On the box · Trivia · Word of the week

Word of the week: Angstrom

The Monday night quiz marathon is back. As reported here in March, BBC2 has modified its schedule over the last year and now broadcasts 90 minutes of serious quizzing from 7.30pm on a Monday. This comprises three shows that are due to build up to Grand Finals next spring.

“University Challenge”, which now has a start time of 8.30pm, began its latest series nearly three months ago, on 13 July. “Only Connect” (8pm kick-off) returned on 21 September. And earlier this evening the new series of “Mastermind” began at 7.30pm. As noted in that piece in March, I have yet to watch the full 90 minutes’ worth of questions in one sitting, but I did watch enough earlier tonight to note a word that featured in different contexts in two different shows: Angstrom.

There was a rare three-way tie after the general knowledge round in “Mastermind”, three contestants finishing with 21 points and no passes. As usual when the scores and number of passes are the same, this was resolved with five tie-break questions. Each contestant was asked the same set of questions while their rivals were out of the room. The answers appeared on screen during the final contestant’s turn in the black chair.

The third question, which I didn’t know the answer to, and none of the contestants got right either, was this:

What unit of length, used primarily in a scientific context, is equal to ten to the power of minus ten metres? It’s named after a Swedish physicist.

The answer, as you might know, or might have guessed from what has gone before, is Angstrom.

On “Only Connect”, within 15 minutes of that answer if you were watching in real time, The Sliders were asked what connects the following four names:

Greg Heffley / Amy Dunne / Dolores Haze / Harry Angstrom

The answer is that they are all the names of characters in book titles: Greg Heffley is the Wimpy Kid in “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”, Amy Dunne is the Girl in “Gone Girl”, Dolores Haze is “Lolita” and Harry Angstrom is Rabbit in John Updike’s series of books including “Rabbit Run” and “Rabbit is Rich”.

I have noted before that if you watch enough TV quiz shows you will come across the same questions and answers repeatedly, spread across the different formats. During the summer holidays my son and I spent many afternoons and early evenings watching some (or occasionally all) of the following programmes: “Eggheads” (Celebrity and Regular editions), “The Tipping Point”, “The Chase”, “Pointless” and Richard Osman’s “House of Games”. Most days there would be at least one question that featured in multiple shows. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” (published 1850) comes to mind as something that I hadn’t heard of for at least a year but which featured in two shows broadcast within an hour or two of each other.

“Angstrom” stood out for a different reason: the same word used in two unrelated contexts. Next time there’s a quiz question about a tiny unit of length named after a Swedish scientist the word might come to mind, but I am unlikely to remember just how tiny that measurement is: ten to the power of minus ten metres (or 10-10m). And although I have never managed to work my way through any of John Updike’s “Rabbit” books I might remember that the name of the protagonist is Harry Angstrom.



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