I almost feel bad reviewing this book because it’s so brief, but dammit, it’s a BOOK and I READ IT and so it counts, right?
It isn’t possible to imagine a show like Only Connect making a dent in American television, because Americans don’t much mind clever game shows as long as they showcase a really limited sort of cleverness of the Trivial Pursuit variety in which a random piece of knowledge bobs to the surface: there’s a reason Jeopardy! has been on the air for years and “YOU are the WEAKEST LINK!” became a national catchphrase.
The British, on the other hand, might have their share of dumdum game shows like Deal Or No Deal, surely the most brain-dead entertainment of the last two decades, but they also have tough, brainy shows like QI (impossible questions cleverly answered), Countdown (horrendous anagrams and math problems), and Only Connect, which is appallingly difficult and yet so much fun if you’re the sort of person who likes to be tormented by elusive knowledge.
The premise of the show, and the book, is that you are given a series of up to four clues in the form of words, phrases, or pictures, and you have to work out the connection between them, ideally with the smallest number of clues. (There’s an odd-man-out section at the end of the show and the book that consists of names and phrases with the vowels removed and the consonants respaced: it really doesn’t fit with the rest of the show — the book even admits this — and I’ve never known what it’s doing there, except as a sort of breather after the monstrously difficult third act.) The puzzles require a broad arsenal of mental skills: you have to know a lot of facts, but you also have to be able to think in a number of different directions at once and be able to turn on a dime after assimilating new information. It helps if you are conversant in more than one language. (It really helps if you’re British, I would imagine: a number of the puzzles involve English history or sports figures.)
You want an example? Here’s an example. The second round of the show requires you to provide the fourth member of a sequence. If you are presented sequentially with the words Wheat, Sett, and Cease, what must the fourth member be?*
There are a lot of episodes of the show on YouTube: you should watch some. And you should also get this book to torment your friends with.
*(Spoiler: it’s Sank, because those words are the English phonetic equivalents of the French numbers eight through five: huit, sept, six, cinq. I was irrationally thrilled when I figured it out.)