Saturday, 27 April 2019

University Challenge - Grand Final 2019

After all the ballyhoo, dearly beloved, it came down to this. 2 teams, Edinburgh and St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, and 8 players. It’s been an unpredictable series in many ways, and I certainly didn’t predict that Matt Booth, Marco Malusa, Robbie Campbell Hewson, and skipper Max Fitz-James of Edinburgh would find themselves in the Grand Final. However they showed resilience after losing in the quarters to Durham, whom they beat in the semis to earn their place. As for Agastya Pisharody, Marceline Bresson, Lizzie Fry and captain Freddy Leo, unbeaten Teddy Hall had looked good for the final for most of the series. Last time out they took out dangerous Darwin, Cambridge, although that semi final had provided Freddy Leo with the unusual experience of only being the second best buzzer on the night. Having seen Edinburgh’s semi final, I felt that this was one I just couldn’t call. Yes, before the semi finals you’d have said that the superior buzzing of Leo would have given them the edge. However Edinburgh’s death or glory gung ho buzzing in their semi had beaten the highly fancied Durham team, and you just fancied that this would at the very least enable them to make a game of it.

A traditional dance form with some silly names gave Max Fitz-James his first buzz of the final. An incorrect one as it happened, since he offered maypole dancing. Didn’t matter at this stage. This was a statement of intent, that Edinburgh were indeed going to buzz fearlessly as they had against Durham. Allowed the whole question it was Lizzie Fry ho gave the correct answer of morris dancing. A set of questions on paperclips brought a single bonus. Freddy Leo took his first starter of the evening, and his 42nd of the series, knowing a group of clues all pointed towards the colour yellow. Persistent courtship in 19th century novels brought a full house. Nobody knew that the hydrostatic pressure reaches one kilobar in the world’s oceans at a depth of 10 km. Marco Malusa recognised a description of Vancouver Island for an early buzz which put his team into a positive points total. “You get set of bonuses on the periodic table “ announced JP, pausing momentarily before adding “ in Chinese”. I promptly stopped putting my shoes on in preparation for the anticipated lap of honour. Then I put them on again as I had carbon and boron for the first answer, as did Edinburgh, and we were both right. Edinburgh built on this to take a full house. This brought us to the picture starter. This was a rather nice Venn Diagram, with names of characters from 2 Shakespeare plays, with a main female character missing from the centre. Well, I knew that Helena was missing from the Dream, and that proved to be the correct answer. (I acted in it in the 6th form at school, and I think it safe to say that those present will always remember my Bottom). Max Fitz-James was first in for that one. 2 bonuses were enough to make the scores level at 40 apiece as we approached the 10 minute mark.

I considered taking a second lap of honour when I shouted ‘Lagrange’ in answer to the next starter just as Freddy Leo buzzed in with the same answer. Bonuses on the latin phrase noli me tangere brought a fine full house. For the next starter we had a few lines by Ogden Nash about a bird. Max Fitz-James allowed himself to be led astray by a mention of Saint-Saens and offered swans. This allowed Lizzie Fry to come in and give the more obvious answer – in this case cuckoo – for the second time in the contest. Bonuses on Harold Macmillan yielded just the one answer. Nobody could get the next one about gases. A rush of blood to the head saw Agastya Pisharody buzz in for a starter which wanted 2 greek letters and just offer omega. After this Robbie Campbell Hewson did exactly what I would have done and buzzed in with Alpha and Omega. He maybe knew, I certainly didn’t, but when you’ve got a free shot like that you have to have a go. Desperately bad luck to Teddy Hall, but you have to keep your wits about you. Edinburgh didn’t look like they fancied the bonuses on Iron Maiden, and yet we both took a full house. A truly wonderful music starter followed. We were played three pieces of ‘popular’ music. Each piece contained the name of a colour in its title. The three colours, top to bottom, made up a national flag. Little RED corvette – Mr. BLUE Sky and ORANGE crush gave me Armenia. Both teams went for flags with green in them. Asked for one of three consecutive years in which a given sequence of events happened, Freddy Leo was in first, but some way out. This allowed Max Fitz-James in with a correct answer of 1790. This again levelled the teams, and one correct answer on the music bonuses put them in the lead. Max Fitz-James got himself a little in a tizzy when he buzzed in first for the next starter, gave the correct answer of Agrippina, and then tried to correct himself. Off the point, I did think that Tiberius’ first wife – a daughter of Agrippa, yes – was known as Vipsania raher than Agrippina, but there you go. The Millennium Prize Problems brought a couple of bonuses which took Edinburgh into triple figures. You got the sense that Edinburgh’s collective tails were up as Marco Malusa buzzed in early to provide the term metaphysical for the next starter. Elizabeth Catlett – yes, Elizabeth Who in LAM Towers – brought a quickfire full house, which meant that Edinburgh had actually established a lead of 125 – 75 at the 20 minute mark.

No need to panic for Teddy Hall yet, but they did need to get their buzzing fingers going again. Max Fitz-James came in early for the next starter, but lost five. Almost inevitably it was Lizzie Fry who did the sweeper’s job, mopping up the loose pass, and sending it into the opposing goal, giving us the correct answer of the Asian Games. 2 bonuses on astronomy followed. The picture starter showed us the artist Georgia O’Keefe, and it was Max Fitz-James who took that one. Art History’s power couples provided Edinburgh with 2 correct answers, and the rest of us with more evidence of Gilbert and George’s unassailable position as the art world’s finest Morecambe and Wise tribute act. Max Fitz-James again came in too early for the next starter, and this time it was Agastya Pisharody who hoovered up the scraps, providing the correct answer of Geometry. Pairs of place names in which the final three letters of the first name are the first three letters of the name of the second were a lovely UC special set. Teddy Hall took one, and this placed them a full house behind. Freddy Leo finally found his buzzer range and provided the starter they needed recognising that gypsum has a value of two on the Mohs scale. One bonus on computing languages left them 10 points adrift. Marceline Bresson recognised the work of Bell Hooks to bring the teams level and earn the praise of her captain. Islands and their languages saw Teddy Hall take one, but throw away 5 points by giving the name of the country which is part of the island of New Guinea  Papua New Guinea – rather than the name of the island itself. On such small margins . . . In a beautiful UC special starter for the next set, the teams firstly had to work out that a list of people were born in Liverpool. Not too hard that. Then they had to take the first three letters of the city, and translate it into a number in roman numerals. LIV gave 54. Robbie Campbell Hewson was first to work it out, and this gave his team back a 5 point lead. The 6th century Byzantine Empress Theodora allowed for two correct answer before the contest was gonged.

So Edinburgh, winners by 155 to 140, are the champions. It’s probably not much consolation to Teddy Hall, but it was nip and tuck, and really could have gone either way at the end. For what it’s worth it was slightly better bonus conversion which won the match. I’d also like to pay tribute to Max Fitz-James’ buzzing tactics. He took 4 starters, one more than Freddy Leo and Lizzie Fry – but he also came in too early for several as well. However I think that despite giving away 5 points a throw, this put pressure on Teddy Hall, which may be a reason why Freddy Leo’s buzzing was his least effective of the series. He’s still one of the finest buzzers we’ve seen for a quite a while. However, Edinburgh are the champions, and well deserved too.

Congratulations to the production team. Another thoroughly enjoyable series. Thanks very much everyone.

Jeremy Paxman Watch

JP wrinkled his unlovely nose as Lizzie Fry answered the first starter with morris dancing, and he sniffed , “To think that you had to know that!”

At the end he paid tribute to the fact that both teams were applauding each other – rightly so.

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

The name morris dancing is thought to derive from the Moors.


Claire Slater said...

Also amazing command of the English language considering the number of finalists are overseas students .

Jack said...

Brilliant final, two fine teams playing a great game in great spirit, and a last minute victory for the ante-post underdogs. As you say, the bonuses helped too, 18/23 to St Edmund Hall's 14/24. Well done to Edinburgh again, most deserving champions, and well done St Edmund Hall too on a great effort and series of performances.

A great series overall. Very consistent throughout, as opposed to last series where the first round was a bit lopsided. Thanks once again to all who took part, and those who brought the series to us. Thank you Dave too for your coverage throughout the series, a great read as always.

Aethelstan said...

Thanks for your coverage of this series Dave, and your ongoing Mastermind reviews! A good crop of matches, as Jack says the first rounds seemed less 'anomalous' than last year - lessons learnt with the handicapping maybe? I will admit I didn't have Edinburgh down as winners though never mind finalists, especially with Golfinos and Leo lurking around. I thought Teddy looked quite off their game in the final, the baulked starters really seemed to irk them and they couldn't find their range. Fitz-James was then well equipped to take advantage. There's probably a lesson here about getting too distracted by master buzzers - although I suspect Golfinos and Leo will be the most memorable characters from this season, reminding one of Monkman and Seagull..

Incidentally, the Guardian review of the UC final was written by one Ms. McKeown, familiar to readers of this page!

TomB said...

Thank you, David, for your dedicated, wise and detailed reviews.
Re. ‘lopsided’ first rounds, Sean Blanchflower’s site gives these figures for the 14 first round matches of the last 5 series (final figure is the most recent series ):

Matches with score difference 20 or less: 2, 1, 3 ,2 ,3
Matches with score difference 25-50: 4, 4, 4, 2, 2
Matches with score difference 55+: 8, 9, 7, 10, 9