Monday, 30 August 2010

TV Watch - University Challenge

University Challenge – First round match 9 – Newcastle University v. Sheffield University

Here’s a curious fact about tonight’s match. Once upon a time I was interviewed and offered conditional places at both of these excellent institutions. The fault for me ending up attending neither of them is entirely my own. Lets draw a kindly veil over that and instead begin with Newcastle. Distinguished alumni include Ron Atkinson – sorry, Rowan Atkinson - and Bryan Ferry and also the late Mo Mowlam once taught there. Tonight’s team were David Craig, Patrick Foan, Oliver Sutherland, and captain Laura Bailey. Now, judging from the way I began this post you may well be expecting me to be totally impartial tonight. You would be very wrong to do so. Sheffield, whose former alumni include David Blunkett, Amy Johnson and Eddie Izzard, were carrying the full weight of support from the Clark sofa into tonight’s show. Why ? Why else – they are all LAM readers- indeed two of them, Tristram Cole and Hugh Bennett have already been kind enough to leave comments after reviews of earlier shows in this series. The Sheffield team was completed by Andy Bolton and Captain Tom Thirkell. Well, as LAM readers they are obviously people of wit and intelligence . But would this be enough to beat the curse ?

Early indications were that it would. Tristram – our very own viking o’neil – took the first of a very impressive haul of starters tonight when he quickly figured out that the Queen’s bedroom and Lincoln’s bedroom would be far more likely to belong in the White House rather than elsewhere. Still, Newcastle struck back early with David Craig recognising a quotation by Casanova before anyone else could. Game on. With a rush of blood to the buzzer finger Patrick Foan took a gamble on a definition belonging to the word frontier. It didn’t, and given the benefit of the full question Andy Bolton was easily able to supply terminus. This was followed by a very nice set of bonuses on South American football teams who take their name from English ones. Did you know that Liverpool play in Uruguay, and Everton in Chile ? I didn’t, although I did know that Corinthians play in Brazil. Onto the picture starter. Again, Patrick Foan got to the buzzer first, and correctly supplied the name of Charlie Chaplin. However JP had also asked for the name of the film from which the still shown was taken, and Mr. Foan hesitated just too long. With the question passed across Sheffield were quite happy to accept another windfall, knowing that the famous boot – eating scene shown comes from The Gold Rush. Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd were identified as bonuses in fairly short order, although unaccountably they passed on Edna Purviance. Ah, how soon they forget !

The two miscues seemed to knock a lot of the fight out of Newcastle, even at this early stage, and for over 10 minutes – which is a lifetime in a University Challenge match – it was all one way traffic from Sheffield. Hugh Bennett – our own Hugh Tube – buzzed in for the next starter to correctly identify a blogging doctor of whom I have to admit I have never heard. With the score standing at 90 – 10 to Sheffield on the 10 minute mark it was going to be a long time before it got any better for Newcastle. A mark of the quality of the Sheffield performance so far was that it was after the ten minute mark that the first starter that neither team could answer came up. Neither side identified Clovis as the leader of the Franks. Another mark of a quality performance is that every member of the team answers a starter correctly, and at this point skipper Tom Thirkell took the next two as he answered one which required picking out table tennis from a description of the size of the playing surface, and one which gave several definitions, all referring to the acronym ILP.

Buzzing for fun by this stage, Sheffield then took a good music round , firstly identifying the Dr. Who TV theme, and then identifying which actors had played the doctor during three different versions of the theme. JP looked half horrified and half impressed with the ease with which the team took a full house on this set. You know a team are struggling when our Jeremy tries to encourage them, and even this was rather half hearted – “You can still do it Newcastle – you’ll have to get a move on , though. “ It didn’t work. Tristram took the next starter, identifying Matilda as the name of King Henry I’s only legitimate daughter.

At last, on about the 17 minute mark Patrick Foan threw caution to the winds, and buzzed in to correctly identify tofu. This led to that old UC staple, a set of bonuses on Shakespeare, in this case opening lines. 1 bonus was taken. It didn’t do a lot to take the wind out of Sheffield’s sails, though. To be honest whatever JP had said the match was already won by now, and it looked extremely unlikely that Newcastle would have any chance of getting close to a repechage score. Tristram buzzed in for a couple more good starters as we moved towards the 20 minute mark, which gave Sheffield a lead of 225 to 25.

With all due respect to Newcastle the most exciting thing about the last few minutes was seeing whether Sheffield could burst through the 300 point barrier. However there was one question which particularly struck me. On one set of bonuses about kings of England and their emblems, Sheffield were asked something along the lines of – which king – also a SON of Edward IV – etc. etc. Now, the answer given was Richard III ! Who was Edward IV’s BROTHER. The only son of Edward IV who became king was Edward V. I’ve watched this question 3 or 4 times to see if I’ve misheard – which is still a possibility – but I am pretty sure that this is that rarest of rara aves – a wrong’un on University Challenge.

Back to the show. Sheffield continued to impress not just with the volume of starters that they were answering correctly, but with the range as well. Very few starters were unanswered by either team, and it was Sheffield who were getting most of them. Every member of the team answered at least 2 starters correctly, with Andy Bolton and especially Tristram Cole impressing very much. A good example of this was the speed with which he buzzed in on his last starter to correctly answer that the antonyms in the titles of a TV series by Jacob Bronowski, and a work of Charles Darwin would be Ascent and Descent. I myself was only 9 years old when that TV series was on ! I shudder to think how many years after that Tristram was actually born. Super shout, and one which , when combined with bonuses, took Sheffield through the 300 point barrier.

Captain Laura Bailey of Newcastle did manage to take the last starter , knowing that if it’s a French king, and its Bald , Fat or Stupid, then its Charles. But that was it, no time was even allowed them for bonuses. The final score was 315 to 70. Hard lines to Newcastle. Its very difficult when you’ve had a couple of incorrect buzzes early on, and when you’re against a team as buzzer confident and starter accurate as Sheffield, then its going to be an uphill struggle all the way. Well done indeed to Sheffield, on the most convincing performance in a first round match we’ve seen for quite a long time. Last year nobody managed to beat 300 until the final. Considering they were at the same time battling against the curse of the Clark sofa, its even more impressive. Alright, so the second round is often a whole different ball game to the first, but on this form Sheffield have it within them to go a very, very long way this year. Superb performance – a pleasure to watch.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

JP made it quite clear what he thought about having to ask Dr. Who questions in his show, saying
“See, nothing is ever wasted . “ after Sheffield took a full house on that set. Just before Sheffield passed over the event horizon he did, to be fair, try to encourage Newcastle, but he had clearly lost patience with them by the time that Laura Bailey recognised the second picture starter as an example of pointillism. Like, I suspect, most of us, the Newcastle team were only really familiar with the name of one pointillist painter, Seurat. When she offered “We know its wrong, but we’re going to answer Seurat to each of them “ – a sensible tactic since it was sure to be the answer to one of them, JP retorted ,” Its not very clever when you know its wrong. “ Maybe it was meant as a joke, but under the circumstances this just came across as needlessly kicking a team when they were down .

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

The White Dot Organisation organises events where people are encouraged to turn off their TV and talk to their neighbours instead. If they do it while Big Brother is on I’ll certainly sign on the dotted line.

I must also make a nod to the quote of the week Oscar Wilde said ,
“Every great man has his disciples, and its usually Judas who writes his biography. “ Its worth tuning into UC just to hear stuff like this.


IanJC said...

I noticed the one about Edward IV as well.

Now I had a nasty headache last night, so when JP gave the answer as Richard III I put it down to being a tad out of sorts.

I'll have to watch a repley on i-player, but I think you're right and it was a mistake!

Laura said...

Captain Laura here. Thanks for a not-too-awful review - as I'm sure you know, it's not whether you know them, it's whether you know them quicker than the others do. In this case, Sheffield did have an astonishing breadth of knowledge and the buzzer speed to use it, and I wouldn't be surprised if they go all the way. If they do, I'll be glad we were 'Mullered' by the winners, even if they did get the Dr Who one before I could.
Insider info: Paxman was very nice afterwards and said we at least seemed like we were 'in the game' more than some other teams. He may have just been trying to make me feel less bad but still, it helped.

Jack said...

Got to confess Dave, I was fully backing Sheffield as well (sorry Laura), but there was another reason besides Hugh and Tristram being on Sheffield

You see, I know someone who goes to Northumbria University, Newcastle's local rivals. And we both agreed that we'd back Sheffield when we spoke via email last week.

On a more statistical note, this is the first time since Gail Trimble and co. thrashed Durham at the start of the 08-09 series that a team has broken 300 in the first round.

Anyway, well done Hugh and Tristram (and Andy and Tom as well), a well deserved win. And commiserations Laura, but well done for not giving up. A good team never gives up, even when they're well behind.

HughTube said...

Thanks Dave for a lovely review, of course you write one every week but it's very pleasing to hear nice things said about your friends and yourself. I had wondered if you might interpret my commenting here as an indication of having done well, but I would doing so if we'd gone out in the first round with a negative score I'm such a fan of the show.

Of course I didn't notice the Richard III thing at the time (I did know the answer but was so nervous the word "third" managed to elude me! I've been irritated by that for 6 months) but did spot it last night and I'm surprised that no-one else had before it was broadcast. There were quite a few others I'm surprised we didn't answer, Rothko for example. Another effect of the nerves is that we all looked sullen and humourless, I think we loosen up a little in the next match.

Anyway, thanks guys, it's really nice to read positive comments (a Dr Who fan has already called one of us a stupid b****** on a YouTube video for hesitating over Colin Baker) and I look forward to reading your review of UCL vs Hertford, Oxford next week.

viking_oneil said...

Hi Dave,

I completely agree with Hugh's comments about the positive review.

It was interesting seeing this match on TV, and realising how much of the initial experience I had completely forgotten.

I certainly remember being very nervous, and at times reluctant to interrupt starter questions in case I was wrong and incurred the five point penalty.

There was definitely a sense of time dilation whilst it was being recorded - with the tiniest pauses feeling like five seconds or even longer. This was certainly exacerbated by the fact that there is no indication during the recording of how much time was remaining.

We were exceptionally fortunate with the Charlie Chaplin/Gold Rush question. When the picture came up, I buzzed in straight away hoping that the name of the film would come to me. It didn't, but thankfully I was beaten to the buzzer and so gained a little extra thinking time. If I'd been a fraction of a second quicker, then I'd have been the one to earn a tongue lashing from Jeremy Paxman for saying "Charlie Chaplin" and then pausing.

I'm also very keen to point out that our clean sweep on the Dr Who themes was a total fluke, as "Colin Baker" was a complete guess!


Londinius said...

Hello everyone, and many thanks for taking time to leave your comments.

IanJC - I know where you're coming from. I tend to accept every answer given on UC as gospel, so I was mentally taken aback when I heard this one, and decided it must be my mistake. Until I watched it back again - and again. I still have a nagging suspicion that I may have dreamed it.

Hello Laura. So kind of you to take the time to leave a comment. Many commiserations - and you certainly would not deserve an awful review. When you meet a team who are that good, and that good on the buzzer too, there is nothing you can do other than your best. I agree with Jack that you have nothing to be ashamed of. As regards Jeremy Paxman, my gut feeling is that you can take anything he has said on face value - I don't really think he's the kind of guy for meaningless platitudes.

Good comment again Jack - thanks for backing me up on the 300 barrier .

Hi Hugh. Congratulations ! I'll be honest, I don't try to second guess how well LAM contributors will have done - although I'm obviously rooting for them to do very well, and I'm delighted when they do. Even more so when they excel, as you all did last night.

Hi Tristram. Congratulations too ! Excellent point about the quiz show time-dilation effect - in fact I feel a post coming on ! If you decide to go on Mastermind in the future you'll see just how long two minutes can be, for example.

Thanks for your honesty about the Charlie Chaplin and Dr. who questions. With regards to the Chaplin question, this is what happens - sometimes you get the rub of the green, and sometimes you don't. You had the rub of the green on the question - don't feel guilty about it since sooner or later you'll find the luck runs against you. I do think it all evens itself out in the end.

Tristram , can I ask ? This is no disrespect to the other members of your team , Hugh, Andy and Tom, since you all played very well, and all answered starters, but with regards to yourself, do you have a quizzing background ? It was the broad range of starters that you answered correctly as much as the number of them that was so impressive. Feel free not to answer if you don't want to - I shan't be offended - I'm just a nosy so and so.


Rach Cherryade said...

A really fantastic performance from Sheffield, very well done, I know it's early stages at the moment but I can't imagine there are many teams in the contest who'd like to face you in round 2 after last night's performance, your speed on the buzzers as well as your breadth of knowledge was amazing! I thought Newcastle put up a good fight and showed a great sense of humour throughout and seemed like a much stronger team than the scoreline would suggest, well done Laura for doing a great job as captain and I agree with Dave that JP's comment about your tactics on the pointillism picture round was a little unfair as it's an incredibly sensible, and commonly used one, when faced with a series of bonuses you aren't too familiar with!

Hugh, if I learned anything from being on UC it's to ignore what people on youtube and twitter write about you, I'm sure you know that already but I was shocked by how obsessed people get with UC so wasn't quite prepared for the level of both support and vitriole that can come with it, especially when someone knows a question you didn't get or gets it before you, but then they're sat at home watching, not in a tv studio! Anyway, you should be very proud of your performance, look forward to seeing you all in round 2!

Best wishes,

Unknown said...

Hi folks,
"Bolton, Sheffield" here. Just want to take issue with Tris, who says that "Colin Baker" was a total guess...
I immediately suggested Colin Baker, based on the cheesy 80s synths, and persuaded our captain to put this forward as our answer, despite others saying "Tom Baker". This is clearly seen in the video.
Love the blog by the way; great reading, and insightful commentary.

HughTube said...

Andy, I was going to take issue with Tris on your behalf over Colin Baker but you beat me to it! We weren't trying to over-rule you we were just offering up our evidently inferior knowledge of Doctor Who.

Tris and Dave, I also think there is a selective hearing that accompanies the time-dilation. To me the questions seemed to be phrased quite differently when I watched it back. For example on one bonus I only noticed the word Oracle and thought it might perhaps be Didyma and therefore Turkey, though on second viewing he clearly says Zeus-Ammon making any answer other than Egypt impossible. Or maybe it's simply that I don't listen!

Thanks Rach, I wasn't particularly bothered by the comment just a little surprised by the immediacy of it. I have noticed that I spot the ones people get wrong rather than the other way round so I wouldn't hold that against a Doctor Who fan. I don't know if you will remember but we were at the same audition for the 09/10 series, as both our captain Tom and I were on the Sheffield team that wasn't selected for the television when you were. As a result I followed your team particularly closely and was very pleased to see you do so well despite some bitterness!

viking_oneil said...

Hmmm, I guess I owe Andy a profuse apology. My comments about the Dr Who question were based on my (faulty) memory of the round - and were no way intended as a slight! I guess they rose out of my (understandable) desire to counteract any impression of our team as some kind of some kind of science fiction theme tune obsessed geeks!

I see that we've now had 4 of the 8 participants on this episode comment on Dave's review... is this some kind of LAM record?

Dave, its extremely flattering to be praised for an impressive breadth of knowledge! I think I was just lucky about the way the questions happened to fall - I've watched several episodes at home where I didn't do anything like as well. I don't have any real quizzing background. Obviously I've watched more than my fair share of quiz shows, and then graduated to a patchy and intermittent attendence of pub quizzes. (To be honest, the local ones in SHeffield seem to be predominently based around 'lowest common denominator' general knowledge, i.e. sport / current pop music / soap operas - although I suspect that my attitude merely reflects the fact that those are areas about which I happen to know very little!) I've also wasted plenty of money on quiz machines, and plenty of hours on internet trivia sites. However, University Challenge represents my first serious attempt at any kind of organised quizzing. Based on the experience, I'm certainly keen to try some more!

Another Anne said...

David, I deleted the show from my hard disk after watching it, but I'm fairly sure the blogging doctor you'd 'never heard of' was Ben Goldacre, a question from the Brain of Britain final! Which none of us got, as I recall. Clearly made a big impression on you.

Totally agree about Richard III, also about 'Seurat' being a sensible strategy.

Viiking, Derby's not far from Sheffield, and there are two big quiz tournaments taking place there this year: the British Quiz Champs in two days' time, and the European Quiz Champs in November. Both are open to absolutely anyone who can pay the entry fee: £150 for the whole weekend, and for the British (don't know about the European) about £30 for the four quizzes on Saturday. There's a page for the BQC on Facebook if you go and look. (The main site is down for a major overhaul, so they're using Facebook.)

Mark Cooper said...

The blogging doctor was indeed Ben Goldacre and his blog is well worth reading -

Good review David, I must admit this is the first place I come on those occasions I miss UC or Mastermind.


Londinius said...

Hi guys

Andy, thanks for joining us ! I think four contestants from the same show commenting on the same post is a record for LAM - I think we managed three last year in one of Rach's matches.

Speaking of Rach, I know that she won't blow her own trumpet, but can I give a little plug for Mastermind this Friday, which sees Rach playing in her first round heat. Best of retrospective luck Rach - I hope you beat the curse of the sofa.

Tristram, once again thanks for your honesty. I can echo Anne's recommendation of events such as the British Championships .When the IQAGB website is up and running again I'll post a link and you can check it out for yourself. It often has news of big events, like the grand prix circuit.

Anne, thanks. I'm afraid that the name of the doctor was just one amongst many, many things I didn't know in the Brain of Britain final, and yes, you're right, it can't have made very much of an impression on me !

Mark, wlecome aboard and thanks for your kind words about the blog. I must admit, its a bad week when I end up missing either UC or Mastermind, and an absolutely terrible week if I miss both !


kid992 said...

It's actually Paxmans comment "Its not very clever when you know its wrong" comment which isn't very clever. Its standard procedure (for decades) as, as been pointed out that when you know what at least what one answer is likely to be, but you don't know which one it will be, to give the same answer three times. In fact it would be stupid to do otherwise unless you were absolutely sure, what in this case the Seurat painting would look like (and it wasn't his most famous), otherwise you are taking an unecessary risk of not even getting the 5 points. It was an off the cuff remark for sure but Paxman seems to have taken offence to the honesty of the original comment as though somehow it wasn't in the right spirit, or he may have been implying that with the score as it was a gamble was required, but it came across as harsh, not what is required from an impartial questioner.

Londinius said...

Hi kid992, and welcome to LAM.

I make no bones about the fact that I think Jeremy Paxman is a national treasure who should have a grade 1 listing from English Heritage. However he does at times get it wrong, and the comment, as you so cogently explain, was ignorant in the strictest sense of the word, showing ignorance of accepted quiz tactics. Teams do it all the time, as you say, and so its wrong to take offence with a team for having the honesty to say so.

Thanks for taking the trouble to leave a comment.