Saturday, 29 March 2014

University Challenge - First Semi Final

Trinity, Cambridge v. Manchester

Matthew Ridley, Filip Drnovšek Zorko, Richard Freeland and Ralph Morley left Christ Church, Oxford team and Peterhouse, Cambridge trailing in their wake in the first two rounds. They won their place in the semis without a blemish on their record by beating SOAS after they had defeated a fine Manchester team in the first quarter final match. Both SOAS and Manchester fought their way through to the semis after that setback. The Manchester team of Ed Woudhuysen, Joe Day, Jonathan Collings and their captain Elizabeth Mitchell bounced back from their titanic struggle against Trinity in the first quarter final to put out both Cardiff and our own Southampton teams. For their pains this earned them a rematch against Trinity. In my semi-final preview last week I stuck my neck out and predicted that if these two teams met in the semi, then we’d have a Trinity v. Somerville Final. Kiss of death to Trinity? Well. . .

The first starter was a bit of a dear old friend. As soon as the name “Arnold Toynbee” issued forth from JP’s lips I shouted ‘Industrial Revolution!’, since that was the answer when I was asked the same question in my Mastermind semi. There was a great buzzer race. You could see Joe Day slam his buzzer down, but to no avail, since Matthew Ridley was there a fraction of a second earlier. This earned Trinity a set of bonuses on the song Rule Britannia. These were all answered correctly, and initial impressions were that Trinity looked in pretty good nick. Filip Drnovšek Zorko revealed a twitchy buzzer finger, though, by coming in too eaqrly for the next starter. Given the full question it became obvious that the name wanted was Sir Thomas More, and Jonathan Collings, Manchester’s buzzmeister supreme in previous matches, took that one. US state governors brought another ten points, and it was all square on the scoreboard. Elizabeth Mitchell was in very quickly for the next starter, linking pea with an overcoat worn by sailors. Synthetic elements of the periodic table saw me take a lap of honour around the sofa for knowing Flerovium and Livermorium. Manchester had that one. They had one other as well, which I was nowhere near. Ed Woudhuysen recognized a passage from T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland for Manchester’s third consecutive starter. Poems which include lines in latin followed, and I recognized Thomas Wyatt’s Whoso List To Hunt for the second, and I would imagine everyone recognized Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est for the last. Manchester had that one. Richard Freeland pulled back some valuable points for Trinity, with Borromean rings. Nope, me neither. A set of bonuses on Ancient Near-Eastern deities saw them getting their Baals mixed up with their Molochs, but they still managed one. Ralph Morley knew that the Plantagenets were also known as the Angevins. BTW, there is a fine documentary series on Monday nights on BBC4 about that remarkable dynasty, which ends on Monday. Two bonuses on British birds with similar names brought them to the 55 point mark at the 10 minute stage, which made them level with Manchester. We had a good match from these two teams last time they met, and they were providing us with some excellent fare in this match as well.

Ralph Morley buzzed too early for the next starter, and once again Manchester benefited from having the full question, to identify the Great Divide on the Rocky Mountains. George Bernard Shaw wrote a huge amount that was highly quotable, and I’ll be honest, like Manchester I could only get the last one. The next question was about a Carnot engine (?) and Filip courted disaster by buzzing in then hesitating before giving the correct answer. He duly received the usual Paxman wigging, but crucially had earned the points and the crack at the bonuses. Maths did nothing for me, but Trinity took the first two equations and then some very nifty footwork by Richard Freeland brought them the third as well. I think that for the next starter Ralph Morley confused my cousin Richard Cobden with William Cobbett. Jonathan Collings, Manchester’s cool head and steadying hand so far in this match, took that one. A full set of bonuses on the dialect word ‘frit’ gave them a 20 point lead. Jonathan Collings extended the lead by recognizing the work of Delius for the music starter. 2 bonuses extended their lead to 20 points. There was plenty of time still to go, but by keeping cool heads when uncertain, and going hell for leather for the buzzer when they were certain, Manchester were taking the fight to Trinity, and giving them all the fight they could handle. Jonathan Collings pushed his team further ahead by knowing the Ijsselmeer. It seemed inevitable that they would continue the policy of making 20 point increments to their score with each visit to the table, and indeed they did, taking two bonuses on economics. Jonathan Collings took the next starter, correctly identifying the phrase cock – a – hoop from its supposed derivations. Bonuses on the work of the historian Lisa Jardine brought two correct answers for the by now traditional 20 points. Now Manchester led by 80. The elastic joining the two teams was still intact, but it was being stretched towards its limits. Ralph Morley showed admirable composure, buzzing early to identify that The Bishop of Rome has no jurisdiction over the Church of England. Two bonuses on pictures of mythological figures brought the gap back to 60 at the 20 minute mark, but couldn’t disguise the fact that Manchester had taken a signigicant advantage during this second third of the contest, and they led by 155 to 95.

Right then. Last time these two teams met it was a turbo charged last five minutes or so from Trinity that proved decisive. Neither team recognized a portrait of Sir Walter Scott, so the bonuses rolled over to the next starter. Richard Freeland risked an early buzz to identify the word genus as used in topology, and he was right to do so. Three more portraits of Scottish writers followed, and they were all correctly identified, including, incidentally, J.M. Barrie, who grew up as a near neighbour of my great, great, great grandparents in Kirriemuir, as it happened. What do you mean irrelevant? Manchester had been so disciplined up to this point, but Joe Day, tempted by what looked like a slow ball, couldn’t resist buzzing early for the author of the Crucible, Arthur Miller, when the question was actually a lot more cryptic than that. It wanted the literary work that connected a miller, a British explorer killed in Hawaii in 1789 – you’ve got it now, haven’t you? The Canterbury Tales. Ralph Morley waited until the end of the question and then despatched it to the boundary. Biology bonuses didn’t fall for Trinity, but even so the gap was down to the point where a full set would give Trinity the lead. Joe Day wasn’t ready to concede the lead, though, and he answered the next starter about the discovery of Helium. Bonuses on French towns and cities either on or close to the Greenwich Meridian saw us both take a full set, and the gap was stretched to 45 points – which meant it would take more than one visit to the table for Trinity to take the lead. Richard Freeland – who was having a great match – came in early to identify John Masefield’s “Sea Fever”. A UC special set on words made from any of the letters of the word winsome followed, and Trinity disposed of these in double quick time. Nobody knew that National Parks occupy about 9% of the total area of England.Matthew Ridley knew that the Yalu River forms much of the border between the People’s Republic of China and North Korea. Trinity, again wasting no time, took two bonuses on Kings of Scotland. This brought the scores level. “Next team that scores wins” I sagely predicted to nobody in particular. Filip had it with Caravaggio, and for the first time in what seemed like ages Trinity had the lead. Certainly the momentum was theirs, and it really felt like shades of the quarter final where a turbo charged finish had brought them home. Two bonuses took them 20 points ahead, with 2 minutes to go. Nothing was decided yet. Ralph Morley took the next starter, on the abbreviation OS, to ensure that Manchester would need at least two starters to take the lead. Trinity would have been forgiven for a little bit of time wasting at this point, but no – bonuses on the nicknames of Prime Ministers were answered in the twinkling of an eye, and Oliver Twist-like the team held out its metaphorical bowl and asked for more. And got them as well, when Richard Freeland correctly answered parallelepiped for the next starter. Maybe it was my imgagination, but it looked like Filip rubbed his hands together with glee when JP announced that the US Electoral college was the subject for the next set. He certainly had all of the answers. That sealed it. There just wasn’t time left for Manchester. Neither team knew the Anti Comintern Pact. Filip knew the chestnutty fact that three countries in Mainland Africa have Portuguese as an official language. There was time for one correct answer to a bonus on Japanese history, and then the contest was ended by the gong.

A word or two of consolation for Manchester. With the burden of being the team going for an unprecedented hat trick of consecutive series wins, this team have proven themselves worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with their predecessors. I may well be proven wrong, but I think that the only team able to beat them will go on to win the series. This team, Trinity, once again showed that they have character and resilience to go with their knowledge. A thrilling contest, once again worthy of a Grand Final. Speaking of which, gentlemen, I wish you the very best of luck, and hope that I haven’t cursed you by tipping you.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

You could tell that this was a serious match and a potentially great one, since JP was on his best behaviour, the sort we normally see him produce in the final. In fact there was nothing at all to note until his telling off of Filip for that hesitation on a starter. That was all, and frankly, if that isn’t the indicator of a match of the highest quality, then I don’t know what is.

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

The chaffinch is the UKs second most common breeding bird.


jim360 said...

It's very pleasing to see Trinity win, especially given that there are some of my friends (or at least old quizzing colleagues/ rivals) on the team. I've mentioned elsewhere that I had been led to believe that Manchester would go on to win this series too, though it seems after all to have been me leading myself on!

I feel convinced, though, that a good many of the teams that this year will go down as also-rans could have played last year and won. This season has seen some teams of the highest quality all playing together, making it a wonderful season to watch. Despite going out in the semis, Manchester's team this year ought to be remembered as one of the great teams of recent years, and it seems likely that only the even more formidable team of Trinity, Cambridge is better than them from certainly this season and the last one.

What a year it has been... and we still have two more matches to come, including potentially the delicious project of Trinity v. Somerville, which amounts to almost the Cambridge 'A' Team against Oxford's own 'A' team. Still, SOAS may yet have something to say about that...

This match was more tense than the Quarter-final between these two, with so much more at stake, but I remain convinced that the Quarter-Final match between them is the best Match in modern University Challenge history.

opaltiger said...

You've clearly not seen the Clare/Manchester quarter final from two series ago. :P

opaltiger said...

Phew. Yeah. That half hour is up there with the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life. I was sure we were going to lose at 155-75. Hats off to Manchester - they were utterly fantastic in both matches.

A couple comments. On my neg - I'm pretty sure Asimov wrote an essay which starts with a very similar quote, so that was annoying. Meanwhile the efficiency of a Carnot engine is one of the few formulae I know from physics, and even so I nearly forgot to subtract my answer from 1 at the end. And then I was about 90% sure it was Caravaggio (having recently watched a documentary about him) halfway through the question and agonised about whether I should risk interrupting at such a crucial moment.

And yes. American politics is one of my favourite subjects. As is Japanese history, which made it really annoying when the gong went.

jim360 said...

I don't know, that was a great match to be sure but one thing that makes it different is that four starters went begging. I don't think you or Manchester dropped a single starter, to the discrepancy in scores is perhaps due to a slightly higher pace from the word go? At the music round the score was 115-100, you don't see that often these days and not just because of lower quality last season.

At any rate, they are both wonderful matches, but my preference goes to this season's myself... perhaps also because the Clare v. Manchester match was something close to Manchester 270, Janes 250, a one-man show, but in this season's match everyone contributed.

Anyway, looking forward to the next two matches that hopefully will live up to the high standard of this season.

Jack said...

Yes, another very fine match between these two seriously good teams. As I said on JOW, it's a shame this wasn't the final really.

Very well done once again to Filip and co, and best of luck in the final. Well done to Manchester too, who performed well all series, and would have been equally deserving of the place in the final.

Both teams were great with the bonuses, Trinity getting 28/37 (with two penalties) and Manchester 18/27 (with just the one penalty).

So, Somerville vs SOAS next. Can't really call that one; both are capable of great performances, but both are vulnerable too. We shall see. Let's hope for some more good matches to finish the series.

Londinius said...

Hi Everyone,

Nice to hear from you Jim. Hope everything is fine with you.

Congratulations, Filip! I know that many people (me included) have picked you out as potential finalists since your first match, but you still have to go out and perform. Thank you also for not giving any clues as to the outcome of the final.

Hi Jack
That conversion rate speaks for itself. Yes, it would have made a good final, but then so would any combination of the four teams. I've already said that I fancy Somerville to beat SOAS, so I can't go back on that now. Time will tell.

Stephen Follows said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen Follows said...

What about the 1987 semi-final, in which Keble came from more than 100 behind to beat St. Anne's?

jim360 said...

I wouldn't say that 1987 is part of modern University Challenge History. Undoubtedly there were some great matches in the Gascoigne era, though I've not been able to see much more than snippets. I was thinking that modern University Challenge "history" probably covers the last ten years or so. At any rate this years Trinity v. Manchester Quarter-final was one of the greatest matches I can remember, which is perhaps a different thing entirely from "greatest match in modern history" -- some of the fine matches from the past I probably have forgotten about, which is a pity.

Stephen Follows said...

University Challenge is University Challenge, surely, whenever it happened - just as you can't judge the best test match innings without mentioning Bradman, even if there's nobody left alive who saw him.

(Of course, as one of the Bradmans who played in that 1987 match, I'm bound to say that!)

jim360 said...

Well all I can say is that it's a pity that so few of the early University Challenge matches survived. On Youtube there's basically the Stephen Fry clip and that's it.

At any rate I personally can only go on what I've seen, and what I've seen covers only the Paxman era probably from about 2000 onwards. So any statements I make about the show or my favourite episodes should be taken to apply only after then.

Nice to get to talk to a contestant from an earlier era, though!

Stephen Follows said...

An earlier era? I must get that doublet and hose to the cleaners...