Friday, 18 July 2014

University Challenge - Round One - Match One

Manchester v. Selwyn College, Cambridge

In a funny way it almost feels as if the series actually started last week, having had those two documentaries about the selection process. Both of Monday’s teams featured in the shows, and the Manchester team quite prominently. Now, the problem with giving us tasters like this is that you start second guessing the producers, wondering if the amount of air time devoted to the teams is proportionate to how well they do/have done in the series. Well, leaving all such pointless speculation behind, the indications were that we were going to kick off the series with a high quality match.

Just in case you hadn’t watched the two documentaries, JP made sure to remind us that Manchester have won the series 4 times – a distinction only shared with Magdalene College Oxford, and all of Manchester’s wins have been during his time as QM as well. So it can be argued that Manchester’s team of Edmund Chapman, Matthew Stallard, Charlie Rowlands and captain John Ratcliffe were under a lot of pressure to perform. Mind you we saw how rigorous the selection process is for Manchester, and how thorough their preparation is, so these guys were not going to be mugs by any stretch of the imagination. Selwyn’s team consisted of Afham Raoof, Hannah Warwicker, Charles Cooper and their skipper, Joshua Pugh Ginn. It’s a tough ask to be drawn against Manchester in the first round, but then on the other hand you know that you have absolutely nothing to lose. And if you win . . .

I was in early for the first starter, asking about a year in a Philip Larkin poem. I’ve taught it several times – MCMXIV – or – 1914. First blood was drawn by Matthew Stallard for Manchester. This earned bonuses on Spain, and specifically succession to the throne of Spain. We each had a full set, and moved on to the 2nd starter. Matthew Stallard buzzed in early for a term derived from latin which we both gave as fossil, and he was rewarded for his efforts with a set of bonuses on islands. Manchester dropped their first points, plumping for lake Geneva rather than lake Constance, but took the next two. Neither team knew that Time magazine once asked if Roy Liechtenstein was the worst artist in the USA. Now, I don’t know where the term paradigm shift came from, but I had it just before Joshua Pugh Ginn buzzed in early to open Selwyn’s account. This earned his team a set of bonuses on Astronomy. They took the first two, but missed out on either Enceladus or Mimas, moons of Saturn. The first picture starter presented us with a map showing what looked like the Trans Siberian railway, and when asked to identify the two terminal cities it was Matthew Stallard who won the buzzer race to name Moscow and Vladivostock. The bonuses asked for more terminal cities of others of the world’s longest rail journeys. The second was the first bonus I missed in this show, and Manchester were a lot closer to it than I was, but just missed out on Guangzhou and Lhasa. They had Vancouver and Toronto as well, though, which I didn’t. Now, when asked – in 2005, Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman – Afham Raoof was immediately in with Reddit. It’s an interweb thingummybob (stop me if I get too technical). Now, the set of bonuses they earned were on Shakespeare. That’s always a double edged sword, for JP absolutely HATES it when anyone gets Shakespeare wrong. As it was they merely earned the sniffy rebuke “There’s no Adam in King Lear.” and took the other two bonuses. All of which meant that despite Manchester seemingly having the better of the opening exchanges, they only led by 65 to 40 at the 10 minute mark.

Joshua Pugh Ginn pulled back ten of those points immediately, correctly identifying a quote from Byron as relating to the Parthenon. A good full set of bonuses on Leonardo da Vinci completely wiped out the rest of the lead, and the sides were square. I guessed that Anser and Branta would refer to geese, hence anserine. I don’t know if Joshua Pugh Ginn was thinking on the same lines, but whatever the case he took the next starter to give Selwyn the lead for the first time in the competition. Selwyn took two bonuses on social commentary, which was two more than I managed. Now, the next question asked something about a particular type of fundamental particles. Now, I tend to have a rule on this one. Anything like this, my answer is quarks. Afham Raoof gave neutrinos a try, but John Ratcliff gave rise to the first lap of honour around the living room by confirming that my stock answer had once again paid out. What’s more, I took a full set of bonuses on chemical elements – thanks Sporcle. Manchester took 2, but missed out on Bismuth. Edmund Chapman buzzed in commendably early for his first starter, knowing that the instrument mentioned in the title of the polemical work by John Knox was a trumpet. A lovely bonus set followed on people who have played themselves in films. They took two, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t get the German director Fassbinder either. On the Music starter the two teams were served with a gentle lob in the shape of Beethoven’s 6th – “Pastorale” Symphony. Charlie Rowlands came in too early, and the answer never quite passed the tip of his tongue, much to Edmund Chapman’s chagrin. Selwyn didn’t recognize it, so we had another starter, and Joshua Pugh Ginn identified the word – barre -. This earned the music bonuses. Now the pieces they were given were taken from tapes of what councils play you while you are on hold. Considering that they missef the Beethoven sitter I was impressed that they knew The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, and Eine Kleine Nachtmusick, while missing Boccherini’s Minuet. More importantly this brought the scores level again. What a good match this was turning out to be. In a UC special starter Matthew Stallard was the first to realize that the question related to the very similar words – complaint and compliant. This earned them a set on viaducts, and sadly this proved to be what I think was the first unanswered set of the night. Afham Raoof knew that sieve tubes in plants are also called phloem – good shout. Two bonuses on electronics meant that at the 20 minute mark Selwyn led by 125 to 115. This was turning out to be a very good match between two good outfits.

Matthew Stallard did what you must do, and backed his judgement to go early on the next starter. This time it didn’t work, as the question swerved to become a good UC special, which asked for the SI unti from the name of which you can make the name of the world’s longest river – the canal linking North Sea and Baltic – etc. Given a free run at the question Selwyn’s Charles Cooper knew that it had to be Kelvin. On such small margins do tight matches hinge. They managed two bonuses on Richard II, and as for the other, well, I’ll put my hand up and say that I didn’t know the Merciless Parliament either. With the lead at 35, you sensed that if Selwyn could take the 2nd picture starter then they would be favourites to take the win. Neither team recognized an ancient picture postcard from Brighton – I went that way because it looked like the old West Pier to me. I guessed, as did Charlie Rowlands, that Engel’s law states that the lower a family’s income, the greater proportion of it is spent on food. Seems a bit like common sense to me, but there you go. I loved Charlie’s comment after as well – I got one right! – Sorry, but I’m a sucker for enthusiasm, and for people obviously enjoying themselves on these shows. Old postcards of Scarborough, Weymouth and Eastbourne did for them, I’m afraid. John Ratcliff continued the Manchester fightback, knowing that the three letter word linking , amongst other places, New York and New Orleans is Big. Three bonuses on equality followed, and a timely full set meant equality between the teams at 145 each. At this rate, it was looking pretty likely to become one of those matches where both teams would qualify. Now, when you hear the name John Bellingham, if you go for your buzzer and answer “Spencer Perceval” then you’ll be right a hell of a lot more often than you’ll be wrong. Matthew Stallard did that, and put his team’s collective nose back in front. Two bonuses on infections took them to 165, but occult infections did for all of us. A real rush of blood to the head saw john Ratcliff buzz in early with the answer ‘udder’ for the organ of a cow containing abomasum etc. This allowed Afham Raoof in with stomach, to put Selwyn within ten points. A full set would give them the lead. They only managed 1. Time was nearly gone, and so I predicted to no one in particular – next correct answer wins the show. A great pressure buzz from Joshua Pugh Ginn identified the river texts with Heraclitus. A five point lead was now Selwyn’s, with three bonuses to come. A great UC set on US presidents and dystopian fiction saw them take their score to 180. Still no gong, and so maybe time for one last hurrah from Manchester. Edmund Chapman buzzed in early and supplied an incorrect answer. The poor fellow’s despair was palpable, and Selwyn answered correctly just before the gong. The final score was 190 to 160. Well played Selwyn, but well played Manchester as well. JP seemed a little non committal about their chances of making the repechage, saying – 160 may be enough to come back as a high scoring loser – who knows? Well it’s certainly been good enough for the last few years. Still, I won’t curse the team by suggesting that they are as good as there. We’ll have to see.

What a great show to begin the series with. Well done to all concerned.

Jeremy Paxman watch

JP showed early promise with his comment that the rules hadn’t changed since they were first devised by Sir Isaac Newton.
He doesn’t like ti when teams rattle off bonuses, does our Jez, and so after Manchester took a full set after the first starter, he favoured them with the acidic “we’ll try not to make them so easy” when they earned a second set. It worked, because Manchester dropped the first.
he gave a marvelous old fashioned look to Charlie Rowlands who suggested that Time magazine might have asked if Jasper Johns was the worst artist in the USA. “No!,” he replied, “he’d be very insulted – or at least his descendants would.” Well, Jez, I doubt if Roy Liechtenstein’s were exactly over the moon about it either.
There was a ‘-or I’ll smash yer face in moment “ when John Ratcliff buzzed, and then gave a long pause before offering quarks, to which you could almost feel JP counting to 10 before threatening him not to pause again when buzzing in. Let it out, Jez, let it all out.
When Selwyn didn’t answer the Beethoven starter straighaway I predicted fireworks, and JP didn’t disappoint. “This is LAMENTABLE!” he opined, and when he was served with the guess of The Rite of Spring he reacted as if something deeply unpleasant had just been shoved under his nose.

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

Sfumato is a term used in painting to mean without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke


Jack said...

Great match to start the new series. The teams were level virtually the whole way through, and it could've gone either way really. Hard luck to Manchester there, but 160 may well be enough for the repechage; it's certainly a good benchmark for others to aim for. Very well done to Selwyn though, and best of luck to them next time.

On the bonuses, Manchester converted 16/27 (with two penalties) and Selwyn 18/27, both very respectable rates.

So, next week Oxford Brookes play Jesus College Oxford, then the following week Bristol take on the Courtauld Institute of Art, which is making its debut on the Paxman version of the show.

Also, it will be good to see the Open University on the show for the first time since their '99 victory.

Adam Lewis said...

Fantastic start to the series, really high quality play from both sides. The nerves were showing, but so was the enthusiasm, and there was a lot of great laughter and joking among the sides which is always nice to see.

It does seem that the producers were perhaps setting Manchester up as Decoy Protagonists given their defeat, though 150 was good enough for a repechage last year so they're by no means down and out yet. Given the university's pedigree in this competition, other teams will certainly be hoping they can indeed stay out. They may be buoyed by Southampton, who made it impressively far after needing a repechage to make it through the first round in the last series. 15 more weeks until we'll know what happens though!

I've been wondering something since seeing the documentaries actually. I noticed among the shots of the teams that Emma Lazlett, of this year's Mastermind semi-finals and series-before-last Only Connect semi-final fame. She appears to be captaining a team for UC, but it wasn't one featured prominently. I loved seeing her in the other shows so I do hope her team qualified for UC as well!

Londinius said...

Hi Both.

I'm going to say a little bit more about this on the podcast, but 160 has been enough for the repechage in 4 out of the last 5 years.

Thanks for the stats Jack- I never felt that either team were being wasteful with their bonuses, and this pretty much bears that out.

Hi Adam, and thanks for taking the time and trouble to leave a comment on LAM. I thinkt hat's a good point about Manchester being decoy protagonists, but on the other hand, they're not out yet as you say. The last team to lose in the first round and win the series were the mighty Emmanuel team, and they only scored 165 in their first round match then. So anything can still happen.

Andrew B. said...

160 wouldn't have been enough to reach the repechage in 2010 or 2011 (the lowest of the highest-scoring losers having scored 165), although the highest-scoring teams to miss out actually scored 155.

In every other series from 2004 onwards, 160 was more than enough. (The scoring was generally higher in the first few "Paxman" series).

k said...

I doubt there was any deliberate effort to portray Manchester as "protagonists" in the documentary. It seems much more likely to me that they devoted more time to Manchester simply because there's a lot more to say about Manchester in relation to University Challenge than there is about a lot of the other institutions.