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What I'm reading, and watching

February 8th, 2004

I’m reading After the New Economy by Doug Henwood, after Brad DeLong kindly sent me a copy. I plan to do a review of this book, which has already been reviewed by several contributors to Crooked Timber.

I watched the first round of The Einstein Factor, which turns out to follow, in crucial respects, the Mastermind format peculiar to public broadcasters, namely a round of questions on a special topic that would be regarded as too narrow if proposed for a PhD thesis (those today were Jack the Ripper, Australian campaigns in France in WWI and heavy metal bands of the 1980s), followed by absurdly easy general knowledge questions (in one round there was even multiple choice – shades of Eddie McGuire!).

The “special topic” approach is unsatisfactory in too ways. First, even a well-informed viewer doesn’t have a chance of answering more than a handful of questions, which makes viewing not that much fun.

Second, it’s impossible for anyone (including the setters) to tell whether the questions are of comparable difficulty between topics. Which is harder, to name the head roadie for Megadeth or the constable who discovered the body of Jack the Ripper’s third victim? For all I know, one question is comparable to naming the song sung by the Sirens and the other is basic knowledge for all aficionados of the topic. Think about blogging as a special topic from the viewpoint of your non-blogging friends, and see what I mean.

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  1. February 8th, 2004 at 21:08 | #1

    I remember a review of an episode of Mastermind by Clive James from the ’70s, where one contestant’s special topic was “Agriculture” and the other’s, in the same episode, was “The Dragon novels of Ann McCaffrey.” James says something like “When I go on Mastermind I will be sure to pick the second topic. When I am asked how the elf Barf returned to the kingdom of Snarg, I will know all the answers.”

    That said, I used to love watching Mastermind. Partly for the same reasons Dsquared has pointed to in the case of Snooker — there was always the prospect of seeing someone’s psychological self-destruction take place during their two minutes in the black chair.

  2. Dave Ricardo
    February 8th, 2004 at 21:19 | #2

    Basil: Can’t we get you on Mastermind, Sybil? Next contestant Sybil Fawlty from Torquay, special subject the bleeding obvious.

  3. PK
    February 8th, 2004 at 22:06 | #3

    Sounds like a vanity viewing choice to me John. How long after the show finished did start moaning about how unfair the questions were?

    Just kidding ; )

  4. February 8th, 2004 at 22:59 | #4

    I look forward to your first impressions of Mondo Thingo.

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