Weaver's Week 2004-04-17

Weaver's Week Index

17 April 2004

Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.

University Challenge Final

Owing to the Easter break, it's a slightly shorter Week than normal.


The Grand Final

Magdalen Oxford -v- Gonville & Caius Cambridge

Look, you know the record of these sides in the contest, and if you don't, it's detailed in the last two Weeks. Suffice to say that G&C has been strong throughout, and Magdalen only reached any sort of quality in the semi-final. We note, in passing, that Thumper says of the 200 applicant teams, "28 of them" made the televised phase, not "the best 28."

In the ten years of the UC revival, Oxford leads Cambridge 13-10 in head-to- head competition. There have been three all-Oxford clashes, but no all- Cambridge matches. The only Oxbridge final came in the first year back, Trinity Cambridge had the beating of New Oxford in a one-sided affair. No Cambridge side has made the grand final since, Oxford has been in six finals, winning three of them. Two of those wins came from Magdalen sides.

Thumper begins by reading out a huge biography of someone (Satre). It goes on so long that, by the time G&C interrupts, we're expecting the gong. Now, which side has a modern history student? Ah, Magdalen Oxford. Which side has a classicist or two amongst their number? Magdalen. In fairness, Thumper does give G&C a long time to complete the "Tungsten ... Carbide" answer. The first picture round is identifying artists who inspired photographic recreations.

The question on a US writer goes to the US student for G&C, and the sides draw level for a moment. Then we get the "Oh, this show has completely gone to the dogs" swerve of the year.

Q: Denoted by z-bar or z-star...
Wallace, G&C: The complex conjugate.
Q: ... what is the complex conjugate of the complex number z=x+iy?

Anyone who has ever taken degree-level maths, perhaps even A-level maths, will either laugh heartily at this mess, or want to punch the scientific illiterate who set it. One cannot reach the answer (x-iy) from the opening phrase. The only possible answer from that opening fact is, as Wallace stated, "complex conjugate." There is nothing wrong with making the subject accessible to the casual viewer, but there is no excuse for making a question that is, to use the technical mathematical jargon, unsupportable.

Oh. There's a game going on here. So there is. We've reached the audio round, consisting this week of four pieces of classical music that have been messed about with by the sound effects department on what must have been a particularly wet afternoon. The clips drag on, and this is tedious for the viewer, who will either know the answer straight away, or won't have a clue.

There's a question that boils down to: What's the Queen's catchphrase? There's a set of bonuses on words spelt the same but given different meanings by stress within the word. This column can't believe that never, in ten years, have the UC setters asked a set of questions about the Parkinson Law. The second picture round is waterfalls.

G&C's short-lived revival is brought to a halt with 3.5 minutes to play. Magdalen needs two starters in the remaining time, as Thumper is just cruising along at about 25 points per minute. Lest we forget, when Jesus was attempting to catch London Met, he was steaming away at 40 ppm. This dalliance means we only get four starters in the final stretch, and Magdalen has yet another unsatisfactory win, 190-160. The starter noted above directly accounts for 25 points of the gap, and the subsequent bonuses a further five. Is it reasonable for the entire championship to turn on one atrocious question? This column thinks not.

Cox 25.3 Holdcroft 72.9 McClements 45.9 Spero 45.9

MOX 65 55 45 25 [190] 21/27 1X
GCC 30 40 55 30 [160] 15/30 3X
Souag 86.1 Warner 39.1 Wallace 26.3 Ashe 8.5

For G&C, Souag was the top buzzer, with 318.1 points, beating Warner's 288.1. The side made 58.28% on bonuses, an overall strike rate of 55.92%.

For Magdalen, Holdcroft's 337.9 was the best on the buzzer, and the best individual aggregate of the series. The superb bonus set this week boosts the side to 60.12%, their overall strike rate is 56.23%. Magdalen also heads on another factor: the side made 14 missignals, two more than any side in the three years this stat has been compiled.

Match of the year, without a shadow of a doubt: London Met over Jesus Cambridge in the quarters.

The best individual buzzer of the series was Walkingshaw of Jesus Cambridge - his 267.3 came at an average of 89.1 per game. Wilson of St Andrews, Horton of London Met, and Urquhart of JCC all averaged more than 75 points per game. The series median aggregate is 315, down 30 points on last year and 65 on the long- term average.

These two from Jesus must join Ian Bayley ("the one-man quizzing machine", according to one opponent) of Balliol Oxford as the greatest UC players never to make the semi-final. Incidentally, McClements and Holdcroft of this year's Magdalen side played against Bayley Balliol in Oxford's internal contest three years ago - Balliol won by an embarrassment.

As regular readers will know, this hasn't been a classic year for UC. The questions have been leaning to the abstruse and tedious, leading directly to the lowest ever scores in the first round. Things picked up in the latter stages, but the gratuitous twists and turns of the starters meant that a team with some knowledge and good reflexes would win out over a team with more knowledge and a more cautions approach. Perhaps Magdalen's record number of missignals was the best thing they could have done.

Where do we go from here? If UC is to become a simple test of reflexes, then be honest and open about it, and make the starters direct and to the point. Work out the answer, work out the key facts in the question, and go from one to the other as sensibly as possible. "What is the complex conjugate of z=x+iy" does the trick. Questions need to be clear, concise, and relevant - back in the first show, a question about fossils boiled down to "What is the state capital of New York?" and that's not relevant.

If UC is to be a test of deduction and logic, then the buzzer format can only produce lopsided results, and a pen-and-paper, or alternating questions format would be more appropriate. This would, of course, go completely against forty years of history.

The questions need to be appropriate to the audience. The state capital of NY should be towards the easy end of the spectrum, and questions like "Where do you live" need not make it to air. Similarly, questions must not show a bias towards one side - St John's profited from questions about Oxford terms because Reading doesn't use them.

Short, sharp questions, but of an appropriate standard. Get the questions sorted out, and the show will become more entertaining. Rectifying the obvious bias towards Oxbridge and - to a lesser extent - Scotland at the expense of the new universities will have to wait another year.

This column is not entirely convinced that Magdalen is the best of the 28 sides to enter this year's tournament. The side has had a very easy draw - avoiding the clearly dangerous Jesus Cambridge and London Met until the final - and a noticeable number of questions on their home subjects. However, sides can only play the opponents they're drawn against, and Magdalen has notched up the five wins required to become University Challenge champions.

The University Challenge column now takes a break until the series proper returns in the autumn. It will not cover the Professionals series.


A nod and a wink to game show history on this week's HAVE A GO. Many years ago, on THE TRAVEL QUIZ, host Andi Peters introduced a clip of Freddie Mercury and Monserrat Cabaille singing their Olympic anthem from some years ago. "Oh, they cut it off before they went 'Barcelona'," said Andi, who then read his question card. "What was," began Andi, "what city were..." Then he corpsed, and could only be revived by the producer giving him a large bar of chocolate. Fast forward ten years, and the same clip appears. Is Nicky Campbell going to make the same mistake? Has he learned from those out-take clip shows? Irritatingly, he has. Out of the clip, into the question, and cockup lovers have to console themselves with the usual minor technical gremlins that plague all live television, such as a mobile phone satellite camera link-up thingamajig that arrives so late we can't see the winners.

This week's show also gave us the chance to relive one of the 70s classic shows - the winning team in the studio was called The Family, giving Nicky eight opportunities to Ask - The Family. The soundtrack seems to have lost the annoying bleep, which is good. We don't see the amount displayed in a caption at any time, ever, which isn't. Neither are the viewing figures: 7.2 million saw Magnus Magnusson return to prime-time television while quizzing Antan Dec about old jokes; barely 3 million saw Nicky Campbell's teased-out quiz.

The annual Pig Brother story appeared this week, at http://www.wildtiere- live.de. According to Deutsche Welle, "hidden cameras gaze 24 hours a day at three male and three female pigs and their offspring. Sometimes things can even get a little out of ham, er, pornographic, on the site - this is nature, after all. The Berlin newspaper Tageszeitung wrote this week that many users are logging in to follow the sexual adventures of Kalle, the group's alpha male. The site's producers told the newspaper Kalle has a macho tendency to attack other males in his posse and a penchant for what they described as 'dirty sex.'"

The BBC's official organ, the Radio Times, issued the corporation's list of Forty Great BBC2 programmes to celebrate forty years of the second television channel. As ever, the list was long on drama and comedy, and short on the more quirky entertainment programmes that made the channel. Three game shows made the list - Call My Bluff, Have I Got News for You, and The Weakest Link. Curiously, all three shows have since transferred to BBC1. Those missing in action included this column's favourites University Challenge, Treasure Hunt (in fairness, both imports from the commercial channels) Catchword, and The Adventure Game.

This week: Blank Screen runs late night, The Games reaches a conclusion tomorrow (and a review in the next Week), and Experimental (E4 on Tuesday, C4 on Friday) is a new game from the Banzai team. Also: Blue Peter goes for an anarchic game show (1700 Monday and Wednesday) and Challenge has found some 1992-vintage episodes of Knightmare and will be shoving them out 1930 weeknights. With this and Have I Got 1992 For You on UK People, it's turning into quite the nostalgia trip.

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