Friday, 22 April 2016

University Challenge 2015-16: Series Highlights

OK, time to have a look back at the series of University Challenge that has just ended. As well as my usual highlights and stats, I'm also going to make a few points about the show this series that I hope people will take on board and strive to improve.

First off, the best match of each stage of the series:
  • First Round + Play-Offs: Not much to choose from, so I'll go for York's shock trouncing of Manchester.
  • Second Round: Again, not much of note, so I'll go for Glasgow vs Newcastle.
  • Quarter-Finals: Definitely York vs Peterhouse. St Catharine's nearly coming back to beat St John's the following week comes a close second.
  • The Final Three: None of them were very good, so, by virtue of being the only close one, Peterhouse vs York.
As has been the case for the past few years, there were very few truly good matches, though when we did get a good match, it was a very good one. The QFs, in particular, had plenty of good close matches.

As far as the teams are concerned, there was a slight Oxbridge imbalance, with six Cambridge to four Oxford. Four London teams is no change from last series, while the post '92 unis were, again, unrepresented. Overall, though, we had a good spread of teams this series, with plenty of teams from across Britain, with all areas well represented.

In terms of scoring, for the second year running, the highest score and the biggest win of the series came in the same match, Imperial's 305-75 trouncing of Sidney Sussex. Lowest score of the series came this Monday just gone by, when St John's became probably the least deserving members of the Sub-50 club ever, with just 30 points.

And now for the annual highlights reel:
  • Mr Brejevs of Glasgow trying to give an answer in Russian!
  • "The viewers of this program are even older than the presenter!"
  • Mr Haughton's spectacular buzz giving Manchester, what would turn out to be, their only real highlight of the series.
  • Free Frasier and Divine Niles!
  • My dad's favourite answer of the series: "Whig?" "Good heavens!"
  • Vestgate! (Or, as it should be known, the latest non-news story that the press try to turn into news)
  • Lewis from the DoND forum on the show for Reading! (Shame they got trounced; at least it was to a worthy team)
  • Rent Voicemail #2, and Paxo's reaction!
  • Poor Mr Walker. "Scotland?" and "Nutella?"
  • "Bruegel?" "Which one?" "Pieter." "WHICH ONE?!"
  • Poor Miss McMenamin's meltdown over 'nymphs'. Also "wombat?".
  • The bonus set!
  • Peterhouse's struggle with the foreign pop round.
  • Footballers who only played for one English club, and the Twittersphere's response!
  • Mr Watson's instant mental arithmetic!
  • Imperial, of all teams, getting a bonus set on the Big Bang Theory!
  • "Paella!"
  • "Chicken Austerlitz"
If anyone has any more, it'd be good to hear them.

So, that's the usual highlights; now, though, I'd like to speak seriously.

As some of yous will know, I try to be positive when I write these reviews, as my aim in this blog is to write-up an accurate, professional, unbiased, off-the-press review of each UC. However, it has become increasingly hard to do so in recent times due to various controversies surrounding the show. Two things, in particular, have hit the show hard recently.

The first is, of course, the repeated penalties for cutting in just as Paxo is finishing reading the question. The second, which has come to the fray towards the end of this series, is that the starters are too long, and thus the teams are waiting until they are absolutely sure Paxo has stopped talking before buzzing. Weaver's Week, of course, have been less than impressed by either of these, and have stopped fully reviewing the show regularly again.

Now, some of yous may wonder why I take what Weaver's Week say so seriously. Well, you see, Weaver's Week was one of the main things that got me hooked on the show in the first place, as their weekly reviews that perfectly summarised the show, as well as those of our friend Dave Clark, provided good reading that nicely complimented the show itself, and you looked forward to reading them every week. Plus, the archived 'weeks' meant you could swot up on back editions of the show.

But recently, it has been hard for me to be positive, as it has been very hard for me to contradict what they have been saying, as I respect them and their opinions so much. I do apologise, and no offense is intended to Mr Weaver or anyone else at UKGS, who all must be commended for their commitment to keeping the site going. And I totally agree with them on both penalty points I mentioned earlier.

When the show returns in July, I will try to be more positive in my own right about the show, though I will keep bringing up any 'borderline' penalties for as long as they carry on.

That's it for this series then; all that remains is to thank all involved for another series of University Challenge, and I'll be back to cover the next come July. In the mean time, I'll put this blog on the backseat for a while and post occasionally whenever I feel the need to. See yous around.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

University Challenge 2015-16: Best Buzzer Per Team

OK, now that the dust has settled from Monday, time to get on with the serious business of reviewing this series. Firstly, as usual, my list of the best players on the buzzer for the eight QF teams:

Charlie Clegg (St John's) - 40 over seven matches
Jack Bennett (Liverpool) - 26 over five matches
Oscar Powell (Peterhouse) - 25 over six matches
James Bezer (Imperial) - 24 over five matches
Tony Richardson (Newcastle) - 24 over five matches
Calum Bungey (St Catharine's) - 20 over four matches
Sam Smith (York) - 19 over six matches
Mathias Ormestad Frendem (Nuffield) - 14 over four matches

And a few honourable mentions:

Ben Fernando (Imperial) - 23 over five matches
Robin Wainwright (Liverpool) - 22 over five matches
Barto Joly de Lotbiniere (York) - 15 over six matches
Hannah Woods (Peterhouse) - 15 over six matches
Alex Harries (St John's) - 15 over seven matches
David Landon Cole & Joseph McLoughlin (York) - 14 each over six matches
Julian Sutcliffe (Peterhouse) - 14 over six matches

As usual, I have the full list, so if you want to see it, just contact me on here or on Twitter, and I'll send you the full list.

I'll be back tomorrow with my usual end-of-series review, complete with highlights reel, and some serious thoughts on the future of the show.

Monday, 18 April 2016

University Challenge 2015-16: Grand Final: Peterhouse vs St John's

Evening all. Well, this is it: after 36 weeks (not counting weeks off!) of very tough quizzing, some laughs, some controversy and loads of ever enjoyable Twitter browsing, we've arrived at the 45th University Challenge grand final. For the third year running, Oxford played Cambridge, with Cambridge looking to do the double after winning the boat race a few weeks ago.

Peterhouse Cambridge got this far by beating Glasgow in Round 1, St George's of London in Round 2, York twice in the preliminary QFs and SF, and their opponents tonight in the qualification QF. Hoping to make it three in a row for Cambridge were:
Thomas Langley, from Newcastle, studying History
Oscar Powell, from York, studying Geological Sciences
Captain: Hannah Woods, from Manchester, studying History
Julian Sutcliffe, from Reading, studying History

St John's College Oxford defeated Bristol in the first round, Queen's of Belfast in the second, St Catharine's College Cambridge in the QF prelims, Newcastle in the play-offs and Liverpool in the SFs last week; plus, of course, that defeat to Peterhouse. Hoping to end the college's UC grand final hoodoo, after two previous GF defeats, were:
Alex Harries, from South Wales, studying History
Charlie Clegg, from Glasgow, studying Theology
Captain: Angus Russell, from Mill Hill in North London, studying History and Russian
Dan Sowood, from Uxbridge in Middlesex, studying Chemistry

Off we set again then, and we began the grand final with... a penalty! Oh dear. Peterhouse then fell back to (-10) thanks to another slip-up, but, again, St John's failed to capitalise. Mr Powell then wiped out the deficit with the night's first correct answer, and the Cambridge team took one bonus on Asian geography. Mr Powell took a second starter in a row, and a set of bonuses on monarchs and their ailments gave them ten points. A third starter in a row went to the Cambridge side, plus a further two bonuses. The first picture round, on scientific works in their original languages, went to Peterhouse, who took two again, which upped their lead to 65-0.

The next starter asked for an accent used over the top of certain letters; Mr Harries buzzed, but forgot his answer, and thus answered 'a Chinese hat'! Paxo told him off for that! Mr Powell took the points, and his side took two bonuses on scientific variables. Twitter favourite Miss Woods took her first starter of the match, and a good bonus set on years that are prime numbers saw them twice mention the right answer, but say a wrong one! They got the other right. Mr Powell followed his 'wildcat' buzz last time out with an equally quick buzz with 'beaver', and two bonuses meant we were nearly at 'game over' with half the game still to go.

The music round, on pieces written on the theme of another (not the first time that's been a music set in a UC final), saw St John's finally break their duck thanks to Mr Clegg; one bonus followed, which cut the deficit to 120-10. But any thoughts that they might be breaking back into the match were put out by Mr Sutcliffe as he took the next starter, and the side took all three bonuses. Miss Woods took the next starter, and a bonus set on words containing 'Onan' saw them take another full set, and thus almost certainly win the match with time to spare. A penalty for St John's just rubbed it in, before a couple of starters were dropped, culminating in Mr Powell taking another starter, though the bonuses were of no use to them.

The second picture round, on authors of manifestos which inspired artistic movements and their work, went to St John's, but they couldn't take any of the bonuses, leaving the deficit at 180-15. And when Mr Sutcliffe took the next starter, I found myself channeling the Simpsons, shouting 'Stop! Stop! They're already dead!' at the telly! Peterhouse didn't listen, as they took all three bonuses, taking them past 200 for the first time in the series.

Mr Powell added sprinkles to the icing on the cherry on the icing on the cake as he took the next starter; no bonuses followed, but it mattered not. St John's did manage to take one final starter, and one bonus, but there was no time for any more. At the gong, Peterhouse won 215-30. Professor Marcus du Sautoy emerged to present the trophy to the winners, and, as the credits rolled, down came the runners-up for the customary handshakes.

Unlucky St John's; as Paxo rightly said, we know what you're capable of, and that performance does not do you justice one bit, so thank you very much indeed for playing and for the role you played in this series. Very well done to Peterhouse though; a very fine series of performances, all of them strong showings against fine opposition, and a worthy addition to the series champions list. Well done indeed!

Mr Powell was the best buzzer of the final, with eight starters, and is also the side's best buzzer of the series with 25 over six matches; Charlie Clegg was best for St John's, taking three starters, and he finishes as the best buzzer of the series, with 40 starters over seven matches. On the bonuses, Peterhouse converted 21 out of 36, while St John's managed only 2 out of 7, and both sides incurred two penalties.

Well, that's it for another series. I'll be back in the coming days with my usual post-series summary, which will also feature some serious thoughts on the future of the series, as well as my usual starter stats post. See yous then then.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

University Challenge 2015-16: Grand Final Preview

OK, so, we've reached another UC grand final. After an interesting series, with plenty of twists, turns, controversy and some brilliant matches in the QFs, we have our two finalist teams:
Peterhouse Cambridge: Thomas Langley, Oscar Powell, Hannah Woods and Julian Sutcliffe.
St John's College Oxford: Alex Harries, Charlie Clegg, Angus Russell and Dan Sowood.

And how did they get this far?

Peterhouse narrowly defeated Glasgow in the first match of the series back in July, before comfortably trouncing St George's of London in the second round. Their QF victories over York and St John's (more on that later) must go down as two of the best UCs of recent years, while their second win over York in the semis saw them recover from a poor start to sneak ahead late on.

St John's had a somewhat easier route to the QFs, easily beating Bristol and Queen's of Belfast in the first two rounds. They survived a mightily close scare to beat St Catharine's in their first QF, and made up for the afore-mentioned narrow loss to Peterhouse by comfortably beating Newcastle to reach the semis, where they trounced Liverpool.

A quick look at points acquired so far shows that St John's, who have played one match more, have tallied 1,165 points over six games so far, while Peterhouse have managed 905 over five. That's pretty low for an undefeated grand finalist team, and it's worth noting that Imperial, who played the same number of matches as they have so far, racked up 140 more.

The average scores make this look a bit more even: Peterhouse have averaged 181 points a match, and St John's 194.17 points a match.

And in terms of points conceded, Peterhouse have conceded, on average, 132 per match, while St John's have averagely conceded 134.17 per match. Considering St John's have an extra game and a loss going into that score, that's not a bad difference.

So, for the second series running, the raw stats don't provide much in the way of a reasonable guess at who will win the series. So, all we have to go on is their performances so far.

Peterhouse may be undefeated, but only one of their victories has been by a comfortable margin. Their victories in the QFs and SF were both close run things. St John's have only been run close twice, once in the Peterhouse defeat, and again by St Catharine's in their prior match. It's also worth noting that they nearly let a 75-point lead slip in that game, with St Catharine's only running close to them late on.

Peterhouse have also not yet broken 200 this series, while St John's have done so twice.

However, you can't ignore the fact that reaching the final undefeated under this new QF format is no mean feat, and that, for the past two years, the grand champions have done so. (This may not sound that surprising, but bear in mind that the QF format was in its fifth series when Trinity went undefeated) Also, as Paxo once said to, ironically, a previous Peterhouse team who had won a match by a very small margin: "You did it, just! But it's good enough!"

On the other hand, however, previous form is never a reliable guide to what will happen in a future UC match. Last year, Magdalen had a more impressive run-in to the final than Caius, yet the Cambridge side romped home very easily. And three years ago, despite U.C.L. looking by far the better team across the series, it was Manchester who took the title.

And, for that reason, for the third year in a row, I cannot call how this match is going to go. Both teams have done magnificently to get this far, especially considering the high standard of teams in the QFs this series, and whoever wins will deserve the title.

We haven't had a truly close grand final for some years now; maybe this series will be the one that gives us one. Whatever the case, best of retrospective luck to both teams for Monday! I'll be back then with my usual summary.

Monday, 11 April 2016

University Challenge 2015-16: Semi-Final 2: Liverpool vs St John's

Evening all. So, the second semi-final of, what has been, a tough and highly unpredictable series of UC. Whoever won tonight would play Peterhouse in next week's final, the runners-up would finish a very respectable joint third.

Liverpool surprised many with their passage to the semis, beating Newcastle and Imperial to make it through the QFs, having previously defeated St Peter's of Oxford and Southampton. They were unchanged from those earlier rounds:
Jenny McLoughlin, from Leeds, studying Biological and Medical Sciences
Jack Bennett, from Lancaster, studying Law
Captain: Robin Wainwright, from the Wirral, studying Biological Sciences
Ed Bretherton, from Bampton in Devon, studying Medicine

St John's were impressive in their early victories over Bristol and Queen's of Belfast, before beating St Catharine's and Newcastle in the QFs, though they did lose to Peterhouse as well. They were also unchanged from before:
Alex Harries, from South Wales, studying History
Charlie Clegg, from Glasgow, studying Theology
Captain: Angus Russell, from Mill Hill in North London, studying History and Russian
Dan Sowood, from Uxbridge in Middlesex, studying Chemistry

Off we set again then, and Mr Russell took the first starter of the match, and a full set of bonuses on achievements by 25 year olds put their intentions clearly in view. Liverpool responded by taking the next starter, but just one bonus on US state nicknames followed. A starter was dropped, before an amusing slip-up from St John's allowed Liverpool to take the lead, plus two bonuses. A very sharp buzz from blog reader Jack Bennett pulled the Merseysiders further ahead, but a tricky bonus set gave them nothing more. The first picture round, on maps with locations St Paul wrote epistles to highlighted, went to St John's, who took two bonuses, which reduced the deficit to 45-40.

The deficit disappeared when Liverpool slipped up on the next starter, but St John's couldn't take advantage or the lead. Liverpool took both back when Mr Wainwright took the next starter, though again, the side could only take one bonus. Mr Wainwright did take a second starter in a row, however, and the side pressed their advantage further home this time by taking a full set. Mr Harries steadied St John's by identifying Bordeaux for the next starter (ironic considering a conversation about French wine I was having with my parents yesterday; don't ask!), and one bonus on astronomy followed.

The music starter was dropped; the bonuses, on ballets written by Michel Fokine for Nijinsky, went to Liverpool, but nothing came of them, leaving their lead at 90-55. Mr Sowood ate into that lead a bit by taking the next starter for St John's, and an interesting set of bonuses where any of three consecutive years was an acceptable answer saw them take two. A very good buzz from the hitherto quiet Mr Clegg, and, again, two bonuses followed, which was enough to put them in front. Neither side took the next starter, Liverpool unluckily slipped up on the next starter (Paxo had finished the question, but there was extra waffle after it), handing St John's possession and taking them into triple figures.

The second picture round, on buildings whose architects lived in them, went to St John's, who took just the one bonus, but they now had a lead of 125-85. Another starter was unluckily missed by both sides, Mr Clegg took the next, and St John's appeared now to have built up steam, though just one bonus followed this time. Mr Wainwright valiantly tried to break Liverpool back into the match, but only managed to lose them five, handing St John's the points, and when Mr Sowood single-handedly swept up the bonuses, they likely had the match in the bag.

Mr Harries took the next starter, which confirmed his side's victory, and two bonuses accompanied. Another starter from Mr Clegg followed, no bonuses did, but it didn't matter by now. Liverpool did manage to take a final starter, but only managed one bonus, not quite making triple figures. At the gong, St John's won 195-95.

Another tough match, which can only be expected come this late stage. Unlucky Liverpool, who started well but ran out of steam later on, but a very respectable series of performances and nothing wrong at all with losing in the semis, so thank you very much indeed for playing; thoroughly enjoyed it. Very well done to St John's though; another solid effort, and very very best of luck to yous in the final next week!

Mr Clegg was, again, best buzzer of the night with five starters to his name, while Messrs Bennett and Wainwright were joint best for Liverpool with three each; Mr Bennett was the side's best buzzer for the overall series, with 26 over five matches. On the bonuses, Liverpool converted 8 out of 21 (with three penalties), while St John's managed a not bad 18 out of 33 (with one penalty).

Next week's match: the Grand Final! Peterhouse vs St John's for a place in the annals of history. Best of luck to both teams; a preview will follow on here in the coming days!

Monday, 4 April 2016

University Challenge 2015-16: Semi-Final 1: Peterhouse vs York

Evening all. Well, what a series it's been so far, and with only the semis and the final remaining, the fun isn't over yet! Tonight, we'd find out the first of this year's finalists; the winners would deservedly go through to the final in two show's time, the runners-up would exit with dignity. Given the performances these two teams had given so far, some might have thought of tonight's match as the title decider.

Peterhouse got here via a narrow win over Glasgow in Round 1, a more comfy win over St George's of London in Round 2, and victories over York (who they met again tonight) and St John's to reach the semis undefeated. They were unchanged from before:
Thomas Langley, from Newcastle, studying History
Oscar Powell, from York, studying Geological Sciences
Captain: Hannah Woods, from Manchester, studying History
Julian Sutcliffe, from Reading, studying History

York defeated Manchester in a huge first round shock, before comfortably disposing of Christ's of Cambridge in the second round, as well as St Catharine's and Imperial in the semis, their only slip-up so far being the loss to Peterhouse. They too weren't changed from before:
Barto Joly de Lotbiniere, from London, studying History
Sam Smith, from Guernsey, studying Chemistry
Captain: David Landon Cole, from Yeovil, studying Politics
Joseph McLoughlin, from Oldham, studying Chemistry

Off we set again then, and York kicked off the match with Mr Cole taking the first starter, but just one bonus on film, though they were unlucky to miss the other two. A slip-up from Peterhouse allowed York to take a second starter and one bonus in a row. A second penalty for Peterhouse went untaken by York, but they took the next starter, though no bonuses this time. The first picture round, on language family trees, allowed Peterhouse to open their account, but they still trailed 40-5.

A second starter in a row went the Cambridge side's way, but the bonuses proved tricky, and they got nothing from them. A penalty from York gave them further chance to close in, but they couldn't take it. Peterhouse were then controversially penalised for an 'interruption' where Paxo had read out the main question, but not the extra info afterwards; can't see Weaver's Week liking that very much. York took advantage, and took a full bonus set.

The music round, on operatic pieces requiring low bass singing, went to York, who took one bonus, which upped their lead to 75-10. Peterhouse fought back with Miss Woods slightly mispronouncing her answer, but Paxo knew what she meant; again, just the one bonus followed, and another was humourously missed! A second starter in a row went to Peterhouse, but a tricky particle physics bonus set proved no use. The Cambridge side seemed to have gathered momentum now, though, as Mr Powell took a third starter in a row, and two bonuses on rarely used railway stations followed.

The second picture round, on actresses playing male roles in Shakespeare, went to Peterhouse, who took just one bonus again, but it was enough to reduce the gap to 75-70. Another starter gave Peterhouse the lead, and two bonuses pulled them further ahead. The force was now with them, as Mr Powell took yet another starter, and another two bonuses on diseases followed.

But back came York courtesy of Mr McLoughlin, and a timely full bonus set cut the gap to ten points. Game on! To add to the drama, both sides narrowly missed the next starter. The next went to Mr Langley, and a full bonus set on philosophy works meant Peterhouse had surely done it. Mr Powell took a final starter just to be sure. At the gong, Peterhouse won 145-100.

A very tough match full of tough questions, with both sides doing very well out of it. Unlucky York, but a very good series of memorable performances, and very well done on those and thank yous for playing. Very well done to Peterhouse though; another excellent performance, especially given that slow start, and very best of luck in the final!

Mr Powell was best buzzer of the night with four starters, while Mr McLoughlin was best of York with three; Mr Smith was York's best buzzer for the series overall, with nineteen over six matches. On the bonuses, Peterhouse converted 12 out of 27 (with three penalties), while York managed 9 out of 18 (with one penalty), neither of which are bad considering how hard the questions were tonight; also, just like the first time these sides met, all eight players got at least one starter right.

Next week's match: Liverpool vs St John's for the right to fight Peterhouse