Friday, 14 March 2014

University Challenge - sudden death quarter final

Southampton v. Manchester

Southampton, in the shape of the unchanged team of David Bishop, our own Richard Evans, Matt Loxham, and skipper Bob De Caux had a very comfortable win over Queens, Belfast in their first aurter final. They were outbuzzed and derailed by a rampant Somerville team, though, and needed to recover their momentum to make headway against a resurgent Manchester. Ed Woudhuysen, Joe Day, Jonathan Collings and their captain Elizabeth Mitchell, knocked out Brasenose in the first round, then comfortably defeated Queens, Cambridge in the second, breaking the 300 point barrier to do so. In their first quarter final match they fought a titanic contest against Trinity, Cambridge, losing out to Trinity’s turbo charged finish, but they dealt with Cardiff fairly comfortably in their second. On with the show.

First blood went to Jonathan Collings, who had proved so influential in their previous match. Early manuscripts provided another 10 points. Something Maths like about vectors proved ungettable to anyone. A number of places and names linked by the word castle fell to our own Richard. Bonuses on philosophy and religion provided 10 points to bring the teams level. Matt Loxham was very close on the next starter – offering the British Film Council, but Jonathan Collings knew that the official title is the BBFC. 5 points lost from Southampton’s total, and Manchester forged on with a bonus about my ancestral hometown of Dundee. The picture starter showed us the city of Munich, and Ed Woudhuysen knew that and the fact that the Treaty to which it gave its name happened in the 30s. This freed up a gettable series of bonuses asking for more locations and treaties and decades, and Manchester duly took two with Locarno and Potsdam. Elizabeth Mitchell identified a group of chemical thingies whose names were all derived from characters in La Boheme. The Sciences was the catch-all category for the next set of bonuses, and Manchester took the first two. I had been a good first ten minutes for Manchester. They weren’t away and clear, but were well ahead with 75 to 15. Southampton maybe at this stage were sitting on their buzzers a little, perhaps subconsciously subdued by the loss of five for an early buzz.

If you hear the name “John Polidori” you really have to answer ‘The Vampyr’, and after a while Jonathan Collings did just that for the next starter. Operas based on Greek Mythology brought Manchester another 10 points. For once the impressive Mr. Collings was in too early with the next starter. English and Welsh according to the 2011 census are the commonly spoken first languages in the UK, and he suggested that Urdu was next. Matt Loxham gave the correct answer of Polish. 19th century American presidents held out the promise of points, and they managed two on a set that were by no means gimmes. Joe Day opened his own account, knowing that the welsh poet of Yr Gododdin, and the architect of the NHS shared the name Aneurin. A set of bonuses on the Rossettis brought Manchester their first full set, and took them through the 100 point barrier. A long and complicated set of instructions from JP prefaced the music starter. Basically they had to add up all the numbers sung in a snatch of Manfred Mann’s 5-4-3-2-1. Nobody managed that. The bonuses rolled over, and Matt Loxham earned them for Southampton for knowing that the Dam on the Colorado River is named after Herbert Hoover. More adding up number totals in songs followed. 2 – 4 – 6- 8- Motorway , and Driving Away From Home escaped them, but they did manage to get the right total with 74 – 75. JP was impressed with that. Now, for all that, Southampton were trailing by some margin. At such a stage you have to make a decision. Do you sit back and let it happen, or do you go for it? Southampton, to their credit, seemed to have decided to go for it. Bob de Caux flew in for the next starter, asking about the end of a Dickens novel. He zigged with Barnaby Rudge, losing 5, and when the rest of the question was asked, and the name ‘Squeers’ given, Jonathan Collings knew it could only be Nicholas Nickleby. The psychology of emotion promised little, but Manchester managed to add another 5 points to their total. It was Richard who buzzed early on the next starter, which was a cryptic little devil, all pointing to the names of bridges over the Thames. It was like the mother ship calling me home, that question. Matt Loxham knew that E508 is potassium chloride, an alternative to salt in a low sodium diet. Good shout that. A full set of bonuses on landlocked countries took Southampton back up to 65 on the 20 minute mark. Manchester already had 125. Southampton could do it – they had proved that they could equal Manchester on the buzzer, but it was going to take correct answers, and a run of them at that.

They tried, there’s no doubt about that. For the next starter, asked which painter Ruskin championed Bob de Caux flew in, then hesitated before answering ‘Holman Hunt’. Not a daft answer by any means, for Ruskin certainly had complicated dealings with the PRB, Millais especially, but it was Turner, and all too easy for Jonathan Collings to sweep up the crumbs from that particular table. Space exploration gave them nothing. The next starter showed a caricature of Andrew Carnegie, and Ed Woudhuysen was first in for that. More caricatures of 19th and early 20th century figures in the USA brought 10 more points. Neither team knew that the 1880s saw the death of Gordon of Khartoum. Bob de Caux again went for it with the next, but it fell to Alison Mitchell to identify various meanings of the word contract. Two letter ‘scrabble words’ made an interesting, if somewhat inscrutable set. Gave nothing away. Jonathan Collings knew that the standard latin version of the Bible translated by St. Jerome is the Vulgate. Eastern Europe only provided 5 points, but it was more than enough. The lead was now 120, and there was nowhere near time enough left on the clock. Ed Woudhuysen knew that the British army surrendered at Yorktown in the War of Independence. Plants’ common names brought a full set that tok Manchester to 200. David Bishop knew Hephaestos moulded the first woman in Greek mythology. A UC special set on subjunctives in other languages allowed a full set to take Southampton to 80, and that was where it ended. Manchester won clearly by 200 to 80, and stepped over the threshold into the semi. As I’ve said before, nobody gets rich by betting against Manchester in UC. As for Southampton, very hard lines boys, but well done on your achievements this series. As for tonight, it didn’t quite work out, but you went down buzzing, and I’ve a lot of time for a team that can do that.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

In playful mood was JP in this show. Manchester skipper Alison Mitchell tentatively identified Brest Litovsk – scene of the eponymous world war one treaty signing – as Minks. “Miinnsskkk.” replied out hero, almost savouring the word for some rare or delicate flavor.

Mind you there was at least a flash of irritation as Bob de Caux buzzed early on the Turner question then hesitated before answering. JP hates that! It wasn’t quite a ‘do that again and I’ll smash yer teeth in’ moment, but it was certainly a warning.

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

In the 2011 census, Polish was the third most commonly spoken first language in the UK.


Jack said...

Bad luck to Southampton there, but, as you say, Manchester are never easy to beat. But I agree that Richard and co have had a very good run throughout this series, and they always lost to good teams, which is perfectly respectable. Well done to them.

Well done to Manchester as well though; we shall see how they get on in the semis once again.

On the bonuses, Manchester converted 18/36 (and incurred two penalties), while Southampton did very well, converting 11/15 (though they did incur five penalties).

So, I guess it must be SOAS vs Queen's on Monday. And then the semis!

Stephen Follows said...

Alison Mitchell's a cricket commentator. You mean Elizabeth.

Londinius said...

Hi Stephen - D'oh! I'm not even a great fan of cricket either! Changed now.

Hi Jack,

Thanks for the stats. Yeah, as I said Southampton really didn't have any choice other than taking a flyer on the buzzer. It didn't work, but it's far better to go down fighting rather than just meekly submit.

As for SOAS v. Queens - well, I've been writing Queens off since their first match, but they're still here. I do think that SOAS have been the better team on balance so far, though.

BobDC said...

Thanks for all your write-ups throughout the series! Shame that we rather limped out in the end - from my point of view, I found the Somerville game more frustrating, as I was a lot more hesitant on the buzzer than usual and kept getting pipped by Mr Beer.

Against Manchester, we just started too slowly and then had to take some wild swings, as you correctly surmised. By the way, the reason I hesitated on Holman Hunt was that I was buzzing in to say "PRB" just as the question specified "artist"!

Matt said...

Hi all, Matt from the Southampton team here. I've been enjoying reading this blog all the way through the series, but though I'd wait until our participation was over before commenting. This was a very strange match for me and, much like the game against Somerville, I had forgotten many of the questions (not only those picked up by the opposition, but some we got too). My overriding memory of this one was being completely exhausted beforehand, but hoping we had a chance in light of our matches against Bangor and QUB. As soon as I heard the name Andreas Whittam Smith, ex-President of the British Board of Film Classification, and then blanked immediately after buzzing, I knew this wasn't going to be my night. In fact, it just wasn't our night all round. Bob in particular was unlucky with a couple of his interruptions, only narrowly beating me on a couple of them, both of which I would also have been incorrect with. Then on the questions we did know, Manchester were just too quick. That's just how it falls, I suppose, and when you're up against a team with better all-round knowledge, you really need to get more than your fair share of luck. Indeed, had we somehow managed to win, it would have been pretty unjust on Manchester - in particular, I have played against Jonathan Collings a few times in the past, and he is a tremendous quizzer, particularly on the arts and social sciences. 30 starters from only five matches is quite some tally, but what I also like about Manchester is that there is no "quiet man" - everyone gets a decent tally of questions right. I should also add that this is the same of the other two teams already in the semis - there are no one/two (wo)man teams, meaning there might not be a single standout player, but that the matches are much more fun to watch and perhaps less predictable.

After Somerville, I suppose I was hoping that we would get another go at SOAS in our final quarter final - I think that their (by university definition) relative lack of coverage of the sciences would have allowed us to capitalise had the questions been richer in science. Otherwise, they could have given us a hiding too. That's the thing I realised though - matches are impossible to predict. QUB were able to see off Clare Cambridge, who in turn looked for 25 minutes like they would beat Somerville. And yet we managed to beat QUB fairly comfortably, and had very little say against Somerville. A lot of it is capitalising on how the questions fall, and getting on a run. I think that the series winner will always be the best team over the course of the 30-odd programmes (although UCL/Manchester last year was too close to call), but in individual matches there is always the possibility of an upset, and you need to keep this in mind when playing a team better than yours (and not forget it when they start racking up the points!).


Matt said...


Having said all this, our losses again SOAS, Somerville, and Manchester were all against teams better than us. I suspect on our day we might have been able to beat any of them, but those days would be somewhat infrequent.

So what were the highlights of our run? Well, for me it was playing Bangor (with legends of the previous series Simon Tomlinson and Simon Dennis in the audience), and accumulating the highest score of the series so far against a very good team, albeit with questions which I felt were very well suited to us. Also the rather pleasant surprise of making the repechage round - after having wanted to be on the programme for quite some time, the thought that we may only get one game was very dispiriting! However, the main thing was actually making it to the televised rounds. There are some superb quizzers who never get the chance, so I am immensely glad that we did.

And finally... There is a lot of banter on twitter about contestants being "smug", or acting as if they feel superior. I think we crossed paths with a decent proportion of the teams on the series, and there was no one at all who fitted this stereotype. Everyone was having fun, and there was a very friendly atmosphere, and several of the teams spent time having a drink afterwards, whether they'd won or lost. In addition, everyone working for the production company who looked after us was great fun, and seemed to be enjoying it almost as much as we did. The whole experience was a tremendous one, and has made me really keen to find another quiz show to be on, although I'm well aware that it probably won't quite reach the heights of the University Challenge experience.

Cromarty(IV) said...

I'd like to join Bob and Matt in saying thank you for an excellent series of write-ups for our matches and the rest of the competition. They've been great fun to read - not least all the speculation about future twists and turns in the series, when we've known the answers and had to keep quiet!

It's a shame that our run ended as it did, with a bit of a whimper, but Somerville and Manchester's knowledge bases were definitely much stronger than ours, so we can certainly say that we were beaten by class acts. I remember reading about a simultaneous chess display in which Mikhail Tal just managed to outplay a very strong opponent who took him to the brink of defeat several times, and this opponent walked away with a beaming smile, having "become part of the Tal legend" by losing to him. I suppose we can say that we're now part of the Somerville and Manchester stories - and that's not a bad epitaph!

My highlight from this game, apart from the mad music round, was getting the "Castle" starter. For me, the giveaway clue was about a Foreign Secretary, which I knew had to be a reference to Lord Castlereagh. It's a long-running joke among our team that I only made it onto the team because I was able to identify Castlereagh on another question in Southampton's UC auditions, so I've come full circle!