Tuesday, 14 September 2010

TV Watch - University Challenge

University Challenge – Round One – Heat 11 – Durham University v. Magdalen, Oxford

A heavyweight bout looked very much on the cards when JP began the show by announcing that both teams represent institutions that have been champions in the past. Representing Durham were Lisa McGough, Roger Fox, Matthew Griffiths, and captain Matt Hann. I must just pay tribute to Matthew Griffiths research subject of “Poetry and Climate Change “, my favourite since “Weird Fiction “ of 2008.
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day ?
Bloody global warming !”
As for Magdalen, they were represented by James McComish, Kyle Haddad-Fonda, Will Cudmore and captain Matthew Chan. What, no sarky comments here Dave ? No, we’ve no time. It was that kind of show. Lets go.

First blood to Durham, who recognised a flattering comparison of John Falstaff to Achilles and other heroes. Two out of three bonuses were taken on the philosophy of Art. Then began part one of The Magdalen Show. I say this not in any mean spirited way, but mainly out of a sense of awe at a very, very fine team performance. Will Cudmore took his first of many starters by identifying a series of popes as being members of the Medici family. 2 bonuses were taken on political poets. Magdalen were exceptionally good on the buzzer all night, but Will Cudmore came in a little too early on the next, and lost 5 points by failing to identify that the man who crashed into the mirror was demonstrating roller skates ( see below ). No huge harm done, as Durham couldn’t take advantage and the next starter fell to Magdalen. In fact many of the next starters fell to Magdalen. To pick out a few, Will Cudmore was fearsomely quick on the first picture starter, buzzing in to identify the city crest of Florence within nanoseconds of its appearance. When James McComish explained that JPL stands for Jet Propulsion Laboratories, a set of bonuses on our old friend Anglish appeared. I first met Anglish in the last series – basically it’s the attempt to replace English words of Latin or French origin with words with an Anglo Saxon origin. Apparently first stuff is Anglish for element. It’ll never catch on. Matthew Griffiths took his and his team’s second starter right on the 10 minute mark when he identified Paul Dirac as the British physicist who shared the Nobel prize with Schroedinger. Whether he shared the cat as well was not gone into. At ten minutes Magdalen lead by 105 to 35.

If you hear the words –Spanish city and bombed – chances are Guernica is the one you’re being asked about Kyle Haddad-Fonda certainly thought so, and it brought him a starter. I’ve watched the show a couple of times, and it’s very hard to single out 1 star from this Magdalen outfit. Captain Matthew Chan was very well served by his team, as McComish, Haddad-Fonda and Cudmore were all very big hitters in the show – and if that doesn’t fill opposing teams with dread, then it should, since even if one of them has an off night, the chances of all of them doing so is mighty slim. Still, while we’re paying tribute to big hitters, lets spare a thought for Matthew Griffiths. He used exactly the right tactics all match, trying to take the sting out of the Magdalen buzzer work by buzzing even on a half asked question. He was unlucky to identify a quote as coming from Beowulf, only for the second half of the question to swerve away into asking for the name of the monster Grendel, which of course he would have known.

Magdalen ploughed on. Another thing which really impressed me was a bonus conversion rate which seemed to me to be very high. When Mr. Haddad-Fonda correctly identified a definition of the Coriolis effect, it pushed Magdalen through the 200 barrier , when we hadn’t yet even reached the 17 minute mark. Their pace was so ferocious that it almost came as a relief when neither team really fancied the highest prime factor of 2010. At last Durham managed to nose their way back in when Lisa McGough identified a form of ancient shorthand. At the 20 minute mark, though, it was 260 to 60.

The highpoint of Durham’s evening came when Matthew Griffiths identified the second picture starter which showed both Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger playing The Joker. This was followed by three sets of photos showing different actors playing Hannibal Lecter, Spock and Kirk, and Darth Vader/Anikin Skywalker. Mr. Griffiths had the lot, a fact which impressed even cynical JP. Captain Matt Hann took the next, knowing that the word squirrel comes from the greek for shade tail. Alright, the match was already over as a contest, and Durham were unlikely to get close to a repechage spot, but when they were given a chance at the bonuses you could see that they are actually a useful outfit, just very unlucky to come up against a team as good as Magdalen. Only complex mathematical or arithmetical questions seemed to present them with any problems at all, and the way that they make rapid accumulation of points seem a simple business should ring alarm bells to most of the other teams left in the competition. At the bell they had amassed a whopping 340 to Durham’s 120. Yes, it’s true, there is only so much you can read into a first round performance. But Magdalen, I have to say, at times you were breathtaking. Highly impressive stuff.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

I think that JP must have been feeling the pace in this show. He belted through the questions, and he needed to since Magdalen were giving him no rest at all. In fact the only mildly amusing JP moment I noticed at all was the way in which , despite both teams referring to the pop group Muse, when JP said their name it sounded an awful lot like “Moos”.

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

The man who gave the first public demonstration of roller skates could not in fact change direction, and went headlong into a mirror.

PS - I haven't forgotten Only Connect - very busy tonight, but will post review tomorrow


Unknown said...

I was really impressed with cudmore and felt disappointed for griffiths only not the whole durham team. haddad-fonda should have got all three answers correct to the arabic titles questions.
think of this team: haddad-fonda, griffiths, guttenplan (captain) [from last series], and cudmore.
extremely difficult to beat.

Another Anne said...

'Whether he shared the cat as well was not gone into.'

The cat will have been simultaneously both his and not-his, until someone opened the box.

Ewan M said...

This Magdalen team have the potential to outshine even the very best of the recent UC sides (Trimble's Corpus Christi and Guttenplan's Emmanuel). Magdalen are strong throughout the team and Cudmore was outstanding in the Durham match, but watch out for Haddad-Fonda, the quiet assassin. Across the pond Haddad-Fonda has an illustrious reputation as the star of the Harvard Quiz Bowl team. Their bonus conversion rate was phenomenal and Haddad-Fonda was supplying captain Chan with a steady supply of correct answers throughout. I have the feeling that Magdalen are just getting warmed up. Magdalen recently strolled to the Oxford ICQ title beating Trimble's Corpus Christi team 360-140 en route.

Jack said...

Unlucky for Durham to meet such a good team at this early a stage. They'd easily of beaten some of the other teams we've seen so far this far.

Very well done to Magdalen though, who really look like they could make a record fourth win on the basis of that performance. One of the biggest first round scores we've had under Paxo. Another team to watch, and I really hope they go against Christ's or Sheffield later in the contest. What a match either of those might be!

HughTube said...

I also feel sorry for Durham, very unlucky to come up against a team playing that well in the first round. At 14 Kyle Haddad-Fonda also captained the winning team for the National Geographic World Championship (a 'geography bee' for teams of students representing different nations) so is excellent at all things geography.

I love to see a quantum joke also. The thing about quantum jokes is that they are simultaneously funny and unfunny.

Londinius said...

Hi All,

Zeeshan - I wouldn't want to face your dream team. Especially if they had, lets say, Gail Trimble ready to come in for the semis and final.


You win ! Your comment is much funnier and cleverer than mine ! ( Curses - foiled again !)


Thanks for the info regarding Kyle Haddad-Fonda - it doesn't come as a surprise, but I really didn't know that.


True - it is very difficult to see past Magdalen after a performance like that. Stil, who would have predicted Emma would win the last series after their first round performance last year ? Nothing is certain where UC is concerned.



HughTube said...

Felt I should clarify that my comment wasn't a slight on your perfectly fine joke, merely making use of a rare opportunity to make a joke about jokes about quantum.

Des Elmes said...

For the record, Magdalen were asked 48 bonuses and got 38 of them correct.

Even at this stage, with three first-round matches still to take place, they look like the favourites to win the series. They definitely have all the materials for doing so.

It would be great to see them up against the likes of Christ's Cambridge or Sheffield - but then it's not beyond possibility that they could blow these teams off the floor too, just as Alex Guttenplan single-handedly did to Manchester and St John's Oxford.

And I agree with Eugene, they have the potential to outshine even Guttenplan's and Gail Trimble's teams.

Londinius said...

Hi Hugh

Sorry, you snuck in with your first comment just before I posted mine, which is why I didn't see you to acknowledge you.

Hi Des

Its very early days to be putting the mantle of champions elect around Magdalen's collective shoulders. However with regards to comparisons with the last two winners, I think for me the difference was that although every member of the winning teams made a vital contribution to the series victory, the viewer - aided by the national media - picked up on Alex and Gail Trimble because they were SO outstanding, even by the standards of champion teams. With Magdalen last night you had several members of the team who really shone, and a team that funcioned brilliantly as a unit.

Well, that's enough hyperbole from me , or I really will be calling down the full power of the curse of the Clark sofa down on their heads, which would be very unfair at this early stage.


Jacob said...

When I saw Haddad-Fonda there I was expecting an outright academic massacre of the opposition. As someone noted above, in the ICQ he outdid Trimble in the individual scores two to one. He's also a Rhodes scholar. Intimidating stuff.

Some articles with Haddad-Fonda:


I would point out what Haddad-Fonda in particular signifies, and that is that it is possible to learn this stuff. He has deliberately studied information in such a way as to be able to use in Quiz Bowl and now, University Challenge. In terms of actual intelligence, he won't be likely to be any better (in so far as you can talk about this sort of thing) than Trimble. I'm willing to bet their actual contributions to knowledge, in the form of Ph.Ds and academic papers, will be of approximately equal stature. But Trimble didn't learn anything just for quizzes. She's just picked it up over the course of her illustrious education. Haddad-Fonda was different, he learned things specifically for quizzing. Intensively. From a young age. Therein lies the massive difference.

What's also interesting, is that there are many quiz bowl players who are recognized to be far better than Haddad-Fonda. If you really spend hours and hours of your life learning about things in the superficial detail needed to be good at things like UC you can become far better than the average UC contestant, who generally just knows answers as a by-product of being a person with a general interest in things, whether in newspapers or books or on the radio or whatever. That's its charm.

As great as contestants who have schooled themselves with 'quiz knowledge' are, UC is better off, IMO, without them being very frequent.

Londinius said...

Hi Jacob

I'll be honest, it does make you think when you hear that there are College Bowl players who are much better than Kyle Haddad - Fonda !

I think you raise an interesting debate - do we really want to go down a road where University Challenge is dominated by people who have dedicated part of their lives to preparing for it ? On the other hand, though, don't we actually want to see brilliant performances ? I'm sitting safely on the fence at the moment in this one.


Unknown said...

If you are going to compete at something why would you not put in work so you could be the best at it?

Peter said...

If you really spend hours and hours of your life learning about things in the superficial detail needed to be good at things like UC you can become far better than the average UC contestant, who generally just knows answers as a by-product of being a person with a general interest in things, whether in newspapers or books or on the radio or whatever. That's its charm.

The fact that quizbowlers in the U.S. write questions for competition explains a huge part of the gap between knowledge levels. There are very few players who simply use rote memorization techniques. Lots of U.S. players write many questions for competition and learn deep clues about things they wouldn't otherwise know much about. If Britain had a similar packet submission circuit, I have no doubt that its players would be similarly skilled. As someone pointed out, it's not like players in the U.S. are somehow cleverer or more scholastically talented than their British counterparts. The game is simply different over there.

Unknown said...

I agree that prowess on these quiz programs does not necessarily reflect deep intelligence. However, I politely take issue with the idea that Mr. Haddad-Fonda has somehow engaged in "superficial" trivial gleening in preparation for competition (in America or otherwise).

While it is likely true that he and other quiz bowl players in hte United States have a far greater bredth of knowledge in this material than focused depth, the fact that they know a great deal of this material arms them to make a great many connections between seemingly unrelated bits of information ... which is the beginning (though not the end all) of being able to solve deeper problems. Further, having a knowledge base that is so wide allows him (and people like him) to communicate with far more people on a far deeper level ... not so much to educate them, but to be educated.

Londinius said...

Still sitting on the fence here,although I will admit that I have to state my opposition to the idea of excluding people from any competition for being too good for it. Come to think of it I've slipped off the fence here, haven't I ?

The reson why I'm commenting again is that I would like to share a fact that was passed on to me by my friend David Buckle.Will Cudmore was one of the finalists with him on The People's Quiz in 2007 - at a ridiculously tender age. No wonder he's good.


HughTube said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ewan M said...

Good to see my alma mater Edinburgh put in such a good performance last night. I think they could do quite well this year, as long as they avoid Magdalen!

Jerry Vinokurov said...


What is it that you mean, exactly, when you refer to acquiring knowledge "normally?" Is there an "abnormal" way to acquire knowledge?

I appreciate Thomas' elucidation of the difference between the UK and US game; he is entirely correct that we take more seriously over here and as a consequence we write more, edit more, and so on. But I think anyone who actually talks to US players (including Kyle, whom I know pretty well, and who's an all-around awesome dude and one of the most gracious competitors in the game) would quickly discover that the majority of us are actually interested in learning. Some like literature, so they read a lot of literature; some like philosophy and they read that; others are into history. And so on. Very little of this is about studying "quiz facts," whatever those might be.

A friend of mine who is no slouch himself one made the comment that "this game is about learning." I tend to concur with that, as do most other US players.

Jerry Vinokurov said...

Oops, the attribution I made to Thomas above should have actually gone to the post by Peter. Apologies.

HughTube said...

I seem to be unable to express what I mean in these comment boxes. I have re-read my post and have seen that my attempt to arrange my disparate ideas into an argument has failed, so much so I've deleted it.

I certainly didn't mean to attack Kyle, I met him as we filmed on the same day and agree wholeheartedly with your description. In fact part of the reason for my post was that I felt uncomfortable about how much this discussion was about him and I was trying to defend him, but sadly my general points about UC seemed to be about him.

I also didn't suggest that in America you would all sit around learning trivia. However just by taking part in quizzes regularly, and certainly setting them, helps you become better at quizzes and as there is no quizzing infrastructure for most UK schools and universities (if there were I would have taken part) and you can only appear on the show once for most competitors it is the first serious quiz they've ever been involved in and the difference is evident. Perhaps the ICQ part of the reason why Oxford colleges have done so well, though of course there has to be a starting point and and inquiring mind is the basis for a good general knowledge.

As regards preparing I just think there shouldn't be a repeat of the Lance Haward incident for the Open University in 1999. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/361491.st

Sorry to have provoked such ill-feeling.

Peter said...

I don't think that there is any real animosity towards the British viewpoint. In fact, I know that U.S. players would like nothing more than to see the British circuit develop into a true cross-pond rival.

A lot of top U.S. players have worked with younger Canadian players to spearhead a change in that circuit that would be similar to what British quizzing would have to go through in order to "catch up." The early returns are pretty amazing, as young Canadians have made impressive showings at U.S. tournaments and have started to help less active teams transition into competition.

If there are Brits who are interested in fomenting a similar revolution, there are surely American (or Canadian!) players who would be more than willing to lend a hand.