance of strong ‘buzz’ fingers. He explained the importance of a good finger rub after a strenuous afternoon of buzzing. His personal trainer is quite often nearby after a tournament to ensure that his fingers remain in top condition.
Angus Warburg explained that he likes to keep ‘mentally buff’. He does this by reading Team of the Week. The entire squad agreed with Angus that the training sessions were the equivalent to a mental gym. Reading the newspaper and sipping sage smoothies is not enough, although it can be pleasant.
Sonny Koh admitted to finding it hard to keep his hand from shaking during contests and Oli Hope has been known to hit the buzzer too early by accident. For these members of the team, buzzer training is very tough but can be the difference between winning and losing. Oli is wary of sharing a buzzer which happens at some of the more amateur tournaments. He told me that Dan Edwards had crushed Jamie Channon’s hand in a shared buzzer accident that nearly led to a buzzer impaling Jamie. “It can be a dangerous sport,” said Mil Luangamornlert.
Tom Hughes felt that people in general do not understand the pressure that top quality quizzing puts on the heart. Oliver Bureau agreed that there is a lot of misunderstanding in quizzing. “Sometimes people do not understand the question,” he told me.
It was then back to practice: “If you spelt all the states in the USA backwards, what would be the first state named?” And “What is the middle name of the sixth President of the USA”?
If you know the answers to those questions, you should try Mastermind – or you should get out more!
“What are the answers?” I hear you cry…