First Round Heat 11 - Magdalene College Cambridge v. St. Hugh's College Oxford
A fortnight ago I explained that one of my three favourite kinds of University Challenge matches is the kind of contest that goes right to the wire. My suspicions that we were in for such a contest tonight were first raised by the continuity announcer's use of the word 'nailbiter' in the introduction to the show. Well, thanks very much, but given the choice I could have done without the warning, and would rather have discovered that for myself.
Tonight was the first Cambridge v. Oxford match up that we've seen for some time. Venerable Magdalene College, whose distinguished alumni include Samuel Pepys, took on St. Hugh's of Oxford, who were, so it appears, founded by the great niece of William Wordsworth. Conspiracy theorists may point to the fact that Mr. Daffodils himself featured tangentially in one of the bonus questions. However let us ignore that, and instead, Gradgrind-like, concern ourselves only with facts.
If I hadn't been as good as told that this one was going right to the wire I would have thought that this was going to be a comfortable win for Magdalene after the first ten minutes. They were comfortably beating St. Hugh's to the buzzer for the starters. The tension at one point clearly seemed to be getting to Eleanor Brown of St. Hugh's. When Jeremy Paxman asked the question, "Which name was the real but unused Christian name of people including David Niven, Stewart Grainger, Paul McCartney and Harold Wilson ? " - alright there were others in the list, but you catch the drift - Miss Brown almost slammed the buzzer right through the desk, and had shouted the answer "James !" even before Roger Tilling managed to say "St. Hugh's - Brown. " She thus achieved the remarkable feat of putting the fear of God into Jeremy Paxman, who spluttered,
"Alright, I give in !"
This seemed to act as a clarion call to arms for the whole St. Hugh's team. They started finding their range with their buzzers, and began to get on terms. Magdalene kept buzzing, but the gap narrowed until at 20 minutes in all was square. Captain Nick Economides put St. Hugh's ahead with Pascal's Wager. Only one bonus was converted. Bang ! Magdalene hit back, but only converted one of their own bonuses. All square again. It was nip and tuck, and with no more than a minute or so to go St. Hugh's were ahead by one starter. The final starter was,
"Name two rivers in Britain which are homophones of two consecutive letters of the alphabet. " For a moment there was silence, and if the gong sounded, then the game was St. Hugh's. With the UC equivalent of a last minute equaliser Nick Hobbs of Magdalene buzzed in with a brilliant correct answer of "Exe and Wye". Cue the gong.
Of course the excitement wasn't over yet. As our host explained, you can't have a dead heat in University Challenge. If you've never seen this happen before, the protocol for deciding a tied show is that one more starter is asked. If a team buzz in and answer it correctly, then they win the show. However if they buzz in and answer incorrectly they automatically lose the show, without the other team having to answer. In the shootout that followed St. Hugh's captain Alex Economides buzzed in, barely managing to say the word "Kyoto ". He did though, and it was enough. So St. Hugh's won the most exciting match of the series with 145 points to 135, after extra time. A fabulous match, which neither team really deserved to lose. Commiserations especially to Magdalene, whose score won't be enough to get them into the repechage.
Jeremy Paxman Watch
While there was nothing to match the "Swaziland" outburst of a few weeks ago, there was much to enjoy this week for the Paxman connoisseur. In his introduction he referred to the contest as a game of 'intellectual tiddlywinks'. When David Ward of Magdalene buzzed and then hesitated on a starter question about films based on Stephen King novels, he bared his teeth and growled,
"Ok - but I'm not accepting you hanging around again. "
My personal favourite this evening was a very rare blunder, when he greeted an incorrect buzz with,
"I'm sorry , you lose five pints. "
Finally, just before the frenetic climax, he greeted a correct answer from St. Hugh's with,
"Yes of course ! What have you got a classicist on your team for if you don't know THAT !"
Interesting fact of the Week That I Didn't Already Know
Quite a lot to choose from this week. I like the way that if you combine the postcodes of Chester and Ipswich you get CHIP, while Taunton and Colchester give you TACO, and the London Borough of Croydon, and the city of Aberdeen give you CRAB. You don't get this sort of question on any other quiz show. However the fact of the week for me is that there is actually such a thing as a Clarke Orbit, which is a geo-stationary orbit such as that used by a communications satellite, so called because Arthur C. Clarke is credited with first coming up with the idea of using artificial satellites for communication.