My fellow Sabateur Alexander Netherton recently caused controversy by describing University Challenge as his ‘30 minutes of hate’. I have some sympathy with his venomous antipathy to the long-running BBC show, though my own quiz rage is based on very different reasons. I don’t have any particular beef with nice, slightly giddy people from public schools, nor with the Oxbridge middle-classes generally, nor with hyper-intelligent but unworldly science geeks. Good on them I reckon, though I do draw the line at hippies. Frankly I could take or leave Jeremy Paxman – that shtick about the answers being ‘obvious’ even if he didn’t have them written down on a card is so transparent as to be barely worthy of attention.
No, my own objections are far more straightforward. The problem with University Challenge is that the questions are too difficult and the contestants answer them too quickly.
This leads to feelings of inadequacy, listlessness and even vertigo, as you peer into the apparently bottomless chasm of your own ignorance. Worse is the sheer rapidity of the student boffins' powers of recall. It's the I Knew That One, Honest Syndrome: where you feel you ‘know’ the answer but just can’t retrieve it quickly enough from whichever remote cupboard of your brain it has been gathering dust to shout out before the spotty brat hits his buzzer. Infuriating.
If the answer is ‘photosynthesis’, ‘Napoleon’, ‘red shift or ‘Venezuela’ then you have to down a bottle of gin.
However, help is at hand, for I have devised a brilliant University Challenge game for you to play at home, which will greatly enhance your enjoyment of the programme.
You simply sit and watch the show as normal, shouting out whatever answers you see fit, and then you award yourself points as follows:
Rule 1: If you correctly answer a starter for 10 before or simultaneously with the buzzing contestant – 10 points
Rule 2: If you correctly answer a follow-up question before or simultaneously with the team captain – 5 points
Straightforward enough, yes. But here’s where it gets interesting…
Rule 3: The Smart-Arse Rule
If you correctly answer a starter or follow-up question and the contestant gets it wrong, you get double points – because this shows just how awesome you really are.
Rule 4: The Decent Guess Law
If you incorrectly answer a question but it is the same incorrect answer given by the contestant, you get 2 points – because at least you were in the ballpark.
Rule 5: The Eavesdropper’s Gambit
If you overhear the right answer during the murmurings as the team confers over a follow-up question, and yell it out before the captain finally decides, you merit 2 points.
Rule 6: The ‘I Really Did Know That One’ Concession
If you honestly, really did know the answer but it never got past the tip of your tongue in time, you can have 1 point, why not. (Nb. this rule requires honesty and self-discipline.)
At this point the eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that there's not yet any sign of drinking in this so-called 'drinking game'.
Here's where it comes in…
Rule 7: The Venezuela Variant
If the answer is ‘photosynthesis’ (always a good guess for biology ones), ‘Napoleon’ (most history questions), ‘red shift’ (astronomy) or Venezuela, then you have to down a bottle of gin.
Good luck everyone, let me know how you get on…
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