Mastermind, to Pass or not to Pass, that is the question

I usually watch this on Monday nights, quiz night on the BBC, but this one today was a first. All 4 contestants tied on 20 points, but of them 2 had given one pass and so were eliminated. Then the remaining 2 have a tie break. One leaves the studio while the other answers 5 questions (or is it 6 :thinking:), no time limit and no indication of right or wrong. Then the other one comes back to answer the same 5 questions but this time we at home see the answers on the screen, so I keep a tally using the fingers of each hand.

They were really tough questions, usually I can answer 2 or 3 but this time I only got the first one, the surname of the American financier whose initials (actually the names were given, harder because you had to link them to the initials first) were J.P…Morgan.

They both got that right but only one of them scored again, the winner.

But I couldn’t help thinking, what if the other 2 contestants had not passed on one question? That would have been a 4 way tie break. Doubly unprecedented.

It must be the pressure, but why on earth would you pass? You know the rules and so many times I have seen people lose on just one pass. I will never go for it but if I did, I would spend a lot of time beforehand simply drilling into my brain that the word for pass is not pass, but Smith. :joy:

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If you are stuck then saying “pass” on a question is slightly faster than giving a wrong answer - because the questioner then moves straight onto the next question rather than giving you the right answer. Those few seconds might add up to an extra question or two which you could well get correct.

However there are also other considerations at play - one is the fact that passes count against you if there is a tie-break, as you observe above and also it is a bit easy to get locked into saying “pass” when you can’t immediately think of the right answer (in order to get quickly to the next question) where a fraction longer for the memory neurones to get their act together and you might have the answer you need.

There were 2 specialised subjects that I did reasonably well on last night, human digestion and Jack Ryan. Thought the first contested bottled it, easy to say if you’re at home :wink:.

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Mastermind is proof that older is wiser, well it seems that way to me. Years ago I would struggle to answer more than one or two of general knowledge questions but now Its sometimes 50% or more.

For some strange reason I missed the specialised questions for once and only turned over halfway through. glad I did though.

@billybutcher yes I know why they do it, it is a trade off between time and penalty, but I still think I would never pass.

I do get irritated by Myrie’s ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’ remark. To my mind it would put me off the entirety of the question. I know that Magnussen and Humphrys use to do it as well, but only sometimes, with Myrie it is almost as if he has been instructed as part of the rules. There is no reason why he can’t pause very briefly to make sure of being heard, and then carry on without such an interruption to the flow.

@JohnBoy Not sure that applies to me, but whether it does or not is masked by my increasingly poor memory. There is anothe quiz I follow, House of Games, and the last round is called answersmash where 2 clues are provided and you have to merge them together meaningfully. Often when I know the answer to the first clue, and also the 2nd one, I have then forgotten what the first one was. :roll_eyes:

I feel qualified to answer this as I was a contestant on Mastermind in the mid-80s (Magnus Magnusson era).

By “passing” on a question you can’t immediately think of the answer to, you save time in which you might be able to answer one or two more questions in the time allowed - so tactically it’s better to “pass” rather than spend time pondering in the hope of recalling the answer.

They do tell you to do it this way in the contestant briefing. Yes passes count against you if there is a tie, but if you can slot in an extra answer then a tie may not arise.

It was an interesting experience being on the show. They do a complete rehearsal (minus audience) prior to the actual recording, with two rounds of general knowledge questions. I “won” the rehearsal round, so was feeling good going into the recording, but unfortunately my competitors were better prepared on their specialist subjects than I was, and I came last!!

I did score 28 points though, which is respectable, and could have been a winning score in other circumstances.

My special subject was “The Life and Campaigns of Field Marshal Montgomery”, which I chose because I felt it was a reasonably compact subject and I had just finished reading a biography of Monty.

Unfortunately for me the other contestants had clearly spent years studying their special subjects so wiped the floor with me!

Two of them went on to appear in that season’s final, so I felt I did pretty well on the whole!

Incidentally they do tell you not to pick a special subject that’s related to your job, in case it all goes pear-shaped. Apparently they had a vicar on an early series who chose some Biblical special subject, and then had a brain-fog on the night and scored nul points.


28 points is pretty good.

PS the “pay” for appearing (in the mid-80s) was £50 and a Mastermind ballpoint pen. :smiley:

Maybe it’s improved a bit since then, but then again knowing the BBC…

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I always think that younger contestants are at a disadvantage due to less years to amass knowledge so getting 28 points back in the 80s when you were ‘just a lad’ is pretty dam good, well done.

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Thank you!! I have to confess I was that annoying child who used to sit and read an encyclopedia for fun - I’ve always enjoyed accumulating unnecessary facts. :smiley:

I wouldn’t advocate wasting time thinking to drag back from memory an answer you otherwise know, but I think the trade off between a quick pass and a quick nonsense answer favours the nonsense because nobody knows if there will be a tie at the end. Sometimes people do both, ponder wasting time then answer pass out of frustration, the worst of both worlds.

Even when I was younger and knowledgable I was never quick enough to even think of applying, now when I am even more knowledgable, most of what I know simply will not re-appear within any sort of acceptable time. It is most embarrassing how badly some people do on their special subjects though. I sit there thinking whatever possessed you to think you should be sitting there.? :slightly_frowning_face:

So I will continue to sit here in my private studio shouting ‘Smith’ at the screen every so often. :rofl:

I watch Only Connect too, but have much less success there, I simply can’t make the connections and marvel at those who can. The season has finished so they are doing a series of specials on a theme. Last night the 2 teams had been dragged back from 10 and 8 years ago to compete and the theme was ‘love’. Very entertaining and even more so with Victoria Coren’s quirky sense of humour.

University Challenge I do better at and especially enjoy the young brains struggling with things I know, because they are so young. :laughing: Best bit of the series was the howler from both teams who seemed not to have noticed Brexit. :rofl:

Being a “professional quizzer” is now a thing - plenty of Mastermind contestants went on to compete in other TV and radio quizzes e.g. Brain of Britain, The Weakest Link etc.

That never appealed to me, my “five minutes of fame” was enough. :smiley:

PPS the “Mastermind” chair (a Charles Eames design) is actually quite comfy - though I believe they’ve got through two or three of them over the years - worn out by contestants’ bums!!

The original chair was presented to Magnus Magnusson on his retirement from the show and is now owned by his daughter Sally.

Always amused me that MM was Icelandic but spoke English with a soft Scottish accent, I believe he emigrated quite young.

I remember 2 champions, though not their names, the London taxi driver and a lorry driver, endured the programme to me because of its opportunity to allow people who weren’t particularly gifted (unlike Uni Ch. and Connect) to shine sometimes. Also, talking about scores one man actually got 35 years ago, but that might have been before they tinkered with the rules about timings.

Fred Housgo? :rofl:

Fred Housego was the taxi driver. Then there was Christopher Hughes who was a train driver.

Hi David, there are episodes of 'Who Goes There? (from the late 90s I believe) available on Radio 4 Extra. Fred Housego is one of the team captains. I often tune in of an evening :radio:

I haven’t heard of that Dawn, and I rarely shift from Radio 4 in the daytime, but I’ll have a look for it. Early evening is a busy time for me though but as long as I can hear it. :smiley:

Nothing to do with age, unless it’s general knowledge of a certain fairly recent period. Instead it depends more on an individual’s hunger for knowledge, what they’ve read their area of study and of course the context in which that person has been educated.

Older doesn’t necessarily mean better informed, it just means ‘older’.

Well, that’s put this old retired builder in his place!
I gave an opinion not fact.

Well, that’s put this old retired builder in his place!
I gave an opinion not fact.

Well you’re younger than me and I just offered a different opinion with some qualification/substantiation