Saturday, 19 April 2014

University Challenge: Champion of Champions: Magdalen vs Manchester

Evening all. Have had a tiring day on the road, but am now back home safely. This evening saw some University Challenge specials on BBC2 to mark the channel's fiftieth birthday. We had a repeat on a documentary from a couple of years back, and a special Champion of Champions match between the two sides that have won the title four times. Up here in Scotland, we had to wait an extra hour due to regional variations, but we've seen them now, so here's a review of the match.

Magdalen College Oxford won the title in 1997, 1998, 2004 and 2011. They were the first institution to A) win the series two years in a row, B) win it three times and C) win it four times. They had sent the four captains of their four teams; they were:
Matthew Chan, captain in 2011, still at Magdalen studying Modern French History
Freya McClements, captain in 2004, now a writer and BBC journalist
Captain: Jim Adams, captain in 1997, now a business consultant
Sarah Healey (nee Fitzpatrick), captain in 1998, now a civil servant for the DCMS

Manchester won the title in 2006, 2012 and 2013, and were retrospectively awarded the 2009 title after that unfortunate disqualification business. They were the second team to win two titles in a row. Instead of sending their four captains, they had sent the best player from each team; they were:
Henry Pertinez, played in 2009, now working at Liverpool University
Gareth Aubrey, played in 2006, begins solicitor training shortly
Captain: Tristan Burke, captain in 2012, still at Manchester doing a PhD
Adam Barr, played in 2013, still at Manchester undertaking his degree

So, a fine line-up there. I couldn't accurately gauge how the teams would fare, but I expected that, as Manchester had sent their best players rather than their captains, they'd fare better.

Indeed, Manchester flew off the mark, with Tristan Burke getting the first two starters and all the bonuses that went with them. One of his starters was a very good cryptic one that Paxo seemed amazed he got so quickly! A slip-up allowed Magdalen to get off the mark, but they could only manage one of their bonuses. The first picture round a nice complex one, on a map of the world with the largest countries assigned the name of the most populous ones; Manchester worked out the starter, and all the bonuses, giving them a lead of 70-15.

Manchester went on to take a fourth full set of bonuses, meaning only that one penalty meant they didn't score a round hundred. They weren't so lucky with their fifth set, getting only one, but soon returned to form getting a full house on their sixth. They were now over a hundred ahead, and Paxo gave Magdalen his usual 'plenty of time left' reassurance, claiming Manchester would soon get embarrassed about looking so keen!

The music round was on pairs of classical pieces by composers of the same nationality; Manchester took this, and their lead rose to 150-15. A pair of starters were then dropped, before Sarah Healey finally gave Magdalen a second starter; their resultant bonuses were a great set on characters in the Railway Series and their epithets! They managed two of these, missing the third by not remembering Gordon as the Big Engine!

The second picture round was on depictions of female characters in the Odyssey; Magdalen took the starter, and a full set of bonuses, which reduced the gap to 160-60. If they could string a run of starters together, they could still catch up. But Manchester weren't going to let them, and by taking the next starter and all the bonuses, assured their victory.

Magdalen did manage one more starter, which allowed them to reach a more respectable score, which they deserved to do. The remaining starters went to Manchester, allowing them to run up their score somewhat. At the gong, Manchester had won 230-80. As the credits rolled, the two teams came together for handshakes.

Well done Manchester on a very impressive performance indeed, which just goes to show how powerful their teams are nowadays. Well done to Magdalen too, who were just outplayed on the buzzer, and did actually do OK when they did get in. Paxo was correct in saying the teams didn't have to take part in this, and deserve credit for doing so.

The stats: Gareth Aubrey was Manchester's best buzzer with four starters; Sarah Healey also got four starters, which were the only ones her team could manage. On the bonuses, Magdalen converted a very good 8 out of 12, while Manchester managed a brilliant 26 out of 33 (with two penalties).

So, as far as I am aware, that's it from UC for a while until the series returns in the Summer. Until then, I'll probably be covering the new series of Only Connect. I'll be covering the first two matches of the series shortly, I hope.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

University Challenge 2013-14: Series Highlights

OK, sorry for the longer-than-I-said wait, but now I've got around to writing up this quick look-back at the series of UC that's just ended. I'm going to do it a bit differently than last year.

Let's start then with my favourite matches from each stage of the contest:
  • First Rounds + Play Offs: Think I'll say Peterhouse's recovery to a huge win over Balliol, followed by Trinity's trouncing of Christ Church.
  • Second Round: Has to be Clare's tie-break win over Christ Church, with Southampton's trouncing over Bangor the following week a close second.
  • Quarter-Finals: The preliminary victories of the two eventual finalists.
  • The Final Three: Trinity beating Manchester again, followed by the Final.
Some good matches there. One thing I have noticed about this series is that, despite the high standard of competition, there were very few truly close matches. It's fair to say, however, the ones we did get were real crackers.

It's also notable that there were no post-'92 institutions in this series. I believe this is the first time this has happened. Also, Edinburgh, St Andrews and Warwick did not send a team this series, the first absence for St Andrews for some years.

Let's check some records now then; Southampton have the highest score of the series, 335, and the biggest victory of the series, 275, both from their second round match against Bangor. Keele have the lowest score of the series, 40. Manchester have the highest losing score of the series, 205. And Trinity are the first team to go undefeated in the contest since G. Trimble's Corpus Christi team.

Now, here is a selection of the best comedy moments of the series.
  • The Bridge over the River Kwai. ("Very funny!") Also, "Panna cotta?!"
  • Some great lines from our friend Filip 'opaltiger' Drnovšek Zorko, about French science fiction and music needing lyrics in order to be identified!
  • Max Planck. And Paxo swearing!
  • Jeff! ("If only it were, eh?!")
  • "James?" (Paxo glares!) "Don't know his surname!" "Well, then it's not right is it?!"
  • My favourite starter of the series: the Elvis taxon.
  • "The Iron Law of Oligarchy"
  • "Kissinger?! That really wasn't worth saying!" Also Celine Dion and General Wade.
  • "Slovenia!"
  • Well known classical pieces on the ukelele!
  • "What else is it going to be?!" "OK, let's see if you get these bonuses right!"
  • Clare answering a bonus with "Jeremy Paxman"!
  • "Simon Rattle" "I thought you were shaking your head because it was so easy!"
  • "Some people find these questions very difficult; no need to dismiss them with such contempt!"
  • Joseph Greenwood's 'Brian Jackson' moment!
  • The arithmetic music round!
Anyone else got any more?

A fine series of University Challenge overall. It's been great to cover on here. Thanks to all who took part, and to the contestants who posted on here, primarily Messrs Evans, De Caux, Loxham, Parry-Jones and Drnovšek Zorko. And also Jim Gratrex for his continuing comment as well.

Now next Saturday, we have a Champion of Champions match, between Magdalen College Oxford and Manchester. If I understand correctly, it's one from each of the four series winning teams from both. Should be good viewing!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

University Challenge 2013-14: Best Buzzer Per Team

OK, so here we go with looking back on the series. I'll be posting a more thorough run-through of the series later this week (tomorrow or Thursday), but lets start now with the best individual players for each team. They are:

Jonathan Collings (Manchester) - 36 over six matches
Filip 'opaltiger' Drnovšek Zorko (Trinity) - 29 over six matches
Peter McKean (SOAS) - 27 over six matches
Zac Vermeer and Chris Beer (Somerville) - 23 each over six matches
Matt Loxham (Southampton) - 20 over six matches
Mark Chonofsky (Clare) - 16 over four matches
Tom Parry-Jones (Cardiff) - 16 over four matches
Joseph Greenwood (Queen's) - 16 over five matches

Those are the best players for each team. A few more notable tallies of mention:

Ralph Morley (Trinity) - 27 over six matches
Bob De Caux (Southampton) - 18 over six matches
Richard Freeland (Trinity) - 18 over six matches
Richards 'Cromarty(IV)' Evans (Southampton) - 17 over six matches
Joe Day (Manchester) - 16 over six matches
Tom Wright (Clare) - 15 over four matches

OK, that's a quick runthrough of some of the higher starter tallies of the series. If anyone wants the complete list, just let me know.

I'll carry on with a look back at some of the highlights of the series tomorrow or Thursday.

Monday, 7 April 2014

University Challenge 2013-14: Grand Final: Trinity vs Somerville

Well guys, this is it. After 36 weeks of fine quizzing, we've made it to the Grand Final of University Challenge. Over the weekend, I happened upon an article in the Independent online remarking on how unfortunate that the final is all-male and Oxbridge; unfortunate, yes, but these things happen occasionally. And, as Dave Clark said on LAM the other day, you have to say the best two teams in the series have made it. Whoever won would deserve it.

Trinity College Cambridge came through to this stage undefeated, defeating Christ Church Oxford, Peterhouse Cambridge, Manchester, SOAS, and Manchester again, scoring at least 240 points every time. They were the same four we've had all series: 
Matthew Ridley, from Northumberland, studying Economics 
Filip Drnovšek Zorko, from Slovenia, studying Natural Sciences 
Captain: Ralph Morley, from Ashford in Kent, studying Classics 
Richard Freeland, from Cowbridge in Glamorgan, studying Maths

Somerville College Oxford also made it here undefeated, having beaten Pembroke College Cambridge, York, Clare College Cambridge, our old friends Southampton and SOAS as well, their lowest score this far being 190 points. They were the same four as the quarter-finals and semi-final: 
Sam Walker, from Stafford, studying Physics   
Zac Vermeer, from Sydney, studying Law   
Captain: Michael Davies, from Blackburn, studying PPE   
Chris Beer, from Blyborough in Lincolnshire, studying English Literature

So, both got here undefeated, both having beaten good teams all the way through. Very little between the two teams, with only Trinity's overall higher scoring being the difference. I couldn't call it.

Off we set then, and it was the hitherto impressive Chris Beer who struck first and took Somerville into an early lead; a full set of bonuses showed they meant business. Richard Freeland promptly got Trinity off the mark, but they found the bonuses a bit trickier, only getting one. They soon made up for that though with another starter and a full set. The Cambridge side also took the first picture round, on stamps depicting Jane Austen scenes; this gave them a lead of 60-25.

In shot Zac Vermeer, also impressive in the early rounds, and a second full set of bonuses meant Somerville sat just ten points adrift. Ralph Morley promptly extended Trinity's lead with the next starter, but the side had no luck with the bonuses. At this stage, Trinity had the better of the buzzers, but Somerville had not yet got a bonus wrong, thus keeping the gap tight. The teams exchanged slip-ups, with Somerville eventually getting a starter, but just one from a rather complex bonus set on planetary arithmetic.

The music round followed, on popular choices of listeners of Desert Island Discs, and this allowed Trinity to extend their advantage to 105-60. But Somerville weren't going to let them run away, as they showed when Zac Vermeer took the next starter, and the side took a third full set of bonuses. JOW and LAM contributor Filip 'opaltiger' Drnovšek Zorko, who'd been quiet thus far, was a bit unlucky to slip-up on the next starter, but his colleague Mr Morley made up for it with the next starter. But Chris Beer shot in again on the next starter, and both teams were now into three figures. What a final so far!

Neither side identified Nikola Tesla for the second picture starter, but our man Filip took the next, giving Trinity the picture bonuses, on scientists who gave their names to SI units. Trinity's now lead stood at 160-110; the way Somerville had been converting bonuses all night, two starters may have been enough to catch up. They did get those two starters (including an amusing one on subjects linked by 'The Master', which Mr Beer may have only got due to the Doctor Who clue!), but they could only manage one of the bonuses that came with them.

Ralph Morley took the next starter, which gave Trinity more breathing space, and this was the moment Trinity switched on their back-burners once more, and began to win the buzzer race more convincingly. When our man Filip took a starter to break the side through 200, you began to think they'd done it; and when Filip took another starter, that was it. Our man took his third starter in a row, and just as they were answering the first bonus, the gong went.

Trinity had won the match, and the series, 240-135. Somerville offered applause for the winners, before Jeanette Winterson stepped in, and handed the trophy over the winners. (Was it me, or did she say the trophy looked like something out of the Hobbit?!) As the credits rolled, as is traditional, Somerville walked over to shake hands with Trinity.

Many congratulations Filip and co! You played superbly from the off, and maintained that good form all the way through. A very well deserved victory! Well done to Somerville too, who also gave a very good account of themselves, and have been brilliant this series. Thank you too to Paxo, and to everyone who partook in, what has been, a great series. I hope to look over it in greater detail at some point this week.

The stats: that late surge saw our man Filip take the title of best buzzer of the night, with five starters, which means he is the side's best buzzer of the series with 29 overall. Zac Vermeer was Somerville's best with four; he and Mr Beer are the side's joint best buzzers of the series with 23 each. On the bonuses, Trinity converted a respectable 22 out of 40 (with two penalties), while Somerville managed an equally good 14 out of 21 (with one penalty).

So, that ends what has been a terrific series of University Challenge; I'll be posting a highlights summary later this week. Let's hope the next is just as good. Until then, I'll be covering the new series of Only Connect that starts next week, and there's also a new series of the Third Degree, which began today. We'll see where things go from here.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

University Challenge 2013-14: Grand Final Preview

OK, so we've finally made it to the Grand Final of this year's University Challenge. It's been a good series, with some very impressive performances by teams throughout. Whichever team wins will deserve the title.

The final two teams are:
Trinity College Cambridge: Matthew Ridley, Filip Drnovšek Zorko, Ralph Morley, and Richard Freeland.
Somerville College Oxford: Hasneen Karbalai, Sam Walker, Zac Vermeer, Michael Davies, and Chris Beer.

So, those are the two teams; how did they get this far?

Trinity looked impressive from the off, defeating the very good Christ Church Oxford team, before recovering from a shaky start to beat Peterhouse Cambridge. In the quarter-finals, they won a high scoring match over Manchester, before comfortably defeating SOAS, and then beating Manchester again in the semis.

Somerville also looked impressive early on, with victories over Pembroke College Cambridge and York in the early stages. They're only really shaky moment so far came with a come-from-behind win over Clare College Cambridge, but they've since made up for that with comfortable wins over our old friends Southampton and then SOAS in the semis.

Let's look at their stats then: both have played five matches, over which Trinity have accumulated 1,365 points, while Somerville have managed 1,095. On average, Trinity have scored 273 points per match, and Somerville 219 points per match.

So, so far, Trinity look better. Looking at the points conceded though, Trinity have conceded 745 points (149 per match on average), and Somerville 640 points (128 per match on average). That might swing things back in Somerville's favour, but then, bear in mind that Trinity's matches have tended to be higher scoring than Somerville's.

In practice, the two teams are quite similar in terms of performance rate. When both build up a head of steam, they really do go for it, but they are prone to stopping for long periods. Apart from in their first match, Trinity have been prone to getting stuck for a few minutes in all the matches they've played. Somerville have been a bit better on that front, but they have been prone to the same.

It may come down to a simple race on the buzzer to determine the final result. Trinity's lead buzzers are LAM and JOW contributor Filip 'opaltiger' Drnovšek Zorko and captain Ralph Morley, with Messrs Ridley and Freeland ably supporting both. Somerville's best performers are Messrs Vermeer and Beer, with captain Michael Davies also contributing well. Since replacing Mr Karbalai at the start of the QFs, Sam Walker has been somewhat quiet, while still contributing reasonably.

If any of the four lead players have an off-day in the final, the rest of their team will have to pull together, and that may or may not be too much of a problem. Both have given collegiate efforts on the buzzer.

On the bonuses, both teams have been highly impressive so far, both getting around two thirds of their bonuses in each of their matches. However, Trinity's bonus rate is maybe slightly higher overall.

Overall, I genuinely cannot call which way the final is going to go. Both teams have played very well indeed to get this far, and, as I said earlier, whoever wins the title will deserve it. All we can hope for is that we get a good match to end the series. Best of luck once again to all involved!