Brainteaser / Memory Bank
I suppose it's a bit of a cheat doing two shows in one review. But as they have similar themes running through them it seems silly to repeat myself.
Anyway, Channel 5 have decided it might be a good idea to put gameshows in its morning slot. Brain Teaser was originally a 1:30 to 2:30 staple and its more recent brother Memory Bank began life as a 9:25 show. But now the roles are reversed, Memory Bank goes in the late lunch slot and Brain Teaser now occupies the mid-morning slot.
Each show consists of quite simple mental games which turn out to be reasonably difficult under the pressures of the studio.
Brainteaser started first so let's begin with that. In each show four people compete, facing off in pairs. The winner of each pairing go through to the final, and the winner of that goea through to the Pyramid where they can win some cash.
Round 1 of the heats is Scramble. Long polysyllabic words are broken down into groups of two or three consecutive letters and these groups are juggled around to form gibberish. The first person to buzz in and say what the word is wins five points. For example LLA-POL-BIC-YSY would be POL-YSY-LLA-BIC. After a certain amount of those (We believe it to be 15-20, although we've never actually counted) comes round two: Crossfire. It's a crossword with ten clues. Whoever is in control asks for a clue, if they get it right then they keep control, if they get it wrong then they lose control and their opponent also gets a chance to answer it for a bonus. These questions are a mixture of reasonable trivia and simple cryptic. The final round of the heats is the anagram round, the contestants see a jumbled word which unscrambles itself letter by letter. When a player knows what it is, they buzz in. If they get it right then they get points, if not then the other player gets one extra letter and a guess. The person with the most points wins.
For the Final, the heat winner's scores are reset and they play two more rounds. The first is Word Storm, the contestants are given the length of a word, the first letter and the last letter. They've got to think of a word (and any word will do) that will fit the criteria for ten points a piece. The final round is a Who Am I? thing - there's a category then four short clues will pop up at two second intervals. A player can buzz in and guess when they like, right answers earning points and wrong answers meaning their opponent can see all of the clues before guessing. The person with the most points gets to go through to the Pyramid. They're given a word of three letters and 45 seconds on the clock. When the clock starts, a letter appears in a position beneath the three letter word. The player has to bring the letters down around that letter to form a new word (and crucially, it's got to be the word on their card - which is a bit suspect but still). For example, if the word you're given is CAR, the next line down comes up - - - E, the answer might be RACE. The player can then opt to continue, bring their current word down, for more cash. If they successfully reach the bottom of the pyramid, an eight letter word, they win £3,000. If they try for another step but run out of time then they leave with nothing.
Memory Bank (would you believe?) is about memory. Now there are three contestants sitting in a row. The first round is called Double Vision - the players get 20 seconds to memorise the positions of 15 different (yet quite similar) pictures (flags, faces, that sort of thing) on a 4x4 board (one of the corners is empty). Each person is then in turn asked to find a specific picture that comes up on the board's empty square. If they get it right then they score ten points and that's the end of their go. If they get it wrong, it gets passed on once (and once only) to the next person down the line for a 10 point bonus (this potentially is a bit unfair for the player who sits behind the Useless Player of the Day). Round two is Back 2 Front. A board of 16 answers in 4x4 formation is revealed and once again, the players get 20 seconds to memorise them. This time 15 questions are asked and the scoring works the same way as round one. The final 16th question of each round is for a bonus, the players have to buzz in and recite what's on the 16th card (this is done using a hilarious buzzer reaction test, the host shouting "Buzz NOW!"). This again is worth ten points. The person with the most points gets to go through to the Memory Bank finale. They see 20 words jump out at them over 20 seconds. They then have 45 seconds to recall as many words as they can. They earn £50 for each of the first ten, £100 for the next five and then £200 for the five remaining making a total of £2000.
Excitingly, both of these shows are live and that's for a very important reason: the viewer puzzles. Many times during a show a puzzle is set for the people at home, a variation of the Pyramid for Brainteaser and a domino game for Memory Bank. These puzzles are insultingly easy, but if you're too stupid they give clues out as well. You can enter via the Channel 5 site but the way they'd like you to enter is via 50p premium rate. When you phone up, the computer randomly determines whether you should leave your details or not and of the people who are asked to leave their details, one is randomly selected to chat to the host live on air and solve the puzzle for between £250 and £2,000 in cash depending on *cough* difficulty and whether it's a Friday or not (they usually pay extra because it's alsmost the weekend).
Interestingly, we're told that Endemol make enough money from these phone puzzles to pay for the entire show. Despite the fact they can't be expensive shows to produce, this is still a bit moderately impressive.
As any contestant will tell you, the sets are miniscule. Most things look a lot bigger on television then they do in real life thanks to wide angle lenses, but these studios still look small. Not much has been spent on props because other than the host's question cards everything is done by computer graphic. The production company don't pay travel expenses (although do have consolation prizes we have since learnt to be a bottle of champagne) to the contestants. The studios used to be in Oxford and so there were plenty of students on standby should planned contestants not be able to make it, but now they've moved to Bristol (where supposedly there are plenty of Bristol University students on stand by).
The hosts (each show has two which rotate on a week by week basis) are all a friendly enough bunch who are competent when it comes to live television and the mistakes that sometimes happen therein. They're good at keeping the shows ticking along. In fact that's what sums these shows up quite well - there is a game to be played so let's just get on with it. There's not an awful lot of time for player chats.
Channel 5 seem to have here, then, the televisual equivilant of the weekdaily morning paper's coffee-time crossword extended over 90 minutes. Neither show does anything particularly new (Brainteaser is a bit like Catchword and Memory Bank is, well, something you could probably make yourself at home) and neither particularly exude much in the way of televisual sheen or personality. But they're there. They're dependable. They play a half-decent game which you can play along with at home. They're, well, a bit safe. But y'know, sometimes there's nothing wrong with that and there's certainly nothing to stretch your brain on any other terrestrial channels all morning so they're catering to an audience. Quite a big audience too possibly, Brainteaser was only originally scheduled to run for six months - it's still here almost two years later. We know that Brainteaser at least has European roots and without bothering to research it, we'd suspect Memory Bank probably does too.
EDIT - They've turned Memory Bank into an hour long format with various versions of the standard Pelmanism game built in. It's still an OK show.