And the Australian coach handed round performance-enhancing Starburst lollies.
at times, hanging heads and welling tears.
There was controversy when Mills thought Hong Kong had correctly answered “The Emperor’s New Clothes” when in fact they’d said “The Emperor’s New Groove”, but then the adjudicator crept on stage and whispered in his ear and the murmurs of polite outrage from the audience subsided as Mills spiked the question and asked a backup.
The lead jumped around, but by half-time it was clear the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and South Africa were the top contenders. Out in the lobby Hong Kong’s teachers urged their team to fight to the end, and the Australian coach handed round performance-enhancing Starburst lollies. And then, in the end, it all came down to the final question.
The Wellington boys began round 10 with a comfortable five-point lead – two-and-a-half questions’ worth – over the UK girls. Australia and South Africa were tied three points behind that. But the category was poets, and the Kiwis clearly knew squat about poetry. “Shel Silverstein,” said Canada. “Christina Rossetti,” said the UK. “Robert Burns,” said the UK just a few words into the question (though it would have been a bit embarrassing for the Glasgow schoolgirls if they hadn’t).
Singapore got Edward Lear. America got Emily Dickinson. Australia got AA Milne.
Final question. If the UK got it, they’d overtake New Zealand. The Wellington boys looked skyward. The audience held its breath.
“This widely read man,” said Mills, “was a gifted comic poet.” No one buzzed. “His books for children often included songs and poetry, but he did write three books in the 1980s devoted to poetry.” No one buzzed. “All three books of poetry were based on well-known nursery rhymes such as Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella and they were meant to be read aloud.” No one buzzed. “These poems were wacky, darkly …” The dairy-door warble rang out, then a long hush as the microphone was carried to Singapore’s table. They gave an answer. Mills roared. The audience roared. The Wellington boys breathed for the first time in five minutes, and then roared. The answer was Roald Dahl, which meant two points for Singapore and none for the UK, and thus a one-point victory for New Zealand. Australia came third, and Canada was just one point behind them.
After the speeches and trophies half of the audience rushed the stage to congratulate, hug or ruffle the hair of the competitors.
“Just one point!” said an upset Cate from Canada. “One point!”
“I just can’t even...,” said Lila from Australia, as the mixed blessing of losing to New Zealand but still making the top three sunk in.
“I was scared as in that last round,” said Tom from Wellington. “We had no idea about poetry.”
“I’m really pleased!” said his teammate Harry, then quickly added: “But it could have been anyone really. It was so close.”
Harry had a grin almost too wide for his face. He looked even more delighted than when he’d successfully spelt out the longest word to appear in a major dictionary, which is, of course, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. We gave the kids a quiz of our own. Go to stuff.co.nz to see them in action.