Pembroke College, Oxford v. Downing College, Cambridge
Ding dang dong, dingee dingee dang dong, dingee dang DINgee dong. Great lyrics to the theme, don’t you think? Yes, already we’ve reached the third heat of the first round, and the first Oxford v. Cambridge match up. Representing Pembroke College we had Connor McGurk, Tom Lambert, Louis Morris and their captain Catherine Perry. In the light blue corner, representing Downing College, were Fergus O’Dowd, Jane O’Connor, Felix Prutton and their own skipper, Yanbo Yin.
So far we’d had two great matches, in which both teams looked good for another outing in the series. Were we about to see this continue? Well, it was Jane O’Connor who struck first, knowing that a musical performer born in Minneapolis, a political treatise of 1513, and a Canadian maritime province were all good matches for the word Prince. Cities which have hosted the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in recent years provided a full house, and it was fairly clear that Downing meant business. ‘Transverse and longitudinal’ is the prelude to one of those UC chestnuts which pops up to say hello every couple of years, but Felix Prutton lost five for an early buzz with waves, allowing in Connor McGurk, who gave the correct answer of dunes after the helpful word barchans was mentioned. A tricky set on agriculture followed, of which Pembroke managed the one. Nonetheless, two starters and both teams were off the mark. That’s how I like to see it. On a disease of the oral cavities Tom Prutton came in too early for the second question running. On the one hand this may have been frustrating to his team, but on the other, at least he wasn’t going to allow one early buzz to put him off slinging buzzer for the rest of the competition, and this is an attitude I can appreciate. The Oxford skipper, Catherine Perry, had a shy at it with plaque, but it was caries, or tooth decay. Nathan Zuckerman is the narrator of several novels by Philip Roth, and I was a little surprised at the way both teams sat on the buzzer before Louis Morris offered the correct answer in tones which seemed to suggest that he thought that he couldn’t possibly be right. He was, though. Architectural styles and movements again saw Pembroke pick up one point. We moved to the picture starter, which showed us just a European country’s road major road network, without the outline of the country. I’ll be honest, looking at it, it shouted Portugal to me, and obviously to Fergus O’Dowd as well, for he buzzed in very quickly. More of the same followed, and Downing took their second full house of the evening. I did nothing like as well, only seeing the Netherlands for the last one. None of us knew that treacle is derived from Greek words meaning antidote to venom. This meant that just about on the 10 minute mark the game was nicely poised, with Downing leading by 40 – 30.
Now, as soon as you hear “The Father of the Symphony” you should slam the buzzer through the desk and answer Haydn. To be fair to Yanbo Yin he did the slamming, but did wait for the epithet ‘Father of the string quartet’ before doing so. The album “The Number of the Beast” by Iron Maiden, who I believe were a popular musical combo of years gone by, provided Downing with nothing. This was a little surprising considering that two were gettable without any knowledge of the band or album itself. I’ll be honest, I know nowt about Captcha – but Connor McGurk was in early for it. The set of bonuses on biology gave us both two correct answers, and knowing enough to get while the going is good, I set off puffing my way around the living room for the traditional lap of honour. Both the teams were tied at this stage, and it looked as if it was developing into another good contest. I understand why Tom Lambert came in early with the philosopher Epicurus for the next starter, but he lost five and allowed Yanbo Yin in with the correct answer of Democritus. The (main) River Avon provided a timely full house. I felt sorry for Louis Morris on the next starter. When you hear dates in the 19th century, then the words ‘a notable nurse’ and you’re 30 points behind, of course you’re going to sling buzzer and answer Florence Nightingale. She died considerably later than 1881, though. This allowed Downing to hear the rest of the question, with the Downing skipper nodding as ‘the battlefields of the Crimea’ were mentioned. Realistically this narrowed down the possible answers to one, Mary Seacole, which was the answer he gave.Unpaired words, those which are negative in form but whose positive forms are non existent or rare, for example unkempt, provided a full house. In the space of a couple of minutes Downing had taken a 60 point lead, and Pembroke really needed a starter to keep themselves within touching distance. The music starter saw both teams reluctant to chance their arm, even though it was a relatively well known bit of Ludwig Van. The impressive Downing skipper finally took that piece of low lying fruit. They failed to get any of the bonuses. Yanbo Yin was again in very quickly to tell us that the Self Strengthening Movement in China occurred during the Qing dynasty. Now, Robert Grosseteste ( yes, Robert Who?) promised very little, but amazingly delivered me a lapworthy full house. It would have given Downing the same, had they not given Francis rather than Roger Bacon as Doctor Mirabilis. Didn’t matter – they now had a 90 point lead, and the invisible elastic joining the two teams must have been at breaking point. I would imagine that however determined you are, once the opposition have carved out a significant lead like this it must be very hard to find the mental toughness to tell yourself that you can still beat them on the buzzer for the next starter, and the next, and the next . . . Especially when Yanbo Yin was knocking them in from all angles. He recognised a description of bilharzia for the next starter. Rock types provided us both with a single bonus. At the 20 minute mark Downing looked to be in cruise control with 145, while Pembroke really needed to start slinging some serious buzzer if they were to have any chance of reaching a repechage score.
Neither team could recognise the city of Kiev from a description for the next starter. Tom Lambert struggled to get out the fact that Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican party president of the USA, but get it out he did, and Pembroke were moving again. When JP announced a set of bonuses on literary oxymorons, I felt sure that Milton/Golding’s ‘Darkness Visible’ would be one. It wasn’t, but that didn’t stop Pembroke from taking a full set. So to the second picture starter. Holman Hunt’s The Scapegoat did nothing for either of the teams. A UC special question which was, in my opinion, too bloody hard, and involved symbols for amino acids and major currencies, hardly surprisingly proved a bit of a waste of time for everyone. Right – if you hear ‘given name’ and ‘hominid’ then you have to buzz. The answer almost invariably will be Lucy. Jane O’Connor took that one. Finally we got a shy at the picture bonuses, which were more of the works of the Pre Raphaelites. One bonus ensued. Yanbo Yin, piling Pelion upon Ossa, knew the chemistry starter which followed. Oh good – more flipping Science bonuses – I thought as JP announced them – and them promptly took back the criticism as I took a full house on Huygens. So did Downing for that matter. With only just over 3 minutes to go everything looked fairly cut and dried. The irrepressible Downing skipper recognised a series of words ending with zzle. Two bonuses on latin – modus – phrases took them through the 200 point barrier. The excellent Yanbo Yin took yet another starter, recognising stages of the Thirty Years War. Downing helped themselves to another full house on glaciers. I’ll be interested to see what their bonus conversion rate was for this show – Jack? – but it looked like a pretty good evening’s work to me. Surprisingly, the Downing skipper got a starter wrong for once, allowing his Oxford counterpart in with the femur. Right, slightly controversial moment. JP announced a set of bonuses on films whose titles all contained the same short adjective. Now, when asked for a 1970 Francois Truffault film, skipper Catherine Perry offered ‘The Savage Child’. Now when released in the UK it was given the title “The Wild Child”, and wild was the connecting adjective. However, the original French title was “L’Enfant Sauvage”, so you can maybe see why I thought that they were a little hard done by. It didn’t affect the result, or Pembroke’s chances of progression. That was it, anyway. We were gonged before the end of the set, which meant that Downing had won by 230 – 75.
Yes, if you look at the scores it looks as if this game was a mismatch of the kind that we had last year. Yet it really never quite felt like that. Pembroke were giving as good as they got for the first half of the contest, and the real difference after that was the magnificent buzzing of Yanbo Yin, Downing’s brilliant skipper. Very hard lines, but when you come up against that there’s little that you can do other than take it on the chin. As for Downing, this was impressive. It’s early days yet, but it may well be worth keeping an eye on their progress throughout the series.
Jeremy Paxman Watch
When Downing were unable to dredge up Iron Maiden, JP scoffed “Ever heard of them?” Had the words of their answer ‘We don’t know’ not already given you a clue on that one, Jez?
To be fair, our man was thoroughly enjoying this contest. On a couple of occasions he laughed with the teams, whereas ten years ago he’d have growled or uttered a put down. He’s mellowed, you know. There’s no doubt about it, but he’s mellowed.
Interesting Fact That I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week
The word treacle ultimately derives from the Greek for Antidote to Venom.