Monday, 31 March 2014

University Challenge 2013-14: Semi-Final 2: Somerville vs SOAS

Sorry I'm a bit later than usual this week; have been having problems with my telly. Anyway, we've reached the second semi-final of, what has been, a superb series of University Challenge. Whoever won tonight would deservedly join Trinity in the Grand Final next week.

Somerville College Oxford got to this stage undefeated, beating Pembroke College Cambridge, York, Clare College Cambridge and our old friends Southampton, all good teams in their own right. The favourites for tonight's match were the same four from their quarter-final matches: 
Sam Walker, from Stafford, studying Physics  
Zac Vermeer, from Sydney, studying Law  
Captain: Michael Davies, from Blackburn, studying PPE  
Chris Beer, from Blyborough in Lincolnshire, studying English Literature

SOAS got to this stage via victories over Southampton (also), Reading, Cardiff and Queen's University Belfast; however they did lose to Trinity in between their victories over Cardiff and Queen's. Despite looking less strong recently, they still looked a good team. They were also the same four as before: 
Maeve Weber, from Knebworth in Hertfordshire, studying Ancient Near East Studies  
Luke Vivian-Neal, from Lusaka in Zambia, studying Chinese  
Captain: Peter McKean, from Wallington in South London, studying African History  
James Figueroa, from Surrey, studying African Studies and Development Studies

So, on paper, Somerville looked to have been more impressive overall, but SOAS could still have plenty of potential left in them.

Off we went again then, and straight away, Chris Beer slipped up, allowing SOAS to take an early lead. A second slip-up from Somerville dropped them to -10, and SOAS had already opened up a 65 point lead. But Somerville finally got moving in the right direction courtesy of the hitherto-impressive Zac Vermeer, and by the first picture round, on diagrams of European general election results, they had closed the gap to 55-30.

Having now recovered from that shaky start, Somerville had now hit their stride, and two starters in a row from Chris Beer took them into the lead; the side's bonus performance seemed to be varying. A third slip-up allowed SOAS back into the game, and one bonus was enough to level the scores.

Somerville retook the lead by taking the music round, on classical music associated with the macabre. Their lead now stood at a slender 85-70. It increased when Sam Walker took the next starter, but the side had no luck with a set of bonuses on ophthalmology, eventually resorting to making something up! A slip-up from SOAS handed another starter to Chris Beer, giving the Oxonians a set of bonuses of literary squirrels!

Another starter went to Mr Beer, and Somerville's lead was beginning to reach match-winning level. Neither side took the second picture starter, but Somerville eventually got the bonuses, on renaissance paintings depicting feasts; despite not taking any of these, their lead now stood at 145-65.

SOAS needed to completely dominate the game from now on if they were to catch up; they gave it a go, with Luke Vivian-Neal getting a starter for the side, and two bonuses going with it. But when Zac Vermeer took the next starter, it looked like Somerville were safe.

Another starter for SOAS followed, but the side got nothing from the bonuses. Somerville, by comparison, managed a full set of bonuses, which only served to reinforce their victory. SOAS did, however, manage to reach three figures, which they definitely deserved to do. At the gong, Somerville won 190-105.

Bad luck SOAS, but you've done very well indeed to reach the semi-finals, which is very impressive in its own right, and you have us some great performances; well done on a fine series of performances. Well done to Somerville too though on another fine performance, and best of luck for the final next week!

Chris Beer was the best buzzer of the night, getting seven starters (same as SOAS got altogether), which allows him to narrowly overtake Zac Vermeer as the side's best buzzer, with twenty to Mr Vermeer's nineteen. Ms Weber and Messrs Vivian-Neal and Figueroa all got two each for SOAS, and while Peter McKean got just the one, he finishes the series the side's best buzzer overall with a total of twenty-seven. On the bonuses, Somerville converted a respectable 19 out of 33 (with three penalties), while SOAS managed 8 out of 18 (with one penalty).

So, next week, it's the Grand Final, between Trinity and Somerville. It should be a fine match! Best of luck to everyone involved!

Monday, 24 March 2014

University Challenge 2013-14: Semi-Final 1: Trinity vs Manchester

So, we've arrived at the semi-finals of what has been a good series of UC. The winners of tonight's match would become the first time to reach the final. Unlike last year, the draw for the semis has not put the two unbeaten teams together to avoid a rematch. I'll let you decide for yourself whether that's for the best or not.

Trinity College Cambridge got here the direct way, defeating Christ Church Oxford, Peterhouse Cambridge, Manchester (their opponents tonight) and SOAS (also in the semis). The favourites for tonight's match were the same four as before:
Matthew Ridley, from Northumberland, studying Economics
Filip Drnovšek Zorko, from Slovenia, studying Natural Sciences
Captain: Ralph Morley, from Ashford in Kent, studying Classics
Richard Freeland, from Cowbridge in Glamorgan, studying Maths

Reigning champions Manchester got here by beating Brasenose College Oxford, Queens' College Cambridge, Cardiff and our old friends Southampton, but they also lost to Trinity between the Queens' and Cardiff matches. They were also the same foursome as their previous outings:
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

Apart from that previous victory for Trinity over Manchester, very little between these two good teams on paper. It could've gone either way.

It was Trinity who got off the mark first, with Matthew Ridley getting the first starter; but then JOW and LAM contributor Filip 'opaltiger' Drnovšek Zorko slipped up, and allowed Manchester to get off the mark as well. The Mancunians maintained an early advantage on the buzzer, and after the first picture round, on Latin excerpts from poems, they led by 55-20.

Back hit Trinity though, with two correct starters in a row and a good handful of bonuses allowing them to catch up and draw level. But then a second slip-up allowed Manchester to take back the lead. Our man Filip was a little lucky on the next starter, pausing for a moment before answering and getting told off for doing so. The bonuses did allow them to reclaim the lead, but not for long, as Manchester swiftly reclaimed it, with Jonathan Collings once again giving a good buzzer performance.

Mr Collings also took the music starter, and the bonuses, on performers who have received the Royal Philharmonic Society's gold medal for Outstanding Musicianship, gave his side a lead of 115-75. Two more starters fell Mr Collings' way, and the bonuses that went with them saw Manchester's lead rise two 80 points. Trinity looked in trouble, but Ralph Morley promptly shot in on the next starter, and they were back in the game.

Neither side took the picture starter, but Trinity took the next starter to take the picture bonuses, on portraits of Scottish writers; they took all the bonuses, closing the gap to 155-120. A slip-up from Joe Day handed another starter, but no bonuses followed this time. Mr Day promptly made up for his error, and Manchester's lead went up again.

But Trinity had now got into gear, and in the closing minutes of the match, began to build up a head of steam. The starters began falling for them, and they maintained their good bonus showing from throughout the night. They had soon drawn level, and then our man Filip took them into the lead.

All they had to do now was not make any more mistakes on the buzzer, and they had likely done enough. They didn't, and soon had built up a substantial lead with surely not much time left. A chance did come for Manchester to get back in, but they couldn't take it. At the gong, Trinity had won the match 260-175.

That was exhausting! Very well done to Filip and co for a great recovery, and a well deserved win and place in the final; best of luck to yous for then! But very well done Manchester too; it may not be a third title in a row, but you reached the semis again, and that in itself in a great achievement. Well done indeed!

On the buzzers, Messrs Morley and Freeland got four starters each for Trinity, while Jonathan Collings was once again the best buzzer for Manchester with six; he finishes the series his side's best buzzer by miles with thirty-six(!), a total that may be enough to make him the best buzzer of the series. On the bonuses, Trinity converted a brilliant 28 out of 37 (with two penalties), while Manchester managed an also very good 18 out of 27 (with one penalty). Superb work there; shame this wasn't the final really.

So, I can only presume it's Somerville vs SOAS next week; whoever wins that will deserve to join Trinity in the final. Best of luck both teams!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

University Challenge 2013-14: Semi-Final Preview

OK, so we've arrived at the semi-finals of this epic series of University Challenge. And the four semi-finalists are:
  • Trinity College Cambridge: Matthew Ridley, Filip Drnovšek Zorko, Ralph Morley and Richard Freeland (1,105 points over four matches)
  • Somerville College Oxford: Hasneen Karbalai, Sam Walker, Zac Vermeer, Michael Davies and Chris Beer (905 points over four matches)
  • Manchester: Edward Woudhuysen, Joe Day, Elizabeth Mitchell and Jonathan Collings (1,140 points over five matches)
  • SOAS: Maeve Weber, Luke Vivian-Neal, Peter McKean and James Figueroa (940 over five matches)
OK, those are the raw stats, which only tell half the story. We'll have to look at the overall performance rates of the four teams.

Trinity College Cambridge, among whom are JOW and LAM contributor Filip 'opaltiger' Drnovšek Zorko, have looked very impressive all the way through, beating four very strong teams, two of whom have also reached the semis. Their lowest score is 240, from their second round match, which was their only real shaky moment. They have, otherwise, been strong and efficient scorers, though they have occasionally been prone to occasional periods of inactivity.

Somerville College Oxford have also looked impressive throughout their campaign, defeating four teams who have been strong in their own right, including York and Southampton, both of whom won other matches by 200+ margins. A change of team members for the quarter-finals doesn't seem to have unsettled their performances. Their only shaky moment so far was falling 100-ish behind Clare College Cambridge in the preliminaries, before coming back to win strongly. So, like Trinity, vulnerable, but very impressive when at their best.

Manchester have reached the semis for the third year in a row, and the ninth time in ten years. This year's team started off slowly, before hitting their stride in the second round. Their loss to Trinity in the preliminaries seems to have knocked the wind out of their sails slightly, as they haven't looked as strong since, but have still managed to put up decent performances to reach the semis, including a comfortable win over Southampton. They can perform well at their best, but, like Trinity and Somerville, they can be vulnerable.

SOAS have also been strong performers throughout, consistently performing well on the buzzers and the bonuses. Having won their first three matches comfortably, including one over Southampton, they were comfortably defeated by Trinity in their qualification quarter-final; despite this, they were still impressive in their narrow victory over Queen's University Belfast in their play-off. Again, they can be vulnerable, but when they go for it, they really go for it.

So, those are the semi-finalists. All very similar overall performances overall; despite their impressive strength, they can be vulnerable. It's going to be a matter of the draw.

Trinity would probably start off as favourites, having defeated two of the others. However, as U.C.L. showed last year, this doesn't guarantee victory. Trinity, however, seem somewhat stronger than U.C.L., so should probably be favoured more. Somerville may be a little bit more vulnerable, but not that far off them.

Because Trinity have already played Manchester and SOAS, my first guess is that they will be kept away from both of them, and play Somerville next. This may be seen as a bit unfair in putting the two best teams against each other, but it would be consistent with what happened last year. I have no idea who'd win that match, nor the resultant other between Manchester and SOAS.

Whatever the case, we should be in for some fine matches to finish the series off. We shall have to wait and see what the semis and grand final hold for us. Best of luck to all involved!

Monday, 17 March 2014

University Challenge 2013-14: Play-Off Quarter-Final 2: SOAS vs Queen's

So, we've reached the final quarter-final match. Whoever won this match would join Trinity, Somerville and Manchester in the semis, while the runners-up would be heading home.

SOAS got here by beating our old friends Southampton in the first round, Reading in the second, and Cardiff in the preliminaries, before being beaten by Trinity in their qualification match. Very much the favourites for tonight's match were the unchanged team of: 
Maeve Weber, from Knebworth in Hertfordshire, studying Ancient Near East Studies 
Luke Vivian-Neal, from Lusaka in Zambia, studying Chinese 
Captain: Peter McKean, from Wallington in South London, studying African History 
James Figueroa, from Surrey, studying African Studies and Development Studies

Queen's University Belfast arrived at this stag by beating Aberdeen in the first round, and Downing College Cambridge in the second; they then lost to Southampton in the preliminaries, but just made it through their elimination match against Clare College Cambridge. They were also the same foursome as before: 
Suzanne Cobain, from County Down, studying History 
Gareth Gamble, from Lurgan in County Armagh, studying Medicine 
Captain: Joseph Greenwood, from Manchester, studying Irish Theatre 
Alexander Green, from Lytham in Lancashire, studying Plasma Physics

OK, off we set again. Joseph Greenwood slipped up straight away, mistaking Alastair Campbell for Malcolm Tucker, and providing much hilarity, and a warning from Paxo he could have a libel coming his way! SOAS thus got off the mark first, and pulled out into an early lead. Queen's soon got going too, and were soon right behind them. The first picture starter was dropped, but the bonuses, on crests of international intelligence agencies, went to SOAS. They now led by 55-30.

SOAS maintained a steady advantage throughout the next phase of the match, getting a few starters and the bonuses that went with them. Queen's were getting starters too, but they couldn't get the bonuses to go with them; Mr Greenwood admitted to Paxo in one set on Prussian generals that he was just making names up! The music round, on classical works associated with the sea, went to SOAS, allowing them to increase their lead to 90-50.

At this stage, it was SOAS's better showing on the bonuses that was proving key; Queen's were getting roughly the same number of starters, but very few bonuses. SOAS were converting their bonuses well on the other hand, generally getting two per set. Peter McKean was unlucky on one starter question, giving one part of a two part answer, and not realising he needed to give another. Queen's took the points, and promptly took all three bonuses. Queen's also took the second picture round, on Spitting Image puppets of political figures (you could hear the audience laughing as each came up!), and took a second full set of bonuses in a row.

Suddenly, Queen's had taken the lead, 115-100. Not for long though; in shot Peter McKean, and SOAS reclaimed the lead. The side subsequently ran into a complex set of bonuses 'names that have a unique last letter among their own category'; again, they managed two of these. However, those full sets had closed the gap up, and when Queen's took the next starter, and all three bonuses again, they reclaimed the lead. Another starter to Queen's, and you began to wonder if a huge shock could be on.

Luke Vivian-Neal didn't, taking the next starter, and bringing SOAS within five points. And when Peter McKean took the next starter, the lead was back with the Londoners, and a full set of bonuses gave them a bit more breathing space. But then SOAS slipped up, giving Queen's a chance to sneak through again, but they couldn't take it. Then it was Queen's who slipped up, and SOAS who failed to pick up the points. Peter McKean's buzz on the next starter was interrupted by the gong, and SOAS had done it 165-145.

A close call, but SOAS take the final place in the semis. Very well done to them, and we shall how they fare there. Bad luck to Queen's, who were just pipped right at the end, but well done to them for getting so far, and there's no shame at all in going out at this stage of the contest.

Peter McKean was the best buzzer of the night, getting five starters, which takes his total this series to twenty-six; Alexander Green was best for Queen's with four starters, but it's Joseph Greenwood who ends the side's run their best overall buzzer, with sixteen overall. On the bonuses, SOAS converted a good 18 out of 27 (with three penalties), while Queen's managed to recover their rate to 13 out of 27, with two penalties. That's what won SOAS the match.

So, on to the semi-finals next. No word on who's playing next week, but it should be a good match whoever it is.

Tonight also saw the return of Only Connect, for a Sport Relief special. Correct me if I'm wrong, but is that the final OC to be shown on BBC4 before it moves to BBC2? We shall have to wait and see.

Monday, 10 March 2014

University Challenge 2013-14: Play-Off Quarter-Final 1: Manchester vs Southampton

Here we are again people; Monday night, so time for University Challenge. With two teams safely through, and two off home, whoever won tonight would join the former two, and the runners-up the latter two. Both teams had proved themselves good teams en route to this stage.

Current champs Manchester got here by beating Brasenose College Oxford and Queens' College Cambridge early on, before losing to Trinity College Cambridge, and then beating Cardiff. They were the same four as before:
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

Southampton got to this stage via the repechage, losing to SOAS in the first round, then beating Loughborough, Bangor and Queen's University Belfast comfortably, before losing to Somerville College Oxford last time around. They too were the same four as before:
David Bishop, from Reading, studying Physics
Richard Evans, from Frimley in Surrey, studying Chemistry
Captain: Bob De Caux, from West Sussex, studying Complex Systems Simulation
Matt Loxham, from Preston, studying Respiratory Toxicology

Off we set, and Manchester got going first courtesy of Jonathan Collings, who had been impressive in the earlier rounds. Southampton shortly followed them off the mark, with JOW and LAM reader and contributor Richard 'Cromarty(IV)' Evans getting their first starter of the night. A narrow miss on the next starter allowed Manchester to pull further away, and after the first picture round, on international agreements and the cities they took place in, they led by 55-15.

The momentum remained with Manchester for the time being, as they seemed to be getting most of the starters, but they weren't quite able to pull away as much as they might have liked to. A rare slip-up from Jonathan Collings allowed Matt Loxham to bring Southampton back into the match, and bonuses on US presidents moved them further forward. But in stepped Joe Day, and a full set of bonuses increased their advantage.

A very complex music round followed, where the teams had to listen to a song with numerous numbers in the lyrics, then give the overall sum of all the numbers mentioned! Yes, really! Neither side got the starter, but Southampton got the bonuses, and did manage one of them. This reduced the deficit to 110-50.

But then JOW reader Bob De Caux slipped up on the next starter, which Manchester took to increase their lead. Richard Evans slipped up as well, beaten by a swerve, but Matt Loxham soon made up for these errors, and the side took a full set of bonuses. Another slip-up from Southampton bought Manchester back into the match, and the side also took the second picture round, on caricatures of American historical figures.

Manchester now led by 155-60, and Southampton needed to get a move on were they to catch up. An error from Manchester gave them the chance, but they couldn't pick it up, and then they made one of their own, which Manchester did pick up. The match now looked to be over, as Manchester picked up more starters, and firmly cemented their win.

Southampton did manage one more starter, and took full advantage of it, converting all three bonuses. But this was as far as they could go, as the gong went just afterwards. Manchester won the match, 200-80.

Bad luck Richard and co, but very well done indeed on a very impressive series of performances, and you lost to worthy opponents. It's been good reading all your correspondence, and extended views on matches. Well done to Manchester too though, and best of luck in the semis!

On the buzzers, Jonathan Collings was Manchester's best performer once more, getting six starters and taking his overall series total to thirty. Matt Loxham was best for Southampton with three, and he finishes the series the side's best buzzer, with twenty overall. On the bonuses, Manchester converted 18 out of 36 (with two penalties), while Southampton managed a very good 11 out of 15 (with, like Queen's last week, FIVE penalties).

So, presumably, it's SOAS vs Queen's next week in the final QF, and then we're into the semis! We shall see where this series takes us next.

Monday, 3 March 2014

University Challenge 2013-14: Elimination Quarter-Final 2: Clare vs Queen's

OK, it's Monday night again, so it's University Challenge time again. Whoever lost tonight's match would be going home, while the winners would make it into the play-offs for a chance to make it into the semis.

Clare College Cambridge defeated Loughborough and Christ Church Oxford in the first two rounds, both narrow wins, before narrowly losing to Somerville last time around. On paper, the favourites for tonight, and unchanged from before, they remained: 
Tom Watson, from Navenby in Lincolnshire, studying Chinese studies
Carys Redman-White, from Hampshire, studying Veterinary Medicine
Captain: Tom Wright, from Sevenoaks, studying Theology
Mark Chonofsky, from Boston, studying Physics

Queen's University Belfast defeated Aberdeen in a low scoring first match, before comfortably beating Downing College Cambridge in the second round, but they were easily overpowered by our friends Southampton last time around. They were the same four as before too: 
Suzanne Cobain, from County Down, studying History
Gareth Gamble, from Lurgan in County Armagh, studying Medicine
Captain: Joseph Greenwood, from Manchester, studying Irish Theatre
Alexander Green, from Lytham in Lancashire, studying Plasma Physics

So, on paper, not much between these two teams, but Clare would probably be favoured to win.

Off we set again then, and a very good buzz from Joseph Greenwood got Queen's off to the better start, and another starter gave them an early advantage. But then a slip-up allowed Clare to get off the mark, and they soon caught up. The first picture starter saw Joseph Greenwood take a punt on trying to buzz in before the picture had been shown! It didn't work out, and allowed Clare to take the round, on motorsport endurance racetracks. At this stage, Clare led by 45-30.

Mr Greenwood took a less speculative punt on the next starter, but was wrong, but Clare couldn't capitalise, and managed to annoy Paxo instead! Clare now had a narrow lead, but Queen's soon caught them up, and took the lead back again. The teams were getting most of the starters, but very few bonuses went with them, which I guess suggests that the questions are getting harder at this late stage of the contest.

Neither side took the (rather hard) music starter, but the next starter allowed Clare to take the bonuses, on classical pieces written for the left hand. Clare now had the lead back again, 70-60. Neither side took the next two starters, but a mistake from Mark Chonofsky allowed Queen's to retake the lead. A second slip-up from Clare allowed Queen's to pull further away, even though their bonus rate was rather low again.

The second picture starter was the latest starter to be dropped; two starters and two penalties from Queen's later, and the bonuses, on paintings by French artists, went to Clare. Now though, they were behind, albeit by just 85-80. Gareth Gamble took the next starter, and the one bonus they took broke them into three figures. Another slip-up from Clare, and maybe now Queen's had now won the match.

Or maybe not. Clare hit back with the next starter, and the low stakes gap went down again. But when Queen's took the next starter, that looked like game over. Even though they missed all the bonuses, and then incurred yet another penalty, which Clare duly picked up, the match was won. At the gong, Queen's won the low scoring match 125-105.

Bad luck to Clare, who, as Paxo said, weren't on as good form as they have been before. Queen's weren't exactly on good form either; the increasing difficulty of questions clearly took its toll on both teams here. Well done to Queen's anyway, and best of luck whoever you face next, and well done Clare for getting this far, and for providing some good entertainment along the way.

Tom Wright was the night's best buzzer, getting four starters, though Mark Chonofsky was narrowly better over the series as a whole, with sixteen to Mr Wright's fifteen. Queen's put in a good collegiate effort on the buzzer, with Messrs Gamble, Greenwood and Green getting three starters each. Neither side were terribly strong on the bonuses, Clare getting just 8 out of 22 (with three penalties), while Queen's managed 12 out of 27 (with FIVE penalties).

So, we're in to the home stretch now. On to the play-offs next week, and Cromarty(IV) has hinted that Southampton are back next week, preseumably against SOAS again or Manchester. Good luck Cromarty(IV) and co!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

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

Can it really be that three weeks have passed since our first University Challenge quarter-final was broadcast?  Apparently, it can.  Here we were again this week, battling it out to access the fast track to the semi-finals.  But to coin a phrase from Peter Davison’s final scene as Doctor Who, it felt different this time.

I say that because our opponents on this occasion, Somerville College, Oxford, were in a position that none of our previous opponents have been in: we’d already watched them in battle by the time our paths met.  Their resurgence to overcome Clare, Cambridge was played out right before our eyes, and we’d heard some very good things about their previous performances, so there was no doubt that our work was set out for us on this occasion, more so than ever before.  If we were able to overcome these quizzing powerhouses, we would achieve something that Southampton had never achieved before on University Challenge – a place in the semi-finals.  The scene was set.  Battle began with our first starter for 10.

This first starter was snapped up by Somerville’s Chris Beer, which unlocked a bonus set concerning novels set in London.  This set the tone for the next two rounds of questions, in that the arts were on the cards in both the second and third starters (as well as the third bonus set), and they all fell to Mr Beer, who was already living up to the formidable reputation that we’d heard about.  55 points were on Somerville’s board after these three cycles, giving us a good reason to be a bit worried about the next 25 minutes…

With the fourth starter, literature was off the cards and chemistry was suddenly on them.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t worked with urea before the recording date of this game, so I couldn’t play my trump card.  Even more unfortunately, I performed two syntheses involving urea just two weeks ago, so it’s been at the forefront of my mind since then!

Starter no. 5 was all about a “Serbian city”.  The clues that were offered to us about this city largely related to the early centuries of the second millennium AD, so I suspected that David was lined up to buzz in for it, until Paxo read out the giveaway clue – that it is the capital of Kosovo.  I pounced for my own buzzer in a knee-jerk reaction to the last clue, thinking that all eight of us in the hotseats would have done the same, and was genuinely stunned to win what I thought was an eight-way buzzer race!  By the time Roger Tilling had called “Southampton, Evans”, I had two cities in my head, Podgorica and Pristina – and I just couldn’t let Somerville take control of the question.  I swiftly purged Podgorica (which, as I knew deep down, is the capital city of neighbouring Montenegro) from my mind and stumbled my way to an answer of “Pristina”, which took us off the zero-point mark.

“Films based on journalistic works” was the theme for our first set of bonuses.  Now, back when I was 9 or 10 years old, the cinema was the subject that really fascinated me, and I would memorise long lists of films based on their release dates, cast and crew.  This served me very well in our second round match, but it wasn’t quite so helpful this time; we were able to identify The Killing Fields and Adaptation, but not Saturday Night Fever.  Having watched the game live on air this week, I now see the irony in our failure to get SNF: on the evidence of the first five minutes, only one team was doing a good job of Staying Alive, and it wasn’t Southampton…

Médecins Sans Frontières, whose logo served as the first picture starter, were of very little assistance in keeping us alive – Matt buzzed in and said UNICEF, but I think he saw the correct answer seconds too late.  Chris Beer couldn’t find MSF either, but it was he who netted the picture bonuses when he took the following starter, thus meaning that all four of Somerville’s starters so far had ended up in his pocket!  Is that a record blitz start by an individual who ultimately wasn’t to get every single one of their team’s starters?  Possibly.  The ensuing picture bonuses, on other organisations to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, were tricky, but the UN Peacekeepers were correctly identified.  I’m vaguely surprised that, this being the BBC, there was no reference to the EU in this round…!

One of the many morals of this episode is that NHK is most certainly not the state broadcaster in North Korea, as that man Chris Beer found out to his cost when Paxo seemed to find that answer amusing!  Perhaps the amusement came from the fact that this game was filmed shortly after the worst of Kim Jong-Un’s threats of nuclear war against the USA, and that the self-styled Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had been front-page news for at least a month.  I really should have recognised “NH” as signifying “Nihon”, seeing as I studied Japanese at GCSE level, but I didn’t, so no progress was made there.

Bob identified the term corona approximately 1.5 seconds before I did for a subsequent starter, but the ensuing bonuses, on disorders of the eye, were of no use to us.  I have received a small amount of abuse in this past week for not recognising “astigmatism”, which a number of my friends tell me they suffer from!  After failing to score in this set, I was suddenly overcome by the realisation that the time in the competition had come when the difficulty level of the questions was really being stepped up.  With Somerville firing on all cylinders, I began to fear that this was the beginning of the end for Southampton.  But I couldn’t afford to lose sight (pun not intended) of what we really needed to do in the minutes ahead: get some more points on the board!

An intriguing starter about “who occupies the northeast”, given the occupants of the southwest and southeast, did us no favours in that regard (or any other regard).  My mind immediately turned to major conflicts involving English monarchs, with the English Civil War sticking out strongest for no apparent reason.  I had nothing to lose by buzzing in, so I buzzed in and tried Charles I, but this wasn’t the answer on Paxo’s card.  Nor was James I, as suggested by Sam Walker.  It was George IV, whose statue occupies the northeast plinth in Trafalgar Square.  I may not have found the right answer, but I had at least crossed off a bizarre bullet point on my “list of things to do while on UC”, namely to give the name of an English monarch as the answer to a starter question! 

Thereafter, two more starters went Somerville’s way, and so did a memorable series of Paxmanisms, which never fail to liven up a game.  The first of these came when economics (and philosophy and politics) student Michael Davies took a series of bonuses on economics, including one on President FDR’s New Deal, without pausing for breath!  “Some people find these questions quite difficult!” complained our chairman, forcing Mr Davies into an apology!  I, myself, am no expert on economics, but I did write two essays about the New Deal in my school days, so I did envy Somerville for having control of that particular bonus.  The second Paxmanism was directed at Chris Beer, for his apparently unbelievably quick recognition of a Herb Alpert instrumental.  “I can’t believe you confessed to that!” Paxo exclaimed.  Well, you can’t accuse Chris of aping Phil “I’m embarrassed to know this, but it’s Celine Dion” Ostrowski!

I’ve mentioned the what-I-call “losing streak effect” a few times over the course of this series, by which teams that are consistently being outbuzzed tend to retreat into their shells and lose at least a bit of confidence in their instincts.  When we didn’t buzz in on an elementary maths starter, I was under no illusions that we were certainly being struck down by the effect.  I worked out that the answer was 6 (my one-time lucky number, no less, and the perfect number that served me so well in our repechage game) pretty quickly, but my confidence was not there, so my buzzer remained quiet.  My buzzer also remained quiet when we were asked to name the opera from which the aria “I am the Widow of Mao Tse-Tung” comes – I wouldn’t have been anywhere near certain that Nixon in China was correct, but I could, and should, have gone for it.  I really kicked myself on Monday at this point because I knew the answer immediately… albeit 10 months too late!

A starter about a magnesium alloy used in nuclear reactors meant rather less to me than it perhaps should have done, but Matt was able to capture it, so we got our hands on a bonus set about a US architect.  I was relieved that we could sweep the board on this occasion.  What I wasn’t so relieved about was the second picture starter, which immediately followed this bonus set: asked to identify the political philosopher in the portrait on our screens, I took a punt at Jeremy Bentham, but it was Zac Vermeer’s punt at John Locke that was correct.  (I trust that Zac won’t do a Guttenplan!)

Apparently, Edmund Burke was not as fat as Paxo thought he was.  I certainly didn’t expect to hear that, to coin a phrase from Harry Hill.

Going into the final quarter of the match, three terrific bonus rounds awaited the teams – their subjects being a planet of the Solar System, years of the 1920s and an African country.  All of these would have been good rounds for us (I always enjoy it when a “name the year in which the following took place” round comes up), but we only got to tackle one of them, and it was the African country round.  Once we knew that the African country in question was Senegal, there was no holding back, although this did mean that we dropped the first bonus.

I took a guess at the next starter, which related to logarithms, but to no avail.  It was one of those questions where it’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to work it out accurately in your head at high speed under the studio lights, so all I had to go on was my mathematical intuition, which my A-Level maths teacher was keen to encourage in his students.  My answer was 3, but ten points would only have come our way if I’d said something much larger: 81!  With a new starter question being read out immediately, I couldn’t stop to convince myself that 81 was correct, so the question slipped my mind, and remained slipped until Monday night!

For this new starter, David intervened quickly, spurred on by his very strong knowledge of all things Roman – but he unfortunately gave the name of a country (Brittania), whereas the question went on to ask for the name of a city (York).  Zac Vermeer couldn’t identify York, and David lost five points.  I watched on the screen before me as our score fell from 75 to 70… but for some reason, Paxo paused the recording at this point and asked, “Did we take 5 points off you, or did we forget to do it?”  I assured him, in all honesty, that the penalty had been applied, and so we moved swiftly on.

UK general elections were mentioned right at the beginning of the penultimate starter of the game, which made my eyes light up somewhat; were it not for the losing streak effect, I might have come up with an answer (that there were 4 general elections in the 1950s) more quickly.  As it was, Matt beat me to it, and so we made it to 80 points.  When Bob answered a subsequent microscopy bonus with a very firm “It’s dead”, hilarity ensued across the studio!  Looking at the four of us by this time, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the question was about us…

One final starter was forthcoming.  It was about a human intestinal parasite.  I only had one answer in my head from that moment onwards: tapeworm.  This was partially because my flatmates, two of whom study medicine, had mentioned tapeworm in a decidedly unsavoury dinner table conversation a few days/weeks earlier!  With only one answer coming to mind, I was in no mood to buzz, because whenever I’ve had only one answer in my head in every previous episode of UC that I’ve contested or watched, my one answer has always been both predictable and wrong.  However, I was also desperate to reach 100 points, so I ultimately decided to chance my arm after all.  Much to my astonishment, I was right!  Sadly, the gong stopped us at 95.  I joined the audience in applauding the very worthy winners of the match, whose score was resting at 215.

In his closing remarks, Paxo accused us of being a lot less lively than usual, and we could hardly argue with him on that one.  So, in response to all of you who’ve been speculating over what happened to us in this game, I largely attribute it to the losing streak effect.  We’ve seen many times that a team that’s never quite managing to reach its buzzers can go one of two ways – down and out by buzzing with reckless abandon and getting many penalties, or back and out by being shocked into silence.  When Somerville got going very quickly in the early questions, I think we all went back and out.  The questions in this game were not particularly ideal for us – certainly not relative to those we got in our first quarter-final – but, as we’ve been saying to each other a few times since this one, there were several starters for which we had good answers in our heads, but we didn’t offer them up because of that loss in confidence that a battering on the buzzer brought over us.

Plus, to coin a phrase from former UC champion Sean Blanchflower, our fear of losing to Somerville probably played its part in ensuring that we did!  That said, I’m not particularly ashamed at having lost to them – we knew they were good, and they were simply too good for us on this occasion.  There’s no two ways about that.  Congratulations to them on making the semis – we shall look forward to seeing how they get on next!

The thing that is fairly awkward about the outcome of this match is our score of 95.  It means that we’ve now achieved the best individual score out of all the Southampton teams that have ever appeared on UC (335 in the second round), and also the lowest!  Needless to say, as we headed backstage at the end of the game, I didn’t feel that this was setting us up very well for our last quarter-final.  No team has ever made it to the semis with that low a score under their belts.  No team has ever made it to the semis with two losses under their belts.  There was also every possibility that our last quarter-final would be a rematch with SOAS (we didn’t find out whether or not this would actually be the case until some time later – and I’m not going to name our next opponents until we’re next on the airwaves!).  Could we pull off a comeback against all the odds, and make it through to the semis after all?

We’re back on Monday 10 March.  All the answers will be revealed there and then!

On a final note, for a reason that completely and utterly escapes me, I distinctly remember the George IV and urea starters being asked in our next game.  I can still hear Roger Tilling calling the name of one of our opponents from that game, and I can hear that opponent saying “James I”.  Don’t ask me why!  This is destined to become one of my life’s great unsolved mysteries!

Thanks once again to Cromarty(IV) for this input!