Friday, 27 April 2018

University Challenge 2018 - The Grand Final. Merton, Oxford v. St. John's, Cambridge

Here we are, then, dearly beloved, the Grand Final. With the benefit of hindsight it seems that both of these teams have been on a collision course ever since at least the end of the second round. Now, I’ve never quite come out and said who I thought would win, but I must admit that I’d had a partiality for the Merton team. St. John’s, though, were so impressive in their semi, that I found last week that I just could not tip them to lose, and so ended up cravenly refusing to call it. Well, that was how I genuinely felt, I couldn’t predict how this one was most likely to go. Hoping to tip the balance in St. John’s favour were John-Clark Levin, Rosie McKeown, Matt Hazell and captain James Devine-Stoneman. Determined to take the trophy back to Oxford for Merton were Edward Thomas, Alexander Peplow, Akira Wiberg, and captain Leonie Woodland.

First blood to Merton, and Alex Peplow, who was the first to recognise a quote from Lord Reith about sponsored broadcasting.  3 bonuses on the ineffable followed – I was pleased to get The Great Gatsby – and Merton, who missed that one took the other two. Leonie Woodland recognised that the dill is the aromatic herb contained within the names of several items to which we were given clues for the next starter. The shipping forecast proved fairly fruitful as well, providing another 10 points. Skipper Woodland also took a great early buzz for the next starter, which was winding its weary way through definitions of statics and statistics. Bonuses on multiple choices and probability did nowt for me, but brought 5 points to Merton. For the picture starter we saw a word cloud based on frequency of use of terms from a major work on critical theory translated from French. “Foucault” said Rosie McKeown, and I must admit that a word not a million miles removed from that was passing through my mind at the same time. I realised, though, that unlike me she was answering, rather than expressing frustration. Answering correctly too, to get St. John’s moving. Three more word clouds did nothing for any of us. Thus, at the 10 minute mark Merton had outscored the Cambridge team by 3 starters to 1, and led 55 – 10.

A terrific early buzz from John-Clark Levin identified the US political movement Black Lives Matter. Sociology bonuses again proved to be a step too far for any of us. At last, with the mention of a concept from Hans Holbein’s woodcuts, did I manage to get a starter before either of the teams. Leonie Woodland came in too early and lost 5, allowing Rosie McKeown to supply the correct answer of Danse Macabre. Anna Komnene, also known in LAM towers as Anna Who? promised but little, but provided us both with 2 bonuses. The gap was now down to a single starter. For the music starter, Alex Peplow immediately recognised Wagner, and buzzed. He hesitated, though, and then supplied the wrong Wagner, opting for Lohengrin. St. John’s couldn’t capitalise, and the Mastersingers of Nuremburg went begging. Akira Wiberg, obviously wanting to get his team on the front foot again, came in too early on the next starter, about particles and JJ Thompson, and zigged with electron, thus losing 5. This allowed St. John’s the whole question, allowing Rosie McKeown to zag with corpuscles. I wouldn’t say that I thought that this was a turning point while I was watching, although watching it again, with hindsight it may well appear so. However I did feel that Merton seemed a little rattled in a way that I had never seen them in any previous contest. The music bonuses were pieces conducted by – I didn’t quite catch the name, but it sounded like Madge Allsopp, who was also Dame Edna’s bridesmaid, I believe – and they provided but the one bonus. I considered having a lap of honour for knowing that Rule Britannia comes from Alfred, but lethargy won out and I stayed put. Now, based on what has happened throughout the series so far, as soon as JP said “In Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress. . . “ I thought – this one’s for Rosie McKeown again - and I wasn’t wrong. Spectroscopy was never going to provide me with any bonuses, but St. John’s took one, and they led now with 70 to 45. Alex Peplow, usually so reliable, missed out on the next starter which I am sure he did know the answer to. Basically, the question asked which king Hubert Walter served after having served his predecessor on the Third Crusade. He gave us the predecessor, Richard I, not the king required. Rosie McKeown, with a free shot at goal went for the one who came after the correct answer, with Henry III rather than John. Seemingly kicking himself, Alex Peplow came in too early for the next starter. “God is something than which nothing greater can be conceived” began JP. Alex Peplow buzzed in immediately with the person who said it, “St. Anselm”. As JP began to say “No, I’m afraid” he amplified his answer with “the ontological argument”, which was actually the answer required. JP ignored this, as well he should and docked Merton 5. However, Alex Peplow had also given the correct answer after the No – and I’ve seen occasions where the question would be struck out at this point and another starter begun, but I’ve also seen times it hasn’t been. This time it wasn’t, allowing a smiling Rosie McKeown to answer – the ontological argument. This earned a set on organic chemistry, and I’m very sorry, but dredging up the word ketones from previous editions of UC more than entitled me to my lap of honour around the living room. A full house meant that this set of questions took St. John’s score to more than double that of Merton’s. A superb answer from Akira Wiberg saw him give Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as the three contiguous EU countries with a high point less than 400m. The 4 great classical novels of Chinese Literature provided Merton with 2 bonuses, and at the 20 minute mark the score stood at 95 to 60. Either team could still win, but Merton were going to have to find their form on the starters to have a chance.

Asked for an American artist for the picture starter I don’t blame Akira Wiberg for having a punt with Singer Sargent, but it was one of those nights when a lot of Merton’s punts were not on target. James Devine-Stoneman recognised the work of Mary Cassatt. Three 20th century artists’ work provided two bonuses, which was two more than I managed. The shoe was on the other foot as John-Clark Levin came in way too early on a Nobel Prize question, allowing Akira Wiberg to slot the ball into the open goal with Lisa Meitner. Willa Cather provided two bonuses, and narrowed the gap to 30. Still time enough for Merton. Now, any question which has the words ‘poet’ and ‘asylum’ is meat and drink to Rosie McKeown, and she and I both said John Clare at the same time. Linguistic terms beginning with the same two letters allowed me to dredge up the term ablaut from my days of studying old English – ironically I remember the same example – sing – sang – sung being used. Memories of the latin ablative absolute gave me my only full house of the night, while St. John’s marched serenely on with two. Another literature starter beckoned with “In Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man . . . “ and another correct early buzz for the magnificent Rosie McKeown, very much the star of this contest. Maths bonuses usually do nothing for me, but I did get Fermat’s Last Theorem. Two bonuses gave St. John’s a 65 point lead, and effectively, the win. Matt Hazell, asked for one of the two SI units whose names come from latin words for light, zigged with Lux, which is also a soap (or was) allowing Leonie Woodland to zag with Lumen. Boutros Boutros Ghali (so good they named him twice) gave Merton the points they needed to take them to triple figures. Very surprisingly nobody on either team could dredge up the name of Desmond Morris for the next starter. And that was it. The gong ended a surprisingly low scoring, yet very intense final. St. John’s emerged clear and worthy winners with 145 to 100.

Very bad luck Merton. They and St. John’s had certainly looked the most likely finalists throughout the series. Sometimes you have one of those nights when it just doesn’t quite go your way, and there’s little you can do other than take it on the chin. Many, many congratulations though to St. John’s, very worthy winners of the series. And I must admit, it was nice to see a fellow London Borough of Ealing man collect the trophy from Judith Weir – the St. John’s skipper is from Southall, which is right next door to Hanwell, my own particular corner of the borough.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Nothing really to say here. Jez is usually on his very best behaviour for a final, and this was no different, and I’m glad that he paid tribute to Merton’s achievements during the series at the end, as well as St. John’s.

Interesting Fact That I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week.

It was the USA that successfully blocked Boutros Boutros Ghali’s bid for a second term of office.

Friday, 20 April 2018

University Challenge: Semi Final Two: Merton, Oxford v. Newcastle

Merton, Oxford v. Newcastle

We’re almost there, dearly beloved. St. John’s, Cambridge have already claimed one spot in the semi final after a majestic performance against Edinburgh. In my preview a couple of weeks ago I said, “Although I think Merton are the stronger of the two teams, and although I believe Merton should win, a Newcastle win would not be, to my mind, such an upset as an Edinburgh win against St. John’s.” Actually, following the St. John’s performance last week, that just made Newcastle look even stronger. However Merton have really been the form horses all season. Looking to extend this run were Edward Thomas, Alexander Peplow, Akira Wiberg and captain Leonie Woodland. Looking to set up the chance of a return against St. John’s for Newcastle were Jack Reynard , Molly Nielsen, Adam Lowery and skipper Jonathan Noble.

Great buzzer work from Alex Peplow took the first starter, as he came in very early to identify Figaro as the character in “The Guilty Mother”. Also Gepetto’s cat in the original Disney Pinocchio. Archaeology and poetry – I’ve heard of stranger pairings – provided us both with 2 correct bonuses. Now, I had actually heard of the Great Dinosaur Rush for the next starter, but neither team could get it, although Jack Reynard won a prized Paxman chuckle for his suggestion of the Big Bone Bash. Now, I loved Alan Moore’s graphic novel “Watchmen” when it first came out, so I had Ozymandias from Adrian Veidt, and the addition of Rameses II to the question allowed another sharp buzz from Alex Peplow. Nobel prizes for Physics were just too easy for Merton, who dispatched a full house to the boundary without even needing to confer. Being 45 points behind didn’t seem to faze Newcastle though, as their inspirational skipper Jonathan Noble came in very quickly with the correct answer, dihedral,  to the Maths starter which followed. Right, their bonuses were on Harriet Martineau. Totally off the point, I stayed in Harriet Martineau’s former house in Tynemouth, Tyne and Wear a couple of times in the 80s, since it was then the home of my best friend from University, who sadly passed away a few years ago. Newcastle, in turn managed two bonuses. This brought us the picture starter. It showed us emblems of universities attended by a US president along with the subjects they studied. Akira Wiberg opened his starter account, recognising that these were once graced with the presence of Donald T. Rump. Three more sets of presidents to identify from University and subject studied brought two bonuses. I thought Alex Peplow rather unlucky not to be allowed his Church Visiting for Church Going by Philip Larkin. The question only asked for the activity, not the title. Well, neither team had that, and so at the ten minute mark Merton had a useful lead of 65 – 20.

Nobody knew an analogy comparing software developments to the cathedral and the bazaar. How bazaar, how bazaar. Skipper Noble took another flyer with the next starter, but sadly lost five. Given the whole question Akira Wiberg gratefully supplied the French astronomer Laplace.  Mountains and Monarchs provided a nice UC special set, even if the connection between mountains and monarchs was tenuous at best. The questions required a lot of legwork from Merton, and they didn’t manage any points from the set. Both teams rather sat on their buzzers for the History starter which followed. Even when Alex Peplow answered that it was Owen Tudor that Catherine of Valois married, who would be the grandfather of Henry VII, he sounded very uncertain. He was right, though. Moons of Jupiter provided much more fertile ground for Merton, and another full house meant that the gap between the teams was beginning to look ominous for Newcastle. Now, I’ve no idea what Grignard reagents are (although I have a suspicion that they may have had a minor hit in the 80s with ‘Baby I Want Your Love Thing), but Akira Wiberg came in early and lost 5 with them for the next starter, a very rare occurrence in his case. It was a chemistry question, the answer was hydrogen, Jack Reynard had it, and that’s all I can say about that starter. Bonuses on the Guano Islands Act did not seem particularly fertile ground (you see what I did there?) but Newcastle took a very useful full house. So to the music starter. Now, back in the late 70s and early 80s, when I started watching UC, if you were ever asked for a British Composer, about 30% of the time the answer was Vaughan Williams, and about 60% of the time it was Benjamin Britten, so I would always answer Benjamin Britten, and be right more often than I was wrong. I didn’t answer Britten this time, but Molly Nielsen did, and she was right to do so. A great full house followed. Incidentally, the last piece was from Katchaturian’s “Spartacus”. If, like me, that particular piece conjures up an image of a sailing ship in full sail, then I’m sorry, but you know you’re old. If it doesn’t, then ask your parents. Or failing that, your grandparents. On a roll for the first time during the contest, Newcastle, in the shape of skipper Noble, took another early starter, recognising former kingdoms of Madagascar. Words with the same spelling, although different meanings, in English and Spanish provided a good set, and Newcastle’s correct answer put them just 10 points behind Merton. Molly Nielsen had a rush of blood to the head and came in just too early for the next starter. This allowed Akira Wiberg to supply the correct answer of Arvo Part. Figures mentioned in the REM song “The End Of The World As We Know It” provided a full house. This meant that the gap stood at 110 to 75. Newcastle had come back strongly, as they had against St. John’s, and at the moment, while you sensed that Merton had the whip hand, it really was either team’s game to win.

Now, I knew that bacteria get their name from the Greek for rod, and the dinoasaur – Camptosaurus (the first so called ‘duck billed dinosaur’) had a name which means ‘bent lizard’. So asked what gets its name from the Greek for curved rod I tried campylobacter. Correct, neither team had it, and I was off on my lap of honour. Again, Molly Nielsen recognised that she knew the answer when asked who was “furnished and burnished by Aldershot –“ and buzzed very early, to find, to her chagrin, that the answer refused to leap from the tip of her tongue. Hard lines. Merton didn’t have a Scooby about Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, and so we moved on. Akira Wiberg knew that the former Indian capital, Agra, appears in a variety of different words, the definitions of which we were given. Apia, the capital of Samoa, and 2 correct answers stretched the gap to 60. I was pleased with myself for recognising the work of Courbet (Ronnie or Harry?) for the picture starter, and Molly Nielsen, so good on the music set, was first in for this one a swell. 3 later exponents of the Realist tradition brought a full house and kept Newcastle in the match. Akira Wiberg, very much on song in this later part of the contest, knew a bunch of academics and writers called Bloom. A full set on body cells took the gap back out to 60. Leonie Woodland came in with the term ‘crepuscular’ referring to periods of twilight for the next starter. It was at this point that I feel the game really slipped away from Newcastle. They needed to get to the buzzer first for that starter. Arthur Waley – no jokes about ‘Minder’ here please – provided two more bonuses which stretched the lead to 80. Even three full houses would not be enough for Newcastle, and now surely there wasn’t enough time left. Not that Molly Nielsen was conceding defeat. She had a great early buzz to identify Perth as the state capital whose first 4 letters occur in a series of given words. Corazon Aquino of the Philippines saw Newcastle take two bonuses, but miss out on the name of my favourite Cardinal of all time, Cardinal Sin of the Philippines. Making absolutely certain of victory, Leonie Woodland came in very early to identify Gold as the only element other than Europium whose symbol comprises of two vowels. The Merton skipper never seems to miss out on Physics questions, and she didn’t need to confer while taking a full house in double quick time. Incidentally, my remembering Avogadro’s Constant demanded the rarely performed Clark second lap of honour. Throwing caution to the wind, as soon as he heard the word ‘equus’ in the next starter, Jonathan Noble answered horses, which allowed Akira Wiberg to supply the correct answer of zebras to the full question. Colonial battles in which European powers were defeated gave Merton a triple figure lead. That was it, and we were gonged before either team could answer that the Japanese word kara means open. Merton won by 215 – 110.

In the end, Merton had just too much buzzing for Newcastle, who can take heart from the fact that, for more than 20 minutes they were slugging it out with them. As for the final – ho boy. How do you call this one? I have liked Merton as a team ever since their first match. However, St. John’s were SO good in their semi final that I am loath to predict their defeat. When you get right down to it, I just can’t call it. What I will say is that the Grand Final has every good chance of being one of the best contests we’ve seen for years.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Why does he have to do this? In the Spiegel in Spiegel question Akira Wiberg gave is the correct answer Arvo Part. Yes- replied Jez – Arvo PEHRT. Oh get over yourself, for heaven’s sake.

When Molly Nielsen made her second early buzz without answering, he seemed most downhearted at having to penalise her , and actually said “I apologise”. You don’t need to apologise for just applying the rules, Jez – just don’t rub it in either.

It was interesting to note that while the Cambridge man congratulated Merton of Oxford, he didn’t launch into similar paeans of praise to those he gave to St. John’s last week.

Interesting Fact That I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week

Figaro featured in the trilogy of three plays, the least well known of which is “The Guilty Mother”

Monday, 9 April 2018

University Challenge: Semi Final One - St. John's Cambridge v. Edinburgh

St. John’s, Cambridge v. Edinburgh

Right, allow me to begin by quoting my own preview of this match which I posted last weekend: -

let’s be blunt, and say that it would be a major upset if Edinburgh were to defeat St. John’s. Edinburgh are doughty fighters, and they have a fine quizzer in the shape of their captain Innes Carson. But I just don’t see that they have fast enough buzzing to do well enough on the starters to beat St. John’s.

Doubtless John-Clark Levin, Rosie McKeown,  Matt Hazell and their captain James Devine-Stoneman of St. John’s were determined on making this prophecy come true, while John Heaton-Armstrong, Stanley Wang, Philippa Stone and skipper Innes Carson of Edinburgh were going to do their utmost to put it to the lie.

I don’t know if it was nerves but both teams rather slept on their buzzers for the first starter. – Who sailed on the Antelope – is just one of those chestnuts which would see a regular, serious quizzer slinging some buzzer. However it wasn’t until JP announced that one of the places he visited was Glubbdubbdrib that Rosie McKeown buzzed in to take the points. It was the start of another excellent evening for her. Literary works that S.T.Coleridge thought contained the three most perfect plots – let’s face it, he was maybe whacked off his moobs on laudanum when he made that observation – provided St. John’s with a full house. If you knew that Ferdinand Foch was the supreme French general by the latter stages of World War One, then you knew that his quote for the next starter had to be referring to the Treaty of Versailles. John-Clark Levin won the buzzer race on that one. Swiss Mathematicians held out scant opportunity for an early lap of honour, and indeed yielded none for me. Somewhat more surprisingly they only yielded one correct answer to St. John’s. The next starter was one of those which repaid patience, as it became obvious when we were told that the astronomical term required was also the word for what links clauses in grammar. John-Clark Levin took his second consecutive starter on that one. A wonderfully incongruous set of bonuses asked for countries which rank high amongst the world’s pineapple producing countries, based on their national football team’s performance in the 2014 World Cup. St. John’s produced their second full house of the night, even though the sneaky second of the set asked for a country that didn’t even qualify for the finals. Put yourself in Edinburgh’s position, folks. You know it ain’t your night when the opposition are scoring full houses on sets like that. An impression which must have been reinforced when Rosie McKeown took the picture starter. This involved identifying both the Korean language, and the script in which it was written, Hangul. I won’t say that I stood up and clapped the telly for that one, but I did think that this was impressive knowledge. I knew it was Korean, but somehow Hangul has managed to elude me for the last 53 years and 10 months. Other languages and scripts brought an impressive two more correct answers. Right, be honest, how many of you missed out on old Church Slavonic? For the next starter, Matt Hazell was first to join the dots, and work out that a quote from former slave Frederick Douglass about a national celebration was going to be about July 4th. Moral philosophers escaped both of us. Even so, St. John’s led by 95 – 0 just after the 10 minute mark, and you feared that JP was about to send that kiss of death, a “plenty of time to get going, Edinburgh” flying in their direction.

None of us were conversant enough with the Stefan-Boltzman Law to answer the next starter. Innes Carson broke his team’s duck, knowing that don Alfonso is a character in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte. English words whose 2nd, 3rd and 4th letters are URM caused some amusement when the skipper, clutching at straws, cheekily suggested that an avaricious, ill tempered, churlish person was Burmese, rather than the correct answer of curmudgeon. Still, the one bonus they did manage was much needed. This seemed to galvanise his team a little, as John Heaton-Armstrong had a great early buzz to identify a text written in reconstructed proto Indo European.This earned a UC special set on astronomy. Basically each question gave an answer, which would be a clue to the name of a constellation – gem for Gemini, for example. Two bonuses kept their score ticking over. So to the music starter. At first I thought it was Peter Ustinov’s creation Liselotte Beethoven-Fink singing about das heilbutt, but no. It was James Devine-Stoneman who identified the work of Schoenberg. Pupils of Schoenberg saw St. John’s add another full house, which must have dampened Edinburgh’s spirits at this point. None of us knew that in the medical term NGF, the N stands for Nerve. Fair enough. Stevie Smith’s quote, “She has written an enormous book about women and it is soon clear that she doesn’t like them “ suggested a few authors, and as soon as JP mentioned the name Simone de Beauvoir it was obvious that we were dealing with The Second Sex. Innes Carson won that buzzer race. Poets name checked in “Northanger Abbey” brought a single bonus. For the next starter Rosie McKeown knew that if you’re asked a question which mentions a series of paintings by Whistler, you buzz and answer Nocturne and you’ll be right more often than you’re wrong. Lord William Bentinck brought just the one correct answer. Stanley Wang fell foul of the next starter which was one of those where you needed to wait for the moment it became obvious, and lost five of his team’s hard earned points. He’d been asked for a King of Spain married 4 times, and as soon as Mary I of England was given among the list of his wives, that allowed Rosie McKeown to give us Philip II. A UC special set on pairs of words in which the last three of the first were the first three of the second – eg. ginger and geriatric – certainly made it look like she had all three of the bonuses as well. At the 20 minute mark, despite Edinburgh’s fight back, St. John’s led by 160 – 45, and frankly, it seemed that the only question remaining to be answered was how many points the Cambridge side were going to win by.

So to the second picture starter. I recognised Gertrude Stein at the same time as the excellent Rosie McKeown buzzed in with the answer. Regular visitors to Gertrude Stein’s salon (did she do hairdressing as well, then?) gave us both a full house. I’m not familiar with the work of Daniel Dennett, but John-Clark Levin dredged him up for the next starter. Geometry and the work of Gaudi provided the subject of the bonuses. Another full house took St. John’s through the 200 mark. A fine quick buzz from Philippa Stone identified Cumbria/Cumberland as the ceremonial county taking its name from the Welsh word for Wales – Cymru. At long last I got to take a lap of honour, knowing that Auguste Picard was first to reach the stratosphere in a balloon.  Edinburgh managed one of the set on him. James Devine-Stoneman came in very early to identify various flavours of arsenic, and his team took one of a gettable set of bonuses on Kings of Scotland. With the bit now between his team the St. John’s skipper took a second consecutive early starter, knowing that ceci n’est pas une pipe is what’s written at the bottom of a famous Magritte painting. Artistic works connected with the word light gave me a full house, and St. John’s 2. The John Bates Clark (no relation) medal was a new one on me, but John-Clark Levin came in early to say it is awarded for economics. By this stage Edinburgh must have felt like they were being continually beaten over the head with a blunt instrument. Bonuses on chemical compounds brought just one bonus, which incidentally gave the Cambridge team a lead of 200 points. The St. John’s skipper added to that when he came in early to say that two of the elements which were 7,8 and 9 on the Mohs scale were quartz and corundum. That was it, since the gong was bonged halfway through the first bonus.

Hard lines Edinburgh, but you were beaten by a better team. Indeed, I dare say that to me, this was St. John’s best performance, and if they reproduce this in the final, then they are going to be extremely hard to beat. In all honesty I thought that was a fantastic performance.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

On the Gaudi bonuses, JP did that annoying thing he does , correcting the contestants’ pronunciation. When James Deinve-Stoneman correctly answered with the term catenARY, JP replied “Yes. The catEnary. . . “ Get over yourself, Jez.

In his final words to both teams, he told Edinburgh “all the viewers know that you’re capable of doing much better than that.” Yes, we've seen them do better, but that’s a bit of backhanded compliment, serving as it does to say – but you didn’t do very well tonight, did you? Bit harsh that.

On the other hand he said to St. John’s “You were well balanced, your were fast, you were great.” Well, that’s all true. However, when have we ever seen Jez gush like this? Heaven alone knows how this Cambridge man will react if they won the final – which would come as no surprise after this performance. A lap of honour around the studio, perhaps? Watch this space.

Interesting Fact That I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week

Jazz great Dave Brubeck was a pupil of Schoenberg

Friday, 6 April 2018

University Challenge: Semi Final Previews

Right, just for the fun of it, let’s have a look at the form book for the semis: -  

R1 for
R1 against
R2 for
R2 A
QFs For
QFs Against
Average F
Average Against
St. John’s, Cambridge
Merton, Oxford

.First of all, congratulations to all of the teams who made it this far. I felt, and still feel, that there were too many mismatches in round one, but by the time we got to the quarters, on paper there were no easy matches left.  

In the table above, I put the teams in rank order of my gut feeling of how well the teams have done before I put the figures in, highest weakest, lowest strongest. The figures dseem to bear out my feelings. Quite rightly in my opinion, the two unbeaten teams, Merton and St. John’s, have been kept apart in the semis. St. John’s will play Edinburgh, and Merton will play Newcastle. Let’s have a look at these matches: -  

St. John’s v. Edinburgh 

In a two horse race, either team can win. Let’s acknowledge that before we start. Then let’s be blunt, and say that it would be a major upset if Edinburgh were to defeat St. John’s. Edinburgh are doughty fighters, and they have a fine quizzer in the shape of their captain Innes Carson. But I just don’t see that they have fast enough buzzing to do well enough on the starters to beat St. John’s. As for St. John’s, well, they carried all before them in their first three matches. Their quarter final match against Newcastle was interesting though. Things were very even to the 10 minute mark, then they had by far the better of things for the next ten minutes. It looked like it was going to be another easy win until Newcastle came back strongly. There are two things to note about that. It is possible to beat St. John’s to the buzzer, however they have nerve and resilience in a tight game too. So even though Edinburgh had their best match against Bristol to qualify for the semis, I think St. John’s will be too strong for them.  

Merton v. Newcastle 

This one is rather more intriguing. Merton are many people’s favourites to win the series, and there are good reasons for this. They have two of the top buzzers of the series in Alex Peplow and Akira Wiberg, and captain Leonie Woodland is certainly no slouch either. They haven’t had a close match yet. However, it does beg the question, have they ever played opposition like Newcastle yet? Newcastle went toe to toe with the excellent St. John’s team, and took it right to the wire. Newcastle also have some fine buzzers. Although I think Merton are the stronger of the two teams, and although I believe Merton should win, a Newcastle win would not be, to my mind, such an upset as an Edinburgh win against St. John’s.

University Challenge: Quarter Final Elimination Match - Newcastle v. Fitzwilliam, Cambridge

Newcastle v. Fitzwilliam, Cambridge

Here we are then, dearly beloved, the last instalment of what has been a very enjoyable set of quarter finals. Newcastle, represented by Jack Reynard, Mollie Nielsen, Adam Lowery and captain Jonathan Noble beat Bristol in their first quarter match, but lost out to St. John’s Cambridge in their second. Opponents Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, in the shape of Theo Tindall, Theo Howe, Jack Maloney and captain Hugh Oxlade fell to the might of Merton in their first quarter, but came back to beat Emmanuel, Cambridge to set up this match.

First indications of how the tie might go were given when skipper Jonathan Noble won the buzzer race to recognise that the terms ‘fade’ and ‘bunker’ – answers to the first two clues in the question, related to the game of golf. They took two out of three bonuses on conveyances. I didn’t get palanquin either. Neither team really covered themselves in glory with the next starter. It asked for a European capital, and was one of those where you had to wait for it to become clear. Theo Tindall didn’t wait, and lost five. Newcastle might well have guessed Warsaw from King Stanislaus, but zagged with Berlin instead. Force, friction, heating and bulge may all be preceded by the word tidal. None of us knew that. For the next one we had a quote about Orwell. Then the question asked “which other English novelist . . . “ – which led both Jack Reynard and me to think that the other one who often gets paired with Orwell is Aldous Huxley. We were both right, earning the always valued Paxman ‘well done’ for doing so. Descriptions of Tory Prime ministers from the website provided a gettable set of bonuses, which earned Newcastle their first full house of the contest. I don’t think that Jonathan Noble quite heard the part of the next question which asked for the given name of a sister of Lazarus in the gospels, as he buzzed early to answer Daniel. Granted, that might have been Martha or Mary, but the clincher was that the same name belonged to two of the first three first ladies of the USA. Theo Tindall tapped that one into the open goal with Martha. That put them 5 points to the good, and bonuses on curves in Mathematics added a further 10. I toyed with taking off on a lap of honour for knowing that Descartes’ birth fitted the last question, but inertia won. For the picture starter we saw a section of an electrocardiograph trace. Asked for the specific term for the highlighted section Mollie Nielsen supplied the correct answer. More questions about specific SCG traces provided one bonus. I answered tachycardia to each, and thus earned myself a bonus  on the third. That was enough to set me off on the lap of honour. It was also enough to ensure that Newcastle had a healthy lead of 55 – 15 just a little shy of the 10 minute mark.

None of us knew Karl Popper, inventor of the snap fastener, for the next starter. Jonathan Noble guessed, as did I, that the next question referred to the UC – Canada border, and zigged correctly with 49th Parallel. Battles described in poetry furnished Newcastle with a further ten points. Jack Maloney knew that if you multiplied the number of sides on a teradecagon (14) by the number of sides on an undecagon (11) you get 154. Quick buzz, and much needed by his team at this stage. A lovely UC special set, pairs of place names in which the final part of the first is the start of the second – ClitheROE and ROE Hampton being the given example – followed, and provided Fitzwilliam with a full house. I was very pleased with myself for coming up with the anatomical term vestigial for the next starter, especially when Molly Nielsen did the same, and JP confirmed we were both right. Bonuses on Passing provided nowt for Newcastle. So to the music starter. A brief snatch of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring was enough for both me and Jonathan Noble to identify the work of JS Bach. Other recordings made by Dame Myra Hess provided a further ten points and took Newcastle into triple figures. Molly Nielsen correctly guessed that La Parisienne was by Renoir. Fossils provided a single bonus, but to an extent that didn’t really matter. Every time that Newcastle returned to the table, Fitzwilliam’s chances were growing slimmer. Molly Nielsen came in too early for the next question about Albert Schweitzer. He may well have also established a hospital in Hungary, but is better known surely for doing so in Gabon, which was Jack Maloney’s answer. I was out with the washing on Chinese Emperors, but Fitzwilliam managed the first. A little short of the 20 minute mark, Newcastle now led 110 – 55. That’s actually a gap which can be bridged in a few minutes, but nothing so far within the match had suggested that this was at all likely to happen.

Jonathan Noble knew that Young challenged Newton’s view that light was a stream of corpuscles. Fair enough. 3 bonuses on slate brought 2 correct answers, although no points for not knowing the rather wonderful Ffestiniog Railway line in North Wales. The second picture starter announced an actor, and showed us John Wilkes Booth. (Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?)Hugh Oxlade won the buzzer race to identify him. 3 more political assassins who subsequently died at the hands of the state gave Fitzwilliam a further 10 points. Interestingly John Bellingham was one of them, while the man he assassinated, Spencer Percival, had been the answer to one of the Tory PM bonuses earlier. Theo Howe seemed most surprised when his answer of Tantalus as the brother of Thyestes was wrong – sorry, but it was. This allowed Jonathan Noble, who had led his side from the front all evening, to correctly identify Atreus. Women born in the 1870s and 1880s gave them the two bonuses they needed to reach 150. The Newcastle skipper won the buzzer race for the next starter as well, knowing that the white boar was the personal emblem of Richard III. A UC special set followed on words which begin and end with the same three letters, for example HOTsHOT. 2 bonuses gave Newcastle a lead of 100, and there was not time for the 4 full sets that Fitzwilliam would now need to bridge that gap. Molly Nielsen knew that macrolides are antibiotics which brought up a set on poetry. Both of us only managed the one. None of us knew the term minimal pairs from linguistics. Jack Maloney came in too early for the next starter, allowing Adam Lowery to work out that if it’s a spice made from a dried bud, it’s probably cloves. Bonuses on Pascal’s Triangle brought a further 10 points to Newcastle. That was it, as the next starter was gonged halfway through.

Newcastle won convincingly by 205 – 65, against a Fitzwilliam team who have been better in this series than their score in this match suggests. Sometimes teams just seem to run out of steam, and that was what happened to them, I think. Another very good performance from Newcastle. By my reckoning they’re underdogs for the series, but hey, what do I know? Best of luck in the semis.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Rather tetchily, I thought, JP greeted Mollie Nielsen’s correct answer to the picture starter with , “Thank Heavens for that! You’re going to be a doctor, aren’t you?” Look, Jez, it’s not her fault that she was asked a question which related specifically to her own field of study.

For the placenames bonuses, when Hugh Oxlade gave the correct answer – EccLES and LESbos, he made a wry observation “Rarely run together, I think”.

Interesting Fact That I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week
The 49th Parallel was nicknamed the Medicine Line by indigenous peoples because of its miraculous ability to halt troops from the USA

Friday, 30 March 2018

Mastermind 2018: The Grand Final

Well, I’ve had a lovely day, dearly beloved. Last week I was teed off that we didn’t have Mastermind to watch, but anticipation only serves to heighten pleasure, I suppose. First day of the Easter Holidays, and I spent the morning out with daughters two and three, and my granddaughter. Lovely, and made all the better through having this grand final to look forward to.

And so to Mastermind. If you read my preview you’ll hopefully recall that I tipped Brian Chesney and Alfred Williams as the ones to watch, with Michael Taylor, going for a rare UC Mastermind double, looking like a good dark horse. Michael was first up. Now, if, like me, you are an avid follower of the annual filmed insert trip lottery, you’ll have noticed that Michael stayed in the UK, with a trip to the Royal and Ancient in St. Andrews. Theoretically they could have taken him to the Augusta National in the USA, but fair enough. Hey, my family originally came from Dundee, not so very far from St. Andrews, so you’ll hear no complaints from me about it. To be fair, he did get to handle the Claret Jug too. Answering on Major Championship golf from 1997 to now, Michael came close to perfection, dropping just the one answer on his way to 14. Game on.

Second up, Brian Chesney. Answering on the Revolt in the Netherlands 1568-1609, a visit to Amsterdam gave Brian a shout at the Most Picturesque Filmed Insert, although not the one needing the most air miles. Brian made no secret of the fact that he was runner up on passes in 2014 to our own Clive Dunning, and had every intention of going one better this time out. You know, I’ll be honest, I wish they wouldn’t ask contenders how well they think they’re going to do, or how much they want to win. I always thought it was tempting fate. When they asked me in my own filmed insert 10 years ago what I thought my chances were I made a point of saying 1 in 6 – it all depended on the questions – which is as true now as it was then. Not that the questions on Brian’s specialist gave him many problems. He scored 13, just missing out on a couple, but with 2 and a half minutes of general knowledge to come, he’ll have been quite content to be so close to the lead, I’m sure.

Kyle Nagendra got a serious shot at the most air miles for his filmed insert as he was flown out to Pittsburgh PA, where much of the location shooting for The Silence of the Lambs was carried out. Looking at the formbook based on first round and semi final performances I had the feeling that Kyle was something of an outsider for this final. Nobody seemed to have told him that, though, as he calmly and competently set about assembling a highly competitive 13 on the Hannibal Lecter novels. Did I see this as a platform for a potential win? Well, it would require a remarkable round on GK.

Ben Holmes was offering us possibly the most unusual of the specialist subjects in the shape of US Constitutional Amendments. In terms of the filmed insert lottery, that’s a rather good choice, pretty much guaranteeing a trip to the US as it does. Washington DC gave him very respectable air miles, and DC is somewhat more picturesque than Pittsburgh. Again, getting the contenders to nail their colours to the mast about their chances seems to have been high on the agenda, as Ben declared his intention to win. Well, fair point. You have to think you’re going to win, so that you prepare as if you think you’re going to win, to give you the best chance of actually doing it. This is just my opinion, and by all means feel free to disagree, but I do think that a rather left field subject does have a high risk-reward ratio. You do risk the fact that they will drag up some esoteric fact you just never encountered, and sadly this happened a couple of times to Ben. Don’t get me wrong, his 11 was a good round. But you don’t want to be 3 points behind the leader going into GK in a Mastermind final.

Hands down winner of the most air miles for the filmed insert lottery was Ken Morland, whose visit to Kolkata trumped Kyle’s visit to Pittsburgh by several hundred miles. I did speculate that Ken seemed very shocked when he won his semi final, and he was quick to bear this out. Ken it seemed followed my ‘1 in 6 chance’ line when asked about his chances. Answering on Indian Premier League Cricket, he too played as if he believed he could win, whacking in a highly competitive 13 of his own. It’s a credit to all of the finalists that their scores were so similar, proving how seriously each contender was taking it, and how carefully they had prepared.

Which brings us to Alfred Williams, our final contender. Alfred didn’t seem to even quite get into Scotland, travelling to Hadrian’s Wall, being as that was his subject. To be fair, he looked absolutely delighted to be there, and I must admit, it’s a matter of some shame to myself that I’ve never visited the wall myself. Yet. Now both of Alfred’s previous specialist rounds had been stand out rounds, so I expected some fireworks. Well, we didn’t quite get a perfect round, no , but even a couple of wrong uns didn’t stop Alfred taking the joint lead with 14.

With the current format, come the Grand Final you get 2 minutes on specialist, and two and a half minutes on GK. Last year the final was settled by a great GK performance, and for any contender to head the field, the same was going to need to happen this year as well.

First back was Ben Holmes. Now, Ben’s GK aggregate from the series so far was as good as Brian’s, and only Alfred had a higher aggregate. I don’t know if he was affected by lying in 6th place at the halfway stage – despite, as I said, having had a good round – but he did look concerned throughout the round, and it was a battling rather than free flowing performance he managed. 11 is a perfectly respectable score, but sadly, 22 is not a winning score in a Mastermind Grand Final.

So to Brian Chesney. Last time he came this way, Brian lost the final on passes. Then he was a very close runner up in Brain of Britain. Would third time be the charm? Well, 2 and a half minutes after the start of his GK round it certainly looked that way. He had been asked 20 questions, and answered 19 of them correctly. Yes, of course I was standing up, applauding the telly. Funnily enough, the only one he got wrong – Hemingway’s ‘Death in the Afternoon’ wasn’t necessarily the hardest question in the round, but I dare say that he won’t be too bothered about that! It was a terrific round, and more importantly, it looked like a winning round. Would it be, though?

Well, Kyle Nagendra couldn’t beat it. You may recall that I’ve praised Kyle’s calm and thoughtful technique in his previous appearances, and he applied the same approach this time. For once, it didn’t quite work out, as the questions just didn’t seem to fall Kyle’s way this time. It happens. Nobody knows them all, and if you get one of ‘those’ rounds you’ve just got to do the best you can with it, and add it to your collection of threads from life’s rich tapestry. Kyle scored 8 to take him to 21. Doesn’t matter. He is, and will always be, a Mastermind finalist.

Three contenders down, and three to go, and it was Ken Morland’s go to have a tilt at the towering edifice of Brian Chesney’s total. Ken seemed to have decided on the tactic of passing quickly on what he didn’t know – and that’s a valid tactic. He eventually accrued 11 correct answers and 3 passes. This gave him a perfectly good 24, and meant that the worst that could happen would be that he’d end up 4th.

I did wonder what might have been going through Michael Taylor and the other contenders’ minds as Brian piled on his massive score. I was lucky in as much as I never had to follow a round quite like that. To be fair to Michael, though, he really gave it a lash. If you watch Michael’s round, maybe you’ll make the observation that I made, that the only thing Michael needs in order to be right up there challenging for the title, is maybe a decade on the quiz circuit. What I mean by that is that he obviously has a fantastic knowledge, but missed out on a number of those things you’d just know after 10 years or so at the quizface. If he wants to, he’ll be back. As it was, 13 for a total of 27 guaranteed him a place on the podium. It wasn’t going to be the top step, though.

Finally, then, Alfred Williams. Alfred had impressed me with both of his GK outings in the series so far. However, only having a one point advantage over Brian at half time meant that he was going to have to match Brian’s performance in order to win. Now, while it’s perfectly possible that you could have two GK rounds like that in the same show, it’s very unlikely. I’m sure it’s no consolation to Alfred, but I found his round a bit harder than I found Brian’s – but that’s all in the eye of the beholder and the ear of the behearer. They’re all easy if you know the answers. Alfred did not have many wrong, but he could hardly afford any, and with a minute to go he looked slightly off the pace. In the end he finished with 29 – a very fine score in its own right.

Commiserations to Alfred, Michael and the others, but many, many congratulations to Brian. Well done, Sir! Enjoy your status as a Mastermind Champion.

Thanks BBC, for another highly enjoyable series. I look forward to Mastermind 2019 beginning in the summer.

The Details

Michael Taylor
Major Championship Golf 1997 - Date
Brian Chesney
The Revolt in the Netherlands 1568 - 1609
Kyle Nagendra
The Hannibal Lecter Novels
Ben Holmes
US Constitutional Amendments
Ken Morland
Indian Premier League Cricket
Alfred Williams
Hadrian’s Wall

University Challenge - Elimination Match - Bristol v. Edinburgh

Bristol v. Edinburgh

To use the vernacular, dearly beloved, it was another bacchanal in the Last Chance Saloon. Who would get to stay for the lock in, and who would be ejected before last orders? Ollie Bowes, Kirsty Biggs, Dom Hewett and captain Sam Hosegood of Bristol were beaten by Newcastle last time out, while John Heaton-Armstrong, Stanley Wang, Philippa Stone and captain Innes Carson of Edinburgh lost out to the might of Merton. Most likely winners? The coin was very much in the air as far as I was concerned.

“This great island lay over against the pillars of Hercules . . . “ “Atlantis!” said I, and after a few more seconds, so did Ollie Bowes. Descriptions of deities from Virgil’s Aeneid were by no means easy, and Bristol failed to improve their score. I loved the next starter which gave several definitions of chestnut, as in old quiz chestnut, and Innes Carson won that particular buzzer race. Historical periodisation was a bit of a mouthful for the bonuses, and Edinburgh managed 1, although they had a close but no cigar answer for the year of the Great Reform Act. A fine buzz from John Heaton-Armstrong saw him identify the term Aryan from a long description – I was out with the washing with this one. Smaller and larger physical units – eg – how many millipascals to one bar – promised me but little and delivered one answer, just as it did for Edinburgh. Now, time was that the picture round would usually arrive around the ten minute mark. In recent shows it’s been a wee bit earlier. This time we saw a photo in which I recognised Einstein and what looked like Marie Curie. Innes Carson identified the conference where it was taken as being held in the 1920s, and the subject quantum physics. For the bonuses we were shown significant equations by specific participants. I answered Einstein for each and got my point for the last. Edinburgh managed their first full house of the contest. Stanley Wang came in too early for the next starter and lost 5. Bristol couldn’t capitalise either. I’ve never heard of the Kruskal trick myself. Right. You hear “Greek mythological figure” , “complex” and “Carl Jung” then you slam the buzzer through the desk and answer Electra. Innes Carson did just that. Bonuses on UNESCO World Heritage sites in China supplied one correct answer, but it still meant that Edinburgh had opened up a healthy lead of 65 – 10 by the 10 minute mark. It looked like they certainly had Bristol’s measure on the buzzer.

The next starter was an edible reddish brown seed of Castanea sativa. (A chestnut. Oh, do pay attention, Bond!) If you ask a majority of regular quizzers to link the words “test cricketer” “FA Cup finalist” “world long jump record” and “throne of Albania”, then I guarantee that a huge majority will say CB Fry, and say it very quickly, at that. Yet that particular piece of low hanging fruit went unpicked. Nobody knew the body louse for the next starter – me neither. A wonderful UC special for the next starter asked which Old Testament Prophet’s name is a reversal of the 4 letter recreational drug in Brave New World. Stanley Wang beat me to the correct answer of Amos. This earned a set of bonuses on winners of the Kate Greenaway medal. None of us had a Scooby about the first two, but I was a bit surprised that nobody else knew Raymond Briggs from the details given for the third. Right, if the Earth is a basketball and the moon a tennis ball, how many metres apart are they? Why I shouted out 7 I have no idea. But it was right! I set off on my lap of honour while JP announced the next starter, neither team having won a cigar on that one. It was over 10 minutes since Bristol had added to their score, so I was pleased when Ollie Bowes buzzed in to identify several figures as rulers of the Byzantine Empire. Now, as did Bristol, I answered Pasteurisation to more than one of the bonuses on heat sterilisation, and was very upset when it proved to be the answer to none of them. No bonuses for Bristol either. This brought up the music starter, and one of the easier opera starters. Philippa Stone won the buzzer race to identify an aria from Madame Butterfly. Other operas also centred around women who die provided two bonuses. Ollie Bowes got Bristol moving again knowing that Drake singed the King of Spain’s Beard in Cadiz. Hindu deities and the animals they use for transportation provided an interesting set of bonuses. We both managed two of these. Another good buzz from Philippa Stone saw her identify the marsh mallow plant. This took Edinburgh into triple figures, and a bonus on Henry VIII’s divorce of Katherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn supplied a further 5 points. At 110- 40 at the 20 minute mark a Bristol win was not totally out of the question, but the odds against it were lengthening, and the bartender was measuring the shortest path from their table to the door.

Animal lairs are another of those recurring quiz staples, so I was surprised that it took a long time before John Heaton-Armstrong buzzed in with the answer form for the next starter, after being given hare’s den and other definitions. A nice UC special set invited Edinburgh to identify countries participating in the 6 Nations rugby tournament by comparing their area with another country of similar size. We both took a full house there. I’ll be honest, I didn’t identify the work of Goya for the second picture starter, but then neither did the two teams. Kirsty Biggs identified Occitanie from the next starter, and earned the picture bonuses, identifying one of series of characters from the Commedia del’Arte, but not the artist who painted him. Tough set that. Now, if a question mentions Walter Raleigh’s History of the World, it’s pounds to pennies that the question hinges on the fact that it was written while he was imprisoned. The next starter certainly did. John Heaton-Armstrong sounded uncertain when he suggested this, but he was right. The 2004 work “The Plot Against America” is unfamiliar to me, as apparently it was to Edinburgh, but we still both managed 2 bonuses. The lead was now more than 100, and the bartender was making gestures with his watch, and thumb cocked towards the door to Bristol. Innes Carson won the buzzer race for the next starter to identify the Scottish place name element – strath. 2 bonuses on volcanism added a little more gloss to the scoreline. Now, usually, if a question asks for a subatomic particle I’ll answer neutrino. I did for the next starter, and earned myself another lap of honour. Captain Carson took hat one. Again, more gilding to the score was applied. A great buzz from Sam Hosegood saw him work out that in a list of countries bordering Sudan, Chad was missing. American cities in the works of Arthur Conan Doyle looked set to boost their score, but sadly they were gonged after the first bonus. Edinburgh were clear winners by 195 – 60.

Put simply there was just too much buzzing in the Edinburgh team for Bristol to cope with tonight. Never mind, no shame in getting to the quarters. Well played Edinburgh.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Jez had a chuckle when it was suggested that Dennis Compton might once have been offered the throne of Albania. It wasn’t a daft suggestion though – he had some of the sporting credentials which were also part of the question.

He seemed genuinely impressed when Innes Carson dredged up Tristan and Isolde for the second music bonus – and well he should have been – hell of a shout, that one.

Interesting Fact That I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week

Yama, Hindu God of Death, is sometimes depicted as travelling on a buffalo