Aberdeen v. Queen’s University, Belfast
I don’t know why, but it always comes as a pleasant surprise to me when a series of University Challenge begins before the end of the school year. Kicking off this series we had a celtic showdown between Aberdeen, and Queens Belfast. The honour of being the first competitor to make an introduction fell to Jonathan Bee, who, accompanied by Ananyo Bagchi, Benedict Jones-Williams, and captain Ben Conway, made up the team from Aberdeen. Queen’s Belfast, hereafter to be referred to as Queen’s for the sake of brevity, were represented by Suzanne Cobain, Gareth Gamble, Alexander Green and their skipper Joseph Greenwood. Let’s say no more by way of introduction, and get on with the show.
The first starter fel to Joseph Greenwood, who knew that if the question contains the words “Petrarchan” and “14 lines” then the answer will be sonnet. This brought up the first bonus set of the series, on offices of state. They managed the first, on the Lord Chancellor, missed the second on that old quiz chestnut, the Master of the Rolls, and didn’t know that Canning, Castlereagh and Palmerston all held the office of Foreign Secretary, although not all at the same time. A long winded quote about the royal banning of a sport saw Ben Conway buzz in first with the correct answer of football. So both teams were now off the mark. Aberdeen’s bonuses on motor manufacturers proved tricky to all of us – I had Nissan due to the bluebird clue, but the team couldn’t get any of them. The next starter I really surprised myself. I can’t give you the exact numbers, but basically it asked which object might have a particularly tiny radius, and a particularly astronomical mass. I answered black hole, which proved to be right. Neither team answered correctly. A timely interruption from Joseph Greenwood, who knew that Martin Esslin coined the term “Theatre of the Absurd” took the next starter, thus earning a set of bonuses on orders of insects. I was delighted to get a full set on what you could categorise as – optera – questions. Coleoptera and hymenoptera flitted past the team, and they obviously knew Lepidoptera, but just couldn’t quite get it out correctly enough for the points.The first picture showed us a diagram of a cocktail consituents. Gin and vermouth shouted Martini, and Benedict Jones-Williams must have heard it, since he was the first to buzz in. I found the following three cocktails from the TV series Mad Men a lot more difficult. Brandy Alexander passed us both by. I had the Tom Collins – not literally, for I can’t stand the stuff – but not the Old Fashioned. Sadly Aberdeen didn’t get any. Asked which French port was taken by the Brits in the 1650s, Alexander green took a punt with Dunkirk, and bagged the points. A set of bonus on the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 (The peasants are revolting! So are you, Rasputin! – name the product in the advert)They were gettable, but Queen’s didn’t quite manage it, zigging with Jack Straw, for instance, rather than sagging with John Ball. So after a first ten minutes which had shown bonuses to be hard to come by for both teams, Queen’s led by 35 to 20.
Asked which woman was advised by Robert Southey that literature could not be part of a woman’s life – ah, if only he had been alive to give Barbara Cartland the same advice – Joseph Greewood buzzed in too early with Jane Austen and lost 5, but Aberdeen could not drag up Charlotte Bronte – now there is an unpleasant mental image. A second consecutive starter went begging with a question on probabaility theory, to which the answer was the Law of Large Numbers. Probably. Ben Conway stopped the rot, recognizing the names of two of the founder members of Dadaism. A very nice set of bonuses on Sussex towns and literature saw Aberdeen manage two, which actually took them into a 10 point lead. Given the titles of two of his works, Jonathan Bee was able to give the name of the economist Ricardo. A nice set of bonuses on puddings followed, I liked the suggestion, which didn’t make it as far as JP, that the pudding with the name which means antidote to a venomous bite is ‘ spotted dick’ but on reflection I think that they were wise not to offer it as an answer to the man himself. They answered one correctly, which to be honest was all I managed as well. The music starter gave us a rock interpretation of a piece by Boccherini, otherwise known in the philistine Clark household as bocca who? The bonuses then were held over while the teams were answered something about focal lengths and diopters. Gareth Gamble not only understood the question, but had the correct answer. For which he earned his team the music bonuses. By the way, I was watching this with the subtitles on with the iplayer, and there was a lovely subtitle with the first bonus – and I quote – “FRANTIC MUSIC PLAYS” -. I recognized Katchaturian’s Sabre Dance, but the team didn’t. They also missed out on the immortal Night on Disco Mountain, based on a work by Mussorgsky, and another by Tchaikovsky. Ananyo Bagchi came in for his first starter with a timely interruption for the term Balkanisation. The team managed one bonus on ecological terms. Aberdeen had a 30 point lead at this stage, so it was a timely buzz from the Queen’s skipper which saw him correctly answer that Danica May Camacho, born in the Philippines, was symbolically dubbed the world’s 7 billionth person . A great UC special set followed, on novels whose titles contain words from the Nato Phonetic Alphabet. I am not ashamed to admit that I didn’t know Delta of Venus either, but we both knew Oscar and Lucinda, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. A tidy little set, and a much needed boost to the score, which saw Queen’s having cut the deficit so that Aberdeen now led by 70 to 60 at the 20 minute mark.
So it was anybody’s game, and it would all come down to who was willing to be a little more daring on the buzzer. Now, you know that I have a thing about bridges, so I loved the next starter, a very nice painting of the Forth Bridge. Johnathan Bee won the buzzer race on that one. Three more pictures of British bridges followed. All three were fairly iconic – Telford’s Menai suspension bridge, the Tyne Bridge, and the stunningly beautiful Clifton Suspension Bridge. Comedy moment of the show came when Ben Conway, lacking any answer for the Menai bridge, answered, completely deadpan “The Bridge over the River Kwai.” More later about JP’s reaction. Maybe their daring was rewarded, as the correct final answer of the Tyne bridge seemed to be something of a guess. Joseph Greenwood recognized a description of the word mantra for the next starter. I managed precisely no bonuses on thermodynamics, but the team managed one. Skipper Joseph Greenwood seemed to smell blood in the water, and he was very quickly in to identify the Real Madrid v. Barcelona match as El Clasico. I’ll be honest, I only got the bonus on the BArrytown trilogy which the team got, and didn’t know the other two literary trilogies. That one bonus though was enough to put Queen’s back in the lead. It was short lived, though, since Benedict Jones-Williams knew that Bute House is the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland. A lovely set of false friends – that is words in another language that resemble words in English, but have completely different meanings – followed as bonuses. I didn’t know that the german word gift actually means poison, but we both had the other two. So Aberdeen were now in treble figures. Nobody knew that the third largest constituent of sea water is chlorine, although I think that Jonathan Bee was definitely on the right lines with Sodium. That man Greenwood knew that the 1999 winner who went on to direct Hunger was Steve McQueen. Two bonuses n US presidents brought them also into treble figures, and as a by product, the lead as well. The Queen’s skipper again showed the way, by answering the next starter, that Pontus Euxinus was another name for the Black Sea. Bonuses on nicknames connected with Tigers saw them add another 5 points to their lead. Alexander Green following his captain’s lead buzzed correctly in for the next starter, on the highest ever rating in Chess. Another five points followed from a set of bonuses on carbon atoms. That, as they say was that. The gong sounded, leaving Queen’s with 140, and Aberdeen becalmed on 105.
Well played Queen’s, and hard lines Aberdeen. Maybe it wasn’t a great show. Both teams were a little too profligate with the bonuses for that – I may be mistaken but I don’ think that either team managed one full set in the whole show. For all that, though, it’s still a pleasure to see UC back.
Jeremy Paxman Watch
Alexander Green of Queen’s offered “The Earth “ for the Black Hole Question, and JP, obviously just warming up at this early stage of the series, merely raised a quizzical eyebrow, and observed, “Very odd idea of the shape of the Earth!” Actually, JP, I think you rather meant radius, or size, if we’re being pedantic.
We’ve noticed before how much JP hates it when the teams miss out on English literature questions, so when Benedict Jones-Williams offered Emily Barrett in answer to the question about the woman advised by Southey to give up dreams of becoming a writer, he repeated the answer, with a huge audible question mark, and a ton of derision in every syllable.
When Queen’s offered Rimsky-Korsakov for the reinterpretation of Tchaikovsky, our hero offered,”It’s by Tchaikovsky! Surely it’s unmistakeable!” Well, the fact that they did mistake it kind of gave the lie to that one, old chap.
Finally we saw a virtuoso display of the facial skill known as the ‘old fashioned look’ in response to Ben Conway’s River Kwai crack. “Very funny” JP muttered.
Interesting Fact That I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week
Treacle tart apparently takes its name from a Greek term meaning the antidote to a venomous bite.