Saturday, 28 September 2013

University Challenge - Round One - Match Eleven

Pembroke, Cambridge v. Somerville, Oxford

After a little bit of a lacklustre opening this series has really picked up in the last few weeks, and an Oxbridge contest is usually well worth the price of admission. Venerable Pembroke College was represented by Mark Nelson, Lizzie Colwill, Matthew Anketell and their captain Harry McNeill-Adams. The relative stripling Somerville College’s team consisted of Hasneen Karbalai, Zach Vermeer, Chris Beer and their skipper Michael Davies.

Harry McNeill-Adams knew that Bill Clinton made his first inaugural address in 1993, and took the first starter for Pembroke. Hans Holbein the Younger provided them with 2 bonuses. Pythagorean Triples provided Matthew Anketell with the second starter for Pembroke, and they took one of a tricky set of bonuses on Byron. Had the last question come first, and the first last I dare say they would have had two of them. Never mind. Something about the point between Leo and Libra and a visible hue of something or other (stop me if I’m getting too technical) allowed Hasneen Karbalai in for Somerville’s first starter with VI. Now, a bonus set on biochemistry gave me a rare science bonus when I knew that Omega 3 is found in fish oils. Of course, Somerville had all three of the bonuses. Right, I didn’t actually know the answer to – add the total number of EU member states to the total number of EU official languages, and divide by the number of US States, but I guessed that if it was a whole number it had to be 1. Judging by the tone of his voice it was a guess for Michael Davies too. Didn’t matter. As long as they’re right they all count. There was a nice set of bonuses on Tewkesbury Abbey, of which Somerville managed 2, putting them into the lead. The picture starter showed us the crest of Munster RFC. This wasn’t taken by either team, so the picture bonuses rolled over. An impressive early buzz from Zach Vermeer identified a quotation from Edmund Burke. More rugby team crests followed, and I knew Llanelli – not that far down the road – and Ulster – the red hand, as JP said, being a giveaway. Somerville just knew Ulster. On the cusp, then of the ten minute mark Somerville, having weathered Pembroke’s blitz start led by 60 to 35.

A lovely starter on flags immediately followed. This asked for two of the other three Mediterranean countries apart from Turkey whose flags feature a star and crescent symbol. Mark Nelson gave us Algeria and Tunisia, the other being Libya. Yes, ladies and gents, if any quiz master tries to tell you that Libya’s flag is all green, you tell them that they are getting their questions from an out of date quiz book. So there. Places named after rivers provided them with a further 10 points. Zach Vermeer took a good early buzz to identify the word factotum as the term derived from the latin for ‘do everything’. Some maths thing followed, and Somerville managed the first two. I had a great guess or the next starter, about a quotation about England from a group of writers and artists made in 1914, made all the more impressive since neither team managed it – the Vorticists. Yes, not my cup of tea at all, but each to their own, I suppose. Now the next starter was one of those that rewarded the team who kept their nerve and waited until it became obvious. Asked for a literary figure, once Pembroke had buzzed in too early, then Somerville were given the choice piece of information that he was the brother in law of Southey, and composed the lyrical ballads with Wordsworth. Chris Beer provided the correct answer of S.T.Coleridge. Social Sceinces only brought one bonus for Somerville. Which didn’t really matter since they were well on a roll by now. Zach Vermeer offered pathenogenic for the term derived from the greek for virgin birth, and JP did correct him to parthenogenesis, but still allowed the correct answer. Bonuses on Harold Nicholson’s diaries brought a full set, and pushed Somerville comfortably through the 100 point barrier. The music starter followed, asking the teams to identify the theme music of a popular film. I always love seeing how the subtitles described these pieces of music. In this case the theme of Chariots of Fire was, and I quote , “Quivering electronic notes.” Well, quite. Chris Beer had that. More films followed. ‘Plaintive strings’ was Schindler’s List, ‘Epic Orchestral Sweep’ was Ben Hur, and ‘Dramatic Intro’ was 2001: A Space Odyssey. Somerville had two of these. Right then – a question which asks about a seminal French thinker in 1941 will about 65- 70% of the time require the answer Jean Paul Sartre. The rest of the time it’s usually Albert Camus, and this next starter was one of them. Zach Vermeer knew it, and thus earned a set of bonuses on scientists born in 1913. They took one of these. A second flags starter asked the flag of which country in Central America has two woodcutters on it. I suspect that announcing that the country gained independence from the UK made it somewhat easier. Harry McNeill-Adams won the buzzer race on that one. A nice UC set on eye rhymes followed – these are normally gettable, and Pembroke made no mistake with them. Nobody knew that E101 is also B2. There you go. Michael Davies onw the buzzer race on the next question to answer that Pinyin is the word used for the system of transcribing Chinese characters into the latin alphabet. Industrial chemical processes saw me answering ‘Haber-Bosch’ to each until it was right for the last one. That’s the one Somerville had as well. Which was enough to ensure that they had a lead of 100, by 170 to 70 on the 20 minute mark. Game over? Not necessarily, but it was going to need a huge effort from Pembroke just to get them into a repechage slot, let alone to win.

It didn’t help when Harry McNeill-Adams buzzed too early on the next question. I’ll be honest, it was getting late and I didn’t really get the question, but Hasneen Karbalai had it with amare. I liked the bonus set though, on published works whose titles begin with “The Man Who “ – which is also a wonderful album by Travis. Would be King – Was Thursday – Mistook his wife for a hat - gave them a full set. The second picture starter showed us something which looked like a Constable, and Matthew Anketell won the buzzer race to say that it was just that. Paintings by three other artists who were born in one century but died in the next brought them one correct answer on a tough set. They were unlucky not to get Caravaggio, as ‘the young guy who got kicked out of his town’ is not a bad description of him. Lizzie Colwill knew that TNA at Kew is the National Archives. Railway lines in England were gettable, but Pembroke didn’t quite manage any of them. In the next starter on Probability Theory I was lost after the word ‘what’ , but Mark Nelson had it. This brought them a 3 figure score, which they’d certainly earned in the last couple of minutes. A good old set of quiz chestnuts on metal ores followed, and Pembroke managed two of them. Harry McNeill-Adams had a great early buzz for the next starter identifying slang words used in Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange”. A nice set on geographical features in south America were gettable, but they only managed two of them. There was a buzzer race for the next starter, asking which Shakespeare play was the source for the opera “Beatrice and Benedict”, and it was won by Zach Vermeer, who knew that it was of course Much Ado About Nothing. Later sequels to classic fiction provided a full set, and took Somerville through the 200 point barrier. Harry McNeill-Adams knew that Viscontis and Sforzas were associated with Milan. Ac or Inter? A real UC special set on anagrams in French followed. They took one, but could and should have had two. This put them on 145, and a repechage slot was not totally out of the question. Mind you, as soon as JP said the abbreviation AGN Chris Beer was straight in with Active Galactic Nucleus. (Altogether now – a bit of ointment . . . ) This brought them a full set of bonuses on former capital cities. As quick as Chris Beer had been on the previous starter, Michael Davies was just as speedy on the next starter, identifying Ontology as being the branch of metaphysics taking its name from the Greek for being. Good shout. A lovely set on broken engagements in the works of Charles Dickens didn’t allow them to add to their score of 255 before the gong.They won by 255 to 145.

I seem to be saying this a lot in this series, but this Somerville team seem to be a distinctly useful outfit, with starter answers coming from every member of the team. I think we could be in for some very good second round match ups this year. It was bad luck for Pembroke to meet such a good team in the first round, but their score of 145 is nothing to be ashamed of.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Somehow I doubt that The Iron Law of Oligarchy has ever raised that much public laughter before, but when it was offered by Somerville as the answer to the second bonus on social sciences, JP’s announcement – (pause) No, it was Elite Theory- earned enough of a guffaw from the audience for the great man to follow it up with “Very nicely confident, though!”. Of course, the Iron Law of Oligarchy had to be the answer to the next question after that, didn’t it.

Our hero was fairly restrained after that flurry, although he did manage a wonderfully old fashioned look when Pembroke offered ‘Devon’ as the railway line named after a character in the title of a Henry Williamson book. It was Tarka, as in the otter. ( We have a water otter in the kitchen you know. Really? Yes, it’s the kettle, which makes the water ‘otter. I don’t wish to know that, Kaindly leave the stage.)

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

Harold Nicholson described the whole Suez affair in 1956 as “A smash and grab raid that was all smash and no grab”. Quality.


Jack said...

Another fine high scoring affair between two strong teams. I'm really getting into this series much more than the last, where we had a lot of low scoring affairs early on. Quite the opposite this year.

Like with York last week, Somerville managed a good showing on the bonuses as well as the buzzers: 25/38. All four got at least two starters correct, which is a good sign as well.

Against another team, Pembroke would probably have come out on top. Unlucky for them to meet such a strong team so early, and also to fall just five short of the repechage; three penalties proved to be the decisive factor there. Still, 14/27 is not bad, and, overall, a fair effort.

On Monday, Cardiff play Exeter in a rematch from a play-off three series ago. The week after, a fourth Oxbridge match, with St John's for Oxford and Downing for Cambridge. This means there are now seven Cambridge teams this year, compared to just five Oxfords. Is this fair?

Londinius said...

Hi Jack
I know what you mean, but then you might well ask - well is it fair to have 11 out of 24 teams coming from just 2 universities? Is it fair that they have so many and London, the other collegiate university in the competition to compete as separate colleges to have only 1 representative? All I can suggest is that the teams from London maybe didn't come up to scratch this year in the application process, and maybe more Oxford teams than Cambridge teams shone. Who knows?

It does seem that they always try to ensure that there's at least one team from Wales, one from Northern Ireland, and one from Scotland. Understandably so, when you consider that there's a countywide audience to cater for, and having a local team to cheer for does make it a little more interesting.

It must be difficult for the producers, because people are quick enough to accuse them of an Oxbridge bias for the very flimsiest of reasons. I wouldn't be surprised if Oxford and Cambridge had a particularly good year in the preliminaries.

Of the first round matches so far this series between an Oxbridge college, and another University, its worth noting that only Manchester have managed to beat an Oxbridge team.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Reading also beat an Oxbridge team (St John's Cambridge).

I think this really isn't something to get worked up about - I imagine it's just random. Some years, Oxbridge teams are on average better and thus there are more of them on the show; other years, I'm sure, there are fewer.

Jack said...

Well, the alleged 'Oxbridge bias' has always been a controversial subject on UC, and I suppose always will be.

In fact, it's something I might decide to go into greater detail about over on JOW next week.

jim360 said...

Yes, this seven Cambridge Colleges this year was something I was aware of earlier. I think it's a bit high, really -- especially as Oxford have also managed to have 5 teams, given 12/28 from Oxbridge. That's sure to garner attention. Still, one can't deny the quality of the teams involved, and there was another fine one this match in Somerville, with at least three top quizzers in other competitions, and two I've seen before. Looking good for some classic encounters coming up in future.

DanQuizzing said...

If Oxford and Cambridge were only allowed to send one team each they would win every single year without fail. Splitting them up by college makes it less rather than more likely for them to win as they can't consolidate to form the best teams. Just take a look at the results in British quizbowl for as long as it has existed. Virtually the only times Oxford has ever lost was when KCL got a crack American to pitch in.

Anonymous said...

That's something I agree with - in fact, I'd wager Oxford would win every time. But to someone unfamiliar with how quizzing works outside of University Challenge, saying that smacks of elitism. I don't think the accusations levelled against University Challenge are at all fair, but I suspect it would be difficult to convince the general public of that.

Unknown said...

The heavy Oxbridge representation on UC is something that I do end up arguing about quite frequently. I'm not sure that the quality of the competition or the watchability of the program would be improved by having single Oxford/Cambridge teams. The organisers do seem to try and mitigate it via the first round draw though: four of the Oxford teams went up against Cambridge Colleges, and the other had to face the ever-formidable Manchester quiz machine.
One rule which it might be fun to see tweaked at some point is the one which prevents contestants from appearing more than once. I can't be alone in wondering how this season's teams would fare against Trimble's Corpus or Guttenplan's Emmanuel.

Unknown said...

Also, Zach Vermeer has a wonderful habit on bonuses where he'll say something like "I'm not sure, but you might as well try _____"

When he says this, he's right approximately 100% of the time.