Sunday 14 April 2024

University Challenge 2023-24: Series Highlights

OK, time to conclude my coverage of this year's UC on this blog. A series that began amidst a big cloud of uncertainty, with Paxo gone and Amol Rajan incoming. In the end, the new host has done his predecessors proud and the show's future looks very secure indeed if it carries on in the same vein. Indeed, this was a very good series indeed; let's look back at some of the more notable bits of it...

So, let's start as usual with my picks for the best match of each round:
  • First Round + Play-Offs: I would have to say the first match of the series, Trinity vs Manchester, not just for being a great contest to start the series, but also for comfortably allaying any fears about how the show would be like in Paxo's absence. Birkbeck vs Oxford Brookes two weeks later comes second.
  • Second Round: Very definitely Warwick vs Trinity.
  • Quarter-Finals: Very definitely Trinity vs U.C.L..
  • The Final Three: The second semi, then the final, then the first semi.
Once again, some very good contests this series. A very high standard indeed throughout. This was also the highest scoring series for a long time as well, with the new chairman's speedier delivery than Paxo's forgivably slow during his final series playing a big role in this, along with the teams reacting to this as well. In fact, there were only seven games all series with an aggregate less than 300. And seven with aggregate above 400.

The highest aggregate of the series was 470, in the first round match between Bangor and Edinburgh. The latter won that match with the highest score of the series, 320. Sheffield were next with 290 in their first match, while champions Imperial came third with two scores of 285, achieved, very neatly, in the first match of the series and the final. For the first time in a while, there were no scores less than 50; Jesus of Oxford had the lowest score of the series with 60.

In terms of representation, Oxbridge was represented by five Oxford teams and four Cambridge teams, of which one from each made it to the quarter-finals, the first time an Oxford team had made it that far for three series. For the third series in a row, though, there were none in the final. London, once again, had five teams in attendance, while the Celtic nations were represented by three Scottish teams and one from Wales.

As for the show itself, I must give real credit to Amol Rajan and all involved in it. This was a make-or-break series; with Paxo going, there was always a chance the show could have collapsed in his absence. But, most thankfully, it hasn't; Mr Rajan has been excellent this series. He's been pretty much what I would've wanted from Paxo's successor: like Paxo in enough ways we're familiar with, but still different enough to be his own person.

I can only hope this newfound momentum will carry on into the next series.

Which brings us on to this blog's future.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I've decided to end my regular full UC reviews, for now at least. Sorry, but after twelve years, there really isn't much left I have to say about the show, especially given how successful the change of host has been.

That said, I'm not going to retire this blog altogether.

Instead, I intend next series to do something I was thinking of doing a few years back, but ended up not doing so: a streamlined Quizzy Mondays digest blog, with shorter summaries of UC, longer summaries of OC (and Mastermind and Brain of Britain), plus anything else I feel the need to discuss that particular week. I'll still be publishing on Mondays though, most of the time.

I will still also be publishing full teams lists for UC in the first round at least, but not in the later rounds unless a substitution has been made.

And the rest... well, I have that sort of planned as well, but I'll save it until the time comes itself before revealing that.

For now, thank you to everyone who has read and supported my UC blogs over the years.

And thanks once again to all involved on another excellent quizzing season; I await the next, and my new way of covering it, already!

That's it for now then folks; I shall be back with my new look blogs when Quizzy Monday returns in the summer. Until then, sayonara...

Thursday 11 April 2024

University Challenge 2023-24: Best Buzzer Per Team

OK, so, the first series of the Amol Rajan era of University Challenge is over! So, time to look back on it. A more thorough summary coming up on Sunday, but, for now, here's my traditional listing of the best buzzers for each of the eight QF teams. So, here are those:
Justin Lee (Imperial) - 36 over six matches
Arthur Wotton (Christ Church) - 32 over five matches
Ali Izzatdust (U.C.L.) - 29 over six matches
Agnijo Banerjee (Trinity) - 29 over seven matches
Danny McMillan (Birkbeck) - 28 over five matches
James Davidson (Open) - 22 over five matches
Hiru Senehedheera (Manchester) - 22 over six matches
Matthew Nail (Sheffield) - 14 over four matches
And honourable mentions go to:
Adam Jones (Imperial) - 25 over six matches
Jeremi Jaksina (Trinity) - 20 over seven matches
James Hall (U.C.L.) - 19 over six matches
Dan Grady (Manchester) - 17 over six matches
Ann Gavaghan (Open) - 16 over five matches
Safiyyah Rujak (Sheffield) - 13 over four matches
Sourajit Debnath (Imperial) - 13 over six matches
Ryan Joonsuk Kang (Trinity) - 12 over seven matches
As usual, I have a full list for all eight QF teams; if you want a copy, let me know below or on X.

Back on Sunday with my fuller end of series review.

Monday 8 April 2024

University Challenge 2023-24: Grand Final: Imperial vs U.C.L.

Good evening again my friends, and welcome back to JOW for the last Quizzy Monday of this series! This series of University Challenge began under a cloud of uncertainty, but has turned out to be a quite brilliant series full of twists and turns, and the new chairman has settled right in. And so, we finally reached the first final of the new era, between two London teams, one hoping for a first ever win, the other a record fifth; whoever won would deserve the title.
Imperial defeated Balliol of Oxford, Lincoln of Oxford, Sheffield, Manchester and Trinity to reach this stage undefeated. Hoping for a record fifth UC title were:
Justin Lee, from Hong Kong and Canada, studying Chemistry
Adam Jones, from Hong Kong, studying Computer Science
Captain: Suraiya Haddad, from Manchester, studying Medicine
Sourajit Debnath, from Calcutta, studying Applied Computational Science and Engineering
U.C.L. beat King's of Cambridge, Hertford of Oxford, Christ Church, Trinity (as well) and Manchester (as well) to also get here unbeaten. Hoping for a first ever title were:
James Hall, from North Finchley, studying Law
Ali Izzatdust, from Portugal and Azerbaijan, studying Intellectual History
Captain: Tayana Sawh, from North London, studying Medicine
Jacob Finlay, from Cranleigh in Surrey, studying Public Administration
So, off we set once again then, and it was Mr Izzatdust who took the first starter of the final, and his side followed it up with a full set of bonuses. Both teams then lost five, before Imperial took their first starter of the night and also took all the bonuses. U.C.L. retook the lead with a starter and two bonuses, but Imperial responded by taking the first picture round, on maps of places associated with a Canterbury Tales pilgrim; two bonuses levelled the scores at 40-each. Imperial duly put their foot down on the buzzer as Messrs Lee and Debnath took the next three starters and, along with the bonuses, they had quickly reached three figures. U.C.L. did the right thing in going in early, but only managed to lose five twice; Imperial picked up the points both times, and their lead had suddenly reached three figures already. After the music round, on compositions by members of the Paris Conservatoire teaching faculty, Imperial led 155-30.

U.C.L. kept on going for it to try and get back into the game, but their buzzes were wide of the mark, with another five going as well, while Imperial just kept on hitting it, allowing their lead to keep racking up, especially as the bonuses usually went with the starters. Another starter to Mr Lee from a very quick buzz, a full set of bonuses, and Imperial had a 200-point lead. U.C.L. did finally get another starter, and took two bonuses with it. Imperial took the second picture round though, on paintings of fishermen; one bonus took the scores to 240-45. U.C.L. pulled back to respectability in the final minutes, two starters and all bonuses bar one pulling them out of the Sub-50 Club and within sight of three figures. Imperial weren't finished though, taking a further three starters to put the proverbial cherries on their win; the bonuses didn't fall that kindly, but it mattered not. U.C.L. deservedly reached three figures by taking the last two starters of the game and two of the bonuses of the one set there was time for. At the gong, Imperial won the game, and the series, 285-120.
Ms Haddad duly stepped forwards, and praised both her team and their opponents, before AR handed her the trophy. To mark the institution's record fifth title, we also had a small on location ceremony at Imperial itself, where AR and the two teams were joined by Sir Tom Stoppard, who said a few words before shaking hands with both teams.

A superb high quality game to end the series, both teams actually had a really strong night, one was just better on the buzzer. Many congratulations to Imperial, most worthy champions, and to U.C.L. as well, who did superbly in challenging circumstances. Well done both teams, a great final to end a great series!

The stats: Mr Lee was the best buzzer of the night with EIGHT(!), and of the series as a whole with a final total of 36 over six games, while Mr Izzatdust was best for U.C.L. with four, giving him a final series total of 29 also over six games. On the bonuses, Imperial managed 28 out of 45 (with one penalty) and U.C.L. 14 out of 18 (with four penalties).

So, that's it, the series is finished! As is my twelve year long series of full reviews on this blog; more on that in my series review later this week. For now, though, thanks to all involved on a fantastic first series of the new era; the future of the show seems very bright and certain indeed! I eagerly await the next already!

We also had the last of this run of Only Connect repeats, concluding with the ‘Quiz’ special from the 2018 specials. I’d have preferred the Champion of Champion of Champions special from 2012 to conclude the previous run of CoCs, but I’ve enjoyed this run overall, especially the earlier ones from the BBC3 era. Hopefully we’ll get to see more of those on BBC2 at some point.

Thursday 4 April 2024

University Challenge 2023-24: Grand Final Preview

Well, here we are again folks, the University Challenge Grand Final! The final of a series we went into a bit apprehensive about what the show would be like without Paxo and whether the incoming Amol Rajan could fill his boots sufficiently. To which the answer has definitely been, yes, he has done so pretty well, and hopefully the final will be the finale the series deserves. Our two finalist teams are:
Imperial: Justin Lee, Adam Jones, Suraiya Haddad and Sourajit Debnath.
U.C.L.: James Hall, Ali Izzatdust, Tayana Sawh and Jacob Finlay.
So, it's only the second ever all-London final, after the 1995-96 final also won, coincidentally, by Imperial. It's also the third final in a row with no Oxbridge teams in the final, meaning we'll be getting a sixth non-Oxbridge winner in a row. It's a seventh final for Imperial, of which they've won a joint-record four, while U.C.L. are in their third, of which they'll be hoping to finally win. How did they get here then?
Imperial impressively defeated Balliol of Oxford 285-145 in the first round, then Lincoln of Oxford 250-120 in the second. They looked a bit shakier in their first QF win over Sheffield, winning 195-160, and then, after a close first two thirds, ran away with their second QF against Manchester in the third to win 205-120. They then convincingly defeated Trinity 240-110 in the semis to reach a third final in five series.

U.C.L. were low scoring winners over King's of Cambridge 190-145 in the first round, before impressively beating the fancied Hertford of Oxford team 225-140 in the second. They were similarly comfortable winners over Christ Church 200-130 in their first QF, before a spectacular comeback from a tough start saw them also beat Trinity, 165-150, in their second. Their semi against Manchester was another close affair, before they eventually won 210-165.

So, that's the form book so far; now to forensically analyse the stats of both finalists.

Well, Imperial have so far accumulated 1,175 points over five games, an average of 235 per game, whereas U.C.L. have 990 over the same, an average of 198 per game. Imperial have also conceded fewer, 655, average 131, to U.C.L.'s 730, average 146.

Imperial have also answered more starters correctly, 63 over five games to U.C.L.'s 55. Both sides have two pretty strong buzzers, with Mr Lee for Imperial (28) and Mr Izzatdust for U.C.L. (25) backed up by Mr Jones (21) and Mr Hall (18) respectively. Their bonus rates are largely the same: Imperial 117 out of 187 and U.C.L. 100 out of 162.

So, the stats are in Imperial's favour; so, they're the favourites, right? Probably, yes. Does that mean they're definitely going to win on Monday? Of course not! After all, U.C.L. were the favourites for the first final I covered on this blog, and they ended up losing that.
(It would be an odd bookend for my full UC coverage on this blog for U.C.L. to lose both the first and last series I do!)

I very much suspect this final could be decided on the buzzer: both teams have very strong and quick buzzers, but they are also rather prone to incorrect interruptions, U.C.L. especially, who were nearly undone by them in both their last two games. In that sense, I'd say Imperial, again, have the advantage.

But then, U.C.L. have overcome adversity many times to get here; a lesser team probably would've folded in both the Trinity and Manchester games. Imperial, in contrast, were only really challenged in their first QF, where Sheffield actually bettered them on the buzzer, but a much better bonus rate helped them win. They were also on equal terms with Manchester until the last ten minutes.

In short, as usual, this final is definitely one either team could win, and neither winning would be surprising. These are two excellent teams, either would be worthy and deserving champions. Best of luck to both of them; hopefully a great game to end the series, and my regular UC blogs, on!

Back on Monday with my final full UC write-up; see you then then...

Monday 1 April 2024

University Challenge 2023-24: Semi-Final 2: U.C.L. vs Manchester

Good evening again my friends, and welcome to the penultimate Quizzy Monday of the season! A big day today, the Mastermind final! A slightly long than usual summation of that coming up later. For now, though, on with University Challenge, the penultimate one I'll be fully covering on this blog. Whoever won tonight's contest would meet Imperial in, what promises to be, a fine final next week...
U.C.L. have quietly had a pretty impressive run to this stage, a low scoring first round win over King's of Cambridge being followed with solid wins over Hertford of Oxford in R2 and Christ Church in their first QF, before an epic comeback saw them beat Trinity to reach the semis unbeaten. They were the same foursome as those times before:
James Hall, from North Finchley, studying Law
Ali Izzatdust, from Portugal and Azerbaijan, studying Intellectual History
Captain: Tayana Sawh, from North London, studying Medicine
Jacob Finlay, from Cranleigh in Surrey, studying Public Administration
Manchester also beat Trinity, in the first match of the series, then beat Edinburgh in R2 and Birkbeck in their first QF, before losing to Imperial in their second; they won another close game in their third, also beating Christ Church to reach the semis for the 11th time in the BBC era. They were also the same quartet as before:
Bluma De Los Reyes-White, from Franklin, Massachusetts, studying Genetics
Ilya Kullmann, from London, studying Medicine
Captain: Hiru Senehedheera, from Letchworth Garden City, studying Materials
Dan Grady, from Burton-on-Trent, studying Maths
So, off we set once again then, and a very quick buzz from Mr Izzatdust got the ball rolling for the night; just one bonus went with it however, allowing Manchester to quickly take the lead with a starter and two bonuses. Two further starters to Mr Izzatdust gave the Londoners back the lead, but they only took two of the resulting bonuses. The first picture round, of princely states of the Raj in India, went to Manchester; no bonuses meant they trailed 45-30. A starter to Mr Hall plus a full house of bonuses set U.C.L. further into the lead; Manchester, in contrast, took just one from their next set. A penalty to Manchester, a pick-up by U.C.L. and a full set of bonuses cemented their advantage, but Manchester recovered well with two starters in a row; the first bonus set, on 90s African footballers, gave them two correct, and me a rare full house, but they got nothing from the second. They did also take the music round though, on live recordings from the Birdland jazz club; one bonus meant they'd cut the gap to 95-85.

U.C.L. took the next two starters however, and full houses from both resulting bonus sets meant they'd quickly run up a big lead again. But then two consecutive penalties (one of them a bit unlucky TBF) allowed Manchester right back into the game; all three bonuses were taken from the first set, none from the second. The Mancunians also took the second picture round, on paintings depicting either twins or similar looking figures; no bonuses followed again, but the gap was now just 135-130. Up it went again from a(nother) starter to Mr Izzatdust and a full bonus set on Dungeons and Dragons, but Manchester responded in kind to make it just five between them again! Another penalty to the Londoners made it all square, but Manchester couldn't capitalise this time; Mr Izzatdust made up for it with the next starter though, but just one bonus meant it was still either team's game. Mr Hall took the next starter, but another sole bonus meant another starter was needed to make it safe. Manchester took the next to keep the game alive, but no bonuses were taken. And when Mr Finlay took the next starter, that was game over; all three bonuses confirmed this. At the gong, U.C.L. won 210-165.

A great game, worthy of the semi-finals, both teams would've been most worthy finalists; well played both! Very well done U.C.L., another excellent performance; very very best of luck next week! Hard lines to Manchester, who gave a fine effort but, like Trinity last week, the bonuses let them down a bit; they've had a great series though, thanks very much to them for playing!

The stats: Mr Izzatdust was the best buzzer of the night with seven starters, while Mr Senehedheera was best for Manchester with four, meaning he ends the series their best buzzer with 22 over six games. On the bonuses, U.C.L. managed a pretty good 23 out of 33 (with three penalties) and Manchester just 12 out of 33 (with one penalty).

Next week's match: the final! Imperial vs U.C.L.! A fuller preview coming up on Thursday/Sunday.

Mastermind reached its third final of the Clive Myrie era. Oli Hanson (who, I literally only remembered when they played a clip in his VT, was on UC for Brasenose Oxford back in 2019) went first in the SS round and scored 8, which, after Ruth Hart immediately followed this with a very good 15 on her round, meant he was more or less out of it already.
Helen Lippell and Sarah Thornton subsequently posted 10 each, before Thomas Nelson put himself into second place with 12. George Twigg rounded off the round with another 10, resulting in a 3-way tie for third place.
So, onto GK. Oli went first and put up a decent 13 to give him a respectable final total of 21. Helen then put up an excellent 15 for a total of 25, which put her in with half a shout, especially when Sarah ‘only’ scored 14 for 24 and George 12 for 22.
Thomas then put himself in pole position however, with 14 for a total of 26, leaving Ruth needing 12 to win the title. And… she went one better and scored 13 for a final total of 28, making her the new champion! Congratulations to her, and thanks to the other five for an excellent high-quality final!
It must be said, after a few years in the wilderness as TPTB unnecessarily fiddled with the format, Mastermind’s ‘back-to-basics’ move to Belfast and Clive Myrie’s arrival in the chair have both given it a real shot in the arm, and its now probably the best it’s been in a good decade at least. The only thing really wrong at the moment is the format not allowing for high scoring runners-up in the semis; hopefully Thomas’ second place finish after being reprieved will result in a change somewhere down the line.
Anyway, thanks to all involved for another excellent series; here’s to the next!
We also got the last Only Connect Champion of Champions special, from the 2022 specials, between the Dicers and the Data Wizards. Presumably, we’ll be getting the last two winners, the Strigiformes and the Thrifters, playing in this year’s specials. Next week at the same time, we’re getting the ‘Quiz’ special from the 2018 specials as the lead in to the UC final.
Round Britain Quiz continued yesterday in the new Sundays at 4:30pm slot. Which doesn’t suit me very well, so I listened to it on Sounds at 3 this afternoon instead! Was able to play along too as the questions were on the website this time, albeit in a different place to where they’ve been in the past, which might explain why I couldn’t find them last two weeks.

Monday 25 March 2024

University Challenge 2023-24: Semi-Final 1: Imperial vs Trinity

Good evening again my friends, and welcome back to JOW for the ante-penultimate Quizzy Monday of the season! We're nearly there now; Mastermind concludes next week, UC in two weeks' time. Yep, this first series of the AR era really has flown by very nicely, and we're now at the semi-finals! It really has been a fine series, an excellent one for me to conclude my full UC coverage on. So, here we go with my ante-penultimate full UC write-up...

Imperial got here unbeaten, looking very strong in their first two wins over Balliol and Lincoln of Oxford, then showing a slight vulnerability in the QFs against Sheffield and Manchester, but coming through to win both in the end. They were the same unchanged four as those previous games:
Justin Lee, from Hong Kong and Canada, studying Chemistry
Adam Jones, from Hong Kong, studying Computer Science
Captain: Suraiya Haddad, from Manchester, studying Medicine
Sourajit Debnath, from Calcutta, studying Applied Computational Science and Engineering

Trinity College Cambridge lost the first match of the series to Manchester, recovered by beating Southampton, Warwick and Open, then lost again to U.C.L. in their second QF, but bounced back by beating Birkbeck in their third last week. They were also the same four as before:
Sarah Henderson, from North London, studying Japanese
Agnijo Banerjee, from Dundee, studying Maths
Captain: Ryan Joonsuk Kang, form Seoul, studying Organic Chemistry
Jeremi Jaksina, from Bialystok, Poland, studying Genetics

So, off we set once again then, and it was Mr Banerjee who quickly took the first starter of the night; the bonus set on monarchs nicknamed 'the Conqueror' gave them one correct answer, while another brought the exchange '"Sancho?" "No, it's James"', to which the question could easily be "Who is the best British winger Manchester United have signed in the last five years?"! Imperial got off to a false start with a penalty, but Mr Lee atoned by taking the next two starters; just one bonus came from the resulting six, but they did now have the lead. They also took the first picture round, on flags of indiginous movements of the Pacific; a full house took their lead to 50-15. A fourth starter in a row to Mr Lee followed, and a fifth, as did three bonuses from six, before the run was finally broken by Mr Jones; two bonuses from that took the Londoners past 100. And further as Mr Lee reawoke to take the next starter, and two bonuses meant their lead was now three figures too, and prompted AR to give Trinity a 'plenty of time'; Mr Banerjee duly brought them back into the game, but no bonuses on famous Mariannes (Fairthorne sadly not one of them) were taken. The Cambridge side also took the music round, on composers whose work is protected by UNESCO's Memory of the World register; one correct bonuses cut the gap to 125-40.

Up it went again though as Mr Debnath took the next starter; just one bonus followed though, and a penalty allowed Trinity to close it down again. No bonuses were taken though. Imperial, in contrast, took a starter and a full bonus set on syncretic religions. Trinity did take the second picture round, on paintings of factories; the bonuses weren't to their liking again though, meaning they trailed 160-60. Another starter to Mr Lee, two bonuses, and Imperial were virtually home free. Mr Banerjee just about kept Trinity in the game with another starter, but, once again, the bonuses just didn't fall for them, and that was game over. Another starter to Mr Lee, and a full set of bonuses took Imperial past 200. Trinity did take two further starters to deservedly reach three figures, but Imperial were home and dry, confirming their superiority with a starter and full bonus set. At the gong, Imperial won 240-110.

A very good, if one-sided, contest, two very decent teams, kudos to them for, again, going to shake hands at the end. Very well done to Imperial, a very strong performance, from Mr Lee especially, but they all did their bit, and next week's two teams will have to really pull it out the hat to beat them on that form in the final; very very best of luck to them there! Hard lines to Trinity, who actually had a quietly good night on the buzzer, Mr Banerjee especially, but the bonuses just didn't fall their way; they've had a fine run that they can be most pleased with though, thanks very much for playing!

The stats: Mr Lee was the best buzzer of the night with eight starters, while Mr Banerjee was best for Trinity with six, which sees him end the series as their best buzzer with 29 over seven games. On the bonuses, Imperial managed 25 out of 39 (with three penalties) and Trinity just 5 out of 25 (with one penalty).

Next week's match: U.C.L. vs Manchester for the right to meet Imperial

Mastermind’s final semi-final was won by Ruth Hart, who looked rather emotional when she was announced to have won on passes, with 20 and 2 to the 20 and 4 of Caryn Ellis. Neatly, the other two contenders, Tom Flowerdew and Tom Moody, both finished with 19. The final next week of course, hour long as usual, and at the earlier time of 7pm, not 7:30; as William G. Stewart used to say, “If you tune in at 7:30, you’ll have probably missed Round 1!”! And it promises to be a good one; best of (retrospective) luck to all involved!
We also had the penultimate (I think) Only Connect Champion of Champions special, this time from the 2021 Christmas specials, between the 007s and the Puzzle Hunters. The last one, from the 2022 specials, next week; no idea yet if they’ll be showing an old ep before the UC final in two weeks’ time.
Round Britain Quiz continued this afternoon as well, but I only caught the second half of it due to being on the phone to my car insurers for the first half, and even then, the questions weren’t on the website again, making it hard to play along when I could listen. And then, after the show came the bombshell that the Monday afternoon quiz slot is moving to 4:30 on Sundays from next week, and the late-night Saturday repeat to 11:30 to boot. Not to mention the Sunday repeat of the Monday 6:30 comedy moving to 12:30. Wreaks havoc with my listening routine that; think I’ll have to do what I did when Channel 4 changed The Simpsons’ slot and overrule the change via BBC Sounds...