Friday, 20 April 2018

University Challenge: Semi Final Two: Merton, Oxford v. Newcastle

Merton, Oxford v. Newcastle

We’re almost there, dearly beloved. St. John’s, Cambridge have already claimed one spot in the semi final after a majestic performance against Edinburgh. In my preview a couple of weeks ago I said, “Although I think Merton are the stronger of the two teams, and although I believe Merton should win, a Newcastle win would not be, to my mind, such an upset as an Edinburgh win against St. John’s.” Actually, following the St. John’s performance last week, that just made Newcastle look even stronger. However Merton have really been the form horses all season. Looking to extend this run were Edward Thomas, Alexander Peplow, Akira Wiberg and captain Leonie Woodland. Looking to set up the chance of a return against St. John’s for Newcastle were Jack Reynard , Molly Nielsen, Adam Lowery and skipper Jonathan Noble.

Great buzzer work from Alex Peplow took the first starter, as he came in very early to identify Figaro as the character in “The Guilty Mother”. Also Gepetto’s cat in the original Disney Pinocchio. Archaeology and poetry – I’ve heard of stranger pairings – provided us both with 2 correct bonuses. Now, I had actually heard of the Great Dinosaur Rush for the next starter, but neither team could get it, although Jack Reynard won a prized Paxman chuckle for his suggestion of the Big Bone Bash. Now, I loved Alan Moore’s graphic novel “Watchmen” when it first came out, so I had Ozymandias from Adrian Veidt, and the addition of Rameses II to the question allowed another sharp buzz from Alex Peplow. Nobel prizes for Physics were just too easy for Merton, who dispatched a full house to the boundary without even needing to confer. Being 45 points behind didn’t seem to faze Newcastle though, as their inspirational skipper Jonathan Noble came in very quickly with the correct answer, dihedral,  to the Maths starter which followed. Right, their bonuses were on Harriet Martineau. Totally off the point, I stayed in Harriet Martineau’s former house in Tynemouth, Tyne and Wear a couple of times in the 80s, since it was then the home of my best friend from University, who sadly passed away a few years ago. Newcastle, in turn managed two bonuses. This brought us the picture starter. It showed us emblems of universities attended by a US president along with the subjects they studied. Akira Wiberg opened his starter account, recognising that these were once graced with the presence of Donald T. Rump. Three more sets of presidents to identify from University and subject studied brought two bonuses. I thought Alex Peplow rather unlucky not to be allowed his Church Visiting for Church Going by Philip Larkin. The question only asked for the activity, not the title. Well, neither team had that, and so at the ten minute mark Merton had a useful lead of 65 – 20.

Nobody knew an analogy comparing software developments to the cathedral and the bazaar. How bazaar, how bazaar. Skipper Noble took another flyer with the next starter, but sadly lost five. Given the whole question Akira Wiberg gratefully supplied the French astronomer Laplace.  Mountains and Monarchs provided a nice UC special set, even if the connection between mountains and monarchs was tenuous at best. The questions required a lot of legwork from Merton, and they didn’t manage any points from the set. Both teams rather sat on their buzzers for the History starter which followed. Even when Alex Peplow answered that it was Owen Tudor that Catherine of Valois married, who would be the grandfather of Henry VII, he sounded very uncertain. He was right, though. Moons of Jupiter provided much more fertile ground for Merton, and another full house meant that the gap between the teams was beginning to look ominous for Newcastle. Now, I’ve no idea what Grignard reagents are (although I have a suspicion that they may have had a minor hit in the 80s with ‘Baby I Want Your Love Thing), but Akira Wiberg came in early and lost 5 with them for the next starter, a very rare occurrence in his case. It was a chemistry question, the answer was hydrogen, Jack Reynard had it, and that’s all I can say about that starter. Bonuses on the Guano Islands Act did not seem particularly fertile ground (you see what I did there?) but Newcastle took a very useful full house. So to the music starter. Now, back in the late 70s and early 80s, when I started watching UC, if you were ever asked for a British Composer, about 30% of the time the answer was Vaughan Williams, and about 60% of the time it was Benjamin Britten, so I would always answer Benjamin Britten, and be right more often than I was wrong. I didn’t answer Britten this time, but Molly Nielsen did, and she was right to do so. A great full house followed. Incidentally, the last piece was from Katchaturian’s “Spartacus”. If, like me, that particular piece conjures up an image of a sailing ship in full sail, then I’m sorry, but you know you’re old. If it doesn’t, then ask your parents. Or failing that, your grandparents. On a roll for the first time during the contest, Newcastle, in the shape of skipper Noble, took another early starter, recognising former kingdoms of Madagascar. Words with the same spelling, although different meanings, in English and Spanish provided a good set, and Newcastle’s correct answer put them just 10 points behind Merton. Molly Nielsen had a rush of blood to the head and came in just too early for the next starter. This allowed Akira Wiberg to supply the correct answer of Arvo Part. Figures mentioned in the REM song “The End Of The World As We Know It” provided a full house. This meant that the gap stood at 110 to 75. Newcastle had come back strongly, as they had against St. John’s, and at the moment, while you sensed that Merton had the whip hand, it really was either team’s game to win.

Now, I knew that bacteria get their name from the Greek for rod, and the dinoasaur – Camptosaurus (the first so called ‘duck billed dinosaur’) had a name which means ‘bent lizard’. So asked what gets its name from the Greek for curved rod I tried campylobacter. Correct, neither team had it, and I was off on my lap of honour. Again, Molly Nielsen recognised that she knew the answer when asked who was “furnished and burnished by Aldershot –“ and buzzed very early, to find, to her chagrin, that the answer refused to leap from the tip of her tongue. Hard lines. Merton didn’t have a Scooby about Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, and so we moved on. Akira Wiberg knew that the former Indian capital, Agra, appears in a variety of different words, the definitions of which we were given. Apia, the capital of Samoa, and 2 correct answers stretched the gap to 60. I was pleased with myself for recognising the work of Courbet (Ronnie or Harry?) for the picture starter, and Molly Nielsen, so good on the music set, was first in for this one a swell. 3 later exponents of the Realist tradition brought a full house and kept Newcastle in the match. Akira Wiberg, very much on song in this later part of the contest, knew a bunch of academics and writers called Bloom. A full set on body cells took the gap back out to 60. Leonie Woodland came in with the term ‘crepuscular’ referring to periods of twilight for the next starter. It was at this point that I feel the game really slipped away from Newcastle. They needed to get to the buzzer first for that starter. Arthur Waley – no jokes about ‘Minder’ here please – provided two more bonuses which stretched the lead to 80. Even three full houses would not be enough for Newcastle, and now surely there wasn’t enough time left. Not that Molly Nielsen was conceding defeat. She had a great early buzz to identify Perth as the state capital whose first 4 letters occur in a series of given words. Corazon Aquino of the Philippines saw Newcastle take two bonuses, but miss out on the name of my favourite Cardinal of all time, Cardinal Sin of the Philippines. Making absolutely certain of victory, Leonie Woodland came in very early to identify Gold as the only element other than Europium whose symbol comprises of two vowels. The Merton skipper never seems to miss out on Physics questions, and she didn’t need to confer while taking a full house in double quick time. Incidentally, my remembering Avogadro’s Constant demanded the rarely performed Clark second lap of honour. Throwing caution to the wind, as soon as he heard the word ‘equus’ in the next starter, Jonathan Noble answered horses, which allowed Akira Wiberg to supply the correct answer of zebras to the full question. Colonial battles in which European powers were defeated gave Merton a triple figure lead. That was it, and we were gonged before either team could answer that the Japanese word kara means open. Merton won by 215 – 110.

In the end, Merton had just too much buzzing for Newcastle, who can take heart from the fact that, for more than 20 minutes they were slugging it out with them. As for the final – ho boy. How do you call this one? I have liked Merton as a team ever since their first match. However, St. John’s were SO good in their semi final that I am loath to predict their defeat. When you get right down to it, I just can’t call it. What I will say is that the Grand Final has every good chance of being one of the best contests we’ve seen for years.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

Why does he have to do this? In the Spiegel in Spiegel question Akira Wiberg gave is the correct answer Arvo Part. Yes- replied Jez – Arvo PEHRT. Oh get over yourself, for heaven’s sake.

When Molly Nielsen made her second early buzz without answering, he seemed most downhearted at having to penalise her , and actually said “I apologise”. You don’t need to apologise for just applying the rules, Jez – just don’t rub it in either.

It was interesting to note that while the Cambridge man congratulated Merton of Oxford, he didn’t launch into similar paeans of praise to those he gave to St. John’s last week.

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

Figaro featured in the trilogy of three plays, the least well known of which is “The Guilty Mother”


Jack said...

Another good win for Merton, but Newcastle certainly have nothing to be ashamed of there. Both teams were excellent on the bonuses, Merton 23/33 and Newcastle 14/18, so it was Merton's better buzzing that saw them through to, what is as you say, a very hard to call final.

I wonder Dave if you are aware of the unseen controversy during the music round. Apparently, when introducing the final music bonus, Paxo mistakenly gave the answer away during his preamble to it. The producers thus felt forced to scrap the music round and start a whole new round, much to protests from both teams and the audience. Thankfully, a replacement bonus was found, and the show was able to carry on.

An unfortunate incident, which some speculate may have robbed Newcastle of the momentum they seemed to be building, and maybe caused Ms Nielsen's unfortunate pair of errors (hence Paxo's apology the second time it hsppened), but I don't think any major criticism is due.

So, the final. Like you, I seriously cannot call it. These are two seriously good teams, and either would be very worthy winners. The fact that a Twitter poll I set up asking who'd win is split 50-50 at the time of writing just shows you how close this is. Best of (retrospective) luck both teams, hopefully a great end to the series!

Aethelstan said...

I can't disagree with you both, I am looking forward to this match in a way I didn't last seasons, after the Monkmania hype.

I'd love a John's win, in spite of being an Oxford man. For me, I can't ignore the fact though that Merton have two lightning buzzers. I also suspect Merton will do well on STEM questions, although Devine Stoneman might have a better overall view of the matter compared to conventional physicist Woodland.

On the flip side, John's will want that trophy and have shown they can invoke their 'dark side' with their clinical demolition of Corpus and Edinburgh. If the questions favour McKeown god help the Mertonites.

I thought Merton looked a bit vulnerable for a while last monday, which may hint at a good final. Let the end times battle commence!

Stephen Follows said...

Here's the most complete report I've so far seen about the Aaron Copland debacle:

Perhaps you could incorporate some of this into your review. It clearly had an effect on the final score, if not the result per se.

KentishMan said...

An excellent review, as always, but I think you're a bit unkind to Paxman in objecting to his confirming the answer to the Spiegel im Spiegel question by correctly pronouncing Arvo Pärt's surname.
If he'd laboured it by saying something like 'Well, actually it's pronounced "Pehrt", but I'll let you have the points, since you obviously at least know how to spell the name', I'd agree with you that it would have been unnecessary and patronising.
However, in an analogous situation with popular music, what would you have him say if a team, asked which band had had hits with 'Save A Prayer', 'Rio' and 'A View To A Kill', gave 'Durren Durren' as the answer? I'd be very surprised if anybody objected to his responding with 'Yes, Duran Duran' - and his response about Arvo Pärt seemed to me no worse than doing that.