Saturday, 29 September 2018

University Challenge 2019 - Heat 10 - University of London Institute in Paris v. Goldsmiths College, London

University of London Institute in Paris v. Goldsmiths, London

A London University derby, dearly beloved. More than that, a derby between an institute of London University that I never even knew existed, and my alma mater, at which I spent three mostly extremely happy years in the mid 80s. Apparently there are only around 120 students in the Institute, and their team was represented by James Dann, who hailed us in English, Jac Griffiths, who wished us good evening in Welsh, Niamh Merrit, who said hello in Manx, and captain Liam Alcock, who saluted us in French. As for Goldies (look, I don’t know if they still use the same nickname we used for the place, but that’s what my lot called it) we had Keshava Guha, Ieuan Cox, Jamie Robinson and skipper Diana Issokson. It was all sightly worrying when JP announced that they didn’t have a scientist among them. When I write these reviews I try to be as unbiased and fair to both teams as I can. Well, I’m afraid it was a case of stuff that as I watched this one. I was firmly in the Goldsmiths corner.

Thus began one of the more memorable contests of recent years. Both teams rather dwelt on their buzzer a bit before identifying the figure written about by Byron and Moliere among others as Don Juan. Keshava Guha took that one, to cheers from the Clark sofa. Spencer’s “The Faerie Queen” brought 2 bonuses. Skipper Diana Issokson took the first of several starters, buzzing in to recognise a description referring to a pineapple. A Short History of the World by HG Wells once again brought two bonuses. Goldies were 40 points to the good. Our second literature starter out of the three so far saw Keshava Guha identify Philip Larkin’s use of toads. Fossils ending in ‘ite’ saw Goldies take another brace of bonuses. This was starting to look too good to be true to me. I loved the UC special we had as the picture starter next. We saw a flag – obviously Panama – whose colours had been replaced by the colours of the flag of a bordering nation – in this case Colombia. Very bad luck to James Dann. He correctly identified the flag of Panama, but went for neighbouring Costa Rica rather than neighbouring Colombia. Diana Issokson then went on to earn the picture bonuses knowing that ‘Herland’  was written by Gilman. Which made 3 out of 5 literature starters. Were we, perhaps, watching a show where the question sets had been specifically tailored to show the strengths of the particular teams involved and not highlight their weaknesses? If so, I feel very uneasy about that. I myself know bugger all about Science, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to see Science starters being used. The flag bonuses brought another 10 points to Goldies. A little short of the 10 minute mark they led 80 – 0, and so far the London Institute in Paris had managed just the one buzz. What was going on here?

Now, Wanda Landowska may well be – and indeed is – known as Wanda Who? in LAM Towers, but I was pretty sure that if she played JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the instrument they were written for, then the word we were looking for was harpsichord. Keshava Guha tried a possible organ. Here, I thought, we would see the Institute get off the mark. Sadly Jac Griffiths offered synthesizer. Finally, more than 10 minutes into the show we got our first Science starter, and Liam Alcock got the Institute’s first points. Gawd knows what the question meant, but the answer was ATP – which I always thought was the original tilting railway train, but there we are. Bonuses on artists saw them fail to add to their score. Back to literature again for the next starter, and Keshava Guha took it with Tolkein’s Beren and Luthien. Films on Nobel Laureates saw Goldies take a full house, as well they should have done on this set. This took them through into triple figures. Jamie Robinson took a flyer on the next starter, and was on the right lines Geographically in his thinking, but lost 5. Look, it’s probably about time to acknowledge the elephant in the room. The London Institute in Paris just failed pretty much all evening to demonstrate the kind of General Knowledge you need in order to at least compete in a show like UC. For example, if you’re asked for a river, and Uruguay is mentioned, it’s not unreasonable to expect in a quiz that you might know the River Plate. They didn’t, and thus missed a shot at an open goal. In an astronomy starter the teams were asked to name a star of the Milky way based on its description. Turned out it was the Sun. Neither team added to their scores. Both teams sat on their buzzer as the next question gave a range of clues pointing to a swan – Swanage, Swan River, Swansea etc, until James Dann doubled his team’s score with a correct buzz. Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I and VI, provided a really rather tricky set of bonuses, none of which were to the Institute’s benefit. Diana Issokson was in very quickly for the music starter to identify the dulcet tones of Kanye West. Mr. West is, I believe, a popular musician of recent years, and no relation to the late great Adam West, nor indeed canned fish purveyor John West. Tracks featuring the Roland TR-808 drum machine – none of which were by JS Bach either – brought another two bonuses. A series of works by Umberto Eco were identified by the Goldsmith’s skipper. Science in the 1740s followed. I’ll be honest, I nearly went for the lap of honour with Celsius. What with Science questions so very thin on the ground in this show, I doubted that I’d get many other chances. My nerve cracked with Leiden jar, though, and off I went, albeit that both of those bonuses were gimmes. With almost 20 minutes on the clock, Goldies led by 140 to 20. The contest was long over, and frankly all that remained was a question of how high Goldies would take their total, and how low the Institute’s would remain.

Nobody knew about sheep worrying for the next starter. Nor about the biological term climax. Asked for a 17th century French dramatist, your percentage answer is Moliere. That’s the answer Keshava Guha gave, but it was wrong. Paris, unsurprisingly didn’t have a Scooby. It was Racine. In one way it was nice to see James Dann at least buzzing in for the next starter, on Geography, but a shame that his answer was so wide of the mark. Keshava Guha came in with the correct answer that the Balkan Mountains are in Bulgaria. The films of Daniel Day Lewis brought yet another two correct answers. So to the second picture starter. See if you can guess which specific subject this starter linked to. What’s that you say? Literature? Give that person a peanut! I shall have words to say about all of this at the end of this review. Liam Alcock recognised Camus. Apparently he’s the world’s sexiest philosopher according to a poll in Existential Comics. Others featuring in the poll actually gave them two bonuses. This seemed to put a little heart into the Institute, as Jac Griffiths took the next starter, knowing that certain species of ants practice dulosis or slave making. Mrs. Herbert Hoover provided one bonus, and two answers that, I’m afraid, brought more evidence that the Institute team really weren’t cut out for this sort of contest. Ieuan Cox managed his first starter of the contest, working out that there are three sets of consonants in terrific tariff agreement. Their bonuses – literary titles that include the name of an SI unit. Again, two of them were answered correctly. Unsurprisingly neither team had a correct shy at a botany starter about fungi. That was it, as we were gonged halfway through the next starter. Goldsmiths won by 180 – 55.

Right then. JP said to London Institute in Paris, “Well, you had a great sense of humour to take part in this.” Agreed. They showed good humour and sportsmanship. Offered the chance to take part, I don’t blame them for one minute for taking it up. I do think that the production team, though, have a question to answer. Now, I’ve spoken to quite a few people about this show since, especially former Goldies students, and all of them are asking the same thing – and there’s no real polite way of saying this – how did the London Institute in Paris team get to be on the show? All I can suggest is that their novelty, being based in France, saw them through. And I can understand that. Mind you, if they were given a place which would otherwise have been taken by another London University college, or University based in London, then I’m sorry, but that’s not on if they weren’t worthy of their place on merit. And we have only got this one show on which to make judgements, but based on this performance I think it’s unlikely that they were better than other London based institutions who didn’t make it onto the show. Let’s look at it this way as well. Will it really have done the London Institute in Paris that much good that they were seen in this way. This sort of thing can’t really be great for the reputation of the Institute, can it?

Well, look, we’ve seen other teams struggle in previous series, and we’ve seen lower scores than the Institute’s. The other issue for me, though, was what appeared to be a conspicuously ‘Science-lite’ show. I don’t have reams and reams of statistics with which to compare the spread of questions in this show with others in the same series, but this is how it seemed to me. It was especially glaring considering that JP highlighted Goldies’ lack of a scientist in our their team. Maybe I’m just imagining it – and I’d certainly be interested in your points of view in this one.

So finally, how good were Goldsmiths? Very difficult to say on the evidence of this one show. Their opposition did not discover their buzzer fingers until it was far, far too late, and I’m sorry, did not seem to have the general knowledge to put up any kind of decent fight. I think that Goldsmiths will surely have a decent bonus conversion rate from this show, and I was very, very proud of them, no doubt about that. How they will fare against a better team, with faster buzzers, well, time will tell. But I’m rooting for them.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

JP’s instinct got the better of him on the harpsichord question. Even so early in the competition it was fairly clear that the London Institute in Paris were out with the washing, so when offered the word synthesizer he took a deep breath, a long look at his card, then replied “No, it was written for the harpsichord.” Then the dam burst and his basic instincts took over, and in the same tone in which Captain Mainwaring used to call Pike a ‘stupid boy’ in Dad’s Army, couldn’t stop himself from saying “How could they have been written for a synthesizer!”

You could see that JP was feeling for the Institute, in the way that he saluted their second correct buzz of the night with a much prized Paxman “Well done.”

Diana Issokson seemed, frankly, to be absolutely loving the competition, and when she announced Kanye West in the tones of the cat that swallowed the cream, JP seemed to get into the spirit of this unusual contest, laughing and announcing ‘it is indeed!’.

Our hero applied the coup de grace to the Institute at about the 20 minute mark, with the words “Still plenty of time for you to come STORMING back, Paris!” Normally I think he’s trying to be kind when he says this sort of thing. In this case, I think he was just taking the proverbial. After all, there wasn’t and they wouldn’t.

When Keshava Guha answered Moliere for the French dramatist, Jez turned to the Institute and asked “Anyone like to buzz from Paris?” No, was the simple answer. “Zut Alors!” he hooted in derision. Then when the Institute took a rare starter identifying the photograph, he put on his best Inspector Clouseau to salute their answer – “It IS Albair Cammooo!” In the answers to the bonuses they actually took two correct answers, and not knowing the last just threw out a philosopher’s name. “HEGEL?!” spluttered JP, who by now was just letting it all hang out. So when, on the next set of bonuses, they suggested that Mrs. Herbert Hoover might have received an award from King Albert of England, he just let rip with “Have you noticed a King Albert in this country?”

Interesting Fact That I Didn’t Already Know Of The Week
The term climax, as used in Biology ultimately derives from an ancient greek word for ladder.


Jack said...

You raise a good point Dave about having obvious novelty teams like ULIP on the show. I too have discussed this with others this past week, and we are somewhat divided on the matter. I'm all for having teams like ULIP on the show, it provides a variety to the show, and reinforces that, at the end of the day, UC, while still a seriously taken quiz show, is just meant to be a bit of fun. On the other hand, though, these teams do usually tend to be not the best, and, with a few exceptions, will usually be easily beaten in the first round.

Someone said a while ago that TPTB usually select the strongest teams in the auditions, but give a by to a couple of lesser teams who they think make good TV. That's a good way of doing it, but it's a hard balance to get right at times. In fact, this is probably a subject I'll deal with in greater detail over on my blog some time soon.

As for Goldies, well, yes, it's hard to call how good they are based on that performance, but two buzzers getting four starters and a respectable 19/27 bonus rate (ULIP managed just 3/12) shows the basic traits of a reasonably good team. We shall just have to wait and see.

On Monday, St Peter's of Oxford play Pembroke of Cambridge. The week after, another London derby, this time between U.C.L. and King's College.

Aethelstan said...

I had wondered what you would make of this match Dave! Goldsmith's to my mind turned in a highly respectable performance and seem to have at least two decent buzzers, with their captain being great fun and good at her job. I wonder how they will get on against some of the more balanced teams but looking forward to seeing them again.

I think as Jack alludes to above, every year we seem to have novelty teams and I guess the ULIP lot were this years. I guess it is possible for more 'exotic' universities and institutes to do well, SOAS have turned in some decent performances in the past; but on the other hand I have some specific memories of some of the medical schools/teaching hospitals struggling as well, until they were largely merged into their 'home' universities in the last of couple of years (and thus haven't appeared). I had an ominous feeling ULIP were going to struggle, confirmed within, well for me within the first 5 minutes of the show. Even though some Oxbridge colleges are really quite dinky in terms of student numbers, we must bear in mind this typically reflects a wide range of subjects.

The science questions? This match was very light on any serious science questions, as I suppose we might expect given the composition of teams, but I thought what was asked was within the realms of general quiz knowledge.

Londinius said...

Hi Both,
It is a tricky question, the inclusion of 'obvious novelty teams'. This is just my opinion, and of course feel free to disagree. Yes, UC is, like any other quiz show, first and foremost entertainment and a bit of fun. So on that score why should one object? Well, while it is a bit of fun, there are some people take it very, very seriously. As an example, look at some of the abuse Liam Alcock received on twitter this week just for wearing a beret. By putting a team like ULIP on, the production team were putting them in a situation where they were always going to lose - which is not such a problem, but stood a very good chance of being heavily defeated and not answering many questions, which is what happened. You lose heavily like that in UC, and there is every good chance that afterwards you will face the situation that a cross section of people will decide - totally erroneously - that you are not very intelligent. I really don't like the idea that the production team are setting up a team to fail like this. We only have the evidence of this one show to go on, but the inescapable conclusion is that the ULIP team were nice, personable intelligent people, who don't happen to be quizzers. If the production team knew that they were unlikely to do very well on the show, then I think they were reprehensible in putting them in the show, and thus exposing them to some of the criticism and comments they have probably received this week. If the production team did genuinely think they might do better, I'd like to ask why, and respectfully suggest that their selection procedures could do with some tightening up. Because I'd hate to think that UC would ever stoop to putting on a team because they think they'll maybe give a couple of , erm, silly answers which will give Jeremy Paxman some ammunition. Yes, that might be entertaining enough, but it isn't University Challenge.

Ian Dalziel said...

Admittedly I knew the answer anyway, but I'm afraid guessing Molière as the author of a classical tragedy got a Paxman-type splutter from me!