I have come to love the game show Pointless. It is rather like reverse Family Feud. The announcer tells us “We gave 100 people 100 seconds to name as many ______ as they could.” The contestants’ job, then, is to find the answer not one person in a hundred could come up with. The team with the lowest score at the end of the game wins. The topics in the first round are nice and easy: measures of weight, types of rock, types of potatoes.


When I go to the store, I choose between small round red potatoes known as “red potatoes” or large, longer brown potatoes known simply as “potatoes.” Here in Britain, though, they apparently browse through potatoes as though they were apples. I know there are a million and a half different names for apples, mostly from going to the farmer’s market. However, every small child learns that Red Delicious are red, though not delicious. And Granny Smiths are green, though when I was a child, I never knew anyone who ate them.

On the game show Pointless for the first round, contestants get a multiple choice list to work from. There are sixteen answers. Some of the answers are wrong, thrown in to mess people up. There are 10 contestants. Each person chooses a potato from the list, hoping that it is so uncommonly known so as to produce a low score.

The list came up, and no words I knew associated with potatoes was on the list. No “red” nor “Idaho” nor even “baking” was on the list. I was out of the game. However, every single person said, “Well, I see at least three I know for sure are potatoes, but they are so popular … I’’ll have to say _______.” And there would be a flurry of activity around names such as King Edward, Charlotte, and Maris Piper.

What? Every single contestant.

I thought this was some kind of miracle, until I read Bill Bryson’s Notes From a Small Island. In it, he chronicled his trip around England, Wales, and Scotland — his farewell tour before moving back to the United States. He mentions renting a car, and then getting lost. He stops to turn around in the car park of the Potato Marketing Board. The building is four stories tall and employs a few hundred people.

Ah hah! I all but yelled in triumph: The Potato Marketing Board! I now understand why every single contestant on Pointless could name a Maris Piper at the age of three.

I have since learned that the Potato Marketing Board is now called the Potato Council, which sounds all the more likely to mount a “Name That Potato” Campaign in earnest. Watch out Désirée, here comes British Queen!