Liv Boeree stars on University Challenge, now you take the quiz

ps_news_thn.jpg"Someone who has used a degree in astrophysics to good effect and has now become one of the UK's most successful card players."

This was waspish television presenter Jeremy Paxman introducing Team PokerStars Pro Liv Boeree on a special Christmas edition of the BBC's University Challenge, the quiz show for boffins that makes the likes of you and me question if we, in fact, know anything at all.

I'm not sure if University Challenge, which has been an institution on UK screens since the 1960s, is shown elsewhere, but here's a quick explanation: Two teams of four face off against each other in a series of first-on-the-buzzer questions, called Starters for Ten (points). Whichever team gets the answer then has a series of three supplementary questions worth five points each. As the show's name suggests, each team of four comes from the same university, and winners of each episode progress to the next round and on to the final.

The Christmas editions see well-known former students representing their old university. Our Liv was on last night, representing the University of Manchester. Here's how she introduced herself:

"Hello, I'm Liv Boeree. I studied physics with astrophysics, graduating in 2005 and now I'm a poker player and TV presenter."


Liv with the Manchester team and Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge - photo BBC/Granada TV

Then it was off with the quiz. Liv's team went on to win by 125 points to the 120 of York, and it was great for poker that one of our own showed herself up as a brainbox on national television.

I asked her what the experience was like. "I was mildly terrified at the prospect of University Challenge - mostly because my once-good knowledge of academia had until recently left my brain in place of poker," she said.

"Fortunately, it turned out my fear was shared by every other 'famous graduate' contestant as we met in the green room prior to filming. Everyone's goal was very much to get through with a semblance of reputation intact, and fortunately our team managed it!

"Jeremy Paxman is not the intimidating fellow you see from University Challenge and Newsnight (his current affairs programme). He was incredibly charming and friendly, and went quite out of his way to make sure each contestant was at ease (at least off camera!)."

Thumbnail image for ukipt brighton_day 1A_.liv boeree.jpg

Liv in more familiar surroundings

University Challenge is far from easy. Below are the 18 starter questions that I noted. How many would you get right? Your writer's progress is recorded next to some of the questions, but keep in mind that for the contestants these are asked under pressure in a TV studio and answers have to be super quick. Also keep in mind your writer spent most of his student years in a pub.

The answers are at the end - no peeking, and no switching tabs to Google!

1 Quote: "When a man is tired of London he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford." These are the words of which literary.. one of the team's interrupted and buzzed with the answer.

2 The Inn, Enns, Drava, Tisza and Sava are among tributaries of which river, formed by the confluence of the Breg and the Brigach, both of which rise in the Black Forest?

3 If the full name of W begins with T, with what letter does the full name of K begin in terms of chemical symbols? (I fluked got his one - SY)

4 In which opera by Verdi is the title character a hunchbacked court jester cursed by the Count of Monterone?

5 Give the pronunciation of all three of the common homophones that mean, mark that shows a proposed insertion in a text, unit of measure for precious stones, and a metaphorical means of persuasion. (Another lucky one for me - SY)

6 In Greek mythology, the maenads or raving ones were the female followers of which God?

7 "Man owes his entire existence to the State and has his being within it alone." These are the words of which German philosopher in a work of 1830?

8 Shared by 12 Popes between 140 and 1958, what name is the Latin form of an English name meaning dutiful, religious or devout?

9 The Wino Bar is an anagram of the title of which 1915 novel set largely in Nottinghamshire? Its characters include Tom Brangwen and Anna Lensky. (I luckboxed got this, too - it was the only book I bothered reading for English Literature A Level - SY)

10 What adjective links two-word terms meaning in chemistry ethanol that contains less than one per cent of water by weight, in politics a majority over all rivals combined, and in physics the lowest temperature that is theoretically possible. (Another insane guess score for Young - SY)

There was a music starter for ten with a bit of classical music, and the teams had to name the composer. It was Bach (and I got that right, only because it sounded dreary - SY)

11 Which city is being described: Lying on a coral outcrop in the Indian Ocean, its first known European visitor was Vasco da Gama in 1498. It's separated from the mainland by Tudor Creek and Kilindini Harbour and is the second largest city in Kenya.

12 Which decade saw the publication of George Eliot's Middlemarch and Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, the first performance of Bizet's Carmen and the first impressionist exhibition in Paris?

13 Names denoting the current geological era, the President of France from 1995 to 2007, and the writing system used in Bulgarian and Russian all begin and end with which letter? (One correct for me on behalf of the University of Life - SY)

14 In 2010, an unmanned spacecraft from which country became the first to return a sample of an asteroid to earth after a... interrupted when a team buzzed the answer.

15 Which work of 1949 was described by the Irish Times as a play in which nothing happens... twice?

16 Peru and Guinea-Bissau are among six sovereign states with English names that end in the letter U. The other four are in the Pacific. Ten points if you can name three of them. (Liv so nearly got this, naming two of the islands correctly, but forgetting the third. I have never heard of any of them - SY)

17 Pronounced differently in each case, which sequence of five letters ends three common words meaning vocalist, digit and red haired? (Another for me - the red-haired bit clinched it; I was thinking of blogger Stephen Bartley - SY)

18 Thought to be the first of its kind in the world, the surcharge on foods that are high in saturated fat was introduced in October, 2011 in which EU member state?

1 Samuel Johnson
2 The Danube
3 P (as in potassium)
4 Rigoletto
5 Carrot
6 Dionysus
7 Hegel
8 Pius
9 The Rainbow
10 Absolute
11 Mombasa
12 1870s
13 C
14 Japan
15 Waiting for Godot
16 Palau, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Nauru
17 inger
18 Denmark

How many would you have got? Leave a comment and show off your brain power.

Readers in the UK can probably catch up and watch the show this week on BBC iPlayer

Simon Young
@MrSimonYoung in Liv Boeree