Monday, 28 October 2013

University Challenge 2013-14: Repechage Play-Off 2: Southampton vs Loughborough

And so, off we set again, for another round of University Challenge. The second play-off tonight, with the winners taking the final place in the second round. Two very likeable teams, who both scored 155 in their first match, so very little between them in that sense.

Southampton were comfortably beaten by SOAS in their first match, but scoring their points against such a good team means they were the favourites for tonight's match, in most peoples' books. With LAM and JOW reader and contributor Cromarty(IV) amongst their number, the unchanged quarter were:
David Bishop, from Reading, studying Physics
Richard Evans, from Frimley in Surrey, studying Chemistry
Captain: Bob de Caux, from West Sussex, studying Complex Systems Simulation
Matt Loxham, from Preston, studying Respiratory Toxicology

Loughborough lost a tighter match to Clare College Cambridge a week prior (the day Paddy won the Jackpot on DoND). It took them one starter more than their opponents to reach that score, hence their ranking below Southampton, but still a respectable effort. There were also unchanged from before:
Ali Thornton, from Penicuik in Scotland, studying Banking, Finance and Management
Cathy Morten, from Southampton, studying Aeronautical Engineering
Captain: Grant Craig, from Bonybridge near Falkirk, studying Analytical Chemistry
Katie Spalding, from Ipswich, studying Maths

So, very little between these two teams. It could go either way. 

David Bishop took his first starter of the series, getting Southampton off the mark first. More starters went Southampton's way, but very few bonuses went with them. Katie Spalding was unlucky to miss one starter, answering 'Dowager Queen' when 'Queen Dowager' was what was sought. Loughborough did manage one starter before the first picture round, on US states which ticket candidates in US election represented. Southampton led by 55-20.

The next starter went to Loughborough, and a full set of bonuses on rugby players allowed them to pull within five points. The next starter, on the horses of historical figures, saw at least three players race to their buzzer; Bob de Caux got there first, increasing Southampton's lead, though, again, only one bonus went their way. Loughborough weren't getting as many starters, but their slightly better bonus showing allowed them to keep in touch.

The music round, on renditions of You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two, went to Loughborough, who produced laughter with suggestions of Laurence Olivier and Omid Djalili! It did, however, allow them to sneak into the lead, 70-65. But Bob de Caux immediately took it back for Southampton, and two further starters allowed the side to pull away into three figures. An interesting set of bonuses on people born on the same day went to the side, with two bonuses falling their way too.

The second picture round was on representations of months in the Bedford Hours, and both sides narrowly missed the starter by being a month out both ways! Southampton got the bonuses, and now led 135-70. Not quite a match winning lead yet, but it would be if they kept getting starters.

And that they did, and when Richard Evans completed a complex piece of arithmetic, their lead reached three figures, and the win was secure. Grant Craig did pull one starter back for Loughborough, ensuring all eight players had answered at least one starter correctly, but just one bonus came out of a complex set of gold winning athletes and their surnames. An odd moment happened when Ali Thornton interrupted incorrectly, but Southampton did not get the rest of the question.

At the gong, Southampton won by 185-80. A close match in the first half, but Southampton pulled away in the second for a respectable win. Bad luck Loughborough, but you still pretty well, and shouldn't be disheartened over either loss at all. But well done Cromarty(IV) and co, and best of luck next time!

The stats: Bob de Caux was the night's best buzzer, getting five starters for Southampton, and the side converted 15 bonuses out of 33 (with two penalties), which is OK, but may need to be improved on next time. Cathy Morten got two starters for Loughborough, with her colleagues getting one each, and the side managed 7 correct bonuses out of 15 (with one penalty).

Next week: the second round begins. No word on the draw yet. Good to see extra care being taken to avoid accidental spoilers though.

Monday, 21 October 2013

University Challenge 2013-14: Repechage Play-Off 1: Durham vs Christ Church

Good evening, from Ayrshire, for the first of the repechage play-offs. If I understand correctly, this was the first match recorded after the show moved to Salford. So, what would a change in location do? Well, apart from Paxo being zoomed in on from slightly further back than before, not a lot. We'll see what playing away does to Manchester's performance when we see them again later.

Durham narrowly lost to Queens' College Cambridge back in early August, by just twenty points, and with a score of 170, twenty points higher than their opposition tonight. Despite that, most would consider them the underdogs tonight; they were unchanged from before:
Alex Richards, from Derbyshire, studying Chemistry
Daniel Hulme, from Staffordshire, studying Theoretical Physics
Captain: Matt MacKenzie, from Gloucestershire, studying History
Oliver Burnham, from Hampshire, studying Chemistry

Christ Church Oxford were unlucky to draw the formidable Trinity College Cambridge team in their first match, but despite getting trounced, they still came away with an impressive score of 150, and only missed a handful of bonuses along the way. Their score was just enough to bring them back, so back again were:
George Greenwood, from Exeter, studying PPE
Andreas Capstack, from Norway, studying PPE
Captain: Ewan MacAulay, from Hong Kong, studying Chemistry
Phil Ostrowski, from Poland, studying Cardiology

So, on paper, not much between them, with Durham having a slightly higher score. But Christ Church's score was achieved against the best team of the first round, and that combined with their bonus rate made them the favourites tonight.

Early on, honours were even, with starters being swapped, and bonuses coming by the plenty. Phil Ostrowski was lucky to get away with a rather long pause after not answering a starter fully at first; but was given the benefit of the doubt, and became the second Christ Church to get a starter right in the series! The first picture round, on logos of international organizations, went to Durham, and they led 60-40.

Then, up surged Christ Church, and away they pulled. Unlike in the heat though, Ewan MacAulay was being aided by his colleagues, who were also adding their two cents on the buzzer. A dropped starter finally came when Mr MacAulay buzzed wrongly, and Paxo dared Durham to take a guess; the guess that came amused Paxo so much he didn't think it was worth guessing!

Phil Ostrowski admitted he was embarrassed to be able to identify Celine Dion for the music starter, but Paxo reassured him it was fine, as it got his team the points! The side swept the bonuses, on Canadian female vocalists, much to Paxo's amazement! Christ Church now led 135-60, and shortly afterwards, George Greenwood made sure all four Oxonions had at least one starter under their belts. The resulting bonuses saw the Oxford side take ages conferring on one bonus, and make Paxo crease up in the process!

Trying to break Durham back into the match, Daniel Hulme buzzed early on the next starter, but he didn't phrase his answer properly, allowing Christ Church to take the points. Matt MacKenzie made a similar mistake afterwards, giving the Oxonians more wheat to their mill. Durham finally broke back into the game with the next starter, but no bonuses followed.

And then the second picture round, on the dogs of US presidents. In each case, the breed was required, and the president as well for the bonuses! Ewan MacAulay narrowly missed the starter, allowing Durham to sneak the points, and the bonuses. More hilarity ensued! Durham now trailed by 200-80, but Daniel Hulme pounced on another Oxford error, giving all eight players at least one starter to their name.

Now into three figures, Durham needed to sweep the remaining starters up, but Christ Church wouldn't let them, and the next starter confirmed their victory. Now playing for pride, Durham did manage a late rally, stringing together two starters and a good tally of bonuses. The final points of a good match went to Christ Church, and at the gong, they had the win by 245-140.

Paxo was correct in saying 140 is a good score to lose with against such a good team. A shame to lose yet another promising Durham side so early, but they didn't disgrace themselves at all, and gave a good account of themselves in their two matches. Well done to Christ Church though for an entertaining victory, and, like so many others in the second round already, a favourable draw could see them make further progress.

The stats: Ewan MacAulay led again for Christ Church, this time with six starters, only one more then Phil Ostrowski managed, while Matt MacKenzie was Durham's lead buzzer with four. On the bonuses, Durham managed a respectable 13 out of 24 (with one penalty), while the Oxonians converted 23 out of 36, which is a slight step back from their first match, but still very good indeed. Good play all round.

Next week's match: the second repechage match between Southampton and Loughborough (good luck Cromarty(IV)!)

As for Only Connect, tonight we saw the first of the elimination matches between sides that lost their first match. Another close one too; shame to lose either side.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

University Challenge 2013-14: First Round Review and What We Can Expect Next

So, we've reached the end of the first round. So, time for the usual check-up post.

The fourteen teams safely into Round 2, listed in order of qualifications with their scores and winning margins, are:
  • Queen's University Belfast (140, 35)
  • Reading (180, 60)
  • Trinity College Cambridge (300, 150)
  • Queens' College Cambridge (190, 20)
  • Clare College Cambridge (195, 40)
  • SOAS (230, 75)
  • Manchester (215, 110)
  • Liverpool (295, 255)
  • Peterhouse Cambridge (250, 105)
  • York (270, 200)
  • Somerville College Oxford (255, 110)
  • Cardiff (145, 50)
  • Downing College Cambridge (260, 145)
  • Bangor (230, 120)
So, what can we expect from those raw stats? Well, Trinity got the highest score of the first round, but not the biggest win. Liverpool and York got lower scores, but won by much bigger margins. But, I maintain that Trinity are better bets to reach the QFs, as they defeated a much stronger team in their first match. It's all well and good to thoroughly trounce your opponents, but it might not be entirely down to your skill.

I will need to see how Liverpool and York fare against stronger opponents before we decide if they should be seriously considered for the title. Many times in recent years, teams that have trounced their first opponents have struggled against stronger teams (Imperial last year, and Edinburgh three years ago).

Aside, from Trinity, I would also say SOAS are good bets to reach the QFs, as they also defeated a good team who managed a good score by a decent margin. I suppose it helps that they are probably a great deal older than most of the others, but, then, SOAS is one of those institutions that is just more likely to have older students (as was said by someone last series).

Aside from those two, I have no idea who to tip for the QFs. There are a whole load of teams who could make it with a favourable draw. And a couple who will have to pick the pace up to survive.

Also, as has been already noted, this year's Manchester team don't seem as strong as their predecessors. Of course, they may well pick up the pace next time around (we all know how badly last year's Manchester team began, and they went on to win the whole thing).

On to the repechage, where the four teams competing are:
  • Durham (170, 20)
  • Southampton (155, 75)
  • Loughborough (155, 40)
  • Christ Church Oxford (150, 150)
This is a fine example of the stats only telling half the story, as Christ Church, the lowest scoring and most trounced of the four, I would actually say are the favourites against whoever they face (past form says Durham), as they earned a good score against superb opposition, and converted about four fifths of their bonuses en route. So, unless Ewan MacAulay has an off-day (lets not forget, he was responsible for all of his side's starters in that match), I would definitely say his team are the most likely to make it through. (Mind you, we all thought Lincoln were most likely to make it through the repechage last year, and look what happened there)

Overall, the first round this year was much better than the first round last year, where only a handful of teams broke 200; this year, only a handful of winning teams haven't! And the standard feels better than last year too. I can only hope things will not tail off, and we will be in for a good repechage and second round.

Still no word on the draw for next Monday's match, but Durham vs Christ Church would be my best guess, followed by Southampton vs Loughborough. Hopefully, we'll know for sure shortly.

Monday, 14 October 2013

University Challenge 2013-14: Round 1: Match 14: Aberystwyth vs Bangor

So, the final first round match! It's been a long round, hasn't it? An all-Welsh affair, with both sides aiming to score 155 or more to make it into the repechage, whatever happened. Pleasingly, no accidental spoilers have leaked out in the past week, so none of us knew what to expect tonight.

Aberystwyth University was part of the University of Wales until 2007, having been around in various forms for well over a century beforehand. It hasn't been seen on UC for some years, its last appearance being in 2006-07, where the team reached the QFs before losing to eventual winners Warwick. Playing for them tonight:
Simon Thomas, from Warminster in Wiltshire, studying Strategic Studies
Matthew Campbell, from Inverurie, studying Strategy
Captain: Ned Bishop-Harper, from Canterbury, studying Managing the Environment
Daniel Guy, from Epping, studying Biology

Nice to see someone from my neck of the woods on the show.

Bangor University has a similar history to its opponents, having been founded in 1884, and also becoming its own uni in 2007. Lest we forget, their team reached the semi-finals last year, before bowing out to Manchester. One of last year's team, Adam Pearce, remarked yesterday that this year's captain was his team's reserve, and he knows two more of them. They were:
Owain Jones, from Swansea, studying History
Daisy Le Helloco, from Dorchester, studying English Literature
Captain: Catriona Coutts, from Angelsey, studying English Literature with Creative Writing
Anna Johnson, from Chippenham, studying Marine Biology

So, both teams knew what they had to do, and off we set. Bangor struck first, with Daisy Le Helloco providing correct answers to the first two starters. Aberystwyth got off the mark, but went backwards to -5 before getting their first starter of the night. The first picture round was on jerseys used in the Tour de France; Bangor took this, increasing their lead to 75-15.

And almost immediately, everyone of the Bangor side had a starter to their name. A good set of bonuses on pairs of celebs, the first of whom's surname is the second's first name, gave them a full set of bonuses. Step in James Guy, who managed two consecutive starters for Aberystwyth, and a fair amount of bonuses went with them. The music round was on genres whose names are also dances; Bangor got the starter, and seemed to take their time answering the bonuses, not for the first or last time.

Bangor's lead was now 115-55, and another good buzz from Daisy Le Helloco increased it. Again, the side took their time with the bonuses. An early buzz from Bangor allowed Aberystwyth to get back into the match, and a full set of bonuses followed. A second starter and bonuses for Aberystwyth reduced the Bangor advantage to just 25 points. The second picture round, on depictions of female authors, gave Bangor more room to manoeuvre, and increased the lead to 140-100.

Into the final minutes, with the gap still closeable. Catriona Coutts became the latest in a long list of quiz show contestants to mistake Cardinal Wolsey for Thomas Cromwell, and to think he was executed (which he wasn't). Another starter went to Aberystwyth, but no bonuses followed. And this, alas, was as far as Aberystwyth could make it, and the remaining non-dropped starters went to Bangor. Again, the side took their time with the bonuses.

At the gong, Bangor won by 230-110. A good first victory for the side, despite their taking their times with their bonuses, and, like so many others, a favourable draw could see them do well in the later stages. Bad luck Aberystwyth, but a respectable effort.

The stats: a late surge saw Catriona Coutts emerge as Bangor's best buzzer with five starters, while Daniel Guy's three was Aberystwyth's best tally. On the bonuses, Abersywyth managed a decent 11 out of 18 (with one penalty), while Bangor's final tally was 22 out of 37 (with two penalties), which is also a good tally.

So, the repechage teams are: Durham (170), Loughborogh and Southampton (155 each) and Christ Church Oxford (150). Four good teams, so we should be in for some good matches, we hope.

Next week: the first repechage match. No word on the draw yet, but my best guess is Durham vs Christ Church.

Tune back in tomorrow for a short summary for the first round, and what we can expect next.

Monday, 7 October 2013

University Challenge 2013-14: Round 1: Match 13: St John's vs Downing

It's Monday night, so it must be University Challenge time. And, with the first round nearing its close, the fight for the repechage is heating up. Scoring 160 or more would guarantee tonight's losing team a place in it. And it was an Oxbridge match, and, if the previous three were anything to go by, there was a chance we could've seen that.

St John's College Oxford was founded in 1555, and is now, like its Cambridge namesake (who we've already seen this year lest we forget) once was, the richest college in the university. A long list of alumni include a certain Mr T. Blair. The college last appeared back in 2009-10, where they impressively reached the final before losing to Alex Guttenplan's Emmanuel team to finish second. Hoping to go one step further this year were:
Ted Elgar, from Blackheath in London, studying History and Politics
Tom Finch, from Appleford in Oxfordshire, studying Classics
Captain: Jonathan Lane from Carmarthenshire, studying Medicine
Tom Salt, from Oxfordshire, studying Maths

Downing College Cambridge was founded in 1800 with the legacy left by Sir George Downing, builder of Downing Street. A long list of alumni include John 'Basil' Cleese, the late Michael Winner and, er, my Grandfather! The college last sent a team in the 2010-11 series, where they lost to eventual winners Magdalen College Oxford in the second round. Playing tonight were:
Tom Claxton, from Grantham, studying Natural Sciences
Georgina Phillips, from Shoreham-by-Sea, studying Geography
Captain: John Morgan, from Abingdon, studying Theoretical Chemistry
Tom Rees, from Guildford, studying Maths

A lot of Toms tonight. And this series overall, in fact.

Both teams got off the mark quickly, sharing the first two starters, and getting one bonus each. Then, Downing stepped into gear, and began to pull out into the lead. After the first picture round, they led by 75-15.

A set of bonuses on brothers went to Downing next, and I got one on a complete guess of Edwards IV and Richard III. An incorrect interruption then gave St John's a chance to get back into the game, and two bonuses from a set of new entries into the OED gave them two correct answers. But Downing soon resumed normal business, and pulled away through the three figure barrier.

St John's did take the music round, which required them to name the instrument being played, which was probably as hard as it sounded. The gap now stood at 120-50 in Downing's favour, and it grew when Tom Ress didn't fall into the trap of saying Darwin coined the term 'Survival of the Fittest' a la Alan Davies on QI. The subsequent bonuses required two soundalike words to be spelt out, and an amusing moment came when Mr Rees was nominated, then tried to renominate Miss Phillips! She eventually gave the right answers.

Downing secured the 160 points that ensured we'd be seeing them again one way or another. St John's pulled back with two starters in a row, getting them towards three figures. The second picture round was on restaurants and the chef associated with them. Tom Rees very quickly shot in with the Fat Duck and Heston Blumenthal (as did I as well) almost as soon as Paxo finished his preamble! Paxo seemed rather surprised he knew it!

Downing's lead was now 205-85. St John's didn't stand much of a chance of catching Downing, but could still reach the repechage with a good run of questions. An unlucky penalty didn't help them much, and then Downing put their feet down again, and added to their already impressive score. Two starters were dropped, including one where the answer had a leeway of one either way; both teams' answers were two away on either side!

Another starter went to Downing, and it now looked unlikely St John's could gather the momentum to reach the repechage. They did manage a short sprint in the closing minutes, breaking three figures and reaching respectability. At the gong, Downing won by 260-115.

St John's definitely didn't disgrace themselves, but they were just comprehensively beaten on the buzzer by Downing. A very good first showing by the Cambridge side though, who, again, could do well this year with a favourable draw. The Toms Claxton and Rees got five starters each, and the Cambridge side converted 25 bonuses out of 42. Tom Finch's four starters was the best individual tally for St John's, who managed 10 correct bonuses out of 21. Both side incurred one penalty.

Safely through to the repechage: Durham (170), Loughborough and Southampton (155)

Next week's match: Aberystwyth vs Bangor in the first first round match.

Again didn't see much of Only Connect tonight, but a comfortable win for the winning team, whose captain's brother was part of the Draughtsmen, who were runners-up two series ago.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

University Challenge: Is multiple Oxbridge teams fair?

So, just two more first round matches in this year's UC, the draws for both of them known. The second, a week on Monday, an all-Welsh affair between Aberystwyth and Bangor. The first, this Monday coming, a fourth Oxbridge match, with St John's for Oxford, and Downing for Cambridge.

St John's will be the fifth Oxford college to appear this series, while Downing will be the seventh Cambridge side. Now, I understand what Jim Gratrex meant when he said on LAM that there would be 'a lot more Cambridge teams than usual'.

Naturally, I flagged up how fair this was on LAM last week, and Dave Clark responded with the very good point about how fair it is that 12 of the 28 teams come from two universities.

This is a very good point, and one that has been around for decades, possibly since UC began back in '63. We all know about the infamous 'Trotsky' incident that got Manchester banned until the show moved to the BBC, but it is still a major point to this day.

I've seen many comments online remarking about how 'unfair' it is that Oxbridge are allowed multiple teams. I recall someone on Twitter saying this after Clare College Cambridge trounced Leeds a couple of years ago. And also there seems to be a lot more of a positive reaction when a non-Oxbridge team beats an Oxbridge team. Various matches from a few years ago come to mind, including Sheffield's narrow win over Magdalen College Oxford.

Also, it must be said that 12 Oxbridge teams is a bit much IMO. The average is about ten per series, five each side. It's not the first time we've had this many: we had twelve in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 series as well, and eleven in the Alex Guttenplan series of 2009-10. Having four Oxbridge matches though is, as Iain Weaver said when this happened before two years ago, a bit too much.

Cambridge having two more teams than Oxford might be seen as unfair too. However, it won't give them any advantage in any way. Three years ago, Magdalen were one of two Oxford teams in the second round, while Cambridge had six, and we all know how that series ended, don't we?

So, some claim that multiple Oxbridge teams is unfair. But, what is we did limit it down to just one each per series?

DanQuizzing remarked on LAM last week that, if Oxford and Cambridge sent one team each a year, either would win every year. He makes the very valid point that splitting them up into seperate colleges stops them pooling all their best players into one unbeatable team.

Some teams, of course, have very powerful individual players, and having all of them in one team would make them unstoppable. Imagine a joint Oxbridge team of Alex Guttenplan, Gail Trimble, and Will Cudmore and Kyle Haddad-Fonda from tha afore-mentioned Magdalen team. That team would be unbeatable, for sure.

By splitting up Oxbridge into multiple teams, they give others a fair chance against them. Of course, this also means fewer uni can send teams, which is a bit unfair.

It's also worth mentioning, however, that while Oxbridge are guaranteed about ten teams each per series, the University of London, which also has multiple colleges, has varied amounts of teams each year, with only one (SOAS) in the current series.

Of course, Durham, which also has multiple colleges, is only allowed one team a year, but they have a reason: their colleges are for accommodation purposes rather than to teach. London representation can vary. There have been a few teams over the years from independant unis/colleges in London (such as Imperial, which became independent in 2007, but they rarely appear.

Back in 2004, Iain Weaver wrote a very good article about how unis/colleges founded since '92 have been at a disadvantage on the show. I cannot think of any post '92 institutions on this year's series. I think this is the first time this has happened. (Of course, the Welsh teams were once part of the University of Wales, then became independent about ten years ago)

I guess this whole multiple Oxbridge teams affair is never going to be fully resolved for as long as UC stays on air. People are always going to have conflicting views on the subject, but then, the same can be said for many issues of the day. That's what makes these things so interesting to discuss, and to continue to be discussed.