Friday, 31 August 2018

University Challenge - First Round heat 4 - SOAS v. Darwin, Cambridge

Hello again. Summer is nearly over, and I’m back from all of my travels. It could well take a while to catch up on UC, but I’ll do my best, dearly beloved. 

So let’s start with heat 4 – SOAS v. Downing, Cambridge. Representing the School of Oriental and African Studies we had Mark Thomas, Chad Beaman, Tom Pollitt and captain Harriet Gemmill. Playing for Darwin Cambridge were  Stuart McPherson, Christopher Davis, Guy Mulley and skipper Jason Golfinos. 

The first question asked for a precious stone, and as soon as JP said ‘nephrite’ I knew it was jade. I’ve asked that one several times down the rugby club. First on the buzzer – and not for the last time in this show – was Darwin’s Jason Golfinos. The world in 1997 yielded just a single bonus. Right, now, when you’re asked about award winning women film directors, the answer is often Katherine Bigelow, but it didn’t work this time for Jason Golfinos. Now, if it’s not Katherine Bigelow, Sofia Coppola is usually a very good shout. SOAS couldn’t dredge that one up.  I’m old enough to have given the answer to the next starter after the words Crosby in 1981 – which I believe was Shirley Williams. Glasgow Hillhead was certainly Roy Jenkins. We had a little more of the question before Mark Thomas supplied the answer of the SDP. Miraculous births in mythology provided two correct answers. Jason Golfinos took his second starter of the evening, recognising various definitions of the word foil. The US astronomer Vera Rubin (any relation to Billy?) provided two bonuses, which took us up to the picture starter. This was a rather straightforward Latin phrase, where the teams were asked for the sense of the phrase. Salus populi suprema lex esto, as Jason Golfinos knew, means the health of the people is the supreme law. Yeah, I’ve heard snappier slogans too. Three more Latin legal maxims earned two more bonuses. The next question asked for a specific astrological phenomenon. Chad Beaman came in too early with the orbit of Mars, allowing Jason Golfinos to take his 4th starter with supernova. Not ten minutes into the contest yet, either. The economist Robert Solow – yes, yes, known as Robert Who in LAM Towers – provided a further two bonuses. So right on the cusp of the ten minute mark, Darwin led by 75 – 15.

The Aphrodite of Knidos is one of the only existing examples of the work of Praxiteles. Gesundheit. Jason Golfinos took his 5th starter with that one. Award winning video games saw them take their first full house of the contest. Poor Chad Beaman fell right into the trap with the next starter. As he should do with his team trailing, he went for the buzzer as soon as it seemed to become obvious. It asked for a given name linked with several people, one of which being Hotspur. Naturally enough he went for Harry – but it was his surname, Percy, which the question required. Chalk up starter six to Jason Golfinos. The Ghaznavids provided another full house. With the score at 125 to 10 the vultures were beginning to circle above the SOAS team. Their predicament was thrown into sharp relief by the way that Jason Golfinos so speedily took his seventh starter, knowing “Have you no decency, Sir?” was likely to require the answer Joseph McCarthy. Two more bonuses took Darwin further away from SOAS, and brought up the music starter. Asked for the name of the band leader whose orchestra we were listening to, I’d say it took the superb Mr. Golfinos less than a second to buzz in with Benny Goodman. That’s 8 before the 20 minute mark. 2 more band leaders were identified for bonuses. Then as if things couldn’t get any worse for SOAS, they did, as JP administered the kiss of death by telling them that there was still plenty of time for them to get going. Smile when you say that, Jeremy. I’ll be honest, I was not conversant with the word hacktivist, and neither were the teams. Starter 9 for Jason Golfinos involved identifying the French composer Lully. The US film director Julie Taymor – who is neither Kaerine Bigelow nor Sofia Coppola – yielded just the one bonus. I guessed Titus Andronicus – which play gratifyingly proves that as well as being a genius, Shakespeare did actually write some crap in his early days. Jason Golfinos was first to buzz for the next starter, but it didn’t put him into double figures. After hearing The Sea of Tranquility he buzzed in with the Moon, but you could see in his body language and hear in his voice it suddenly dawned on him - hang on, that’s too flippin’ easy for UC. Quite right too. Given the full question, Chad Beaman knew that this and the other location were where Apollos 11 and 12 landed. They took two bonuses on achievements in mathematics. Inevitably Jason Golfinos ended that brief show of resistance, knowing that if the question wants the name of a palace, and it’s to do with the doings of the roman Catholic Church, Lateran will always put you in with a shout. Chris Morris provided – well, yes, two correct answers. Chad Beamon, very ill favoured by the starter gods on this show, heard the words ‘La Perouse Strait’ and correctly placed it between Sakhalin Island and Hokkaido. Unfortunately the question wanted much less specific information than that. After he was deducted 5 points he had the chastening experience of seeing Stuart McPherson answer that it separated Russia from Japan. Sometimes it just really isn’t your night. It was a seemingly inevitable consequence that Darwn would go on to take a full house on lesser known languages of Europe. At the 20 minute mark the score was 220 – 25, and only two questions remained. How close could SOAS possibly come to triple figures, and just how high a score were Darwin going to finish with?

For the second picture starter both teams sat on their buzzers and stared at a still from a Disney film. Eventually Harriet Gemmill dredged up The Princess and the Frog. Three more recent hand drawn films from other studios brought them ten points. Right – you hear the words ‘biblical figure’ and ‘John Milton’ and you go for your buzzer and answer Samson, as in Agonistes. Both teams waited, and then it was Harriet Gemmill who was fastest on the draw. Ancient seaports provided a quick full house, and SOAS’ score had tripled in a mere couple of minutes. They could have had the next starter, bearing in mind that the gland that secretes substances which control the level of glucose in the bloodstream is clearly the pancreas, but though Tom Pollitt won the buzzer race, he gave the wrong answer. Cue starter 11 for Jason Golfinos. British birds with names of three or four letters gave them the usual – ten points. After a relatively quiet few minutes the irrepressible Darwin skipper took a flier with the next starter, very quickly identifying the abbreviation S to N as standing for Signal to Noise. Sisters in Dickens novels provided nowt – highlighting literature as a possible area of weakness – for future reference. Wolframite is one of those ores which gets asked in quizzes from time to time, but by the time I had shouted out Tungsten and set off on my lap of honour, so had Chad Beaman. Well, he hadn’t set off on a lap of honour, but you know what I mean. One bonus on astronomy put SOAS back tantalisingly close to the 100 point barrier. Chad Beaman, asked for the port mentioned by Churchill in his Iron Curtain speech, came in too early and zigged with Gdansk. Just one of those things. This allowed Jason Golfinos to take his twelfth starter with Stettin. Perpetual trophies in test Cricket were gettable, but they managed just the one. For the next starter Stuart McPerson lost five with an early buzz. The answer had to be ultraviolet – yes, a second lap of honour there, and it allowed Chad Beaman to take his team to 85. Full house and they’d be on triple figures. They took the first, but then tempus fugot and the contest was gonged, stranding them on 90. The final score was 260 to 90.

Right then, a few observations. For me, Jason Golfinos’ 13 starters is a Hall of Fame performance. But how good actually were Darwin? It’s difficult to say. Although the scoreline suggests another mismatch like last year’s first round, it didn’t quite feel like that. SOAS clearly knew stuff when they earned some bonuses. Darwin’s very marked superiority was on the buzzer, and that was almost entirely due to their skipper. In fact I think that only one other correct starter came from the whole of the rest of the Darwin team. There’s no doubt that Darwin are contenders after that showing – however given their superiority on the buzzer, you might have expected them to end up closer to 300. Well, first round form is unreliable, but I think it’s fair to say that Darwin will certainly be a team to watch. 

Jeremy Paxman Watch

He started early in this show. Alluding to Mel C’s observation that, if Oasis were bigger than God “what does that make us? Bigger than Buddha?” he added ‘Stupid thing to say.’ In a way I do know where he was coming from, but come on Jez, we don’t use the S word. 
Then, for the picture bonuses, Jason Golfinos offered up a sensible enough translation of the 2nd phrase, to which JP replied sniffily “You’re just thinking aloud.” Jez, that’s NOT an insult! If you don’t know the answer, you’re supposed to use your brains to try to work it out. To be fair he did say well done when they got the last one – even though it was probably the easiest of the three. Guilt, methinks.
When Darwin achieved their full house on video games, he reacted somewhat indignantly with “What do you spend your time doing?!” Oh Jez, welcome back! I’ve missed you.
When Harriet Quimby did take what was only SOAS’ third starter on the Disney still, he jovially observed ‘Points are points wherever they come from.’ Nice application of salt to fresh wounds there.
Time was when JP would have told a team who’d scored less than 100 that they hadn’t done very well. Now, he contented himself by damning SOAS with faint praise – “You’re a nice team”. Nice try Jez. 

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

A person who specifically to further social or political ends tries to gain unauthorised access to computer files or networks can be called a hacktivist.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

University Challenge 2019 - Round One Heat Three - Pembroke College, Oxford v. Downing College, Cambridge

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.