Monday, 24 November 2014

University Challenge 2014-15: Round 2: Match 3: Magdalen vs Open

Evening all. The debate continues about reform of the show, both in terms of second round reform and gender equality, with an article in the Times online suggesting it's time to enforce a quota of at least one woman per team, a la panel shows. Again, I'll cover that myself later, once I can find something to say about the subject that Cassiopeia hasn't already. On with the show.

Magdalen College Oxford won through their first match defeating the excellent Pembroke College Cambridge team 220-110, though, as Paxo rightly said, it was a much closer match than that, and some have suggested the victory margin was inflated by those infamous Pembroke penalties. The Magdalen foursome remained unchanged from that infamous match:
Harry Gillow, from Stone in Staffordshire, studying Classics
Chris Savory, from Burgess Hill in West Sussex, studying Chemistry
Captain: Hugh Binnie, from Cheltenham, studying Chemistry
Cameron J. Quinn, from Los Angeles, studying Philosophy and French

The Open University team came through the repechage, losing to the excellent Leicester team before defeating the L.S.E. 180-140. With Leicester surprisingly already out, the Open team were aiming to be the first repechage team to go further than their conquerors since Worcester College Oxford three series ago; they were also the same lot as before:
Danielle Gibney, from Amsterdam, studying Social Sciences
Stuart Taylor, from Stratford-upon-Avon, studying Development Management
Captain: Lynne Jones, from Bolton, studying History and Languages
Kate Law, from Sutherland in the Highlands, studying Engineering

Off we set again then, and Open set off first, taking the first starter and all three bonuses showed they meant business. So did Magdalen too, and off they set as well, taking the next two starters and only dropping one bonus of the six. Another starter went to Magdalen, and they already looked on impressive form. The first picture round, on the opening lines of epistolary novels, went to Open; they took one bonus, which cut Magdalen's lead to 65-40.

Magdalen weren't going to be easy to overcome though (they never are, unless you're Manchester), as Mr Binnie took the next starter, and they took all three of a complex set of bonuses on European country names. Mr Quinn took his third starter of the night to lift the side into triple figures, and again, they took all three bonuses. Magdalen then stumbled a bit, dropping a whole bonus set, then slipping up, and allowing Open back into the game; they took one bonus.

The music round, on fantasias, went to the Oxonians, who increased their lead to 135-55. Mr Quinn then unlocked a set of bonuses on rivers, which saw my local river the Don get a welcome namecheck; they took two. What looked like a lucky guess from Lynne Jones allowed Open back into the game, and all three bonuses went their way; if they kept that up, and could string a starter run together, they could yet catch up. Magdalen had no luck with a set of bonuses on Australian state capitals, their lack of knowledge of which Paxo found very amusing!

The second picture round, on stills from German expressionist films, went to Magdalen, and they quickly hoovered up all three bonuses to take their lead to 190-80. Up came a starter about the Netherlands, and local girl Danielle Gibney quickly shot in for it; she had to, really! Again, the side achieved perfection on the bonuses. Magdalen pulled through 200, though, despite crashing into a set of complex maths bonuses that Mr Savory tried desperately to quickly work out, causing much amusement all round!

The gap now stood at 100 points, and it looked unlikely that Open could close the gap. They did manage to string two starters in a row, and lift their score up to a respectable final tally. Magdalen managed one final starter, and paced their way through the bonuses, taking two of the three. At the gong, Magdalen won 225-130.

Another very pleasant match made watchable by the teams partaking. Paxo rightly described Open as a very fun team to watch; well done to them on three watchably good performances. Well done to Magdalen though on another good performance, and best of luck to them in the QFs.

For the first time since Open's first match, all eight players got at least one starter right. Mr Quinn was best of the night with five (none of which he accompanied by a hair flick, disappointingly), while Ms Gibney was Open's best with three. On the bonuses, Magdalen converted an impressive 22 out of 36 (with one penalty) and Open a decent 12 out of 21.

Once again, it's over to Cassiopeia to find out who's on next week.

Only Connect, once again, eliminated a team who didn't deserve to go out without a win; but I'd be saying the same if the other team had lost. Both were good teams.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

University Challenge: Second Round Reform Needed?

So, so far in the second round of this year's contest, we have lost two strong teams, including a much fancied one at that; this has happened with numerous strong teams over the previous years the system has been used. This has led to some, myself included, thinking it might be time to change the rules again, and move the group phase to the second round. But would that work?

Well, Only Connect is proving it can at the moment, as it is using the round robin format for an entire sixteen team series. The same could, therefore, theoretically, be applied to the UC second round. The problem, however, is it would drag the second round out for twenty weeks, and the series, assuming the QFs go back to sudden death, would run for 43 weeks overall. Not even Mastermind, which has 24 heats and six semi-finals, runs that long.

One solution to this would be to air two shows a week during the second round, which would keep the number of shows at 43, but cut the number of weeks taken up by 10 to just 33, which is only slightly less than it is now.

Weaver's Week have expressed their dissatisfaction with the current system a handful of times over the five series it has been used for now, including at the start of this current series. Back in 2011, they proposed a prolonged second round phase involving groups of three teams, from which the top two from each would progress; but this would come at the cost of abandoning the first round repechage.

That idea could work with four groups of four teams, but we'd almost certainly need multiple shows a week for that, as, assuming all in one group all play each other once, that'd take the second round up to 24 shows.

The problem with the current format is it does seem to wind the series down somewhat; last series, things wound down somewhat in the latter stages of the QFs, before picking up again in the semis. Indeed, you have to follow the show every week to get the hang of the system, and casual viewers who watch when they can could be confused. This would probably be worsened if they moved this stage to Round 2 and dragged it out twice as long.

One of the Oxford Brookes team (Mr Joyce?), aka asphinctersays, posted after Monday's show that he thinks moving the group phase to Round 2 would make it too soon, and that the QFs is the right time for it. Fair enough, and I suppose the original idea was the QFs is when the teams really do need to be strongly whittled down so that only the strongest go through, even if it is at the unfortunate cost of losing stronger teams in Round 2.

It does, however, lead to a possible anomaly that a team can have an on-song second round and take out a stronger (in the long run) team, and then return to averageness (if that's a word) in the QFs, this giving stronger teams an easier run. I won't name any times this has happened; in fact, I cannot think of any teams it would be fair to say this happened with.

And, I suppose, after the first round repechage, giving teams multiple shows again so soon is a bit of a muddle. Strong teams who got an unlucky draw in the first round, such as Christ Church last year and Guttenplan's Emmanuel, already get a second cherry bite, so giving all teams another so soon could be seen as unnecessary.

As an aside, now that I've mentioned Guttenplan's Emmanuel, here's a rather controversial suggestion: they shouldn't have made it into the repechage! One question, asking after the origin of the word 'butskellism' was interrupted by the opposing team, who gave both names, but Paxo refused this, and a swerve revealed just Gaitskell's name was needed; Guttenplan took the points and the team took all the bonuses. Had Paxo let the opposition have it, as many on LAM and WW thought at the time, Emmanuel would have gone out there and then! Think of that!

I suppose that's another point that I have made before: it's just a matter of luck on quiz shows, and it depends on which questions you get. An off-day could just be down to an unlucky run of questions, and vice versa.

For example, having just watched our friend Dave Clark's appearance on Fifteen-to-One 2.0 from Monday, the chap who won the show (SPOILER: it wasn't him, unfortunately) had gone out in the second round on his first show, but won with a strong score on his second go. Were it old Fifteen-to-One he'd have gone out after just one show. Likewise with Mark Kerr, the current finals board leader, who went out in the second round on his first show, and on his second, he reached the final and ran up a superb score of 251.

I've gone a bit off topic here. I suppose my point is there are several arguments for shifting the format around a bit, but no satisfactory ones that wouldn't involve multiple shows a week/dragging the show on too long. It's a matter that, hopefully, will continue to provoke much discussion as the second round goes on.

I'll be back on Monday with my usual write-up of the match, which we now know will be between Magdalen and Open.

Monday, 17 November 2014

University Challenge 2014-15: Round 2: Match 2: Durham vs York

Evening all. You may have noticed I openly stated on LAM on Saturday my views that the sudden death second round phase needs fixing, as it often means strong teams can be sent home early just due to either an off-day and/or an on-day for their opponents, or simply due to getting unluckily drawn against another strong team. I will talk about this more another time; we have a show to get on with.

Durham defeated Brasenose College Oxford 250-35 in one of the stand out matches of the first round, though probably not for the right reasons. We would have to see how the unchanged team fared against better opponents; they were still:
Daniel Morgan-Thomas, from East London, studying History and Classics
Freddie Lloyd, from Penshurst in Kent, studying Philosophy
Captain: Fred Harvey, from Bridlington in East Yorkshire, studying Physics
Nikul Boyd-Shah, from Bournemouth, studying Law

York defeated Corpus Christi College Cambridge 170-135 the following week, in a much closer match notable for some rather unusual penalties which (may have) foreshadowed what (allegedly) happened to poor Pembroke the following week. The York team were also the same as before:
Jack Alexander, from Hertford, studying Maths
Adam Koper, from Pwllheli in North Wales, studying Politics
Captain: Alistair Middleton, from Penrith in Cumbria, studying Maths
Joe Crowther, from Churchdown in Gloucestershire, studying Maths and Philosophy

Off we set again then, with several players going for their buzzer when asked for the series of books written by Terry Deary; Daniel Morgan-Thomas got there first with Horrible Histories. Both sides were steady on buzzer and bonuses at first, both generally taking two bonuses per set. The first picture round, on crests of European football clubs whose names are taken from Greek myth, went to York, who took all three bonuses, but it was Durham who led 60-45.

The sides continued to swap starters, with Durham's slightly quicker hand early on proving the difference. Both Durham and I guessed Harold Lloyd for a Hollywood actor 'unbound by the laws of gravity', but it was actually Fred Astaire. Durham then ran into a set of bonuses requiring them to spell out the names of European capitals using chemical element symbols; one asked for the capital of Albania, which they didn't even know! Both sides were doing nicely at this stage, but Durham remained ahead.

Pachelbel's Canon was the music starter, which Fred Harvey identified; the bonuses, on pop songs that, deliberately of accidentally, use a similar melody to it, allowed Durham to A) open their lead to 110-65, and B) rile Paxo with a guess of Chumbawumba! A slip-up then allowed York to sneak back into the game, and they took all three bonuses to cut the gap to 15. Durham responded with a starter and full bonus set of their own. York cut back in, and going into the final third, the gap remained closeable.

The second picture round, on TV/film characters and their alma-maters, went to York, who very swiftly took all three bonuses, much to Paxo's amused amazement! They had now snuck into the lead 135-130. But Durham soon sorted that out, reclaiming the lead with the next starter, and then taking a second in a row to give them more breathing space. York fought back, taking a starter and two bonuses to reduce the gap to ten, and set up a potentially close final stretch.

A second starter to York wiped out the gap completely, but they couldn't get any of their bonuses to get the lead back. York then slipped up on the next starter, and Durham happily pounced and opened up their lead again. And when Mr Morgan-Thomas took the next starter, that looked like it would suffice. The side took the final starter just to make sure; at the gong, Durham won a good match 210-160.

A good match well played all round. Bad luck to York, but, as Paxo rightly said, they were a strong team, and gave two very good accounts of themselves, so good work them. Well done to Durham though, who have definitely proved they truly won that first match now (rather than Brasenose losing it), and could cause trouble in the QFs; best of luck to them then!

Alistair Middleton was the night's best buzzer with five starters, while Messrs Morgan-Thomas and Boyd-Shah got four each for Durham. On the bonuses, Durham converted a respectable 19 out of 33 and York an impressive 17 out of 24, and both sides incurred one penalty.

Again, if you want to find out who's playing next week, keep an eye on Twitter and UCCrush.

Only Connect resumed normal business tonight, with two good teams neither of whom deserved to go out winless. I'll be mentioning OC again when I look at possible alternative group phase workings later this week.

Monday, 10 November 2014

University Challenge 2014-15: Round 2: Match 1: Leicester vs Trinity

Evening all. So, the first second round match. If there's one thing that past years have taught us, it's that we can never know what to expect from it. So, what would this year's second round have to offer?

Leicester defeated the Open University in their first match 245-190, and had one of the best bonus rates of all time in their match. Hoping for an equally good performance tonight were the same short-wearing four as before:
John O'Doherty, from Portsmouth, studying Medicine
Adam Brown, from Solihull, studying Mechanical Engineering
Captain: Robert Greenhill, from Leicester, studying Humanities and Arts
Nadal Abdul Nasir Muhammed Kalil Mahmud al Masri, from Leicester, studying History

Trinity College Cambridge defeated St Andrews 150-100 the following week in a rather sluggish first round match; Paxo accidentally credited them with 145 for some reason. Hoping to do better tonight were the same four as before:
Matthew Willetts, from London, studying Physics
Claire Hall, from Greenwich in London, studying Classics
Captain: Hugh Bennett, from London, studying Chemistry
Aled Walker, from Birmingham, studying Maths

Off we set again then, and Trinity got off to a much better start than last time, with Miss Hall, who was in a buoyant mood as she made sure we all knew she wasn't wearing shorts(!), taking the first three starters of the night, giving her side an early advantage. Robert Greenhill finally stopped her in her tracks, taking Leicester's first starter and single-handedly taking one of the two bonuses the side got. The first picture round, on maps showing the locations of Shakespeare plays, went to Trinity, and they had opened up a rather surprising lead of 75-20.

Indeed, Trinity were playing much better on the buzzer than before, as they kept taking starters, although their bonus rate was variable again, it was enough to give them a good lead. Robert Greenhill had something to say about that, though, as he broke back in and took two starters in a row; he also single-handedly answered two bonuses with no consultation! Indeed, Leicester were, again doing superbly on the bonuses, which meant they could close Trinity's lead with few starters.

Mr Greenhill identified Olivia Newton-John for the music starter; the bonuses, on pop songs that reference mythical locations, allowed Leicester to cut Trinity's lead to 110-80. A fourth starter in a row for Mr Greenhill, and a full set of bonuses meant Trinity's lead had now dropped to just five points, having previously been at 95. Step in Hugh Bennett, who bought Trinity back into the game. This seemed to wake the Cambridge side up again, as they now seemed to resume their buzzer dominance and pull away agin.

Claire Hall identified a picture of Charles Dickens with his dog for the second picture starter, which opened up a complex bonus set on illustrations from his works depicting dogs; in each case, they needed the name of the work and the dog! (Yes, really) They resorted to making up generic dog names for their answers! Never mind, they now led 150-105. And that lead was now getting bigger again, as they seemed to be getting the starters, and Leicester weren't.

Soon, Trinity's lead had reached three figures, and that was game over. But Leicester were going to go out with a bang, with Robert Greenhill taking a late starter and the side converted all the bonuses. Another late starter went to Leicester, but they could go no further than that. At the gong, Trinity won 220-140.

Paxo was right in saying Leicester weren't on as good form tonight; not on the buzzer at least, as they did, as before, get the bonuses near perfect when they did get them. Well done to them anyway on two very respectable performances. Well done to Trinity, though, who seemed much more at ease this time, and best of luck to them in the quarter-finals!

The game was won on the buzzer: Robert Greenhill got six starters for Leicester, and Claire Hall likewise for Trinity, but Miss Hall was supported by her colleagues who got seven between them, whereas Mr Greenhill's only one. On the bonuses, Leicester converted a superb 14 out of 19, and Trinity a respectable 20 out of 39 (with two penalties).

No word on who's playing next week yet; my advice is to keep an eye on Twitter and/or UniversityChallengeCrush.

Only Connect took a break from its regular series tonight for a Children in Need special, with celeb participants including my mother's old schoolmate Robert Peston! (Yes, really)

Monday, 3 November 2014

University Challenge 2014-15: Repechage Play-Off 2: Manchester vs Sussex

Evening all. Weaver's Week may be stopping posting full UC reviews (for now), but I'll keep going with my prompt write-ups for the foreseeable future. The second play-off tonight, with the winners taking the final place in the second round. Only ten points between tonight's teams' losing scores, but they were achieved under very different circumstances.

Manchester lost the first match of the series to Selwyn College Cambridge 190-160, despite leading much of the way through. Manchester teams have, in recent years, tended to start poorly/averagely and then kick into gear second time out; the more fancied of tonight's teams, therefore, were the same four as before:
Edmund Chapman, from Norwich, studying Literature and Translation
Matthew Stallard, from Wolverhampton, studying American Studies
Captain: John Ratcliffe, from Manchester, studying Chemical Engineering
Charlie Rowlands, from Albrighton in Shropshire, studying Genetics and Chinese

Sussex lost their first match to St Peter's College Oxford 205-150, and were on the end of some minor controversies en route, including the now infamous 'chemical elements' debacle. Hoping for better things tonight were the also unchanged foursome of:
Tom Whitehurst, from Rhyl in North Wales, studying Cognitive Neuroscience
David Spence, from Leicester, studying Scientific Computation
Captain: Joss MacDonald, from Romsey in Hampshire, studying History and Politics
Matthew Dean, from Birmingham, studying Philosophy

Off we set again then, and Manchester began quicker, Matthew Stallard taking the first starter, John Ratcliffe the second, and three bonuses followed. Neither side took the third starter, and the fourth starter saw Manchester slip-up, and allow Sussex to get off the starting block. The first picture round, on football terms in foreign languages, went to the Mancunians, and they had opened up a lead of 55-20.

The next starter saw Joss MacDonald rather nervously offer 'sex' when asked to complete a quote with a three letter word, and get a cheeky remark from Paxo for his troubles! The side took none of the bonuses, but Matthew Dean promptly took the next starter to bring them one full bonus set away from leveling the game; they took one, unluckily missing another. A third starter saw Sussex level the score; they had got more starters, but Manchester had tallied more bonuses.

The music round saw Tom Whitehurst identify David Hasselhoff (cue another cheeky Paxo-ism!); the bonuses, on top selling hits in West Germany in 1989, saw Sussex open a lead of 75-55. Now, though, up soared Manchester, with Messrs Stallard and Chapman both luckily guessing starters, John Ratcliffe taking another, and a good haul of bonuses coming in. The sides were pretty much level on starters now, but Manchester's much better bonus rate was starting to show.

The second picture starter saw all four Mancunians go for their buzzers to identify a Seurat painting; Charlie Rowlands got their first. The bonuses, on works by Frenchman featured in the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, allowed the Mancunians to raise their lead to 140-75. Sussex broke back into the game with the next starter, taking two bonuses to just about keep the gap closeable. When Mr Rowlands took the next starter, though, you began to wonder if that would be enough to see Manchester safely home.

This seemed to be confirmed when Matthew Stallard pulled off a second lucky guess of the night on the next starter, and the side took all three bonuses. Sussex had a chance to sneak back in with the next starter, but couldn't take it. The remaining starters went to Manchester, and the gong cut them off just before they could answer the first bonus from the final set. Manchester won the game 210-95.

A pretty average match overall. Paxo was maybe a bit harsh to say Sussex never really hit their stride; they were very much in it for the first half, but faded somewhat in the second. Well done to them anyway on two respectable performances. Well done to Manchester though, who, as most of us expected, take the final place in the second round; best of luck to them there.

Matthew Stallard was the best buzzer of the night, getting four starters, while Tom Whitehurst was best for Sussex with three. On the bonuses, Manchester converted a very good 21 out of 31 (with one penalties), while Sussex could only manage 7 out of 18.

Next week: the second round begins! No official word on the draw, but it has been tweeted that Leicester play Trinity.

Only Connect continued as well tonight, with, rather appropriately, Manchester UC coach Stephen Pearson and his colleagues playing their survival match; no spoilers, as per usual.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

University Challenge: Long Starters and Pembroke Penalties

So, now that Weaver's Week has decided to stop publishing full UC reviews and give the scores only, I feel I ought to give my thoughts on some of the objections they have raised.

The first concerns penalties, specifically those imposed on Pembroke a couple of weeks ago. In both cases, the side were fined for interrupting just as Paxo was finishing the question. WW suggests that these penalties caused Pembroke to take their feet off the pedal, and allow Magdalen to run away in the final minutes.

Is that right? Possibly, yes. It would be the third series in a row that Pembroke have been undone by penalties; last year, they incurred three penalties in their first match, and fell just five short of the repechage, and the year before, they went out to our old friends King's by fifteen points in the QFs and incurred five penalties. While the claim about this year is arguable and unconfirmed, it's an unfortunate coincidence.

Of course, it's not Paxo's decision on borderline decisions; it's the producers, who give Paxo instructions via a hidden earpiece. I suppose that, while they do try to be fair, inconsistencies slip through occasionally, like the chemical elements incident earlier in the series.

The other, partly connected issue, concerns the starters, which WW claims have been too long, citing an example from this week's show that took half a minute, including an incorrect interruption. This is a fair point too; they also claim that long starters mean teams interrupt more often, and thus risk penalties more often.

As I never pay much attention to the length of the starters, I can't say I've noticed this much this series. I suppose, for me, it's how well the teams do with what they're given that's what I pay most attention too.

These issues are fair points, and WW aren't the only ones picking up on them; I've noticed some others, on Twitter and LAM, picking up on the 'harshness' of the Pembroke penalties as well. Of course, most TV shows are going to have inconsistent problems from time to time, but when you're talking about something controversial that people notice happening from time to time, it becomes more of a long term issue.

We shall just have to watch the rest of the series, and see if a pattern forms, or whether these are just one-off or rare incidents. I'll keep on reviewing the shows every week, whatever happens.

I'll be back with my usual review of tomorrow's show tomorrow evening.