Sunday, 20 April 2014

University Challenge - Champion of Champions

I won’t lie to you, I’d been looking forward to this. Here’s the basic premise : - there are just two institutions that have won University Challenge 4 times since the commencement of the Paxman era in 1994. These are Magdalen College, Oxford, (97,98,04 and 11) and University of Manchester (06,09,12,13). Now, I like Magdalen, and I like Manchester – but which one is better? There’s only one way to find out. . . Both institutions fielded a team comprising of one member of each of their winning teams. So for Magdalen we had Matthew Chan from 2011, Freyja McClements from 2004, Sarah Healey from 1998, and their skipper, Jim Adams from 1997. Fittingly each of the four team members had captained their team in their winning year. Manchester’s team consisted of Henry Pertinez from 2009, Gareth Aubrey from 2006, Adam Barr from 2013 and their captain Tristan Burke from 2012. My family had already made it clear that I was to watch this show upstairs since none of them wanted to watch with me, otherwise they would have heard me say that Manchester for my money were favourites, because they had players I know to be some very good quizzers indeed. Mind you, nobody ever got rich by following up on my tips.

Both teams sat on their buzzers like good old handsm until the first starter eventually revealed the words ‘monarch’, ‘dissolution’ and ‘quasi monastic establishments’. Magdalen clearly all went for their buzzers as well, but it was Tristan from Manchester who won the race to answer Henry VIII. Bonuses on Churchill’s descriptions of his contemporaries gave us both a full set of bonuses. There was a fantastic UC special starter, where the character who marries Sebastian in Twelfth Night, and the scientist who wrote ‘Principia Mathematica’ together with the given name of Tony Blair’s predecessor gave Tristan Olivia Newton John. Art in literature provided Manchester with a second consecutive full set, and they had yet to drop a point. That happened with the next starter, though. Adam Barr was in too early with the creator of the skeleton for the Statue of Liberty, and supplied the name Bartholdi, the sculptor of the statue itself rather than the frame. Given the full question Sarah Healey was able to supply the correct answer of Gustave Eiffel. A tough set of bonuses on cosmology saw them answer just the one correctly. Never mind, they were off the mark. A very fine picture starter followed. A number of countries on a map of the world were highlighted. The country with the largest area, Russia, was labelled with the name of the country with the highest population, China. You see how it works? Canada was highlighted. Now, Canada has the second largest area. So working by the example, it needed to be labelled with the name of the second most populous country – India. I’m not sure Jim Adams quite understood how this worked, since he actually buzzed in with the answer Canada. Gareth from Manchester supplied the right one. The bonuses were more of the same, and Manchester took the lot. Very impressive. We were closer to 11 minutes than 10 after this set, and Manchester had an impressive lead of 70 to 15.

The next starter was something about a scientist I’d never heard of, and neither team managed the answer. Gareth Aubrey recognized a description of the conversational filler ’like’, and this earned a set of bonuses on Belgian cheese. ‘Limberger’! I shouted, being pretty certain that it would be the answer to one of the three bonuses, and being equally certain that I wouldn’t get any of the others. Well, as it happened I did know that the third battle of Ypres was the battle of Passchendaele, not least because my great granddad was killed on the first day of the battle, however I digress. Blindingly good on the bonuses so far, Manchester once again took a full set. For the next starter Gareth was the first to recognize a description of the Brandenburg Concertos. Bonuses on WEEE – as you well know, that stands for Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment brought their incredible run on the bonuses to an end, although they still managed one bonus, which took their total to 110, and their lead to 95. Now, I don’t know about the tropopause, but Gareth does, and that was what it needed to answer the next starter. Poor old Magdalen were being trounced on the buzzer up to this point, and there was seemingly nothing they could do about it. Asian Maritime empires promised little, yet Manchester still delivered a full set. This was the cue for JP to unleash the kiss of death on Magdalen, by telling them “Plenty of time left.” You know that you’re on the wrong end of a hiding when he starts telling you that. Being as it was a special occasion, the boffins who set the questions had even come up with a UC special on the music starter. Two pieces of music were played in quick succession, and the teams had to identify the nationality that linked both composers. As soon as Greig’s ‘Morning Mood’ was played Henry Pertinez was first in with Norwegian. Only one bonus followed, but that was enough to push Manchester to 150. Neither team quite managed the French verb rechercher for the next starter. Neither team could answer what the letters NN in the acronym ICANN stand for. Names and Numbers apparently. It’s an internet thing. Finally a member of Magdalen threw caution to the winds and buzzed very early to correctly identify several words that rhyme with scrabble. Sarah Healey thus earned bonuses on the locomotives in the Rev. W. Awdry’s Thomas the Tank engine series. Based on clues, they had to give the names of three of the engines, and their colours or other designations. . We both had the first two, but I thought that the last one was controversial. It was obviously Gordon – we both had that. However we were both wrong with blue. Now, it’s true that Gordon’s designation is certainly Gordon the Big Engine. However, the fact is that Gordon’s colour is blue. The specific wording of the question was ‘ their colour OR designation. ‘As it happened, what was wanted for all three was the designation, and only the colour when this actually was the designation. Oh well, grumble over. After 20 minutes the score was 145 to 35 to Manchester.

I was very pleased with myself for getting libation and libration, which was the next starter to fall to Manchester, as Adam Barr answered it correctly. Bonuses on electricity did nothing for me, but provided Manchester with another correct answer. The second picture starter showed a painting of a scene from mythology, and I recognized Penelope weaving her father’s death shroud. As did Sarah Healey, thus earning three more paintings of figures from the Odyssey. A full set made their score begin to look a bit more healthy. Full marks to the setters for asking about the song with the lyric “The juice of a carrot, the smile of a parrot, a little drop of claret, anything that rocks” Tristan was the first to recognize Ian Dury’s wonderful “Reasons to be cheerful part 3”. A good UC special set on chemical symbols followed. For each one the team were given definitions of two words, the last two letters of which formed a symbol of a chemical element. They had to identify the elements. I only had molybdenum and lithium, but they had all three. Respect. Sarah Healey, fighting a valiant rearguard action for Magdalen, identified the term vexatious, as applied to litigation. Maria Dickin and the Dickin Medal brought two bonuses, and took their score to 80. With only a short time remaining, the question was whether they would be able to get the starter and two bonuses they required to take their score to triple figure respectability. It wasn’t the next starter. This fell to Adam Barr, who was in very quickly with the Monty Hall question. Fair enough. Two bonuses on linguistic typology provided them with a further ten points – kudos to the setter who slipped the Yoda question into that one.This pushed Manchester through the 200 barrier. Something about matrices followed. The answer was zero as Henry Pertinez knew. Epidemiology provided us both with two, before the gong interrupted the last. The final score, then was 230 to 80 to Manchester.

Many congratulations to Manchester, and commiserations to Magdalen, but then let’s be honest, this was a special show, a bit of fun, and not one member of either of those teams had anything to prove to anyone. A good show, highly enjoyable.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Nobody was going to get off too lightly in this special show. When Tristan answered the Olivia Newton John starter, JP hailed his answer with the grunt, “I see you haven’t learned any shame in the intervening years.”. Charming. I’m sure that Miss Newton John is a big fan of yours too, Jez.

After taking a brilliant full set on Asian Maritime Empires, which meant that they had a lead of three figures, our hero was moved to observe, “They’re going to get embarrassed about looking a bit keen very shortly.” No they’re not, Jeremy! These are all University Challenge winners! Looking a bit keen goes with the territory.

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

The term vexatious is applied to litigation initiated without sufficient cause, in order to harass or subdue an adversary.


Jack said...

This was great. It wasn't a terribly exciting match, but it was good viewing. Of course, I had to wait an extra hour for it due to regional variations, but it was worth it.

I was half expecting Manchester to do better, considering they had sent the best player from each team, rather than the captain from each team. They were simply too good on the buzzer for Magdalen, but the Oxonians should not be ashamed at all. If anything, Manchester's performance just goes to show why they have done so well in the past ten years.

Both teams did superbly on the bonuses, Magdalen getting 8/12, and Manchester 26/33 (with two penalties). Brilliant work that.

A very nice one-off match. Hopefully, we'll see some more one-off friendlies at some point.

jim360 said...

I've posted this sort of idea also as JOW, but I think I could say it here too. I'd say that the BBC will have missed a trick of matches between past champions/ teams made from the top individual players don't become a regular mini-season, say instead of the regular Christmas University Challenge matches featuring not particularly impressive celebrity names. Just imagine seeing Trimble v. Guttenplan, and other such match-ups!

Londinius said...

Hi guys,
Jack, I must admit the same thought occurred to me - Magdalen looked like a team who were along for the fun and the craic - while Manchester's team had been put together to win.

Jim, you have a point. Certainly since they dropped the idea of including one good UC contestant of years gone by in the sleb teams, their performances have not been much more impressive than the average Sleb Mastermind contender. A, for want of a better title, University Challenge Masters series would certainly feature on my 'must watch' list.