Saturday, 12 April 2014

University Challenge - Grand Final

Yes, dear friends, Monday last was the time for each of us to put up or shut up. For Trinity and Somerville, nothing less than a win would suffice. To the victors, the title and trophy, and to the vanquished some deserved accolades. As for me, I had nailed my colours to the Trinity mast, and only time would tell whether they were strong enough to beat the curse of the Clark sofa.

Trinity took out the two time champions Manchester last time out. Matthew Ridley, Filip Drnovšek Zorko, Richard Freeland and Ralph Morley make up a Trinity team that has looked to be the pick of the bunch in what has been a genuinely compelling and competitive series. The role of underdog is an unfamiliar one for the Somerville team of Sam Walker, Zach Vermeer, Chris Beer and their skipper Michael Davies, who defeated SOAS in the second semi-final last week. Even despite losing Hasneen Karbilai after the first two rounds they have carried all before them on their own irresistible march to the final. Yes, I had tipped Trinity and I was sticking to it, but that was not to take anything away from Somerville. Either team would be worthy champions.

If Trinity have a weakness it is the fact that they haven’t always started very quickly, and this has left them needing a very strong finish in some of their matches. Of course, one of their strengths is the fact that they do finish that strongly. So I was looking forward to seeing who would take the first starter. Both teams seemed to sit back on the buzzer a little as a description of King Richard I unfolded, but it was Chris Beer who took the prize. Game on. 3 distinctly gettable bonuses on wealth and riches followed, and Somerville duly distinctly got them. Richard Freeland opened Trinity’s account with the term homogeneous. Bonuses on the Danube left them feeling a little blue as they only managed the one. Never mind, for Richard Freeland knew that when you hear the words “Edward de Bono” you slam the buzzer through the desk and answer ‘lateral thinking’. Their bonuses were on Gustav Kirchhoff, known in Lam Towers as Gustav Who? This time the guys took a full set, and the lead. The picture starter showed a stamp bearing a scene from a Jane Austen novel. Now, the rule of thumb is, that unless you know the answer to an Austen question is something else, you always go for Pride and Pred. Ralph Morley did, and thus earned his team three more stamps from three more Austen novels. The first two they took, but missed out on Emma. To be fair, a girl in a carriage talking to a bloke on foot could have been from pretty much any of them. Zach Vermeer took his own first starter, knowing that Hillaire Belloc advised not attempting to keep more than 6 of the Ten Commandments. The curious set of man, gods and mangoes provided Somerville with a second full set of bonuses. So far, they had a 100% record on their bonuses. Undaunted, Ralph Morley buzzed in early on a description of Exeter Cathedral. A set of bonuses on novels of Emile Zola didn’t provide them with any points. I’ll be honest, if it ain’t “Nana”, “Therese Raquin” or “Germinal” I don’t know it. Thankfully the last one, Germinal, brought me a correct answer. Something about electricity followed, and after Sam Walker had a stab Matthew Ridley buzzed in with the correct answer. Fine art and music in the words of Kenneth Clark (the historian, not the politician)Two bonuses this time took their score to 90, and they led by 40 points at the ten minute mark. Bearing in mind Trinity’s famous sprint finish, this looked ominous for Somerville.

Right then – which song begins with 5 questions to which the answers are no – no – no – no - and – get them yourself? Nobody knew, and Chris Beer lost five for an early answer. It’s Jerusalem. Ah yes, I thought, I do see. Wouldn’t have had it though. It was Ralph who buzzed in too early for the next starter. Asked in which year a series of births and deaths happened, as soon as JP mentioned Lenin I said 1924, just as Ralph buzzed in with 1926. Zach Vermeer, a class act throughout the series, came in with the correct answer. This opened up a great little UC special set on calculations based on the order of the planets within the solar system. So for example, the sum of all the moonless planets is 3 – Mercury -1 and Venus -2. Somerville managed one of these. I loved space and astronomy when I was a kid and I had the lot. For the music starter Richard Freeland buzzed in very quickly to identify a snatch of Rachmaninov. This was one of the top 30 classical music choices among listeners of Desert Island discs, and for the bonuses they had to identify three others. We all knew that The Lark Ascending had been Number 1. Trinity also recognized the number 28, but missed out on Mahler’s Fifth. Given but a few words, Zach Vermeer identified The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. A fine full set on philosophy brought the gap back down to 20 points. I told you it was going to be a good contest. Filip buzzed in too early on the next starter, offering the term precocious rather than precocial, but Somerville could not capitalize. Asked for two of the three Canadian Provinces or Territories that are smaller than the UK Ralph Morley buzzed in with the same two as I said – Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. New Brunswick is the other. A really nice UC set followed on pairs of French nouns that differ in meaning according to gender – le or la. –I bet tower and tour is one I observed to nobody in particular. I was right, that was the last one. Le/la moule and le/la mode were the others, and Trinity had them all. Once again, Somerville pegged them back by taking the next starter. Chris Beer came in early, recognizing lyrics of The Princess, and earning himself a ‘well done’ from JP in the process. Three bonuses on 4th century saints pegged back the lead to 15. Filip had a fantastic early buzz on the next starter about mosaics on the floor of the National Gallery. Tea growing in West Asia promised little, but delivered two bonuses which took the lead back up to 35.The second picture starter showed us the photo of a scientist. Lord alone knows why, but I shouted ‘Tesla’. Sam Walker offered Nobel, and Filip offered Dirac. “No,” announced JP, “It’s Nikola Tesla”. How the hell. . . ? It is a well known fact that I couldn’t identify people’s photographs even if they’ve been known to me as close personal friends. Oh well, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. The bonuses rolled over to the next starter which saw Filip give the answer Grignard to a question about a French chemist. Il avait raison, and this earned the picture bonuses. Pictures of more scientists who gave their names to SI units brought them just the one, but rather surprisingly I had a full set. Can’t explain that, but don’t worry, it will never happen again on pictures. It took us comfortably over the 20 minute mark, and Trinity led by 160 to 110.

Zach Vermeer, so impressive for his team in this game, and throughout the series, identified a definition of truth. Bonuses on Physics on a space station in low earth orbit saw me go bye byes for a minute or two. When I came round, Somerville hadn’t managed to answer any of them correctly. I was so pleased to hear the late, great Roger Delgado get a name check in the next starter. Both Chris Beer and I came out with The Master for that one. A set of bonuses on the word stasis enabled Somerville to narrow the gap to 25. Ralph Morley dashed their hopes a little by coming in extremely early with the language Proto Indo European. Words coined during the 20th century brought another 5 points. The gap stood at 40, and Trinity were not over the event horizon yet. Various definitions of the word ‘iris’ followed. Sam Walker had a go, and I’ll be honest, I was heading up the rose path myself, so I can’t blame him for that. Still, the faces of the Somerville team told a story. They knew that this was probably it. Opening words in Shakespeare brought Trinity a further five points, and a lead which was starting to look decisive. An impression further bolstered when Filip identified Cape Agulhas as the southern tip of South Africa. A couple of bonuses on palaeontology took them through the 200 barrier. Filip took a second consecutive starter, knowing that in building terms, ORS is old red sandstone. 2 bonuses on Oman were taken, and game over, I thought to myself. Finishing with a flourish, Filip took his third consecutive starter, knowing that the E in E coli is for escherischia. There was time for just one bonus on bears, and that was that.

For the record, Trinity won the Grand Final with 250 to 145. First to pay tribute were the fine Somerville team, who applauded Trinity fulsomely. They deserve their own applause too, for they played a huge part in the success of this series in their own right, and were right up there with Trinity before falling, as so many have before, to that fabulous finishing burst. As for Trinity – well, establishing yourself as the team to beat in the first round, as they did, is one thing. Taking on all comers, and not actually allowing any other team to beat you is quite another. Trinity have now defeated all three other teams who qualified for the semis, and nobody could possibly argue that they are anything less than most worthy University Challenge champions 2014. Many, many congratulations.

As always a word of thanks to Jeremy Paxman, for continuing to be nothing more or less than himself. If a quiz is a success, then don’t ignore the contribution the question master makes. In fact, congratulations and thanks for another great series to the whole team involved in making the show. Fantastic series once again.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Jez is normally on his best behaviour for the Grand Final. It’s a measure of the quality of this series that he was equally well behaved in both semis. Still, we did at least kick off with the venerable simile “the rules are as constant as the Northern Star”. I’ve always had a fondness for that one myself.

”You’ll kick yourself”, our hero opined before giving the answer to the Jerusalem question. Oh, really?! Come on.

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

Hillaire Belloc supposedly added the words Candidates should only attempt 6 of these to Kipling’s observation that The Ten Commandments are not to be found East of Suez. Well, it made me laugh.


jim360 said...

It's as if all the good teams were saving themselves up for this year wasn't it? Any one of half-a-dozen teams could easily be competitive enough to win series past.

I do think Somerville missed Karbalai. We'll never know, of course, what impact he'd have had but his replacement only mustered two starters in four matches, compared to Karbalai's five in two. Never mind, because there were still two of the finest student quizzers on the Somerville team in the form of Chris Beer and Zac Vermeer. Indeed a run-down of the names in this series shows that it's littered with players who play on the national student quizzing circuit. Full of quality, and it's really shone through.

Congratulations to Trinity for a deserving series win. Played 6 matches and never scored less than 240 in a match, and scoring 1605 points overall.

We can only hope that the next series is just as exciting. I can't wait for it to start up again.

Stephen Follows said...

Do we know what happened to Karbalai? I agree with Jim that his absence was the difference between Somerville winning and losing.

Londinius said...

Hi Guys,
To be fair it can only be speculation about what difference Mr. Karbalai might have made. I don't think it is by any means a foregone conclusion that Somerville would have won had he been in the side. We will never know.

Agree with you Jim - great series.

opaltiger said...

Stephen: I believe he took a leave of absence from his studies. He seems to be back now.

Obviously I'd say this but I feel like we would have won anyway. A margin of 105 points is a swing of two starters assuming both teams score full points on the bonuses; that's pretty unlikely (our bonus rate was actually the lowest we had all series), so in reality it would probably be even more.

It's to the credit of the Somerville team that at no point did they make an issue of this - it would have been easy for them to say "oh we would have won if we'd had Hasneen", but they didn't. They were all absolutely lovely people and I really enjoyed playing against them, so I'm pleased that didn't mar the match.

That aside, thank you for your kind words! I've had great fun following this blog and I hope we've managed to be entertaining as well as winning.

The final was a very strange match, because after our really tense semi-final it felt quite anti-climactic having to play another match. (I imagine Somerville, coming back from -10 - 55 in their semi, felt much the same). It was a good one, though. The National Gallery starter I only got because I had, about a week earlier, spent some time admiring said mosaics while waiting for a friend to get back from the cloakroom. Which goes to show: you can learn as many lists as you like, some topics are impossible to revise. I'm also quite amused by the sad predictability with which I once again got a biology starter wrong - though I'm quite pleased that the only starter I answered based on my actual degree was the very last of the series.

Anyway, that's all from me. Thanks again for your time, and I'll see you next series, perhaps!

jim360 said...

I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that Karbalai was the difference between victory and defeat, but possibly he was the difference between 240-135 and 240-200? Matches can swing on fine margins and even a gap of 100 can represent being fractions of a second too slow on the buzzer a couple of times...

And even without Karbalai, the presence of Beer and Vermeer still meant that this represented among the strongest line-up in a final we're likely to see.

Interestingly I've had the opportunity to compare starter rates from this season and the last one and they're pretty similar, really. It was in the bonuses that the damage was done last season, it seems... but then the standard this year has been incredible. I think Southampton's remarkable displays on the buzzer in thrashing Bangor (I enjoyed that one as a sort of by proxy revenge...) and Clare; or the Trinity-Manchester quarter-final that was among the top matches in the modern era; or Jonathon Collings' 36 starters across the series.

Full of highlights and super performances. And, in the end, the best team won.

Londinius said...

Hi Filip - and many congratulations. My final thoughts on the Hasneen Karbalai situation are that yes, he might well have made a difference to Somerville's performance as such, but I had Trinity as the team to beat even when he was with Somerville, and I think that you would have won anyway. In a final, the margin of victory is immaterial.Just 5 points would be enough.

Thanks for your comments during the series - it always gives me great pleasure when you guys at the sharp end, taking part in the series, take time and trouble to post here, and share your experiences with us.

Jack said...

Great final. Two very impressive teams throughout the series, both would've deserved the title. Very well done once again to Filip and co on a very well deserved victory! Well done to Somerville who played it brilliantly too, and should be pleased with what they've achieved.

On the bonuses, Trinity converted 22/40 (with two penalties), and Somerville 14/21 (with one penalty).

So, that's all for this series. There is, however, a Champion of Champions match between Magdalen College Oxford and Manchester next Saturday.

jim360 said...

Champion of Champions? Oh wow, that ought to be good. Which incarnations of the teams are playing?

Wouldn't it be great if they could make a Champion of Champions thing more regularly? It would be interesting to see how various winners down the years math up against each other. That or some sort of all-stars competition, where they take the top four players from each series as a single team ... would lead to higher-quality matches than the current Christmas University Challenge specials.

Jack said...

Well Jim, I've checked, and it claims it will be one from each of the four winning teams from both institutions.