Friday, 3 July 2020

Quizzy Mondays update, and some thoughts on shows without studio audiences

OK, so, first things first, some updates on what I posted yesterday.

An anonymous poster commented on my post saying that TPTB do intend, if they can, to try to remount production of the series about to start in September. Another anonymous source has contacted me on Twitter saying that Mastermind intends to film its next series in September as well, provided it's safe to do so, and with necessary precautions in place, such as no audience.

If this does come to pass, Mastermind will join a long list of programs that have been forced to do away with the studio audience to keep going in the current circumstances, with varying degrees of success.

For example, the lockdown version of Have I Got News for You, with the panelists partaking via Skype, got mixed reviews at first, but as the series went on, and they got used to the new format, it did settle down and, by the time the series ended, it was almost as like we were watching a regular episode. It helped that, after a couple of shows, they stopped awkwardly pausing for a few moments where the audience would normally be laughing.

Similarly, QI also recorded a couple of episodes without an audience, on the usual set, with the crew providing a light laugh track. As someone who usually watches QI for the actual questions rather than the humour, I honestly thought it ran a lot better than usual.

Over on Radio 4, the Now Show (which was midway through a series when the restrictions came in), the News Quiz, Dead Ringers and The Unbelievable Truth have all returned with series recorded remotely, and all have done very well without it. Like QI, I honestly think TUT, in particular, works much better without an audience, allowing for the balance between the factual content and the humour a lot more even.

That said, I don't think all Radio 4 comedy stalwarts would work without an audience. For example, Just A Minute (should they decide to carry on with it after Nicholas Parsons' passing) and I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue (ditto Tim Brooke-Taylor) should almost certainly wait until a sufficient level of normality has returned before recording again IMO. For two reasons: A, both shows record on location rather than in a BBC studio, and B, the humour of both shows rely quite heavily on the audience's reaction and participation.

And then we come to Brain of Britain, which managed to record six shows normally until the restrictions came in. I'm guessing they'll try and resume recording the rest of the series if/when it's safe to do so too, and without an audience. And, apart from the round of applause for Beat the Brains entrants, the show doesn't really need one, so I imagine it'd work too.

And that brings us full circle back to the start of this blog. We know Mastermind will try without an audience if/when it's safe to do so, and one would imagine UC would too should it remount as well. Neither show needs an audience, all they're really there for is to provide generous applause for correct answers and at the start and end of the show.

Once normality has sufficiently returned, I imagine most, if not all, of these shows, will bring back their studio audiences. However, these past few months have demonstrated, and in some cases will possibly demonstrate, that a lot of these shows don't really need one and, in some cases, work a bit better as far as some viewers/listeners are concerned.

And finally, a quick word on Only Connect. My anonymous informant doesn't have any information about whether any of its next series has been recorded, or when it will, but anything I do become aware of I'll post here or, more likely, on Twitter.

So, that's all for now. Unless anything else arises that I feel the need to blog about, I'll be back a week on Monday with my new shorter UC blog. Until then, sayonara.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

University Challenge to return on July 13th, but for how long?

OK, so yesterday it was confirmed that University Challenge will return for it's 27th BBC series, and it's 50th(!) overall, a week on Monday. Thus confirming my theory that they did manage to get some of the new series recorded before the indoor gathering restrictions came into force.

This was also confirmed by Bother's Bar last week, which claimed that the first round was recorded as usual, but that was all they managed before the restrictions came along. It also says that TPTB don't intend to try and remount production of the series if/when it's safe to do so, so as to avoid another situation like that with Gail Trimble's Corpus Christi team that we do not talk about anymore.

So, as things stand, it would appear that the BBC has decided to air the full run of first round shows, just so that the contestants do at least get to appear on screen. In the circumstances, this would seem like a fair decision to make.

It is unclear what they intend to do once they have aired all the shows though, as the shows would only be enough to last until mid-late October. Perhaps then they'll start doing what they've been doing with the football and tennis et al and showing classic old episodes instead.

It also makes one wonder how much, if any, did Only Connect and Mastermind manage to get filmed before the restrictions came along; we shall have to wait and find out.

But, as things stand, UC will be back a week on Monday. And I will be covering it in my new truncated reviews, as highlighted in my review of the BBC era thus far.

I'll be back tomorrow with some further, not-unrelated thoughts about other shows, so, see you then I guess.

Friday, 12 June 2020

University Challenge: My Thoughts on the BBC era so far

Before we start, a quick disclaimer: any criticism of specific series made in this blog refer to technical aspects of the series in question, and are not directed at the contestants.

OK, so the actor Michael Angelis died last weekend. As someone who grew up on Thomas the Tank Engine, his voice will always be synonymous with my youth, and I was very shocked by his sudden death at a relatively young age by these days' standards.

Around the same time he started narrating Thomas, BBC2 did a special 'Granadaland' night of programmes, basically a night of shows filmed in, or connected to, the Granada TV studios, and he was the continuity announcer for the whole night. One of these programmes was a special edition of University Challenge, which, at the time, had been off the air for five years, hosted by Bamber Gascoigne, and pitting a team from Keble College Oxford, winners of the final ITV series, against a team of noted celebs who'd appeared on the series, captained, of course, by Stephen Fry. A while later, the BBC announced that the show was returning for a brand new series, with Jeremy Paxman taking over as host (only agreeing to do so after Bambi gave him his blessing).

That was 26 years ago now, and, while, in many ways, the show hasn't really changed since that first episode back in 1994, when an Aberdeen side captained by serial quizzer Roderick Cromar of Inverurie beat a Birmingham side that Iain Weaver of Weaver's Week unsuccessfully auditioned to be on. But, in many other ways, the show has changed, quite a bit. Let's take a look, shall we...

In order to do this, we must divide the 26 years of the BBC run into four separate eras (although one is more or less two smaller one bridged by one series that doesn't quite fit into either).

The first era, The Peak Era, runs from the first BBC series of 1994-95 to the 2001-02 series won by Somerville College Oxford after the best grand final of the BBC era. This is, comfortably, the best era of the BBC series. Unfortunately, very little of it is online for us to watch at the time of writing, but what little there is demonstrates why this is the best era.

For starters, it's a lot quicker paced, with very little conferring on the starters allowing a lot more questions to be asked. Those questions are about on a par with those on the original Fifteen-to-One, mostly easy enough if you know your stuff, with even the harder ones not that hard to take an educated guess on. Even in the two grand finals from this era on YouTube, 1995-96 and 1999-00, the questions are still very much of this standard. They're also a lot shorter.

As a result, the teams generally rattle through lots of questions, racking up very high scores, and both teams breaking 200, while still quite rare, still happened a reasonably large number of times.

The teams also weren't as fussed about buzzing early and having a guess as most are nowadays. Almost all of the episodes from this era available see numerous instances of players buzzing in early and guessing and quite often losing five as a result. For example, one episode, the last 1996-97 QF, only the first ten minutes are online, but those ten minutes alone see four penalties, more than most matches nowadays get in a single game.

So, that's the first, and best, era of UC on the BBC.

The second era is the one that's really two smaller ones and one series that doesn't quite fit either; I call it The Era Where the Show Declined Somewhat Before Gradually Getting Better Again. And we start with a quote from a Weaver's Week review of a low scoring 2012 edition of the show:

"...the producers have repeated the claim that the quizzing is a bit more difficult every year. This used to be a regular refrain from Granada, but we've not heard it in about ten years. Ten years ago was about the time we found the quiz to be a bit too difficult for its contenders, and made poor viewing."

It was during these two series, 2002-03 and 03-04, that the show began to noticeably slow down. The questions became longer, harder and 'swerve questions' became a lot more commonplace, ie questions that appear to be heading in one direction, then suddenly go off in another right at the end. Example:

Paxo: "Founded by Jack McB. in May 2012, the blog..." buzz
Contestant: Jack's Online Writings.
Paxo: No, you lose five points. "... the blog Jack's Online Writings specialises in reviews of which BBC2 quiz show?"

It was during these two series that those sorts of questions became more commonplace. In addition to getting longer, the teams also became more inclined to take longer conferring. As a result, the overall scores seemed to dip a little bit during these two series.

Then, after a slow start, the 2004-05 series started to improve in the second round onwards. And then, over the next three series, the show slowly started to recover from these two rather slow series without ever really hitting any real highs or any noticeable increase in the rather average scoring. In fact, during these six series (2002-03 to 07-08), there were only three matches where both teams broke 200, compared to the numerous times this happened, or came close to happening, in the first eight.

Which brings us on to the 2008-09 series, or the Gail Trimble series as we tend to call it. The Corpus Christi Oxford captain's virtuoso buzzer performance of 15 starters in the QF against Exeter is a record that will likely never be beaten in the BBC era, and really brought the show to the public's attention. Of course, we all know what happened a week after the final aired, and we just don't talk about that anymore; we've all said all we need to, and you can easily look it up if you need reminding. (On the plus side, it gave us the classic blooper of a BBC reporter repeatedly saying 'Manchester UNITED' instead of 'University' while reporting on it!)

Weaver's Week claimed that series took the show from "schedule filler to cultural hit", and it's hard not to disagree, although I do think the similar media attention levelled at Alex Guttenplan a year later played some part in it too.

Anyway, these two series together started the third era, which I call The Second Peak Era, where the show never quite hit the same highs as it did in the first eight series, but had definitely improved from the second. The questions started to shorten again, swerve questions became less common, and the aggregate scores began to rise (the 2010-11 series saw four matches where both teams broke 200, the most in years).

Which brings us to probably the all-time best match of the BBC era, the 2011-12 play-off QF between Manchester and Clare College Cambridge. To call this an 'absolutely brilliant' game, like I did on LAM at the time was, as Des Elmes pointed out, doing it an injustice. This was Peak BBC University Challenge. Two superb teams going flat out for half an hour, answering all but a few questions correctly, the lead changing hands every few minutes or so, anyone's game until literally right at the end. The final score was 270-250 to Manchester; Clare's score is the highest losing score of the BBC era, another record that will likely never be beaten.

I'll include the 2012-13 and 13-14 series in this Second Peak Era too, mainly because, at the time, the rather low scoring 2012-13 series felt more like a blip rather than a decrease in quality, and the 2013-14 series is probably the best of the eight I've covered on here; a great series with loads of close matches, lots of 'shock' wins, and one of the very best finals of the BBC era.

Which brings us on to the final era, the Current Era, which runs from the 2014-15 series won by Gonville & Caius College Cambridge (with Mr Loveday's 'Hapax Legomenon') to the present day, and is still going as far as I'm concerned.

Now, the six series we've had of this era so far have all been perfectly good series; even the low scoring 2015-16 series still has plenty to go for it. That series and the 14-15 series, however, saw the start of quite a few of the problems the show seems to have developed in the past decade.

Starters began to get longer again, quite often reaching a natural question mark, only to carry on afterwards with an extra info sentence. And on top of that, TPTB began to get a lot stricter about interruptions, with penalties for buzzing wrongly just as the question is literally just finishing becoming, maybe not commonplace, but definitely a lot more noticeable.

You'll know I go on about these a lot, and I'm as tired of highlighting these as you probably are reading them. I'd maybe be a bit more lenient if this had always been the case. But then, last weekend, I came across some episodes from the very first BBC series (link to one of them is on my Twitter feed), and I spotted at least one occasion where someone buzzed wrongly just as the question was literally just finishing, and no penalty. (In contrast, there were a couple of occasions where Paxo wrongly fined five points for a wrong buzz that wasn't an interruption, though he did quickly correct himself)

The point is, ever since these two series, contestants interrupting to guess has become a lot rarer, with most, if they're not sure their answer is right, waiting until they're absolutely sure the question is finished before buzzing. And because the starters are generally longer these days, with the extra sentences, this slows the show down, and, with a handful of exceptions, matches these days are generally a lot lower scoring than the two Peak Eras.

That's not to say this era has been bad, the six series we've had have all, as I said, been great in their own way, especially the double knockout quarter-finals, which have really come into their own these past few series. Especially compared to the 14-15 and 15-16 series, where, four times across both series, the format led to rematches that were nowhere near as good as the initial meetings. The four series since, however have seen only a couple of rematches, and things have been a lot better for it IMO.

I'm still not keen on the format though; teams getting knocked out after a win and a single defeat still doesn't quite sit right with me. However, I think Only Connect Series 13's format, which ensured this never happened, demonstrated how complicated things could get if we tried to over complicate things just to sort out this relatively minor quibble.

So, I've no problems with the show continuing with this format for the time being. The other quibbles, however...

It's not just UC that has been suffering from its questions being too long. Mastermind seems to have started suffering from 'extra sentence syndrome' as well. During the recent final, won by Dave McBryan (I believe only the second person to win both Mastermind and Fifteen-to-One after Kevin Ashman); in his general knowledge round, there was a couple of occasions where he knew an answer and was visibly frustrated when John Humphrys read out an extra sentence to the question before he could answer.

I can understand why they add these extra sentences to questions, to provide extra information to increase the chances that the contestants will get the answer. However, in quizzes like Mastermind and UC, which are against the clock and where it's in the contestants' best interests to get through as many questions as possible, I just don't feel we should be having them. Or, at least, not too many.

Another common issue people have with UC and Mastermind are their hosts. To be fair to Paxo and Mr Humphrys, following on from Bambi and Magnus Magnusson, God rest his soul, was always going to be hard, and, as neither will ever be as good as their predecessors, I honestly think comparisons are unfair, and we should judge them on their own respective merits.

I mean, I've only ever known Paxo as the host of UC (I was born the same year the BBC revival  began), so seeing him in charge week in week out seems like second nature to me. Compare that to the older generation, who still tune in expecting to hear Bambi's name read out at the start and get caught out momentarily when Paxo's is instead. (My grandparents in Cheshire say they still do)

That said, he won't be hosting the show forever, and we will eventually need a new host. I wouldn't want them to replace Paxo with somone too like him, but, on the other hand, I wouldn't want them to go the other way and hire someone too similar to Bambi either. In my opinion, the next host of UC should be someone who is similar to Paxo and/or Bambi in enough ways that we're familiar with, but still individual enough to be their own person. I can't think of anyone off the top of my head, but others will no doubt have their ideas.

Were he not of too similar a vintage to Paxo, I'd say Angus Deayton would be a good replacement. He did a good job of hosting the two Comic Relief specials from the mid '00s, one of which he introduced thusly:

"Qualifications for hosting this show include self satisfaction, a superiority complex, and contempt for anyone who disagrees with you. Unfortunately, [Tony Blair] couldn't be here tonight, and Jeremy Paxman is apparently hosting the new series of Have I Got News for You [which he'd  just been sacked from, though Paxo wouldn't make it to that show's hot seat for another fifteen years!]..."

Going back to Mastermind, I think UC can take a few lessons in how to improve itself somewhat. After a few series of unnecessarily footering with the show's setup, ie having the contestants walk onstage instead of being there from the start, Mastermind went back to basics as far as that's concerned, and the last series was all the better for it. I'm not saying UC needs a complete overhaul, but there are a few minor tweaks that could be made to improve it overall.

Most of these tweaks would, on the whole, consist of moving the show back towards the Peak Era, with shorter and easier questions. I'm not saying the questions should suddenly become overly easy, as then the show would face the dreaded accusation of 'dumbing down'. But a move back towards the standard and length of questions from these earlier series would be beneficial for the show as a whole.

And, of course, go back to the old penalties rule.

Another big problem that needs eradicating from the show nowadays is the Press' covering of it. I've gone over this before, but I'll say it again: not all University Challenge contestants will be comfortable with being the centre of attention. Unless they are openly comfortable with being in the media spotlight, like Messrs Monkman and Seagull, or Brandon and Mr Wang from the series just finished, they should be left well alone, and not be subject to articles asking if they're 'the hottest University Challenge contestant', or words to that extent.

People ask me why I don't apply to be on Mastermind and other quizzes. Well, apart from personal reasons I'd rather not go into, one is that I'm not sure how I could/would handle snide comments online about my appearance/performance. A poster on the Deal or No Deal forum once said he wouldn't apply to that show for similar reasons, remarking "I think whatever you do you'll upset someone (even if you get [the most money from the game] some people will say its a fluke".

I mean, look, I've nothing wrong with the Press covering the series final, or matches where something actually noteworthy happens (like a single player getting a large amount of starters right, or a team winning by a massive margin), but articles when someone wears a leather vest on the show? I'm sorry, no.

That said, nothing will ever top the all time biggest UC newspaper controversy: when the Observer leaked the result of the 1998-99 final the Sunday before it aired. Sue Mitchell of the victorious Open University team has written an account of this and her team's series run here, so I advise you to read it for more info.

In the meantime, I'll summarise...

University Challenge, and Mastermind too for that matter, are both good quizzes capable of making great television, and both are here to stay, but a few minor tweaks to the way both shows are setup, in particular the length and difficulty of their questions, could be called for to improve them further.

And so, finally, to the future of the show. And this blog.

Normally, the new series of UC would be beginning in around a month's time. Whether that will be the case in the current circumstances remains to be seen. The show would normally have been recording around the same time the current lockdown was implemented. Brain of Britain managed to get six heats in the bag before the lockdown, and is now on indefinite hiatus.

I have no idea how much of the next series, if any, they managed to get in the bag before indoors gatherings were banned, but a tweet from Roger Tilling claiming they'd find a way suggests to me that they maybe managed to get some in the bag.

So, until we know for sure, I'll assume University Challenge will return, in some form, in about a month's time. And when it does, I will be covering it. But not in the form of a complete review.

Instead, I shall be starting a new blog covering all of Quizzy Mondays, giving shorter but still reasonably detailed review of the show, including team details (for the first round, at least) and stats. When Mastermind and Only Connect come back, if they do, and in whatever form they do, they shall get covered similarly.

Finally, thank you very much to all who have read and supported this blog for the past eight years; much appreciated, and I hope you continue to do so as it enters a new era.

So, until we next meet, sayonara.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

University Challenge Index

OK, so, as I now have eight(!) series worth of University Challenge write-ups on this blog, perhaps it's time I made an index page to allow people to easily find a specific match if they want to. This will take a while to compile, so bear with me as I put this together.

2012-13
Match 1 - Trinity Laban vs York 
Match 2 - St George's London vs King's Cambridge 
Match 3 - Wadham Oxford vs Bristol 
Match 4 - Strathclyde vs Durham 
Match 5 - Queen Mary London vs Jesus Oxford 
Match 6 - Magdalen Oxford vs Sidney Sussex Cambridge
Match 7 - Lincoln Oxford vs Manchester
Match 8 - Imperial vs Jesus Cambridge
Match 9 - St Andrews vs Bangor
Match 10 - Pembroke Cambridge vs Lancaster
Match 11 - Bath vs Liverpool
Match 12 - U.C.L. vs Exeter
Match 13 - New College Oxford vs Homerton Cambridge
Match 14 - Warwick vs Aberdeen

Match 15 - Lincoln Oxford vs Lancaster
Match 16 - Homerton Cambridge vs King's Cambridge

Match 17 - Pembroke Cambridge vs Bath
Match 18 - York vs New College Oxford
Match 19 - Warwick vs King's Cambridge
Match 20 - St George's London vs Lancaster
Match 21 - Magdalen Oxford vs Manchester
Match 22 - Bristol vs Imperial
Match 23 - U.C.L. vs Jesus Oxford
Match 24 - Bangor vs Durham

Match 25 - Manchester vs Imperial
Match 26 - U.C.L. vs Bangor
Match 27 - Pembroke Cambridge vs St George's London
Match 28 - New College Oxford vs King's Cambridge
Match 29 - Manchester vs U.C.L.
Match 30 - Imperial vs Bangor
Match 31 - St George's London vs New College Oxford
Match 32 - Pembroke Cambridge vs King's Cambridge
Match 33 - Manchester vs St George's London
Match 34 - Bangor vs King's Cambridge

Match 35 - U.C.L. vs New College Oxford
Match 36 - Manchester vs Bangor

Match 37 - U.C.L. vs Manchester

2013-14
Match 1 - Aberdeen vs Queen's Belfast
Match 2 - St John's Cambridge vs Reading
Match 3 - Trinity Cambridge vs Christ Church Oxford
Match 4 - Durham vs Queens' Cambridge
Match 5 - Loughborough vs Clare Cambridge
Match 6 - SOAS vs Southampton
Match 7 - Brasenose Oxford vs Manchester
Match 8 - Keele vs Liverpool
Match 9 - Balliol Oxford vs Peterhouse Cambridge
Match 10 - York vs Bath
Match 11 - Pembroke Cambridge vs Somerville
Match 12 - Cardiff vs Exeter
Match 13 - St John's Oxford vs Downing Cambridge
Match 14 - Aberystwyth vs Bangor

Match 15 - Durham vs Christ Church Oxford
Match 16 - Southampton vs Loughborough

Match 17 - York vs Somerville Oxford
Match 18 - Downing Cambridge vs Queen's Belfast
Match 19 - Clare Cambridge vs Christ Church Oxford
Match 20 - Bangor vs Southampton
Match 21 - Trinity Cambridge vs Peterhouse Cambridge
Match 22 - Manchester vs Queens' Cambridge
Match 23 - Liverpool vs Cardiff
Match 24 - Reading vs SOAS

Match 25 - Trinity Cambridge vs Manchester
Match 26 - Cardiff vs SOAS
Match 27 - Somerville Oxford vs Clare Cambridge
Match 28 - Queen's Belfast vs Southampton
Match 29 - Trinity Cambridge vs SOAS
Match 30 - Manchester vs Cardiff
Match 31 - Somerville Oxford vs Southampton
Match 32 - Clare Cambridge vs Queen's Belfast
Match 33 - Manchester vs Southampton
Match 34 - SOAS vs Queen's Belfast

Match 35 - Trinity Cambridge vs Manchester
Match 36 - Somerville Oxford vs SOAS

Match 37 - Trinity Cambridge vs Somerville Oxford

2014-15
Match 1 - Manchester vs Selwyn Cambridge
Match 2 - Oxford Brookes vs Jesus Oxford
Match 3 - Bristol vs Courtauld
Match 4 - St Anne's Oxford vs Gonville & Caius Cambridge
Match 5 - St Peter's Oxford vs Sussex
Match 6 - L.S.H.T.M. vs L.S.E.
Match 7 - Liverpool vs Sheffield
Match 8 - Bath vs Glasgow
Match 9 - Leicester vs Open
Match 10 - Trinity Cambridge vs St Andrews
Match 11 - U.C.L. vs Exeter
Match 12 - Brasenose Oxford vs Durham
Match 13 - Corpus Christi Cambridge vs York
Match 14 - Magdalen Oxford vs Pembroke Cambridge

Match 15 - Open vs L.S.E.
Match 16 - Manchester vs Sussex

Match 17 - Leicester vs Trinity
Match 18 - Durham vs York
Match 19 - Magdalen Oxford vs Open
Match 20 - Gonville & Caius Cambridge vs Manchester
Match 21 - L.S.H.T.M. vs Bristol
Match 22 - Glasgow vs Liverpool
Match 23 - Selwyn Cambridge vs St Peter's Oxford
Match 24 - Oxford Brookes vs U.C.L.

Match 25 - Bristol vs Liverpool
Match 26 - St Peter's Oxford vs Oxford Brookes
Match 27 - Durham vs Gonville & Caius Cambridge
Match 28 - Magdalen Oxford vs Trinity Cambridge
Match 29 - Liverpool vs St Peter's Oxford
Match 30 - Oxford Brookes vs Bristol
Match 31 - Gonville & Caius Cambridge vs Magdalen Oxford
Match 32 - Durham vs Trinity Cambridge
Match 33 - Bristol vs Magdalen Oxford
Match 34 - Liverpool vs Durham

Match 35 - St Peter's Oxford vs Magdalen Oxford
Match 36 - Gonville & Caius Cambridge vs Durham

Match 37 - Magdalen Oxford vs Gonville & Caius Cambridge

2015-16
Match 1 - Glasgow vs Peterhouse Cambridge
Match 2 - Liverpool vs St Peter's Oxford
Match 3 - Kent vs Newcastle
Match 4 - Manchester vs York
Match 5 - Nottingham vs Swansea
Match 6 - Institute of Cancer Research vs St George's London
Match 7 - Christ's Cambridge vs Kellogg Oxford
Match 8 - Sussex vs Queen's Belfast
Match 9 - King's Cambridge vs Sidney Sussex Cambridge
Match 10 - Reading vs Imperial
Match 11 - St Catharine's Cambridge vs Southampton
Match 12 - Clare Cambridge vs Warwick
Match 13 - Queen Mary London vs Nuffield Oxford
Match 14 - St John's Oxford vs Bristol

Match 15 - St Peter's Oxford vs Glasgow
Match 16 - Southampton vs Queen Mary London

Match 17 - Sidney Sussex Cambridge vs Imperial
Match 18 - Wawick vs Nuffield Oxford
Match 19 - Glasgow vs Newcastle
Match 20 - Southampton vs Liverpool
Match 21 - Christ's Cambridge vs York
Match 22 - St George's London vs Peterhouse Cambridge
Match 23 - Nottingham vs St Catharine's Cambridge
Match 24 - St John's Oxford vs Queen's Belfast

Match 25 - York vs Peterhouse Cambridge
Match 26 - St Catharine's Cambridge vs St John's Oxford
Match 27 - Imperial vs Nuffield Oxford
Match 28 - Newcastle vs Liverpool
Match 29 - St John's Oxford vs Peterhouse Cambridge
Match 30 - St Catharine's Cambridge vs York
Match 31 - Imperial vs Liverpool
Match 32 - Nuffield Oxford vs Newcastle
Match 33 - York vs Imperial
Match 34 - St John's Oxford vs Newcastle

Match 35 - Peterhouse Cambridge vs York
Match 36 - Liverpool vs St John's Oxford

Match 37 - Peterhouse Cambridge vs St John's Oxford

2016-17
Match 1 - Sheffield vs Bristol
Match 2 - Corpus Christi Oxford vs Jesus Cambridge
Match 3 - Liverpool vs Warwick
Match 4 - Queens' Cambridge vs Peterhouse Cambridge
Match 5 - Oriel Oxford vs Manchester
Match 6 - Emmanuel Cambridge vs Nottingham
Match 7 - Balliol Oxford vs Imperial
Match 8 - Robinson Cambridge vs Wadham Oxford
Match 9 - Open vs Salford
Match 10 - Edinburgh vs Durham
Match 11 - Wolfson Cambridge vs SOAS
Match 12 - Queen's Belfast vs Birmingham
Match 13 - St Andrews vs Worcester Oxford
Match 14 - Glasgow vs East London

Match 15 - Jesus Cambridge vs Queens' Cambridge
Match 16 - Durham vs SOAS

Match 17 - Open vs Edinburgh
Match 18 - Birmingham vs St Andrews
Match 19 - East London vs Warwick
Match 20 - SOAS vs Emmanuel Cambridge
Match 21 - Wolfson Cambridge vs Jesus Cambridge
Match 22 - Robinson Cambridge vs Balliol Oxford
Match 23 - Bristol vs Oriel Oxford
Match 24 - Peterhouse Cambridge vs Corpus Christi Oxford

Match 25 - Wolfson Cambridge vs Balliol Oxford
Match 26 - Bristol vs Corpus Christi Oxford
Match 27 - Warwick vs Emmanuel Cambridge
Match 28 - Edinburgh vs Birmingham
Match 29 - Emmanuel Cambridge vs Corpus Christi Oxford
Match 30 - Warwick vs Bristol
Match 31 - Edinburgh vs Wolfson Cambridge
Match 32 - Birmingham vs Balliol Oxford
Match 33 - Warwick vs Wolfson Cambridge
Match 34 - Corpus Christi Oxford vs Balliol Oxford

Match 35 - Emmanuel Cambridge vs Wolfson Cambridge
Match 36 - Edinburgh vs Balliol Oxford

Match 37 - Wolfson Cambridge vs Balliol Oxford

2017-18
Match 1 - Edinburgh vs Ulster
Match 2 - Trinity Cambridge vs Bristol
Match 3 - Southampton vs Cardiff
Match 4 - St Edmund's Cambridge vs Magdalen Oxford
Match 5 - York vs Warwick
Match 6 - Oxford Brookes vs Courtauld
Match 7 - Trinity Oxford vs U.C.L.
Match 8 - Sheffield Hallam vs Newcastle
Match 9 - Leicester vs Fitzwilliam Cambridge
Match 10 - Imperial vs Strathclyde
Match 11 - Emmanuel Cambridge vs St Hugh's Oxford
Match 12 - St Andrews vs St John's Cambridge
Match 13 - Corpus Christi Cambridge vs St Anne's Oxford
Match 14 - Merton Oxford vs King's London

Match 15 - Ulster vs St Anne's Oxford
Match 16 - U.C.L. vs St Hugh's Oxford

Match 17 - Strathclyde vs Emmanuel Cambridge
Match 18 - St John's Cambridge vs Corpus Christi Cambridge
Match 19 - Warwick vs Ulster
Match 20 - U.C.L. vs Edinburgh
Match 21 - Bristol vs Trinity Oxford
Match 22 - Newcastle vs Southampton
Match 23 -  Fitzwilliam Cambridge vs Magdalen Oxford
Match 24 - Oxford Brookes vs Merton Oxford

Match 25 - Bristol vs Newcastle
Match 26 - Fitzwilliam Cambridge vs Merton Oxford
Match 27 - St John's Cambridge vs Ulster
Match 28 - Edinburgh vs Emmanuel Cambridge
Match 29 - Newcastle vs St John's Cambridge
Match 30 - Bristol vs Ulster
Match 31 - Merton Oxford vs Edinburgh
Match 32 - Fitzwilliam Cambridge vs Emmanuel Cambridge
Match 33 - Bristol vs Edinburgh
Match 34 - Newcastle vs Fitzwilliam Cambridge

Match 35 - St John's Cambridge vs Edinburgh
Match 36 - Merton Oxford vs Newcastle

Match 37 - St John's Cambridge vs Merton Oxford

2018-19
Match 1 - Warwick vs Exeter
Match 2 - Emmanuel Cambridge vs Glasgow
Match 3 - Pembroke Oxford vs Downing Cambridge
Match 4 - SOAS vs Darwin Cambridge
Match 5 - Clare Cambridge vs Hertford Oxford
Match 6 - Strathclyde vs Durham
Match 7 - York vs St Edmund Hall Oxford
Match 8 - Edinburgh vs Sidney Sussex Cambridge
Match 9 - Bristol vs Queen's Belfast
Match 10 - London Institute in Paris vs Goldsmiths
Match 11 - St Peter's Oxford vs Pembroke Cambridge
Match 12 - U.C.L. vs King's London
Match 13 - East London vs Manchester
Match 14 - Keble Oxford vs East Anglia

Match 15 - Emmanuel Cambridge vs King's London
Match 16 - Hertford Oxford vs Exeter

Match 17 - St Peter's Oxford vs Emmanuel Cambridge
Match 18 - Hertford Oxford vs Manchester
Match 19 - Edinburgh vs U.C.L.
Match 20 - Clare Cambridge vs St Edmund Hall Oxford
Match 21 - Goldsmiths vs Glasgow
Match 22 - Durham vs Keble Oxford
Match 23 - Downing Cambride vs Darwin Cambridge
Match 24 - Warwick vs Bristol

Match 25 - Glasgow vs Durham
Match 26 - Darwin Cambridge vs Bristol
Match 27 - Manchester vs Edinburgh
Match 28 - Emmanuel Cambridge vs St Edmund Hall Oxford
Match 29 - Durham vs Edinburgh
Match 30 - Glasgow vs Manchester
Match 31 - Bristol vs St Edmund Hall Oxford
Match 32 - Darwin Cambridge vs Emmanuel Cambridge
Match 33 - Edinburgh vs Bristol
Match 34 - Manchester vs Darwin Cambridge

Match 35 - Durham vs Edinburgh
Match 36 - St Edmund Hall Oxford vs Darwin Cambridge

Match 37 - Edinburgh vs St Edmund Hall Oxford

2019-20
Match 1 - Lancaster vs Glasgow
Match 2 - Corpus Christi Cambridge vs Merton Oxford
Match 3 - Magdalen Oxford vs York
Match 4 - Birmingham vs Bristol
Match 5 - Wolfson Cambridge vs St John's Oxford
Match 6 - Edinburgh vs Birkbeck London
Match 7 - Jesus Oxford vs Manchester
Match 8 - Durham vs Trinity Cambridge
Match 9 - L.S.E. vs Courtauld
Match 10 - Goldsmiths vs Southampton
Match 11 - Open vs Huddersfield
Match 12 - Wolfson Oxford vs Sheffield
Match 13 - Imperial vs Brasenose Oxford
Match 14 - Lady Margaret Hall Oxford vs Downing Cambridge

Match 15 - Sheffield vs Jesus Oxford
Match 16 - York vs Durham

Match 17 - Birmingham vs Jesus Oxford
Match 18 - Southampton vs Durham
Match 19 - Courtauld vs Glasgow
Match 20 - Imperial vs St John's Oxford
Match 21 - Huddersfield vs Manchester
Match 22 - Trinity Cambridge vs Lady Margaret Hall Oxford
Match 23 - Wolfson Oxford vs Edinburgh
Match 24 - Magdalen Oxford vs Corpus Christi Cambridge

Match 25 - Manchester vs Trinity College Cambridge
Match 26 - Wolfson Oxford vs Corpus Christi Cambridge
Match 27 - Jesus Oxford vs Durham
Match 28 - Courtauld vs Imperial
Match 29 - Trinity Cambridge vs Corpus Christi Cambridge
Match 30 - Manchester vs Wolfson Oxford
Match 31 - Durham vs Imperial
Match 32 - Jesus Oxford vs Courtauld
Match 33 - Wolfson Oxford vs Durham
Match 34 - Trinity Cambridge vs Jesus Oxford

Match 35 - Corpus Christi Cambridge vs Durham
Match 36 - Imperial vs Trinity Cambridge

Match 37 - Corpus Christi Cambridge vs Imperial

Saturday, 25 April 2020

University Challenge 2019-20: Series Highlights

OK, time for my annual end of series review of another series of UC. After a somewhat slow start, the series proved to be a great one, with a very strong QF line-up and a very high quality series of matches to go with it.

Firstly, as usual, my pick for the first match of each round:
  • First Round + Play-Offs: Some pretty good games here, but the two involving Sheffield, their defeats to Wolfson and Jesus, just about stand out.
  • Second Round: Probably Corpus Christi's unexpectedly big win over Magdalen.
  • Quarter-Finals: All great games here in one form or another: a tie between Wolfson vs Corpus Christi and Durham vs Imperial.
  • The Final Three: Despite being rather one sided, I'd actually say the final was best.
I note that there weren't actually that many close matches, but there were some very high scoring ones. In fact, there were 25 matches where the teams broke 300 between them, compared to 20 last series and 24 the series before last.

Despite the strength of the two finalists, though, it was actually Trinity who acquired the highest score of the series, 300 against Manchester in the preliminaries, and the second highest, against Jesus in the play-offs. Which makes the achievement of the two finalists, who both beat Trinity comfortably in their one-on-ones, all the more impressive. Wolfson of Cambridge had the lowest score of the series, 40, while their Oxford namesakes had the second lowest, 45. Trinity's win over Manchester was also the highest aggregate of the series, 395.

Also, with no Oxford teams in the semi-finals, the first time since 2006-07, and two Cambridge teams there; some would consider that surprising considering Oxford had seven teams in this series and Cambridge just four (and one of the other two were unfortunate not to earn a second match). Five London teams made the series, including the eventual winners of course, while non English institutions were restricted to just Glasgow and Edinburgh.

And so to some choice highlights:
  • Corpus Christi mistaking Jimmy Somerville for Sade!
  • Birmingham vs Bristol and Wolfson vs St John's were both entertaining games in spite of their low scoring. ("Robert the Bruce?!")
  • Courtauld were an entertaining team throughout their underdog run.
  • Paxo getting annoyed at teams not knowing the theme to The Third Man.
  • Me getting Mr Dick thanks to having seen my friend play him!
  • Paxo bantering with Brandon about him finding it too easy!
  • Mr Wang getting Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five after just a second of the intro!
  • Neither team identifying the Commodore 64 (pretty sure my P1 class at school were one of the last to have one of those before it got chucked).
  • "No point in sighing like that, he was wrong!"
  • "729?" "Correct!" "Oh, b***** h***, well done!"
As usual, if you have any more worth a mention, do let me know...

Also, since Monday's final being contested by two all male teams has reignited the debate about gender imbalance on the show, here's my blog about it from a few years back.

So, that's it: another series in the bag. When the next series is coming, we don't really know. Usually, the series is recorded around the time when public gatherings were temporarily banned, we don't know if they managed to get the entirety of  the next series in the bag in time. Even if they didn't, I imagine we'll still get to see the shows they did manage, if any. Plus, Brain of Britain managed to at least start recording prior to the current lockdown, and it usually records just a few weeks behind schedule, so, we shall see.

Whenever the show does return, I'm in two minds about whether to return with full blogs, or try something a bit different, a bit streamlined. I'll still do full intros for both teams, and the usual starter and bonus stats, but maybe not a full blow by blow write-up. We shall see.

What I do plan, at some point in the hopefully not too distant future, is the review of the 2010s that I've been promising since the end of last year. Hopefully, I'll now get around to starting on that.

So, I'll hopefully be back with that soon; until then, sayonara...

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

University Challenge 2019-20: Best Buzzer Per Team

OK, time to start looking back at the series of UC just finished. Starting with, what is very much, the legacy portion of it, largely redundant in this era where almost every online commentator keeps track of these things. Still, for old times' sake, here are the best players on the buzzer for every QF team:

Brandon (Imperial) - 35 over six matches
Liam Hughes (Trinity) - 34 over six matches
Clare Jones (Wolfson) - 29 over five matches
Arthur Raffle (Durham) - 23 over seven matches
Ian Wang (Corpus Christi) - 21 over six matches
Lucy Clarke (Jesus) - 19 over six matches
Harry Prance (Courtauld) - 17 over four matches
James Green (Manchester) - 16 over four matches

And honourable mentions to:

William Tams (Durham) - 21 over seven matches
Alex Gunasekera and Will Stewart (Corpus Christi) - 19 each over six matches
Caleb Rich (Imperial) - 19 over six matches
Joseph Webber (Trinity) - 18 over six matches
Joe Cooper (Durham) - 15 over seven matches
James Cashman (Jesus) - 14 over six matches
Richard Brooks (Imperial) - 13 over six matches

As usual, I have the full stats for all eight teams; if you want the whole thing, get in touch on here or on Twitter.

Back on Friday with my usual fuller end of series line-up.

Monday, 20 April 2020

University Challenge 2019-20: Grand Final: Corpus Christi vs Imperial

Evening all. Well, here we are at yet another grand final, and I don't think I've ever seen as hotly anticipated a final as tonight's. Maybe it's because there's not much else for people to get excited about at the moment! Or maybe because we were faced with a potentially explosive final fixture, between two teams who got here undefeated and have racked up some mighty scores en route. Winners would be deserving winners, runners-up would still be very worthy finalists.

Corpus Christi College Cambridge began their campaign way back in July with a win over Merton of Oxford; they went on to beat Magdalen of Oxford, Wolfson, Trinity and Durham to reach the final. Hoping to make join their Oxford namesakes on the roll of honour were:
Alexander Russell, from Bristol, studying Japanese Studies
Will Stewart, from Peterborough, studying History of Art  
Captain: Ian Wang, from Sale in Greater Manchester, studying English  
Alex Gunasekera, from Witney, studying Chemistry

Imperial College London started their run by beating Brasenose of Oxford in October; their subsequent wins were over St John's of Oxford, Courtauld, Durham and Trinity. Hoping to join the small list of institutions to win more than two titles were: 
Richard Brooks, from Stockton-on-Tees, studying Mechanical Engineering    
Brandon, from Jamaica, Queens in New York City, studying Computing    
Captain: Caleb Rich, from Lewisham, studying Controlled Quantum Dynamics    
Connor McMeel, from Dublin, studying Computer Science 

Off we set again then, and the final began with a rather long starter that was actually quite easy to guess when it came to the business end; Mr Brooks was first in with 'tea', and the London side started their final push with two correct bonuses. Mr Stewart slipped on the next starter, with his answer subsequently emerging as part of the question; Imperial didn't capitalise, but Mr McMeel took the next starter, and another two bonuses, on fashion and art, were taken. A quick buzz from Brandon moved Imperial further ahead, and they went one better with the bonuses, a full set on experiments on the International Space Station. The first picture round, on maps showing the routes of crusades, went to Imperial; just one bonus came this time, but they already lead 80-(-5).

And they weren't holding up, Mr McMeel took the next starter, and one bonus already took them intro triple figures. Mr Wang finally broke his side into the match with a classic UC starter asking for the number of figures in two paintings; bonuses on pop music were very quickly dispatched, a full set. Brandon quickly killed any momentum in its tracks by identifying O as the initial letter of, among others, the county town of Rutland; bonuses on mathematicians gave the London side a full set of their own, and reestablished their 105 point lead.

The music round, on slow movements of symphonies, went to Corpus Christi; another quickly answered full set reduced their deficit to 125-45. Again, Imperial came straight back, Mr Rich ensuring all four of them had contributed to the match, and a full bonus set on countries with smaller land areas than the UK and totally surrounded by larger nations, gave them another full set. A second starter in a row to the Imperial captain, another full house of bonuses, and the London side had one hand on the trophy. Mr McMeel looked like he was guessing on the next starter, but if he was, it was a correct guess, and one bonus put Imperial within one starter of 200. That starter came thanks to Mr Rich, and two bonuses on time dilation meant Corpus Christi would have to flat out go for it to stand any chance of catching up.

The second picture round, on films in the Top 15 of the Sight & Sound Greatest Films poll, went to Corpus Christi; another promptly dispatched full house took their scores to 210-70. But when Mr Stewart dropped five on the next starter, and Mr Brooks picked up the drop, that really was game over; just one bonus was taken this time, but now they were surely out of sight.

Mr Rich confirmed this for sure by taking the next starter; another sole bonus, on winners of the Prix Goncourt literary prize, was taken, but it didn't really matter now. Mr Stewart pulled one back for Corpus Christi, giving them a bonus set on natural philosophy of which they took two. Another starter from Mr Stewart and another pair of bonuses deservedly took the Cambridge side into triple figures. That was as far as they got, Mr Rich swooping up 'poison ivy' for the next starter, and one bonus on the journalist Kapuscinski being converted. Mr Rich took the final starter of the series, and there was time for two of the bonuses to be answered correctly. At the gong, Imperial won the match, and the series, 275-105.

So, to the trophy presentation, and for the third time in the show's history, we left the studio for it. We crossed to the Andrew Wiles Building at the Oxford University Mathematics Institute, where the eponymous Professor Sir Andrew Wiles joined Paxo and the two teams for a few words, before handing the trophy over to the winning team.

A good final, played well by both teams in spite of the points difference, well done to all of them. Unlucky Corpus Christi, but a very impressive series of performances, and a fine showing in the final despite the result, thanks very much indeed for taking part in the series! Very very very well done Imperial though, another storming performance to cap of a top series of them, very deserving series winners, well done indeed!

The stats: Mr Rich was the best buzzer of the night with six, while Messrs Stewart and Wang were joint best for Corpus Christi with two each, Mr Wang ending the series their best buzzer with 21; Brandon was the best of the series overall, though, with a final tally of 35, beating Mr Hughes of Trinity by one. On the bonuses, Corpus Christi converted 13 out of 15 (with two penalties), while Imperial managed 27 out of 41. Both fine rates and a testament to the quality of these two teams; well played both.

And thanks, once again, to all involved on another great series! Definitely one of the best I've covered on this blog. A fuller review will be published later in the week, along with some buzzer stats. And I still plan to do my Review of the Decade at some point too, so stay tuned for that.