University Challenge – Semi Final ½ - St. John’s Oxford v. Imperial, London
Semi finals stage. Now its serious. Well, actually, its been fairly serious all the way along, but its nice to see another match played in a tremendous spirit by both teams. JP forbore from mentioning this, but because of the new quarter final system, St. John’s are the only undefeated team left in the competition, albeit that they only managed to beat Manchester on a tie break in the quarters. Imperial’s only defeat has been to Emmanuel in their second quarter final match, where they fell to a stunning last ten minute burst from Emmanuel’s outstanding captain Alex Guttenplan.
On with the game then. George Woudhuysen correctly took the first starter by saying that the word ‘evolution’ never appeared in the first edition of Darwin’s Origin of the Species. 2 out of three bonuses were taken on first lines of Shakespeare tragic heroes. The next starter asked teams to identify Arthur’s Seat from its original celtic name. Mr. Townsend of St. John’s duly obliged. I was a little disappointed to see that his mutton chop whiskers have gone, although he has at least left a Pancho Villa style Mexican moustache. So far this year only Manchester have managed to live with St. John’s opening sprint. Neither team knew Malory’s Morte d’Arthur was published in the 1470s. but Lauren Parry of St. John’s popped up to answer the next starter. You’ll remember that I said in St. John’s last match that Miss Parry has a habit of popping up with the right answer to starters just when it matters. Well, tonight she was absolutely on song, identifying a set of clues giving alternative meanings for some of the characters in The Wind in the Willows – as in – a sausage in batter = Toad. Her hat trick of consecutive starters followed when she identified the flag of the World Health Organisation.
Mr. Healy stopped the rot by identifying Venetia Burney as the person who named the planet Pluto. They only made a small dent into St. John’s’ lead, but it was a statement of intent. St. John’s took the next starter by identifying the city of Cologne. We had just passed the ten minute mark , and St. John’s had a commanding lead of 120 to 15, as the game moved into its second distinctive phase. Oliver Chen interrupted incorrectly on a definition of a dartboard, and eventually Imperial were in. 1 bonus was taken, and they were on the move. Mr. Healy took the next bonus, followed by a set of questions on Gray codes. Nope, me neither. I did know the Towers of Hanoi, though. Always too good to be shut out for long, Lauren Parry struck back with the next starter, a brilliant interruption to identify Young as an English physicist who gives his name to something to do with tensile stress – well that wasn’t the exact wording, but you know what I mean . I loved the bonuses from the Devil’s Dictionary. Mr. Healy, now with the bit between his teeth, now needed no more than a couple of bars to identify the theme of the film Slumdog Millionaire.
The lead was shrinking, but slowly so, in what was Imperial’s best period of the match. LAM reader Gilead Amit correctly identified Vamoose as coming from the spanish for let’s go. The lead was now down to 55, and it shrank further when that man Healy correctly offered the word “Riviera” as an answer to the next starter. Three bonuses were correctly taken, and at 18 minutes, the lead was down to a mere 30 points. Mr. Healy, so good in an earlier round on the football world cup, leapt in on what linked the nicknames of a set of football clubs, but miscued, offering specifically Robins, when birds was what was required. Captain George Woudhuysen had it, and the gap started to lengthen once more.
On the 20 minute mark the contest moved into its final phase. Captain Woudhuysen, determined not to let his team’s grip on the place in the final weaken correctly identified Valletta as a small European capital city, famed for its baroque architecture, amongst other things. He was honest enough to admit that none of his team had a clue about creators of fictional drinking establishments. “Thank you for being frank “ purred JP. They did know the Prancing Pony from Tolkien. Gilead and Imperial weren’t conceding anything yet, though. He gave the word ashram for a traditional secluded retreat in the Hindu religion, and a set of sporting bonuses were gladly accepted. However, while they held a lead which hovered either just above or just below the 50 point mark, St. John’s could afford to trade starters, while Imperial needed a virtual shutout. Once again George Woudhuysen led the way by identifying a print of Hogarth’s Gin Lane. Taking no chances, they picked up all three bonuses on landscape paintings of the 18th century.
Neither team could dredge up Baffin Island, Ellesmere Island or Victoria Island, so this starter went begging. So did the next, a mathematical one, but then asked in which EU state the Cathedral of Tournai could be found, George W. made no mistake, offering Belgium . In a matter of about 3 minutes the lead had stretched again to 90. Yet once again, Imperial came back, with Mr. Healy identifying Lyndon as the given name of President Johnson. So, just to put paid to any thoughts Imperial might have had of making a mad dash for the line Lauren Parry interrupted a definition of the word hair to take the next starter. Surprisingly neither team managed to get the old chestnut about the three cathedrals in the eponymous Choir festival. With an 85 point gap and only a couple of minutes to go, Imperial couldn’t do it, but full credit to them again for never giving up , as Healy again beat St. John’s to the buzzer. Yet again, it was only punctuating St. John’s own starters. The gong sounded soon after, to give St. John’s a win by 260, to 170.
Many congratulations to St. John’s. This was a very fine performance , and you deserve your place in the final. Commiserations to Imperial, but congratulations too for the way you played, and for your fine performances this series. And congratulations to both teams for the spirit in which you played the game tonight – the generous applause both teams gave to each other’s good answers did not go unnoticed by the Clark sofa. Most refreshing.
Jeremy Paxman Watch
Best behaviour from JP tonight, which didn’t produce a great deal for us seasoned Paxman watchers tonight. After St. John’s brilliant start he seemed almost concerned for Imperial, and offered them hope with “Maybe you’ll get going after this one “ before introducing a starter. He was right too, and they did.
I did enjoy this exchange. When asking for the name of the german city which was the capital of the Roman empire north of the Rhine, Mr. Townsend correctly offered “Koln”. Although we didn’t see it, I guess this met with a blank stare from JP, as there was no response, and so Mr. Townsend offered “Cologne”- the English version. When he replied in the affirmative JP said “Yes, Cologne . .. or Koln in german “ – as if Mr. Townsend had never mentioned this in the first place. We’ve all tried that trick before, Jezza !
As consolation to Imperial he said "Its a great thing to go out in the semi final. " I'd like to think he didn't mean that as it sounded - it being a great thing to get as far as the semi final.
Interesting Fact That I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week
Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary defines the word anoint as meaning “To grease a king or other great functionary already sufficiently slippery “. Marvellous !