Saturday, 21 January 2017

University Challenge: Quarter Final Stage: Match 1 - Wolfson, Cambridge v. Balliol, Oxford


Here we are then, friends, into the quarter final stage. First into the lists were Wolfson, Cambridge, and Balliol, Oxford. Wolfson featured the talents of Justin Yang, Ben Chaudri, Paul Cosgrove and their skipper Eric Monkman, while Balliol gave third appearances to Freddy Potts, Jacob Lloyd, Ben Pope and captain Joey Goldman. The form book pointed to Balliol being slightly more impressive in the first two rounds than Wolfson, however neither of their opponents had been able to make much of an impression on them. Whether this would continue to be the case against Wolfson, who represented a rather more substantial challenge than either of their previous opponents remained to be seen.

Jacob Lloyd came in far too early for the first question, on what was only ever going to be a hit and hope punt from deep. The quotation being given referred specifically to poetry, as Eric Monkman guessed. Wolfson’s first bonuses were on given names, and they managed 2. I knew that Shakespeare died in the 1610s, and Eric Monkman was a tad unlucky to lose five for answering 1600s – I thought that the question had finished when he buzzed as well. Joey Goldman was in for that immediately. Balliol’s bonuses on terms containing the word – Factor – brought them 5 more points. I was really rather surprised when Joey Goldman came in too early and gave a wrong answer to question which, even to a layman such as myself, seemed to beg the answers apogee and perigee. There was no way that Eric Monkman was going to turn his nose up at that windfall. Artistic depictions of Hell provided a rather gentle full house for both of us. I had no idea about the derivation of the word quandary, but Justin Yang was in there very quickly. Parallels which end in a zero were guessable but by no means easy, and Wolfson managed the first two. The first picture starter showed an outline map with a Swiss city highlighted. Freddy Potts correctly identified Basel – good shout, that. More maps showing inland commercial ports brought 10 more points. It couldn’t disguise the fact, though, as we approached the 10 minute mark, that Wolfson had made the better start, leading by 60 to 25.

I think that you could actually see Joey Goldman holding himself back for a moment before buzzing to link “The Mersault Investigation” with Albert Camus’ “L’√Čtranger”. The film director Jane Campion brought another 10 points, and Balliol certainly weren’t wasting any time agonising over their answers. Now, I know bugger all about archea and eukaryote, although I’m reliably informed that they are not Greece’s premier cabaret act, but they were enough to bring Ben Chaudri the next starter. Old Kingdoms stubbornly refused to yield any points. There was mild amusement in LAM Towers when Freddy Potts gave JP the correct answer ‘tit’ to a UC special for the next starter. 2 bonuses on French painters followed. In short order Balliol had reduced the deficit to 5 points. Which soon doubled as Joey Goldman, knowing he was hearing the summary of an American novel, came in with “The Age of Innocence”, when the rest of the question made it clear we were being asked for “The Ambassadors”. Eric Monkman inevitably took that one. Medicine poleaxed all of us, as no further points were scored. This brought us the music starter. Eric Monkman and I both went for Schubert, correctly. Three more pieces inspired by Goethe followed. Neither of us had either of the first two, but Wolfson really should have known that Dukas composed the Sorceror’s Apprentice – from Fantasia if for no other reason. Oh, those costly Balliol interruptions. Jacob Lloyd was the trigger happy buzzer on the next starter, and again, if he’d waited a little longer, it would have been obvious that we were being treated to a quotation by the Duke of Wellington. Erik Monkman, secure in his role of the snapper up of unconsidered trifles took that one as well. Sorrow in Shakespeare yielded only 1 bonus. With kinder sets of bonuses, Wolfson could by now have be approaching the event horizon. Eric Monkman himself was the next to suffer a rush of blood to the head. He came in far too early, giving us the name Schumpeter, which was the name of the economist who wrote them. However that wasn’t what the question wanted. It wanted the word capitalism, which Joey Goldman duly supplied. MacArthurs provided Balliol with a timely full house. Freddy Potts looked as if he’d never heard of the heraldic Yale, but still got it from the Ivy League University and the locksmith. Civil wars brought a second consecutive full house, and amazingly Balliol had edged into the lead. On the cusp of the 20 minute mark they had 105 to Wolfson’s 100.

How was either side going to win this, then? Well, Wolfson needed to improve their conversion rate, while Balliol had to stop shooting themselves in the foot, while at the same time winning the buzzer race on their fair share of starters. Freddy Potts was very unlucky on the next starter. His answer of myths for a specific type of narrative was not close enough to be correct, but probably close enough to help Wolfson, in the shape of Justin Yang, to get the correct answer of fairy tales. Football in the 19th century did not promise to help them improve their conversion rate, and to be fair, it didn’t. So to the picture starter. Joey Goldman recognised the work of Caspar David Friedrich, and more pictures provided another full house. They know their painters these boys. Boccioni? Impressed. Some Science thing I didn’t understand followed. Nobody had it. Joey Goldman just couldn’t resist throwing a little more buzzer at the next question, and losing five points as he offered Theatre of the Absurd, while Theatre of Cruelty was required. Wolfson couldn’t get that one. Now, if you know what Sternuatation is, then you’ll know the one of the 7 dwarves called Sternuens in latin is Sneezy. I just love UC – where else would you get a question about that asked? Eric Monkman won the buzzer race for that one. Chemistry bonuses still only yielded the one. Nobody identified the Gospel of Matthew as the source of a quotation. Eric Monkman was having pretty much his own way with the buzzer race by this time, and was quickly in to identify Pauli as the man behind the Exclusion Principle. After their struggles with bonuses to this point, when JP announced that the next set was on World Heritage sites in China I wouldn’t have blamed them for asking him “You’re havin’ a laugh, aintcher?” He wasn’t. Actually, though they managed two from this set. Poor old Baliol, I’m sure that the succession of penalties had sapped their ability or their will to compete on the buzzer at this stage. It was all too easy for Eric Monkman to process 1798 – writer – sister Cassandra – and come up with the answer Jane Austen before they could buzz. Insect life cycles brought two more bonuses, and a lead of 45. Surely that was the game? Not necessarily. Joey Goldman came in like a lion to take a correct interruption with Jomo Kenyatta. If they could get a full set on place names . . . well, no. There just wasn’t time. The gong went after they had taken their score to 135, 30 points adrift of Wolfson. Hard lines Balliol – but at least they still have another chance. Well played Wolfson.  

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Freddy Potts looked JP straight in the eye. “Tit.” he said. There was a wry look on JP’s face as he sized up his antagonist, and for the briefest of micropauses I did hope he was going to respond with a bad Robert de Niro impression, “You talkin’ to me?” . Sadly not.

We might not get any of the sparkling acid drops of previous years now, but at least we still get the odd wry observation from Jez. Asked for one team which won the football league in the 1890s, Wolfson supplied two. “You were asked for one,” JP replied, lowering his eyes and pausing for comic effect before adding “Well, you didn’t get either.”

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

The word quandary is derived from the latin for when, and a French phrase meaning – shall I say it?.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Mastermind: Semi Final 2


Let’s start this second semi final review with another look at the form book: -


Alan Diment
The Life and Work of Edvard Munch
14
0
15
0
29
0
Sarah Lake
Joni Mitchell
13
1
15
0
28
1
James Haughton
History of the World Cup 1982 - date
14
0
13
0
27
0
Gill Taylor
The Honey Bee and Bee Keeping
12
3
15
4
27
7
Mohan Mudigonda
Nirvana
11
1
12
3
23
4

There’s some really very good GK scores in the first round there, and in fact nobody’s GK score seemed to suggest they might struggle. Our repechage slot last night was taken by James Haughton who, you might recall, had been in the same first round heat as our own Daniel Adler. Underdog in this semi, if such a thing there was, was Mohan Mudigonda, but a good performance on SS would put him right up there.

In fact we’d see just such a SS round from him early doors since he was the first up. Now, he was offering us the Asterix Stories 1961 – 1987. I haven’t read all of the Asterix stories, but those I have read, I love. I think that Goscinny and Uderzo’s English translators, who I believe were Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge, did the most fantastic job on taking the original French stories and remaining faithful to them while delivering a level of humour and word play every bit as clever as that in the original French – I’ve read a few in the original by way of comparison. Detailed memories of Asterix and the Roman Agent, Asterix and the Big Fight, and Asterix in Britain were enough to bring me about half a dozen points. Mohan’s even 10 looked a good performance, and off 90 seconds it was somewhat better than his 11 from his heat.

I didn’t do so well with the Periodic Table, bagging a mere 4. I used to play Sporcle a lot, and what little I know about the Periodic Table is mainly derived from one of those games where you have 20 minutes to name all the elements in the correct order. Little things . . . Last week we saw everyone still in the hunt by the time the half time oranges were being given out. Sadly Gill Taylor’s 7 meant it looked highly unlikely that she would have a realistic chance of winning the show.

Our first teacher of the semis, Sarah Lake, stepped forward next. Based on her form in her heat, Sarah looked as good a contender to relieve me of the burden of being the last schoolteacher to win Mastermind as any. Back then she whacked in a good 13 on Joni Mitchell. Last night she offered us the Novels of Nick Hornby, and again, while being by no means a bad round at all, her score of 8 left her what you thought would be a couple of points short of the kind of score you need going into the GK.

As I mentioned at the top of the show, James Haughton was unfortunate to feature in the same heat as Daniel, but he made a clear statement of his intent in this show with the finest score of the round so far. Answering on Richard Feynman, or to give him his LAM Towers title, Richard Who?, James produced a perfect 12 from 12. That’s not quite the best round ever in a 90 second specialist round, but it takes something very special to do much better, and James was certainly sitting in pole position for the time being.

Alan Diment produced one of the first round performances that really caught the eye, in a terrific first round arm match with LAM reader Ian Fennell. Back then he produced a perfect SS score on Edvard Munch. Last night he only missed the one question on the life and films of Stan Laurel – having recently read a book about the films of Laurel and Hardy I managed 5. That one question missed though meant that he sat 2 points behind James.

Here’s an observation I made as I watched the second round last night, and as always, this is just my opinion so feel free to disagree. Due to the quality of last week’s first semi this didn’t really come into play then, but last night I did feel that what we saw demonstrated a point I made at the time about the GK rounds in the first round heats. I did feel quite often that the GK rounds were rather more gentle in many cases than we’ve seen in recent years. So while on paper, contenders might be very close in terms of their GK scores from the heats, in practice, with harder questions in the semis, we might see some large fluctuations in the scores. I believe that this was the case in this 2nd semi.

First back was Gill Taylor. In the context of what we saw last week, 9 was by no means a bad score at all, and did the job of setting the bar, if nothing ese. However, the simple fact of the matter was that it gave her a total only 4 points higher than James’ half time score, so it was not going to be a winning score. Hard lines. Sarah Lake had rather impressed with her 15 on GK in her first round heat. She certainly started her GK round confidently too. However we’ve seen often enough in the past that Mastermind can be a cruel mistress sometimes, and even if she smiles at you and everything goes swimmingly in your heat, there’s always the chance that she’s going to kick you in the teeth with a GK round in which the questions just don’t run for you in the semi. Such a round was Sarah’s, and she finished with a total of 14.

This brought Mohan Modigonda to the chair. Now, if Mohan was going to win this semi, then he was going to have to do it on GK. He had James 2 points ahead of him, and next up was Alan Diment, whose GK round had been one of the more impressive in the heats. By the time you get to the semi finals, if you can manage anything close to a score in the teens in GK then you’ve done well. Mohan’s answers marked him out as someone whom I’d dare say is a quizzer. Mind you, he wasn’t happy with his round. When John gave him the answers to his three passes, twice he gave himself a full-on, Homer Simpson-esque smack on the head – although he didn’t say d’oh. I think Mohan you are now one of my favourite contenders this year. I love it when people show that they care about how well they did.

I dare say that Alan Diment certainly cared just as much about his own GK round, and it was close, mightily close. As John announced he had not incurred any passes, but scored 21 points there was a wry look on his face. He knew how close he’d come, and that, at a time when maybe just a few questions hadn’t quite run his way. If he wants to, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he passes this way again in the future.

Which left just James Haughton. By the time you get to this stage in a semi-final, you can pretty much guarantee that you’re going to be up against some well experienced quiz warriors, who are going to fashion the kind of GK rounds which will mean you’ve got to be on your best form in order to compete with them. I don’t think that James found his best form in the GK, and I don’t think he had the rub of the green in terms of the way the questions ran for him. Whether nerves played a part, I don’t know. Whatever the case he was some way behind the clock by the one minute mark, and in the end he finished with a total of 18.

So well done Mohan! Best of luck in the final, and thanks very much for winning without putting us through another tie break – I loved it last week, but don’t know if my nerves could take too many of them.

The Details

Mohan Modigonda
The Asterix Stories 1961-1987
10
1
12
3
22
3
Gill Taylor
The Periodic Table
7
0
9
3
16
3
Sarah Lake
The Novels of Nick Hornby
8
0
6
4
14
4
James Haughton
Richard Feynman
12
0
6
0
18
0
Alan DIment
The Life and Films of Stan Laurel
10
0
11
0
21
0

Friday, 13 January 2017

University Challenge 2017: Round 2 round up and quarter final preview


I was asked earlier in the week whether I intended reviewing the second round of UC and previewing the quarter finals. I didn’t answer because I didn’t know if I’d find the time or the oomph to do it, but hey, I found a tiny bit of oomph knocking around at the back of the kitchen cupboards, so here it is.

Let’s have a look at the table: -

Quarter finalists
1st round
for
against
2nd round
for
against
Aggregate
for
Aggregate
against
Corpus Christi, Oxford
Jesus, Cambridge
200
175
Peterhouse, Cambridge
175
150
375
325
Bristol
Sheffield
210
130
Oriel, Oxford
265
70
475
200
Balliol, Oxford
Imperial
220
55
Robinson, Cambridge
210
90
430
145
Wolfson, Cambridge
SOAS
185
175
Jesus, Cambridge
225
140
410
315
Emmanuel, Cambridge
Nottingham
175
135
SOAS
195
130
370
265
Warwick
Liverpool
235
95
East London
195
55
430
150
Birmingham
Queen’s Belfast
165
105
St. Andrews
195
115
360
220
Edinburgh
Durham
190
155
Open
185
185
375
340

As a general round up there are a couple of points we might make. 5 teams from Cambridge made it through to the second round proper, but only 2 go through to the quarters, compared with 2 from 3 for Oxford. All 8 of the teams in the quarter final round won their first round matches as well.

As with the first round, throughout the second round the scores have remained good, rather than stratospheric. The highest score of the series so far is the SOAS repechage score of 270 – of the teams remaining in the competition, Bristol’s 265 is the highest.

Looking at the aggregate for and against columns, I think we need to firstly acknowledge that the danger of relying on this kind of data is that it doesn’t necessarily take into account the strength of the opposition. If we acknowledge this, though, it’s not unreasonable to say that the table suggests that Bristol look to be a very strong team. The same might also be said about Warwick – the size of the difference between the total points for and total points against suggests that both teams comprehensively outbuzzed their opponents in both opening matches. Of course, you’d maybe ask the question as to whether Warwick’s opposition were quite of the calibre of Bristol’s – and this is where the weakness of just relying on this data becomes more apparent.

And the calibre of opposition is important. If you take the raw figures for last week’s winners Corpus Christi, you’d say that they were outsiders for the quarters. Yet look who they had to beat to get there. Jesus were good enough to win a repechage, and Peterhouse had beaten opposition good enough to get into a repechage in their own first round. With regards to Emmanuel too, their win over Nottingham in the first round was perfectly decent although a little workman-like, but for the second they had to beat a SOAS team who had set the highest total of the series so far in their previous match, which they did.

Predictions? No thanks, this is all rather too close to call. What it will come down to, though, is what it always comes down to – the teams who find their buzzer form on the night(s) will do better than the teams that don’t. Looking forward to it already.

Mastermind 2017: Semi Final One

I do try not to wax lyrical about Mastermind too often. Sometimes, though, a contest comes along which just demonstrates why some of us love this show so much, and it’s difficult to hold myself back. The first of the semi-finals, which I watched earlier tonight, was quite the most exciting show I’ve seen since last year’s incredible final. Let’s begin with studying the racing form for a moment. Here’s the contenders in this first semi, and their first round form: -

Steve Lacey
The Films of Peter Sellers
12
0
16
1
28
1
Alan Morgan
The Films of David Fincher
12
0
14
1
26
1
Isabelle Heward
The Life and Films of Rita Hayworth
12
0
14
0
26
0
Robert Hemming
The Human Body
9
2
13
1
22
3
Daniel Adler
Borgen
16
0
15
0
31
0

Now, something might strike you when you look at this. There is a wide variation in the total scores – but all 5 of these contenders can handle a general knowledge round. There were only three points to choose between the 5 GK rounds they produced, and this made me think that maybe this semi would come down to who had the best second specialist round. Just goes to show how much I know.

Steve Lacey was this semi-final’s runner-up from the first round. Well, runner-up he may have been, but he was comfortably in the top 10 performers in the whole of the first round heats. Now, what do you really want to do in your specialist round in the semis? What else – shove in a perfect performance and answer all of your questions correctly. This is exactly what Steve managed to do – 13 from 13. Superb performance.

Next up was Alan Morgan. Alan had scored a good, solid 26 in his first round, not being noticeably weaker in either SS or GK. His subject tonight was Steve Ovett. Now, I love my athletics, and the 80s was something of a heyday for me, so I thought I was going to do quite well on these. Wrong. I had a mere 3. Yet Alan managed 9, and remember, this is the semi-finals, where you only get 90 seconds on specialist. Under any normal circumstances, 9 is a ‘keeping yourself in contention’ score. However, the fact was that Steve was 4 points ahead.

Had our very own Daniel Adler not been in the self-same semi, then Isabelle Heward would have been the lone recipient of the support of the Clark sofa. For the record, this was Isabelle’s 4th semi-final in Mastermind. The three previous attempts did not see her progress to the final. Could she possibly break the hoodoo? Well, I did wonder if a wee incident at the end of her round might count against her. Isabelle gave an answer, which John seemed to accept, and then she corrected herself slightly, which stopped him from beginning another question right on the buzzer. Would that potential point dropped come back to haunt her? Well, again, 4 points behind looked a bit of an ask.

Rob Hemming used good GK to win his heat, but throughout his SS round in this show he looked a dead cert to improve on his first round score, despite having half a minute less in which to do so. Answering on the Life of Al Capone he produced the next best specialist score after Steve’s, and frankly, anything in double figures in a semi-final specialist round is a very fine performance.

Finally Daniel, our own Daniel, 2014 finalist, and Counterpoint champion. Considering the number of people who have played in more than one semi-final, the number of people who have appeared in 2 finals, although it’s grown over the last few years, is still very small. His 31 in the first round had been a stellar performance, but in this company it was imperative to reach those high standards again. Daniel’s specialist subject was novels of Robert Harris, and he too managed to get into double figures. If he could manage another GK round like the one he had produced in the first round, then all things were still possible.

Let’s put that first round into perspective. Nobody was out of contention. That’s unusual. Not one single solitary pass. That’s unusual.

Alan Morgan returned to the chair to set the target. The chances of staying at the top of the leaderboard while 4 more contenders have their shy at your target are never great, but he set about his task manfully. At one time I did think a score in the teens was possible, but a tricky last 30 seconds or so just contrived to put the brakes on. 11 put the target at 20 – and that’s a corridor of doubt score. He had done all he could.

What, I wonder, was going through Isabelle’s mind? Did she firmly believe that everything was still all there to be played for? Or did she think that the final was still as far away from her as ever? I couldn’t begin to say, but she began her round as if totally confident that she could do it. It was a close run thing, for she did drop a couple of gettable questions, but crucially she did not break her answering stride to brood on this. In the end it was close, mightily close, but she scored that vital extra point. We had still to see a first pass in the show.

Daniel came next, and for the first minute it was on. Sadly, in the second minute a few too many wrong answers put him behind the clock. There wasn’t a lot in it – and it certainly wasn’t a bad round. It wasn’t as good a round as he needed though – sometimes the questions just don’t run the way that you need them too. Hard lines Dan, but you’ll be back.

Still no passes.

Rob Hemming, like every contender so far in this show, started off his round in cracking form. Actually his round in some ways was rather reminiscent of Isabelle’s. He did drop a few questions in the second half of the round, and he wasn’t going to equal Isabelle’s GK score. But he didn’t have to do that. He had a two point cushion from the first round. If he could score 11 . . . he didn’t. If he could score 10, though, he could equal Isabelle’s total, and that’s just what he did.

Still no passes.

Only Steve Lacey remained. Steve had scored one of the highest GK rounds this year in his heat. Surely he could manage half of that score to give him a tie – and one point more for an outright win. Well, maybe it was nerves, maybe the questions didn’t run for him, who knows? Yet the fact is that he made fairly heavy going of his round. In a way, what happened was rather like watching the stagger unwind in a 400m race. He began the round comfortably ahead, but throughout the two minutes he was being reeled in, and on the line he was caught. He too scored 21 and no passes.

Let’s consider the history making aspect of this. Firstly, I can’t remember a whole show without passes before, although for all I know it may have happened on umpteen occasions. I do know, though, that we have never had a three way tie before. Fabulous. Right, I shall not lie. Whatever happened, Daniel wasn’t going through, so I felt no reluctance in transferring my full support to Isabelle. I was lucky enough that I knew the answers to the 5 questions asked firstly to Steve. He missed but one. Isabelle though, answered all 5 correctly. I wasn’t quite holding my breath while Rob answered, but if I had been, then I would have exhaled sharply when Rob dredged his memory for Slaughterhouse Five, and came so close, just missing out with Slaughterhouse Nine. By such a small margin did Isabelle achieve a well-earned place in the semi. Steve, Rob, you have all of my sympathy – but please take satisfaction from the fact that you gave it everything. Isabelle, if you’re reading, many, many congratulations, and the very best of luck in the final.

Great, great show. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Details


Steve Lacey
Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads
13
0
8
0
21
0
4
25
Alan Morgan
Steve Ovett
9
0
11
0
20
0


Isabelle Heward
The Daughters of George III
9
0
12
0
21
0
5
26
Rob Hemming
The Life of Al Capone
11
0
10
0
21
0
4
25
Daniel Adler
Novels of Robert Harris
10
0
8
0
18
0