Saturday, 28 December 2013

Christmas University Challenge 2013: Matches 1-5 (Friday 20th - Friday 27th)

Well, hope you all had a good Christmas. I had a relatively calm and uneventful one.

We're now half-way through Christmas UC, so time for a quick run through of the story so far. A few slight changes: the set has been slightly reorganised, and Paxo is now sporting that beard of his. Nothing major, just those two trivial things.

Friday 20th: Reading vs Emmanuel Cambridge
Reading: Cornelia Parker, John Simpson, Joan Smith, Jay Wynne
Emmanuel: Hugo Rifkind, Mary Ann Ochota, Simon Singh, Rory McGrath

Well, for once, we didn't begin the series with a very close contest. Emmanuel were clearly stronger on the buzzer, and that proved the crucial element. Simon Singh, the scientist who re-wrote a Katie Melua song, got six starters, which is what the Reading team got between the four of them. Cornelia Parker provided a comedy moment by answering a starter no-one knew with the very random 'sausages'! In the end, Emmanuel won 185-85, and we'll definitely be seeing them again next week.

Saturday 21st: Kent vs Lancaster
Kent: Rebecca Lenkiewicz, James Wong, Fi Glover, Robert Wade
Lancaster: Brian Clegg, Ranvir Singh, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Matthew Fort

Again, not a terribly close affair. Lancaster had the clear edge on the buzzer throughout, with Kent being immobile for large portions of the game. Roger Ashton-Griffiths got seven correct answers, which is more than Kent got altogether (six). Though Kent did recover to respectability late on, they couldn't catch the opposition, and Lancaster won by 160-100. Whether that's a good enough score to bring them back next week is still up in the air.

Monday 23rd: Keele vs Aberystwyth
Keele: Francis Beckett, Dr Maggie Atkinson, Ian Moncrieff, Steve Jackson
Aberystwyth: Dan Jarvis MP, Elfyn Llwyd MP, Tim Brain, Chris Leek

Another match won on the buzzer, with Dr Atkinson getting six starters for Keele (five of which were before the music round), while Aberystwyth only got seven between them. After the second picture round, Keele led 125-35. But Aberystwyth rallied in the final minutes, and pulled their way to respectability, despite running into a set of bonuses of marzipan in Germany! We also got a slight Easter Egg towards the end, in the form of a second long rogue shot of Paxo dressed as Santa! In the end, Keele won 140-95; I doubt that score will be enough to bring them back next week, but we shall see.

Thursday 26th: Gonville & Caius Cambridge vs Christ Church Oxford
Caius: Quentin Stafford-Fraser, Helen Castor, Mark Damazer, Lars Tharp
Christ Church: Michael Dobbs, Adam Boulton, Andrew Graham-Dixon, Mehdi Hasan

Probably the best match so far. Caius had the clear edge throughout on the buzzer, getting most of the starters, and the bonuses generally fell their way too. Whenever Christ Church did get starters, their bonuses were usually on science, which none of them were experts in! At one point, the Oxonians accidentally buzzed in during one of the opposition's bonus rounds! Caius also provided hilarity, due to Mr Damazer's habit of saying 'of course it is!' after being told the answer to a bonus they hadn't got; Paxo did not let this go unremarked upon, and turned it into a runner! At the gong, Caius won by a huge 255-65; their bonus rate was 26 out of 39, which is very good, and we will definitely see them again next week.

Friday 27th: St Hugh's Oxford vs Stirling
St Hugh's: Liz Forgan, Alex Hibbert, Suzy Klein, Rowan Pelling
Stirling: John McLellan, Muffy Calder, Paul Lewis, Richard Lochhead MSP

Another amusing match to finish this summary. St Hugh's were stronger on the buzzer in the first half of the match, though they did have a habit of conferring on starters; Ms Pelling had to be told off for doing so at least three times! At one point, Suzy Klein was also given the points for an answer despite not buzzing for it. Although St Hugh's were better on the buzzer, their bonus rate tapered off as the match went on. Stirling did manage a late rally to respectability, but didn't quite catch up. At the gong, St Hugh's won 125-95, which, unfortunately, won't be enough to bring them back next week.

So, half-way through the series, and with two preliminaries to go, the two Cambridge teams, Caius and Emmanuel, are definitely through. A winning score of 160 or more will be sufficient to bring any of the remaining four teams back as well.

I'll be back next weekend to report on the remainder of the series. Until then, have a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Only Connect: Series 8 Grand Final

OK, I haven't been watching Only Connect much as of late, but I have been following the series, and keeping track of where we are. And last night, we arrived at the final. Both teams took the scenic route to get this far, winning their first match, then losing their second, but winning their third. And, though both went into their semis as the underdogs, they both won through comfortably. Whoever won would deserve the title.

Taking part in last night's final were: the Bakers, Tim Spain, Matt Rowbotham and captain Peter Steggle; and the Board Gamers, Hywel Carver, LAM and JOW reader Michael Wallace and captain Jamie Karran.

Off we set, starting as usual with What's the Connection. The Bakers went first, and their first question concerned crossword clues to 'Victoria', some of which I didn't understand until I watched it back just now. The Board Gamers got the dreaded music question, which turned out to be about songs on the subject of song writing. The Bakers dropped their next question, and the Board Gamers failed to convert, but did come up with a good alternative answer!

The Board Gamers' next question was about Number 1s on scales, which they didn't get, allowing the Bakers to get a bonus. The picture question also went to the Bakers, but they didn't manage it, and it was the Board Gamers' turn to pick up a bonus. Karran and co ended the round finely, getting three points after just two clues in a question about unwinnable positions. At the end of the first round, they led 5-3.

Moving on to the sequences round, and the Bakers dropped their first question, leaving the Board Gamers to come up with an amusing but wrong answer, which VCM seemed genuinely amused by. But they made up for that by taking three points on their next question. But the Bakers outdid them by getting their next answer after just one clue for a full five points!

The rest of the round saw the Board Gamers get two from one of their questions, and drop their other, giving the Bakers a bonus; the picture round went to the Bakers, but neither they nor their opponents could take the points. At the end of the round, the Board Gamers were just ahead, 10-9. Close final!

And it got even closer in the next round, where both sides got a full 10 out of 10 out of their Connections Walls (in both teams' case, the first time they'd successfully done so). This meant, going into the final round, the Board Gamers were still ahead, 20-19.

Everything to play for in the Missing Vowels round. Though the Bakers buzzed well in this round, the Board Gamers buzzed better. The highlight of the round was a set of questions on X-rated parodies of famous films, which provided a bit of light hilarity. But, at the end of the round, and the show, the Board Gamers had won it, 28-21.

Very well done to the Board Gamers, on a very well deserved victory! But well done to the Bakers too, who did very well to get to the final as well, especially as, as Michael Wallace said on Twitter last night, it was their first attempt at a quiz show. And to reach the final of Only Connect is always a pretty good achievement, whether you win or lose.

Well done to all involved.

And so concludes the final regular Only Connect on BBC4. The show has been promoted to BBC2 for its next run, so will presumably follow on immediately after UC.

Speaking of which, the standard of this years' Christmas UC seems to be a bit higher than previous years, though still a bit more low scoring than usual. I will post a summary of the series so far on Friday.

Until then, take care, and have a Happy Christmas!

Monday, 16 December 2013

University Challenge 2013-14: Round 2: Match 7: Liverpool vs Cardiff

So, the final regular match of the year, and yet another result few could've foreseen! And also, did anyone else have the show skip the opening credits and cut in during Paxo's intro?

Liverpool scored the second highest score of the first round, when they utterly trounced Keele 295-40. An impressive tally, but one mainly earned through buzzer work, and thus questions have been asked about whether they could handle a better team on the buzzer. We would find out, for the unchanged team of:
Catherine Monks, from Bolton, studying Classics 
Daniel Jenkin-Smith, from Birmingham, studying French and English
Captain: Chris Spencer, from Salisbury, studying Tropical Medicine 
Luke Nugent, from Southport, studying Medicine

Cardiff, on the other hand, won through a low scoring first round affair over Exeter, winning by 145-95. They were let down by a weak showing on the buzzer, but did well with the bonuses when they got them. Were they to buzz better, they could pull a shock off. They were also unchanged, and were still:
Eleri Evans, from Pembrokeshire, studying Maths 
Sara Caputo, from Torino in Italy, studying History 
Captain: Roderick Lawford, from Barking, studying Music, Culture and Politics 
Tom Parry-Jones, from St Asaph, studying Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies

So, on paper, a clear advantage to Liverpool. But then, Downing had a clear advantage over Queen's, and look what happened there.

At first, it was hard to pull them apart, with the teams sharing the first two starters, and both getting two bonuses each. Then Cardiff began to pull out a bit, aided by a penalty incurring from the opposition. And when Tom Parry-Jones took the first picture starter, all four Cardiff players already had at least one starter each. After the bonuses, on places in Britain and the States with shared names, Cardiff led 85-15.

Liverpool pulled back with the next starter, but no bonuses followed. Cardiff took the next, and were very lucky on one of the bonuses, answering 'Yes Prime Minister' when 'Yes Minister' was what was wanted, and were given the points! Not too sure I'd have accepted that, but I guess they were sort of the same series; YPM was a sequel, as it were.

Anyway, Liverpool got the next two starters, but they didn't seem to be doing too well on the bonuses, getting just two of the resultant six. The music round was on well-known classical pieces performed on the ukelele (yes, really!); Cardiff took the starter, and all the bonuses, and increased their lead to 140-55. And when Tom Parry-Jones got the next starter, bettering their first round score, the bonuses took their lead into three figures.

Catherine Monks, who had been somewhat impressive in that first match, brought Liverpool back into the match, and two bonuses followed this time. But back hit Cardiff, and their score hit 200, and Liverpool looked in trouble. The second picture round, on portraits of European figures who gives their names to EU initiatives, went to the Liverpool, but they were still behind by 200-95.

Another starter went to Liverpool, and they were now into three figures. But they were still struggling with the bonuses, generally only getting one or two per set. If they were going to catch Cardiff, they would need to improve their conversion rate. Catherine Monks did get another starter, but only one bonus followed one again.

Cardiff victory now looked pretty certain, and when Tom Parry-Jones took the next starter, it was certain. Liverpool did manage one more starter, but no bonuses went with it. One more starter to Cardiff, and the gong went; Cardiff had completed the shock, and won by 230-145.

Well well well, so now we have two candidates for the 'shock' Cromarty(IV) hinted at. Bad luck to Liverpool, who clearly struggled against a better team on the buzzer, but 145 is still perfectly respectable, and well done anyway for a good showing. But very well done to Cardiff, who, like Queen's, have redeemed themselves after a slow first round showing, and best of luck to them in the QFs. They could yet have more surprises to spring.

The stats: Tom Parry-Jones was the night's best buzzer, getting five starters for Cardiff, while Catherine Monks was, again, best for Liverpool with four. The Liverpudlians were let down by a bonus rate of just 11 out of 30, and incurred two penalties too, thus suggesting they did indeed win that first match on the buzzer. Cardiff, however, converted 22 bonuses out of 35, which is very good, and aided them to their victory. Well done to them indeed.

So, now we're off for the festive period. Christmas UC begins on Friday, and continues sporadically over the festive fortnight. We'll presumably resume with SOAS playing Reading in the final second round match in the New Year.

As for Only Connect, we now have our two finalists. I won't give any details away, but the final should be, interesting.

Monday, 9 December 2013

University Challenge 2013-14: Round 2: Match 6: Manchester vs Queens'

So, here we are again with the penultimate regular match of the year. One more next week, and then Christmas UC takes us into the New Year, where we will resume with the final second round match.

Reigning champs Manchester were given a closer than expected first round match by Brasenose College Oxford, but still emerged on top by 215-105. However, would playing away (in Salford, rather than just across the road) have any effect on their performance this time? We would see, for the unchanged team of:
Edward Woudhuysen, from London, studying History 
Joe Day, from Bideford in Devon, studying Physics with Astrophysics 
Captain: Elizabeth Mitchell, from Birmingham, studying PPE 
Jonathan Collings, from Manchester, studying Geography

Queens' College Cambridge won the closest match of the first round, beating Durham by 190-170. Playing Manchester is never an easy task, but facing up to it tonight were the also unchanged team of:
Paul Merchant, from Surrey, studying Modern Languages 
Rachel Gregory, from Sheffield, studying Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic 
Captain: Rhys Jackson-Jones, from London, studying Astrophysics 
David Phillips, from St Albans, studying Maths

Off we went again, and Queens' buzzed first, but were wrong, allowing Manchester to sneak in and take a full set of bonuses. A rare starter not buzzed in on by either side followed, before Manchester came back, and again took a decent haul of bonuses. Queens' got off the mark next, and took one bonus on British raptors. The Cambridge side also took the second picture round, on cuts of meat, but a storming start by the opposition meant they trailed 90-25.

Despite subsequently incurring a penalty, Manchester weren't fazed, and continued a strong run on the buzzer. The bonuses were generally falling well for them as well. Queens' responded with a starter and a full set of bonuses on the 1904 Olympics, including one about how the Marathon winner was disqualified for using a car! (Thanks to QI, I also knew that) And when Mr Woudhuysen took the next starter, he ensured all four Manchester players had at least one correct starter to their name.

The music round, on songs used for wake-up calls on space shuttle flights, also went to Manchester, and their lead now stood at 150-50. But Queen's then took two starters in a row, and narrowed it down a little bit. But it would take more than that to immobilise Manchester, and they hit straight back, and the lead was back to 100 in no time at all.

On to the second picture round, on British queens and consorts, and areas of the states named after them. Queens' (rather appropriately) took the starter, and were a bit unlucky to miss all three bonuses on very narrow slips. Manchester's lead now stood at 190-90. Not quite a match winning lead, but you got the impression that if Manchester could string a few starters and a good haul of bonuses together, it would be all over.

And that they did. Two starters in a row from Joe Day seemed to confirm this impression, and when Jonathan Collings took the next starter, and all three bonuses followed, it looked like game over. But it didn't stop there: Manchester had turned on the back burners now, and were motoring away on both buzzer and bonus. David Phillips did manage one more starter for Queens', which hauled his side into three figures, which they certainly deserved.

There was no stopping Manchester though, and with a couple of minutes to go, they broke 300, the third side to do so this series. At the gong, Manchester had won by 325-110. But a great portion of that lead was achieved in the final minutes, and I'd say it was closer than that.

Still, it's yet another impressive victory for Manchester, and they're into the QFs once again. Bad luck to Queens', who did very well considering a great deal of vanquished Manchester opponents over the years haven't even reached three figures. A good effort by Queens' all the same, considering their opposition's showing. Looks like playing away has had no effect on them at all.

The stats: Jonathan Collings was by far best buzzer of the night, with nine starters, and the side converted 32 bonuses out of 48, which is highly impressive. Rachel Gregory had the most starters for the Cambridge side, with four, and the side managed 9 correct bonuses out of 21. Both sides incurred one penalty.

So, as I said earlier, one more match next week, and they we break for Christmas UC. We shall wait and see what that holds for us this year.

I won't mention how Jamie Karran and co got on on their Only Connect semi-final tonight; my advice is you watch it.

Monday, 2 December 2013

University Challenge 2013-14: Round 2: Match 5: Trinity vs Peterhouse

So, after two matches memorable for completely different reasons, what would tonight's UC outing bring us? An all Cambridge affair, that's what. And two impressive teams as well.

Trinity College Cambridge were the most impressive performers of the first round, when they trounced the very good Christ Church Oxford team 300-150. To beat a decent team by that big a score is no mean feat. The Trinity team remained the same:
Matthew Ridley, from Northumberland, studying Economics 
Filip Drnovsek Zorko, from Slovenia, studying Natural Sciences 
Captain: Ralph Morley, from Ashford in Kent, studying Classics 
Richard Freeland, from Glamorgan, studying Maths

Peterhouse Cambridge also gave a memorable first round showing, coming from well behind to beat Balliol College Oxford impressively by 250-145. Clearly not to be underestimated were the (also) unchanged quartet of:
Mark Smith, from Colchester, studying Theology 
Edmund Zimmer, from Twickenham, studying Classics 
Captain: Alex Davis, from Dorchester in Oxfordshire, studying Physics 
Melanie Etherton, from Exeter, studying Natural Sciences

So, two good Cambridge teams who had performed very well in their first showing; shame we had to lose either of them really. The presence of Filip Drnovsek Zorko, aka JOW and LAM regular and stat-provider 'opaltiger', was what swung my support in favour of Trinity.

Off we went then, and Trinity began almost as strongly as they did before, getting the first two starters, and a fair haul of bonuses. But a slip-up from our man Filip allowed Peterhouse to get off the mark, and get two starters in a row; just one bonus came from these two though.

On to the first picture round, on Asian F1 circuits. Peterhouse zigged with Singapore, Trinity zagged with Malaysia. And then proceeded to answer 'Singapore' to all three bonuses! This time, the tactic didn't work! Still, Trinity were ahead 45-25. But Peterhouse were keeping them in check, and and soon the scores were level. A third starter for Edmund Zimmer gave his side the lead; two more starters followed, and Trinity looked to be in trouble.

But our man Filip soon stepped in with a quick buzz, and brought them back into the game. But this had been Peterhouse's quarter, and after the music round, on European cities in classical music, they still led 100-60. Another starter brought their score to double Trinity's.

Filip and co needed to get going quickly, and did so with two starters, and one full set of bonuses. And when Filip got a starter about his home nation of Slovenia, they were well back in the game, and took the lead with another full set of bonuses. The second picture round was on purpose built art galleries in England; the starter was dropped, as were two further starters, before Trinity took the bonuses.

Trinity had now recovered to lead 130-110, Peterhouse having incurred two penalties since their last starter. The momentum was now with Trinity though, and soon they had built up a head of steam on the buzzer. Like in their heat, the bonuses were generally going with the starters at a fair rate.

Soon, their lead had reached match winning level, and they were safely through. But they weren't going to stop, and kept getting both starters and bonuses until the gong was finally struck. Trinity's final winning margin was 240-110.

Very unlucky for Peterhouse, who did very well in the first half, but ran out of steam after the music round, and remained stuck for the rest of the show as Trinity marched ahead. As I said earlier, it's a shame that either of these two good sides have to go so early, and Peterhouse did perfectly respectably considering, so well done to them. But well done again to Filip and co on another good performance, and best of luck in the quarter-finals!

The stats: Ralph Morley was Trinity's best buzzer, getting six starters, while Edmund Zimmer's five was Peterhouse's best tally. On the bonuses, Trinity converted a good 24 out of 39, while Peterhouse could only managed 8 out of 24. And both sides incurred two penalties.

So, where to next? We'll find out next week, I guess. I also understand we'll be getting another series of Christmas UC over the festive period, so we'll have that to look forward to too.

And also be sure to check out Cromarty(IV)'s extended thoughts on last week's match, which I put up this morning.

University Challenge: Cromarty(IV) on Southampton's match against Bangor

Greetings from Southampton!  It hardly feels like two minutes since our game against Loughborough was on the air, but here we were again on University Challenge last week, facing off with last year’s semi-finalists, Bangor University.  Here are a few recollections from the surreal POV of a contestant in this fixture.

We arrived at MediaCityUK with plenty of time to go before we were due to take to the studios, and one of the ways that we passed the time was to watch the Clare – Christ Church match from backstage.  Between us, we couldn’t predict a winner with any confidence, but even so, the sense of disbelief among us when the game went to a tiebreaker was palpable!  I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to the edge of my seat when watching UC – probably because the two teams involved in this tiebreaker were teams that I’d got to know personally!  “Beat that,” I thought to myself thereafter.  “How can we possibly top that game for sheer spectacle?”

The battle of wits between Clare and Christ Church was certainly a very tough act to follow.  Nevertheless, when we took to the studio for our second-round game (accompanied by Susu the cat, as ever), I felt much more at ease with the whole thing than I had done in our previous games.  Maybe I was finally starting to get used to it.  Or maybe not.  My pretence of a steady nerve fell to pieces as soon as Paxo unveiled the first starter for 10.

Before the cameras started rolling, I’d noticed at least two members of last year’s Bangor team sitting in the audience, giving heavyweight backing to our opponents.  When Anna Johnson bagged the first starter and her quartet proceeded to sweep the board on a lovely bonus set about statues of fictional characters, a convincing victory for Bangor looked like a clear and present danger!  (We were fully aware that they could be a fiery team on the buzzers because they impressively snared one of the pre-show warm-up starters in double quick time.)

An early intervention from Bob on the starter that followed meant that we were able to tick off another entry on the “list of things that you have to do while you’re on UC”, namely to go into negative points!  Our stay in that most ignominious of regions didn’t last long, though, as Matt, Bob and David grabbed one starter each in quick succession to pull us out into the lead.  The “colours of the year” bonuses that came our way were delightful, especially “Tangerine Tango” – we deciphered the two clues that led us to that name, but it sounded so implausible that we were slightly reticent when declaring it as our answer!  Who thought the power of guesswork could get us so far?  Well, you certainly wouldn’t get that question on a National Lottery quiz…!

With the first picture starter, depicting 5th Avenue in New York City, Matt established himself as a force to be reckoned with on the buzzer.  I was pleased that we got to deal with the NYC picture bonuses – I’ve only visited the city once, and that was nearly a decade ago, but my younger self was mesmerised by his experiences there, so I hoped I could call on my travel log to beat the bonuses.  Alas (or thankfully, depending on which way you look at it), my teammates identified Times Square and Broadway almost before I’d had a chance to look at the pictures!

Following on from NYC was a starter question that couples nicely with the Dvorak episode from last week’s match, in a slightly morbid manner of speaking.  Paxo asked us to spot the next country in a clockwise sequence after Ethiopia that borders Sudan, and I buzzed in on a knee-jerk reaction and said “South Sudan”.  Our esteemed chairman paused before saying no, which led me to fear that I’d made a disastrous mistake.  Apparently, I had, because the answer on his card was Kenya… but close inspection of an accurate world map reveals that since the partitioning of Sudan in 2011, Kenya shares a border only with South Sudan!  We should have got 10 points!  (Surprisingly, and perhaps disappointingly after the Dvorak situation, the Daily Mail hasn’t got all fired up about this South Sudan question…)

I don’t regret not challenging the call in the studio, however.  It would only have disrupted the flow of the episode at a time when I was really focussed on moving forward.

Matt narrowly beat me to the buzzer on a starter about the cathode ray tube thereafter, and this was not the last time he would do that in this game!  The resulting bonuses were on 20th century history, which made my eyes light up somewhat, although I was ultimately less helpful than I would have liked.

A starter about the coat of arms of a European country fell very nicely into David’s pocket, gaining us some bonuses on graphic novels – the subject promised little for me personally, but the bonuses turned out to be quite gettable.  When we abruptly said Watchmen instead of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I realised our mistake precisely half a second too late – and this was not the last time that this would happen in this game!

Following my second narrow defeat in a buzzer race by Matt, on a starter about the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics, we failed to deliver on a bonus set about the Orange Prize, which inevitably led to some mockery from Paxo!  It was surprisingly enjoyable being on the receiving end of one of his insults, primarily because nobody can expect to take part in UC without being in that position, but also partly because we had it coming after the Margaret Atwood moment!

The music starter fell to Matt in the space of about one second, in which time I hadn’t even worked out what was playing!  Now that I’ve watched the question in the broadcast, I can just make out the word “firestarter”, but even then, I wouldn’t be able to buzz any faster.  What followed was an intriguing series of bonuses on songs that were banned by the BBC, which was a subject that I know has been employed before on UC.  Perhaps that’s why I had a feeling that Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax would not be turning up in this round.  Instead, we got Walk Like an Egyptian by The Bangles, which I recognised, although I had no idea that those over-paranoid lefties at the BBC had banned it during the Gulf War.  Matt’s George Formby impression helped me to recall the name George Formby on the last bonus.  That incident speaks volumes about the merits of teamwork on UC: I didn’t recognise Formby from the song, but Matt did, only he couldn’t recall the name, and it was thanks to his Formby impression that we were able to drag it up.  As a result, we were ahead by 145-20.

Two starters were quickly dropped, including one featuring a line from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I was disappointed not to have recognised the line, because when I was back in school, several of my friends and peers acted in a short production of this play, which I absolutely loved watching – and which I almost auditioned for before chickening out, much to my severe regret later on!

Following on from them was a good starter about the average kinetic energy of gaseous molecules; I recalled some A-Level physics knowledge and identified the expression as “3/2 kT”, prompting Paxo to correct my “three-halves” to “three-over-two”, for reasons best known to him!  The bonuses that this unlocked were also beauties, all about crystal lattices.  Polonium was an old quiz chestnut, but the latter two were only gettable thanks to the chemistry teaching that I received during my first term at Southampton.  That’s what I go to university for!

Catriona Coutts tried “Queen Anne Fund” on the next starter, but she was wrong; she’d narrowly beaten me on the buzzer race, and I would have said exactly that, so I didn’t know what to say when we had a free go.  I did know what to say for a subsequent starter about how many decades separated the first manned spaceflight and the last Space Shuttle mission – suddenly, I had reason to be very thankful that I’d been so intrigued by space exploration when I was much younger!

When a starter about the notorious Oxford comma came up, Matt beat me to the buzzer for the third time (and quite a few other contestants, according to the broadcast), unlocking some bonuses on national trails, during which my tentative guess of “Devon” did us no favours.

Bangor took the second picture starter, giving them a shot at a great bonus set involving military/political figures.  Our chain of 12 starters had ended, allowing us to rest our voices for a while!  Taking stock at this point, I didn’t quite believe what the scoreboard was telling us.  Having been silenced by SOAS for much of our first game, and struggled to shake Loughborough off our tails in our second, we had somehow built up a 200+ lead in the first three-quarters of this match.  I had never thought that this was possible – all four of us have decent all-round knowledge, but we’re no David Stainers or Kevin Ashmans (I certainly have no right to call my general knowledge fantastic), and we knew that Bangor had secured a good victory in their first round.  If anything, the moral of this story is that split-second victories in the buzzer races really can add up to something spectacular, and a set of questions that fall very nicely for one team over another can make all the difference, especially if both teams are competent.

In the final quarter, we suffered from two major embarrassments!  The first was when Matt answered a cell biology bonus (a favourite area of his!) with hemi-desmosomes, only for Paxo to stop the recording and have a long consultation with the adjudicator upstairs, who eventually declared that hemi-desmosomes was not correct… the correct answer being desmosomes.  The second came in a bonus round on “isograms”, which are defined as names in which no letter is repeated.  I think we all know that Liechtenstein is not an isogram.  On the plus side, one of the other isograms in question was Scunthorpe, which just so happens to be my dad’s place of birth, and where many of his immediate family still reside!

Bangor grabbed another starter and swept the board on some bonuses about the UN, but we were very much on full speed ahead, and Bob, David and I swept up the remaining starters, taking us over the magic 300 mark.  The oxidation state starter was a home question for a chemist – I clearly remembered when my A-level chemistry teacher identified hydrogen peroxide as an unusual molecular species, in that it contained oxygen in the -1 oxidation state (as opposed to the more usual -2), so I was able to pull that out of my hat on cue.

My second consecutive starter, the last one of the whole game, was definitely my finest hour on the buzzer.  “Cape Fear,” said Paxo – at which point I was thinking “Which one?  There are two films of that name!” – “The Age of Innocence” – I saw the only answer that he could possibly be after, and went straight for it on the buzzer.  They were connected by their director, Martin Scorsese, and nothing else that I was aware of.  I thereby accomplished a feat that Ronnie Corbett accomplished off-screen in 1980 by “answering the question before it was asked”!  With this answer, my nine-year-old self’s fascination with films and film credits finally became worth something, so it was my favourite buzz-in of the game for that reason.

The gong interrupted the bonus set that followed, leaving the final score at 335-60.  “You guys are on fire,” said a dumbfounded Paxo – but he was not as dumbfounded as us!  Bob’s delightfully unexpected “I won’t do a Guttenplan” remark said it all.  I’m relieved that the editors didn’t cut it out!  What I half-wish they had cut out was my “goodbye from Southampton” moment – for the second time in a row, I managed to do a Corporal Jones by saying goodbye distinctively behind cue!

Commiserations to Bangor, though; as I’m not the first to observe, they’re a much stronger team than the scoreline suggests, with a strong first-round victory under their belts, and a bonus conversion rate in this game of 77%, which is undeniably very respectable.  It just goes to show that we certainly focussed our resources in the right area between our first and repechage matches, namely buzzer prowess.  They always say there’s no smoke without fire, and if starter questions and buzzing in constitute fire, bonuses are analogous to smoke.  Bangor had the smoke in this game, but we had the fire (which The Prodigy started!), and that was what made all the difference.

After the cameras stopped rolling but before we left the set, Paxo asked Anna Johnson to elaborate on what her studies constituted.  The private lives of dogwhelk were then explained in great detail, which provided our chairman, the audience, her teammates and our quartet with great amusement!

When I headed back to the Manchester hotel that evening, I took stock of the day’s highly dramatic proceedings.  We were official quarter-finalists.  That was the stage that I’d really hoped we could get to.  Of the five Southampton teams that have tackled the show before us, none of them made it past the second round.  We were the first team from our university to get to the quarters.  That was quite a thought to end on.

I also discovered that night that The Saturdays had achieved a long-overdue No.1 on the UK Singles Chart.  That was the icing on the cake of an amazing 24 hours!

Thanks once again to Cromarty(IV) for these thoughts!